Finding Your Voice in the Silence

Everything in life responds to the song of the heart. ~ Ernest Holmes

Coaches know the vital importance of listening out for recurring words, moods, themes and images as clients share their issues.

Readers feel these woven themes.

Parents’ instincts go on red alert when the same issues come up again and again in a t(w)eenager’s conversation or a toddler’s chatter.

If your lover mentions a name often, it’s enough to set off warning bells.

Which themes weave their way through your life as well as your writing?

I’ve come to realise that I’m obsessed with the themes of silence and voices. Whether I’m writing about music or birds, those twins will appear  somewhere. Communication is embroidered through the fabric of my soul. Language teacher, translator, singer, writer…it took me a while, but I finally started to see the pattern. In there, too, are the ghosts of childhood trauma that I’ve tried to exorcise  – or make peace with  – by being the best mum I can be, by helping my children find their unique voices.

As part of this week’s theme of excavating your authentic self, I’d like you to do some more work on silence and voice. Please answer these questions in your journal or better still, if you can, please share them with our little community, anonymously if you prefer; we have coaches here who can support you. These simple questions can help you find your authentic self and maybe even give you some inspiration for your writing.

  • What does silence symbolise for you?
  • Follow the threads of your life embroidery through to the present day; which major events have made you feel like you found your voice?
  • When has silence terrified you?
  • Which singer has a voice that could be the voice of your very own soul?

You can find some of my own answers in the following piece, which I wrote before I finally went on to pass the practical part of my coaching exam. Apologies to those of you who’ve already discovered this piece in my archives, in a previous post or in my free ebook. I thought of it today as I was writing a description of a silent moment; I felt an echo of something I’d already written.

The Sound of Music

Everything in life responds to the song of the heart. ~ Ernest Holmes

I love hearing silence used beautifully. The perfect pause that reaches out like ripples around a pebble in a dark pool. A poem where the unspoken word can say more than the most carefully crafted chapter. The silence between the notes that makes the music.

I went to a Scottish folk concert last night and sat in awe as the fiddles and pipes had a spirited conversation, the flute became a voice, the guitar wrapped itself around them all and the drumbeat turned into a heartbeat, a handclapping, footstomping hall full of joy and applause. As I sat listening to the band, watching the stage lights pick out their foot tapping, swaying forms in beams of changing coloured light on the dark stage, I remembered how I used to feel performing my own songs in the heat of the lights, savouring the silence between the fading of the last note and the start of the clapping.

I sang my way around Europe when I worked as a language teacher and translator; my voice was a vital part of who I was and what I did.  After I had my kids, I moved back to Scotland and slowly, imperceptibly, I stopped writing, stopped singing, stopped playing the guitar and even stopped speaking the foreign languages I was fluent in. Silence gently settled around my soul like snow.

When I drifted into life coaching, on my journey out of what I now realise was low grade chronic depression, my passion to tell the whole world about it bubbled up, spilled over and finally gushed out in the torrent that helped me rediscover my voice.

Meeting other coaches in teleclasses and online was a bonus, like watching a film with a cast of wonderful, colourful characters. I have a colleague who coaches with the quiet, understated elegance of a Grace Kelly. One coaching buddy has the gentle strength and loving radiance of a spiritual leader – I’ve never met her but I just know  she has a twinkle in her eye! Another has a voice like hot chocolate; her coaching sessions are like a studio where you turn yourself and your life into a work of art. And we all know someone who coaches like Bette Davis on a bad day, right? So who would you be?

I suspect I’d be Maria from The Sound of Music, twirling around on a mountain top, squashing innocent edelweiss underfoot, tripping my way clumsily through cobbled streets and coaching sessions oblivious to the fact that I was knocking people over with my swinging guitar case as I sang “I have confidence in sunshine…!”

It didn’t surprise me when I failed Step 2 of the IAC exam. I gush, I interrupt inappropriately and I have this overwhelming urge to fix things, to make children’s clothes out of curtains and get people singing about their favourite things.

Can I see myself ever getting certified?  Well, Maria never did make it as a nun, although, thanks to her Mother Superior’s glorious rendition of  “Climb every mountain”, she got the handsome husband, the home full of happy kids and found her dream. Am I glad to have my voice back, a spirited, life loving, world worshipping voice? Oh yes. Oh, dear God, YES!!!


  1. Hi Janice,

    I grew up in a house where my mother used silence as a form of punishment. So if I did something wrong, I used to get the silent treatment. When I got married, my husband would have moments of being silent and that would cause me to panic. I would end up asking him what did I do wrong and he would look at me like I had three heads. I then explained to him my childhood and he saw what was happening. He then told me that his reasons for being silent were very different. So I had to learn to not panic when there was silence.

    The interesting thing is that as I began to be more at peace with myself, the more I was able to handle silence too. I remember when I lived on my own, I would always have to have some background noise while I was at home. I realized that I did that because I could not tolerate being by myself in silence. However, as my spiritual journey began, I became more calm and no longer needed the background noise. I started to want to hear what my inner voice was telling me.

    Silence is a powerful tool and a form of communication. As for which singer would be the voice of my soul…that is a great question. Three singers come to mind at this moment: Jewel, Sheryl Crow, and Elvis Presley. Talk about a weird mix! I will have to think some more on the singers aspect and let you know!

    Once again, you have written a post that flows like a song. 🙂 Can I mention you as one my singer choices?????

    Nadia – Happy Lotus´s last blog post..Break Free & Live

    1. I’ve ‘met’ your wonderful family and seen the bliss in your writing so the grin makes sense!

      If someone told me I had to be qualified/certified or registered to write or raise my kids, it would be a completely different story! But in life coaching, which is different from counselling and cognitive therapy but demands the same professionalism as both, I wanted to be able to offer potential clients more than a handful of testimonials and a “Trust me, I’m good!”

      I never set out to become a certified coach, but I realised that my dodgy self-esteem was stopping me marketing myself properly as a life coach, even though I had years of training and experience. (I’d got used to having to have externally validated credentials in previous careers, like teaching.) So, I asked myself what it would take for me to feel confident enough to sell my services. The answer, after a lot of soul searching, was to obtain some kind of internationally recognised industry standard in a field that is notoriously unregulated. Positive feedback from clients, peers and more experienced coaches eliminated all the self-limiting beliefs I was cowering behind. I passed the theory easily, but failed the practical first time. That whole learning experience was tough going but helped me discover an awful lot about myself, my values, my definitions of success and failure and what inspires my actions.

      Writing personal development pieces is nothing like the process that takes place in a coaching session.

      I’m about to publish a coaching book soon; years ago, when I first wrote the manuscript, I realised I wanted readers to have some way of checking out my credentials. Becoming certified also enabled me to run a profitable mentoring membership site, a critiquing service and to be offered work teaching personal development classes in a local college, which couldn’t have happened otherwise.

  2. Excellent questions Janice. Let’s see.

    Silence to me means peace. I’ve never been one to find silences awkward. Even from a young age people have noted on how quiet I am, both positively and negatively.

    I’m not sure about finding my voice but I first found “myself” when I took up Aikido. Is that the same? I guess finding my voice was when I took up blogging.

    I can’t recall when silence has ever terrified me. I’ve always been able to find a kind of peace in my solitude. Be it from reading books, watching tv or doing jigsaw puzzles. I guess there was a time when I felt lonely and longed for company, a soul mate perhaps. Does that count?

    As for singer. I’d have to say Freddie Mercury at this point and no I’m not going slightly mad (see what I did there Queen fans :D)

    A great rock voice than can also sing a mellow tune when the need calls.

    Marc – WelshScribe´s last blog post..Creative Writing

    1. @Marc
      Everything counts – it’s yours! I love that your body and spirit found a way to blend and express themselves in Aikido and that you found an international voice in your blogging.

      I really appreciate this response, Marc. If you meet people in different blogs and comments boxes, you can piece together a picture that forms like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

      Voice like Freddy Mercury – slightly built but spiritually powerful like Bruce Lee. Like it! Two of my heroes right there.

      (PS Now you can see why I sometimes need threaded comments. I tried to reply to Sean above but had another comment in moderation then messed with the time on my reply to try and place it next to Sean’s comment and blew it! )

  3. With each read, I enjoy stopping by this little cafe more. My favorite movie as a child was “The Sound of Music.” It was the first movie I saw where I left what can truly be called joy ~ this bittersweet pain that was indescribable and delightful. I was so sorry to see the film end. I watched it religiously year after year until there was finally such a thing as VHS. Of course I own it on DVD. 🙂

    Silence for me has usually been nurturing and holy. Unlike Nadia’s family, where silence was used as punishment, my family shouted. Anger or any negative emotion was communicated loudly and with great slamming of objects and doors. I learned early to retreat to the blessed calm of my room. And I still need these almost daily retreats somewhere … which is why I get up 2 hours earlier than usual every morning, so that I have 2 hours of silent time with no demands.

    The few times that silence disturbs me are when I sense that trouble is brewing. I am highly intuitive, and this pre-storm silence is unsettling for me.

    But mostly silence is church. Before I left the States, sometimes I would go sit in the nave of my church, beautiful St. Paul’s, and just drink in the sacred quiet like water.

    No idea who my voice would be. Maybe Pavarotti. He sings like an angel. He moves me to tears.

    Chania Girl´s last blog post..I’m Not The Only Genius: What I’ve Learned From My First Month of Blogging

  4. @Nadia and Chania Girl,
    So many questions I’d like to ask you both (and Marc, and Sean and other readers I know who are quietly reading and pondering. ) I find myself wishing more and more that this was a real café-bistro so that conversations and questions could flow over wine or coffee. So much powerful writing in such a small comments cox.

    I empathise more than I can explain here. Like Marc, I was a quiet child, always reading. I’m very comfortable with silence now, and I agree that it’s a powerful form of communication, but there have been times in my life, too, when silence has been synonymous with solitude or pain. My childhood family situation, like yours, has affected how I relate to all the people in my life. Thank you very much for sharing your vulnerability and wisdom here. You sound like you’ve worked through a lot of the pain, but this is something I would have no hesitation in recommending a therapist’s help with, especially as it involved your mum. We seem to be on very similar journeys which makes networking even more meaningful for me. I like your writer’s voice, too.

    @Chania Girl
    Oh, that craving for silence during loud – and to a child – violent sounding arguments. And the sound of venomous sibiliants through the wall if people try to argue ‘quietly’. I couldn’t retreat to a room; I shared with an older sister and there was just as much arguing going on there.

    I love churches when they’re empty, walking around honouring icons and lighting candles, or sitting still, simply praying. You’re so lucky to be able to do that any time of the day you like in Greek churches. Is the St Paul you mentioned the Baltimore one? Spooky if it is, because that’s where they found a copy of ‘Desiderata’ that a minister had shared in a pamphlet. (If you like the Desiderata, I did a post called ‘Choosing the Desires that guide you.)

    Have you ever heard the blind singer, Andrea Bocelli? You may enjoy him too. Another ‘angel voice’. The Sound of Music was my first ever memory of going to the Edinburgh Odeon to see a film. It had a high, dome shaped, blue-black ceiling with stars in it. Heaven! I still get goosebumps when I hear the phrase “I must have done something good…for here you are, standing there, loving me…”

    Thank you for this long, open share. We all appreciate it; it shows how important it is to know why we react to silence or aggression as adults, and how we choose to use them in our own lives.

  5. @Marc,
    That would be you, then! I’ll try, mess up, get my husband to do 95% then I’ll panic and ask you about the last jigsaw piece!

  6. My father’s voice was loud and strong and that was my voice in a negative way before I took my power back. I was called loud mouth, big mouth etc growing up. I think I needed to be loud being no. 6 of 10 children.

    Then as I grew spiritually and mentally I took my voice and channeled the power into doing professional speaker. There I was praised for my voice, it’s projection and clarity.

    My mom was quiet and suffered in silence. When she was upset with us she became silent. That was more painful then if she would have just yelled and got it over with.

    We all grew and changed and became our better selves learning from each other and past mistakes.

    Today I would say I can relate to the voices of Sarah Brightman, Eva Cassidy, Louis Armstrong and Sting.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Tess. You write so simply and succinctly, yet with such controlled power and wisdom. So many strong people, sharing people, seem to have found their voices because of how silence or loud voices shaped their lives as children. My mum went silent, too. Different kinds of silences; different kinds of reasons – a variety of pain.

      I know we’re probably messing up our kids in some way, but the sad thing is, I won’t know how till they’re older. I never ignore them, though. Ever. I may choose to turn a blind eye to some things or quietly avoid being sucked into dramas, but I always try to find some way to stay connected. I do my best, but making mistakes is part of the package. That’s one of the things I’m trying to teach them so they’ll be kind to themselves. Hopefully, if I do mess up badly, they’ll be able to look back on me some day with kindness, empathy and understanding, at least, and see what the disguised blessing was.

      I adore Eva Cassidy’s voice, too. I love the purity of tone and what she does with pain. I’ll check out Sarah Brightman; I heard her singing with Andrea Bocelli and cried in the car as I’d recently lost a friend. If we ever have background music over here, a playlist is starting to form!

  7. Thanks, Karen. I also reckon blogging has been a great boon for a lot of women in finding and sharing their voices.

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