Since watching Sally Wainwright’s powerful biopic about the life of the Brontes, I’ve been thinking a lot about the programme, and the title. Apparently, the title comes from a letter written by Charlotte Bronte about being the author of Jane Eyre: “What author would be without the advantage of being able to walk invisible? One is thereby enabled to keep such a quiet mind.”
I find myself interested in the benefits of visibility – of being seen – and invisibility – not being seen – and of the value of “a quiet mind”. As a coach, I often work with people to help them think about what they want from work and, sometimes, the rest of life. I listen, I ask questions, I ‘play back’ some of what I have heard, I ask more questions, and listen some more. Through this process, I hope to help my clients hear their own story more clearly, or to hear it differently.
I also help clients to see themselves as others might see them. To think about how they communicate with other people, about the impact they seek to have, and if it might be different from the impact they are having. I notice that, for some people, being themselves and being ‘visible’ in the world is a fairly straight forward affair. They don’t give it much thought until they hit a difficulty in relationship, or in developing their career as they had hoped.
For other people, ‘being in the world’ is not so straight forward, it is problematic. For some of these people, the habit of hiding or seeking invisibility is a powerful one. They have become used to not being seen for who they are, for not saying or showing what they really think or feel. They feel that it is safer and wiser, perhaps, ‘to walk invisible’ through the world.
From my own experiences, over the years, I have learned that it is important to get to know yourself, to see yourself and to let others see you.
A “quiet mind” is of great worth, but only if it is the quiet born of a real relationship with yourself, a confidence in who you are and what matters. If it a quiet that is about avoiding real contact and shying away from being seen or known, then it is not so good.
In Jane Eyre, Jane asks Rochester: “Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? … I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart!”. To me, Jane Eyre’s story is so compelling because it is about someone who is “poor, obscure, plain and little”, but who finds her strength and becomes fully visible in the world.