Every morning, my coffee cup tells me “Every heart has a voice”. Songs, quotes, people in the media – everywhere we turn, we are being encouraged to “sing our own song” – and to sing it loud, proud and strong. But for me, this has been the ongoing challenge of my life. How do we learn to sing our own heart song?
I don’t know why this has been such a struggle for me. I wasn’t put down as a child, or told my song was no good. In fact, my parents, family and friends have encouraged me every step of the way. Looked at objectively, I’m no more or less talented/clever/good looking than the average Joe (or in my case, Jo). I know being quiet and shy certainly didn’t help, but it doesn’ t explain it either. Maybe I was just born with this lesson to learn. Who knows? And it doesn’t really matter why it’s there. The fact remains that it’s been something I’ve had to work with for a long time.
My head tells me it doesn’t matter what my song is like. My head says “just be yourself”. “Everybody’s song is different”, says my head, “and the world needs them all – every voice raised in harmony”. I hear what my head says, and I agree wholeheartedly. I encourage others with those words and tell them how special, unique and beautiful their song is. But despite my words, when it comes to my own song, I don’t believe it. My heart tells me otherwise.
When I’m just doing my own thing, comfortable and happy in my own company, or with people I know and love, the song comes easily. I hum the tune as I potter around, I sing the words loudly. I even dance to the music playing in my head. And it feels great.
If life was a stage performance, it’s like I’m fine when I’m in my dressing room. But when I step out of that door, into the corridor, it’s a different story. My song gets softer, weaker. I see how it compares unfavorably with the other performers doing their warm-ups. The words suddenly sound pathetic, worthless. I realize I’m out of tune.
And so, by the time I get out onto the stage, I am paralyzed. Fear grips me. It’s fist punches me in the stomach, and then it’s strong fingers close around my throat. My voice becomes wobbly, or even worse, no sound comes out at all. My brain freezes – maybe it is my song, but all of a sudden, I can’t remember the words. The tune goes out of my head. My feet stop dancing – they stumble, trip over themselves, and then mercifully carry me off the stage. I run back to my dressing room – my safe place – as fast as I can.
But I don’t want to hide in my dressing room anymore. I want to be out there with everybody else, singing my song with abandon. The older I get, the more I realize the truth – life is way too short to not sing, and the only song worth singing for each of us is, indeed, our own.
So what’s helping me to step out and sing? There are five things, and I’ll list them, just in case you are having some of the same struggles in learning to sing your song. Maybe they might help you, too…
My inner critic is quick to tell me how I compare with others – I’m too quiet, not clever/confident/assertive enough. I accept these labels without question. “Yeah”, I say, “that’s right”, and then I repeat these judgements to myself, and look for ways to prove to myself that they are true.
It’s easy to see where these messages might come from. There are so many small ways that the world can suggest to us that our song is not good enough, not really worth hearing. Every time we put our song out there, and it is rejected by others, or simply goes unnoticed, we can internalize this as “not being enough”. Media images constantly reinforce this. So does the current focus on being confident, ‘out-there’, extroverted. If we are quiet, a little unsure, not able to sell ourselves to others, then its easy to feel we should keep our song to ourselves, and instead try and learn the songs that get noticed and applauded.
I’ve found that, instead of looking outwards at others, I need to look inwards to find the song.
Be in my body
“Are you in your skin?” is an old African greeting. In other words, am I present to myself in this moment, in this body that is all I have to live my life in. In learning to sing my own song, I’ve found this an essential place to start.
Taking time to listen – really listen – to my song has helped me appreciate it and love it for what it is. And the more I do that, the less I look outside to see what others think of it. My favourite way to do this is the four-step check in. If you’ve never tried it, it goes like this:
- sit quietly for a moment, noticing your breath gently going in and out. Let the outside world fade away.
- Focus on your body. What sensations can you feel? Is there a part of your body that you notice particularly – maybe it’s clenched jaws, a tight stomach heavy shoulders? Try not to tell any story about it or think about it – just notice the bodily sensations. Draw or paint a quick image to capture the body’s message. Give it a one-word title.
- Next, focus on your emotions. What emotion are you feeling right now? Do an image for this as well. And a title.
- Now its time to listen to your mind. What does it want to say? Again, an image and a title.
- And now, continue to sit quietly and give a chance for Spirit to come. There might not always be something, but perhaps you’ll get a picture, hear a word, feel something. Do your final image. Title it.
This exercise is great for getting away from the negative stories we tell, and instead really listening to all the different parts of ourselves. I find I usually prioritize my head knowledge, which often just means trotting out the same misguided stories. But my body and emotions give me so much information, and it’s usually much more accurate. Doing the images (no art prizes here – just colours or shapes on the paper are fine), helps us listen deeper, but you can use this check-in anytime throughout the day.
Be kind to myself
Why am I so-o-o hard on myself? I expect so much more of myself than I do of others. I’m learning to be kinder to those parts of me that don’t meet my superhuman expectations. I’m learning to say “hey, so what? ” and to give myself a break. And I’m learning to nurture that part of me that tries so hard, that feels so much, that hides away – and, instead of asking more of it, or criticizing it, just to say “hey, I see you. I love you. You are fine just as you are”.
Small steps is how I’m kind to myself here. I don’t expect to get up and sing an aria first up. I simply ask myself to keep listening to myself, to stay true to that, and do what I can do in the moment. I take one small step, and then another. I build support around me – people, activities, food, exercise – things that make me feel stronger.,
So that’s it from me for now. I’d like to give a big thank you to the many people who have encouraged and supported me along the way. I feel like I’m ready to enjoy life on the stage. So let’s sing!
PS: Please pass this on if you know someone who might like it. And if your song has had a similar melody line, I’d love to hear in the comments below. What’s helped you in learning to sing your song?