I guess we are all familiar with the famous story about SnowWhite. And what better way to describe the nature of vanity than the narcissistic Queen, that is so obsessed with herself, that she will remove any obstacle getting in the way of her sovereignty. A little reflection soon make us realize to what extend vanity can influence and control our life and if we don’t pay attention rivalry, jealousy and self-absorbedness worms its way in and prevent us from holding on to our integrity and being our true self.
Common aspect of vanity
Vanity is more common than we think and to free our-self from vanity we need to detach from the fear of how others perceive us.
Vanity can be described as excessive pride in one's appearance or accomplishments; Vanity has its obvious manifestations generally in our physical looks and appearance to attract attention. The media and fashion industry surrounds us with advertisements, telling us that buying will make us happy. We are encouraged by politicians to spend as a way of boosting the economy. And we all want to have what those around us have; consumerism has become a measure of our social worth. We buy into an identity made up by the leading brands manipulating us into believing that we get much more successful, prettier, happier, thinner and even younger if we by their product. This has escalated to the degree that the copy-brand industry has become a serious threat to the original brands that are seeing copies of their expensive products being sold on the streets all over the world at a fraction of the original price.
Another focal point of attention is the physical body. The beauty clinics and plastic surgery has become an industry in itself modeling the body to its ultimate perfection. It seems as if there is no limitation to the demands and supply, which create an even bigger addiction. The human body has become a significant statement signaling self-control and immortality, which fuels the fires of egotism or self-importance.
'Do you know who I am?'
The media plays an important role in the escalating tendency to expose our-self and become the center of attention over night. Reality shows portrait famous celebrities as they “struggle” with everyday life and as they become more and more obsessed with the attention, we become more and more addicted to the gossip that feed the vanity.
All this drama is made up of our ego, which is any image you have of yourself that gives you a sense of identity. This identity derives from the things you tell yourself and the things other people have been saying about you that you've decided to accept as truth.
Self-importance is another product of the ego and is pure vanity. It is typically people that believe they are entitled to a different set of rules because of their family roots, wealth, position or achievements. The problem with self-importance (vanity) is that whatever you're basing it on, it can't be sustained indefinitely. Wealth disappears, fame fades, beauty wilts, power wanes, the world keeps on spinning and eventually all you're left with is you. And if you've been living on a diet of self-importance, where your sense of value and worth in the world is based on external circumstances, being left alone with yourself can be a pretty frightening prospect.
There are people who are deeply convinced that they are not vain. They look only at the outside, not realizing that vanity lies much deeper. Vanity may be expressed, for instance, in that a person always demands the full stage in his social circle, must always have the floor, or judges a social gathering as good or bad according to his ability to maintain the center of the stage. Some never go into society, and seek to avoid it as much as possible. This avoidance of society may express itself in various ways. Non-acceptance of invitations, or coming late, or forcing one's host to coax and flatter upon arrival, are simple vanity tricks. Others go into society only under very definite conditions and show their vanity by feeling proud of being exclusive. Others again show their vanity by wishing to be present at all social gatherings.
When you take on the idea that at a fundamental level no one individual is worth more or less than any other, you are able to see yourself and others as we generally are - fairly well-meaning creatures who engage in an extraordinary array of activities centered primarily around the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure, satisfaction and greater meaning in our lives. Being in contact with our true self encourages us to be more internally referenced, finding our sense of self not in the reflected glory of other people's eyes but in the gentle glow of our own. This awareness is the beginning of becoming free of the ego and the constant search of recognition and personal gain.
“What do I get out of this”?
Ambition and vanity walks hand in hand as soon as the striving for recognition controls you. As a consequence, the goal of power and superiority increases and we pursue it with great intensity and determination, as we expect to be rewarded fully. Such behavior leads to loss of reality because we loose connection with life, always being occupied with the question of what other people think about us, and being less concerned with the impression that we make.
We often use the more flattering word 'ambition' for vanity. Just think of how many people who are exceedingly proud to tell us how ambitious they are! The concept 'energetic' or 'active' is also frequently used and are expressions that cloak an unusual degree of vanity.
Now you might want to object and state that without great ambition the great accomplishments of mankind would never have taken place. This is a false view in a false perspective. Since no one is entirely free of vanity, everyone has a certain amount of it. But it is not vanity which is responsible for determining the direction an activity has taken toward universal usefulness, neither did it give us the power to carry out great accomplishments! The fuel of great accomplishments is integrity. Integrity is an uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honor moral, spiritual and artistic values and principles. Which show obligation, contribution and responsibility towards society.
“I want it my way”!
Vanity has its subtle forms too and by wanting things to turn out the way we want them to and feeling anxious that they aren't or don't seem to be heading that direction is actually a form of vanity! Even though we may have the best intentions for undertaking actions- when we attach conditions of desired outcomes to those actions as grounds for feeling happy, we have now become vain in the form of desiring external or even internal rewards. And ultimately the fruit of all vanity is misery;
How much of your life has been lived in misery in the form of being constantly anxious about the results of what you do? Believing that things should turn out a certain way and when they don't, you feel miserable. And even when things do turn out the way we wanted them to, we are all too often not really grateful, because we only got what we expected and there isn't lasting satisfaction in that. Even if we are somewhat grateful when things do turn out the way we want them to- it never lasts- things are always changing- mostly out of our control, so any happiness is fleeting at best because before long we start getting things we don't want or not getting things we want and we're miserable again.
Breaking out of the misery trap
As we strive to free our-self of the misery pattern, the first foundational step is to become aware of what kind of thoughts you habitually think, especially negative thoughts: irritation, anger, impatience and perhaps even some kind of sadness. You might, for example, complain about yourself, how useless you are. If you start to hear these repetitive thoughts, then you will suddenly realize, “I’ve been thinking these same thoughts again and again almost every day without really knowing it.”
When you see the difference between your voice and the reality of the situation, that’s the beginning of awareness. It’s a gradual transition since the ego doesn’t want to accept getting less attention, so it will give you plenty of reasons why you should not change.
But as we strive to become more aware, we begin to understand that all our worry and anxiety over how things turn out has really been unnecessary. It's not our job to know the ultimate effects of our contribution- it is just our job to contribute, as we feel inspired to contribute. "Does this mean we shouldn't try to make a difference? That we shouldn't try our best to do good things and want good results from what we do? Is there something wrong with striving for an outcome we want"? Not at all! It is fine to desire certain outcomes and to undertake planning and action in order to bring about that desired outcome. It's even a good idea to make adjustments to our plans and actions if they don't appear to be bringing us closer to our desired outcome. The main difference is that we do not condition our happiness on actually achieving the specific outcome we envision. Let our desires for certain outcomes be preferences, not fixed conditions that have to be met before we can feel happy or satisfied or fulfilled. Instead we should practice humility and do good simply for the sake of doing good- let the doing be it's own reward and not wait for some other reward for our actions that may or may not come.
Humility as the opposite to vanity
Humility can best be described as an emotional state of “egolessness” where one feels no ego (or self); of having no distinct being apart from the world around oneself. This is the complete opposite of vanity, which derives from identifying with internal or external norms and beliefs. So to start practicing humility on a daily basis we need to focus on a few central areas of our life.
Work: We do our best in our jobs - we contribute to the company or our customers to the best of our knowledge and we let the giving of each days' honest effort be it's own reward rather than trying to jockey for the position or promotion or the favor and attention of bosses. As we take this worry-free attitude to work, it will become more enjoyable whether or not promotions and raises come. And chances are that kindness and honest giving without expectations will be noticed by bosses and rewarded-but if it's not, there is still no cause for worry or anxiety.
Relationship: We love and serve our spouse whether or not they reciprocate. We let the act of being kind, showing compassion, serving their needs be it's own reward and we don't let non-gratitude on their part have anything to do with our happiness because we are not motivated by "the fruits of action". Chances are that our actions become pure - even if there are years of built-up resentments and emotional distance built up in a marriage; they will start to melt down. But even if they don't you can still derive happiness out of the very act of giving regardless of the outcome.
Parenthood: We do our best to raise our children and give them love, support and boundaries. We impart our values and do our best to set a good example and we derive joy out of the very act of sacrificing and serving our children, being grateful for the very opportunity to have children to sacrifice for and serve. And we don't tie our happiness to how our children "turn out." The truth is they (like us) are never done "tuning out"- we are all here to grow spiritually, and spiritual growth is eternal. So even if we think our children aren't "turning out" how we want them to, we no longer have to be anxious and miserable about it. We can just continue to love them and encourage them and remind our-self of the individual freedom of choice. So if our children are making choices we wish they wouldn't, allow them to make those choices and learn from the consequences.
It is fine to prefer a certain outcome - just let it remain as a preference and not as a condition for our happiness. If things turn out differently than we preferred, we can then look for the blessing in that and the opportunity to grow spiritually.