The Sacred Quiet

My favorite windows to gaze out of are train windows.

My favorite windows to gaze out of are train windows.

It's not just the time between Christmas and New Year's Day--I'm noticing this rhythm at the end of most months in which I drift into a sea of quiet. I stop reading non-fiction and sit back gently into story on the page or story on the screen. I hold my children. I take naps. I bake, and spend a lot of time gazing out windows and sipping tea.

Sometimes I peruse Twitter and marvel at how much everyone has to say. When my own words go, it feels like watching other people fluent in a language I am struggling to remember.

blog_train 2.jpg

I think about all the people who counsel to write or blog every day and how every time I come across that idea I think, fuck that. I would rather only say something when there is something to say, and the honest truth is that many days are marked here by a sacred quiet. Those expectations are just a shame spiral waiting to happen in my world.

blog_train 3.jpg

Of course I have all those thoughts that you might have in such times, too.  Other people's lives and work can seem so remarkable and adventurous when we are laying down for the second nap of the day, when we have neither the impulse or desire to take a picture or to pick up a pen.

When these times come, there are a few postures I can take (I've tried them all).

blog_train 4.jpg

I can panic. Tell myself that the words are never coming back, that my magic fairy dust has somehow been squandered or used up. Or worse, thoughts like: Maybe it's cancer. (It's not cancer. At least not yet.)

I can try to power through. Force myself to keep being active, even if it's not really productive. That generally leads to laborious work that doesn't forward the ball, heaps of frustration, and then the kind of exhaustion that throws all my good coping mechanisms out the door.


I can surrender. Remember creative processes like incubation and gestation and the healing power of rest. Tell myself that the words will come back in their own time, probably with such velocity that I can't even catch them all as they blow through.

When I surrender to the sacred quiet, I let memories surface and collect them like quilt patches. I listen to what's really tugging at my heart and try to hold everything else at bay. I make my bed and create space in my environment for whatever weather comes. I hope that in this posture, direction and redirection will find me. I let the people with words have them, and know when mine return, I will be rested. Ready. And listening.

February is a good time for inner journeys, and while I'm editing my new short documentary project, Indie Kindred, I'll also be here, creating a powerful conversation about soul excavation and integration with my long-time friend and collaborator, Phyllis Mathis

I hope you'll join us!

Ritual & Rhythm by Caren McLellan Gazley

Many people probably dream of someday writing a book, or have some version of that aspiration on a list somewhere. Caren McLellan Gazley has dreamed of many (other) things, but she wrote this book for one simple reason.

I asked her.

It's been my delight and honor to introduce people to Caren in retreat and workshop settings, where her no-nonsense, candid manner endears her to all. I hope to gather again many more such times in the future, but in the meantime I wanted people--near and far--to be able to hold some portion of her story and her hard-won wisdom in their hands.

Caren at a Brooklyn Patisserie in December

From leading faith-based communities to their current humanitarian work in anti-human trafficking, Caren's partnership with her husband, Phil, and their journey together have taken them all over the world. She’s cultivated tried-and-true, practical-as-your-mama’s-good-advice wisdom about how to stay sane and even thrive in the midst of passionate work, parenting, community, and even devastating loss.

"Many years ago I had a decision to make: pack up and quit, or figure out a way to maintain my energy for the long haul." --Caren in Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

In Ritual & Rhythm, Caren chronicles her self care journey, sharing her struggles, challenges, and all she's learned along the way. She reminds us that body care IS soul care, and that all we do for ourselves benefits everyone around us. Through the practical examples she shares, we learn how to craft our own daily or weekly rituals for taking care and find nourishment as our everyday living unfolds inside their rhythm.

at The Integrate Retreat in The Rockies

"When my self care journey began, what I most needed was some deliberate time apart for myself. Time that required nothing of me emotionally or mentally. Time without expectations from others. And so I created a safe place in my kitchen."--Caren in Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

Caren playing with color after dinner in Berkeley

In a world of Do More and Go Faster, and in the face of human need that can stretch like a bottomless ocean before us, this book is the permission we've been waiting for and the guidance we need to find our way into a lifestyle that goes beyond surviving, into a realm where things like thriving, sustaining and flourishing carry the day.

Special Bonus: Everyone who orders Ritual & Rhythm before next Wednesday (4/11/12) will receive a full-color printable pdf featuring four of Caren's most-requested recipes, designed by Liz Kalloch and written in Caren's own handwriting.

We are thrilled to officially release:

Ritual & Rhythm: A Guide to Creative Self Care

by Caren McLellan Gazley

Photography by Andrea Corona Jenkins, Design by Liz Kalloch

Paperback, 48 pages

$28 USD, ships free worldwide

Take a Moment to Breathe

I've been going "full tilt" as Maya says for the last month. One of those big bursts of creative energy that pulls up the railroad tracks and realigns them. That gives new things that last push needed to be born. The kind that emboldens you to step into new frontiers.

There are such good things coming this month, including:

  • Telling Your Story, a ground-breaking new experience in story work
  • The Care and Keeping of Creative Souls, a new full-color book perfect for giving
  • The Emerging Icon Series: Be Legendary, a free bi-weekly video series. 

But before everything is launched and unveiled, I know I need to take a moment to breathe. Some time to shower, to eat Indian food, to wander through record shops and attend to all the things that have been neglected these last days.

Join me. Take a long lunch, a short walk, or 20 minutes just to stare out the window. Share in the comments what your Moment to Breathe plan is, why you need it, or how you're feeling on the other side. Creating space for an extended inhale and exhale prepares us to receive all the goodness that is coming on the other side.

And there is so much goodness coming.

West Coast, Here We Come!

Teahouse Studio presents

Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness

March 24-25, 2012: 10:00am-5:00pm both days

Location: Teahouse Studio, Berkeley, CA

Registration: $385, including catered lunches and beverages throughout

Early bird registration: Register by 2/01/12 using code BURNEARLY to receive $20 off

Steady Burn: The Art of Creative Wellness

There are all kinds of classes and books about how to do your art. How to write a paragraph or mix paints. But there isn't as much wisdom available about how to be a thriving creative--how to keep the fires of inspiration burning, steady and strong, as life and relationships and careers ebb and flow all around. All the know-how in the world doesn't make a difference when you're overwhelmed, burned out, unsure of where to start or when to stop.

In this two-day workshop, we'll explore the terrain where self-care and soul care overlap for artists and creatives of every medium and background. Uncover deep wells of restoration and rest, tap into hidden sources of power, and discover access points for stamina and rhythm.

The creative fires don't have to consume you and rage, and they don't have to dwindle and die. You can learn to tend this flame, to kindle your own steady burn.

This workshop is for:

  • Those who long to nurture their creativity and make space for it amidst the bustle of daily life.
  • Artists of every medium who seek to break the Burst-Burnout Cycle and find their way into steady productivity.
  • Accomplished creatives who may have experienced success-induced difficulties, and who are learning the art of creative wellness in the presence of velocity and opportunity.

March 24-25, 2012: 10:00-5:00 both days
Registration: $385, including catered lunches and beverages throughout
Early bird registration: Register by 2/01/12 using code BURNEARLY to receive $20 off

Note: class is limited to 20 participants, early registration is encouraged.

Coming in from out of town? Find travel tips and nearby lodging here.

About the Instructors:

Jen Lee is a voice recovery specialist, independent media producer and a beloved performer in New York City’s storytelling scene, including The Peabody Award-winning Moth Radio Hour and The Moth Mainstage. Jen is a sought-after mentor and guide for workshops and retreats unleashing creative expression. She is also the creator of Finding Your Voice, a cutting-edge personal breakthrough course, and a contributing author of Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching and Publishing.


Phyllis Mathis is a long-time spiritual leader, an ontological coach and licensed professional counselor who has been practicing for over 30 years. A seasoned writer, retreat facilitator and a beginning potter, she is the co-creator of a forthcoming course called The Iconic Self (January 2012). 




Caren Gazley is a soul care specialist and human rights activist whose work has led her to places like Mauritania and Albania. Still an L.A. girl at heart, Caren has deep wisdom drawing from her rich personal experiences about caring for yourself in the midst of parenting, partnerships, community and passionate work. She is the author of Ritual and Rhythm: A Guide for Creative Self Care (March 2012).


What people are saying:

"It was nothing short of magical, what transpired in those three days, and I would go back in a moment to experience it all again if I could." --Dana Fontaine

"Being at the Integrate Retreat was like being wrapped up in a warm brown blanket, with Jen and Phyllis telling stories you could listen to for hours, threaded through with wisdom and friendship. There was a lot of beauty, fun, and warmth there. The pleasure of it stayed with me for a long while, and the friendships started are still going strong." --Sandra Flear

"Jen is like slipping into a cozy chair with a cup of hot cocoa.  Her Integrate Retreat was a gift that continued to give for weeks on after . . . her storytelling is mesmerizing and she provided thoughtful writing prompts and food for thought.  I continue to peel the layers as I continue to discover the various voices I am integrating.  The women I met at the retreat continue to be my daily touchstones, soul sistas, and kindred spirits.  I look forward to attending future retreats!"  --Amelia Maness--Gilliland

"The weekend was very transitional for me, being in a space of such love and acceptance was unlike anything I have ever experienced.  The stories I held and that others held for me were so powerful. The way your voice spoke to us in story and also in lessons was a true gift." --Stefanie Renee

"Jen teaches and guides in such an entertaining and intuitive way that it hardly feels like 'learning'. If your soul is after rest and nourishment, and your spirit yearns for encouragement and validation, then you won't regret signing up for one of Jen's retreats. You'll return home inspired and with new horizons stretching before you . . . and with the support of a group of incredible, like-minded women. Be brave. Go for it!" --Helen Agarwal

"It was an amazing weekend--catalyzing and replenishing at the same time. You created an atmosphere that was both new and familiar, and I left feeling thoroughly listened to, acknowledged, and understood. I can't say it enough: thank you."  --Kate Godin

Self-Care Rx: When the End is In Sight

Vancouver, BC

I wish you could feel the energy buzzing around my kitchen these days, and see how I'm so lit up inside I can hardly sleep or remember to eat. The end is in sight on my new project, and there's nothing that gives me a greater high than finishing things. I feel like a racehorse with the finish line in sight, and I get these tremendous bursts of energy which are a perfect match for the tremendous number of tasks there are to do at the completion of any big work.

The new project, Telling Your Story, is a home study course designed to guide you through excavating your stories and sharing them in a powerful way. Imagine if you could attend a 12-week workshop with myself, along with Peter Aguero and Ophira Eisenberg, two of New York City's most amazing storytellers--one from an improv background and the other from the world of comedy. Imagine all those stories, tools, insights and exercises beautifully packaged and arriving right in your mail box, ready to inspire and guide you. In your own world, at your own pace--it will meet you right where you're at.

Can you see why I'm excited?

But I keep pulling my feet back down to earth, to practice my self care and make sure I don't spin myself into exhaustion or illness. Here's a list that I'm writing for myself, and sharing in case you could use it, too.

Self-Care Rx: When the End is in Sight

  1. Remember to eat. Set alarms if you have to. Energy bursts throw off my appetite, and I get easily disinterested in food or resentful of the time it takes to track down good food and consume it. Now I recognize that these are red flags that mean remembering to eat good food throughout the day is more important than ever.
  2. Resist the fallacy that you don't have time to take care of yourself. I understand our deadlines often feel like guns to our head--trust me, I'm the only one holding it in my own scenario. I have those fears that say it won't all get done unless I stay up late at night and work through lunch and wait until November to take a shower, but I know from experience it's not true. It all gets done, and taking care of myself along the way just means it gets done without unnecessary suffering. When I'm well rested and fed, I have access to my magic--that special groove that seems to stretch time and make the impossible manifest before my eyes. When I'm run down, I lose all coping skills and start to cry a lot. Reminding myself of this when those fears come knocking is gold.
  3. Walk away. Close the laptop, walk down the street for a lunch date. Take a day to be with a visiting friend. What seems like an unrelated distraction might be just the thing you needed to read or to hear to leapfrog forward in your work. I have some conversations that feel like they catapult me ahead by weeks or months of the pace I'm making on my own. Everything in our lives is so interconnected that I'm clear that my rest, my play, my friendships--everything I fill my breaks with is supporting the work I'm finishing. It's not a distraction to walk away and take breaks; it's a necessity for finishing without suffering.
  4. Go to bed early or take naps.  Sleep is my #1 secret weapon. My mind solves all kinds of problems while I'm sleeping. The temptation is to burn the candle at both ends, but lately I've just started refusing to do that. And here's the big surprise: the work still gets done.
  5. Delight in the project, the work, the deadline. Feel the energy bursts and the fears and revel in how alive it all is. This is you at the finish line: persevering, focused, digging deeper than you ever imagined you could go. And you've never been better.

When We Most Need It

I've been thinking a lot about the journey lately, and how some parts of the path feel like precarious passages, and other times are like finding your way into a clearing. When I hit the clearings, I don't mind reaching my hand out and grabbing hold of my fellow travelers for a moment, kind of like, “Here—the ground is uneven there, it will help you balance if you hold onto something while you step through.”


But when I am in the precarious passages, as I have felt myself to be these last months, I'm just focused on getting through. In fact, I like to imagine in such moments that there are no fellow travelers and therefore nothing more at stake than my own preservation because that in itself feels like responsibility enough. My hope is in the someday coming clearing, or in the view on the other side of these rocky passes. It's not unlike the kind of focus of a mother in labor, and the way she needs it a little dark and quiet and the kind of support that comes in whispers and a gentle embracing of her hands. It's not unlike the way she dreams of all that she will hold in her arms on the other side.


I can feel myself mending. It's like being soul sick, and having several doses of the good medicine I needed. Now I just have that weariness that comes when something inside is stitching itself together. The fullness that comes from being fed when I couldn't lift my arms any longer. And, above all, the gratitude that makes me want to touch my forehead to the floor.


Don't tell my friends (I have a little “no sad songs” resolution going this year), but I couldn't resist a little time with Coldplay's “Fix You” after my husband introduced me to it. In the dark wee hours of this morning, I keep thinking of these lines:


Lights will guide you home,

and ignite your bones.


Under my covers I let them sink in, along with all the words that have come to me like salve and the presences that have surrounded me like bandages. It's true, I think to myself with this mountain of blankets above me—we are always guided, always revived. We are never abandoned to the darkness or the injury or brokenness of our precarious passages. There is rescue when we most need it, and good medicine for whatever ails us. And if it isn't always and ever true, my prayer is that it will be, for all of us. My lips move quietly in this prayer, in the hopes that it's as good as any outstretched hand.


(I'm posting this video of Coldplay live in Toronto, because there's something about hearing this crowd sing that is such a good reminder that we are always together, never alone.)