On the last Monday of each month, Carolyn hosts a wonderful group of bloggers reflecting on their word of the year. My word this year – stillness – has been hovering around me since the summer. I’m back today with just a few thoughts about how important it’s been for me lately – here are all of my posts on this topic if you’d like to explore further.

Friends, I started the first draft of this post in early January in anticipation for Anne Bogel’s annual What’s Saving Me Right Now linkup. Yet – the midwinter struggle for me has been real this year. Blogging and the anticipation of a big linkup felt like too much to bear at the time and my decisions around this post perfectly captured the effect of my word on my life in February. So I’ve revamped this essay to reflect how Stillness itself has gotten me through some dark and difficult days this winter.

Towards the end of January I hit a major wall – I couldn’t bring myself to do any of the things that normally bring me joy. I’m no stranger to depression and recognized all of the red flags. When I start noticing the warning signs, I tend to dig into the things that I typically enjoy with the hope and expectation that I can claw myself out of that black hole and get back to myself quickly. But this year, the stakes felt higher given the pandemic and how completely chaotic things were in the US in January. I decided to do something a bit riskier – instead of clinging to what typically works, perhaps I could try something different.

It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing those deeply unfashionable things – slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting – is a radical act now, but it is essential.

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May

Have you had a chance to read Wintering by Katherine May yet? If so, then you know exactly what I mean. I wanted to try being open to not clawing back. To accept that I was feeling low in every area of my life: low energy, low mood, low stress tolerance, low motivation. Would it be possible to sit back, accept the feelings, and not fight them? It felt radical and even, possibly, dangerous. It’s definitely not something that I would recommend to anyone with a serious mental illness – to ignore their red flags and allow themselves to sink into their thoughts and feelings. But my “low time,” though disruptive, is typically low grade, seasonal, and predictable. Perhaps it’s something to welcome during the dark months; perhaps a time to retreat is part of an important cycle that my body could benefit from.

But the storm, painful as it is, might have had some truth in it. So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton

About a week before Anne was scheduled to post her linkup, I was on the yoga mat in downward dog and worrying about when I was going to be able to finish this post. As I shifted my gaze forward, stepped into a low lunge, and then swept into warrior one, a strange thought occurred to me. I could skip it. Retreat. Rest. Maybe I didn’t need to stress myself out over a blog post and page views — especially right now when it was important to use my energy elsewhere in my life. And what a way to honor my quest for internal stillness.

So I skipped it. And when Anne’s post went up on February 1st, I felt a tiny pang of regret because I felt like I was missing out. Then I read her lovely post on how focusing on her home has saved her throughout this very strange time we’ve been living in and I knew I did the right thing. We’re all so hopeful right now, things are going to get better for the world soon, and yet – we’re still living through an extraordinary time. A perfect storm. There was no reason to expect that I would be able – or need – to keep up with everything that I’ve done in the past.

This reframe – seeking internal stillness – has been more life giving than I can describe. I fail at it every single day, but much like my major lesson of 2020, the key has been recognizing when I’m experiencing internal turmoil. When we can recognize it, we can take the baby steps to start taming it.

So despite being nearly a month late and always privately priding myself on being one of the first commenters on Anne’s linkups, I’m going to add my little link way down below the first 188 comments on the page. Because why not? I’ve participated in this linkup every year since 2018 and this year’s post feels like the most important one I’ve written so far. If you’re interested, here are my previous contributions to Anne’s yearly linkups:

And thank you again to Carolyn for hosting the One Little Worders! I can’t wait to spend the rest of the week getting caught up with all of my blogger friends and reading how their words are making waves in their lives.

13 thoughts

  1. I have enjoyed reading all these past posts- and well done on allowing yourself time off from something which is supposed to be pleasurable and not a chore. I hope llowing your self to be still continues to be helpful, thank you for this honest post.

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  2. Loved this, Katie, and I am so glad that you gave yourself this courageous gift of stillness and self-intimacy. And while I have your attention, I noticed something this morning that I thought might bring you some joy — a new book that’s due out in October:

    “Longtime friends Hillary Clinton and author Louise Penny are writing an international political thriller, “State of Terror,” out in October. The plot: A novice Secretary of State joins the administration of her rival, a president inaugurated after four years of American leadership that shrank from the world stage. A series of terrorist attacks throws the global order into disarray, and the Secretary is tasked with assembling a team to unravel the deadly conspiracy.”

    Onward!

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  3. I think you’ve made a very wise decision to not put extra stress or pressure on yourself, and it seems to have worked out well. Like you, I tend toward a seasonal depression (though thankfully it has not been too bad this year), but I’ve never thought about embracing the lack of motivation or energy. I think there’s so much pressure on women, especially women who are mothers, to always be doing something productive, and it does feel rather revolutionary to instead allow ourselves to be still. I’m going to try that the next time I’m feeling blah about everything rather than forcing myself to try to find that missing motivation.

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  4. This post tugged at my heartstrings, Katie. And it made me wish that I lived closer so that I could have “borrowed” your wee ones to give you some silent times for yourself. Thank you for sharing so eloquently about what depression is. And you make me wish I was further up the list for Wintering…that quote, just beautiful.

    And, I just need to thank Jordan for giving me that heads up on State of Terror! I can’t wait!

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    1. I ended up buying Wintering because I didn’t want to wait for it and thought it might be something that I’d reference for a while… I’m glad I did that!!

      Thanks for your kind words, Kat. I’m so thankful for my blogging friends!

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    1. Thank you! I recognize that it might not have worked if my symptoms were any more severe than they were… so I feel lucky that things didn’t crash down around me!

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  5. Big deep breath… That was me reading the end of your post. Just a big deep breath. How beautifully you express honoring your spirit–something I think the collective We often fight. That darkness. I’ve been reading Thich Nhat Hanh, and he’s talking about suffering as a way to compassion. That we can’t be compassionate if we don’t know suffering first. So I think of your acceptance of that space, or of being in that space, as you ‘knowing.’ And I had to smile at your two quotes…b/c the two priorities on my seasonal list right now are Wintering and a reread of Journal of a Solitude 🙂 But like Kat, I’m waaaay down that hold list for K. May’s book! Thank you for sharing your true self here.

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  6. for once, I’m late and NOT reading the comments that came before me. I was struck by these words from your post “We’re all so hopeful right now, things are going to get better for the world soon, and yet – we’re still living through an extraordinary time.” and … yes. Kate Bowler shared about liminal space in her devotion today. We’ve been living communally in liminal space for months now … almost a year (communally – some of us have been in and out of liminal spaces for years). and I applaud you for naming it. and for pausing to give it honor. Every morning when I practice My stillness, I think of you. and how much harder it is to choose that with a houseful of kiddos … and how brave you are to do it. Cheering you on (which I know, sounds very strange for Stillness) and lifting you up! xxoo.

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    1. I looked up the definition of liminal space to make sure I knew what you were talking about — that is such an apt expression for right now! Thank you for introducing me to it. I also looked up Kate Bowler and signed up for her emails. I’m honored that you think of me while engaging in your own stillness practice – I’m certain that it’s helping me!! Thank you. And honestly – I can’t imagine what my life would be like without spending time with my words over the last few years (stillness, present, pause, and abundance) – I’d be an even bigger mess!!

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