Confidence And The Evil Eye

Envy killed the chickens. Or so my Bedouin mother-in-law used to believe.

There once was a jealous neighbor who came to the house for a visit. Commenting on the large flock of hens pecking away in the courtyard, forgetting to invoke God’s blessing on such wealth, she drew the Evil Eye’s focus. The very next day, all forty birds lay talons up, leaving my mother-in-law crying her eyes out.

When I lived in Iran, the Evil Eye was a force to be reckoned with. Esfand seeds were burned on a special metal grate after guests left a home. Turquoise jewelry was worn to protect oneself. Salt was placed in children’s pockets to serve as a talisman. If a mother had many healthy sons, she dressed the youngest as girls. All to deflect the covetous attention of strangers.

Envy, in the form of the Evil Eye, was Kryptonite. Cross its path, and luck, talent, success would be sucked away. Better to disguise these attributes, or hide them, to keep them yours. Iranian society, as a whole, was set up to keep beauty and wealth far from prying eyes.

In many ways, I operated as if I too believed that envy could do me in. I worried that I would lose what was valuable to me if I allowed others to notice my good fortune. I taught my children to blend with a crowd, to avoid being singled out. I eschewed all signs of conspicuous consumption. I worked hard at looking like everybody else. Worse, I downplayed my achievements, or kept them to myself.

I was most comfortable on a level playing field. With all that was precious safely tucked away.

For years I worried that if I had it all, if I were smart, beautiful, fit, successful, talented, no one—including my own mother—would like
me. This fear played out in the form of self-sabotage. If too many good things clicked into place, I’d put on twenty pounds. Or quit my job. Or throw my writing in a closet.

Over the years, I realized that lots of people posses enviable qualities and still continue to live. Nothing befalls them. God doesn’t strike them down dead. I realized, too, that I don’t resent others for the gifts they have been bequeathed, or worked hard to earn. Why, then, should anyone, anyone worth having in my life, resent me?

Somewhere along the journey, I ran across a Marianne Williamson quote that speaks to this issue of playing small:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

And like that, I got it. I got that when I choose to shine, you can do the same. When you own your gifts, I can too.

There’s more than enough good to go around.

The Evil Eye, my friend, will only kill your chickens if you live in fear.


Ann Sheybani, 48, is a high altitude mountaineer, ultra-distance runner, and blue water sailor. She is a speaker, coach and author of the popular blog, Things Mama Never Taught Me.  Visit her © 2011 Ann Sheybani

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