Feeling the hard feelings

I’ve been taking another whack at breaking down my phone/media addiction lately. I’m rarely without a book or a podcast or a show on in the background or a video game to play or several all at once.

I think I’ve managed to cut it down to one at a time, at least, and I’m rebuilding my old ability to endure silence and practice stillness. I’ve gone on long walks in silence—no headphones, no reading while I walk—and from time to time managed patches of time without a phone or screen in reach, just reading or journaling or sitting and thinking.

And I’m starting to see why I avoid it. There’s a looming sadness that I hadn’t let myself notice. I think I’m happy on the surface and happy at my core, but there are thick strata of loneliness and failure and existential dread in the middle, and I’m glad I’ve stopped ignoring them.

It’s not easy, but it feels healthy to sit quietly and just think and feel whatever I think and feel. I have an intuition that all the bad feelings will be in there until I feel them, and it may take a while to get through it all, but at least now I’m making progress instead of continuing to hide it.

Part of it is the huge changes in the world and closer to home over the last few years—politics and pandemic and the resulting loss of close community and regular feasts with friends. I’m coming to recognize that I miss life as it was, and while my life is good and will likely get better, it won’t go back to how it was.

Part of it is the inevitable reckoning as I approach 40 and see how far I have yet to go to realize my dreams and mission. I realize for all my thinking and talking about books, it’s been forever since I published one of my own. Years in, my program of writing courses has reached thousands and helped many but not broken even. I fear my publishing company may be holding my authors back as much as it helps them. My kids are growing up, and as much time as I spend with them, I’m not sure it’s enough.

And finally, part of it is a growing awareness that I don’t know how to get where I’m going. Our efforts to buy a homestead for rich hospitality seem stymied by the market. I can’t crack the nut of how to get my businesses properly profitable for me and my authors. I’ve got at least eight books burning and burning inside me, and yet I face powerful avoidance every time I sit down to write.

I’m finding I deeply crave a less individualistic culture, where I’m surrounded by traditions and supports, where there are apprenticeships and communal Sabbaths and norms of hospitality and known prayers to pray. It seems I’m tired of making all this up as I go.

I’m not going to try to wrap this all up with too tidy a bow—it’s real sadness and I’m really feeling it, and I’m still in the middle of it—but three things help.

One is that, while there are difficult realities there, I know my read on them and the resulting emotions fluctuate, and I’m pretty sure I’m just in a downswing right now. I’ve been here before, and it does get better.

Second, I’m finding this is undercutting my confidence in planning and effort. I’ve had it up to about here with planning and effort, and I’m increasingly ready to slow down, listen, find the heart of God, and do the one right next thing that is needed instead of all the scattershot things I can think of in hopes that one of them works. That seems like a healthy direction.

Third, and strongest, is that I don’t ultimately depend on any of this going right. I desperately want it to, but if it all falls apart, I’m still with God, already and forever.

One comment

  1. Ben,
    This is so good and very much where I’ve been in the last year of my life. Thank you for your writing, you’ve always been an inspiration. It’s been a long time, my friend, but I would love to talk with you again. I sent an email to your old dreamworldcollective email, though not sure if that even works anymore. Either way, would love to catch up. Be blessed and encouraged. I hope you are doing well. – Jordan Courtney

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