As part of my stretch-my-creativity-during-the-pandemic campaign, I’m taking an online course about voice called “Express the Music of Your Soul” from Chloë Goodchild, a teacher in England. She coaches students from around the globe on how they can access their “Naked” (authentic-soul) voices. I hoped the course might help me confront my I-can’t-sing-in-front-of-people phobia.
I love singing, and I make up songs which I belt out enthusiastically to my horses when I muck their paddock. They are quite a willing audience, especially when they know this means food is on the horizon. All it takes, though, is the sight of one person in the field nearby and my voice instantly retreats. If I’m chanting on a trail and I see another hiker approaching, my voice makes a quick dive for shelter into the pit of my stomach and doesn’t come out until all risk of being heard is gone. I consider this a problem, if not a pathology.
Chloë, though, isn’t treating our “singing problems.” She wants us to open up more space inside and tap a deep core before we sing. She invites us to listen to the silence we carry within us. (Read more in her book The Naked Voice: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Sound.)
At first, that idea was disturbing because I never hear silence. I have a moderate case of tinnitus, which means that even in meditation, there is no silence. I call the ringing my personal, cosmic orchestra.
Turns out tinnitus isn’t a block to hearing silence. Neither is standing in a place that isn’t completely still. National Geographic reports that there are very few truly quiet places left on earth–the crater of the Haleakalā National Park in Maui being one of the quietest. Yet, we can all find silence when we listen to the silence that lies deep within.
I am learning to stop and find silence before and after I sing, chant, or warble a few notes. Anchored in silence, I’m discovering a welcoming space where I can soften and even escape the fierce voice of self-judgment that’s ready to offer commentaries: “Your voice wobbled.” “You didn’t hit that note.” “Your higher voice sounded strained.” “Your lower voice sounded like mud.”
Silence is a safe harbor where those nasty thoughts lose much of their bite.
Silence opens a judgment-free zone that becomes as important to the singing as the singing itself.
Drawing in silence
When I precede singing with a few moments of silence, and a couple of breaths, it’s easier to allow my voice to come forward and do whatever it does. It’s all an experiment, an opportunity to notice.
Re-reading Frederick Franck’s classic book on drawing, Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing. I was struck by how he always started his classes with silence and asked his students to remain in silence while sketching.
Silence opened the door to seeing.
The value of silence may not be a surprise to anyone who meditates, yet I had never thought about how foundational it is to creativity.
We don’t have to wait for our daily meditation or an occasional retreat to find silence when we can make room for it in our daily lives. I can find silence while standing in a grocery line (that is, when I return to the world of stores and lines).
When, with silence, I shift from my “How-am-I-doing?” fervor into more “What-am-I-noticing?” attention. I can drop some of the judgments that inhibit or impede creative life.
A creative’s best friend
I admit I’m still learning to develop the discipline of taking a pause, a moment of silence, before plunging ahead with my writing, a project, or playing the piano. Inspired to start, I jump in and try to build momentum at the keyboard. Yet too often, when I become tired or distracted, I lose that momentum. Taking an initial moment of silence is a way of setting a peaceful focus.
Sitting at the piano, the legacy of lessons-past, and my aversion to mistakes, still haunt me. Rather than playing through the chatter in my mind, I can Just Stop. It’s my practice session and not a concert, so who cares if I interrupt a piece mid-phrase in order to touch into silence for a moment before continuing?
If I no longer feel my spirit delighting in sounds or loving the music, I’ve lost touch with my creative core—time to pause and reconnect.
Chloë Goodman likes to ask, “Who is singing?” and “What is left in the silence after we sing?” She’s listening for the foundation from which the note comes, the sound before the voice finds it. She’s also listening for the resonance left after the voice has sounded, and we return to silence.
In a noisy world
With the din of current events banging on my ears, and self-judgment always nibbling at me from the inside, silence becomes an ally.
Silence is part of the pond we draw from when we create.
Am I still shy, singing or performing in front of others? Yep. Changing that pattern of timidity and self-consciousness may take time, but there’s no “have-to-get-to” to get to. My voice is what it is now. My job is to keep paying attention. The part of my soul that is filled by singing doesn’t care about results. It asks, “Were you present, alive, enjoying your right to be creative?”
Four ways to play with silence
- Try dropping into silence at the start of a project, whether it be your work, music, or a piece of art.
- Listen to what you can hear when you are in stillness, allowing yourself to listen deeper.
- Find music in the ordinary: a kettle on the stove, a refrigerator making ice, a toilet flushing.
- Feel the peace that comes to you when you sit, however briefly, in a moment of judgment-free observing.
Are there areas where a healthy dollop of silence could improve your practice or your life? Try dipping into silence as you move through your day, and I’d love to know what opens up for you.