Co-authored by Yaqin Lance Sandleben and Carla Woody
Carla speaking here: When I was a young girl I had a vivid inner world but reticent to share it with others, being painfully shy. Strangely, one thing I wasn’t shy about was my singing voice. I sang all the time. The summer I turned fourteen my family moved to a different state, the latest in several moves during childhood. A neighborhood girl and I spent hours recording ourselves singing Mamas and Papas songs just for fun, when we weren’t getting in trouble for one thing or another. That was the late Sixties…and you were expected to push the edges.
But something happened in September. My newfound friend and ally went to a different school. What bit of security and grounding I felt in the new environment was no longer present. Over the next months I made my way tentatively, finally settling in with a handful of girls, cliches being a matter of survival in junior high and high school beyond. But when I’d join in with songs on the radio…or hum under my breath you’d have thought I’d grown two heads, the responses I received from my friends.
Everyone feels out of place and wants to fit in during teenaged years…and at the same time want to be different. A terrible conflict. So, most of us shut down aspects of ourselves. In my case, it was my public voice. My singing voice was silent for decades and so was my ability to express in the most basic ways outside my family.
It was only years later that outer expression began to come again, part of an evolutionary process. By that time though, being so unused, my throat would hurt and my voice was so weak, it refused to emerge fully when I’d attempt it. I even went to India for a short time to study raga, Indian classical vocal music, with Sufi leader Shabda Kahn, in hopes of overcoming the block. I succinctly remember the day in practice when Shabda looked at me in what could only be described as loving irritation and bellowed, “Get your voice out!” Yet, still, I physically couldn’t.
Yaqin speaking here: In the path of development, of spiritual and material development, one of our most important tools is the human voice. One can easily see this in how the voice of another affects one. Likewise, as the Sufi Inayat Khan said, the voice is the expression of a person’s spirit. Knowing this one may direct attention and practice towards developing and opening the voice. Further, there is an ancient and sacred teaching on the mysticism of sound, and how it how it can be used. As the Sufis say, through recitation and concentration: “…travelers on the spiritual path can overcome narcissism, resolve their issues of separation from God and from humanity, and awaken to God’s presence…”
Carla again: In 1998 I moved to Prescott, Arizona. Strangely enough, I found a small Sufi community there. I’ve always been drawn to the Sufis for their inclusiveness. Yaqin Lance Sandleben held monthly zikr, a Sufi chanting devotional practice. I attended religiously for years until travel and my own work made it difficult to be there. I am indebted to Yaqin for the space he continued to hold those years. My voice had varied little…until one night. We were well into our zikr when suddenly a voice burst forth with a sweetness and power I hadn’t heard before. Surely, it had come from someone else. But I had to acknowledge it as my own…and acknowledge it still.
Giving voice comes in many forms. It’s our birthright to express and sometimes a journey to come back to the place where we began, without fear, to offer to ourselves and the world our own special expression.