Be the conductor of your emotional orchestra

Conductor facing an orchestra

Your emotional orchestra

Years ago I met Coly Vulpiani, a former wood worker who had transitioned from a life of bringing out the beauty in wood to a practice of voice dialog work in which he brought out the beauty in people. He taught me about the concept of me being the conductor of my emotional orchestra.

Each of us has a wide variety of sounds - or instruments - in our psyche - the ones we hear in our internal dialog, or self-talk. It's useful to think of these sounds as members of an orchestra: some of them have powerful, loud sounds; others are quiet and gentle. And the most important character of all is the conductor.

The conductor is the one who knows what sounds are called for right now, and is in control of the different members of the orchestra. Sometimes the music calls for booming kettle drums, cymbals and horns - and the conductor brings up their volume. Other times those instruments need to be quiet or not play at all so that softer instruments can be heard.

You are the conductor of your orchestra

You are not the trumpet player, nor the agile piccolo player: you are the conductor of your emotional orchestra. Once you understand this, you're empowered to control which emotional voices are active within your psyche at any given time.

Chances are that as the conductor of your orchestra, you have largely been backstage relaxing with your feet up instead of meeting your responsibility to conduct. Any time you have gotten into a funk with negative internal self-talk, you have done so by not conducting the different parts of your psyche according to what you need in the moment.

When I met Coly there was a part of me that genuinely believed that I was never going to be successful, and I asked Coly to help me cut that part of me out with a knife and get rid of it. He explained that that's the practice (more on why, later): instead we learn to choose our relationship with difficult parts and learn how to use them to create the music of our lives.

Take a moment and think about an uncomfortable piece of self-talk that has been active in your psyche recently. Chances are there's an unkind message you have given yourself in the last few minutes. Take a moment with this voice and get really clear on its message - and write it down.

My message when I met Coly was "you're never going to be successful." (ouch!) As you read the uncomfortable message that you just wrote down, try to notice where you feel it in your body. I feel that "never going to be successful" message in my throat, as though it's choking me (and by the way, although I am successful in business, blessed beyond belief with a loving family and friends that message still gets me in the throat!) Put your hands on those parts of your body where you feel your message and stay with the feeling for a moment.

You are not that message, nor its instrument

The blessing here is that you are separate from the voice or instrument bringing this message, and the message doesn't come close to the truth about you: you are the one that is aware of not just this voice and its message but the others in the orchestra - and this is where the beauty happens.

When there's a big, mean voice in your psyche there's almost always a small, vulnerable part of you that's being beat up by the big, mean voice. And while you - as the conductor of your orchestra - have been backstage with your feet up, nobody has been there for this small, vulnerable part. What a wretched experience! You know exactly how it feels to be weak and vulnerable with nobody supporting you - it's a childhood experience common to all of us.

So the first step is to acknowledge that you're the conductor - not the big, mean voice and not the small, vulnerable part - and as the conductor it's up to you to step up and take back control of the music.

Turn your attention to the big, mean part with the negative message that you wrote down - there's something really important to know about them.

The big, mean part has only one voice

It's as though this part never learned how to be kind, or to speak diplomatically. The cymbal in an orchestra simply cannot produce the soft sound of a violin being played gently: what you're hearing is limited to this part's instrument, or vocabulary.

Think back in your life to a time when you did something that resonates with the negative message you wrote down. Did you chicken out in asking someone on a date, or give your word and then not keep your promise? Remember the pain of that experience? This big, mean part remembers that pain too - and wants to protect you from similar pain now and in the future.

It lacks the ability to message you in anything like a kind way - but its intentions for you are loving and compassionate.

Now when you feel that message in your body - or hear it in your self-talk - you can change how you experience it.

  1. Create perspective: remember that you don't have to identify with that message - you're the conductor, not that member of the orchestra
  2. Substitute better words: replace the mean, negative message with the statement of love and concern that this part has for you
  3. Be grateful: feel your gratitude for this love and support - it feels great when someone loves and supports you
  4. Choose the right volume level: as the conductor you can choose to turn the volume down on this voice for right now - because there's someone else to hear from

Your small, weak part

Remember that vulnerable part of you that was being beat up while you were backstage with your feet up? They're still there in your psyche - and like the oboe player in your orchestra, they're waiting for you to turn to them.

As the conductor there are two powerful things you can do for this part that will bring you healing, strength and courage. 

First, take a moment to hear from this part. How are they feeling? What is it like to be that part? Just as is the case when you listen to a friend who is having a hard time, the simple act of caring enough to listen to this part demonstrates that they are not alone.

Next, extend love to this small, vulnerable part. Acknowledge their experience and feelings and let them know that you love them and you'll always be there for them.

Indeed, since this voice is truly a part of your psyche you have no choice but to be there for them until the end of your days.

The result

Stepping in and living up to your responsibility as the conductor you have:

  • Turned the volume down on a mean line of internal self-talk
  • Felt the love and support of one of the most powerful parts of your psyche
  • Demonstrated that you love and care for even the weak parts of yourself
  • Chosen the right mix of sounds from your emotional orchestra in the moment

It's incredibly powerful. And the good news is that with the constant barrage of self-talk in your head, you can get as much practice as you want learning how to be a proper conductor.