chapter twenty-eight

© Casee Marie

It’s always staggered me how, on your birthday, the age you turn is for the year you’ve just completed. So, for example, on my 27th birthday I entered my 28th year – or, as one dear friend would often say, I began my 28th trip around the sun. I always inevitably feel like a year has been stolen out from under me. Try as I might to grasp it, it always takes me by surprise. It becomes an apt reminder of the way time moves so quickly, that life is a succession of one-chance moments flashing by. Blink and you miss it.

I’ve gone from treating my birthday like a veritable festival – Caseepalooza! – to wishing it would fly by unnoticed and positively dreading it for a number of reasons. I find the second scenario, which is how I was with my 27th, to be the most discomforting because not only does it land me in a bit of a perpetual drudgery, but then the realization wallops me over the head that I’m wishing time away while at the same moment lamenting how quickly it passes. How absolutely human of me, right? We don’t know what we’ve got until we’re at risk of losing it – it’s our credo.

So 27 is complete, and 28 is beginning, and the whole thing is properly terrifying, much as it is at any age when you realize you’re the oldest you’ve ever been and you’re stepping ever closer to the oldest you’ll ever be. We’re only ever given the moment, but that thought can be both empowering and paralyzing.

With a new year of me comes the reflections on my achievements and, inevitably, thoughts on how much farther I have to go, how far behind I am by my own estimation. Junky, unhelpful thoughts, all. They make you forget that you’re supposed to be celebrating something. But we’re here to learn, and those are the moments rife with teachings.

In 27 years I’ve learned that the best way to deal with a challenge is to try your best; that you must, as Maya Angelou said, do the best you can until you know better.

I’ve learned that the biggest – maybe the only – success in life is just showing up for it.

I’ve learned that the way we live our lives is a series of habits, and we can change those habits if we just: one, stick with it; and two, understand that the act of trying is a spiral, not a dot.

I’ve learned that failure is not something we truly are dealt, but rather an emotional reaction we create. And part of me will never understand this.

I’ve learned that everything’s best when we choose, act, and think with grace and kindness. Everything else is just us over-complicating things.

I’ve learned that overwhelm will always come up, fear will always come up, and the success is not in triumphing over it, but learning to abide in it with patience.

I’ve learned that we have control over how we react, but learning to enact that control is the greatest struggle we’ll face – and all it takes is the impossible task of letting go.

I’ve learned that you must go back and believe in fairytales. Take them seriously, take them to heart. All the secrets of life are in there.

And I’ve learned that you really have to learn to love – or, at the very least, like – yourself, because you’re who you’re guaranteed to spend the rest of your life with; it will be much more pleasant if you choose to be your own best friend, not your own biggest enemy.

Also: there is nothing on this earth as powerful as a compassionate heart and a well-fed imagination.

on the necessity of keeping a journal

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For the better part of the last two months I was in some murky territory with my self-image. I was slugging along somewhere between feeling depressed and careless; I dealt with much negative self-talk and acute loneliness. When I finally got my head above water I tried to analyze what I was doing differently that had caused this surge of gloom. The answer surprised me: I had stopped writing. More specifically, I had stopped keeping a journal.

I had filled up the pages of one and moved on to pick out another, but as it was New Years I piled so much ceremony on starting anew. And so I waited for important thoughts, for cinematic moments, for ceremony. I put it off, thinking so much else outweighed it on the “important” scale. And to my surprise I really suffered from not having the outlet. Something clicked; I realized what was missing and finally gave up on waiting for inspiration, and back I went to scribbling random thoughts in my abominable handwriting. When I did that, it was like coming home within myself.

It seems silly that such a simple activity can hold so much sway on a person, but it really rings true for me. The only way I can think to explain it is simply that I am, at the heart of it all, a writer. I have no other word to put in front of it – I’m not any one type of writer. My only thoughts when I realized how much better I felt after starting again was, It must really be deep down in my bones.

Keeping a journal is much more explorative than writing for an audience. It’s a practice that first requires and then allows you to dig down through the soil of your soul to the place where the roots of you reside. When we successfully keep a journal, it becomes an appendage, the extension of ourselves that allows the heart and mind to meet up and figure things out. The difference in journaling, for me, is all about the freedom, which I’ve become addicted to. In a world full of articles telling us how to write to attract readers and grow our audience, journaling reminds us how to be alone, how to write for ourselves, and especially how to think for ourselves.

In my journal I may write a list of things that have made me happy lately; I might write a rambling essay or a short passage; I might write my fears or my joys; I may list goals or quotes or write a poem. The only constant is that I never know what it’s going to be when I pick up the journal, and I never know when I’m going to pick up the journal. I don’t set aside time to do it at a set point every day because I’ve learned the flaw of that: I can’t plan to be inspired, and I can’t put off being inspired for a time when self-expression would be more convenient. So all I can do is keep my journal with me so that, when the desire to write something arises, I’ll write something. And I’ll learn a little more about myself in the process.

handle with care


At the beginning of last year I had one pretty steady, straightforward goal in mind: I wanted to tap into (or cultivate, I thought at the time) my courage. This year my goals have been a little more difficult to pinpoint. A very important wish is that I can work on my relationship with myself, which is a difficult topic to explore particularly because it’s not something I ever gave all that much thought to.

In the last year I’ve learned the importance of getting in touch with the many facets of yourself; especially the parts that tend to stay hidden, because those are often the parts that need the most attention. Those are also the parts that usually don’t get any attention, and that makes everything – our perspective, our happiness, our strength – feel like it’s faltering.

I think it’s increasingly common in our fast-paced, technology-infused society that you’ll eventually take yourself (or at least some aspect of yourself) for granted. It’s amazing how easy that is to do, considering we see ourselves every day, and goodness knows we talk to ourselves every day. I keep myself alive every day; I sustain myself every day. But do I validate myself every day? Do I accept myself every day? Do I love myself every day? Fully? And I don’t mean “validate” like “refrain from judgment” and I don’t mean “accept” like “eh, good enough”. I mean to the bone, to the core, to the heart. Every aspect of myself – my fear, my failure, my not-enoughness. The fact is, there are parts of myself that I forget even exist, fragile feelings that I forget to handle with care; and banging around these highly sensitive parts of myself with blame and judgment is the sort of careless behavior that has caused me a lot of struggle. I’ve realized that for all the thankless parts of myself – the fear, the shame, the insecurity – there’s a greater, stronger part of myself that can offer compassion, but the communication doesn’t happen often because I forget to pay attention to that relationship. I’ve gotten into behaviors that I think we all inherently fall into: ignoring the shame, feeding into the fear. Until recently, I never thought to handle them with patience, respect, and love.

So, that’s my journey for 2015: to remember to pay attention to myself, and to practice accepting every feeling that comes up rather than acting out against it or repressing it to achieve a temporary (but ultimately flawed) sense of comfort. My goal is for a year of the Self: self-love, self-respect, and self-trust. And, hopefully, through those practices and by continuing to adopt an attitude of patience with myself, I’ll be able to take further steps toward correcting the many misconceptions I carry.

My word for the year is delicate, not because I want to think of myself as something fragile but because I want to live delicately, to be open and aware and gentle with my feelings. I often lament that I’m not particularly graceful or elegant, but that in itself is the sort of judgment disguised as truth that I want to try to correct. My journey will hopefully lead me to a place where I’ll be able to meet thoughts like, “I’m not graceful or elegant or good enough” with thoughts like, “I’m doing the best I can and that is enough; it’s a cause for celebration.”

(Unraveling the Year Ahead workbook via Susannah Conway)

small wisdoms and reflections from 2014


Last year I wrote down (rather unceremoniously) a list of goals for 2014. (“Which are just my goals all the time,” I amended, “But it’s good to be reminded.”) The list looked like this:

To nurture courage.
To “participate relentlessly in the manifestation of my own blessings”.*
To keep making optimism a natural practice.
To choose love over fear.
To continue educating myself.
To learn more from my heroes.
To endeavor to fill my life with goodness and dispense with things that don’t serve a positive purpose.
To cultivate kindness and pursue joy.
To read lots of wonderful books that challenge and inspire me.
To manifest the strength and courage to make things happen.
To work hard in the pursuit of my passions.
To celebrate myself and others.
To welcome every day with awareness, openness, and hope for great things.
And to always “do the best I can until I know better”.**

In short: to make 2014 a year of manifesting courage, strength, compassion, wisdom, and humility.

It was much more straightforward and a touch philosophical compared to my goals for the year before (which looked suspiciouike resolutions – not effective, to say the least). I wrote a guest post on creating lasting goals for my friend Stephanie‘s blog yesterday which explains some of my feelings on the magic-making capabilities of New Year’s when we’re able to set goals from a place of compassionate encouragement. Read More

on cultivating a spirit of peace and joy

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There’s an awful lot to be brought down by throughout the year, whether it’s the personal stresses that complicate our everyday lives or the bigger, often scarier things going on in the world at large. There’s always something that prompts our heads to shake, our eyes to turn downward, and our shoulders to sag under the weight of an invisible but emotionally tangible burden. Sometimes you just want to cry. Sometimes you just need to cry. That’s okay. (I’m stilling learning this.)

The holidays have always been special to me in part because they offer a bit of wisdom in dealing with the things that can weigh our shoulders down; rather than avoiding, escaping, ignoring, they teach us to shine a light. The holidays don’t symbolize turning away from what’s difficult, but rather turning towards it, letting the unsightly dark spots of life be seen; witnessing them, accepting them, and most importantly, sending love and peace where it’s needed. What the holidays symbolize, as it turns out, is remarkable instruction on how to live.

It’s no coincidence that light plays a big part in this season, whether it applies to a religion or a tradition or a personal inclination (a menorah, a Christmas tree, a candle, a Yule log). The most basic truth of light is that it is illuminated by darkness. Light can alter darkness, but darkness can’t snuff out light. Even the night comes only because the sun chooses to set.

What this symbolism of light during the holiday season means to me is the practice of peace, joy, and constancy. Not a perfect practice, but a hopeful one. In my experience, it’s about simply endeavoring. I believe that life is about doing the best we can, and the holidays – this season of light and peace, of comfort and joy – help me define what my best is.

Peace and joy are stalwart qualities when they’re nurtured into positions of power within us; which is to say, when we cultivate them and help them grow to a size that cannot be overlooked. Feed them more often than anger and resentment and the difference will amaze you. But we do essentially have to coexist with all the different atmospheres of our emotional selves, just like we have to coexist with all the atmospheres of the emotional world in which we live. I’ve learned that peace and joy help with that, too. Gradually, whenever I’m met with a difficulty that burdens my spirit, my spirit does its best to acknowledge the darkness with the patience of peace while the compassion of joy sends love where it’s needed. I’ve also found that my motivation for sending out love can be so strong that it overpowers that instinct to turn away. This practice has proven to be strong and valiant for me and I’m grateful that the holidays come around every year to remind me, and to help me celebrate it.