A Good Vent
I was listening recently to a friend who was venting about a co-worker’s behavior. She was pretty annoyed, and I could understand it. I think most of us would find the other person’s behavior objectionable. After blowing off some steam, she moved on to other topics, which was a good thing; I am okay with holding the space for people to get things off their chest up to a point, and I know a good vent can go a long way to restoring one’s mental and emotional equilibrium.
However, after multiple vents about the same topic, which go on way too long, I am done listening, and I bet you are, too. It starts feeling unproductive and negative. I also start wondering, “why?” and I get interested in the bigger picture. Why bother getting annoyed again and again with the same people over the same issues? I’m thinking about another friend who had a tendency to complain about her ex-boyfriend, who, I agree, did not behave well, yet the endless rants didn’t change the relationship. What changed it most was her choice to speak up about the things that were bothering her, which took years. In the meantime, she complained—a lot.
So, what good comes of all this complaining? I know, sometimes people do it because they feel better when someone else is feeling “sorry” for them. I have never completely understood this; how can that make you feel better? Or maybe you perceive that the person you are venting to is “on your side,” and you like how that feels. Less alone. Or it feels good to be “heard.” That’s understandable, but meanwhile, you’re trashing someone else’s reputation. When someone finally meets that person you have been complaining about, their view is tainted, which is nowhere close to fair for the person you spoke poorly of. No doubt, if you are like most people, when you were doing all that venting, you were not sharing so much about your own contribution to the situation.
A Better Way
A good way to get ourselves to a better place in our relationship with other people and situations is to simply practice accepting them as is. Assuming these other people are like the rest of us, they will have their ups and downs, and we can practice tolerating the dips as they tolerate ours.
Acceptance is powerful medicine, and it can take us to this more open-hearted place of experiencing the entire person (not just the part of them we like) and allowing them space to be just that. Let’s call it an unconditional neutral acceptance of what is as is. Sounds a lot like what we do in our yoga and meditation practices called mindfulness, doesn’t it? Yet, accepting discomfort in your right hip, which is momentary and fleeting, may not be quite as challenging as accepting how your spouse parents your kids in ways you don’t like. Or how they spend joint money on things you think are unnecessary. This is much more difficult.
An Even Better Way
More difficult still is to take our acceptance practice even closer to home. We get to look at ourselves and our choices rather than feel like big victims of other people’s behaviors. Accepting one’s choice in a spouse. Accepting one’s choice in a job and in a life circumstance. When we own those choices and accept that we are choosing a mixed bag, we can understand better why we are there. We always have valid reasons for what we do, and sometimes we don’t have reasons we like too much. “I’m here because I’m afraid to leave.” “I’m with this person because I’m afraid no one else will love me.” “I’m choosing this job because it feels safe and comfortable economically.” These are reasons. When we accept them and ourselves as is, we open the door to future change. Certainly, berating ourselves for hiding in an unhealthy relationship for all the wrong reasons won’t help. So, these awarenesses must come with compassion.
It is so much easier to accept other people as is when we can give ourselves the same gift. Not to excuse unhealthy behavior or poor choices, but to completely own them as valid in their own right. There’s a part of us that was served in the situation. Maybe it’s our inner control freak, our inner grouch, or our inner victim. Be that as it may, allowing that truth to be seen, and felt, can shift us out of vent mode into compassion mode, which is always a good thing and seems more and more to be what our world needs now, by the boatload.
So, let’s practice this. Owning our stuff before pointing a finger at others. Bringing compassion to bear when we acknowledge our own feelings and choices. Accepting others and ourselves as is. It’s great practice! Have fun with it. Practice it the next time your yoga instructor tells you to do Utkatasana. One more time.