Monthly Archives: October 2011

Something Good.

If you are at all like me, on a Monday you can use all the extra goodness you can get. So, here’s this weeks list.

  • My new favorite drink: I modified the recipe for a Perro Salado (Tequila Salty Dog), and now it is my drink of choice, without the tequila and salt most of the time, and a lot more juice than the original recipe calls for. I am drinking a virgin version right now.  Doesn’t it look refreshing?

Here it is if you want to try it:

  • Ira Glass: as I mentioned yesterday, a friend and I went to see Ira Glass. “Reinventing Radio” was the name of his show, and I had seen it a few years ago in Boulder.  My favorite part of the show, besides when he makes a balloon animal or cracks a joke, is his explanation of how to tell a story: there has to be narrative momentum (this happened, and then this, and this), a pleasing surprise, and a moment in which the universal meaning or message of the story is revealed.  He talked last night about how he thought for a lot of years that he’d invented this structure, worked for eight years to figure it out and understand it, only to realize that it’s the standard structure for a sermon, and was already old when Jesus did it.

Photo by Jeremy M Farmer

Here are a series of videos where Ira talks more about storytelling.

  • This American Life: This is the show that Ira hosts and produces.  It isn’t just something good, it’s one of my favorite things.  You know how safe and happy you felt when your parents read you a story at bedtime? (Okay, maybe that’s just me, and if you don’t have that memory, I am so sorry, because it really can be one of the best things in life.)  That’s exactly how I feel listening to this radio show.  It’s so comforting, safe, interesting, funny, smart, kind, and good.  I listen to old episodes when I am wrapping Christmas presents every year or when I am balancing the checkbook and paying bills, I listen to the new show every Sunday, or as a podcast later in the week if I have missed it. If you have never heard it, you can go to the This American Life website and find archived broadcasts.
  • In a video I mentioned the other day, Brene’ Brown talked with Jennifer Louden and said that if she had known the TED Talk she did in Houston would be selected to be on the front page of the TED site, be a featured video, she never would have talked about her breakdown spiritual awakening or “all that other stuff.”  She was vulnerable because she didn’t realize how important it was going to be, how many people would actually see it, and look at what happened–because she was able to be brave and vulnerable, she’s been able to help so many more people, me being one of them.

  • And finally, just for giggles and since I am not dressing up this Halloween, here’s me a few years ago, and another of me from many years ago.  I have to say, I don’t think I’ve really changed all that much.

  • Your turn: tell me something good.

Shadow Comforts and Time Monsters

I mentioned yesterday that I had watched “Wise Person Call with Brene Brown,” a video of Jennifer Louden talking with Brene’ Brown.  In it, they talked about Shadow Comforts and Time Monsters, who, from the sounds of it, are the younger siblings of these two:

Picture by Cubby

Jennifer Louden wrote her first book, The Woman’s Comfort Book, when she was 25. “I had no idea how to take care of myself. I wrote the book to discover how – and as I learned about self-care and self-nurturing, I realized how much of the time I comforted myself in ways that actually made me feel worse…I discovered that healthy comfort and shadow comfort are different in how they make you feel. More alive, more centered, more you? Healthy comfort. Dull, self-hating, anxious? Shadow comfort,” (from an interview with Jennifer on Marianne Elliott’s website).

In her published books, she describes shadow comfort this way:

  • A shadow comfort is anything that masquerades as a cherishing self-care technique but in fact drains your energy”
  • Shadow comforts are encumbrances like eating too many sweets, watching too much TV, shopping for things we don’t need, surfing the Internet for hours, reading too much — numbing out. Another word for these behaviors is soft addictions or buffers [or counterfeit comforts],” and “Shadow comfort doesn’t nourish you, it diminishes you. It’s what many people think of when they think of comfort. They are actually punishing themselves instead of nourishing their souls.”

In my attempt to learn self-care, this is an important distinction.  When I was looking up more definitions for it, looking into it further, I found an old article by Jennifer Louden in which she provided an exercise to help you identify your shadow comforts.  In a continued effort to be brave and vulnerable, to be public and accountable, and thereby hopefully some kind of inspiration to someone else wanting to do the same, and as a way to help you understand shadow comforts if the concept still doesn’t make sense, here are my responses to the exercise.

1. List your favorite shadow comforts.

  • EATING, and eating, and eating.
  • Feeling sorry for myself, depression, worry and anxiety.
  • Sleep.
  • Illness.
  • Mindless TV watching, internet surfing.
  • Mindless chores, busywork.
  • Doing for others, taking care of them.
  • Working out.
  • Shame, blame and anger.
  • Smashing myself to bits.
  • Shopping online, buying books or signing up for classes.
  • Alcohol, sugar.
  • Procrastination and avoidance.

2. What are four or five situations or feelings that trigger a shadow comfort response in me?

  • My job.
  • Family problems that I feel helpless to fix.
  • Fear of failure, fear of success.
  • Shame, feeling not worthy or not enough.
  • Poverty mentality, a sense of scarcity, that there won’t be enough.

From Jennifer Louden about shadow comforts, “We often choose to do things that numb us or distract us because we are afraid.”  Based on my lists: um yeah, yup, okay, I see it, “whoomp there it is,” duh.  She goes on to say:

I know, cue smoting of forehead! How obvious but still, like many obvious ideas, huge when you get it.

We eat sugar or check email for the 1000000000000 time because we are afraid.

Afraid of our feelings, our power, our desires, our longings.

Afraid of intimacy, change, beauty, joy, the sweetness of life.

Afraid of anger, disappointment, judgment, shame.

Afraid of being afraid!

Sure, we choose shadow comforts for other reasons too (being tired, not knowing what we really want, being revved up, lack of self-permission, not thinking). And yet, behind even these, often lurks fear.

Then, there are the Time Monsters. Jennifer describes them as “Closely related but slightly different from shadow comforts are time monsters – anything we pretend is a creative, generative use of our time but is actually a way to dodge doing what we really want to do…I’ve coached many women whose lives consisted almost entirely of time monsters because they were too afraid to do what they really wanted to do – for fear of failure, for fear of what their mother/husband/children might think, for fear that when their long-held dream was realized, it would become tarnished by daily living…We spend our lives doing things that don’t matter, and meanwhile, our desires are sobbing, locked away in the basement.”

WAH!!!!  This is what I have been doing for at least the past 20 years.  20 years!  My good grades, my good behavior, my generosity, graduate school, in many ways my job…bleh. Time Monsters. Not a waste of time, just a manifestation of a basic confusion, a huge misunderstanding. I bought into what I thought I was supposed to do, what I thought would make people accept and love me, what would make them like me, think I’m cool or special.  I wanted to be smart, pretty, and popular, and I sacrificed the work that really mattered to me because I thought it would get me there. 

Photo by Toni Verdu

Again, I want to sink into thinking “what a waste of time,” but I remind myself that it was all necessary, that “It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now, and now is right on time.

There’s hope, there’s a plan, a practice, a way out. You can learn self-care, real and true “I love myself and I am worth it and I am going to show up” kind of care. In another article, Jennifer gives a strategy:

When I look at my habits or practices as something I am teaching myself, instead of as fatal flaws that I can never change, I create enough space to identify what I am doing that doesn’t feel nourishing. Then, if I choose to, I can move into the mood of being a creator, of shaping my life, by asking some of these questions:

Is this teaching me what I want to learn?

Is this helping me live my truest life?

Is this giving me energy?

And the most powerful question of all:

What do I really want?

I have to admit that right now, it feels like I really want a cookie, or an entire chocolate cake, but I know that would be a shadow comfort. Instead, I am off to see Ira Glass, the host of one of my very favorite radio shows “This American Life,” one of my very favorite things, with a good friend.