You’re at the beach, laughing with friends as you enjoy a picnic lunch. The waves are lapping the shore, the sun is shining and random clouds pass by at just the right moment to keep you from overheating. It’s a fun, happy, perfect moment.
During a natural lull in the conversation, one of your friends nonchalantly says, “There’s sand in my fruit cup. Is there any in your food?”
You examine your sandwich, and say, “No, I don’t see any.” But now every time you chew on a potato chip you wonder if the grit between your teeth is salt or sand. The perfect moment is gone, and you begin to notice how hot the sun is, and you’d like to cool off in the water, but it’s too cold. The wind that once felt refreshing is now annoying as it blows everything around.
We all have that friend, and sometimes we are that friend, who sours the sweet.
It’s not intentional. We don’t mean to bring everyone down from their mountain of bliss, yet these random comments come out of our mouths and spoil the moment.
This pointing out of the negative or unfortunate is a habit based in our community-building process of complaining. Yes, complaining does build community! The fastest way to start a conversation while in line at the grocery store is to complain about standing in line. Some of you already know what I’m talking about, and those that don’t, try it! Soon you and your new friend will find all sorts of things to complain about together, and you’ll leave the store feeling like you had a moment of connection.
When done with purpose, complaining or pointing out the negative is a good thing that helps us grow and evolve both individually and as a society. When done randomly out of habit, it can destroy our peace of mind.
On the spiritual Path, we strive to be positive. This doesn’t mean we live a world of saccharine sweetness where we never acknowledge anything negative. Being positive on the Path means we seek ways we can grow and expand our awareness from whatever is presented to us.
We pay attention to the habitual thoughts running through our mind, and we consciously choose what to say and how to act. We begin to learn that by choosing positive words and actions, our thoughts become more positive. Over time, we begin to notice more of the sweet and less of the sour.
When we observe the sour, we can stop ourselves and examine our motivation for sharing what we’ve noticed. Will telling others there is sand in our food help in any way? Will sharing our unpleasant experience benefit anyone? Or are we acting out of habit, seeking a way to connect?
Once we know our motivation, we can consciously choose how to respond to our mind’s noticing of the sour. We can take the experience as an opportunity to let go of our attachment. If we want to connect with someone, perhaps we can find something beautiful to share instead. We can also point out the sour, and then provide ideas of how we can improve the situation, like suggesting we cover up the fruit salad to stop any more sand from getting into it. This practice holds true for the events we face in our world that are much more serious than sand in our food.
Instead of being the downer souring the sweet moments with friends, either in person or on social media, we can use the moments we catch ourselves starting to complain to grow. It all begins with paying attention to our thoughts and the motivations behind the actions we are about to take. If we can stretch ourselves towards the positive in the moment of acknowledging the sour, we can create compassion within our being and find ways to act out of loving-kindness. In doing so, we sweeten the sour.
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