Guest Post: Jen Louden On The Life You Plan V. The Life That Waits For You

2015 August 3
by Jenny

Here’s another lovely resource that swooped into my inbox as I was wrestling with reunion stuff-so perfect as a balm for all the second-guessing I was doing around the choices I’ve made in my life.

“You must give up the life you planned in order…”

Jennifer Louden Blog Post May 28, 2015

“You must give up the life you planned in order to have the life that is waiting for you.” – Joseph Campbell

I’ve always loved that quote because it appealed so strongly to 12-year-old me, the me who carried a copy of Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe everywhere, and told anyone who asked (and many who didn’t), “I will never live an ordinary life.”

The me who thought living in the suburbs and having a regular job was tantamount to death.

The me who judged adults for doing so. (Oh so smug, that young me was.)

The young me who was so sure she would fearlessly live a life of making movies, writing books, traveling to wild places, journeying deep within…

Now I bow down before this quote, shaking my head at younger me with tenderness and a measure of chagrin.

Because now I know: giving up the life you planned is hard. Much, much harder than declaring, “I will live an unconventional life!”

Because the “life you planned” isn’t just about leaving a job that has gone stale or a relationship that has folded in on itself. It is not just insisting your siblings help you care for your father or that your marriage continue to evolve. Those are all important,

and

Giving up the life you planned is also about leaving dreams you have outgrown or that will never grow.

It is about giving up the someone you once were but aren’t any longer.

It is also about leaving your plans to become someone better than you are right now and your fantasies about what will happen in a fabled future.

Our stories of the past and our fantasies about the future, our woulda-coulda-shouldas and our “But I used to be able to…” block the life that is waiting for us just as effectively as any need for job security or ideas adopted from our culture or parents, or any fears of vulnerability and intimacy.

Here’s the good news: The life that is waiting for you is here now. There isn’t any waiting – I think Mr. Campbell got that part wrong. Life is continually informing you, nudging you right now. But, as the saying goes, you must be present to win.

For me, it’s much more fun to imagine that living unconventionally or doing something brave will unleash the life that is waiting for me. But that is just another story blocking the life that is here now. (That idea makes me dizzy but it’s so true.)

To open to the life that is here now means welcoming what is here now.

Welcoming my jiggly thighs without veering into a fantasy about how much exercise I will get starting this afternoon and for the rest of my life.

Welcoming how tired I am without wishing I had the energy I had last month when I was feeling great.

Welcoming how sad I am about my mom’s steep decline instead of bolstering myself with, “But I’m a good daughter, I’m doing a great job.”

Welcoming saying goodbye mindfully to my home I will be leaving soon rather than vaguely pretending it’s not actually happening because we don’t have a firm move date (or a house to move to).

To open to the life that is here now means I keep stopping as I write this to listen deeply, to feel if I am telling my truth in the best I know how, without veering off to check email or veering back to tinker with words.

This life is here now. All it requires to show itself to you is for you to show up for it. To welcome reality as it is now.

Just that. (Said with a wry grin.)

I’m so glad we are doing this welcoming together!

Love,

Jen

Jennifer-Louden-headshot

Jennifer Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped launch the self-care movement with her first book, The Woman’s Comfort Book. She’s the author of 7 additional books on well-being and whole living: The Couple’s Comfort Book, The Pregnant Woman’s Comfort Book, The Woman’s Retreat Book, Comfort Secrets for Busy Women (The Comfort Queen’s Guide to Life in hardcover), The Life Organizer, and A Year of Daily Joy.  There are about million copies of her books in print in 9 languages.flickr

Jennifer has spoken around the U.S., Canada and Europe, written a national magazine column for a Martha Stewart magazine, been profiled or quoted in dozens of major magazines, and appeared on hundreds of TV and radio shows, even on Oprah.  Jennifer has been teaching retreats and leading workshops since 1992, and creating vibrant on-line communities and innovative learning experiences since 2000. She married her second husband at 50, and is the very proud mom of Lillian and very proud bonus mom to Aidan.

Guest Post: Rachelle Mee-Champman on Grief

2015 July 31
by Jenny

I love those moments in life when I’m really struggling with an issue, and then the perfect resource just drops into my lap as if by magic. And that’s what happened to me while I was thrashing through all the “stuff” that was triggered by the high school reunion. Into my email inbox popped this essay by Rachelle Mee-Chapman as part of a series she wrote on the idea of Devotion. This installment beautifully discusses those times when our practice of devotion involves tending to our places of grief, and I am thrilled that she agreed to be a guest author here on the blog.

Devoted To Grief

2014-11-26_1417045947

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about happiness, and contentedness, and how all the Great Sages say being singularly devoted to the moment is what brings both into your line of vision.

And…

And I’ve been thinking about losses and how many times Grief asks for our attention.

The older you get, the more of those there are–the losses. There are the big, culturally acknowledged ones. Deaths in family. Romances that go painfully sideways. Jobs that evaporate without a severance package. Saying goodbye to dogs.

These are the losses that we get at least a small chance to mourn socially — through memorials and tubs of ice cream; friends who take you out after work for drinks, and condolences on Facebook.

Then there is a legion of less obvious losses–all the things you always thought you’d get to, but which you now realize, maybe you won’t. Like singing on stage with a microphone and an audience. Learning modern dance. Writing a best seller. Marrying a guitar player.

Me, I am very aware lately of the losses that come in an accumulated life. When you’ve had to surrender large parts of decades to chronic illness, there are many, so many. They add up fast if you’ve spent a couple years to fighting cancer. They accumulate like packing boxes in the time-suck and upheaval that is moving again, and again, and again.

Even more prominently are the feelings of loss that come when you trying to make peace with the trade-offs that come with having children — especially if you are the stay-at-home parent, or the default parent. Yes, there is an undeniable joy and wonder in watching humans come to life. And….and this is tempered by the way raising children can dim your career, or curb your sex life, or impede your ability to become a master of your craft.

For years I tried to practice mindfulness and presence as a way of minimizing the pang of those losses. I thought if I just focused on the Privileged That it Is To Breathe This Breath, I would step into a vast field of gratitude and the grief would go away. Or if I could just be mindful How Amazing It Is That This Machine That I’m Loading Washes My Dishes, I would never regret the way the entropy of house and home impinged on my creative pursuits. I thought, if I could just see every moment as sacred, I would never have to feel loss.

I say we call bullshit on that right now.

Being singularly devoted to the task at hand is not designed to help you avoid grief. It doesn’t numb out loss with a bonus dose of gratitude. It doesn’t shine a light on you abundance so bright that you never notice lack. It turns the volume up on those positive things, yes. But the truth of practicing presence is this:

Devotion doesn’t insulate you from feeling your losses. 
It asks you to be devoted to your grief in the moment you feel loss.
(spread the good word)

When we become committed to a life of devotion — to the task at hand, and the next, and the next — we become devoted to a life that feels it’s bruises. To a heart that beats as an ache in your chest. To tears that come at unexpected moments.

Listen friend, this is what I want us to whisper together:
Loss is also scared. So is grief. So is mourning.

It’s sacred because it is part of your actual life. It’s part of the essential experienced of being a living animal. There’s not a creature among us who gets through a lifespan without it. We might as well embrace it as holy.

This is the ebb and the flow of it, the hot and the cold of it, friends. You can be strolling around one day, grateful to be walking in the sunshine, and the next minute your heart can break with grief at the friend who no longer calls you. Or the way your job will never be as prestigious as it could have been if you didn’t share your time with infants. Or that the first-flush of romance doesn’t last. These things will arise behind your clavicle. They pool in the corner of your eye.

And this life we are building, this life of devotion, is asking you to be devoted to that too.

To feel grief when it comes to you.
To get curious about why it arrived.
To ask it if it needs anything.

Now this doesn’t mean you have to stay devoted to story of never-ending loss. It certainly isn’t asking you to camp out in victimhood. You don’t have to stay devoted to a narrative that says you’ll always be alone, or you’ll never do meaningful work, or that this stage of your relationship is not as real as the last. You can rewrite your story. You can see it from a new  and hopeful angle.

But maybe not until you devote yourself to Grief for whatever length of time it wants to show up.
A flash mob. A long term tenant. Who can say? All I know is that resisting and ignoring it only makes it metastasize.

You might as well give your grief the devotion it deserves.

What about you friend?

Are you ready to be devoted to every moment, even the moments of loss?
Can you get curious about the pangs in your chest?
Will you ask your grief what it needs?

I think you are.
I know you can.
I hope you will.

Amen? (Amen.)

Much Warmth,

Rachelle Mee-Chapman

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Rachelle Mee-Chapman specializes in helping people create right-fit spiritual practices for themselves and their families.

Learn more about her online community Flock, or follow her on Instagram for special offers on her new coaching + card reading service

A Medium-Grey Night Of The Soul

2015 July 29
by Jenny

About this time last year I slid into a little bit of a funk. There was nothing wrong, nothing bad that happened to provoke it, and it wasn’t that I was depressed or miserable. Everything just felt sort of muted and opaque until this past spring, when we got the invitation to our first 25th high school reunion.

Both my husband and I have reunions this year, but his rolled around first. Which meant that it became the catalyst that brought into sharp relief all the unfocused thoughts that had been swirling around in my head for the previous 9 months or so. Not surprisingly, they were all different versions of, “This is not where I thought I’d be by now.”

Most of the time I’m actually amazed at what I’ve accomplished, where I am, and most especially, who I am. But having to step out of the world I’ve created here for myself and go back-even just for one night-into the arena of more traditional life choices really threw me off.

Part of it is the grief I always feel as a chronic illness patient in the middle of a group of healthy people. There’s no way I can help noticing the difference between their physical capacity and mine, in even the simplest activities like sitting, standing, and socializing. I hate being reminded of how sick I am.

And I am sick. Over the past 3 years my symptoms have worsened significantly, and my body is weary and worn down. My external world has gotten smaller and smaller, and I’ve become more and more housebound and dependent on medications. So it’s incredibly painful to be in an environment that constantly highlights this, especially on a night that is basically all about toting up your accomplishments of the past 20 years.

Part of it is the fact that, at almost-43, I really can’t deny any longer that I’ve entered into Middle Age. There are lots of physical changes, like grey hairs and the inability to read small print, but then there’s also the realization that I’m probably not going to become some kind of world-famous superstar. I’m not actually going to be able to do ALL THE THINGS! I can’t keep all life possibilities open all the time. And when I choose one thing over another, there’s a good chance that the other one is gone for good. It came as  a complete surprise to me, but it turns out that I’m only human, and there are limits to this human life.

Then there’s the fact that, compared to the majority of our classmates, I have taken many of the paths less-traveled.

My husband and I went to college-prep high schools and universities that focused on preparing students for mainstream professions like business, law, medicine, finance and the like. Not everyone went this route of course, but there are enough that did to make me obsess over the fact that I don’t have A Thing, by which I mean a neatly summed-up, easily recognizable answer to the question, “So what do you do?”

So I scheduled a couple of super-intense, emergency situations with Lynne where she gently questioned the stories I was telling myself about this whole situation, WHICH WAS NOT AT ALL ANNOYING when all I wanted to do was freak out and feel victimized by life. But eventually I was able to get over myself enough to hear her when she reminded me of the things that are true about who I am:

-I do not actually want A Thing. My Thing is that I am a freedom-seeker; always have been, always will be. I like the idea of A Thing, something pithy to print on business cards and post in our annual Christmas letter, but every time I’ve tried to fit myself into the mold of A Thing, it has slowly leached away my soul and sucked away my will to live.

-Also, I like to choose. When I’m honest I remember that I don’t like trying to do ALL THE THINGS!, because I just get so overwhelmed that I say “Screw it!” and go eat some Thin Mints or buy something on Amazon. Saying yes-and no-is a big relief.

-I don’t really want to be a world-famous rock star. That would cut too much into my Daydreaming-and-Following-All-The-Rabbit-Holes Time.

But the most important reminder of all is that I love my life. Even suffering from fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder, my everyday life is really good. And I am damn proud of all the work I’ve put in to be able to say that, because it was NOT easy. And yes, I may have had to buy bifocals, and I may now be too old for many of the fictitious objects of my television show crushes, but I am super-comfy in my own skin, and only becoming more so. So, BRING IT, 40s.

It’s true that the way I’ve chosen to live my life means I don’t have a lot of external achievements to show for myself in comparison to someone who’s pursued a traditional career, and sometimes that’s hard.  Especially when one of your husband’s best friends during high school was the wife-half of the husband-and-wife team who wrote the score for “Frozen”. (Who, incidentally, is one of the smartest, funniest, most creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, so I was actually really looking forward to seeing her again. Things just got funky when I fell into that whole trap of “comparing my insides to someone’s outsides” thing.)

So after hacking through all my mental drama, and then unexpectedly learning I’d gone down 2 sizes when I went shopping for a new outfit, the reunion turned out to be a lot of fun.

Although that’s not to say that it wasn’t weird at first. As I told someone (whom I later remembered was a psychologist), because we don’t have children, I feel like I’ve never had to grow all the way up (and there’s the material for your next article-you’re welcome). So when we got there and I first saw all these grownups with big houses, and jobs, and teenagers my brain sort of exploded from all the cognitive dissonance because all I could think was, “There is NO WAY I am as old as all of you!”

But then that wore off, and I started to enjoy myself.

It was fun to remember ourselves as teenagers, and then see how far we’d all come. And since my husband and I started dating at the end of our senior year of high school, it was fun to be around people who were there at the beginning of our history together.

Then there was the time I was talking to the Lopezes about their post-”Frozen” projects, and then they started asking really nice questions about my blog and, drawing deeply on my skills as a careful crafter of language, I lost all ability to form coherent sentences. I wanted to yell, “Wait! I didn’t study for this part of the test! I only reviewed, ‘How Not To Have A Meltdown’; I forgot to look over the section on ‘How To Talk Intelligently About My Work’.” But they were very nice, and there’s always the chance that it was too loud for them to actually hear anything. A girl can dream.

So the bottom line is that I not only survived but also had a good time and, unexpectedly, the whole experience somehow busted me out of my funk. And given the intensity of the angel-wrestling I did to prepare for this, I’m putting life on notice that when my reunion comes up in the fall, I expect it to be as easy as a hot knife through butter. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

 

 

 

 

And The Winners Are

2015 July 27
by Jenny

Thanks to everyone who participated in the drawing to win one of 5 Clean Bottles donated by the partnership of Bay Alarm Medical and Clean Bottle.

I’m excited to announce that the winners are as follows:

1. Zura Beth R.

2. Janet A.

3. Kimberly G.

4. Jennifer

5. Rebecca

Thanks for playing!

Ugh

2015 July 22
by Jenny

Due to life’s smiting me with the mother of all migraines and a UTI (thanks so much life-I love you too), the deadline for entering the contest for the Clean Water Bottles has been extended to midnight (12 am) EST this Friday, July 24th.

Say hello in the comments to be entered into the drawing-I love “meeting” all of you :)

Winners will be announced on Monday, July 27th.

How NOT To Declutter If You Are A Liberal Arts Major And Your Husband Is An Engineer

2015 July 17
by Jenny

Like many people, I have been inspired of late to declutter the house after reading the book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up. I was a decluttering whirlwind for the first few months of the year, but eventually I reached the end of the things that only concern me; the rest of the house my husband and I have to work on together.

So I was very excited when, a few weekends ago, he declared that it was time to clean out the garage. I hopped right into some work clothes and went outside to help him start leveling the peaks of Mt. Garage.

There were lots of things that were easily sorted into Keep, Donate, and Trash piles, but there were also a lot of items that required more thought. After about 30 minutes of tricky decisions, the next time he held an item up for consideration I said, “Well the question is, ‘Does this spark joy’.”

At which point my engineer-husband snorted so hard that I still expect to trip over one of his eyeballs every time I go out to my car.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he elected to finish the garage on his own.

When You Have To Triage Your Own Self-Care

2015 July 16
by Jenny

My fibro and bi-polar have been pretty amped up lately, so I’ve had to go back to the very beginning and write down a list of all the things I know I need to do to take care of myself during times like these.

You would think-or at least I would-that I should remember what to do after all of these years, but one effect of chronic pain and illness is that you periodically get amnesia when it comes to things like this. Once the pain, or the anxiety, or the mania get to a certain point on The Awful Scale, they take up all of the space in your mind and body, and you kind of lose access to your higher brain functions, where these kind of self-care skills live.

Serendipitously (what a great word!), I recently saw on a friend’s Facebook page a link to a post called “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up“. It’s another list of basic self-care items, and the author has turned it into a PDF that you can print out.

While we’re on the subject of printouts, Lizzie of The Pillow Fort has put together a customizable document called “Why Don’t You Just Know How To Help Me?” that you can share with the people around you so they know what to do when you find yourself in a bad place.

And don’t forget to say hi in the comments if you’d like to be entered into the raffle to win one of 5 Clean Bottles.

Water Water Everywhere-I Guess I Should Be Drinking Some Of It

2015 July 15
by Jenny

When it comes to the work that Lynne and I do together, I LOVE  the deep, inner explorations we go on. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of everyday life, I get very, um,  bitchy cranky irritable fussy, and my Inner, Victimized Drama Queen swoops in and starts running the show:

“What do you MEAN I have to brush my teeth every single day. That is SO unfair! Don’t I have enough to deal with?!”

“OMG, haven’t I suffered enough?! I have to plan our meals and do a grocery list too?! WTF, Universe?!”

I’m such a lovely client to work with.

So the latest thing we’ve been working on is Hydrating or, as Lynne must constantly remind me, “DRINK, Stupidhead!” I’m getting better at this, but I must still be sending  Dehydration Vibes out to the world, because I was recently contacted by Bay Alarm Medical and Clean Bottle, who have come together to help raise our awareness of the importance of staying hydrated. Happily for us here in Cranky Fibro Land, they are doing this by giving away 5 of their Clean Bottles to readers of this blog.

In trying one out myself, I like the fact that:

-The bottle unscrews at both ends, to make cleaning it much easier. Clean Bottle


-When I unscrewed it the first time to clean it, there was no weird odor that might or might not have gone away with washing.

-And, it’s easy to hold for the days when my hands and arms are really achy.

The only thing I had a problem with was that with my achy hands, I didn’t have the strength to screw the bottom on tightly enough to prevent it from leaking. I had to get my husband to do that for me.

Clean Bottle.
However, in addition to my Inner Drama Queen, I also have a highly developed Inner Hedonist, so while I have a cool new bottle to help me “Drink, Stupidhead!”, I’m not giving up my soda. (Although I’ve come a looooooooong way from the time when I drank 3 regular Cokes a day; now it’s Diet Fanta and Diet Code Red Mountain Dew.) And, in the interest of full disclosure, I almost never drink plain water-I love my MiO Berry Pomegranate flavoring. But, now I have a way to make drinking the water I do drink a little bit easier, a little bit more fun, and hopefully, a little more frequent.

So if you’d like to be entered into the drawing to win a Clean Bottle, say hi in the comments (and leave your name too, if it isn’t obvious from your email address). The contest will be open until  12am Eastern Time on Monday, July 20th. Then Mr. Cranky Fibro Girl will draw 5 winners, and they will be announced here on the blog on Wednesday, July 22nd.

Happy Drinking!

Good Words

2015 July 10
by Jenny

Now is the Time

by Hafiz

Now is the time to know
That all you do is sacred.

Now, why not consider
A lasting truce with yourself and God.

Now is the time to understand
That all your ideas of right and wrong
Were just a child’s training wheels
To be laid aside
When you can finally live
With veracity
And love.

Hafiz is a divine envoy
Whom the Beloved
Has written a holy message upon.

My dear, please tell me,
Why do you still
Throw sticks at your heart
And God?

What is in that sweet voice inside
That incites you to fear?

Now is the time for the world to know
That every thought and action is sacred.

This is the time
For you to deeply compute the impossibility
That there is anything but Grace.

Now is the season to know
That everything you do
Is sacred.

One Of Those Days

2015 July 8
by Jenny

It’s been one of those days where I can handle the back pain, and the Level 9 And Rising Fibro Pain, and the weird cramp on the top of my foot that woke me up in the middle of the night, and the Cramps, and the fact that when my Physical Therapist asked me how I was doing I began my report with, “On a scale of physical misery from 0-10…”,but the unrelenting frizziness of my hair is sending me over the edge,

AND

a day where the fact that it’s been so long since I’ve watched the early years of one of my favorite TV shows, that rewatching them now is like having unexpected, bonus new episodes.

The (annoyingly consistent) principle of Both/And at its finest.