I parked this clunky bracelet upon my left wrist 22 days ago and took the pledge: three weeks of no complaints. On Day Two I groused about early morning traffic, moved the bracelet to my right wrist, started over. I’ve had close calls in the three weeks, but super-amped awareness keeps me on course. I carefully catch comments and identify them as not complaint, simply observation. There is a technical difference. “There’s a lot of traffic” is not the same as “WTF, why is there so much traffic?”
It’s been interesting to notice my own tendency compounded by the people I spend time with. We can lean into complaint as a way of connecting. The seduction of grousing together is strong. I’ve practiced being quiet more than I’m used to. And what do we complain about? Here is the short list (feel free to notice and add your own unique grumbling) and notice how many are situations we actually have no control over: weather, politics, body aches, food quality/quantity, current events, relationships, family dysfunction, white man privilege, health care, unpleasant emotional/mental states, sense of scarcity, environmental woes, traffic, challenging technology, passwords, people not listening, oblivious dog owners, driving incompetence.
The second part of this 21 Day challenge is to identify what’s not right with your world and nimbly turn it into a gratitude. When an observation brings me to bellyaching edge, I try counting blessings. “Lots of traffic today…that just gives me extra time to breathe and feel before I get there OR must be an accident up there, hope no one is hurt OR so lucky I have a reliable car that takes me where I want to go, amazing!” The take home benefit of awareness is the acknowledgement of just how much there is to be grateful for. Abundance and privilege and opportunity are achingly clear.
It’s a demanding grind to witness, listen and pay attention this deeply. We might wonder if it’s really worth it. Maybe you’ve seen this oft-published Lao Tsu list that points a contextual finger in the direction of “why bother?”
Watch your thoughts. They become words.
Watch your words. They become actions.
Watch your actions. They become habits.
Watch your habits. They become character.
Watch your character. It becomes your destiny.
Observation on the mental plane is where it’s at because those complaints always begin as thoughts. Once we unconsciously blurt them out it’s a bit late. When complaining is habitual it subtly shapes our very nature. And as long as we’re at it let’s include the ugly step-sisters to complaint—-criticism, sarcasm and gossip. All this negative verbal spewing energetically stands in for the healing impact of meaningful conversation. We have such a beautiful expressive language and yet we can so easily slip into this cheap and ultimately unsatisfying method of relating to and connecting with the world around us. It is simply (hah!) a matter of fostering mindfulness in order to see choice.
“People who do not see their choices do not believe they have choices. They tend to respond automatically, blindly influenced by their circumstances and conditioning. Mindfulness, by helping us notice our impulses before we act, gives us the opportunity to decide whether to act and how to act.” ─ Gil Fronsdal
So here’s a super brief invitation: close your eyes for a minute or two or twenty. Notice your breath and any sensation, feelings or thoughts arising. Take note and delight in time, pause, spaciousness. These are our backup resources available in that precious moment of choice between impulse and action. And if you decide to put that bracelet on…tell me how it’s going.