UPDATE: Congrats to Sarah Rogers, Joanne Pope, and Michelle Kipling! You won copies of The Life Organizer!
I started this interview series because I wanted to know more about the people who share their work with the world and inspire me to show up, be seen, and live brave.
Jennifer Louden is one of those people. Meet Jen!
Jen is a personal growth pioneer who has written six books on well-being and whole living that have inspired more than a million women in nine languages. Jen’s first book, The Life Organizer, has just been released in paperback.
If you’ve heard me speak or if you’ve read Daring Greatly or if you’re in the eCourse I’m doing with Oprah, you know that I love Jen’s work on shadow comforts. The research taught me the hard truth that we can’t selectively numb out. When we numb the dark, we numb the joy.
When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.
When I talk about this finding, people always ask the same question:
“Where is the line between pleasure or comfort and numbing?”
This is where I found Jen’s work on shadow comforts. It accurately reflects the data and she’s named it in a way offers clarity and connection. I love it when that happens! In The Life Organizer, Jen writes:
“Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness—a real comfort—or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself—a shadow comfort. You can chat on message boards for half an hour and be energized by community and ready to go back to work, or you can chat on message boards because you’re avoiding talking to your partner about how angry he or she made you last night.”
“It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it” – that’s it! That’s the line.
I’m so grateful for Jen’s insight on this. I know you’ll love meeting her!
Jen’s Thoughts on Vulnerability and Courage in the Arena
1. Vulnerability is _____________________.
Vulnerability for me is when Bob surprised me by asking me to marry him and I thought I couldn’t say yes because I was too broken. The vulnerability was wrestling with my old, old story and seeing that I had a clear choice – I could continue to believe I was the Jen who wasn’t loveable or I could choose to be the Jen who opens to love, and who learns how to keep opening. I am so happy I made that choice.
2. What role does vulnerability play in your work?
I can’t speak, teach or write unless it comes from my honest experience. I can’t hide or pretend to know something or be someone I’m not. Wait, that’s not true: I can and I sometimes I still do, only it feels awful, worse than spending a weekend locked in a mall. Vulnerability is one of the ways I discern if I am tuning into my truth and choosing to tell my story.
3. What value inspires you to show up even when you’re fearful and/or uncertain?
Inclusion: I have this big story of being excluded, so I figure if I’m afraid, someone else is too, and my being silent or hiding isn’t going to help them. The action I take is to work hard to be sure others are included. It’s a helpful reframe as long as I don’t take it too far and try to take care of the world.
4. What’s something that gets in the way of your creativity and how do you move through it?
Comparison – that is HUGE for me. I’ll be writing along and then I’ll click over to the Internet to do a wee bit of research and before you know it, bam! my mood, and my creativity, is in the toilet. Sometimes it takes me a few minutes to figure out what’s wrong – everything was going so great – then I realize when I was trawling, that I read something fab and now I’m telling myself “You can’t write like this and I’m derailed.”
I’ve learned- and I sometimes even remember to do this – to right then, at that moment, to write down 5 things I’m grateful for. A friend once told me “gratitude is the mood that opens up our creativity” and that’s proved true for me, if I’m willing to put down the cudgel and pick up the gratitude.
5. It’s often difficult to share ourselves and our work with the world given the reflexive criticism and mean-spiritedness that we see in our culture – especially online. What strategies to you use to dare greatly – to show up, let yourself be seen, share your work with the world, and deal with criticism?
I have had far less experience of others knocking me down then of knocking myself down. My work these days is to drop my internal drama and get on with my work. It’s a constant practice.
When I do get flamed, it does hurt, but I try to quickly transition to having compassion for the person. I figure they must be so lonely and hurting to be so cruel.
6. Describe a snapshot of a joyful moment in your life.
I have two: Cuddling with my new husband (!!!! still so thrilled to write those words) on a morning where we have nothing to do, nobody to take care of, and the ultimate middle aged gift, we have both slept well. Just to hang out together, sometimes drink tea and read the paper in bed and with a visit from the doodle dogs; that is heaven.
AND . . . Hanging out with our kids, eating a great meal, and talking about what’s happening in their lives. They’re becoming such amazing young adults, I adore when they let us peer into their worlds, and when are all giggling and being silly, maybe tossing in a few fart jokes: also heaven.
7. Do you have a mantra, manifesto, or favorite quote for living and loving with your whole heart?
My mantra is yes. Yes to this moment, yes to whatever I’m experiencing, yes to life as it is arising right now, which includes eating a chocolate bar because I was stressed earlier; yes to the early winter dark; yes to my worry that my answers to these questions are not sufficiently cool. Yes to it all. And it’s astonishing how many times a day I forget how freeing and relaxing this practice is.
My favorite quote is from The Book of Hours by Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy, “May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children.”
Now, for some fun!
From James Lipton, host of Inside the Actor’s Studio
- What is your favorite word? story
- What is your least favorite word? neurofibrillary tangles (my mom has Alhemizer’s)
- What sound or noise do you love? wind in pine trees
- What sound or noise do you hate? the emergency air vac helicopter that takes off near my house; it means someone is really hurt on our island and it makes me sad.
- What is your favorite curse word? Oh, I have so many. Fanfuckingtastic because it has the only in-fix in the English language. (From BB – I had to look up infix. It’s an affix inserted inside a word stem).
From JL’s Uncle Jessie Meme
- A song/band/type of music you’d risk wreck & injury to turn off when it comes on the radio? Modern country
- Favorite show on television? Call the Midwife
- Favorite movie? I’m going with Walkabout directed by Nicholas Roeg because it made me want to go to film school.
- What are you grateful for today? That my sister flew out from Florida to help me get my mom settled into assisted living. That my daughter and I are so close and can talk about anything. That it’s Friday night and I can go take a bath and read a book for hours! That I get to create what I want to create. That it’s the weekend. That I get to go hug Bob anytime I want!
- If you could have anything put on a t-shirt what would it be? “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
- Favorite meal? Fresh Florida lobster (food of my childhood), gobs of warm butter, garlic mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and champagne, maybe a Bollinger. Desert would be my Aunt Edna’s chocolate 3-layer cake, God rest her soul and my gluten allergy.
- A talent you wish you had? To be a truly great abstract painter. Mark Rothko meets Joan Mitchell. I’d also like to be able to bowl.
- Favorite song/band? Krishna Das, Heart full of Soul and anything by Johnny Cash.
- What’s on your nightstand? Just finished Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling. It’s brilliantly written but it’s a book full of Dursleys. Also just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s new novel, The Signature of Everything. I’m also reading Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt, Open Ground by Seamus Heaney, Bury Your Dead with Louise Penny, Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow, True Refuge by Tara Brach, The Radiance Sutras translated by Lorin Roche, and the rest are buried too far down in the tottering stack to count.
- What’s something about you that would surprise us? I talk to myself in the grocery store. Wait, that probably isn’t surprising. How about I once won a Halloween contest dressed as a Venetian Blind. My costume included dark glasses and a blue & white striped shirt. Get it?
Your six-word memoir: Savor and serve, love and chocolate.
To celebrate the release of The Life Organizer, we’re giving away three copies. Just leave your name in the comments section and I’ll update this post with the winners on Monday.
If you visit Jen’s website she has some fun freebies including a Life Organizer app!
Here’s to less numbing and more comfort!