One of the most prevalent superstitions in southern Italy (and in a lot of Mediterranean cultures), is the Evil Eye. Here it’s called “malocchio” and its roots are in envy, i.e., someone feels envious of another person, even without a malicious intent behind it, thereby bringing bad luck upon the person being envied. I’ve previously written about the Italian-American equivalent of being overlooked.
Malocchio can manifest itself in the victim physically via headache and/or general malaise or it may bring about acts of misfortune — such as what happened to P last winter when our chainsaw died literally moments after someone walked past our campagna, giving it a good once-over, which in southern Italy is pretty much the telltale sign of invidia. Ahem.
Envy, of course, is a completely natural emotion, and if you happen to believe in the Seven Deadly Sins business, well you know it’s one of the biggies. But why? What’s so horrible about envy?
Aside from it just not being very nice to covet your neighbor’s job, success, wife, husband, family life, whatever, there can be very personal effects turned inward as well.
Envy can prevent us from working on ourselves and our own goals.
We can become so fixated on what someone else does or has (or seems to do or have) that we neglect the importance of working on improving ourselves and our own situations. Or it can simply plant seeds of doubt that we’re not good enough, not smart enough, and doggone no one likes us (thank you, Stuart Smalley).
In its most malicious form, envy can even lead someone to try to destroy another’s happiness — but that extreme isn’t what happens with most of us.
And yes, I say us. I’m certainly not immune to the occasional pang of the Green Monster. For me, it rarely if ever involves friends, but perhaps a blogger I don’t know or particularly enjoy — how the hell did *she* score a book deal? Things of that nature.
Several years ago when I began reading about various religions in earnest, I was immediately drawn to the Buddhist concept of acknowledging feelings and letting them pass. It spoke deeply to my heart, but I didn’t know whether I could actually do it. Turns out, I could.
I simply had to decide to acknowledge feelings and then let them pass.
If that sounds too easy to you, believe me, I’ve been there. But it really is a choice, and I believe that anyone who is committed to following through with this concept can put it into practice. Indeed, I’ve noticed that with time, the feelings are floating on by even faster and with increasingly less effort on my part. Most of the time anyway. We all have room to grow.
This release of negative emotions has become a vital component of my mental health. There’s much more to this concept for the serious student of Buddhism, of course, but for me, this one little aspect has been a game changer.
But what do we gain by choosing to let envious feelings pass us on by? This is the best part. As a reward of letting go of envy, we receive the gifts of more time and increased focus to keep our eyes on our own prizes, stay in our own lanes, and not worry so much about what other people are doing and achieving. We no longer feel the urge or need to compare what is happening in our lives with what someone else is experiencing.
We each have our own unique paths, and that’s exactly as it should be.
Besides, keeping up with the Joneses is *so* 20th century.
This is not to say we should isolate ourselves from our friends’ and colleagues’ successes and happiness, though — quite the contrary! I find nothing more inspiring and heartwarming than seeing a friend realize a dream like having a screenplay become a feature Hollywood film, selling her own gorgeous handmade pottery, or becoming a mother.
Success and happiness come in infinite quantities — there’s no reason to believe someone else is taking your share.
Truly appreciating others’ success and happiness — but not coveting it — opens up your own path to personal and professional growth and fulfillment on your terms, and not on anyone else’s. What could be better than that?
As for malocchio, well, since we’re not all going to suddenly live without envy, there *are* a few precautions you can take to combat any envious feelings coming your way. In southern Italian fashion, you can sprinkle some salt around your house now and again, wear red, pepper your place with hanging peperoncino, the symbol that protects against the Evil Eye, and also make the horns (le corna) sign with your hand if and when you think someone is envying a bit too much.
Or you can always try my preferred method, killing the envy with kindness — though I still remind P to make the sign of the horns too. Just in case.
Do you have any envy/malocchio stories to share?
What are your tips for staying focused on your own goals and not comparing your achievements to those of others?