‘Express yourself in as many ways as possible without fear. There is nothing to fear,. There is nobody who is going to punish or reward you. Express your being in its truest form, in its natural flow, you will be rewarded immediately, not tomorrow but today, here and now…. ‘(Osho, The Book of Understanding)
‘Sometimes the best way to express yourself is to shut up and stay quiet’ (Nicky, aged 13)
I was 13. There was a knock on the front door of my house and I rushed down the hallway to open it. It was a Summer’s day, and the door swung open to reveal podgy, kind-hearted Frida our next door neighbour standing brightly silhouetted in the frame of the door. I was in my mid- teens at the time, quiet, and’ shy as a church mouse’ and going through a very, very difficult time. The last thing I wanted in the world, IN -THE -WORLD was lovely kind, caring Frida being nice to me. I just stood there and watched her and it seemed like an age, even though it was probably merely a beat. As I watched her it was like her mouth was in slow-mo, every syllable stretched out, elongated. As I watched her gloopy mouth I didn’t say a word, I kept ‘stum’ and waited until the clammy feeling of vulnerability and shame vanished. Then she smiled at me, dusted down, cleared her throat and said:
‘How are things? Alright?’
I said nothing.
I just kept on staring down.
She sighed, she shuffled her feet again, breathed in, waited a bit and said:
‘Keep You’re chin up dear’, a whispy smile quickly retracting as she saw me start to tear up, and she turned away in a swirl of do-goodery and swept off down the road.
As Frida left I just continued to stand and stare watching her walk up the street and something inside me seemed to zip up for good. It was the final straw, and from that moment and for a good long while into the future, I let any need of mine to express to just stay inside, to just stay within.
Sometimes it is easier to keep the words inside, to not communicate and to let the words rest within. This can be a form of expression and a creative act. Sometimes words aren’t enough to say what you feel; or they are not the right words; not the right words to describe the complexity of your situation, dream or fantasy. Sometimes one can’t find the right words, to express that particular emotion deep within or to communicate that circumstance to someone else who cares.
Up until that point in time, I had always written down what I was feeling, that’s how I kept myself safe. I expressed myself on paper because I had never really been good at communicating orally. Saying things out loud made things more real and I don’t think I liked that. It was easier to write down that I wasn’t okay than to say it , have it out there vibrationally and in front of someone who was a kind soul and who cared. And as I said previously, I’m not sure what it was about her words at that present moment but for a long while I sealed up for good and that was okay. Even today, looking back, it was the right thing to do.
In an age where we are told that self-expression and emoting are good for us; that it’s important to express like Osho says ‘everything and without fear’; to communicate with clarity and with individuality, to put it out there and to put it out there with gusto, it becomes very difficult to choose silence (and to be okay with that), or to choose not to write for a while; or to express nothing at all (what ever your ‘nothing’ is).
Now admittedly in the scenario above I was a child (to all intents and purposes) and I couldn’t have really expressed myself with any great clarity even if I had wanted to; I didn’t have the lexical and verbal skills I have now for starters. But I do remember that in that moment I did make a choice. I chose not to mould and shape what was going on in my inside and put it out there for her. I remember choosing.
How we express, what we express and to whom we express is a choice, an act of either sometimes the intellect or the soul. And what I mean by that is expression can be sourced from what is in our heart or what is formulated through reason and is in our heads. As children because we haven’t developed our vocabularies or our reasoning power we create and communicate from a unformed, intuitive place, a place that is perhaps more brave and unprocessed. There’s may be no worry, no prevaricating before we act. As adults most of our forms of expression are processed and sorted and cultivated and honed so we protect ourselves.
Now I write relatively regularly, and I don’t mean I sit at my desk tossing off sonnets and short stories on a daily basis, nothing like that, but every day I consider what matters to me. I don’t call it journaling, it isn’t journaling, its more of a written practice. It’s not a stream of consciousness either. It’s more of a list of fundamentals that I check in with. I try and express something about my world and how I receive and respond to it. I try and communicate something that hasn’t been edited to death or constrained. It’s easy for me to do the cultivated, clever-clever stuff. It’s how I used to protect myself. But I’d rather be connected to something different now. That isn’t to say, I don’t enjoy creating something that is cultivated and honed but I’m just saying that expression can be attached to something less formalised, something totally individualised that doesn’t necessarily have to even be communicated. To withhold is one way to express. To be silent (like teen Nicky) can be as potent a means of expression as a writerly or artistic roar.
The ‘Frida’s’ of this world who stand before you when you are in need but have chosen not to communicate, maybe don’t need to know the subtly and the specifics behind your reasons to not express in that moment, at that time. And even if you did express it, the reality is that maybe people don’t really want to know what is really going on or maybe can’t even take it. Maybe, it’s easier to fling out a truism than to respond to someone who has had all their words taken away from them; it’s sometimes easier to turn your back away from an act of creative silence than it is to greet it and meet it in its truest form.
N.b . I wrote this piece several weeks ago and reading it back today I’m not quite sure what I’m trying to get at, if I’m honest. It feels difficult to truly define what the correlation is between my childhood memory and its difficulty and the need for me to relate this to expression in a wider sense. I’m slightly at a loss and it leaves me pondering but I thought I’d post it anyway.