Finding Your Voice

Do you unconsciously limit your self-expression?

John Walter ⭐Jan 16 · 5 min read [First published in The Ascent – Medium]

Image by Dawnyell Reese from Pixabay

The medium doesn’t matter. As an artist, a musician, a writer or as a human being, you reach your full potential when you find your voice.

Most of us never do. Some, like me, think we have found it only to discover years later that we are still hitting invisible barriers in every aspect of our self-expression.

I am a musician and writer. I have recognised that the significant shifts in my creative expression, have come not from some artistic revelation or inspiration, but a conversation with a coach or counsellor. My self-awareness and emotional literacy have a direct, measurable correlation to my creative expression.

So below is a little process I go through when I feel I have lost my voice in some way.

First Question:

Is there any space between stimulus and response when you are speaking?

In 2000 a coach asked, “Why, when I ask you a question, do you look away for a moment before answering?”

in 2020 my counsellor observed “When I asked you about your feelings, it was as if you took a step away from yourself. You seemed to observe your feelings from a distance and then return to yourself to answer.”

The exploration prompted by these professional interventions caused a massive shift in my freedom of expression.

Second Question:

What is happening in that space?

What is your body doing? What are the thoughts? What is the present emotion?

In 2000 my eyes would look up or to the side. I could sense anxiety or fear. It was challenging to be specific about thoughts that happened in a millisecond, but I had an idea I was censoring myself, afraid of saying the wrong thing.

In 2020 it was different. My eyes still did that thing, but there was no anxiety or fear. I had experienced 20 years of being fearless in my speaking. Now there was sadness and pain. I was still censoring myself! It was extraordinary my counsellor had asked the same fundamental question 20 years later. I thought I had dealt with that!

Third Question:

When did you first do that?

Do not consider this as a history question. What flashes into your mind Don’t censor don’t judge, don’t even think about it. Let your unconscious give you the answer.

In 2000 I had a picture of my childhood dining table on a Sunday night.

Father sat at one end, mother and seven children around the edge. Walls a deep red, table a dark old wooden affair. I was sat on a bench, an older brother on either side. No one was talking. Above the always warm stove was a smudge on the wall — the smudge marks where Father’s dinner plate had once made violent contact followed by an unintelligible parental tirade.

The truth is seldom welcome, especially at dinner.

Margaret Atwood

For a while, Father experimented with cooking Sunday dinner for all of us. On this occasion, it was a casserole. Whole Brussel Sprouts were bobbing around in it, completely uncooked. We all watched our father. As soon as he looked away from me, I snatched the uncooked sprout from my mouth, and before he looked up, it was safely in my pocket. All seven children were following the same procedure.

I was terrified at what he may unleash if he thought there was anything less than total appreciation of the remarkable results of his torturous culinary afternoon.

The nature of our terror was such that even out in the garden later, as we each discreetly searched for a place to deposit the offending sprouts, there was no giggling or relief, no relaxing of the tension. This behaviour was severe survival mechanisms kicking in.

Fourth Question:

Is there a way you can resolve or complete this?

The thing to do here is to look at this historical incident. Don’t worry if it is half-remembered. It could even be some fantasy you have created because reality is too painful to contemplate. Whatever it is, you need to let it go. It is still driving your life.

The situation no longer exists. It may require forgiveness. You could use a ritual like writing it on paper and burning it. You could speak to the people involved. Whatever works for you.

I had not spoken to my father for many years. He was no longer any threat. If I visited for a meal, he would drift off to the front room to watch television, and I would sit and chat with my mother.

So I arranged to visit on a day I knew she was going out for part of the evening. I had a simple plan. I was going to talk to him. I wanted to experience the freedom of communicating, without that feeling of terror that was there in childhood.

We ate a simple meal together chatting happily and then he did his usual thing of sitting in the front room and turning the telly on. “What do you want to watch?” he asked, picking up the television magazine.

“You know what? I think I’d rather sit here and chat.”

And there we were. No big drama, no hysterics, just a father and son talking about their lives together and sharing their experiences.

Extra Bonus Question:

What do you need to keep this in place?

This epiphany with my father marks a point in my life where I moved from struggling with circumstances to living a life I loved. I spoke my truth. I had found my voice. I created a successful music business which served me well for 13 years.

Circumstances change. For me, my business collapsed in the recession, and I found it challenging to create an alternative successful career path.

2020 — After several years of struggling with difficult circumstances such as health issues and bereavement, I am back with a counsellor. The questions are the same, but the answers are not. It leads me to wonder if there is a way I could have used these four questions to keep my authentic voice ringing out.

Creativity is a fluctuating process. I have ridden a roller coaster. My lesson now is to keep returning to these four questions when blocks arise. In my speech, piano playing, singing, writing, cooking, whatever it is.

Is there a millisecond space between an idea and its execution where I am censoring, judging, criticising or otherwise sabotaging my authentic voice?

“When we don’t listen to our intuition, we abandon our souls. And we abandon our souls because we are afraid if we don’t, others will abandon us. We’ve been raised to question what we know, to discount and discredit the authority of our gut.” — Terry Tempest Williams

2020 marks a new beginning for me. Reconnecting with my soul and helping others to do the same.

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