When was the last time that you complained about something, anything? I know when mine was. Three hours ago, I had the first of many negative thoughts about not wanting to mark exam papers today. Hijacking my peace of mind, here I am in my office, feeling like a slave to this task which has consumed the last two days of my life. Question after question, answer after answer, and it all looks the same to me. In the midst of this monotony, I am tempted to lose my mind. When is it all going to end? Shortly I know, but I don’t want to have to wait. Besides, I am enjoying my moment of defiant respite, for it reinforces that I have better things to do with my life.
Just being a witness to this mental dance of mayhem, makes me laugh sometimes. After observing what was going on with these thoughts, I glanced at my daily calendar reminder, and the quote underneath it made perfect sense, for it appeared at just the right time. Simply it read, “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain”. What wisdom from Dale Carnegie, who brought us the classic text, How to Win Friends and Influence People. So straightforward in its message and yet so difficult to practice, or is it? It depends on where we are coming from within ourselves, I think.
For so many of us, complaining has become a way of life. We complain about work, the weather, our partners, kids, friends and siblings. We lament the state of the economy, our minor health issues and the wealth that we see others possessing, but don’t enjoy ourselves. Whatever is not working harmoniously in our life, we find a way to complain about, and when one considers that we can never have everything in balance all of the time, there is a lot of complaining going on. But where does this really get us? While we are there complaining in our own mind, or to others with whom we are interacting, the things that we are complaining about are not changing. Staying just as they are, it is we who perpetuate our own suffering by relating to the given circumstances in a resistant way.
With those circumstances that we don’t like, which are within our power to control, it would make more sense to initiate positive action than to continue complaining. Being able to influence the situation favourably, we can alleviate or even eradicate the negativity that animates the complaint if we really want to. The question then becomes do we really want to stop complaining, even if the things that we are complaining about fall outside of our scope of influence? This is a good question, and it is one that delivers a less than obvious answer.
In my experience, a lot of people gain a strong payoff from complaining, that allows them to feel in some way superior or justified in taking the position that they have. When we live from the ego, our paradigm becomes one of wounded entitlement. Looking at the world through this lens, we believe that it should deliver to us that which we want, and that because we have evidence of this not happening in the past, we have sufficient cause to whine that the branches of life have not bended to the force of our breath. Victim thinking in many ways reflects this. It cries out that the world has been cruel to me, and thus, I have no choice but to oppose it. But how accurate is this really? Is it not more about a dysfunctional paradigm, than the world being cold and hostile to the one who righteously believes that they are the centre of the universe?
Ultimately, all forms of whining, bitching and complaining are rooted in helplessness. Born of our ignorance to our innate spiritual power, these impotent acts that serve no constructive purpose in the world, are what lead to a regression in consciousness in the moment that they are practiced. By deluding ourselves into thinking that things should be different from how they appear, we lose precious territory on our evolutionary quest, but this we can’t discern with clarity because we have abdicated the most essential of responsibilities.
Acceptance is one of the highest forms of surrender. Allowing us to see the world as it is, and ourselves as an interconnected part of its functioning, the wisdom of its insights are valuable indeed. Understanding the world in this way, we leave alone the illusion that the world must somehow bend to our whim. Unblemished as it is in this wholeness, it is where we can move peacefully and prosperously, free of the egoic desire to make it conform to the shallow expectations of our petty self.