Practices From the Inside Out: Complaining as a Spiritual Practice?

Practices From the Inside Out: Complaining as a Spiritual Practice? October 11, 2018

Complaining as a Spiritual Practice

Some of our practices are one we choose intentionally while others seem to choose us.

We may want a deeper understanding of stillness, so we decide to practice listening to sacred stillness. There may be traditional spiritual practices which spark our curiosity and we set out to follow them. Someone may tell us we need to strengthen our generosity or hospitality. We find a way to intentionally practice our way into deeper understanding.

Other practices do not require much analysis or intention on our part. They seem to be natural reflections of how we experience spiritual life.

We live in a society where people seem to understand complaining as a spiritual practice.

People in our country are encouraged to practice complaining. One of the rights protected by our Constitution is to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” That is fancy legal language for complaining. The primary law of our land also tells us we have the right to “equal protection” of the laws.

People who may not know any other provision of our laws know they have the right to be protected equally. We have a deep understanding of unfairness whenever we experience anyone else benefitting in some way we do not.

One thing our society produces better than almost anyone else is our complaining.

Our world is full of complaining. We complain about the government, no matter who is making decisions. Some of us complain about the rest of us and they then complain about the people complaining about them.

We complain about the weather, no matter what it is. Some of us complain about our favorite sports teams, and about their rival teams.

Our practice of complaining is strengthening our ability to complain. We can complain almost without thinking about it.

Do We See Complaining as a Spiritual Practice?

It does not really matter any more whether we agree with the people complaining or not. We hear complaining every day and it escalates into arguing and deep divisions.

I enjoy good complaining as much as anyone else does. I did, after all, practice law as a criminal prosecutor. One of my responsibilities was to draft and sign criminal complaints. I have a fairly clear understanding of what goes into a strong complaint.

Almost all of us want a chance to be heard, to say what we have to say, to make our case. Putting together our complaint is part of our practice of complaining.

We can learn a lot from how a complaint is put together. Our complaints express our expectations and what we feel is unsatisfactory or unacceptable. Complaining is a form of lament, an expression of our grief or sorrow.

Our complaining is not merely sounding off or causing problems. We are not complaining because we like to hear the sound of our own voices.

Complaining as a spiritual practice is how we give voice to our grief. We are petitioning for a redress of our grievances.

When we are complaining as a spiritual practice we are doing more than writing a letter to the complaint department. We express our need to understand, our questions about how spiritual life works in us.

When life does not behave as we expected, we complain about it. We believe we have met our end of the bargain but have not received what we thought we would.

Where is the justice we have been promised? How can this be what we deserve?

Complaining as a spiritual practice touches on many aspects of who we are and how spiritual life lives within us.

Experiencing Complaining as a Spiritual Practice

When we experience complaining as a spiritual practice it does not necessarily mean we complain more. We are not trying to sharpen our complaining skills or become more effective complainers.

Like any contemplative practice, we hope our complaining will help us be open to spiritual life.

Our complaining changes as we understand and experience it as a spiritual practice. What we complain about and why we complain become new.

As we grow into complaining as a spiritual practice we begin to see complaining, and ourselves, in new ways.

Our first step toward complaining as a spiritual practice is coming to terms with our grief, our lament. We need to spend time with ourselves, and with other people, before our complaining can tap into our deep grief.

Complaining as a spiritual practices is not about being frustrated because life becomes inconvenient. Going beneath the surface of our grief allows us to experience it more completely. We cannot lament well until we are open to deep truths.

Experiencing grief more clearly allows us to share other people’s grief. Our complaining as a spiritual practice is not only about our own complaints.

The next step is putting our complaint, our lament, into words. We struggle to share our grief in ways which other people can share.

Recognizing Complaining as a Spiritual Practice

We may be tired of so much complaining from so many people so often. It may be difficult for us to work our way through the complaining we hear every day to find spiritual truths.

When we recognize complaining as a spiritual practice it opens us to share the depth of our lament, our grief. We hear the cries of our hearts and the hearts around us and express them with clarity.

Complaining as a spiritual practice reflects our relationship to spiritual life. Experiencing spiritual life as something formal with a lot of rules to follow, it is not a safe place to complain. As our relationship deepens and grows, it becomes more intimate and more honest. Part of our honesty is putting our grief and lament into words.

Spiritual life is, among other things, a balance of stillness and speaking. Complaining as a spiritual practice opens us to putting our contemplation into words.

How will we recognize complaining as a spiritual practice for us each day?

Why are we complaining as a spiritual practice this week?

[Image by americans4financialreform]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is, and his email address is

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