For this Ahimsa practice, the general idea was that we had to pick an action, or more likely pattern of behavior, that could be harmful to others, and to work on addressing this. Partly because I'm quite excellent at finding fault with myself, and partly because I'm a human being and most of us are far from perfect, I actually had a good number of these to choose from. Ultimately, what I chose was to (attempt to) stop complaining to other people. (Notable exception: I didn't count my therapist ... maybe I should have, not really sure on that one. I feel like that's a fine line.)
The reason I chose this challenge? Complaining is one of those things that seems to sneak into our repertoire, often under the radar. Unless we're actively going to lodge a complaint (calling a company about bad customer service, speaking to HR at work about an issue), we generally don't go around in our daily lives with the purpose of complaining. And because we don't go around intentionally complaining, because it slowly slips its way into our actions, we often don't realize we're doing it. But those around us do. And it can be super draining on them. If you've ever had a friend or family member who, every single time you ask how their day was, launches into a list of why it was so stressful or boring or frustrating, you probably know what I'm talking about. After a while, you don't see the point in even asking. We all have enough stressors going on in our life, in the world, and especially when it's the same thing day after day, we don't need the added negativity. And unfortunately, I realized I was becoming (or some might argue already being) that person. And I don't like that. Not at all. So this, I decided, would be my challenge.
Admittedly this doesn't seem like it should be all that tough. Just. don't. complain. Right? It isn't as easy as it sounds, and it's actually been a pretty enlightening experience thus far (enlightening in the lay person sense, not in the yogic 'enlightenment' sense.) I actually have been learning quite a bit throughout this practice, and I thought some of it worth sharing.
1. I learned that I complain a lot. A lot more than I even thought I did. It's amazing, when you start to pay attention, when you start to be more present to your words and actions, what you discover about yourself.
2. When you are opting to pay more attention to complaining, it means you're paying more attention to complaining... all of it. Including that of others.Which means that you may increasingly notice how much others complain, and that could have an impact on you.
3. My complaining isn't always intentional. This isn't an excuse, just an observation. It's so easy to get caught up in the, "This traffic sucks. It's so cold out. Work was so (insert adjective) today...". It's especially difficult when part of a group. (See point 4)
4. As a socially anxious introvert, I dislike small talk. But unfortunately, it tends to be a part of almost daily life. It's often tough for me to (not super awkwardly) join in conversations. So I realized sometimes, I was participating in complaining just to be part of the conversation. Because sadly, I've learned that when everyone is hell bent on complaining about something (the weather, traffic, whatever) and you smile and pipe in with a positive comment instead, you've somehow committed a greater social faux pas than if you'd walked into the room, farted loudly, and left.
5. Not every negative statement is a complaint. There's a thin line, at times, between complaining, discussing, and confiding. This was a really tough one for me. I'm not good with gray areas or blurry lines, so I tend to categorize things in absolutes - right/wrong, good/bad, positive/negative. I noticed when I actively started trying not to complain, that I was basically putting a nice "I'm fine" gloss on everything. But this isn't ideal, because sometimes things aren't fine, and they need to be discussed. Whether it's because you're legitimately not feeling well and need to let someone know, or an issue that comes up between people, sometimes, difficult/not overly positive conversations need to be had. That's different than complaining. It serves a specific purpose.
I have found that when the above question is murky, journaling/writing down my thoughts helps. If writing about the issue "gets it out of my system", then it was probably just complaining - i.e. I needed to vent about something, I did so to my journal, and now I'm good. But if I notice that it's a consistent pattern, there may be more to it. And to clarify, by consistent pattern, I don't mean "Every day the traffic on 95 at rush hour is terrible" kind of a pattern. I mean that if you notice that you're repeatedly writing that a specific friend is saying things that hurt you, or day after day you're feeling depressed or anxious about a specific situation, then it's probably something that needs to be addressed or discussed.
I have also found that turning the complaint inward - i.e. running it over and over in your head just so you don't have to say it out loud to someone and "be complaining" - doesn't help. It might help the other person in the short term, but eventually, it's going to build up for you. It'll weigh heavily on you, and in the long run, it'll probably affect them too (because none of us live in a bubble, and peole can often tell when something's wrong even if we aren't saying it). So by all means, write it down, discuss it with your therapist (as applicable), do what you have to do to vent it out. But then, if it's not something that really warrants further addressing, let it go. Because I do get that sometimes, complaining feels good. But in all honesty, I've found that letting shit go feels a lot better.