These days I'm learning to listen for my own voice.
In Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way (gah, can I talk about this course more, please), Week Four is reading deprivation week. That's exactly what it sounds like: no reading. No verbal input of any kind. This also means no podcasts, no radio, no TV. No nothing. You can listen to music that has words, but that's about the extent of it.
The first time I did The Artist's Way, I did this whole reading deprivation thing pretty well. I had to read a few emails and such for work, of course, but really I was pretty good about sticking to the no TV, no podcasts thing. This round's reading deprivation week was slightly -- okay, a lot worse. In my defense, it was incredibly emotionally volatile. I've been in a pretty emotional state for the last couple of months, and TAW Week 4 was the most upheaval I've ever felt.
I knew it would be bad. I knew it would be a struggle. I knew I would be looking to distract myself from my inner pain.
You see, a relationship that was very close to my heart had been terminated by the other party on the Friday before reading deprivation week started. You can imagine my mental state.
So I didn't do super hot on the reading deprivation. I didn't actually read any books, so that's a plus -- but I did watch some TV and I did listen to a few podcasts. Fewer than usual, but still.
I'm doing my best to stave off the guilt feelings because I know those are unproductive.
But one thing reading deprivation week did for me the first time, and continues to do for me, is this: it teaches me what my own voice feels like.
I keep listening to the revival of the Broadway musical Falsettos, and one song I both vehemently avoid and am tenderly, enticingly drawn to is "Unlikely Lovers." In the wake of being told "I just want to be friends," it makes me BAWL. But it's so beautiful and so cathartic that I can't resist for long.
Since I could only listen to music, I listened to a lot of Falsettos, and whenever I found myself listening to "Unlikely Lovers," I would cry. I would usually hold the nearest thing -- a book, a stuffed animal -- and just cry a lot. Sometimes mouthing along with the words. Always crying.
Eventually the crying would come to a halt, simply because I just couldn't take it anymore. The huge emotions have to come in small doses, otherwise I don't think I could deal with them. It would be too much.
But it was in those moments that I realized that my inner voice was broken.
She was hurting.
She was in some serious pain.
And my job, as an artist, as an adventurer, is not to try to drown out the pain.
When I'm trying to drown the pain -- that's when I need to pay attention to it the most.
Some people self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and food. I self-medicate with activity. Mostly mental activity. As long as my mind is busy, I'm okay.
For this reason, my mind is often purposelessly busy. I'm a pretty active thinker anyway, which I pride myself on, but after a while I Just start running my brain so I don't have to dwell on the thing that's giving me pain.
It was that way this morning. As I was getting ready for work I could sense that I was in pain and trying to drown it out with Something. Anything.
Whenever I start to get REALLY busy with Small Tasks it's time to look around. Because it's easy to lose the Big Adventure in the Small Tasks. But it's also easy to lose my voice.
The voice of the Spirit of God is still and small. He's easy to miss.
In the same way, our own inner voice can be quiet. It's quiet but speaks close to the heart. Whispers very clearly in our ear. It's always easy to hear, but not always easy to heed.
A lot of times our inner voice tells us when something is wrong. It warns us. It tells us, This is not right.
And we agree. We know. But we think dealing with it, confronting it, changing it -- we think these will hurt more.
Sometimes, more than having to change it, the most painful thing is to simply look it in the face.
To acknowledge that yes, I am in pain. I am reeling. I am gutted.
I'm trying to hold my hopes in one hand and my grief in the other. To clasp them together and hold them like a little gold and silver orb close to my chest.
To weep over it with singing.
Vox is Latin for "voice." This is not lost on me as a singer. The word for "voice" in any language feels significant to me. Voce. Voix. I don't know what the German word is, and right now I can't be bothered to look it up.
I don't want to be distracted from whatever this post is.
See, I'm trying to learn to stay put. Whenever I'm tempted to be distracted, I want to look at why. I want to see WHY I'm tempted to race off and look at something else. And then --
I want to stay.
I want to be in my mind.
I don't want to run away.
I want to stay with the little girl inside, with the voice that is crying and broken and in pain.
I want to be with her.
Introversion is one thing -- being at home inside your head -- but being comfortable with your own pain is entirely another.
But anyway, vox is Latin for "voice." It's where we get our word vocation.
And I've been doing a lot of thinking about vocation these days. About my own, specifically. Like, what the hell is it.
One reason for a lot of the pain I've been experiencing is that I haven't known.
I felt God tell me to put down my long-held dream of being a singer. There were a couple of different factors that played into this, but at the end of the day I felt Him tell me to put it down. So I did.
Maybe I fell in love.
And after a couple of months of thinking, Ooh, what can I do with my life now? I felt God tell me to pick it back up again.
And I wept. I was terrified. In some ways, I still am.
But I picked it back up again from a love-space, which is what I wanted. From the calling of God and from a space of warmth inside my chest and of silver in my throat.
Not from self-will or a desire to prove myself. Indeed, I still have to work very hard to protect myself from these things. From allowing a desire for approval to seep back into my beloved arias and songs.
I have to walk into the practice room and not call it practice. I have to tell myself, "Just go sing." And I do. And the world -- it feels a little softer. It feels a little gladder. It feels more hopeful than I have in a long time.
A dream -- I gave it up, I sacrificed it on the altar, and then God gave it back to me.
Not with confetti and celebration. But with dawn.
I didn't throw a party. I woke up. I stretched. I looked at the package on the floor next to my bed. And I looked up in the clear morning light and I said okay.
Vocation finds you. You don't find it. God chases you down with it and quietly hands it to you. A glint in His eyes.
And sometimes you're both excited and TERRIFIED.
Because holy hell, now you actually have to DO something with the dream that's been bubbling in your heart all this time. And it's scary.
It's an Adventure. Those are always at least a little freaky when you start out (They usually get freakier as you go along, but that's probably for the best -- if we knew that when we began, we probably wouldn't become adventurers in the first place, now, would we?).
I don't really know what I'm trying to say here except that I have lots of hope for the way my voice has spoken to me.
It's the Inner Witness. The place where my voice is met by the Voice of God.
And both of them have spoken to me loud and clear.
Actually, not loud. Not yelling. Just very steadily. Very clearly. A little firm, but full of grace.
They tell me that taking a creative U-turn is nothing to be ashamed of.
They tell me it's okay. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay.
They point me toward a hopeful horizon with mountains and everything, and they tell me it will be scary, but it's right.
I'm starting to wonder if the fear isn't the greatest sign that we should do the things.
If the seizures of terror aren't the biggest indicators that we are on the right path, and the fear is the Enemy trying to keep us from it.
I never realize those kinds of things, those kinds of spiritual attacks, until someone points them out to me. And then I go, oh, yeah, that's a thing.
I'm learning not to drown out my voice. Even the fear-voice. Because the fear-voice is something to pay attention to, if only because it points us in the direction we should probably be going by making us terrified of it.
I'm learning not to crowd my mind with the medication of flurries of activity. I'm learning to sit with my pain, to sit with grief, to hold its hands and stare into the face of my inner younger self and watch her cry and cry with her and just hold myself and give myself a hug because sometimes you just gotta.
I'm learning to sit on the edge of my desk chair and hold the closest thing I can grab and just cry.
I'm learning not to run from pain. From my voice.
Because I've learned what she feels like.
And whether she's broken or bruised or beatific or blessing, she feels the same to my heart.
Near her, closer than sinew and blood, I always find the Spirit of God. Talking to her. Loving on her. Loving on me.
And in that place, the Inner Witness, is where I find purpose and meaning and, yes, vocation. Vocation: allowing your voice to speak into the world. Whether that's in singing or writing or my day job or in my day-to-day interactions with people.
Because that's what vocation is. It's just letting your individual voice speak, in whatever way that is.
And when we drown it out, we lose the ability to make any kind of imprint on the world in the way we want to.
We lose out on our Adventure.
And that's what we're ABOUT here, party people. We're about hounding the adventure -- or letting it find us, and then surrendering to it, and really, that's what it is most often.
Just like vocation -- you don't find Adventure. It finds you.
And it beats down your door until you throw your hands into the air and say OKAYYYYYYYY.
Because how can you not? It's the only thing you know to do. It's the only next step, the only next right step.
And the next right step is all we're called to, anyway. The light that is God may only illuminate the one step in front of us -- but as we take that step, then the next one is lit up, and then the next, and the next, until suddenly we've come further than we ever dreamed.
The only way we come up to Adventure, the only way it finds us, is when we let our real voices speak into the world.
Our real wants. Our real desires. Our real opinions, if need be. Our selves.
And then, when we let our real voices speak, though it's scary, that's when adventure begins.
It's real and it's scary but it's the MOST fun, and guess what?
It's the truest thing we'll ever do.
Danger and peril and beauty and light.
And isn't that what we're about here?