Monday, March 21, 2011

Finding My Voice

Henry Higgins has a line in the opening scene of 'My Fair Lady' - the film version that is, it doesn't appear in the original play - where he declaims: "An Englishman's way of speaking absolutely classifies him / The moment he talks he makes some other Englishman despise him". This was a sentiment I felt acutely sensitive to when I was younger; aware that I sounded posher than many, and not wanting to be burdened with the concomitant associations. In the States, of course, I just have an English accent, sorry a 'British' accent, one that in my case many Californians are unable to distinguish from an Australian one - something that may well be due to my attempt to flatten out the accent I grew up with.
I was reflecting on my 'performance' during my way-seeking mind talk, particularly how muted I sounded when I listened back to a portion of the recording. It is not that I have much of a fear of public speaking these days: a year of making the announcements after lectures on Saturday has been very beneficial in this regard, though as I noted earlier, I have the usual distaste for hearing my own voice as others hear it, which led me to keep the sound system turned down quite low on Thursday.
About a year after I arrived at Zen Center, I was asked to be the morning kokyo. I had been enjoying the role of fukudo for some time, as I got to hit the drum and make lots of noise, but the idea of leading the chanting was a little intimidating, and brought up my old stories about my voice; this was exacerbated one morning just after I had started, when Teah, who was the tanto at the time, came across to me as she was leaving the Buddha Hall after service to give me a piece of feedback. The content of the feedback was nothing controversial - indeed I have since given many other kokyos the same instruction - but it played into my insecurities about how I sounded and reminded me of how much I had closed my voice down.
I worked my way around this by realising that what I was chanting was not me, it was the dharma - I was not responsible for it, nor did it reflect on me in any way - and this allowed me just to be the vessel for some vocal energy. So I enjoy having the opportunity to be kokyo these days, even if I am not necessarily convinced that my voice sounds good. The same also holds good for the announcements -  I am just channeling information, so as long as I can remember most of the things I am supposed to say, and can manage to form complete sentences, I am happy enough. The way-seeking mind talk, on the other hand, was all my own work, and telling a personal story - okay, we can argue that the story is still not me, but I am definitely more involved in it, and this caused the reticence, which I really hadn't expected to manifest. Still clinging to the self...

6 comments:

Angela said...

Hmm...interesting. I was just thinking the other day how amazing your voice is--especially how moved I was by your chanting at Lou's memorial service. In fact, I was going to ask you to chant at mine when the time comes it was so beautiful :)

Shundo said...

Now you're making me blush...

sb3day said...

I agree- I actually find your chanting melodic and joyful. It often feels like a celebration of our practice and an invocation of community.

Shundo said...

Well thank you, that is what I hope it sounds like on a good day.

emanon said...

a senior person once commented on my kokyo voice as sounding like a country and western singer. she picked the right image - if i could do that i could probably do zen monastery style.

your posts open the door to the inner life of the building for me - just like your photos of tassajara did.
thank you

Shundo said...

Thank you - we had a tanto at Tassajara, the same one who had conniptions at my pronunciation of 'neither', who railed against any country-and-western-style yodeling in chanting, though there are transgressors in our midst these days.
The door to the inner life... Yes, that one is always banging in the wind...