“Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, I want you to know you are not alone, not now, or at any stage of the journey.”
-Elizabeth Lesser, Broken Open, p. xxiv
My client leaned in a little closer like she was going to tell me a secret. “Do you know how many people have had voice surgery??” Her tone was hushed and her eyes were wide.
In all actuality, she was sharing a secret. She works in the music industry and knows more than a few singers who aren’t able to talk about their “voice issues” because they might get labeled, judged, or out-right attacked. Having voice problems makes people “bad” in the public eye, and you hear echoes of judgement from every corner of the universe. It can be subtle, but it’s there.
People have suffered in secret for far too long because of the stigma(s) attached to having “voice problems.”
This mentality of being “wrong” or “stupid” or “bad” because you have a voice challenge needs to stop. Now.
“There can be life and movement only when you no longer accept things as they are now, and look ahead toward that which is not yet.”
I have this habit of trying to control stuff. And of course, it’s always the stuff that I have no business controlling, like what other folks think of me.
I call this feeling the “Grasp Ghost”, for reasons that will come apparent in a bit.
This Grasp Ghost rears its ugly head most when I am trying to launch a new service or product for my voice students or voice teacher clients. It comes often when I am simultaneously working on a proposal for a workshop while telling my three year old to stop jumping on the coach. The Grasp Ghost also likes to creep into client emails and try to make me defensive.
The good news is that I am familiar enough with this pattern that it does not shock or scare me anymore. It used to wreak havoc on my soul. It would throw me into a state of perfectionism and defensiveness. It would make me care more about my feelings than my actions, and make me forget that my primary joy is to solve the problems presented to me.
I now have a practice that I use to combat The Grasp Ghost. It’s a thought process and physical action that was deeply inspired by the late Henry Nouwen.
I shared it with Liz when we first met, and she asked that I tell you, her readers, about it too.
“Give up defining yourself – to yourself or to others. You won’t die. You will come to life. And don’t be concerned with how others define you. When they define you, they are limiting themselves, so it’s their problem. Whenever you interact with people, don’t be there primarily as a function or a role, but as the field of conscious Presence. You can only lose something that you have, but you cannot lose something that you are.”
-Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose
One of my favorite experiences in the voice studio is listening for what someone’s voice has to say. Let me explain –
Many years ago Tom Blaylock, of the Northwest Institute of Voice, taught me how to listen to a voice instead of superimposing preconceived ideas or judgements onto it during a voice assessment. This requires the judgemental mind (ego) to take a back seat so one can relax and observe. The observation period of an assessment often requires closed eyes in order to focus entirely on the sound and empathic/emotional feelings associated with the voice, with some quick visual checks to see if what is heard matches what can be seen in the body.
We are talking about 3 levels of helpful information here: auditory, empathic or feeling perception, and visual. I realize not everyone feels empathically, so that element might not exist for you.
If I am successful in truly observing a voice, it will speak volumes about what it needs and where it enjoys “hanging out.” Often this manifests as a female voice demonstrating a joyful and free expression much higher in pitch than would be expected based on the client’s description of their vocal experience. Or, a voice demonstrating resonance in clusters of notes that surprise the singer because they have never been experienced before. These are just two quick examples.
Here’s the trick to getting into what I call observer mode: you have to let go.
There are two fundamental aspects regarding the experience of freedom in musical performance that deserve more attention: practicing in a state of ease, and mastering skills. These same ideas apply to all of life, and musicians give us a window into how we can experience freedom in our every day lives and practice as well.
State of Mind Matters
The feeling of freedom is closer than we all think. It can be felt – right here and now – because it is a state, or a mindset. A sense of more freedom can be achieved by sitting down and taking a deep breath, or thinking of something lovely, or hearing a joke. Even a mild sense of relief in the moment can bring a feeling of more “freedom.”
That being said, in what state of mind do you practice your instrument or voice? Is it filled with anxiety, tension, and fear? Is it fun? Does it make you feel better? Does it make you feel sick to your stomach?
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
There are a lot of books out there dedicated to the subject of managing pain. Psychological pain, I mean.
One of my favorite authors on the subject is Pema Chodron. She was a huge part of my healing after divorce and through finally reckoning with the reality of my life. Pema isn’t afraid of pain. She reminds us that painful situations are not the problem. Our thoughts and beliefs are.
One of my strengths is the ability to face horrific emotional pain, learn from it, and move on. That’s also what I enjoy most about my work – helping others face feelings or situations that seem insurmountable.
Although, lately I’ve been deeply challenged by this little thing called life and have had moments where I wasn’t so sure I could keep going. (My reason for wanting to write about this subject.)