A few months ago, I took a workshop called “Let Your Yoga Sing”, facilitated by Suzanne Sterling, a musician, artist, yogi, and activist. It was an in-depth community exploration of self-expression through yoga, singing, dancing, and it was incredible. All of my life, I’ve been a mostly quiet musician, very hesitant to take my songs outside of my home. Suzanne curated a powerful and transformative experience, helping each participant find and use their own voice. By the end of the weekend, I was ecstatic, empowered, and humbled. I sang with power, with spontaneous and creative melody, using my whole range- deep, sometimes dark, sometimes free and light, but with undeniable power. Tears ran down my face, and my heart was filled with joy. I felt empowered, alive, and free. I left feeling fuller than I had in a long time. “This is my path,” I thought. “I am home.”
Then, I shut up. I got quieter in general. I had a really hard time posting anything I wrote on social media for a few weeks; I started doubting and over-analyzing everything I wanted to express. I noticed other people I respected posting beautiful and powerful things, and asked “Is there really room for my voice here? I can’t add anything of value to this conversation, can I?” Not only did I feel my voice wasn’t necessary, but that it wasn’t of value.
It seems perplexing- to feel such joy and empowerment, and then hide away from it. To try to push away any possible replication of it. I was actually extremely resistant to signing-up for the workshop at all, but a dear friend who knows me very well insisted I do so.
The experience highlighted for me what so many of my clients have shared- that there’s often a fear that once we hit a high point and feel success and joy, we might experience a drop back to what we might be more used to, or even worse, something that feels much lower. If we’re used to navigating the old patterns, they can feel safer than taking the risk of trying on new experiences. Humans tend to want to be in homeostasis, or a state of stability, even if it’s not wonderful. We are much more comfortable dancing with the devil we know; we already know the steps.
It’s also not uncommon to revert to older coping mechanisms when we’re faced with big challenges. When we’re in moments of fear and strife, the brain goes into autopilot; the logical part of brain that’s responsible for helping us practice healthier (and usually newer) coping mechanisms and making better decisions essentially shuts off. This may cause one to revert to an older, more engrained patterns automatically. These coping mechanisms may have served us very well in a previous time period, but are perhaps not as useful in the present moment. An example of such might be: someone who had a difficult childhood may have “zoned out” a lot to disconnect from situations they did not have the power to escape, might revert to this coping mechanism in times of stress, even though they have the ability to shift and/or leave the situation. We often do not even realize we’re doing this; it’s automatic.
It took a lot of reflection to understand why I muted myself after such growth, and that reason was intrenched with learned shame. As an anxious child, I often spoke a bit awkwardly, and experienced ridicule from other kids almost any time I tried to connect. I eventually learned that the only safe time was when I didn’t open my mouth, even going so far as to hardly talk to anyone for a year, just to find relief. Making sound, particularly singing, has always felt so sacred and joyous to me; I realized there was a deep fear that if I expressed myself musically and someone tore it apart, it would be stripped of that beauty and magic; and that would be a tremendous loss. There is more to this story, but the point is that at one time, it served me to silence myself.
I found my voice slowly over the years, mostly spoken, and only very recently singing in front of others. This was due to two factors: good, grounded therapy, and more than a decade of yoga practice. These are my main tools that I use, even when nothing is wrong. Here’s the thing; when we take time to cultivate our emotional tool kit before a difficult occurrence, then the fall from a high to a low will never be as steep. We have to complete the ground work ahead of time; it requires enough practice for these tools to come into action without a lot of conscious effort. Building a strong emotional foundation is necessary to navigate the risks of going after a dream or being vulnerable. We also have more mental energy to devote to honing our craft with full attention, rather than letting the old fears pull us away from the moment and aid in self-sabotage.
Does having tools stop the old fears and patterns from emerging entirely? Probably not. But they provide the ability to see them, look at them, engage with them, and shift them. For me, these practices help me see the automatic responses, move past them, and enter into the ones that serve me. The impact will never be as hard, because the new tools are in place. Your tools might look different than mine. The important thing is to discover the ones that serve you, and practice them.
Another way to move past our fears and stories is to seek out experiences that differ from them. For me, being in spaces where it was safe to explore opening up and creating with supportive people are an important stepping stone before bigger challenges, because they helped me realize that my stories might just actually be stories; that the possibility of joyful safe expression was actually real. At the end of the workshop, Suzanne had us improvise as a group and sing the line “May we remember who we really are” over and over again. In the end, we aren’t what has happened to us, we aren’t the swirling fears, the old stories, nor limiting behavior patterns that we have lived with; we are the love, joy, creativity and potential beneath. When we do the work to slowly strip these illusions away, we have freer access to our potential; We are more able to sing our song, dance our truth, connect to others, write our poems, and live the lives we want, without the constrictions our old stories place on us. Awakening to this can be jarring, and owning it is work- but it is holy work. It is work that allows you to give your unique gift to the world. Your voice is necessary. Your contribution matters.
Some questions for reflection:
What is a big dream you’ve been holding off on pursuing?
What are your default emotional coping strategies? How did they help you in the past? How might they limit you now?
What are your newer, more effective coping tools? If you don’t have any, what kinds would you like to try?