Leave the Ideal and Liberate Your Longing (or How to Love Chicken Butts)

My assistant Deb gave me this stone for Christmas.

I’ve been re-reading Thoreau with my daughter and I’m struck by the same thing I was when I read him as a kid – he makes living by your principles sound like an early Nike ad – just do it.

He makes it sounds so easy and ideal.

Here’s what I’ve discovered this last week in the Savor & Serve experiment – ideals get in the way.

I love the ideal. It makes my heart race with possibility, freshness, neatness; the heart-breaking compromise, on the other hand, the small shift? Gets a bit of yawn from me.

I’m ready to give up my love affair with the ideal and embrace all of me and serve from my undivided imperfect self.

Let me illustrate what I mean with a chicken butt.

I lead my newest retreat, Stepping into your She-ro’s Journey, at Kripalu Retreat Center last week (join me this summer) and it was so wildly powerful (Hillary has been to 17 programs at Kripalu and said mine was the best – bowing). One thing we do is spend time in circle talking and listening with open attentive hearts, being seen so we can bring our new stories into being.

We were talking about our blind spots and shadows, and Randall piped up with a comment,

I raise eggs and I shared some with a friend. Her daughter was home from college and my friend offered to make her an omelette from my eggs. Her daughter wrinkled up her nose and said ‘I don’t want to eat Randall’s eggs. They come from chicken’s butts’. The mother said, “Where do you think the eggs in the grocery store come from?’ And her daughter shrugged and said, ‘The grocery store.’

Laugh, be aghast, send the girl a copy of Food, Inc. and

We all have a chicken butt story. Actually,we have a whole lot of them.

We all turn away from something we don’t want to face – and only every single day.

For some of us, it’s where our food comes from. Or what our money is invested in – maybe the very companies we won’t buy products from. Or the impact our work has on the planet. Or the amount of stuff we buy that we don’t need. Or…

If everyone on the planet lived the way we do, we’d need 9 Earths.

You want to click away right now, stop reading? Me, too. I don’t want to write this because I don’t have an answer.

Except actually, wait a minute – I do!

The answer is abandon guilt. Instead, liberate your longing.

Changing our ways so can all can live a dignified and safe life has too often been done in the spirit of severity, lack, and aggression.

Yesterday I interviewed the amazing meditation teacher Sally Kempton for the Savor & Serve Cafe and she said:

Genuine service has to come out of savoring. Very often, we are brought up to believe that service involves a life in which everything is for someone other, something other, and that is one of the reasons why the path of service has not lead to profound transformation.

I’ve found people who are really able to serve and actually help people, it’s because they are coming out of a heart space, out of a place of love and genuine pleasure in themselves and other people and what they are doing, and in life itself. When you are really savoring life, service is natural.

So to begin to see our chicken butts (our blind spots), let us experiment by feeling into the heart of our longing for safety and beauty and love for all.

It’s much more fun then clamping your jaw down and deciding to give up your morning latte and give the money away to Kiva because it is what you should do.

Instead, what if you dropped into your heart, put your whole attention there, and asked, “What choice can I make right now from this longing for all to savor life?”

Please know: if you have not been tending to your own longing to be safe and taken care of, you might find a rocky resistance to extending your heart to others. Start by extending your heart to yourself. The wise Bindu Wiles has a wonderful post about self-care and world-care here.

Or you might ask and find some resistance and acts it out. I did.  At Kripalu, deep in this conversation about chicken butts and the choices I could be making, I went into to full on shopping mode, something that is so rare for me, it’s like a comet sighting. I bought a new outfit, a necklace and a Ganesha statue. I didn’t need any of those things and while the proceeds support a place I love, and I choose them with care, the money would have been more useful to an AIDS orphan.

Which is my way of saying there is no ideal, there is no black and white, but there is the chance to love our longing, and be curious, and honest with ourselves, without ever picking up the cudgel of self-loathing.

I’d love to hear how you dance with your impact, your choices, your longing.


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Anonymous - April 26, 2011

Sally is so wise! As are you, my wise friend.

I dance with my impact, my choices and my longing by allowing myself to feel connected to myself and to others. It means allowing myself to feel the impact of my actions on others, which can make me want to turn away sometimes. And it also allows me to feel and embrace my own longing.

    jenniferlouden - April 26, 2011

    you are so wise! thank you!

Ldeyoung09 - April 27, 2011

I was contemplating these very things when I was out hiking this morning. And now after a long day of work I don’t have the energy for a super intelligent comment – except thanks for sharing these thoughts. It helps to know I’m not alone.

julie - April 27, 2011

Thank you for writing this. I struggle with giving/keeping so much. Sometimes my service comes from a joyful place but sometimes it comes from an emptied dry place. I turn these thoughts over and over in my mind…esp. the last paragraph, oh how I see myself there…the guilt coupled with the longing for beautiful things the choices not between good and bad things, but good and good things, the desire to do “meaningful” things and yet, the reality of doing them, the reality of helping children not from a lofty place of good intention but from the sticky gluey place of Brownie Scout crafts…my own desire to simplify and my own responses to beauty. The choice to plant flowers knowing that their beauty is so so wonderful but also knowing that that time, energy and money could be spent elsewhere, perhaps in a more shared way. Anyway, you hit on so many of my thoughts running around. Thanks so much for sharing.

Crescent - April 27, 2011

Love this! I too have been rereading Thoreau (a big bean devotee, as you know). Ideals are another form of that killer perfectionism… the shoulds… the mirages that PRETEND to be good thoughts so they can sneak in below the radar and do their evil self-excoriation all while smiling angelically.

As you so often do, Jen, you nailed it.

sarah - April 27, 2011

LOVEZ. something i’ve been realising recently is that if we all focus on the difficult bad problems that we feel we should be serving, we’re neglecting the good stuff that gets all of us through life. We could drown in bad news.
And we need to serve the servers. If any of you have ever had to care long term for a sick parent/child then you will know the value of a dance class or a feel-good movie or even an escapism novel. We do not all have to be ‘saving’ or serving in the ways the world tells us we ‘should’ be 24/7 – sometimes we need to align how we serve with serving ourselves at the same time. Sometimes a way to ‘serve’ is to truly appreciate the beauty/life we have been blessed with in the hope that others will follow your example and appreciate it too

Kathy Bennett - April 27, 2011

I so appreciate your statement, “I’m ready to give up my love affair with the ideal and embrace all of me and serve from my undivided imperfect self.” How many of us hold ourselves back because we are afraid we won’t do it right, make a real difference, or be enough? We are all perfectly imperfect and have unique gifts and talents to share — so let’s go!
As for the shopping, I see you following your inner guidance and calling — how beautiful! I believe that we live in an abundant universe with enough for all. It feels like you were really savoring life when you made your purchases. Another time you might savor life by donating to a charity. I see both as equally valuable and contributing the whole.
Thanks for writing in a way that inspires, provokes thought and entertains!

Susan Gallacher-Turner - April 27, 2011

So often my feeling of need to serve or volunteer or give away is just guilt in disguise. It’s fear of being ‘without’ clothed in charity. I agree that true serving has to come from the heart and that means a healthy, happy, open space.

Now…Jen, that could mean a nice outfit for you, too…right?

Amy R. Martin - April 27, 2011

Ah – but Thoreau was, alas, a hypocrite. He didn’t live isolated in the woods. He lived one block from his Mother’s house where she fed & cared for him.

That’s why he made it sound so easy and ideal.

Nonetheless I enjoy his words…

“There is no black and white” – Agreed! I’m touched by your experiment.

Amy Martin

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