A Complaint-Free World: The deepest practice of compassion

Stop complaining? No way. It’s how we vent, share our pain, give voice to injustices! But is it?

Recently, a dear colleague and friend got me into this practice of being complaint-free. It’s a program started by Will Bowen who was encouraging his congregation to develop a new habit. It takes 21-days to form a new habit. (Well, for the most diligent among us, anyway!) So, for 21-days can you commit to not complaining? Bowen describes complaining this way:

To “Complain” is defined as “to express pain, grief, or discontent.” Surely, it makes sense to express pain, grief or discontent occasionally but most people do so constantly. In so doing, they are talking and thinking about what they do not want in their life and, thereby, attracting more pain, grief and discontent. Instead, think and talk about what you are grateful for. Talk about what you DO want and not what you DON’T want.

This is a great description of our tendency to fall into the trap of unintentionally reinforcing a bad habit. Our actual intention is rooted in being self-compassionate. When we feel pain, it makes sense to seek out support, get advice, ask for a reality check. It is part of what we can do to care for our distress in a healthy way. Rather than isolating ourselves, we seek out others who can validate a common experience of pain. It also helps us to bring a tender awareness to our pain, a way of being mindful of it. When we turn towards our pain rather than away from it, we reduce our reactivity and avoidance of its experience. We can take experiential responsibility for it. In other words, it’s not something that is being done to us but rather something we feel within us that is not only valid but also within our capacity to manage. As we learn to approach our pain, we cultivate a kindness in our attention of it, a willingness to attend to it in a wise and healthy way.

In reality, what actually happens? Our sharing and seeking out of relief can become a way of resisting that pain. We seek out justification for its injustice, its unfairness, its insolence in preventing us from getting what we want. We complain. This is a form of resisting what is happening, of looking away by creating stories about the pain. And by doing so we transform our pain into suffering.  A popular expression of this process is to see pain and suffering as this equation:

Suffering = pain X resistance

Suffering is the way in which we meet our pain. Out tendency is to push it away, cling to what was (pleasant), or to be misled in our minds about what is really happening.

Sometimes it’s hard to dive into a mindfulness or self-compassion practice because the chatter in our head is so loud and relentless. Taking this step of slowing down the rate of complaints makes it a bit more manageable. It restores the energy we spend dispensing judgment on ourselves and of others.

Give it a try!


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