The Voices that Follow Us

Even if we feel we are living in the wilderness of life by choice or by the choices of others, the voices of the tamed world have the ability to follow us. It seems unfair that they don’t check themselves at the threshold and stay where they belong. And sometimes, they are the reasons we needed to leave in the first place. The stories the world had for us about who we were and what we were to become did not match those that we knew in our minds, hearts and bodies. Some of the voices were people that we trusted with our whole selves; people that we had no reservations with, like parents and spouses, lovers and best friends. Sadly, these voices at times, are not accurate depictions of who we truly are. Their voices often project the image of what they want or “need” us to be for them or for others; not for ourselves.

I have had voices tell me I should settle for a satisfactory marriage; voices that say that I am selfish; voices that tell me that I am strong and that’s why no one ever offered help (darn me for trying so hard); voices that say I’m beautiful and need to be more careful about the attention I draw (as if that is my fault); voices that tell me I need to slow down and take longer to do school because everyone needs more of me than I can give while I am in school; voices that told me I should not homeschool; voices that told me that to vaccinate the kids the way it is ordered is the only safe way. It is endless.

Each of us have these voices in our heads. Some of us have an easier time of letting go of them; leaving them at the threshold. Others of us have them live in our bodies as these voices have been the impetus for so many of the choices we have made in our lives; the choices others before us have made and we are expected to live into as well.

The voices leave us sometimes when we break cycles of those same choices. Then others we trust use those same words, bringing back all of the previously cut-out words like a wash. It is truly cruel sometimes.

Grateful for the voices?

What if we could take the voices into the wilderness as gifts? What if we took them as reminders of what we left behind, and as fuel for our journey? That journey is simply to find our own voice; the only voice that matters in the end.

Mary Oliver says in The Journey:

But little by little

As you left their voices behind,

The starts began to burn

Through the sheets of clouds,

And there was a new voice,

Which you slowly

Recognized as your own,

That kept you company

As you strode deeper and deeper

Into the world,

Determined to do

The only thing you could do-

Determined to save

The only life you could save.

It was almost three years ago when my mentor read that entire poem to me one starry night in a campground north of Toronto. I wasn’t ready to hear it. It made me sad and a little angry. I didn’t want to step into the change that my life was requiring of me. I wanted things to be happy; to work out as they were. But he knew that Mary Oliver’s words would sink in eventually. And they did.

And life changed as it needed to. It continues to surprise me. The wilderness is an exhausting place at times, and ecstatically joyful at other times. It is a place to sort and sift through the voices and leave them in an altar here and a campfire there; washing them off in the river and allowing the wind to carry them away as it calls to them.

Finding and claiming our own voices is the practice of a lifetime. May we travel the wilderness together, filled with the fire of our intentions and the desire to truly live our lives.

How have the voices shifted for you over the years? Which voices do you hear today? Can you find your own in the mix? We would love to hear your thoughts.

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