When I was little, my mother put a piece of paper on the fridge with a magnet. On the paper she had written “NO COMPLAINING!” That paper stayed there for years. I wonder if it’s still there…
I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’m a champion complainer. If there were a Complaining World Cup, my kids and I would dominate. So my interest was piqued when I received an email with the subject “Not to Complain” from Rabbi Brian, who sends out a funny and thought-provoking non-denominational spiritual newsletter.
Turns out the Rabbi had started a 21-day no complaint challenge and he was suggesting, gulp, that I, that is to say, his readers, including me, gulp, gulp, try it too. Well I’m not quite ready to commit to 21 days (yet), but I thought, heck, I’ll try it this morning and see what I find. I’m now a few days in, and I have been noticing some very interesting things.
On my early morning walk around the neighborhood that first morning, I found myself thinking, “What a beautiful morning. I’m so grateful to be out in it. Except I’m SO tired—” I stopped myself mid-complaint, and wondered: Why am I complaining to myself? I know I’m tired! And I found not only that I could let the thought go, but that it was a relief to let it go.
While my husband and I got everyone ready to head out the door to camp and work, I told him about the challenge. (And in the back of my mind I wondered if we would even be having a conversation right now if I hadn’t taken on this challenge, or if instead he’d be listening to me complain about the kids and the cat getting me up in the night…) A question came up: What is the line between complaining and observing? We decided that it was the attitude and whether or not I intend to do something about it. For example:
“I’m STARVING!!!” (Said in an eardrum splitting whine.) [complaint]
“I’m hungry. I think I’ll get something to eat.” [observation/action]
Later in the day I noticed that—drat—I have indeed caught the children’s summer cold. Thanks summer camp! Ordinarily this would lead to a great deal of complaining on my part. But since complaining wasn’t an option, when Brian (my husband, not the Rabbi) got home from work, I informed him that I was sick and would be skipping my Spanish Class and getting into bed directly after dinner. The craziest part of this was that the whole evening was almost completely free of the usual guilt and insecurity.
Later in the week, during the SNOT phase of the cold, I had more thoughts on not complaining. They came when my son woke me at 2 am and again at 3:30 am from my tenuous and hard-fought sleep. “I WANT TO COMPLAIN!” I gurgle-growled through my phlegm. I flopped over angrily, anticipating it would take me a looong time to fall asleep again. And thinking that maybe this no complaining thing is not all it’s cracked up to be. I mean sometimes it’s good to complain, right? Sometimes it lets off steam! Right?
Well I don’t know the answer to those questions, but I do know that, without my typical pattern of griping and complaining, something sort of magical happened. My grumpiness went away. It was as if the fire lacked oxygen and just sputtered out. I didn’t fall asleep right away, but I realized I felt comfortable. Content.
These experiments are making my Alexander Technique spidey sense all tingly. It occurs to me that complaining takes a lot of energy. Complaining, I’m finding, is a little like stiffening my neck (and is no doubt accompanied by stiffening my neck). It’s an unconscious pattern that takes conscious attention to resist (or as we say in AT, Inhibit). But when I Inhibit it, I realize how hard I was working, and how much easier and lighter life is without it.
So I realize that I haven’t really had a lot to complain about this week. No (KNOCK WOOD!) crises. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. But no complaining about the regular old grind? Maybe I’ll keep it up for a few more days… Maybe you want to try it with me?