What If I Stopped Translating? (“Coming Out of the Spiritual Closet” Part 1)

I’ve always kind of known that I do this, recipe but I starting thinking recently, what if I stopped translating all the time? Quit emphasizing different points of the story to different people, depending on what I think they’d “get,” using different words with different people: I use “God” with my parents, “The Universe” with my more spiritual/hippy friends, and of course I mean the same thing. What I if I stopped using different entry points on certain topics too? (If I say I’m doing this because it will “pay the bills” it will make more sense to this person. If I say I’m doing it because “it really resonates with me” it will be more easily understood by this other person). Recently, all this translating has started to feel like jail, like a lot of pre-filtering. I wondered what words I would use if I were just talking to me. What are my words?

I get that I’ve done this because I so want to connect with others and because I believe people often use different words for the same thing and then get hung up on the linguistics and think they mean different things (or think they disagree) when really, they don’t.

With music, it’s easy, I feel like a channel. The songs feel true and I know people will “get” them. I don’t know where the songs come from exactly, but I let them come. Each song is a gift and I know I’m not wholly responsible for creating it. Why is it not the same with conversations?

I don’t know. In many ways, I know that truth lies beyond the reach of language and that music is able to express things words can’t. But what I don’t know is when exactly the automatic translating started – if it started when I was in Catholic school (and I got in the habit of telling two different stories about my life: one to parents/teachers and another to friends) or if it started when I was a philosophy major and was always looking for common ground among the philosophers. Maybe it started more recently when certain religious institutions were fucking up all over the place and I felt too embarrassed to say to my East Coast atheist friends: “Yes but I still love those Buddha and Jesus stories – I think they are love stories.” Instead I’d say something watered down like “I think that things, in the end, work out for the best.” What am I, Hallmark? It’s not that I don’t think that things work out for the best in the end (I mean technically, the end could be 10,000 or 40 million years from now or never) it’s just that in saying that (or something like that), I was translating.

What would happen if I stopped?

What could I do with the extra energy?

More importantly, what would happen if I spoke my truest language all the time?

As soon as I asked the question, I knew the answer. I was afraid I’d lose people. What if people didn’t understand me? What if they were people I loved? What if they were family members?

I have always had such a deep longing to connect and I couldn’t bear the thought of being misunderstood or not connecting and yet, by protecting myself in this way, I wasn’t connecting ANYWAY.

Have you ever found yourself talking around the heart-of-the-matter or not telling the truest version of your story?

Have you ever tried to tell a story using words you know your listener will understand even though they aren’t the ones you would choose? Or do you always speak the same way?

I love to know your thoughts on this!

Feel free to leave a comment below!


PS: On Monday, I’ll be sending out an email about something special! Stay tuned for new songs (I will share them soon over video) and I’m PLAYING this month Oct 24th (Spring Lake, MI) Oct 26th (City Winery Chicago with Paul Cole) and Oct 28th (Private Show).

I would LOVE to see you…(and those are the words I REALLY mean :) )

39 thoughts on “What If I Stopped Translating? (“Coming Out of the Spiritual Closet” Part 1)

  1. Hi Anne – thanks, I enjoyed reading that. Brings up for me an even deeper layer of how we translate all the time using the verb ‘to be’. I use “E Prime” (a version of English without ‘to be’ or any of its conjugates) in a game I play with my 6 year old. Try writing a song without ‘is’ ‘am’ ‘were’, etc… Keeps things real and present. You can cheat with ‘like’, and ‘seems’, but by avoiding ‘to be’ in general, we avoid defining things in a general, temporal way. “I am happy” defines me as a happy person, past, present, and future, and doesn’t leave much room for other feelings. “I feel happy” refers only to the now.

    • Oooh I like this Jay! Really cool that you play that game with your 6 year old. It feels like it would make space in one’s psyche. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Oh how I love you and miss you, Anne. (Hope to see you at Club Passim next time you’re in town!) You always get to the heart of being human in ways that move me, sometimes in ways I don’t consciously understand. But this idea of always “translating” is something I think about all the time. Sometimes it seems innocuous, but other times I feel like I’m hiding part of my true self. I’m looking forward to seeing where you take this in subsequent posts! I’m sure we can learn to be more “true” together.

  3. Hi Anne, it’s Shannon Leahy! Love your post. I find it so interesting that the drawing you created responds so closely to the lunar eclipse we just experienced yesterday morning (blood moon). It is almost identical to the chart of the moon, which is an Aries moon in Libra sun, which creates tension/division between ‘we’ and ‘me’. It seems to correlate with how you are feeling spiritually. Here is an article that might be helpful for you. Check out the chart! http://www.cosmicintelligenceagency.com/2014/10/the-second-blood-moon-aries-lunar-eclipse-october-2014/

  4. This message simply GLOWED in my inbox, surrounded by all the political mass-mailings. I know exactly what you are talking about. Even in Quaker meeting, when I feel compelled to speak out of the silence, I hesitate and often don’t speak, because the words that come from my heart, from my truth, will be misinterpreted by some of the people listening. If I do speak, I always feel a surge of energy, and I know if that energy could be harnessed effectively, it would light up who-knows-how-much of the world. Please write some more about this whenever you are able!

    • Ah yes, that hesitation I am familiar with. I’m glad when I can move through it but you’re right, there are words that are triggers for others and they might be the ones we reach for in order to express. Hopefully the energy transcends! Thank you for sharing!

  5. I often feel I’m translating when I describe why I rarely eat animals anymore. I say it’s because it had a huge impact on my cholesterol, but it’s really just as much about the environment and about avoiding cruelty to animals in factory farms. Seventy billion animals are slaughtered every year but we don’t see them. If they could be stacked single file, they’d go to the moon and back more than four times. We rarely read about their horrific journey to our plates.

    • Joy,
      Thank you for writing that! I hear you and I appreciate you sharing both that information AND how you don’t always speak it. I don’t eat animals anymore (except sometimes I still eat fish) but I forget what many animals go through. It’s beautiful that you want to protect them. Thank you!

  6. Wow Anne, this article is a magnificent revealing of your very “in tune”, aware consciousness. I loved it! It’s so you…

    Running the experiment of being totally honest is usually interesting, sometimes challenging and is always leading to the authentic self…, your true self.

    To know thy self is to know Love, and to know Love is to know God. That’s when the circle becomes complete and the journey of truly going within begins…, As Soul.

    In the end that’s who and what we are. Discovering ourselves as Soul and awakening to ourselves as God is the point, purpose, and meaning of all our lives. It’s wonderful!

    I love your songs, your music, and you – because you so sweetly and earnestly represent the heart of humans, the quest we’re on and the experience we share within. We’re all seeking our way home and loving is how we find our way. Why? Because that’s what and who we are. It’s really pretty simple…, not so easy to do, but simple.

    Connect your breath to yourself – as Love. Let the heart’s truest truth come out. Be kind and loving. Allow the other person to have their experience because, after all, it is theirs. Their journey of awakening is for them, as yours is for you. In the end, it all works out.

    I love your sharing’s. Heck, I’ve even created a folder called Anne Heaton. Oh, yeah…

    God bless you. I love you. Peace…, be still. Light to you and your family Anne. Your are making a difference, one we all need.


    • Sherwood, I got a little weepy when I read the word “earnestly” from your post. Thank you, yes it is! Thank you for writing in and sharing your thoughts!: The heart’s truest truth – yes I like that very much :)

  7. P.S. Words are the fulcrum of consciousness, so they do matter…, especially to the one who speaks. Who knows what other people hear?? That’s entirely up to them. Thanks again Anne. Sending you love.


  8. I don’t know that I have something more substantial to say than “YES!”, but I did need to say that at least! Sometimes, I think of it as my ability to be tactful (a skill I value in myself), but sometimes, it just means I’m not saying what I mean so I won’t lose people. Loved it!

    • Thanks Mary! It IS a valuable skill and yes, you’re right, sometimes, for me, I can feel I’m hiding a bit too. It’s nice to know other people experience this :) – thanks for writing in!

  9. Anne – thank you for such great insights! I love this topic, it is so spot-on, I struggle with it all the time. I usually also struggle with saying exactly what I want to do, peppering it with things like “I think maybe I’ll go to the show tonight”, when in fact, the reality is “I want to (and will) go to the show tonight!”. If we really said what we believe and stop translating to appease others, then yes I believe we would have so much more energy! Dogs have always been a good inspiration for me – they are so very direct with their feelings and communication. Not to mention, they live so much in the present moment.

    • J, you are definitely going to the show! ;-)

      And yes, I know what you mean about dogs and the present moment. It’s something to behold!

      The “I think maybe” thing (I do this ALL the time), I wonder if it is uniquely American because we have so many viewpoints/cultures/religions here, we try to be tactful and “soft” in our communication?

      Thanks for writing!

  10. Hi Anne,
    thanks so much for writing and sharing this. I feel the same way. I work in a small conservative town where I have to filter/translate my thoughts & feelings every day. it is exhausting. Although the fact that I am a vegetarian is known, all my political views & mental health struggles have to be hidden or translated into words they would understand and not judge me. I do not do this because of acceptance on a personal level, but because I need this job/insurance to survive. it is an exhausting tightrope. thanks again for sharing, Jen

    • Hey Jen,
      Thanks for writing. I’m sorry, that does sound tiring.

      It sounds like being a good translator serves you well in this environment.

      I wish for you other, additional environments where you can share a language and feel supported/safe (if you wish that for yourself too)!

  11. I believe that overcoming fear in order to be your more authentic self is part of fundamental personal spiritual development. My wife was the truth-teller of HER family, a poet in a family of fools. Eventually despite her fears she published her first book of poetry, which included mention of her father’s alcoholism.

    Her family immediately threw her and our entire family out. Her parents did not attend our twins’ high school graduation celebrations, nor their college ones. For telling her truth, for being the poet she MUST be, she lost her family.

    Good riddance.

    It was and remains painful, but better that pain for all of us, even the children whose grandparents and uncles an aunts abandoned them, than that they grow to adulthood with the message that it’s worth stifling oneself in order to meet the terms of conditional love.

    Always be as much of your authentic self as you dare to be. What you lose from that is truly not worth keeping.

    • Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt and painful story. Your wife is so brave and my heart goes out to you guys for the backlash you have endured. It’s a struggle many people wonder if they have the strength to get through. Letting the light in was/is daring! She broke a long-standing pattern of silence.

  12. Extra energy? It seems to me that not translating would take so much more energy, at least initially, that I can’t even think about it! Love your music.

  13. I love this. So great.

    I’ve been thinking so much about it myself lately. How in communication, context counts for so much. Who you’re talking to and what their worldview is, and what the context is. To say anything meaningful sometimes requires so much navigation, if the goal is to truly communicate; to find a language that truly bridges. And semantics, what a biggie! What people mean when they say “god”, for example. It all cuts to the heart of belief once you start digging. Fantastic post!

  14. Brilliantly profound thoughts. Sure did cause me to abandon what I was doing when I read your thoughts. In addition to choosing my words to fit the listen regarding God, Universe, Higher Power etc, I find I do the same when it comes to the subject of the “real” me, person I was meant to be, true self etc, Anne, you know I am talking about my “transition”.
    What I love about you and your music/lyrics is that moments with you go on long after the music, the conversation or the newsletter ends.
    You are the best. can’t wait to see and hear you again. Is winterbloom blossoming againthis year?

    • Denise,
      Thank you so much for writing. I can see the relevance and the immediate bravery you have to demonstrate on a daily basis! Winterbloom will be blooming NEXT year as in holidays 2015. Get ready! ;-)

  15. Hi Anne! A favorite quote of mine: “It’s not enough to tell the truth; you have to tell the truth in a way people will recognize.” Translation takes a lot of work, but I find the challenge fascinating and more than worth the effort. When I stop translating I usually find I’m *less* able to get a point across!

    Music is astonishing; part of its magic is that it’s a language that speaks directly to the heart. Words are more tangled, because we all define them a bit differently. We might have the same dictionary definitions but everyone brings an individual context. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder people are able to communicate at all.

    At the same time, that’s how I recognize my truest friends: they’re the ones with whom I share a language.

    (thanks for bringing this up, it’s a subject I find very interesting!)

    • Ashfae,
      This point you make: “Translation takes a lot of work, but I find the challenge fascinating and more than worth the effort. When I stop translating I usually find I’m *less* able to get a point across!”

      I can really relate to that! AND, the part about friends and shared language.

      Thank you for sharing! I love reading the feedback here – I’m learning how connected we all are on this topic! :)

  16. Anne, all of this translating as you call it is filtering. You expressed in so well in your song Pieces of Me. We do it all the time. We don’t want to lose people so we try to cage things in a language they will understand and not be offended by….we leave parts of things out. It’s sad…when we meet someone who accepts us en whole, completely, without reservation, it is so liberating. Only then do we realize how much it takes out of us.

    Thank you so much Anne, for being real…and for singing about it. For being yourself.

    • Thank you! I guess it IS kind of like Pieces of Me, I didn’t even realize that.

      I guess your post gets me thinking more deeply about what it actually means to LOSE a person. That they don’t talk to us? That they don’t like us? Can we still love them from a distance?

      Thanks for writing in!

  17. Hi Anne!

    I have often found myself speaking and acting very differently depending on who is around me. I always thought of it as an automatic adaptation — still sharing my thoughts to a certain extent, but doing so in a way that will please the person I am talking to. I get uncomfortable sometimes when two people whom I traslate differently for talk about me. I have realized my closest friends are those whom I feel like I am doing the least translating for.

    Glad to hear that others share this unconscious habit!


    • Hey Declan!

      Yes, it’s almost like an unconscious art form, right? I do prefer one-on-one conversations – maybe this could be a reason why. This is interesting what you say: “I get uncomfortable sometimes when two people whom I translate differently for talk about me.”

      Thank you for sharing!

  18. Love this- it really got me thinking (a little bit about those long ago PLS classes, but more about how I am now). I definitely “translate” and am used to thinking of it as a skill- I am tactful, I am able to discuss many things with many different people in a non-threatening way. But lately? As I get older, I am beginning to view this as a lack of courage rather than a talent. Why not just say exactly what I mean? Aren’t I being dishonest (and wasting energy) otherwise? It’s a scary step and I haven’t found the answer, but I enjoyed reading your words and contemplating my own answer…

    • Hey Julie!
      Great to hear from you! Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the balance between the two. I’m sure your tactfulness and ability to talk to many different people about many different things is a great blessing, but I hear you about wanting to say exactly what you mean! I trust you will find a good answer.
      Again, so great to hear from you!
      Hope you’re well.. :)

  19. I recently watched a Tedx video of Ash Beckham giving a talk about “coming out of the closet”. And, no, she wasn’t talking just to LGBT individuals, she talks about having those hard conversations. It hit home for me, not as a lesbian, but because I constantly translate to make conversations easier. My partner calls me a chameleon (I used to find this offensive) because I so easily adapt my conversation/demeanor/attitude depending on the group I am with at the time. I realized, though, after time, that I’m fine with it because I always stay true to myself. I don’t candy-coat my conversations, I don’t simply follow the beliefs of the group, but I do most definitely adapt to the environment. It’s a gift to be able to communicate with others effectively and comfortably. You are elegant and thought-provoking when you share with the world through song, or otherwise, I can only imagine this is also true with the rest of your life. Does it make you happy? There is no evolution without adaption, you have the ability to translate (not everyone does), perhaps it simply means you are evolved.

  20. Anne, you raise rather complex matters for me. There are many observations that I would like to make and not sure if a short response would be appropriate or sufficient to honour your post.

    If I may, I would like to post more extensively and engage in this conversation by blogging myself.

    At this time, perhaps the reference to coming out of the closet might be indicative of some of the complexity prompted in me. The expression seems to be on a continuum as disclosure with different feelings. Coming out suggests feelings of power and stress and not only routine fact as with disclosure.

    Family dynamics can also be more intense and at the same time safer than the same conversation with other people. Safety here may be only in the fact of continuing relationship even if it is only seen as biological. As with so many other situations, assets and liabilities may be a matter of context.

    Your clarity in your discovery and growth is encouraging to me and something I would like to support. I would also encourage continuing conversation and learning about the topics you mention here. In this sense, I particularly like the ‘Part 1′ qualification.

    I look forward to continuing this conversation.

    • Lester,
      I always like hearing from you!
      Thank you for posting and if you do blog
      further, please loop me in because I would like
      to read that. Yes I challenged myself by
      writing Part 1. So more to come!!

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