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Serve & Savor with Jen Louden

By June 17, 2011 2 Comments
My friend, colleague and mentor Jen Louden is working on a beautiful project, the Serve and Savor Experiment. But wait. Before I tell you about the project, let me tell you about Jen. She is wise, courageous, honest, grounded, loving, real. She’s a gifted teacher and writer. I’ve been reading her books since I was about 14. And, as Jen mentions below, I’m very excited to be joining her in Taos for her writer’s retreat (a.k.a. summer camp for the soul) this summer.

Serve and Savor is her year-long exploration into how we can serve while still savoring, how serving the world and savoring the world relate to each other. Yesterday, over at her blog, Jen asked me some questions about saving and serving and I shared my thoughts. Today I am asking Jen my questions about serving and savoring here.

Enjoy!

Jen: I love learning from you Tara, your blog teaches me something in every post. Thanks for asking me such rich, jeweled questions. Here are my thoughts as of today:

Tara: What helps you open to savoring when it feels impossible?

Jen: Noticing my resistance is always always the first thing. I give it a little hip check as in “I see I’m getting all wrapped under the axle of ‘Can’t! What’s the point? Who the hell do you think you are?'” Isn’t that so adorable of me!

In other words, a sense of humor and lightness dissolve the impossible, transform it from a wall of “No way!” to “Well, maybe… let’s put a toe into life.” Oh, and acceptance is huge for transforming the whole stuckness no way feeling. I am never less than 110% amazed because every time I accept what I am feeling without getting caught in my story about why, my world shifts. But only every single time.

But you can’t force yourself to do any of this! You keep bringing lightness and awareness and “begin again” attitude and you watch what happens.

The other move I use to find savoring again is gratitude – but not forced or sickly sweet gratitude. I need earthy, embodied gratitude – for a sip of cool water, for giving my dog a cuddle, for breathing the scent of my daughter fresh from the shower. Sensual, simple, here, helps get me out of my head and into reality, and when you are in reality, savoring is naturally what you do. You can’t help it!

Tara: What about service & perfectionism? So many of us get stuck here — with perfectionism or unrealistic expectations around our service.

Jen: I’ve spent the first four months of my Savor & Serve experiment flickering in and out of that story – it’s so very, very draining. I would think, “Serving must be big, it must be important, it must be different than what I already do!” and then I would fall into despair and resignation. You know what? Serving and resignation do not go so well together.

What I am discovering is a more skillful approach (duh) is to keep noticing how I am serving now and give that service dignity. So today, that’s driving my sweetie to get his wisdom teeth pulled; it’s writing this; it’s writing a thank you note to someone I fired; it’s moving a summer service trip to India one step closer to reality. Doing that without letting the voice in my head that says “Not good enough!” stop me or drain me, that’s helping me serve more fluidly and organically.

We have to start where we are and keep expanding with love into the idea of service. It’s no different than any other creative pursuit.

Tara: What is a memorable experience for you of being served, and what does this illuminate for you about service?

Jen: I’ve had a fair amount of health challenges in my life that have not been easy to untangle so I’ve been served by a lot of health professionals over the years. Watching my own tendency to say, “You’ve done enough, you don’t have to do anymore, I’ll figure it out alone” has taught me how hard it is to receive. It requires such surrender, such humility, such humanity.

Illness teaches you there is no server and there is no one being served – we are all one, we all suffer pain, we just take turns in different roles at different times. You give up any sense of superiority or one-upmanship.

Tara: What is a memorable experience for you of serving, and what does this illuminate for you about service?

Jen: I recently gave away a spot in my Taos Writer’s Retreat. I learned so much doing this, and the biggest illumination came when I sat down to decide who won. I had something like 150 or 200 women apply. I started to feel defeated and then resentful that I “had” to read all the entries. I paused and gently felt into what was going on. Oh! I realized I was going to my default “nurture the world” mode and assumed I had to give everybody a spot. I had a good laugh as I deeply grasped that it’s not my business to help everybody, and even more so, that those women don’t need help – they are whole and powerful and can support their dreams without little ole me. It’s not about rescuing anybody!

I also felt into my simple humanity — I can afford to give one spot away. Period. That is what I can give today. Great, Jen, then go give it and savor the giving!

After that, it was a joy to spend four or so hours reading each entry, commenting with a bit of hope or help, and imperfectly choosing one applicant. Because it was clean, straight forward, do what I can. And that feels fantastic.

Tara: What do you do about this fear of going into the darkness thing? This avoidance of being with others’ pain?

Jen: I am learning not to project my energy outward – that pulling help out of my gut is not sustainable and a little bit conceited and gross. By “pulling it out my gut” is a physical sensation I’m learning to recognize whereby I strain to serve rather than letting the life force flow through me without me having to do anything but pay attention. The tip off for me is leaning forward, clenching my jaw, smiling hard, and feeling resentful. I then take time to center myself, shake off my story, and begin again from a centered place of “What wants to happen here now?”

Being very grounded with very good boundaries is also important — the theme of this post I’d say.

I also work at allowing the horror and sadness to break me open without identifying with it. There is way, and I’m still learning, to keep my heart open without being swamped and without resorting to dissociating or armoring my heart.

My meditation and yoga practices help me the most. Great teachers help too, recently I’ve been reading Meg Wheatley and Marianne Elliot and also the wonderful classic How Can I Help? by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman. Knowing that healthy distractions are necessary is a relief — tonight it will be The King’s Speech and this weekend, a good novel, Caleb by Geraldine Brooks.

Check in with me after my daughter and I go to India this August — I’ll have more to say I’m sure.

Thanks Tara for being my friend and teacher – you are truly luminous. And for coming to Taos yourself!

Click here to read my responses to Jen’s questions about serving and savoring.

Jen Louden is a personal growth pioneer who helped start the self-care and self-love movement in 1992 with her first book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She is the author of six books on well being and personal wisdom sold that have sold nearly 900,000 copies and have been printed in 9 languages. She leads retreats, runs the virtual Serve & Savor Caf√©, and walks around astonished by life most of the time. Visit Jen at http://JenniferLouden.com.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Oh Tara, I am so happy delighted and delished out we get to spend a week together in Taos. I can’t wait to learn from you there! i am so lucky, pinch me.

  • Christa says:

    Thanks to both of you… I love seeing your words on the same pages.

    And I get to spend the week with the two of you! Unbelievable… Trying not to become intimidated beyond belief by then…

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