December 17, 2017

iMonk Authors Week: Jeff Dunn

Quiet, Photo by David Cornwell

Quiet, Photo by David Cornwell

iMonk Authors Week

I hope you have enjoyed, as much as I have, this week of highlighting authors who write for us here at Internet Monk. I am blessed to partner with many fine, gifted, and faithful writers, who have written books we are happy to recommend. For those of you still getting familiar with the site, you can always find some of these books listed on the right sidebar of the page, under “iMonk Authors.” The books pictured there are linked to sites where you can purchase them and support these folks in their craft.

Pictures this week are from our friend, David Cornwell. Visit his Flickr page to see more.

Today, we feature an excerpt from a new book by our dear friend and former IM administrator/writer Jeff Dunn. Without Jeff, there would be no “iMonk Authors.” He was Michael’s agent for Mere Churchianity, and was instrumental in providing opportunities for Damaris, Lisa, and me to become published writers. More than that, however, Jeff is an accomplished author of his own, who writes with grace and humor to encourage us all.

We miss him around here, but fill the gap just a little bit today with this sample from his recently released Why Worry?: A Catholic’s Guide to Learning to Let Go.

• • •

From the chapter, Learning To Float

Swimming instructors will tell you that even for advanced swimmers, learning how to float can be very difficult. Fr. Thomas Green, the author of When the Well Runs Dry, tells of living in the Philippines and trying to teach Filipinos, who grew up knowing how to swim, to float in the water. “When we do have a picnic and I try to teach these people of the sea how to float, it is puzzling to see what a difficult art floating really is—difficult not because it demands much skill, but because it demands much letting go,” writes Green. “The secret of floating is in learning not to do all the things we instinctively want to do. We want to keep ourselves rigid, ready to save ourselves the moment a big wave comes along—and yet the more rigid we are the more likely we are to be swamped by the waves; if we relax in the water we can be carried up and down by the rolling sea and never be swamped.”

Swimmers have goals; floaters allow the current to take them wherever it will.

Swimmers are in control of their actions; floaters let go of their actions.

Swimmers put forth effort to get from one place to another; floaters just, well, float.

Dr. Claire Weekes applied this idea of floating to dealing with anxiety. Weekes was an Australian doctor who helped many people learn to work through anxiety through her clinics and her books. Weekes discovered that doing things to try to reduce or eliminate worry actually makes things worse. When we try to fight anxiety, it is like throwing gasoline on a fire. And when we try to run from our anxiety, we find our anxiety can outrun us every time. So she came up with a new approach. She called it floating. Instead of running from our anxiety, or using techniques to fight it, we need to lay our head back and float through it.

When we put forth our own efforts to fight anxiety, we are actually fanning the flames of the fire we want to put out. We are calling attention to what we want to go away. Our efforts to fight anxiety actually make it worse. It is paradoxical to think that the best way to overcome worry is to just let it be, but that really is true. Do you remember those little bamboo finger tricks we had as kids? You would put one index finger in one end, and your other index finger in the other end. Now, try to take it off. Your first instinct was to pull your fingers out, right? But the harder you pulled, the tighter it became. The way to get it off was to relax your fingers and push them together—just the opposite of what we would do naturally.

Worry is the same way. The harder you pull on it, the more power you give it to bind you, to keep you ensnared in its trap. To overcome worry, you need to stop pulling. You need to stop fueling anxiety with your efforts. You need to float.

The psalmist lifts up this cry of the Lord when he writes, “Be still, and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV).

Other translations put the “Be still” in more direct words.

  • “Let go of your concerns” (God’s Word)
  • “Stop fighting” (Good News Translation)
  • “Stand silent” (Living Bible)
  • “Step out of the traffic” (The Message)
  • “Stop your striving” (New English Translation)
  • “Be calm” (The Voice)

What all of these translations of this familiar passage have in common is a call for us to stop our efforts and trust God. Again, let’s remember the only way we can please God is by trusting him. And trusting God goes against how we think we are to act. As Fr. Green writes, “The problem is we must decide whether we want to swim or float.”

Comments

  1. charlie says:

    Thank you for this week of authors, I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and definitely will order some of these, esp for summer reading and gifts!
    This post resonates the most with me.
    In dealing with depression these last three years, this is what I’ve learned–to let it go (NOT quoting Frozen) and ‘be still’ (Henri Nouwen has been influential)–and reslize to not take on or do/be what God hasn’t asked me to. He made me unique…be that person. ‘Float’ ( I love this by the way) thru it, change me, not others or my circumstances, and the joy and happiness is incredible…so freeing!

  2. I just read this quote recently, possibly in the preview to Jeff’s book online, I don’t remember;
    “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Mark Twain
    Worry is a killer, mostly of joy. Fret not oh my soul.

  3. Christiane says:

    long, long time ago:
    tube-ing (you sit in a large innertube) . . . gently floating down the Deerfield River in Massachusetts . . . . oh my, the memories, the blessed memories 🙂

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    From the chapter, Learning To Float

    When I first saw that heading, my brain flashed back onto It by Stephen King…

  5. I read this and then went to a yoga class. At the end, during the relaxation pose, it really, really hit me how hard it is to just let go. My mind, which was supposed to be focused on my breathing, was instead focusing on everything else until I found myself shouting at myself in my head, “You are not in charge of the universe!! Let things go!”
    I’m also reading Peter Mathiessen’s Snow Leopard which is part nature tour of Himalayan mountains & part Buddhist reflection, but the message is the same–Let it go. Be still. Be one with the universe.

    Hmmmm. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something…

    • Robert F says:

      The Snow Leopard is a powerful book. It is an account of an actual search to find a snow leopard in the Himalayas, a journey that he and his friend, a naturalist, undertook, and also a spiritual diary of Matthiessen’s struggle to come to terms with the recent death of his wife from cancer. Buddhism teaches that suffering is the result of attachment to phenomena (things, people, one’s self) that are always in flux, that are never the same as we remember them, or imagine we remember them, to be. Liberation comes from seeing and accepting the true nature of things (including ourselves), which is impermanence, and learning to detach from all that is transitory. In TSNL, Matthiessen strives to make peace with his experience and the world in the light of these teachings.

      Matthiessen neither sees the snow leopard nor finds the peace he seeks, but he comes to believe that this too is part of what he must learn: that the world does not exist to meet our expectations. He finishes his sojourn and the book having accepted one valuable truth: when the student is ready, the teacher will indeed appear, but usually in an unexpected and unsought after form. There is a bit of the Theology of the Cross in this recognition, I think.

    • Danielle says:

      “The Snow Leopard” has been sitting on my shelf for ages, unread. You two are tempting me to go rescue it…

  6. Beakerj says:

    Great to see a shout out to Dr Claire Weekes, who single-handedly made the lives of anxious people the world over much much easier.

  7. You’re missed around here, Jeff. Congratulations and thanks for your wonderful book. God bless you.

  8. The concept of letting go negative influences may have been around for awhile but it is still cutting edge. Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault both have good teaching on this as part of contemplation and centering prayer, and David R. Hawkins takes it on as well. In my experience, emptying the mind of thoughts is far easier to do than emptying the mind of negative emotion. It is absolutely crucial to understand that resisting the negaivity does nothing but reinforce it and is totally counterproductive.

    This is the key to dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, which is rampant, not only in combat veterans. The negative experience has to be recognized for what it is and welcomed as a means of learning and regaining wholeness before being released like you might let go of a helium balloon, except please don’t let balloons go in the real world. They entangle critters and litter the landscape. But please do let those hurtful things go after giving them a little hug and a blessing on their way back to where they came from. Bit by bit we are helping bring back Eden.

  9. My wife recently gave me a gift certificate for a “day spa” that featured floating in an enclosed spa filled with warm water saturated with Epsom Salts. Because the water is saturated it is impossible to sink. In fact, it is ALMOST impossible ti SIT without falling over. The pod is completely enclosed and without lights and the quiet is almost un-nerving. Of course, the best effect is if you do this sans clothing, so this is another inhibition that has to be dealt with.

    So the purpose of this one hour experience is…relaxation! But I found it very difficult to let my muscles relax so that I could actually float. It took me about 15 minutes before I began to loosen up because I was afraid that my face would go under. Impossible, though. So as I slowly relaxed my body I actually fell asleep, meaning my wife spent money for me to SLEEP! How funny.

    I can see how letting go of worry and stress is so like my experience floating in that pod. After I got the hang of it all tension and care went away. I just wish that it didn’t take so long in actual life to do the same thing.