After a lifetime of hiding one's singing voice, the passage of 'coming out of the cave' is a personal journey often requiring profound courage and self-acceptance.
If a painful memory exists - a memory of criticism about our singing voice from childhood, perhaps - whether from a choir director, music teacher, parent, sibling or friend, the trauma can lay unhealed for decades beneath the surface of our awareness, with little possibility of release.
If someone asks us to sing, we may respond that we don’t want to, or don’t like to, or simply that we can’t, without even asking ourselves why. As in other traumas, to investigate too closely may be skillfully avoided by a deeply-engrained instinct for self-preservation from further pain.
In the 2019 film, Beyond the Fear of Singing, Irish Neurosurgeon Bruce Bough was invited to describe the brain’s role in helping us avoid further trauma around singing. His response:
The brain is not designed just for thinking; it’s mainly designed for survival. And whilst we go about the tasks that we enjoy doing and concentrate on, in the background a huge part of our unconscious brain is monitoring the environment the whole time, all our surroundings, for potential threats to our survival. When it feels that there’s something that might threaten us, it responds, and it makes our body respond. It prepares us to run away, to stand and fight, or to freeze and hide; responses known as the fight, flight or freezing responses to a threat. And these responses produce changes in the body; your pulse rate increases, you get a dry throat, your stomach tightens up, and we give that a name. We call it fear. And most people are afraid of fear, but fear is actually wisdom in the presence of danger.
So, what happens if somebody has one of these experiences, in a situation such as a child, they’re asked to sing? Or they attempt to sing, and for some reason, could be anything - a sore throat, feeling under pressure - it doesn’t turn out too well. And so, this fear response starts up, and they remember it, and it’s stored away in their memory along with the experience, so they associate being asked to sing with this fearful memory. You may forget about the experience, but sometime later somebody asks you to sing, And because your brain is monitoring for possible danger, it reaches down into the memory and says: “The last time that we did this, it didn’t work out too well, we better avoid it!” So, this time it says: “No, I can’t sing!” It’s nothing to do with whether you can or you can’t, your brain has just decided it’s safer for you not to sing.
With such hard-wired neurological programming controlling our behavior - designed to avoid any further pain associated with a particular incident - it may take a singular act of conscious choice to change the old pathway. In any given moment - the ‘now’ point - we can actually override an old decision, approaching it with fresh eyes and ears, to allow for a new possibility of expression in our life.
Emerging can take many forms, depending on one’s interest and availability of options.
For some, it might be singing in the back row of a crowded auditorium of people singing along to a popular chorus.
For others, it could be in a small group, singing around a campfire, or in a workshop setting which includes a session of group singing.
Or standing on stage at a karaoke bar and belting out a favorite song with the music track blasting away.
For many people who have emerged from the cave of hiding their voice, a major requirement is trust- to feel a sense of confidence with whomever is around them at the time, an assurance that this person or these people are not needing or wanting to judge their voice.
Perhaps these others are themselves emerging from their own cave, so they can provide a shared willingness to ‘suspend judgment’ for a time, thus allowing the chance to see and hear what it feels like to have their own voice be heard. Only this time, without being judged, but simply being witnessed and appreciated as each one’s unique voice, different from every other voice, a voice ready now to be heard, ready now to be enjoyed.