Most of my life, I considered my expression to be the words that came out of my mouth. Unfortunately, for many of those years I also thought, or perhaps just pretended, that as long as I used the right words I was ok. I didn’t account for the tone of my voice, the occasional sarcasm, the often slightly veiled judgement or the all-important foundational energy behind ‘the right’ words.
In more recent years I’ve attempted to match the energy behind my words to the words themselves. This creates a much less confusing message for the recipient and so much more harmony within myself.
But still, I had a sense that there was more. Of course, I know that facial expression and body language are sending their own messages but at the time I started to realise the impact of body language, I was greatly surprised to find out there had been significant research on the matter. Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc).
Recently, I’ve been travelling in non-English speaking countries. It becomes really obvious in this situation, how little the words really matter. Hand gestures, smiles (or frowns), definitely the tone of voice, all seem to get the message across even when there is a language barrier. However, I also learned that cultural differences will put a spin on what you think is being expressed.
In Egypt, our guide became engaged in what to us seemed like a very heated discussion. A large older man kept poking him firmly in the chest and from the look on the older man’s face and the tone of his voice, we assumed something ‘not so good’ was coming down. During the confrontation, my travelling companions and I were reading the situation. It was clear to us that our guide was staying very steady, staying with himself, not getting involved in the aggression of the other. So that made it easy for us to observe and not absorb, not feeling any fear about what was going on. Instead we were all making guesses about what might be happening. After several minutes of this carrying-on, there was the middle eastern double kiss on the cheeks and we were on our way. I asked our guide what that was all about.
He said there had been a man standing at the toilet block handing out toilet paper collecting payment from anyone needing to use the toilet (that included me and my companions.) Now this is quite a common practice in Egypt (being charged to use the loo and being handed a small bit of tissue on your way in) so we didn’t think anything about it. It seems that this is considered a legitimate way to earn a living. But the guide told us that they can’t do that in government buildings, which we happened to be in. So he, the guide, had objected to the authorities (there is always a policeman with a machine gun within easy reach in Egypt!) Apparently, the older man took issue with our guide complaining to the authority.
Afterwards I said to our guide, “In Australia, if someone was poking another in the chest with such force, it would be considered assault. What was he so upset about?” He said, the older man was like a protector of the loo worker, maybe self-appointed, taking it on as his job to protect the loo worker. I wondered if perhaps he takes a cut at the end of the shift? Anyway, our guide said “Poking someone is just the Egyptian way of saying ‘Now pay attention to what I’m saying.’ It isn’t considered aggressive.” He went on to say that he let the older man speak that way because he was an elder, a friend of his father’s and our guide had known him since he was a boy. Clearly, there is another level of expression that needs to be understood when in a foreign country! We were often startled by some loud outburst, especially amongst the Egyptian men, initially concerned there was an altercation because of the tone of voice - only to discover that it was just a friendly hello!
This past year, I’ve been exploring yet another level of expression in movement. Of course, it includes all movement like slamming doors or walking out of a room with a sharp remark. Or suggesting to someone in a bad mood that they go walk it off! I often take myself off for a walk, just to clear my head. It works!
Things like seeing how quietly you can shut a sliding glass door, or how you get out of the car can be very revealing. Since hurting my right knee, I changed my movement of getting in and getting out of the car, whether I’m driving or as a passenger. My new movement feels so much more solid.
But the movement I’m exploring at the moment includes more subtle activity. For example, a program that my friends and I are working with, might include a daily activity such as “walk with God’s light” or “move with love”. I’ve been working out what this means to me.
What does it mean to you to “move with love”?
One thing I know is that it isn’t a mental construct, it isn’t a recital of certain words while I move. Possibly the movement is about surrender, surrendering to everything that is going on in the day. Surrendering to circumstances beyond my control. Surrendering to the train being late. Surrendering to some young Parisian man insisting on helping me up the stairs with my luggage while trusting that he isn’t intending to steal my luggage! Surrendering to someone’s death. Surrendering to the tears and heartache of another without going into sympathy. What does surrender look and feel like if it isn’t about ‘giving in or giving up?’ Is surrender a form of ‘letting go’? Is surrender a movement of expansion?
These are the questions I’m asking myself about expression and movement while I’m travelling.
Gayle Cue loves writing about life, reflecting on every day miracles and pondering on the big picture.
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