As much as I love the intricacy of human physiology and biomedicine, when I’m considering the whole health of a patient – their big picture – I like to step back and look for broad, simple patterns of imbalance. One such pattern that’s present to some extent in almost everyone is stagnation. Stagnation, whether in the form of stuck and recurrent emotions, thought loops, or impeded mobility on a physical level (often all three at once), is one of the most fundamental imbalances humans experience. All pain, on any level, is an expression of stagnation.
Stagnation can stem from a variety of processes; the most basic origin is resisting life. Whether it’s something about the world that we don’t accept, some feeling we don’t want to feel, or some thought we don’t like, we resist experiencing it, and in so doing, we cause stagnation within ourselves. While this form of stagnation is subtle to begin with (we call it “Qi stagnation” in Chinese Medicine – stuck energy), often it ultimately manifests in a more tangible way, such as a kink in our back or hardened arteries that are clogged with plaque.
Of the many possible expressions of stagnation, there’s one that’s especially relevant to our ongoing discussion on the human voice. It’s called “Plum Pit Qi.” It’s the feeling that something is stuck in your throat, like a plum pit, and it’s usually associated with stagnation that’s focused around one’s voice. A person experiencing Plum Pit Qi has likely “swallowed” or “choked back” an important communication (or a lifetime of communications) rather than speaking up.
Luckily, there are many ways to clear stagnation - whether mental, emotional, or physical – by getting energy moving. One of my favorites is through using our voice. By singing, chanting, toning, laughing, speaking the truth, or sometimes involuntarily, by crying or sighing, we can shake up the stuckness.
With Plum Pit Qi, freeing the voice can bring an instantaneous opening to our constraint. In the intense pain of childbirth, women often find greatest relief from using their voice to make deep tones. In the stagnant misery of keeping one’s past crimes or true identity hidden from the word, voicing these secrets brings immediate ease.
Because we think in words, our voice is not just a tool we use to send ideas out, it also determines the quality of the thoughts we listen to all day, and therefore, it can dramatically shape our experience. As anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression can tell you (once they’ve begun to notice their mental chatter) the nature of our internal voice can often have a bigger impact on our quality of life than our objective circumstances.
The ability to loosen a stagnant situation with our voice is true not just for our own experience; it even works when dealing with others. If we find ourselves at an impasse, we can move the Qi (energy) by dropping some truth – or humor - in there. The tensest moment, the most static negotiations, even between world leaders on the brink of war, can be diffused by the clever use of someone’s voice.
As we begin more consciously using our voice to influence both our internal and external circumstances, we may start to perceive that there are essentially three effects it can have: positive, negative, and neutral. Internally, this means that as our experience of life passes through the mental “lens,” we tend to color this experience through the voice of our interpretations. We can put a positive spin on everything that happens, thus taking advantage of the opportunity to enhance our own experience. We can put a negative spin on what happens, thus degrading our experience. Or we can take our experience at face value, thus having a neutral effect on our experience.
Externally, this means that every communication – both verbal and nonverbal – has a positive, negative, or neutral effect on our surroundings. Every Facebook status, every tweet, every email, every comment, every word spoken has this potential. When we truly, deeply understand the implications of this idea, it’s like learning that we have the Midas touch. If we create gold all around ourselves, we get to reside in an environment that’s all the more heavenly. I urge you to remember this the next time you find yourself in an unpleasant setting and the next time you feel like complaining.
Over the coming week, consider the impact of your voice – both your mental voice and your external voice – are you enhancing or degrading your and others’ experience? Just do your best.
Dr. Peter Borten