There are constantly sound waves pulsing through our heads. The slightest buzz of a bug or the irritating ring of an electronic device or that noise the refrigerator makes when it does whatever a refrigerator needs to do to stay cold: all of these are the result of air that has been very specifically disrupted so that when it strikes our ear drums it produces a pattern that our brains have been taught to recognize and (sometimes) associate with a thing.
When those patterns don’t hold any sense of language or intentionality we call them “noise”. They are mostly sounds that get in the way of things we would prefer to hold our focus. Noise itself comes in a variety of flavors. While we might all agree that the aging fridge produces noise, there might not be as much consensus over listening to a rap artist or a 90’s electro funk band or any “boy band” from any decade. The definition of noise takes on very subjective tones when we label the disruptions in the air as “music”.
When these patterns in the air are organized with evolved intention – such as speaking a language compared to tree falling (whether someone is in the woods or not) – we call it a “voice”. The word voice has so many wonderful connotations: a sense of empowerment (“She stood up to her oppressors and finally found her voice”), a sense of comfort and soothing (“The infant drifted to sleep at the familiar tones of his mother’s voice”), a unique identity much like a fingerprint – for better or for worse (“I would know that voice anywhere”). Voices make music – subject to interpretation as already noted, voices make arguments, voices declare love, recite poetry, give directions and commands. They can inspire rebellions and calm riots.
Here is a truth: not all voices come from air vibrating the eardrums.
In fact, I might argue that the voices with the greatest influence on us will never take the shape of a sound wave. I’m not referring to the audible presence experienced by someone with a disease such as schizophrenia. Those voices can be scary and need to be dealt with differently. I am talking about the sound of our own voices that direct our daily thoughts and actions. The voice that tells us what we think about our coffee (nearly always good), how we might loathe the smell of our office mate’s perfume (don’t worry, I made that one up), or find joy in the smiles of our children (‘nough said).
They are the same voices that will try and convince us we are not good enough to try out for that team or apply for that job or finish that manuscript. They are the voices that offer subtle comments deep in our minds about the size of our waist or bank account. They are the voices – with a fingerprint we know all too well as our own – that tell us whether it is worth getting out of bed today or living through to tomorrow. I spend a good deal of time and energy working to change the ongoing narrative in my own brain. I recognize this negative “self-talk” as largely a function of my depression and anxiety and I also recognize that it is not limited to people with any specific, official diagnosis.
I was reminded recently of one of the best weapons we have in that on going battle: those sound waves that come from outside our heads.
I woke up the other day both excited and anxious about recording a podcast that night. (If you are familiar with the Inglorious Pasterds you might understand why). When I walked into a training class later that morning, a coworker and new friend asked if I felt ready for the recording. I shared my dual emotions and she simply responded, “You’re going to be great.”
There it was. The voice I needed to replace all the noise my head was creating. It reminded me of other moments when I was gifted with those nuggets. “People want to read what you are writing” launched this blog, “How can I not hurt you” salvaged a friendship, “You really are a beautiful woman” brought this daughter closer to her mother, “You have something hanging out of your nose” spared me from needless embarrassment and likely robbed an entire audience of a laugh at my expense.
We all have a full library of audible lumps that got stuck in our brains and produced the opposite effect. I was handed a few in the last 24 hours. I’m not going to write them out. I don’t want to rehearse them and don’t want to introduce them to your narrative. I do want to acknowledge they exist and that it takes energy – sometimes an exhausting amount of energy – to sort through them. Occasionally we may even find a truth in them that has to be dealt with as we seek to grow into stronger, more whole people.
It would be great to think that we can manage our thoughts without needing input from others; perhaps some are better at it than I am.
Despite the spinnings of Paul and Art, it’s a myth that “I am a Rock, I am an Island.”
I live in community and the offerings that community puts in my head, intentionally or otherwise, have the power to lift me up and pull me down.
That led to an inevitable next thought: what am I offering that community? Are my words (jokes, opinions, comments, responses – did I mention jokes?) feeding the downward spiral a person may be experiencing or am I offering them an alternate narrative; one where getting out of bed is worthwhile and there is hope to be found looking toward tomorrow? I have to admit that sarcasm, self-deprecation, or some form of shaming are too often what I pass off as humor. Rarely are they the narrative someone may need to take that crucial next step forward.
This all fits neatly into my yearlong (read that “remainder-of-my-life-long”) desire to “be a light that doesn’t depend on the darkness of others.” That meant something when I coined it around new-years, but my self-narrative has both shaped and challenged that notion. Being aware of our words, being a light that shines from the inside not just on the outside, doesn’t imply some form of Polyanic Utopia where we are all shuffling about, bowing and whispering “Namaste” to each other (although I really do like that word). It simply means that we are characterized as people who are aware of and caring about what is going on with other people; that we acknowledge the power of our voice in shaping the narrative of those around us as just as it does our own.
The recording that night generated a fun, unique narrative (warning: it’s not for either the faint of heart or anyone under 17ish years old). You can catch those ear waves by clicking here (apple) or here (non-fruit varieties).