She said to breathe in through your nose, subtly, and then out like the ocean, through your mouth. Focus on the exhale, she said.
And then maybe you can slow the panic in your chest.
Listen, if there has been a more emotional, more volatile time in my life than the one I've recently experienced, I don't remember it.
Circumstantially volatile, maybe. But soulfully volatile? The ups and downs of body and heart and soul and emotions so great that I feel I may vomit at any moment? I cannot remember it.
And maybe now I feel a little bit like I am settling. And we keep breathing in order to stay the panic that is rising in a vertical line up my sternum to choke out my voice.
Voice as in voce, as in the thing that lives in my chest and in my larynx and also in the tips of my fingers and nose and toes -- the Italian word, the thing that produces sound. And voice as in vox, the Latin, as in calling. As in self-hood. As in speaking from the depths of who I am.
We write to find out what we think. We write to find out who we are. We write to allow our bodies to catch up with our minds.
I want to write something worthy of publishing here. I have plenty of ideas. But I feel myself pulled by a string attached to the bone over my heart into writing about the body and the way it's talking to me.
I keep writing in body imagery, in terms of bones. Maybe that's because I'm beginning to pay attention to the sensations my bones are teaching me, because I'm noticing that I experience sensation in my bones.
For those of you who know anything about the Enneagram personality typing system, I'm a Type One -- the Perfectionist. Except I prefer the alternative label, the Reformer. I feel like a recovering (or at least buried) perfectionist most of the time, so I'd ask to be called something else if I didn't see my perfectionism rising up to strangle me with rage every now and again.
The Enneagram has nine personality types, which are divided up into three triads -- three to each triad, as you might imagine. These triads are based on how each type primarily processes or registers information. Twos, Threes, and Fours are in the Feeling Triad or the Heart Triad, which means that they primarily process through emotion. Fives, Sixes, and Sevens are the Thinking Triad, tending to register and process information in their brains, through reasoning. Eights, Nines, and Ones (hashtag represent) are on the Gut or Instinct Triad, also known as the Anger Triad. We primarily process via instinct or through gut feelings -- that is, through feelings located in the body.
When I first learned this, it made SO much sense to me. I have talked for most of my life about how I have a gut feeling about certain things. I know that these feelings are occasions that the Holy Spirit is speaking to me, but all the same, my gut feelings are usually never wrong. In fact, if I follow along where my instinct and intuition point, in the direction of Jesus, I am rarely ever wrong.
As a singer, you become very attuned to the mechanisms of the body. You have to be clued in to the little things your body and musculature do, the behaviors with which they are enculturated. You have be able to quietly guide your body back into what is natural for it. You know how Picasso said he had to spend his entire adult life learning how to paint as he did when he was a child? It's like that. You have to be a friend to your body and unlearn all the cultural body things you've learned along the way. I'm not talking about body image -- I'm talking about posture, the way you hold your jaw when you're stressed, the way your shoulders cave in, the way you walk. I'm talking about the actual day-to-day habits of the body.
So I'm already listening to what my body is doing as I sing. But singing has a way of creeping into all other areas of life, as if by osmosis. It is inescapable, and I could not escape even if I wanted to.
All these factors have combined to create a heightened bodily awareness. My instinct, my natural processing tendency, my vocation -- all are synthesizing, coalescing into something that speaks with the volume of Gandalf when he says You shall not pass! It is saying, Sara, pay attention.
Pay attention to what you feel in your body. Listen to the way it speaks to you.
As I typed that sentence, I could sense the tension in the root of my tongue. During colder weather (which has arrived in Lubbock in full voice and full force), I tend to collapse in upon myself to preserve body heat, which results in a perpetual sternum-centered ache and a constant need to do heart-opening stretches.
When I can tap into the stillness of my body is when I let it talk the loudest. When I am busy, when my hands are moving, when I cannot stop moving -- that is a sign that I am trying to distract myself from something. When I am quiet, that is, when I am still -- well, it is in those moments that what is really going on settles. Even the word settles is body language: rooted in a physical experience.
Since deciding I did want to go to music grad school, after all, my body has felt lighter. My heart has opened up. I feel looser. I am more attuned to what my body is telling me, not trying to drown it out with Stuff.
A lot of the things that register in the body defy explanation. I was explaining it to my mother (a Type Two member of the Feeling Triad) thusly: if you asked my brother Luke (Type Six, Thinking Triad) why something was a certain way, he would be able to walk you down a list of well-thought out reasons. It's just the way he naturally processes. If you asked me, I would be able to do the same, but after some thought -- because it's just naturally apparent to me, by instinct, why things are the way that they are, or why something should be a certain way (Ones are preoccupied with should).
Recently I had a lesson with an old teacher of mine, who asked me to articulate what I had just experienced in my singing. It's a good teaching technique: the idea is that if you can describe it, you can replicate it. But I've become so attuned to my body in singing that I had trouble articulating what I had just felt. Sometimes what we process in the body defies explanation, and what you are relying upon is sense memory.
The primary way I have heard the voice of the Holy Spirit in recent years is in the speech of my intuition. It's called the Inner Witness: the place where my spirit and the Spirit of God meet, touch, intermingle, roll over one another in intimacy. The Holy Spirit talks to mine and gives me what I would call a gut feeling -- and like I said above, it's rare that these gut feelings have ever been wrong. In fact, I can't remember one. That's not to say I'll never be wrong -- that's to say that when I get a feeling like that, I trust it.
So when I felt in my gut, deep in the pit of my heart and my stomach and in my toenails and my teary eyelashes that I needed to go to music grad school, I trusted it. ANd every step I take in that direction, I find that the gut feeling grows stronger and stronger, and I receive little nods from the Holy Spirit, and I am confirmed by the witness-bearing of my spirit with the God Who made me and created me for music-making, amen.
I am learning to trust my body. I am learning to trust my instinct.
When I learned I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator -- with the N indicating iNtuition -- I was shocked. I never thought that my intuition played a major part in my personhood. But I'm learning that it does, and while it's not infallible, it's trustworthy. It's not the only way God will ever speak to me -- far from it! -- but it's something to heed. My body wants to talk to me, and God wants to use it to do just that.
So I'm learning to pay attention.
Goosebumps and tension. When I'm tempted to bite my nails. When I can't sit still. I even put my whole foot (both of them!) on the ground now when I'm reading the Bible each morning -- I need a feeling of settledness and stillness when I meet with God.
And GOd meets with me here, in my own skin, in my own flesh and blood.
All the language that's always said that the body is only ever utterly sinful and wretchedly wicked -- maybe it was wrong.
We have sinful urges, too, but God took on skin and dwelt among us, and was Immanuel. And now God has come inside our skin, and dwells within us, and is Immanuel still.
He has made our bodies His, and He uses them. To speak to us, to speak to others around us.
And the way we live that out? That's part of calling.
See, we knew it would all come back around eventually.
We are hopers and we are dreamers and our heads are drifting into the clouds with hopeful vision -- but we have a body and we have skin and keratin and sweat, and the vision isn't only in our minds. It's in the body, too.
Maybe the body whispers it first, and we have only to pay attention.