Befriend your body. Rewrite the story of your life.

Valentine’s Day Card: On Gratitude and Taking a Complaint Fast

by | Feb 14, 2020 | Journal | 0 comments

I struggle with Spanish. No, let me say it this way: Lucho con el español.

This can be a problem for me, as I live in Mexico and most people I know are Mexican.

I studied Spanish for years in school, but, until now, I hid my fluency in the pages of my textbooks. Now that I am enrolled in the Spanish of Hard Knocks, I tell myself this story: Learning a new language is hard.

This story bounces around in my head every time I go to open my mouth. It catches the words on my tongue and destroys me before I conjugate my first verb.

Step Up

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I recently found myself in the position of having to present a two-hour lecture on agni (the Ayurvedic concept of digestive fire that allows us to transform food and experiences into form and consciousness). I had prepared in English and had planned to present in English, but someone showed up who spoke only Spanish. I gulped and stepped up to translate all my carefully selected notes on the spot.

I sweated my way through the intro, feeling entirely awkward and unlike myself. I felt as if I was reading from a Spanish dictionary. Gone was the fluid, feminine way that I slide around words. Missing was the joy I have for sharing Ayurveda. So I stopped.

I told the group, in Spanish, that I feel like a different person when I speak in this language. One of the guests shared that she experiences the same thing when she speaks English. She went on to say that every language engages different neurons in the brain, so we truly become different people when we speak a new language.

The combination of her compassion and insight eased my shoulders down my back. Suddenly I was filled with gratitude for her, for this new understanding of my brain, and for the depth of the journey my tongue has traveled. I continued in the conversation with much greater ease and forgiveness.

Mistaken Identity

In yoga, we often talk about the concept of identity. All identities from a yogic point of view are mistaken identities, because clinging to one singular understanding of ourselves denies the truth that we are so much more than we can possibly conceptualize. When I recognized that I had been caught up in an identity as an English speaker, Spanish changed from a chore into an opportunity to explore myself as a simple, awesome manifestation of all that is.

Most of the time we are blind to this mistaken identity. So when something comes along that challenges this mistake, such as a move to a new country, discomfort arises. And with discomfort usually comes complaining about how uncomfortable we are. Sometimes the complaints are spoken, but, as was the case of my experience learning Spanish, much more complaining happens at a level so low it is impossible to notice. At least until something shakes us up, like what this student said to me.

After the talk was over, I saw the story I had been living in so clearly. I saw the damage of the loop of complaining about how hard it has been to learn Spanish. Indeed, what a privilege it is to be able to complain that learning the language of my host country is hard. Few immigrants in the U.S. are greeted in their mother tongue as often as I have been here.

A Shift in Perspective

When it comes to complaining, I’m in good company. Complaining is itself a sort of second language to most women. This is one in which we are all pretty fluent.

If you don’t know what I mean, pay attention the next time you speak to a girlfriend, your mother, a sister. Step back a few centimeters from the conversation and notice the way that we relate to one another by pointing out how heavy our loads are. Partly this is because we have safe havens in women, and thank goddess for that, but far too much of what we share is an odd race to the bottom (“Oh you think your kid/partner/boss is annoying? Just wait until you hear what mine did yesterday.”). And this is just what we say externally.

I work with the inner gears of women. As I open the hoods and peer in the engines, I see we are filled with incessant complaining. This little voice of the ego that tells us we will never be what we want to be messes with how we work. No woman I’ve met has flushed this out entirely (but I am still searching), so this has become a universal truth for women who are alive in this man’s world. But let me say this: Our routine negativity keeps us from operating at our best. That is unless we crowd it out with something that reflects our best.

The fastest road to crowd out complaints is paved with gratitude. What we need is much more than a generalized “thank you,” or a whitewashing of pain through positivity. This is a dedication to expressing excessive and genuine gratitude for big and tiny things in our lives. This is what can break the cycle for us complaint addicts. We must overload our systems with joy so that there is simply no space for the complaining to take hold.

Here’s what that looks like:

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  • I’m grateful for the red and white lines of a leaf that fell off a tree in my garden.

  • I’m grateful for the teal color of my dress.

  • I’m grateful for the way the sun enters the room.

  • I’m grateful for the taste of cucumber.

  • I’m grateful for the strength of my spine that holds me up while I type this.

  • I’m grateful for the wisdom of my grandmothers that arrives in a cup of fennel tea.

  • I’m grateful for finding a good dentist for my daughter.

I wrote those seven gratitudes in about one minute and feel so good. Just imagine if I did that all day.

The Only Diet I’m On

If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen that I did a complaint fast in December. I am still fasting — it’s the only diet I’ll ever be on — and am amazed at how much there is to say about without talking about what’s wrong.

It’s easy to do: Just pause before you complain and replace it with a statement of gratitude or pleasure. If you accidentally complain, repent with two gratitudes.

In this complaint fast I have completely reshaped the way I communicate with other women. Rather than beginning a conversation with something negative, I note how much I appreciate the lighting or the depth of the other woman’s words. I am more present. I am slower. I feel more alive.

But much more is happening below the surface. In touching my gratitude I am falling in love with myself on a deeper level. I am courting myself with the compassion of understanding what it has meant for me to exist in this female body in today’s world. It’s a fine romance — despite how rocky it’s been, we’re quite happy together.

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That’s not to say that I am always happy all the time (LOL! ::wipes tears, not necessarily of joy::). This complaint fast came at a time of deep growth that has asked me to examine all the shadowy corners of my mind. Whether the complaint fast initiated this journey within or the journey initiated the complaint fast, I’ll never know. But I do know that even when I am scared, I am grateful. When I am angry, I am grateful. When I am filled with self-doubt, I am grateful. That is because when I feel anything, I am not numb, and I am enjoying the rare privilege of a life awakened to itself.

And what a gift that I am alive. What a gift that you are too. Because of you, there is someone to read these words. Because of you, there is someone to share this humble cup of sweet nectar. Because of you, there is a reason to heal, to laugh, to cry, to release, to rebuild.

I love you so damn much. Whether you’ve read all my posts or ignore me with the best of intentions, thank you.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And, you’re welcome.

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