November/December 2010 Spirituality
by Karla McLaren
Connecting to your dreams and deepening your awareness — so many books and teachers urge us to become more conscious. But here’s the truth: working toward your dreams is often the most terrifying, infuriating and ridiculous task imaginable — which is why so few people attempt it, and why so many attempts fail.
Luckily, your emotions can help you. They can help you listen to yourself, be honest about your situation, and then move forward with clarity and a renewed sense of hope (and humor). And you don’t have to be in an enlightened frame of mind to utilize this emotional skill — I call it conscious complaining, and it’s fun.
Here’s how to complain consciously: This is a solitary practice, and all you need is a foul mood and some privacy. Start with some sort of phrase, like “I’m complaining now!”
You can complain to the walls or furniture, to a mirror, or to whatever strikes your fancy. If you’re outside, you can complain to plants and trees, animals, nature, the sky, the ground or your god. If you’re a strong complainer like I am, you might want to create a complaining shrine for yourself, with supportive pictures of bratty kids, barking dogs, political cartoons or whatever calls to your complaining nature.
When you’ve found your perfect complaining site, let yourself go and give a voice to your dejected, hopeless, sarcastic, bratty self. Bring dark humor out of the shadows and really whine and swear about the frustrations, stupidities and absurdities of your situation. Complain for as long as you like (you’ll be surprised at how quickly this works).
When you run out of things to say, thank whatever you’ve been whining or yelling at. Thank the furniture, the walls, the ground, the trees, your complaining shrine, or your god for listening. End your conscious complaining session by bowing, shaking off and then doing something really fun. That’s it!
People who try this practice are astonished to find that complaining doesn’t pull them further down into the doldrums. Actually, it has precisely the opposite effect, because it breaks through stagnation and lets you tell it like it is — without repercussions. The truth is told, the decks are cleared and you get a time-out. And because this is a solitary practice, there’s no danger of losing face or hurting someone else’s feelings — instead, it’s like a quick lube for your soul. Afterward, you’ll find that you can revisit your struggles with renewed vigor and vision.
If you only make time for work and seriousness, and you never make time for play and rest or for kvetching, moaning and complaining, your psyche will become flat and barren. Your flow will evaporate, you’ll deteriorate into perfectionism and you’ll have no fun at all. Conscious complaining gives a voice to your struggles, and in so doing, it restores your flow, your energy, your sense of humor and your hope. It may sound contradictory, but you just can’t be happy unless you complain (consciously, that is).
Complaining vs. Positive Affirmations
The idea behind positive thinking is that each of us clings to thoughts that get in the way of our well-being. Thoughts like “I’m unlovable” or “No one can be truly successful” can really slow down our forward progress. Positive thinking techniques teach us to replace those thoughts with more helpful affirmations, such as “I have love around me all the time” or “Success belongs to me.”
Seems like a good idea, right?
Here’s the problem: If you insert conflicting statements into the midst of strong emotions, you’ll set up warring factions inside yourself. Each of your affirmations will deny or repress the truth of the situation — which means that your psyche will have to increase the intensity of the original emotion or sensation in order to get you to listen up and take effective action.
Conscious complaining is healing because it speaks to your real issues from within your actual sense of things — it addresses your actual concerns, it wrestles with them until flow is restored and then it’s over. Conscious complaining tells it like it is — you allow yourself to be yourself, you allow your emotions to tell it like it is and no one gets hurt.
When you can stand up and complain in a conscious way (rather than just whining without any purpose), your vision and your focus return, your emotions flow, your body releases its stored up tensions and you become free again. True emotional health isn’t an unmoving and unchangeable sense of slap-happiness — it’s your ability to flow and respond uniquely to each of your emotions in turn.
Karla McLaren is the author of The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You. Visit www.karlamclaren.com.