You probably wouldn’t know it unless you spoke to me for more than about, say, 5 minutes, but I suffer from a particular affliction. As far as I know this wasn’t something I carried with me in my childhood years; it’s adult onset. It’s known as Complainer Brain.
If you yourself suffer from Complainer Brain, or you know someone that does, you’ll know that it’s quite an exhausting condition to be around because the main feature of the condition is that, for the sufferer at least, there is no cure.
Generally speaking, episodes that are common to this complaint involve a statement of discontent or difficulty, followed by an inability to accept or entertain any solutions proposed, each of these instead giving rise to counters that justify the complainant in remaining stuck in their predicament with no way out.
An example. I’m sick of being a waitress, I want to be a writer. My (patient) friend innocently suggests I start writing, triggering my Complainer Brain to take over and adamantly insist (vocally) that I have nothing to write about, I don’t want to spend my life stuck in front of a screen, writing won’t pay the bills, I need a reliable income and the tips are good in the summer and at least I get to talk to people. I just wish that my life had some kind of direction and meaning and that there was something I could DO about it!
This is my yoga; I’m practicing self-awareness (if not santosha). And believe it or not, I actually do still have quite a lot of very good friends in spite of this condition – yoga teachers are an exceptionally compassionate and patient bunch!
The great thing is that I am faaaaaaar from alone in this. And that prominent sufferers have been known to go on and accomplish great things and become the subject of epic tales passed on through generations, inspiring some of our greatest thinkers and doers in history. Enter Arjuna, protagonist of one of yoga’s best-loved texts, The Bhagavad Gita.
Arjuna’s struggle on the cosmic battlefield that is the setting of The Bhagavad Gita is recognisable to most of us. Caught between divided loyalties – in this case his moral qualms about sending men into war and his dharma, his duty or life path, as a warrior – Arjuna feels unable to act and begs his friend Krishna to help him in his plight.
It quickly becomes clear that Arjuna’s Complainer Brain is on a full scale rampage and he has been taken hostage by it’s demands. He cannot be convinced by Krishna’s consistent counsel that tells him to act in accordance with his dharma, despite plenty of compelling argument and evidence that this is the right path. For every rousing speech that Krishna delivers calling Arjuna to action, Arjuna responds with further doubt and a plea for something more convincing that might do the trick.
Of course, Krishna has all-knowing omniscience and divine consciousness on his side, being God incarnate, unbeknownst to his warrior boss. It would be nice to think that we would be more easily convinced by such a figure than Arjuna is, but the fact is that when your Complainer Brain takes over it’s hard to see the giant blue deity standing in front of you for the trees…
If you haven’t read The Bhagavad Gita and would like to then I won’t spoil it for you. Suffice to say that Arjuna’s journey to self-realisation is a difficult one and through it all he is kind of his own worst enemy. In yoga, Complainer Brain is also known as the ego. It’s that part of you that wants to be comfortable, that likes the familiar, that goes for instant gratification and can justify pretty much any behaviour. But just below the surface there’s another part of you, the one that hears yourself and cringes. The part that knows that something just doesn’t feel that great and that somehow, someday, something will have to change. Because avoiding your dharma is unavoidable (and undesirable!).
Change is hard. It requires facing up to your doubts and fears, gathering your strength, and often more than just a little faith. It asks you to stop making excuses, to leave parts of yourself behind – parts that you are quite attached to – and step into something unknown with no guarantees. It means risking failure and being vulnerable. You can fight it and resist it, but change is coming and you will have to act. And if you leave it too long, it probably ain’t gonna be pretty!
The main message of the Bhagavad Gita, and the message I get from all my dear friends and teachers all the time, is to just stop complaining and get on with it.
And guess what. I think I just did.