the healing of silence and solitude

My greatest practice for getting to know my anxious self has been something I've learned through Buddhism, poetry, cognitive behavioral therapy, and philosophy alike: the practice of staying.  Pema Chodron calls it "staying with the raw feelings."  CBT calls it "identifying the cognitive distortions."  David Whyte calls it "the sweet confinement of your aloneness."

What these ideas have collectedly translated to for me is this: honor what you're feeling.  Stop making excuses or trying to explain away your struggles in order to pretend they don't exist.  Don't live your life on autopilot; don't accept the emotional status quo and don't believe that you must mold yourself around some predetermined idea/definition of normalcy.

Only in finding the courage to acknowledge and heed that advice have I found my truth.  I say all the time that there is strength in vulnerability, and sometimes I wonder if that's the only path to true, luminous strength of heart, strength of spirit.  Like Roosevelt's man in the arena, perhaps only through the toil of vulnerability can we know true strength; perhaps only through the silence and the staying can we truly become our authentic self.

In her book, Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist summarizes it well:

In seasons of transition, silence will be your greatest guide. Even if it’s scary, especially if it’s scary, let silence be your anchor, your sacred space, your dwelling place. It’s where you will become your own voice, your agency, your authority.
— Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect

In my silence, where I face many different and difficult emotions and nurture all my hopefulness, I finally heard the voice of my confident self, my protector self, and through the listening and the paying attention I learned what she needed in order to stay active in my life.  In that space there is truly no room for the influence of others, and in that way you learn the truth about your authentic self - who you are, not who you want to be.  And you develop a reverence for that person in the privacy of your solitude; and eventually, you reach wholeness.

be like the ocean
 Photo by  Ant Rozetsky  on  Unsplash

The ocean is fathoms deep –

its top and bottom cannot exist without each other,

yet the two are extraordinary distances away.


And no matter how fiercely storms might rage above,

no matter how violent the waves on the surface,

always - always - the depths will be still, undisturbed.


Think about that.

Then think about this:

you're like the ocean.

By nature or by grace, you're like the ocean.

inspirationCasee Marie
when it's necessary to say no

Understandably, 'no' and anxiety go well together, and we often see every no as another win for our fear.  The opposite of anxiety, we think, is yes.  So we must be living on yeses to be truly overcoming anxiety.

Can you just imagine the exhaustion?

We don't always learn so easily that no actually does have its place in our healing practice.  As much as too many no moments can lead to despair, too many yes moments can lead to burn-out.  The importance lies in our ability to use both words with intention throughout our lives.

"You can't have yes without no," writes Shauna Niequist in her comforting meditation-memoir, Present Over Perfect. "Another way to say it: if you're not careful with yours yeses, you start to say no to some very important things without realizing it.  In my rampant yes-yes-yes-ing, I said no, without intending to, to rest, to peace, to groundedness, to listening, to deep and slow connection, built over years instead of moments."

Saying yes to the things that scare you is part of the journey of living with anxiety - the psychology world calls it exposure therapy - but so is saying yes to self-compassion, to the vital moments of calm and self-care.  And to make space for those moments, we may have to say no.  Where yes breaks down barriers constructed by fear, no does the very important work of setting boundaries between us and the things that would impede our progress.

What can you say no to in order to create an opportunity for a more healing yes?