Authentic Voice Project: A is for Anger

The Authentic Voice Project: Week 1 (Full Moon)

AUTHENTIC VOICE

As we are beginning with A, I will take a moment to define Authentic Voice as I understand it.

I believe we all have an Authentic Voice. It is the one that comes to us from various sources:

  • intuitive insights
  • dreams
  • emotion-body reactions (such as butterflies in the stomach, the tight chest of anxiety or anger, the sore throat of suppressed tears, etc.)
  • expressive writing (“I didn’t know I was going to write that!” or “where did that come from?!”), and other artistic expressions
  • gut reactions and “Freudian slips”

It is the voice that many of us suppress in the name of “reason” or convention. It is a voice many of us don’t even know – on a conscious level – that we process. It is that voice that, as Carol Gilligan records in her book, In a Different Voice, caused a female student to stop short when she heard herself say, “If I were to speak for myself…” Deep down we do know we have this voice and the suppression of it causes pain. It triggers emotional reactions in us we may not completely understand. It is the wisdom of our body, of our unconscious, of the collective unconscious. And if we are to pursue our full potential as human beings we must access it because it holds the balance of the truth of who we are.

And now onto the first word of our project…

ANGER

Society says: Anger is dangerous. Anger is violent. Anger should be suppressed. Anger is particularly unseemly for women. Anger is an unhealthy emotion. A “nice” person doesn’t get angry. Anger is not productive.

I say: Anger is a flag on the field, a check engine light, a high temperature indicating an infection. Anger is an emotion, which like all emotions, is a message. And like all emotions, we must heed it. Notice it. Acknowledge it. Listen to it. When and why did it get triggered? Where in the body is it manifesting? And how? Is it a pressure, a pain, a tingling?

Many times anger is the only emotion we can notice or it is the go-to one when the grief, hurt, pain, disappointment, rejection, sadness, frustration, loneliness, powerlessness, anxiety or fear is too uncomfortable. But then the guilt kicks in because we are not supposed to be angry. It’s not socially acceptable. Well, it hurts and pushes other people away. In fact, sometimes we use to push them away. Use it as our barrier… and then wonder why we are so lonely and sad.

BUT, anger can be useful if we take as an invitation to dig deeper into our unconscious to find our true, unexpressed feelings. All our feelings are legitimate. It is how we choose to use them that makes the difference. Anger expressed in rage, manipulation, violence, suppression, or physical or emotional attacks on others is merely a way of pushing our discomfort onto others, hoping it will relieve us. But by taking  our anger and working with it – using it as an positive energy – we can use it to take action in our lives. As Sue Monk Kidd did, take your rage and turn it to outrage, as which it can help usher in change.

Anger: Just a message.

The House of Disrepair: A Fairy Re- Tale

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

This is a tale based on a recent dream which I worked with in my journal.

There once was a little girl who lived in her father’s big, old house. Although the little girl’s father was kindly and gave her all he thought she needed and wanted, he kept her in her room to protect her from the unpredictable and competitive world outside. The little girl’s bedroom was on the very tippy-top of the house where windows let in the warmth of the morning sun and the comforting glow of the full moon. It was a grand house but it was falling into disrepair and some of the windows in her room were broken. When the winter winds blew the little girl wrapped her arms around herself, and dreamed of spring and far away places.

One very late winter’s day as she was looking out across the fields in which she had never run, she noticed an eruption of purple in the snow. The first crocus of spring. She longed to touch it, to be near it, to connect to its strength and resiliency. The beauty of the sight pricked her heart with yearning. The tiny hole suddenly opened into a gaping wound. Grief and tears flooded her soul and flowed from her eyes. She cried as if she would empty herself. Tears filled the room. The floor beneath her feet began to bubble and soften. Large chunks began to fall below. Through the holes the little girl could see what lay beneath. A staircase – an abandoned stairwell.

As her tears continued to fall, a river of water cascaded down the stairs and the remaining floor gave way. Wading through the water, the little girl climbed down the stairs. There at the bottom stood a long-forgotten door. She lay her hand upon the door knob, rusty with disuse, and slowly turned it.  The door opened.

Bright sun reflected off the snow, momentarily blinding and disorienting the girl. But the light also dried her tears. She felt the wound in her heart slowly begin to close as she danced across the field towards the first bloom of spring.

The Authentic Voice Project

For redefinition, I was thrown back to myself, to my inner knowing… Marilyn Sewell, Cries of the Spirit

Words.

Manifestations of our thoughts. Creators of our internal messages. Words have and continue to shape history and people – not always positively and sometimes with devastating consequences. Words have an affect on us, more powerful than we can rationally understand. The words we have heard all our life, depending on the context in which they were originally and/or continue to be delivered, shape our emotional response to them.

If a word has a negative effect on you, it is time to change it. Change its personal meaning – change your (unconscious) emotional reaction. Make it have authentic meaning for you.

So, with the dawn of a new year I am announcing a new writing project: The Authentic Voice Project.

Every two weeks, on the dates of the new and full moons, I will write a post based on a word, starting with A and proceeding through the alphabet until I reach Z on December 28, 2012 (that’s actually only 25 postings/moons so I’ll double up somewhere or just skip X). The words will be “trigger” or “loaded” words (or phrases in some cases), either according to society, women, or to me personally. I will attempt to sum up the general or accepted “meaning” of the word and then re-work it to be more personal, more positive, more helpful, more meaningful and authentic – in my own voice.* (And if you have suggestions for any of these words, please leave a comment.)

Obviously, my personal take on a word or phrase will not speak to everyone. But my hope is that it will get you thinking about your own definitions of words you may not even realize have an unconscious affect on you. Please feel free to comment with you own reactions and redefinitions (or possibly guest blog here or in response on your own blog)- every person’s experience is different and equally important, and may resonate with someone else on a level I may not have reached.

Please join me on this quest for Authentic Voice!

* This idea is loosely based on Kathleen Norris’ book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

An open letter to those who are human

C.P. Estes (author of Women Who Run With the Wolves) always addresses her readers as “Dear Brave Souls.” I do not know her exact reasoning for this but I can guess that she knows how much courage it takes to live in this world, to face the pains and heartbreaks, unknowns and setbacks. But even more than this, it takes a strong heart to live as a “wild” woman (or man), that is, one who steps out from behind the mask – our persona – shadow and all. It takes strength to live authentically, saying what we truly know, doing what we truly love, and loving how we need to be loved. So, taking a page from the book of the beautiful soul, Ms. Estes, I too shall address my readers so.

Dear Brave Souls:

I am not a psychologist but I am lucky enough to be human. I have my very own persona, ego, unconscious, authentic voice – and shadow. I have to live with myself on a daily basis and I know that I am far from perfect. But no one is! There is no such thing! I have biases, I make unjust judgements, I have anger, I have selfishness, and I also project the unwanted, uncomfortable, painful, most repressed parts of myself onto others. But I also have love and concern and hope and dreams. And I believe it is my responsibility while on this human-life quest for self-actualization – on the path of my potential – to choose love over judgement. And to be honest with and to myself. Every aspect of myself.

I doubt there is a soul in this beautiful but confusing world who does not have anger in their heart. Everyone of us have had experiences that hurt us deeply – tragically. We cannot compare one person’s pain to another. Each of us is a medley of our experiences which blend to make us the unique beings we are. Yes, we are angry, we feel rage sometimes, but these are the voices of our past. They are old recordings from our frightened egos which try to keep us safe from things no longer a threat. But our heart, our soul, knows the truth.

All emotions are messages. Anger is a particularly strong message. And those we are angry at, our mirrors. We must look at – and accept – our anger because, yes!, it is real and should not be denied or ignored. But look at it closely. Look in that mirror. There, peering back at us, are the dark parts of us we’d rather not know (and of which we may not even be aware). That is our Shadow. It tells us things about another person or event that have nothing to do with them. We are not angry with them, we are angry with ourselves. It is our own pain speaking.

Smile at those silly shadows because they are tricksters, making us believe in illusion. The reality is there can be no shadow if there is no light! 

So our Shadows are also there to teach – if we are willing to learn. We must listen to our Shadow – it is there in that scary place that we will also discover our Light. We cannot be whole until we can integrate the dark with the light (just think of the moon).

And we have tools* to help. We have the ability to listen to our true strength, our inner wisdom, our higher self, for it knows the truth. We have to listen hard and with an open mind – it may not tell us what we are used to hearing. But it is our own truth – our own healing truth. It is our truth that can take our rage and turn it to proactive outrage. It is our truth that can take our pain and turn it to strength and compassion.

We are all in this together – everyone of us. And we must forgive those who, like us, are also learning to listen to their truth and inner wisdom.

*One of these tools is to write. Expressive journaling – meaning, to write freely without thinking or editing – this accesses deeper wisdom and allows us to discover our own truth. Once we become aware – and accept – our own truth we live more authentically, and therefore, with more joy.

Prompt: One truth I know is…

Natural Wisdom – in verse

These poems were written by a participant in one of my recent workshops, Natural Wisdom: Writing as Spiritual Voice. They are Alphapoems written in response to prompts while listening to sounds from nature. As you will read, not all are directly related to nature, but this is an example of the wonder and power of expressive writing: If you open yourself to the writing process, what wants/needs to be expressed will be. The author remarked that she was not expecting these words to come out, “they just kinda did!”

Thank you for your generosity for sharing them with us!

Poems by Gwendoline James

THE STORM

Dark skies releasing themselves of pent-up heat,

Inspired by Thor;  continual rumblings then stomach-churning crashes.

Straight rain falling to earth with relentless power,

Threatening all beneath its touch without regard,

Analogy for washing clean, washing away,

Never heeding any demands to stop.

Clean, so clean, until it hits earth, rivers, fields, then mud and torrents and flood and devastation.

Eternal rain……… or so it seems at this moment.

MOTHER LOST

Gone before I knew you, like the

Wind, blowing through and leaving

Emptiness, which I

Never recognized until the need to know you became

Dominant  in my later life.

Open my heart to the memories I do not have.  I want to hear you

Laugh, cry, talk ……why did

Illness take you away so that I

Never knew you, felt your warmth, heard your voice, fed off your

Energy, which was all spent by the time you gave me life.

SIDMOUTH

Soothing my fears, calming my thoughts, in this

Idyllic place.

Damp seaweed gently sweeping between my toes, the

Mouth of the river opening itself into the

Ocean.  What powerful secrets lie

Under your white crests;  your dark teal depths reflecting the

Turmoil of my mind before I came to stand in awe at your edge

Happy for the seagulls overhead and for your cleansing, incessant water to wash over my feet and

recede again into itself.

— Gwendoline James

The Word vs. my words

You know that feeling when a connection suddenly clicks in your mind? It is enlightening, almost joyful. I have even experienced it to be mind-boggling. Connections can be and are made all the time, connections that weave our world and those in it together. Connections – like the strands of a spider’s web – bond together for strength and bring us sustenance. When a new connection is made it is like a door opens:  To understanding. To healing.

About a year ago I had coffee with a successful author (Pulitzer/Emmy kind of successful) at a local cafe. He is a lovely grandfatherly man; he made me laugh and feel confident about my little aspiring-writer-self. I was just starting graduate school and he was interested in hearing about my studies. I told him about my fundamentalist religious upbringing and how I planned to write a memoir. As I explained to him my hopes for Transformative Language Arts to release me from the grip of the negative self-beliefs that religious dogma and tunnel-vision has the potential to instill,  Mr. Pultizer quipped, “The Word.” I laughed at his pun but  immediately understood he had just said something very significant.

Yes, how ironic that I would be using words to release myself from The Word! But the deeper meaning I couldn’t quite place. It nagged at me. I pondered it, I mind-mapped it, I played with more word association, but still I couldn’t quite make the connection I felt was hidden there.

One year later, I am lying in bed after waking from a particularly symbolic dream, trying to wrap my head around all its meanings. Suddenly, the connection between “The Word” and my writing of words clicked into place. I don’t know if the answer lay in the dream – which on the surface appeared completely unrelated – or if my dreamy state of mind had allowed meanings from deeper depths to float up. Either way, the connection was made.

And It has to do with Authority (Author-ity).  And Knowing. And Voice. And Balance of inner and outer, left and right, rules and compassion, body and mind… everything my thesis studies have been focused on but which I hadn’t quite pieced together coherently.

And so, while my intuition knew that my author friend’s off-the-cuff pun was important, it took a whole year to percolate into something of substance. Our unconscious knows more than we know we know, but give it time and the pieces will eventually develop into a whole picture. One man, one conversation, one word – The Word – and a new door opened (albeit very slowly!) to connection, to new understanding.

Prompt: “I never made the connection until…”


Burning Rage

This is a very personal post. It is the result of trauma that occurred because my voice was muted. I see this “dream” and the writing of it is as the whisper of my returning voice (a loud stage whisper, perhaps?). 

Rage, which is a socially unacceptable emotion, especially for women, is coming forward and yelling very loudly. By envisioning it (and other emotions) as tangibles, I am acknowledging it, and learning to accept it. I must integrate it so it no longer pins me down but lifts me into action – and voice. I also see it as my body starting to speak to me, and so become part of me, as I begin to notice its pains and tightness. My body and  my psyche (one in the same) are speaking up as they work towards healing and wholeness.

~~~~

I awoke with rage lying heavy on my chest like, what was it? A steel plate. Thick, heavy, reddish brown with rust, like what you see at construction sites, pinning me to my bed. Heavier, denser than anything I had experienced. Rage. Burning rage. It stretched from my neck to the bottom of my ribcage. I was shaking from the exertion of holding it there while trying to breathe. When I woke I was curled into the fetal position, and I could not move. Didn’t want to move. I knew I had to stay there, to acknowledge this plate of anger, this shield of rage. An impenetrable, metal protective shield over my heart.

“I feel you,” I told it. “What do you want me to know?”

As I focused on it I knew I must somehow destroy it. Release my heart and lungs from this burden I had carried for too long. But what can destroy an element as thick and strong as steel?

Fire. Only fire is capable of transforming steel to something malleable. In the half-world between sleep and waking, the image of a furnace slowly evolved. I tried to fit the metal plate into its ferocious red-orange mouth. But it would not go, it was too big. I forced the fire entrance larger and larger still until finally the metal began to disappear into its depth. As it did so the image began to shrink away, further and further into the blackness at the back of my mind. And then it was gone over the horizon of my conscious.

But the rage had not. As I watched, a small slit in the center of my chest peeled open, and as when a piece of wood slowly surfaces from the below the water or a rock begins to emerge from beneath the melting snow, another metal plate crested, pinning me still. This time I was able to summon up the furnace and feed the metal into it with more ease. The heavy rage was gone but lying in its place was a straw or hair mat thick and prickly with anxiety. A goat appeared and I offered it the mat. I cried with relief as I watched – and felt – it disappear.

My chest and my heart was visibly freed of weight. My more coherent mind yearned for my body to feel the difference. Still wrapped up into myself I pictured my heart lifting and opening with its new freedom, but I could not feel it. Then I noticed more pains around my body. First, it was my upper back. Rusty, red epaulettes fit over my shoulders like a piece of Roman armor. This metal was lighter than what had pinned my chest but I recognized it as the anger I hold there. In my trance state, I quickly removed them and flung them into the furnace.

Then immediately, my lower belly. This time it was a small, blue bowl. A Japanese soup bowl filled with spaghetti and meat. I knew this to be sadness. Despair. How to abolish this? I decided not to try to destroy it but to take it in. I would eat the meat and envision it filling my body with new energy. I pictured doing this once and then again. Then the bowl filled with popcorn. I flung the kernels out into the garden and allowed the animals – the rabbit, the woodchuck, the deer, the cats – to absorb my pain. My whole body sighed in release.

My lower back began to ping. I focused on it but nothing came to me. But I had to turn from it as a deeper, heavier pain dropped into my stomach. A rock. A boulder. A lump of sorrow and fear and worry and anger sitting directly under my ribs where the two sides of the cage join. I asked it what I must do but no answers appeared. No ideas arose as what can be done to destroy or absorb a thing as solid, as ancient, as grounded as a rock.

Still curled around the now even-denser obstruction in my belly, as if it was a growing child I needed to protect in my womb, I woke fully. In my mind’s eye it was so perfectly round and near the surface it seemed I could reach in and take it out. I would be able to hold it in my palm much like a grapefruit. The sensation of its presence was making me physically sick. I longed to pull it out and throw it far away.

I wanted to feel different when I left my bed. I wanted the sensation of weightlessness on my shoulders and light around my heart. I wanted to feel my breath fill the deepest corners of my body. I hoped joy had replaced the sadness in my belly. But instead I felt shaky. Like electric pulses were running through my veins. On edge. Tears. Like I had just experienced something physiologically disturbing; an operation, medication, an accident. Trauma.

As I write this the emotion is close to the surface. Typing the words and images brings the event, the sensations to life. It was not a dream. I really cried. Tears rolled down my face and into my pillow. I felt the shudder of physical release. I may not feel free right now – my shoulders are still tight, my chest heavy, my stomach jumpy – but I know I found, and will recognize soon, some healing in the images and symbols that my unconscious offered me. It was physical pain that I felt as I imagined my rage as a physical weight on my chest. My body hurts because my psyche is in pain. The symbol of the metal plate is the psyche’s way of communicating to me in terms I can understand. In my “dream” I burned my rage and it disappeared. I may still be feeling the trauma of lying so long under its weight, but I will heal.

My heart will lift and my breath will flow freely.

Prompt: Envision or write to your painful emotions as a “thing” which you can discard or transform into something more positive.


Taking your Shadow for a Ride

I don’t claim to be a poet AT ALL. However, when starting to write up a recent dream this is how it wanted to be written… who am I to argue?!

Shadow

I took my Shadow for a ride.

He’s heavy and oh, so very black.

I tell him,

Shadow, you’re too big for me to carry,

Especially on my bike.

I have these train tracks to drive along,

How can I bring you with?

It’s too much strain to take you there.

Would you please leave me alone?

.

Says my Shadow, You must take me,

I’m in your soul, you see

I’m really not so dense or scary.

Take me along, I’ll share the load.

.

And so I rode. It was not bad.

We talked ol’ Shad and I

About all the things I had kept down deep,

While he peddled as he said.

And when we came into the city

The load was gone, and in his place

A woman.

White and bright, she stood so tall.

She kissed me deep and I drank her in.

My Shadow becomes my Love.

Prompt: Write up one of your recent dreams. What is it telling you. You’ll know when the answer resonates.

Trust the Process (pt 10): Hiding

My natural inclination is to introversion. I usually choose to be alone rather than in a crowd. However, at my first two Goddard College’s residencies for the Individualized Master’s program I went against my own grain. I squeezed in around full lunch tables, joined in conversations in lounges, and laughed over movie showings late (for me) at night – and had a great time doing so. But at this last residency I regressed a little to my former self. While I still joined lunch-time and workshop discussions, I quickly ran back to the silence of my own room to retire early or to brainstorm over My Question. I fell (fitfully) asleep to the laughter and discussion of my building-mates whose joviality was evidenced by the growing number of wine bottles in the recycling bin each morning. At breakfast I would listen to further laughter over inside jokes from the night before and I’d feel a tiny touch of jealousy. But my need to be alone found me frequently in the garden, folded into an Adirondack chair, notebook on lap. Thinking.

Too hard.

I would have to say the theme of this residency for me was Thinking. And trying not to. I’d get myself alone in my room and I’d start thinking, “what is it I need to be thinking about?” Then I’d remember that I am trying to Feel More, Sense More, so I’d say to myself “stop thinking!” which has the annoying effect of creating the exact opposite reaction. I’d start thinking about NOT thinking.

I didn’t write in my journal too much this residency, whereas in the precious two I wrote copiously as I tried to assimilate all that I was learning and experiencing. And feeling. This time I made a conscious effort to just feel what I was feeling. This required much alone time with not necessarily satisfactory results. Now home, and very much not alone (almost five-year old boys seem to need Something on a excruciatingly frequent basis) I am trying to consider all that I felt and feel now about the residency and my graduate “career” in general.

I am questioning now if going into hiding this residency was actually what I needed. Most of my a-ha! moments actually came to me during conversation or listening to others talking. I live in my head too much and plain old social-ness might have pulled me into my body – and my emotions – through laughter, silliness, togetherness, connection, friendship, conversation and mutual respect. If laughter is medicine I sure didn’t take mine while seriously mulling away in my cavern of a single room. Sometimes our “natural” inclination is a defense mechanism – to protect us from feeling too much – rather than a healing one. And what we resist the most is most likely exactly what we need.

Prompt: What are you resisting? What behaviors do you automatically resort to which might actually be furthering your lack of self-awareness and healing?

The Little Girl who Swam with the Moon: A Fairy Re-Tale

Myths, whether we are aware of them or not, are held in our psyche and influence our thoughts about others, ourselves, and how the world works. These myths can be the stories our families told us, the fairy tales read to us at night, the cartoons we watched, the magazines we read today, even the ancient myths told by generations before us (which still influence the books, movies, and songs of today). Unfortunately, many of the messages in these myths promote the darker sides of human nature* and perpetuate old, negative, incorrect stereotypes of gender. (Think about the fact that it was men who wrote the myths and fairy tales we still live by – that a women isn’t complete until her Prince comes along, that older women are hags or witches, or that a man isn’t a real man until he has slayed a dragon (risked his life and shed blood). Pah. Just imagine how different the story of Cinderella would have turned out if a woman had written it. For one thing, any woman knows that a glass slipper would hurt like hell. Personally, I’d rather be home alone scrubbing the floor than out dancing in a pair of crystal punch bowls. Just sayin.’)

It is the “myths” in our heads that produce the ANTS (Automatic Negative Thoughts) that are scurrying around making us doubt, undermine, and even hate ourselves. Many people are realizing the importance of re-writing these myths in a way that empowers and celebrates  – not denigrates – our natural perfectly imperfect human-ness. It was with that in mind that I wrote the following tale.

* Fairy tales and myths are not always negative. They are also “road maps” for the journeys of life, especially in the emotional/psychological realm. (See this note and others regarding fairy tales at C-Change on Facebook).

~~~~

The Little Girl Who Swam with the Moon

There once was a little girl named Gywnn. Her hair was red like the sun setting behind a blue mountain, her eyes brown like rich, newly turned soil, and her skin soft as a lamb’s ear. She sang with the birds and danced with the swaying grass, and ran just to feel her body alive with delight. But Gywnn’s joy in herself and nature made her father jealous and he told her to be ashamed. He was afraid of the passion he saw in his daughter and he thought the world was a cruel and loveless place. He locked the gate and declared she must stay within his garden walls. She was no longer permitted to speak or sing. She could not dance, run, or even bring her eyes high enough to see the horizon.

But Gywnn’s mother taught her how, even with head bowed, she could still see. Each tiny tendril pushing through the earth, the mushroom caps peeking between the fallen leaves, and the worm munching through the soil. The fox cub’s paw print dancing on the mud and the diamond sparkle of dew drops in the morning sun.

And Gywnn’s mother whispered stories of old in Gywnn’s ear. She told her about the Grandmothers who sowed, who reaped, who gave love, who received love, who created, who made love, who made life, and who celebrated every death as a release into a new joy. She told Gywnn of her beauty, strength and power which was passed down from each woman to her daughters. And she told her that her voice could never be truly silenced as long as she kept listening to the hum of Mother Earth in her bones, her skin, and her heart.

At night Gywnn would go to the water’s edge where Grandmother Moon’s reflection tickled her toes. Gywnn whispered her secrets while the fish circled at her feet. In the rippled orb of white, Gywnn saw the love of her mother and all the mothers before her. Even when the moon hid her face and she felt lost in the dark, Gywnn knew the majestic light would return.

Each night Gywnn grew in strength as the love filled and opened her heart. Slowly Gywnn raised her head, and as the light from above filled her eyes she stepped further into the light at her feet. She let herself fall into the water and swam with the moon. Within her the hum grew louder. She could not keep it silent any longer. She opened her mouth and sang out. The grass quivered, the trees rustled, the nightingale called, and the rabbits laughed. She sang and sang, loudly, clearly, and Mother Earth vibrated with the pleasure of it. The garden walls crumbled to dust. Gywnn rose naked from the water. With the moon at her back, body proud and voice strong, she stepped into the world, never to be silenced again.

© Joanna Tebbs Young: Wisdom Within, Ink

Prompt: Write your own fairy tale. Empower yourself in a story.