A feeling of dread is a good indicator that something is not right in the day. We dread going certain places. We dread meeting with certain people. We dread certain kinds of work. Sometimes, we even dread waking up.
Dread is a good reason people narcotize themselves. We use drugs, waste hours in pursuits that have no meaning but anesthetize dread, lose ourselves in pleasures that are often harmful.
What we need to do is begin following the dread thread. What is it we are feeling? When do we feel it most? Is there any thing we can do to avoid feeling dread that is not self-destructive? Is the feeling of dread becoming a habitual default place I go? How can I take responsibility to change the dread habit?
After examining these elements, another series of questions are also helpful.
When is it we don’t feel dread? What people, which activities, what kind of work, and what kind of days give us happiness, make us feel positive and give us hope?
Then, we need to change the balance as much as it is in our power to do so.
At least, I can try to load my day with events and people and places that restore my soul and fill me with peace. For me, living in the western suburbs of Chicago, I can walk in the Morton Arboretum or fun over to Cantigny where the flower gardens seem to grow larger and more beautiful each year. Listening to a favorite musical artist—Chopin always enchants; his short piano works don’t demand high listening skills from me—helps me love my life.
Play—learning to play again—is the venue I’m experimenting with and finding a satisfactory adventure that defeats dread when it attempts to lodge in my soul again.
Stuart Brown, M.D. has conducted over 6000 play histories with people from all walks of life—serial killers, Nobel Prize winners, celebrities, public servants, and ordinary everyday folk—from that life study he has written a book titled Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. In the book, he maintains that it has been proven humans are genetically programmed to play—more than any other creature (although studies have captured all levels of life in play activities, from amoebas to polar bears).
What happens to humans who dutifully or unintentionally program play out of their lives? What becomes of those of us who feel play is “a waste of time”? Dire things, it appears. Brown writes, “On one end of the spectrum, I studied murderers in Texas prisons and found that the absence of play in their childhood was as important as any other single factor in predicting their crimes. On the other end, I also documented abused kids at risk for antisocial behavior whose predilection for violence was diminished through play.”
When adults find time for play, the world lightens (dread takes a holiday). “When we get play right, all areas of our lives go better. When we ignore play, we start having problems. When someone doesn’t keep an element of play in their life, their core being will not be light. Play gives us the irony to deal with paradox, ambiguity, and fatalism. Without that, we are like the Woody Allen character in Annie Hall, who says, ‘What’s the use? The sun’s going to blow up in five billion years anyway.’”
So, as your following your own dread thread, check out your capacity to enter into joyful, healthy, distracting, soul-renewing play. See what it does to dreadfulness. See if it’s an aspect of life that will help you get through the days.
Other projects involving Karen Mains right now:
Karen Mains is currently getting ready to begin a mentor writing project involving teleconferencing. She will be offering an 8-month, twice-monthly, one-hour-each training program on writing personal memoirs. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. This program will begin in February of 2010.
Hungry Souls is also offering the new “Listen to My Life Mapping” Listening Group as well as two 3-Day Retreats of Silence for 2010.
Karen is also developing a two-day training event for those interested in becoming Silent Retreat leaders, and the Global Bag Project is developing a template for Bag Parties in a Box.
About Karen Mains:
Karen Mains and her husband, David, have been in religious communications for decades—radio and television and print publication. The are the co-authors of the Kingdom Tales Trilogy, Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration. David has been working on a manuscript titled Revelation for My Grandchildren, and they are just beginning to brainstorm if this should be made into a fourth Tales book, Tales of the Revelation.