“Alright, now,” I say with a smile, “all of you who hear those voices in your heads, raise your hands.”
There is laughter in the room. I am walking a group of adults through an exercise to help them understand their own learning and communicating styles. Hands rise tentatively. Sheepish smiles reveal that hearing voices in one’s head does not seem quite right somehow. Yet I believe when we can admit that we hear voices, we give voice to our own reality.
Hearing voices and having voice are two different things. Both are deeply personal, but one is more enlightened. Hearing voices is culturally inspired; we contantly process the
ever-present bombardment of ego-laden experiences and culturally imprinted information. Having voice is contemplative. It is an intimate act – a hunger to be led by the soul’s fire and grace to more fully and authentically participate in our own stories.
I believe one’s own voice rests within the soul and, when called, moves outward as individual truth, regardless of ego and irrespective of expectations.
A child of the fifties, I learned my limitations well. I heard society’s voices through friends and family, the messages of media, the sway of public opinion; I believed and repeated them, creating a life that responded to the cultural breezes and hurricanes of my becoming years. I embraced those unrelenting cultural whispers, inviting them to calculate my worth. I asked the many voices what it would take to have others: define me as beautiful, grant me respect, applaud my performances, and praise my choices of love. I heard those voices and became their echo.
It took life’s seasons and the awful gift of pain to open me to my truth: I am more than a response, more than a brain processing the truths of others. The death of a child and two lost marriages eventually carried me into a fearful, but reverent, space of doubt and courage. Raw emotion and aching reality dragged me inward, muffling the shouts of an external world. Slowly, gently, but inexorably, my voice emerged and life’s kaleidoscope shifted.
The trick is to sort out my voices, to be alert and sensitive to the cacophony of sound and message. Listening in the silence, I hear my soul’s voice. I believe God’s energy speaks in those moments, giving me questions and answers to carry to other, louder, conversations. I am grateful for those intimate moments and in them I make promises: my fondness of others’ voices will not still my own. In Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott reminds me: “. . . it is natural to take on someone else’s style, . . . a prop that you use for a while until you have to give it back . . . it just might take you to the thing that is not on loan, the thing that is real and true: your own voice.”
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