by Brother David Steind-Rast
I am now experimenting with not complaining. I don’t know if any of you have seen these purple bracelets that say “A Complaint Free World. Com.” A friend gave one to me about two weeks ago. I went to a peace conference out in San Jose and somebody came up to me and said, “Oh you’re wearing this purple bracelet, I started that.” He’s a minister from somewhere in Kansas. He said, “We distributed – I don’t know how many million – maybe five million or 15 million all over the world.” You can just Google Complaint Free World and order these bracelets.
When I got this and I put it on I said “well I really don’t complain very much,” The rule is you wear it for 21 days because it takes 21 days to establish a habit, that’s what psychologists tell us. So you wear it for 21 days on the same wrist. But if you complain, you have to put it on the other wrist. And start all over again for 21 days. And if you tell one of your friends who is wearing it “look you have been complaining” then you are complaining about your friend’s complaining and you have to put your bracelet on the other wrist.
But really, what on earth does the world owe you when it comes down to it? Absolutely nothing. Everything is given to you. Even the fact that you are here is a gift.
I thought I was pretty good at not complaining. I had so little opportunity to complain I thought. At that time I was out at Sky Farm at a wonderful hermitage near Sonoma, California. We went to church in East Sonoma Sunday morning. Right across from the church there is a house where friends of ours used to live but they sold it. There was now a white picket fence around the property. What concern was it of mine? But immediately I complained about the picket fence. “I don’t like this picket fence, why did they have to put this picket fence around such a nice piece of property?
Later I asked myself, what is it that upset me? And the answer is change. And this is where all of this gets connected with gratefulness. You see, I don’t want change. The little me doesn’t want change; it’s very allergic to change. You see how this is connected with complaining? It’s the little me against the rest of the world. And the little me sees itself as entitled to something. The world owes me something. But really, what on earth does the world owe you when it comes down to it? Absolutely nothing. Everything is given to you. Even the fact that you are here is a gift. You didn’t bring yourself here, you didn’t buy this life. How did you get here? It’s all a gift.
Then you turn around, separate yourself from the rest of the world and make claims – it’s amazing. This separation, this complaining is a blockage of my freedom to avail myself of the opportunity that this present moment gives me. Gratefulness is accepting what is. Gratefulness is always about opportunity. So that’s the key word – opportunity. It’s the opportunity to enjoy. We miss many of these opportunities, most of them I’m afraid. When something difficult arises we can say, “How can I enjoy this?” And if you are in training for not complaining you can say “Where is the opportunity and what is there to be grateful for now? What opportunity is offered to me now?” Very often it is the opportunity for change. If you can’t change, you can’t grow. You are stuck. The opportunity to change is blocked by complaining. Complaining wants no change. Opportunity is so beautiful – it’s an aspect of gratefulness.
Brother David Steindl-Rast (born 1926) is an Austrian-American Roman Catholic theologian and author, notable for his active participation in interfaith dialogue. The link to his Grateful Living website is: www.gratefulness.org
This is an excerpt from a dialog between Brother David Steindl-Rast and Roshi Joan Halifax which took place at Upaya Zen Center in May, 2007. The talk can be heard in its entirety at: www.upaya.org/dharma/gratefulness-in-the-now/
The article originally appeared in the journal Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (Volume 15 Number 2). © 2005, ToDo Institute. All Rights Reserved.