Friday, March 18, 2016
Getting Past the Gag Order
the moth in the dark
flutters like the lost dew drops
and then goes away
~haiku I wrote in third grade
Our words are our most potent tools. Language is the most transformational force in human experience, and it deeply informs our relationships with each other. Words have the power to create or destroy, to foster peace or ignite war, to heal or harm on every level. I have always felt a great kinship with words and writing in particular. Writing gave me my first truly impactful experience of feeling seen, of having talent, of being an intelligent artist. Words, for me, have always been rooted in a desire to express feeling and to create beauty. I have been writing poetry since I was a child. My poems, whether expressing joy, sorrow, anger, or despair, whether rising from my light or my shadow, have always had this quest for truth and beauty at the heart of them. I have evolved over the years as a writer. I write both prose and poetry now. I write to heal, I write to understand, I write to reach out. It is a quest for authenticity, truth, vulnerability and connection.
Sadly, I see, and have experienced, all too often, words, both spoken and written, being used to harm, to control, and to abuse. Bullying, gossiping, and all aggressive and passive aggressive misuses of the power of language are hugely destructive. This is a degradation of our most powerful possibility, it devalues our human gift, it puts us in the bondage of hurt and shame. It has driven me to continue writing, pushing my edges, and risk creating and expressing from my heart.
One of the most challenging things about writing with the intention of sharing publicly is what I would call gag orders. These are not orders of the official kind, but ones that come from, often subtle and implied, social conventions, statements of judgment around vulnerability and transparency, advisements to not rock the boat, the threat of outright bullying, and the often abusive intrusion of trolls. I have actually experienced only parts of this personally, I have never been trolled, but I know it is out there, I know it can happen. It does, and the mere chance of it occurring, often causes me to hesitate, to consider and reconsider, and to be honest, it affects my writing. Knowing that a wrong word, idea or opinion could result in rejection, judgment, and even brutal verbal assault, has kept me from saying things full on, it has kept my writing smaller than it wants to be. I know I am not the only writer who lives in that fear, it takes great courage to go beyond it.
These external forces and implied gag orders contribute to another silencing force, this one even harder to break through, the binding strictness and doubt that comes from within. My inner struggle is a choke hold that goes right into core wounds. Those places of inner hurt and self doubt that are sensitive and raw, my feelings of unworthiness, stories I carry about my lack of ability and intelligence, my fear of being wrong, my fear of being rejected. Ultimately, my fear of finding out that after all this questing for truth and revelation, that I will finally be confronted with my inadequacy, that I am just not good enough.
As a child I often felt like the moth of my haiku, fluttering, a bit lost in the darkness. I didn't fit in. I was awkward, different. I never won at the math fact games or geography quizzes. I got my first ++ grade on that haiku, with two gold stars to boot. I was surprised to hear I was really good at something. I often spent recess time on my own, not unhappy, in my own world. A moth searching for something in the dark, searching for myself. Then, as a young teen, I was verbally bullied at school, my sense of safety was shattered and fear became overwhelming. I flew into the darkness, I made myself hard and untouchable. I shut off parts of my heart, and became angry and numb. External and internal gag orders issued. Command received.
Over time, and with a lot of hard work, healing has happened. I have come out of that shell and found my voice again. I am finding more and more courage to speak, and to come back to my writing. I have received support and guidance from fellow travelers on this path to truth. I am reclaiming myself. I forge ahead, learning about skillful communication and potent expression, the medicine of words.
Words can be used to heal and they can be used to cause harm. I want to be a healer, a medicine woman.
I have given people some genuine and solid advice about their struggles with their own gag orders and choke holds, both the external and internal kind, as they are intimately related. We have all grown up and been conditioned to self censor, to be polite, to hide our truth, to some degree or another, and then we take that into all our relationships and interactions. This is not just writers or artists I realize. We all deal with these gag orders every day. We end up becoming both enforcers and victims of these rules and regulations, and they keep us from true intimacy and deep understanding. I have advised others to be bold, to be vulnerable, because the only way to change this is if people start taking the risk to speak their truth. That advice is correct and I stand by it, but I also understand the fear that rises up when I stand in front of the potential consequences myself.
If I reject these gag orders and allow my writing and my way of being to evolve, if I allow my voice to grow, if I commit to that journey of vulnerability and truth, if I show myself and allow myself full expression of who I am...if I do that...I do risk rejection, judgment, insult, trolling...I may upset people, I may lose friends, but in my heart I know what there is to be gained as well.
If I do it, I get freedom.
It is that simple, and that powerful. When we step out of the shadows, and reject the gag orders, then and only then, can we learn, together, about right relationship with ourselves and each other, about a life of action and sincerity. Powerful communication is transparent and vulnerable, it is not ruthless or violent. Freedom of expression is not a license to harm others. In fact, it is about sharing our own experiences and feelings, and taking responsibility for them. It has no room for scapegoating, blaming or shaming. We will make messes of course, no doubt, we will make all kinds of mistakes, but mistakes, when we are living and speaking in truth, can be opportunities to grow and evolve.
If we unshackle ourselves, and claim our right to speak and be heard, and also commit to listening to each other, we all win. We get freedom. We will know about compassion and love. We will be empowered and safe in each others company. We will stand in truth and honesty. What could be better than that? I know it is a long road ahead to get there. It is a dream. But, if one by one we begin, and grab the hand of those near us, we can get there. I am sure we can.