07 February 2006

Authentic Voices

I had an interesting conversation/session yesterday with a practitioner of both massage therapy and Reiki/energy work. If you’re already rolling your skeptical, anti-New-Age eyes, you probably won’t much care for the rest of this post either, but stick it out anyway, OK? Her basic “diagnosis” of me was that I had an overly protected heart, and that my center of power, my authentic voice, was somewhat blocked or repressed. She admitted, of course, that this is true of many people in our society, but she encouraged me to try to open up, loosen up, let that authentic voice flow forth freely, and to let myself be vulnerable and not so protected.

So let’s assume this is probably an accurate description of many of us. Our society hasn’t encouraged authentic voices, prophetic voices, voices of the heart, because it’s too preoccupied with productivity and power and protection (and frankly, fear). I’m reminded of a recent broadcast of the excellent radio program Speaking of Faith (note the permalink on my page). The host, Krista Tippett, was interviewing Pankaj Mishra, the author of An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World. Mr. Mishra described the Indian emperor Ashoka, who reigned shortly after the Buddha’s death. Quoting below:

Mr. Mishra: He was a great believer in conquest and expansion. And he conquered this Eastern Indian state of Kalinga. And after this conquest, which was very extremely successful but also very, very violent, he saw the enormous damage he had caused and the deaths of thousands and thousands of people, and he was suddenly struck by this great remorse and, you know, what he had done, and from that point, he kind of gave up violent conquest and violent wars and came sort of gradually to introduce Buddhist ideas into statecraft…he made nonviolence a kind of state policy whenever it was possible. Whenever it was viable, of course, he still had punishments for criminals, and he still had an army. But he tried as much as possible to combine Buddhist ideas of social welfare, compassion, and to be, you know, as a ruler, the model of righteousness…For instance, in the inscriptions that he had inscribed on stone and iron pillars and erected all across India, he'd say things like it's very difficult to do good because, you know, good and evil are unmixed things, and you have to worry about the consequences of doing good. All of these very complex ideas that he's thinking, which he shared with his subjects. Of course, now he would be accused of flip-flopping, not having clear ideas or having a decisiveness personality. But the very fact that he could see how the world was such a complex place and there wasn't such a clear-cut good and evil out there, that's, I find, something quite admirable about him.

Ms. Tippett: All right. So I think the problem is that an American, a modern American, might look at this history you tell and might still compare someone like Alexander and Ashoka, or 21st-century America and India, and say it's clear which version of reality, which ethos is on the winning side. Right? They would say simply this ethos of acquisition and building and progress and power is what, in fact, works in this world we inhabit. Now, how would you respond to that?

Mr. Mishra: Well, I'd very quickly challenge the notion that it works. Where is the evidence that it works? I mean, the 21st century has not started off very well. What I do see is a whole lot of confusion, a whole lot of bewilderment and a whole lot of hatred, a whole lot of violence out there…I'm completely unpersuaded by the notion that the systems we have are working. The fact of power obscures the failures, but the fact that you have to use violence all the time, you know, really points to the failure of all these systems in many ways.

A fascinating exchange, and I apologize for the lengthy quotation (I know, it’s a blogger’s easy way out of providing original content). A shorter quotation from a favorite philosopher of mine, J. Buffett, is also on point:

"Are we destined to be ruled by a bunch of old white men
Who compare the world to football and are programmed to defend?"

So I’m left to wonder – what if my massage therapist/Reiki practitioner is right? What if most of us, including me, really are blocked from speaking our authentic voices? Here’s a little experiment – I’m giving your authentic voice permission to come out right here and now. If your authentic voice were going to say something, what would it be? Leave me a comment and tell me what your authentic voice says – and after all, you can post anonymously if you’re a bit worried about that vulnerability stuff. I will exercise my prerogative to block any comments that simply flame or pooh-pooh someone else’s voice, but I’ll try not to censor much beyond that. Here’s your chance. Have at it. Peace.


kitty cat said...

Some of us actually do use our authentic voice, but I think it's those people that we usually think of as not "having a filter." I once became very good friends with someone I had previously disliked, once I realized how refreshing it was to hang out with someone with no filter. I think he has acquired one since, to my vast regret. Meanwhile, I find that one interesting thing about having an infant is that in the dark, in the quiet, all by ourselves, when she's nursing, I say the baldest truths I have ever said in my life. I am eternally happy to report that they are all about love. I don't suppose that anyone else in my life would like to hear me tell her how much I love her, because I think we all lie to each other all the time about levels of loving ("I love you the same, but in different ways" is a crock of shit, I realize - in fact, I am scared to have another baby because I am afraid that I wouldn't love it as much as my first, and being a second child, I know that it's not an impossibility). So I don't think that we can ever use authentic voices if we are obligated to tell all the people that we love that we love them the same or that our feelings never change. But it is refreshing, those odd moments when I talk to my daughter. And I doubt that it will ever happen when she's old enough to understand the words, though I expect that she understands me just fine right now. Hmm, that raises another thought. Can an authentic voice have words? I wrestle with issues of language enough. In a post-modern world where we absolutely have to put smileys and emoticons in our messages to each other because irony is our entire voice (to quote Baudelaire - briefly - "Elle est toute ma voix, la criarde!"), perhaps the most authentic voice would be silent. Or understood via breastmilk. (OK, see, there was that irony again. She IS all my voice, la criarde. Except in the aforementioned situation.)

Dan said...

Wow, very eloquently put, Kittycat. In spiritual terms, this naturally makes me think of the mystics - finding the divine to be beyond mortal words - which also works for the contemplatives of any tradition who find silence to be the most divinely-inspired place. I also loved the "having a filter" idea, and while it can be annoying to be around an "unfiltered" person, it's also refreshing at times (assuming they actually have found their own voice).