Blood boiling, heart pounding – we can find ourselves filled with surprising bravery to take a stand, especially if we think someone is being treated harshly or unfairly.
I’m sure we’ve all spoken up (through voice, word or gesture) in a moment of firey courage.
But how do you sustain that energy over the long-term, and speak up with respect and effectiveness?
What have I learned so far? First, that no-one else can quite tell you how. We find our own voice in our own ways. But here’s what I’ve found to date …
Knowing why we speak up … and when
I’ve worked full time in senior roles for most of my children’s lives. It’s helped to remind myself that combining motherhood and employment is in itself a contribution to improving homes, workplaces and schools.
Many times, I’ve found myself speaking up or making decisions that others might criticise at work or in schools. What prompted me to act anyway? The value of contribution. Connecting with how a change will contribute to other people as well as myself is what’s tended to inspire me to get vocal. A sense of purpose is a very sustaining source of energy.
It’s easier to bravely use my voice when I can clearly see that it will benefit more than me and my kids. For example:
- At school: when I’ve asked a teacher – or if necessary, the principal or adjudicator — for an adjustment to support my child’s health or learning needs, I’ve seen how that change will also benefit other families. I want to help make it easier for other families to speak up … or to save them some pain completely in the future because a change I’ve initiated becomes part of the way things are done.
- At work: when I actually take up a policy that applies such as carer’s leave or sick leave, I am helping my team-mates too by showing that these practices are not just words on a page. I have learned to nurse my own feelings of guilt and fear in taking those times away. I do know research on engagement and wellbeing backs this up: when one person takes leave to attend to their health or elders or children, that helps to keep us all healthy as a team and gives our organisation access to a wide range of views and life experiences, from across its own workforce.
- In meetings: when I speak up to ask for clarity about the outcomes of a project or reasons for a particular task, I see how that benefits others too as we’re able to focus our time on a shared purpose.
Even so, the drain has been intense at times. I’ve had a strong incentive to keep looking for ways to get smarter about sustaining my energy and choosing when and how to be heard. To communicate effectively for changes around me has meant cultivating a mindset and skillset of continually growing confidence, clarity and creativity.
I’ve found that cultivating my “inner muscles” of awareness, self-compassion and curiousity have expanded the pool of energy, insight and support in my life.
Here are three visual meditations which might support you in sustaining the compassion and courage to be heard on causes you care about.
1) Confidence – back yourself with trust and flexbility
When we speak up, especially on topics that others might feel uncomfortable or threatened about, we won’t always like what we hear back.
Chances are, you’ll also experience regrets at times after speaking up. You might be frustrated about the way you expressed something, disappointed about how you responded to disagreement, or shocked by the way someone responds to you.
Instead of spiralling into self-flagellation and then giving up, try cultivating the practice of seeing the good intentions in every thing that arises in you. The meditation above is one of the ways I’ve found helpful. The essence is this: friendly curiousity about our inner world in every moment, seeing every reaction or thought in your body as an attempt to make life better. What qualities of life is that thought or emotion wanting for you? Safety? Contribution to others? To matter? Fairness? Ease? Fun? Respect?
2) Clarity – hear and respect your own history and inner storms
Yep, I’m talking about that so called “inner child” here. He or she is strong – and has been silenced many times until now. I’ve found that the more you take the time to hear and honour your own history, the less you find yourself looking for anyone else to listen and understand. You can save your airtime for the causes you really want to influence. When memories from the past pop up, notice your body’s responses, trust that there’s something relevant for you here now being offered by all your experience to date.
I’ve yet to meet an adult who doesn’t have contempt, censorship or distrust for some of the most playful and powerful parts of themselves. If we want to have influence, I think it’s vital that we can see the labels we’ve been given. Then we can fully access the strengths that we might currently see as unacceptable or weak.
Were you known as the “lazy one” or “willfull” or “hot-headed” or “worry wart”? Those voices don’t get to write your story any more. People spout labels as a way of dealing with their own confusion or sense of frustration. If those names were called by parents or teachers or siblings, we tend to subconsciously agree. We had to at the time, so that we had access to love and resources and could protect ourselves emotionally.
But now? Who says those labels are you? I think it’s smarter to appreciate the strength, courage and wisdom it took all of us to survive the fears, wounds, humiliations, misunderstandings and powerlessness of our unique childhoods. No-one’s to blame. It is what it is. The point is being able to be accepting and compassionate about all our emotions – and insightful about realising what we want and why that matters. In doing so, we have access to a quiet and deep pool of self-trust and compassionate confidence because are increasingly at ease with any strong emotion that arises when we’re trying to speak up.
Not that it’s easy at first to welcome the parts that we might label as “childish” or “selfish”… however there’s also no rush or pressure. Even a few seconds of increasing awareness about your inner body sensations can start to offer richer clarity. The key is not trying to feel anything you ‘should’ … simply notice what is. There is no right or wrong – it is purely your body at work in the same way that birds fly and fish swim.
I’ve found that growing curiousity about my inner sensations quickly becomes rewarding. I more frequently experience having quick access to a sense of inner safety and unconditional friendliness to myself in stressful situations. I’ve found that practicing continual self-compassion means I’m more likely to be heard … because I can listen to others more easily, go back to repair a relationship sooner, and speak up with more calm and clarity.
There’s no need to sit on a mat or ring a bell. Although you’re welcome to! Pema Chodron has some great practices for drawing closer to ourselves in meditation practices. And you already have what you need right now. Try noticing whenever your body tenses: get curious about what that sensation looks and feel like within you. Before you speak or react in any way, try breathing through discomfort whenever it comes up inside you, anywhere, any time. And learn from the times when you find yourself reacting before you were even aware you were tense. Celebrate your growing awareness, even if it’s after the fact. In this way, we strengthen our “inner muscle” for responding effectively rather than reactively.
3) Creativity – sustain yourself on joy
There are so many causes that deserve our support and voice. When I think of how much suffering there is in the world, I feel overwhelmed. Invite yourself to choose where you direct your precious life energy and resources. Depleting our own financial resources, making ourselves suffer by packing our schedule or getting resentful with others doesn’t make the world more wonderful.
I’m learning to notice whether I’m responding to a request out of guilt or fear … or out of joyful and open-hearted desire. Invite yourself to choose where you direct your precious life energy and resources. Depleting our own financial resources, making ourselves suffer by packing our schedule or getting resentful with others doesn’t make the world more wonderful.
Cultivating compassionate boundaries is easier said than done, I know. Try this: permit yourself to only give when it feels great for you too.
There is a difference between responding because you “should” … or responding because your gut says that giving will be as enriching for you as it is for the people who’ll benefit too. Be really clear about how it will help you personally to give the time or money – and also notice how willing you really are. Does your stomach do a flip of excitement, do your eyes light up? Or are you telling yourself that “I better, because someone has to”? Or, “they’ll think I don’t care”? Or, “I should, or I’ll miss out”?
Even when you are advocating for a cause you love, keep looking for the joy in what you are doing … what needs of yours are being met by contributing to others too? For example: are you also enjoying company, creativity, connection, a sense of purpose, empowerment, nurture and so on. When we speak up for a cause with joyful energy, it has far more influence than hours spent massaging every word in an email or crankily stuffing envelopes.
Learn from the times when you say yes at first and then become resentful later. Resentment is a wonderfully rich signal for self-awareness and new choices opening up. they help us choose differently next time. Noticing thoughts that other people aren’t doing what they “should”? Feeling fed up? Yay, you noticed! Time to breathe and be super-kind and honest with yourself:
- How are you feeling right now – from head to toe?
- What are you finding hard? Describe factually what you’re seeing and hearing, as if you’re looking at a photo or listening to a recording
- What is it that you’re wanting other people to do exactly – in this very moment? What would you love to see or hear?
- What needs would that meet for your? Care? Support? To matter? Hope? Progress? Companionship?
- How else might you meet those needs?
- What are the needs that might be making it hard for other people to support this work in the way you want them too? What might you hear and learn from that to find other ways of engaging willing support?
Most of all – follow your fun
Finally, remember sheer rest for it’s own sake. Yep, also easier said than done. I’m learning how to respect rest as a fundamental human need. That said, my versions of rest will almost certainly be different from yours. I try different “peace practices” and notice what helps me feel rejuvenated. And, darn it, it’s not always the same thing. Although, that said, a walk always lifts my mood a notch or seven. Things you might like to try include: journalling, drawing ‘badly’, writing ‘badly’, playing an instrument ‘badly’, walking, community choir, singing in the shower, laying on the grass to look at the sky, having a bath, laying in a hammock looking at the sky, listening to a guided meditation as you drop off to sleep, reading a book, looking at the sunset or sunrise, listening to birds on a walk, going for a relaxed run, getting absorbed in a series on Netflix, doodling on paper, sitting in a cafe, stroking your pet, taking photos …
Keeping a gratitude journal will help you notice what refuels you. And spare yourself from the demand to write in it every day. Keep it fun and free.
Oh, and try doing at least one of your “feel good” things first thing in your day. See how that starting boost of the pleasure of being alive can sustain you through your day.
What’s helped you?
What have you found helps to find the clarity and courage to speak up … and then sustain it?
If you’ve posted in the WordPress “Speak Out” challenge, thanks for reading mine. Would you like to reply with a link to your post here, and share one thing you’ve learned so far about sustaining your energy for change?
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