I led a meditation this morning that began with inviting everyone to share a ‘first world problem,’ and ended with some time to ponder gratitude, impermanence, and perspective. The theme occurred to me as I was telling a friend before the meditation started that I had to drink tea instead of coffee because I was out of decaf. Three days in a row I’ve enjoyed full-strength coffee, but this body can’t handle it, so I brewed a weak pot of Earl Grey. Even that gave me indigestion, but that’s beside the point. I laughed as I ‘complained’ about this, and said “First world problems,” then told her about the first time I heard that phrase.
It was in Moonrise Espresso a hundred years ago, a cozy neighborhood coffee shop. I walked in and was complaining to someone about something inconsequential, and a guy I’d never seen before looked up from his laptop and said, “First world problem, huh?” I was speechless, then laughed out loud. I understood instantly what he meant, and it was a moment of awakening. Perspective! But it took awhile for that insight to really sink in, and inform my entire way of being. Practicing mindfulness, one of the first things we learn is to be grateful for the many blessings in our lives. I wake each day in a bed with a roof over my head, turn on a tap to get water, and have a choice between coffee and tea, both of which come from faraway lands. I’m in reasonably good health, and am content with my life. In the context of starvation, climate displacement, war, and countless other desperate human conditions, I really have nothing to complain about.
This doesn’t mean that everything is always peachy and I have no right to complain, or be unhappy or scared if real trouble arises, or wish things to be other than they are. It simply means that I can keep things in perspective, and not waste energy fretting the small stuff. It means that a momentary frustration is just that, momentary, and losing the internet for a couple hours, or a clogged drain, or any other inconvenience, isn’t going to ruin my day or even my mood. It also means that I’m aware of great suffering in the world, holding compassion for those suffering and wanting to help where I can. And it means that I can bring compassion to myself also, recognizing when things are really hard and not just annoying, and be more supportive and caring for myself and others, and more resilient in challenging situations. I’m grateful for the perspective of ‘first world problems.’
Getting snowed in at the end of a quarter mile driveway could also be seen as a first world problem. That I even have a driveway that long is an enormous privilege, for which I’m immensely grateful. That I even have a driveway. I’m grateful for friends with big trucks! I didn’t get back out to take a picture after the Bad Dogs dropped off groceries, but am sure grateful they were able to punch through the drifts to get down here.
Little Tiny loves the snow, but not when it’s up to her shoulders. It’s the first time we’ve been out that she has jumped on me to pick her up and carry her home. I’m also grateful to be making progress on the puzzle, enjoying the warm sunny view while the fire warms and lights the house inside, even as clouds and wind blow outside.
I first heard this theory as “Leaves in the Pool” problems and have always been struck by it. Another opportunity to make a gratitude list.
Beautifully put, Rita, as usual. (And, Hilary, thank you for “Leaves in the Pool.” Hadn’t heard that one before. So poetic, succinct, and apt.)