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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.

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

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. 

For the thousand moments waiting
  Photo: Annie Spratt

Photo: Annie Spratt

Will I have taken these for granted, these moments,
this life?  Will I reach the next beginning, and
carry regret into the new light, the first light?
I was gifted a million opportunities to appreciate
this blink of an existence,
I will promise myself until these knees are bloodied
and my tongue is swollen, that I will live
with eyes opened wide, and a heart
that never closes.  There is no where else to start
but here, I have no more time left to waste.
For the thousands of moments waiting,
I see you, and I will cherish you
as you've always deserved.  Forgive me,
please Forgive me, for every unappreciated
second, for every time I forgot
to thank you outloud.

What would you say to the moments waiting ahead?  To the ones left behind?  The mistake moments that you don't think you'll ever let yourself forget.  The moments where you felt shamed and insignificant, just plain unworthy? 

What about, "I'm sorry"? 

What about, "It's okay"? 

What about, "You're enough"? 

What if you got face-to-face with the memories of those moments when you told yourself you weren't good enough, and instead you said, "I know you were here to teach me something, and even if I still don't know what it was, I'm grateful for the wisdom now within me that will help me through the future." 

essaysCasee Mariehealing
love letters to the self

Sometimes, I write love letters to myself.

They're healing, they're powerful; they're necessary.  I'll scribble them from time to time into my journal and fold down the page in dog-eared fashion so I can quickly go back to find a compassionate pep talk when I feel like I need one.  I don't remember how I got started on this practice or what motivated me to stick with it through the initial awkwardness.  (Because it was awkward; and how!)

Like first beginning a journaling practice, writing letters to yourself can seem positively painstaking - even when you have no intention of sharing this writing with an audience, you still feel ever so much like a fool.  Maybe this is because self-compassion is still a radical idea for many of us.  But the more you do it, the more powerful the practice becomes, and the more in touch you become with your own capacity for kindness, patience, and love.

For me, the process has helped me grow more compassionate toward myself as well as others, but it has also caused me to see messages to myself hidden within different perspectives - a happy accident that comes as a result.  It's most true for poetry and music, and I was reminded of it again in this piece from Tyler Knott Gregson's Wildly into the Dark:

I have a few promises to offer you,
the believing is up to you, the
proof will emerge, but I cannot
say the when.  Here is what I have,
my sincere offering, scar earned and
burned into me:
when you think you can't, you positively
can, when you think it's over,
it may be beginning.  There is always more
to find, always something left in you
when you would swear on your soul
you've been emptied out.  Finally,
and most exquisitely important,
I promise you it is worth it,
it is always worth it, every drop of
ache and sorrow, every perfect pinch
of joy, it is worth it.  Promise me you
will keep waking up, keep finding it,
and finding the strength in you
to believe me.

"I promise you it is worth it."  I've written those words to myself many times, a reminder that there is a strong, hopeful self within me who not only believes that I can achieve my dreams - but that I deserve to.  And this helps.

making a commitment to yourself

When I recently took part in Dana Hilmer's THRIVE program I was instructed, along with the others in attendance, to peruse a list of strengths and circle the ones I felt to be the most relevant to me, the qualities of which I felt myself most capable.  As I scanned the list, one strength caught my eye: loyalty.  Not long ago someone had used that word to describe me and I had reflected on the kindness of that compliment; I had never given my loyalty much thought, and so had never considered to give it any praise.  After being reminded of the strength of it, I took it on proudly and I spent some time with the word.

Next, I was to apply my selected strength to my personal goals, which were entirely about myself, my emotional, physical, and creative wellness.  I thought I'd hit a roadblock until I realized: what would it look like if I turned that loyalty back onto myself?  What would it mean to practice being loyal to my dreams, to my goals?  It would mean confronting my creative fear, my self-doubt, and my low self-esteem.  It would mean becoming vigilant in the practice of sitting with these uncomfortable things, learning about them and determining what they need in order to get quiet and let confidence take control.

What would it look like for you to make loyalty to yourself and your desires a priority?  Take some time with your journal and explore this question.  It could be showing up for yourself daily on your yoga mat or through meditation and prayer.  It could be making more time to spend with the people you love, or eliminating some of the relationships that don't serve you.  It could be treating your body, or your mind, or your spirit with more tenderness, more kindness, more reverence and loving care.  What one, small thing can you do to be more loyal to yourself every day?

essaysCasee Marie