News Flash: Fear Does Not Respond Well to Self-Discipline

Fear Does not Respond Well to Self-Discipline by Jen Louden

My new desk altar

This past weekend I went wild.

I’ll admit, wild for me may appear tame to some, but hey, half a loaf of bread was consumed! Three bars of chocolate! Nine episodes of various Netflix TV episodes. Two naps! 200 pages of a stupid novel (I wish it hadn’t been stupid).

Let me set the scene – Bob was gone at a meditation retreat with Aidan (who came for a visit!) and I was home alone in my new house. I was smart enough to set up a hike with a friend at the start of the long weekend, but after that, I hadn’t given much thought to what I would do except to give myself a short Desire Retreat…

(What’s a Desire Retreat? A designated span of time in which you ask yourself, “What do I want?” and follow what you hear like a bloodhound. We do this as part of the Oasis. Why? Because we spend so much time either doing what we have to do or what we think we should do, and we sometimes lose the ability to know what we truly want. And that has deadening and even dangerous consequences for our hearts and lives.)

So here I was, with a free weekend, after a huge transition, and I decided to do a 24-hour Desire Retreat starting when I woke up Saturday morning. I mean, what could be more delicious than to do exactly what I wanted after doing what needed to be done for so long?

At first, it was delicious – I lolled in bed, I drank tea, I read a book about writing; it all felt very organic. Resting. Reconnecting to me.

And then, an edge of pushy anxiety crept in. I stopped following that murky, sweet, changing current of “What do I really want?” and starting pushing myself to do. “I should get exercise… I should explore this new landscape… I should put away the rest of my books and the winter coats…”

Now this alone isn’t such a big deal – I often freak out when I first recalibrate with desire after a long period of pushing myself – but what I wasn’t ready for was the wave of anxiety that tipped me into about 48 hours of total shadow comforts. I even drank wine (which does not agree with me).

Now you might ask,“But wait, Jen, what’s the big deal about a weekend of eating bread and drinking wine and watching Netflix?” and I would say that it isn’t a big deal except it was making me feel like shit. Depressed. Anxious. Icky. That’s the distinction I’ve always made about shadow comforts – it’s not what you do, it is how it makes you feel.

Healthy comforts soothe you and open a way back to your self; shadow comforts reinforce the idea you suck, can’t be trusted, and you’d better double down on the shoulds.

I kept watching my choices, trying to be kind to myself, struggling then not struggling… I knew that being at war with myself would make it worse – it’s what I teach – but somehow I wasn’t able to stop judging myself and then numbing out more because I was judging myself for numbing out!

Finally, about a day and half into my roiling, I got to my meditation cushion. I did a body scan and released some deep tension, and once I was back in my body just a little bit (never fails to amaze me how just a little bit of body connection works miracles!), I understood:

Moving (like any big life change) destabilized me, made me feel vulnerable. My very sense of who I am tottered – like it does when life flips us over on our bellies. And thus, my deepest fears reared their heads: fear I can never write the book(s) I most want to write; fears I missed out on so much of Lilly’s life by being off in the future; fears of my mom dying a terrible death; and so on.

So what did I do upon landing in Colorado? Try to muscle my way back to feeling safe and stable. Cue productive morning rituals! Cue impossible high bars! Cue subtle, hectoring inner talk.

Cue crash.

As long as I am unwilling to be fragile and exposed and afraid, to put my arm around all those parts of me, I’ll keep shoving buttered toast and Pamela’s Pecan Shortbread into my mouth and clicking on another episode of Madame Secretary.

Here is what big life changes pull back the curtain and reveal: we are a mess. We are never the story we construct – whatever that story is – and that’s such good news. Because my story, your story is ALWAYS removed from life itself. Our task, and it’s so hard when comfort is ripped away but that’s what makes it good news!, is to shift our allegiance from thinking about our lives to being alive.

Lord, do I suck at that right now. But writing this, writing to you, being with you in this adventure of grace, it means the world. It is in relationships that we find the strength and courage to be alive without narrative, without hope, without fear. Just be right here.

Love and my immense gratitude for reading this,

Jen

P.S. I love the women who are already posting at the fall Oasis and felt my whole heart expand when Karen wrote in her intro, “I was doing well on the journey until a little while ago, but recently I lost the path, and I have been bush-whacking a bit. I believe that scheduling time, reflecting, writing, and sharing will help me get back on track; my dream destination for the year is to arrive at a place where I can ‘thrive with grace’.” Me too! I am so looking forward to being back in the nurturing, focusing Oasis space with you all and to thrive with grace! WE START FRIDAY. Early bird goes until Thursday.

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