Today I stumbled on something that might just change my life. Maybe yours, too. It started with my voice. First, a tiny bit of science...

Our throat and jaw aren't capable of producing sound. The sound of our voice comes from tiny vocal folds inside the larynx.

Our vocal folds aren't directly controllable. The only way to control them is indirectly, through imagination. We imagine pitches, and the vocal folds make them. We all have this ability. Some of us are more coordinated or practiced than others.

It's a common assumption that we can control our voice directly, using muscles around the vocal folds, such as our throat and jaw. It doesn't work. In fact, employing these muscles tends to dampen and interfere with our voice.

The only way to control the voice is indirectly. By imagination.

Today during my practice, I explored intentionally releasing my jaw and throat while speaking. I've historically leaned heavily on these muscles to control my voice.

Recently I've experienced extreme pain in my throat and jaw when using my voice for extended periods. As a singer, this has been concerning!

Picture a community where only a couple of people do all of the work. Or a structure where most of the load is put on a single point. Eventually, it breaks. You need the whole thing to work.

Intuitively, I know that the solution is to let go in my throat and jaw. That's easier said than done.

Fear can keep us stuck. We’re afraid that if we stop doing things the way we know it will all fall apart. (“it” can be our community, friendship, marriage, church, school, government, it goes on…)

If we stop doing it the way we know, will it all fall apart?

That's the question. Our response either keeps us stuck or leads us into our next major season of growth.

The very fear that can keep us stuck points to the opportunity. "The way we know" is to try harder. To make it happen. To not need anything or anyone. We are not made to live this way.

Fear is right. If we let go, everything will change. Finally.

Back to my voice... as I let go in my throat and jaw, my voice seemed to go away. It was quiet, like a whisper. Just what I feared! At that point, my impulse was to reengage the familiar effort of my throat and jaw muscles. I didn't. I kept speaking. As I spoke, I noticed the rest of my body begin to engage more. I also noticed that my body required more breath to do it this way. My body somehow knew this as well, and it invited more breath.

My whole body felt active. Much more breath flowed through. I felt energized. Eventually, my voice surpassed its regular volume and I experienced a version of my voice which was not only full, but easy.

Picture a giant tree. The whole tree is dormant except for one small twig. This small twig is working so hard. Painful toil. There is almost no fruit on the tree, except for a disappointingly small piece attached to the twig.

A painful, effortful existence with disappointing results.

The solution is pruning.

In the case of my voice, the thing to prune is not my throat or my jaw. It is to prune my way of using them.

(Give yourself a moment to consider the case for you...)

Letting go of familiar ways of living takes courage. It feels as though we'll lose our voice. We have to be willing to be with that possibility for a moment. If we're not willing, we can't grow.

By letting go I required the rest of my body to wake up. When my body activated, it required more breath. This breath immediately flowed freely from the environment. The environment was never short on breath. I just never asked.

You do not have because you do not ask.

There's a difference between "asking" by talking about what we want vs asking by taking steps which require it to happen. "I am stepping off this ledge. I require these wings to work. I require the atmosphere to come up under these wings." Then we step.

Talking about what we want isn’t asking. It’s complaining. It never leaves the conceptual. Stepping "off the ledge" makes it real. It requires a response from the environment.

Of course, the environment doesn't have to respond. But it does respond.

This is faith. Embodied faith. It's not religious talk or superstition. It's science. A law of nature. It's the way it is. I have no idea why. And that is exactly why we don't take these kind of steps. It's also why these steps, when taken, are so powerful.

The toil of the twig. Requiring only the minimum from an infinite universe. This is why we live like this... why we crawl under tables and chairs when we can fly... why we're this huge, beautiful, sleeping tree with no fruit...

We're making choices which require minimal involvement from outside ourselves because we're afraid to trust.

The huge, beautiful tree goes to sleep. The little twig works itself brittle. Eventually, it breaks. An effortful, disappointing life. Because it feels safe.

Small fruit feels safe.
A small voice feels safe.
A small life feels safe.

Using my voice in the familiar way "works." It requires very little from my body. It requires little from outside myself. This feels safe. But I'm tired. My throat and jaw hurt like hell. And I feel disappointed with my life.

We are made for more than this. We all know it.

Heaven is waiting for us to take steps which require it to open its floodgates. The universe—infinite resource—is ready to flow through us to the extent that we are ready to require it to fund our "one wild and precious life."

Letting go does not result in everything falling part. Your strength is not in your ability to control. Your true strength and beauty lie in your identity as a conduit for an infinite flow of life and love. You are not a tiny twig, and you don't need to try so hard. You are a giant tree. The entire universe is ready to resource you. Heaven is on your side. An easy life with abundant fruit.

The Toil of a Twig

Becoming Fully Alive