Why is it so hard for us to listen? Why do we so often listen to things that don’t serve us, and ignore the things that do? As I prepare for my first opera engagement in four (!!) years, I recognize the siren song of unwanted, yet persistent voices in my head. The familiar strains of “too old, too late, not enough” ring loud and clear, drowning out the messages of honouring wisdom and experience, joy of communication, and acceptance (and even love) of self that I have been working to instil for the past several years. I notice the familiar gripping in my throat and breath, the creeping internal sense of defeat that had been (more or less) successfully overcome when the pressure of performing on a public stage had been taken away. Even though I have done a fair bit of online performing over the past two years, the stakes felt lower and the projects were often of my own design, with colleagues I know and deeply trust. This feels like less familiar territory, haunted by the ghosts of past doubts and fears.

Yesterday I sang in front of my students in our end of term class recital. I told them I was doing this not so that I could show them “how it’s done”, but rather, so that I could show them solidarity–that I am on the same journey as they are. That I am willing to show up and be just as scared, just as vulnerable as they are, and do it anyway. I did it because I want to be in their experience, and understand why it is that they find it so hard to hear me when I am offering my encouragement, my wisdom, and listen instead to their inner critic. When I have to stand where they stand, I am made painfully aware of how powerful the inner voices of doubt, the aching desire for fast and ready solutions can be. The Evil Twin in each of us rises like the monster under the bed the instant we stand alone on the stage and make ourselves open in the act of giving.

In David Whyte’s poem, The Winter of Listening, he sends out a message reminding us of the dangers of allowing the voices of false prophets to resound too loudly, of hope through the act of listening to the innermost self:

“All those years/listening to those/who had/nothing to say.

All those years/forgetting/how everything/has its own voice/to make/itself heard.

All those years/forgetting/how easily/you can belong/to everything/simply by listening.”1

As I navigate these choppy waters, regaining courage to sing with my whole self (I’m out of practice, I confess), I want to remind myself of these words. I can belong to myself and the world simply by listening to the music of the heart.

  1. “The Winter of Listening”, Essentials, David Whyte (ed. Gayle Karen Young Whyte), Many Rivers Press, Langley, WA, 2020