When I was in my early twenties, going to UVic for my undergrad, I used to go most Thursdays to Steamer’s Pub to dance to a band called A Particular Wave. Eventually I was going there early with Kendra to help her decorate the stage. I was there, I was known to the four members of the band, I talked to my friend, I danced, I enjoyed myself, I went home. This happened almost every week for a fair chunk of time.
A few years after it wasn’t such a regular thing, I was getting gas on Quadra Street. Steve, the piano player for the band, was there and was in some kind of car situation where he needed a ride. So I gave him a ride. We chatted in the car as I drove and I dropped him off. It all seemed pretty normal to me.
Not long after that I got a phone call from Kendra, who had been talking to Steve. He had told her, astonished, that I had TALKED. Kendra said, “Of course she talks.” Steve said, “No, she has never talked to me before ever.”
Hmm, I thought, hearing this. I realized that it was true. I didn’t talk in my early twenties. Not much, anyway. I talked to friends. I talked to my teachers. I talked to family, sometimes grudgingly. I talked in classes with at least a touch of arrogance and a lot of earnestness.
But I could go a long, long time without talking.
Like, I took a short bookbinding workshop at Island Blue Print. I think it was a daylong course and I remember the satisfying self-containment of not talking. I honestly think the only thing I said all day, interrupting the storm of small talk around me, was to explain that some Buddhists choose not to eat onions and garlic because they inflame the passions (a piece of information that I know only thanks to the menu at the Lotus Pond vegetarian Chinese restaurant on Broad street). I remember that the instructor of the course, a man about my age, kept glancing at me when he gave the next set of instructions, like my silence was some kind of authority. I was present and engaged in the class, I just wasn’t talking.
This was also the era where I perfected hair flirting. No need to say anything with my mouth, just choose the time to let down my giant hair and the intrigue was launched. (I’m glorifying this a bit, but you get the picture: I didn’t talk much.)
I remember writing paper after paper in university, in English and in French, struggling with saying what I wanted to say, and sometimes feeling like I was trying to figure out how to say what I thought my professors wanted me to say – like there was this already written essay that I was trying to match my words to.
Right this moment I’m sitting on the third floor of the house that we live in. My kids are in the garden, filling up the wading pool. My daughter just shrieked at her sibling at the top of her lungs. If I’d been down there I would have taken her to task for that with my own voice. I notice (and I don’t always catch it) that I come down harder on my older kid for words used, for tone, for the way she speaks. Possibly it’s because she’s older, but I actually think a lot of that is because she’s a girl, and we have some pretty intense societal ways of policing the speech of women (for example, a high school friendly acquaintance once gave me some serious attitude when he heard me swear. “Girls shouldn’t swear,” he declared. Fuck that, I said then and say now), and I’m doing some of these things to my daughter without entirely knowing that I’m doing it. This may be the topic of a rant someday.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because voice matters. It matters that we have space to express out there in the world, through our words and our creative actions, who we are and how we see the world. It matters because there is so much crazy messaging telling us that we are less than, and that we need fixing. It matters because every authentic voice speaking out helps bring us back to the centre of human experience. It matters because the human voice in word and song is a source of exceptional beauty. It matters because people are listening for your story – for the deep, beating heart of your lived experience.
No one can disagree that voice is powerful.
How do you subdue a nation? You take away their speech. You control who can publicly speak and what they can say. You hire people to listen and overhear and punish.
How do you disappear a whole culture? You take away their language – the very words that they use to caress the earth, to make love, to sing their babies to sleep.
How do you rob a child of their voice? You shame them repeatedly for appearing and speaking in the world as themselves. You make them believe in their essential flaws. They won’t speak up anymore.
A voice is power.
In our energetic systems, our voice is a link between the body and the mind. It is an easy place to block energy. Need to shut down? Don’t speak. Or speak too much. Or speak about everything but the thing that actually matters to you. Our speech takes breath. To breathe is to be in the flow of life. How is your breath?
I say to people, with my hand on my diaphragm: if you want to not feel, then you lock down your breathing; if you want to not let it come to consciousness, whatever it is, then you lock down your throat.
There are intimate relationships between the solar plexus, home of the diaphragm, and the throat. The solar plexus is about will and power and is where we carry shame. This is the place from which we drive our lives. When you declare who you are in the world, and then take action, you use the throat and the solar plexus. When you are shamed, you hang your head low (actually breaking the flow through the spine) and don’t speak, because you know there’s nothing you can say that will redeem you. Which is just bullshit, people. Shame is an amazing tool for controlling others: it’s like a giant club stuck full of nails at the business end. The pain when it hits you takes your breath away like nothing else. You’ll never do THAT again. And if you’re in a relationship where you are kept off balance and never know what it is that will be shamed, you shut yourself down further and further. No voice possible here.
What can you do to open up your voice? Sing. Sing to yourself on your own if that’s how you have to start. Hum if you have to. Voice and sound are vibration. Try a nice long AUM and see how much it vibrates your whole body. You might find you really like it. I do. I didn’t used to sing because I believed that I couldn’t. But then I lived in England for a year and I wandered a lot through the countryside on my own, singing the same four-line, made-up song to myself over and over and humming its tune. I still use that same song ten years later as grounding before I welcome a client into my workspace.
Notice how your breath supports your words. Do you get out of breath quickly? Do you breath in patterns that support your speech? I remember a period of a few weeks where my asthma was so whacky that I couldn’t get through a whole sentence without gasping for breath. No beautiful sustained long sentence utterance. Just. Stange. Pauses. I was pretty deeply depressed at the time and didn't know it. These things are probably related.
Write. Not anything huge destined to be shared. Just write your insides out. No one needs to read it. This is your voice for you. "I remember," is a great way to start. A super interesting thing is to write with someone else for ten minutes, then read what you wrote out loud to each other. You get to witness and be witnessed, and you get to hear your own words said out loud in your own voice.
Also, if you talk all the time, non-stop, about whatever, try silence. Make effort to not chime in with the next statement that turns the conversation back towards you. Make space around you by cultivating situations where you don’t talk. You’ll notice things when you’re not talking. For one thing, you’ll notice how much you’re still talking in your head. Try not to take those thoughts too seriously. Thoughts come, thoughts go. You don’t have to follow them all. They’ll make you go to the mall, or smoke another hit off that vaporizer, or check Facebook for just five more minutes, or believe things about you that are really not true, like that you are fundamentally flawed in some way...
Your listening is also an amazing gift. Most people, when they are in some kind of difficulty, don’t actually want to be offered solutions: they want to be heard. Can you make your listening a wide, still, non-judgmental, non-fixy pool? Can you do this for yourself? Because if you start to do this, your small inside voices will become stronger. You might have to hear some hard things along the way, but you’ll live, and then you’ll know yourself better, and isn’t that kind of the point? Then you get to drive your life forward with clarity.