Complaining can be a lot of fun. I used to work with a woman who loved to complain: her boyfriend, her parents, her commute, her workload. . . And I made the mistake of trying to help her solve one of the problems she complained about. “What if you. . .” I started, until she shot me daggers and interrupted, “No, no, no! You don’t understand.”
And I realized that complaining was one of her favorite things. It gave her comfort. It was easier than doing something about it.
And I understand this. For years I complained about my job. About what wasn’t right. About how “they don’t understand,” and then I’d complain about the job market, or the economy, or whatever made me feel better about not taking action.
And one day I just got sick of hearing myself complain. There was a moment, when I was walking from the copy machine back to my desk, feeling like a zombie, on my way to another tedious conference call. And this voice inside said, “So what do you want to do about it?”
I didn’t know. But I started to take little steps. Baby steps. Going to meet ups. Meeting new people. Exploring my options. Exploring the world, really. Getting a fresh perspective.
I stopped complaining. I got busy, and I started listening. There was something inside me that wanted things to shift. I wasn’t clear on what or how. I listened and listened.
And one day, I was accidentally honest with myself. And I heard myself say, “What I really want is to go away and not come back. I feel like I’m done here.” And as I said the words, I knew it was true and I was afraid. Because I wasn’t sure what that meant, or what would come next. It seemed like a crazy and irresponsible thing to desire.
But once I was aware of that desire, I couldn’t go back to not knowing it. I held it for a long time, looking at it, listening to it, until I learned to use it as a compass. It helped me move forward, out the stuck place. And it gave me the courage to move in the direction I most wanted.
And what I’ve learned is that the more I listen to and work with desire — rather than avoid it, or fight it — the more interesting and meaningful life gets. There’s something almost magical that happens when I listen to desire, especially when it slips out from the shadow of complaining. They are really two sides of the same coin. For every complaint, there’s a desire on the other side.
Maybe a desire for rest. Or a desire to grow. Or to feel appreciated. Or to connect in a meaningful way.
If you notice yourself complaining, get closer, come to stillness, and listen to desire. What does that desire want you to know? What is it inviting or suggesting?
I’ll be talking more about desire next Saturday, February 8th, at my Hangout on Air: Mindful Desire: Living with Passion. It’s free and there’s room for everyone.