My last blog post was a tongue-in-cheek piece about using a rubber bracelet as a tool to change a habit. I quoted author Brother David Stendl-Rast from his article “Not Complaining,” in the journal Thirty Thousand Days.
Interestingly, something Brother David said, which I did not quote, has stuck with me long enough to realize that it is important enough to share. It came to me this morning in my Feldenkrais class.
Feldenkrais is a slow-moving exercise program that has less to do with improving fitness directly and more to do with retraining our muscles and neural pathways so we can move more efficiently. The room was chilly, the movements slow and meditative, and most of the students elderly; understandably, they felt cold. I was barefoot and I was cold. Fortunately, I focused so intently on carrying out the teacher’s instructions that I wasn’t affected by the temperature until class ended. However, my classmates felt the chill and let us all know how they were feeling. The teacher’s response reminded me of Brother David’s comment. She said something like, “Yes, the YMCA has central heating and we must wear layers of clothing, since we can’t control the temperature in this room, a room they give us every week, a room that is so spacious and perfect for what we are doing. Ironically, the rest of the people using the facility now are working out so hard they are probably feeling too hot.”
This comment didn’t make anyone shivering feel any better, but it connects to what Brother David learned during his successful attempt to break his habit of complaining. “It’s the little me against the rest of the world. And the little me sees itself as entitled to something… But really what on earth does the world owe you when it comes down to it. Everything is given to you. Even the fact 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.” He says that when we complain, we separate ourselves “from the rest of the world and make claims.” In the context of Brother David’s insight, what I heard our group implying, at some level, was, “Our workout room should be warmer, because our needs come first.”
As we get older, themes of entitlement try to colonize our minds like old song lyrics. I can see that I’ll need to return to Brother David’s epiphany again and again.