I thought I was pretty good at not complaining, I had so little opportunity to complain I thought…

Br. David: I find this aspect that you stressed, of complaining, very significant, and maybe at first sight more directly connected with gratitude than the one that I was going to stress. But, I stress mine because it’s my particular experience, and I am right now experimenting with not complaining. I didn’t know whether any of you have seen these purple bracelets that say Complaint-free World.com. A friend gave this to me about two weeks ago, three weeks ago, and since then I went to a peace conference out in San Jose. Somebody came up to me, and said, “Oh, you’re wearing this purple bracelet. I started this.”

It’s a minister from somewhere in Kansas, and he said, “We distributed,” I don’t know how many millions, he mentioned five million, or fifteen million, or something like that, “All over the world.”

Roshi Joan: We want some here.

Br. David: Yes. Well, you can just Google a Complaint-free World and they will send you these bracelets I’m sure. But otherwise, you just put something on. When I got this and I put it on, honestly, I thought, “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. You wear it for 21 days on the same wrist, but if you complain you have to take over onto the other wrist and start all over again for 21 days.

If you tell one of your friends who is wearing it, “Oops you have been complaining,” then you are complaining about her complaining and you have to change yours over again. I thought I was pretty good at not complaining, I had so little opportunity to complain I thought. Well, we are looking for these opportunities, it’s amazing. I was at that time out at Sky Farm, which is a wonderful Sky Farm Hermitage near Sonoma, California. We went to church in Sonoma Sunday morning, drove down, and right across from the church there is a house where friends of ours used to live, and now they sold it.

What concern of mine is this? But immediately I complained about this picket fence.

There was a white picket fence around this property now. What concern of mine is this? But immediately I complained about this picket fence. “What an ugly picket fence. Why did they have to put this picket fence around? It was such a nice piece of property.” So, we go out to look for something. Then I asked, what is it really that upset me about it, and the answer is change. And there is where it’s connected with gratefulness, you see. I don’t want change, I don’t want change. The little me doesn’t want change. The little me is very allergic against change.

It wants, always as it was in the past, you see, everything. Old time religion, beginning with the old time religion, to your little idiosyncrasies. Everything we want as it always was. I see this very closely connected with complaining.

You ask yourself what on earth does the world owe you? When it comes down to it, absolutely nothing. Everything is given to you. Even that you are here is a gift.

Br. David: The me, it’s the me versus the rest of the world. And that little me versus the rest of the world sees itself entitled to something. Entitlement has to do with, as it always has been, you see, the world owes me something. You ask yourself what on earth does the world owe you? When it comes down to it, absolutely nothing. Everything is given to you. Even 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 and then you turn around, separate yourself from the rest of the world and make claims. It’s amazing.

And this is a blockage of my freedom to avail myself of the opportunity that this present moment gives me, you see. And we said gratefulness is accepting what is in the now and thereby accepting the opportunity of this present moment. And what, every gratefulness is always gratefulness for opportunity. That’s the key word, opportunity. Most of the time it’s the opportunity to enjoy and we miss many of these opportunities, most of them I’m afraid. But then comes something difficult and then we wake up and we say how can I enjoy this you see. And if you’re in training we can say what opportunities am I supposed to be grateful for now? What opportunities offered for me now.

If you can’t change you can’t grow. You’re stuck.

And very often it is the opportunity for change, you see. If you can’t change you can’t grow. You’re stuck. You’re stuck and the opportunity to change is blocked by complaining. Because complaint wants no change. So the opportunity … This is something so beautiful that I discovered, it’s an aspect of gratefulness. I always knew opportunity was important but the opportunity to change, see. And even in the opportunity to enjoy there is always the opportunity to change, you see. Everything that you enjoy makes you richer, makes you more truly yourself, makes you happier. It’s all change. It’s continuous growth and change and complaining blocks this opportunity for change. It doesn’t want change.

The conversation concludes next week with these wise elders’ further thoughts on complaining and change…

Roshi Joan Halifax – Buddhist teacher, Zen priest, anthropologist, civil-rights activist, and author – is Founder and Abbot of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Br. David and Roshi Joan have been friends since the ’70s. This conversation took place in May, 2007.

Br. David Steindl-Rast Peace
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.

Roshi Joan Halifax

Roshi Joan Halifax

About the author

Roshi Joan Halifax, Ph.D.is a Buddhist teacher, Founder and Head Teacher of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a social activist, author, and in her early years was an anthropologist at Columbia University (1964-68) and University of Miami School of Medicine (1970-72). She is a pioneer in the field of end-of-life care. Her books include: The Human Encounter with Death (with Stanislav Grof); The Fruitful Darkness, A Journey Through Buddhist PracticeSimplicity in the ComplexA Buddhist Life in AmericaBeing with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Wisdom in the Presence of DeathStanding at the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet; and Sophie Learns to Be Brave.