Hello, Darkness…

“Hello, Darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again…”

I’m headed home from a retreat where I’ve spent the last 6 days, mostly in silence, with 200 people I didn’t know. The retreat was with one of my favorite authors, Geneen Roth. Geneen writes about our relationship to what it’s like to have enough, be it enough food, money or love, and how our beliefs about being enough affect every detail of our lives and relationships. This was my 5th time to go to one of her retreats, and it’s always pretty much like being in hell. It reminds me of when I was ten years old and used to sit for hours in the blue recliner in my living room by myself and eat a whole box of wheat thins while I watched Saved By the Bell reruns. I was terrified of people and barely spoke to anyone, including my family. It was the most miserable time in my life, and something about being at these retreats with a whole bunch of strangers that I can’t talk to makes me feel like I’m right back in that blue recliner.

So you might be wondering why I even go, which I sometimes wonder myself. Why would I spend money and vacation time to go to a place where I feel miserable?

But it is always amazing how it changes me. After 6 days of no cell phone and “exploring my inner self”, I feel like a different person. I realize how much of my precious time and energy is spent scrolling through facebook or e-mail. How at the first sign of discomfort or fear or impatience, I reach for my phone or obsess about money or my weight or my relationship- anything that can distract me from the messiness of being human, from remembering that life, in all its beauty, is also full of pain and loss.

So something about getting in touch with that misery allows me to come home feeling a little more open, a little more willing to experience what I work so hard to avoid. Today I feel more heartbroken than ever, kind of raw and skinless. It’s a scary and welcome feeling. The retreats remind me that all the distractions in my life only keep me from feeling alive because there’s no avoiding the unavoidable, and any pain I feel is still there whether I try and distract myself from it or not.

So as I readjust to life back at home, I continue to work on my commitment to honor myself and the world around me. To let myself be wildly human. To let myself love what I love and to trust my deepest desires. Believing more than ever that freedom is possible.

I continue with the forever process of learning to live authentically, to have the courage to act with integrity and to make the gut-wrenchingly hard choices of acting in my own best interests, in accordance with my deepest beliefs- something that I fall short of everyday and yet am more in touch with than ever.

I want to remember that misery isn’t what my life is made of anymore, while at the same time being willing to explore the dark, scary, miserable parts of myself. Because ignoring them doesn’t make them go away—and owning them allows my life to be richer, more complete and more fulfilling.

Brené Brown says it beautifully in this passage from her book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage
with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about things that get in the way-especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.

In Jungian circles, shame is often referred to as the swampland of the soul. I’m not suggesting that we wade out into the swamp and set up camp. I’ve done that, and I can tell you that the swampland of the soul is an important place to visit, but you would not want to live there.

What I’m proposing is that we learn how to wade through it. We need to see that standing on the shore and catastrophisizing about what could happen if we talked honestly about our fears is actually more painful than grabbing the hand of a trusted companion and crossing the swamp. And, most important, we need to learn why constantly trying to maintain our footing on the shifting shore as we gaze across to the other side of the swamp- where our worthiness waits for us- is much harder work than trudging across.

So here’s to walking across the swamp together and maybe having a mud fight or two along the way ☺