“The Resplendent Quetzal” … sounds like the title of a cautionary tale like “The Pobble Who Has No Toes” … But this is about national symbols. They tell you something, don’t they?
Britain has the lion – powerful king of the jungle; England also favours the bulldog – determined and unbudgeable; the United States has the mighty eagle – lord of all it surveys; the French rooster rules the roost; and many other countries signify their strength through animals such as the lion, the eagle and other predators.
The national symbol of the Indian people in Guatemala is a bird, the quetzal. It’s extraordinarily beautiful with iridescent green-gold and blue-violet feathers, and a long long tail. To see the resplendent quetzal in flight with its tail undulating behind is to understand how the bird signifies freedom to the people of Guatemala. In fact, if you try to keep a quetzal in a cage, it dies. It cannot survive in captivity. It has to be free. What a symbol.
Glorious freedom… We’ve just returned from a break in the northern Pennines, where I appreciated the freedom of space and quiet, the lonely fells and flower meadows – places where oyster catchers nest in peace and wild orchids proliferate undisturbed; and where we were free to drive without traffic jams, to walk across fields of sheep from stile to stile without hindrance and discover spectacular waterfalls without entry restrictions or queues.
Well, of course, it wasn’t the crowded south east of England. But it got me thinking about freedom, how we care or don’t care about it, and whether or not we’re losing it. I used to think of freedom – as on my holiday – in terms of escape, running away almost – days off work, riding up into the hills. But now, I often think about that essential freedom to be yourself – to be true to your own spirit – the kind of freedom that allows you to be free inside whatever circumstances you find yourself in.
That kind of freedom seems almost the opposite of escape. And takes courage – sometimes huge courage for the stakes can be high.
Well, courage can be symbolised by the fierce animals like the brave lion, but I like the image of the quetzal, insisting on living in freedom, and symbolising freedom for all.
The quetzal is in danger of extinction. Maybe human beings are also in danger of losing that freedom to be who we truly are – the global pressures to fit the mould and toe the line are beyond question powerful. But if we lose that freedom to be ourselves, we lose our spontaneous energy, joy and flexibility and over the years become rigid caricatures of who we pretend to be. No wonder old politicians so often end up looking like cartoons of themselves!
What to do in those moments when you fear to be yourself? My simplest and best strategy so far is to remember to breathe. Instead of using your legs to run away – which they’d probably like to do! – rather, take a long slow breath in through your nose and breathe the airl out again, to let frozen tension fall away and allow your deeper wisdom to flow.
Birds make great sky-circles of their freedom. How do they learn it? They fall and falling, they’re given wings. Rumi
In letting fear fall away and being able to act and and say our truth, we’re truly free.
VOICE OF INFLUENCE Workshop – 14-15 July – act now!
This month I still have space on the workshop on 14-15 July, so email me as soon as possible if you’re interested. The course has much in common with the subject of this newsletter. When you find your freedom to be authentic and speak with your own voice, you liberate the best of you, and become an engaging, even powerful, public speaker. I’ve watched it happen again and again in the two days of this workshop – some amazing transformations. Don’t worry if you feel daunted or scared now – that’s an okay place to start. I offer discounts at times to those who would struggle to pay the full fee.
Byron Katie’s personal change work has the appearance of utmost simplicity, but it can work brilliantly. She’s running a workshop on July 5 in London. Apply here.
Her workshop is one of many talks and workshops run by Alternatives in central London. Have you discovered them? They get some fabulous speakers, and charge very reasonable entrance fees for their talks.
I post voice and speaking ideas and tips – and generally good stuff! – most days.
My books – available in print and e-versions
The Art of Conversation Whether you’re shy and don’t know what to say or feel you blabber on – or want to make deeper more meaningful connections with people, you’ll find lots of helpful material. It’s an easy read too. The book is going to be produced also in audio form through Audible.com, Amazon and iTunes – I’ll let you know when that format is available.
Butterflies and Sweaty Palms If you want to overcome performance nerves, this reader-friendly book offers 25 different strategies for speaking and presenting with confidence – and they work!
Voice and Speaking Skills For Dummies offers a comprehensive guide to voice and speaking – you can dip in anywhere and discover practical tips for developing a more robust and interesting voice.
Voice of Influence Gets to the heart of voice – how to connect with other people and how to influence others through your voice. Lots of personal experiences and practical advice to make it a good read.
Some of the poets of 500 years ago really got the message. Here is Tukaram about speaking your truth:
I could not lie anymore so I started calling my dog “God.”
First he looked confused,
then he started smiling,
then he even danced.
I kept at it:
now he doesn’t even bite.
I am wondering if this might work
Have a wonderful July.