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

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.

poemsCasee 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?

essaysCasee Marie
an invitation to peace
But this is what I’ve learned the hard way: what people think about you means nothing in comparison to what you believe about yourself. So you dance and you please and you placate and you prove. You become a three-ring circus and in each ring you’re an entirely different performing animal, anything anyone wants you to be. For a while, you just sit, contentedly, and contentment is the most foreign concept you know. But you learn it, shocking as it is, day by day, hour by hour. You sit in your own plain skin, being your own plain self. And it’s okay. And it’s changing everything.
— Shauna Niequist

There is an extraordinary journey being offered to you, an invitation down a quieter, less-traveled, yet all the more scenic path.  It's the journey into your own authenticity, but to get there requires the courage to cross through more treacherous terrain: the crags of fear and the bogs of doubt.  At points along the way you'll reach clearings that will stop your breath with their beauty, their aliveness.  You may not believe it to be a real place, but after time you'll realize that it's true and it's there, a place inside yourself where a distant voice whispers to you that you are enough, where the rain calms your soul and the sun warms you through - all this at once.  In those places you begin to learn how to not only coexist with fear, but how to thrive in its presence and how to nurture the part of yourself that can stand up in your truth to comfort that fear.

The journey is an inward pilgrimage, and it begins by releasing our unhealthy attachments.  We slowly start to turn down the volume on other people's influence on our thoughts and actions; we create more quiet and more stillness for our authentic self to step in and guide us.  And then, finally, we learn what it means to experiment with no longer playing the roles we conjure for ourselves: parent, or child, or sibling, or spouse, or boss, or employee.  And it's in that beautiful, foreign space of contentment that we begin to know our authentic selves for the first time.  It's there that we meet Grace.  From that place, we find compassion enough to calm our fear, to trust our authentic self, and to hope and believe in the very best.

But it starts with letting go of the role, letting go of the search for validation to be found by being something else for everyone else.  It starts with choosing the stranger: yourself.


Quote excerpted from Shauna Niequist's Present Over Perfect

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in.
— Shauna Niequist

In our frantic, overwhelming, too busy world, what does a heart-centered life look like?  For each of us it’s different, of course, because it’s dependent upon what’s in our hearts, whomever and whatever truly reside there.  But it’s very likely – perhaps a guaranteed certainty – that the things we give importance to in our lives are not the same things living in the softest part of our heart.  This is the journey inward that Shauna Niequist chronicles in her book, Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living.  A collection of thought-provoking essays, Present Over Perfect explores the discoveries we make when we slow down, simplify, and choose to live with more grace and intention.

Sink deeply into the world as it stands. Breathe in the smell of the rain and the scruff of the leaves as they brush across driveways on windy nights. This is where life is, not in some imaginary, photo-shopped dreamland. Here. Now. You, just as you are
— Shauna Niequist
“In that most tender area of the heart, Niequst discovers, there are not numbers – the ones we exert ourselves hoping to see on a bank slip or a scale – and there is no obsession with status, with organized homes or perfect, social-media-ready lives, enviable careers and grandiose square-footage.  In that space these things cannot survive because what’s there wasn’t meant to sustain them: love was not made to give power to consumption, financial gain, social success, and external pleasures.  What brings us most fully to life is the love evoked by grace, by family and friends, love born of soul-work and stillness.  To go into the quiet simplicity of that love in many ways goes against what modern society would have us do: it’s choosing minimalism over excess, frugality over frivolity; and yet, as Niequist discovers on the challenging journey toward intention, this is the truest, most compelling road to freedom and wholeheartedness.

In her luminous, lyrical voice, Niequist sheds the layers of life that our culture piles on, uncovering something raw and wonderful underneath.  She engages the reader in her own insightful ponderings as she reacquaints herself with her unique understanding of God, of work, marriage, motherhood, and self, all seen without the trappings of the many shoulds and oughts in which we so frequently indulge.  What she reveals, as much to herself as to the reader, is the greater depth of living, the powerful connectedness and emotionality to be found down the road so infrequently taken.  And the result is a gift of insight and inspiration to the reader, an invitation for us – at whichever point in our life we might find ourselves – to follow our hearts down the lesser worn path and into the quiet vulnerability of true fulfillment and authenticity.


amazon - b&n - indiebound - public library

reviewsCasee Marie
To Walk Invisible: A Portrait of the Brontës
  To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

Among the many women who became giants throughout the history of literature, none appear quiet as formative as the Brontë sisters. Condemned to live as free-thinking women in a man's world, the Brontës - steadfast Emily, passionate Charlotte, and sensitive Anne - famously wrote under pseudonyms that led publishers and audiences to believe they were men, seemingly the only path available to them that would allow them to write freely and publicly. Determined to support their family and themselves, the sisters published in a way that would allow them to be taken seriously and to not be judged or shamed for their aspirations; yet, they could never be themselves. Nonetheless, their legacies have managed to carry on through history not as the brothers (presumably) Bell, but as the sisters Brontë, where they serve as beacons of quiet courage and resilience for generations of passionate women across world-changing new territory.

Written and directed by Sally Wainwright, the two-part film To Walk Invisible: The Brontë Sisters, which aired earlier this month on PBS as part of the treasured Masterpiece program, offers enthusiasts of the Brontës unprecedented access to the indomitable spirit of each sister. The film is a captivating portrait of the lives of these three visionary women and their tortured brother Branwell. A poet in his own right and every inch the haunted artist, perpetually unwell Branwell careens through his own life in a tragic spiral of drinking, adultery, and mental instability as his reverend father and three compassionate sisters endeavor to help him, each never quite able to give up on the brilliant but devastatingly troubled man. In many ways Branwell's life represents all the societal privileges the women would not be allowed. Despite his frequent scenes of public embarrassment, Branwell is nonetheless able to submit his writing for publishing, a situation that would incite ridicule on the women. Regardless of this, their love for their brother compels the sisters to strength as their resulting passion for their family, including their ailing father, ultimately illustrates in their character their powerful, capable, and deeply authentic humanity.

  To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

To Walk Invisible: BBC/Matt Squire 2016

Iconic performances by a superb cast make this drama especially unforgettable. Portrayed by Chloe Pirrie and Finn Atkins, respectively, Emily and Charlotte come to life in the way their readers have always imagined they might, while the lesser-known Anne, played by Charlie Murphy, is finally given equal standing beside her larger-than-life sisters. As Adam Nagaiti's heartbreaking Branwell rages and ravages through much of the film, the viewer finds in him what his fathers and sisters always saw, and they too never cease to hope for better things for him. In the role of the Reverend Brontë, Jonathan Pryce is characteristically enchanting as a man devoted to his children and admirably dedicated to the good qualities of each. Perhaps one of the most powerful scenes involves a revelation from Charlotte and her sisters to the Reverend, from which viewers likely won't escape with a dry eye. The rawness of their realities is captured in much the same way the sisters portrayed real life in their novels, and we love them all the more for it.

At its heart, To Walk Invisible is the story of a family, and the lengths to which these passionate sisters will go to sustain it. They never reveal their identity to their brother, fearful of his instability and aware of the fact that they had achieved what Branwell’s demons kept himself from achieving. With Charlotte as Currer, Anne as Acton, and Emily as Ellis Bell, the Brontë sisters go on to secretly publish Emily’s legendary poetry followed by such novels as Wuthering HeightsAgnes Grey, and Jane Eyre. The audience grows deeply attached to the unique spirit of each sister, relating to some dominating emotion individual to each of them. Brilliantly captured through Wainwright’s thoughtful writing, the film unveils perhaps the most intimate experience of the Brontë family that we’ve yet to know. It's unquestionably essential viewing for Brontë enthusiasts, and a powerful reminder of the empowering courage of three revolutionary women.

To Walk Invisible will be available on Tuesday, April 11th from PBS on DVD and Blu-Ray.


order from PBS | watch online | Amazon

reviewsCasee Marie
I will breathe more...

One more bit of inspiration from Tyler Knott Gregson, the beginning of this piece struck me as a series of healthy reminders to myself.  There's so much more motivation to be had in saying "I will" instead of "I won't."

I will breathe more, but be more thankful for all of those who
are capable of stealing it. I will listen more, and absorb the
words being said with a clear heart, and a mind that is not
conjuring up my responses. I will hope, more hope for more
things that seem hopeless.

What will you do - to take care of yourself, to bring peace into your life and calm to your soul?  Here are some ideas from my personal list of wills:

I will be more present and grateful in opportunities for rest.
I will respect my mind, my body, and my soul, and cherish every flaw that makes them my own.
I will breathe intention into every creative project and practice being more confident in my abilities.
I will make time to celebrate my successes - even the small ones.
I will say yes to what's good and healing, instead of appealing to shoulds.
I will remember to love myself unconditionally, as I love those kept close in my heart.
I will learn my truth more and more each day, and I will speak it, and I will live it.
And I will know that I am enough.

* Poem from Wildly into the Dark

Patience, patience indeed

Here's another piece from Tyler Knott Gregson's Wildly into the Dark that sparked the inner author of my love letters to self.  

Oh tender heart, oh sweet
and unsettled soul, patience,
patience indeed. Long has there lived
an aching inside, a throbbing
dull and constant, a pull to
all that comes after this,
across the darker waters,
the beauty beyond.
It will come, and you to it,
and the heaving of the hull
of you will settle;
you will sail.
— Tyler Knott Gregson

Play around with inhabiting this poem, imagining a serene, confident, and deeply loving you saying the words to the part of yourself who lives in fear of not being enough.  Notice what it feels like to be your own hero or heroine.  It doesn't matter what that person looks like, what material goods or social status they have achieved, or - goodness knows - how well their social media feed is curated.

What matters is the words, and the voice that's already within you. Now, feed it.