Inner Voice Lessons

How to listen yourself into a more powerful life

You could already hear two distinct voices in me by the time I reached kindergarten. My teacher tells the tale of the day I climbed my tiny preschool self up onto the tallest chair, and in my biggest voice shouted, “Okay, now I’m in charge: everybody is gonna listen to me!” My mother tells the story of another day in the same class when our teachers passed around a cookie box. As it came to me I sank to the floor in a tight ball of knees and elbows, closed my tearful eyes, and silently stretched out a cookieless hand to relinquish my turn with the box to the class bully. Though these expressions appear very different on the surface, they actually both arose out of feelings of fear. As a four-year-old I was scared of what would happen if I lost the power of my voice, and equally afraid of what could happen if I used it.

What I’ve learned in the forty years since then is how empowering listening to myself can be. Awareness of what I’m feeling — what I fear, what nourishes me, what angers me, what I want, and what I truly love—liberates me from being limited to one mindless, fear-driven reaction. Instead of becoming locked into a single melody I am freed to a playground of vibrant harmonies: abundant choices about which notes I want my life to sing.

I listen to the percussion of my own heartbeat. Am I excited? Terrified? My heart knows: it may undergird me with a faster cadence that invites me to practice courage, or it may warn me by pulsing so loudly my pounding eardrums seem to be urging me to run!

I listen to the flow of my breath to sound the state of my spirit. Each shallow breath begs for another, whispering in the diffuse directions of my distractions. Deep breaths hum with peace, affirming that I am mindfully present to the gifts of this moment. Shifting my intention to these depths supports me with enlivening breath that sustains me as I speak truth to another’s power, or as I sing the song of my own.

I listen to the dynamics of my mind. Have I turned the radio dial of my thoughts to the headbanger station, looping loudly through the same frustrations, disappointments, and external sources of blame? Am I tuned in to the numbing lull of elevator music that’s perpetually moving but never going anywhere new? Who chose this station? I wonder what would happen if I changed it. I wonder what could happen if I turned it off.

I listen for the silence of my stillness. Discerning whether I have felt silenced or have freely chosen to be silent is as important to the soundtrack of my life as any note. The brave choice to silently, patiently, knowingly look fear in the eyes until it blinks first is sometimes the loudest way to voice my power.

Listening to myself, I am transforming my feelings and experiences into instruments of my own becoming. Cultivating a lifestyle of curiosity, I am learning to hear my inner wisdom more clearly and express it more creatively. Surrendering my old fears about losing and using my power, I am tasting the sweet satisfaction of asking better questions of myself and my community. Honoring my own voice, I am offering a living invitation for everyone around me to listen, too.