contentment > complaint

Social media has amplified the frequency of big proclamations. I see sincere, grand statements all the time: “Starting today I will dwell in gratitude!” or “I’m living in the LIGHT!”

Great, y’all. I’m all about collective momentum. I take these comments as a sign that people want to be held accountable to their intentions—that’s why we say things publicly, right?

And yet, within the next week, there’s at least one thing along the lines of “Lines at the grocery store are such a drag.” Within the month, there are others: “I’m so ready for a new phone” or “Too many slow people at the ATM.”

I don’t want to be a killjoy, but statements like those are not aligned with gratitude or light. Letting your ego get the best of your grand intentions makes them sound hollow. In the moment, I have yet to find a way to mention this without sounding harsh, so I don’t.

The platforms for big declarations also seem to skew perspective. For example, a friend once posted that finishing her first semester of grad school made her “deserve a medal.”

I respectfully disagree. Congratulations on finishing your first semester. But, actually, you don’t deserve a medal. You deserve whatever grades you earned, and hopefully you have a great deal of pride and satisfaction.

But let’s be real—medals are for remarkable accomplishments. Millions of people all over the world live in harsher circumstances and survive truly horrific ordeals—and hardly any of them will ever receive medals.

obscured light SK © 2015

obscured light
SK © 2015

Noticing my reactions is always a learning experience. In these situations, I considered whether I was somehow triggered—perhaps jealous when other people could make big declarations, while I felt frustrated and stagnant, incapable of finding that inspiration.

Perhaps the internet generation gap is the cause of my disdain. Growing up without computers, without constant access to photos and information and comments—I sound stodgy when I say that when people made proclamations “back then,” the information was truly notable and worth sharing. But that’s true.

And I recognize that I am further-traveled than most people from the US, which of course gives me a different perspective. I have seen enough of the world to know that no matter how bad my circumstances feel, somewhere there are children laughing in a dump.

In our modern, busy lives, we can easily lose perspective. The internet, a powerful tool for both education and nonsense, often bombards us with information from or about the wealthy and privileged. (Not to mention TV and other types of media.) This content titillates to the point that people don’t realize how most of the world lives—in poverty, without even consistent access to safe water.

Again, the majority of the world lives in poverty. How often do you remember that when you’re annoyed while waiting in line? Rather than complain, you can recalibrate with a more global perspective.

Thus I maintain that my critique is valid. It’s easy to have gratitude for the big things: a birthday, friendships, a home, a promotion, etc. But truly living in light and gratitude, as far as I can tell, requires much more effort. I struggle with the same challenge—it’s difficult not to get myopic in the many moments of day-to-day, slowly-wear-you-down, little-but-seem-like-so-annoyingly-huge irritations. But those moments are exactly when the intentions for gratitude are tested.

Moreover, giving space and time and voice to complaints often amplifies them. You post a comment; someone else posts a photo. Another person chimes in; another adds a hashtag. Then a new person comments about something related, which brings in another scenario for even more people to complain about. After all that, you have…probably nothing useful.

still obscured SK © 2015

still obscured
SK © 2015

So, if I’m that irritated by what I deem shallow chatter or lack of perspective, I should definitely examine myself with the same scrutiny and address my own deficiences. One of my ways of preventing myopic complaints is not to indulge them—meaning I try to stop my negative sentence from growing into a monologue.

But if I can’t purge my irritation on my own, gratitude is the tool to replace my indulgent, overly self-centered thoughts. Using the same ATM example, I can mentally whine about waiting in line. Or I could try something else:
~ I’m so glad that I have money to deposit in the ATM.
~ It’s a blessing to have some time to stand outside and take deep breaths, amid all the things I have to do today.

If the whining persists, I remind myself I have an abundance of reasons to be grateful:
~ My breakfast was so awesome.
~ I’m so glad I can listen to good music while I’m running errands.
~ I have such an amazing community of friends.

I used to think that I’d run out of things for which to be grateful. But I was wrong:
~ Having a moment to watch this tree moving in the wind is beautiful.
~ I should use this time to drink some water. I’m so fortunate to have safe drinking water available whenever I want it.
~ I’m really, really excited I have so many good books to read right now.

Trivial? That’s one way to see it. But expressing gratitude for small things allows me to truly witness all the light in my life. Curtailing my complaints, especially by not saying anything in conversation or online, keeps me in a much healthier perspective.

My moments of judgement were a productive impetus to notice my own words more carefully; this self-observation has become a significant part of my own gratitude practice. I will always encounter small irritations: bad drivers cutting me off in traffic, hitting every red light on the way to work, rain that lasts for days, dropped phone calls, and so on and so on. But those moments give me that many more opportunities to reflect on the wonderful elements in my life: a cozy, safe home; ever-widening, ever-evolving circle of supportive friends; enough to eat; opportunities to learn and grow; opportunities to express myself creatively; excellent health.

in the light SK © 2015

in the light
SK © 2015

Part of my own gratitude practice is to consider very carefully before broadcasting. If my thoughts still seem significant, then perhaps I’ll indulge the time and vocalizations.

For example: when I’m tempted to voice my frustrations, I pause and consider a larger perspective—one in which I’m not the center.

I address positive things in the same fashion. Is the handstand I nailed during asana practice worth discussing? Maybe, in some contexts.

But along the way I have found that I value my accomplishments more when I discuss them less. Am I proud of what I do? Absolutely. I do a lot. But if every little thing—every homemade meal, every herb in my garden, every…thing—requires social media documentation, that’s a very exhausting way to live.

Instead, I feel gratitude all the time, for all those little things—the homemade meals, the herbs and greens and flowers in my garden, the music I make, the bike rides to the yoga studio. On occasion, I do find things worth sharing. But I want to make sure I actually match my behavior to my words before I click and type and announce.

SK © 2015

SK © 2015

To be clear, I do give public space to my frustrations—if you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve read some here already. But I distinguish between complaining and venting.

In any moment, I give space to my thoughts, however self-centered, trivial, or whiny. But I don’t want to share them unless I can do so constructively—which, let’s face it, is hard to do. But ranting only validates the pattern to continue.

Every day, I remind myself that living your path is a privilege. Existing as yourself, often in a world that doesn’t understand or support you, is still a fight, regardless of the layers of privilege into which you may have been born.

But the freedom and means to live my own life are what I value most. I never want distractions to prevent me from acknowledging my abundant opportunities for self-determination. And I definitely don’t want to complain about circumstances which would be a welcome problem for many people.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lists 10 governing attitudes on how to live (the yamas and niyamas). One of them is santosha, often translated as “contentment.” This has always been a significant reminder in my efforts not to complain. If contentment is important enough to be 1 of those 10, then I should give it due attention.

I’ll fail sometimes, of course, which is why I resonate with the big statements in the first place. I’m interested in what people have to say. But I’m far more concerned in how they live. And, as I posted recently, I’m most impressed by things that require significant effort. Consequently, I tune out most of the complaints from healthy, able-bodied, fortunate people.

What seems to be missing from those big declarations is that they’re undermined far more often in those day-to-day, slowly-wear-you-down, little-but-seem-like-so-annoyingly-huge irritations. The next line, logically, could acknowledge the effort not to be distracted by little things.

I would love to instigate a movement towards those sorts of declarations:

“I’m living in the LIGHT!
I’m going to be grateful for all the small things
and ignore the day-to-day b%!!$&*# no matter WHAT!”

SK © 2015

Posted in gratitude, identity, travel, yoga | 3 Comments