I do triathlons with a friend that growls when she swims. With every stroke she takes in the water, she puts so much into it, she makes this noise –  like a bear that is fierce and focused, low and guttural. You can almost feel the water vibrate around her.

I’ve come to appreciate that’s her way of living in the world – making the most of every stroke, putting her whole being into it. More than attacking the water – or in this case the other swimmers in her way – she’s letting herself be known to the water. “I’m here”, her growls say, “and I’m committed.” 

The fact is, it’s pretty hard to hide or be innocuous when you growl. You make your presence known – first to yourself, then to the water, then to those around you. I love swimming with her – often behind her – listening to the rhythm of her growls and watching how that inner focus pulls her through the water. 

I’ve never asked her about the growl, because I don’t want her to ever stop or even tone it down out of self-consciousness. But I have a story about why she does it. I don’t think she does it for the “fear factor” that you might be guessing – although a growling swimmer in a wet suit might be cause for alarm for the novice competitor. Instead, I suspect she does it to hear herself – to be an auditory witness to herself, her power, her renewed commitment and determination with each stroke. 

So I’ve tried growling. And not just in the water, but in other, seemingly odd locations, like the grocery story, at the keyboard, and in sessions with my clients. Now, before you laugh and brush me off, I say try it. Because here’s the thing, a growl is simply a voice coming from a deeper place, a more guttural and pure source.   

A growl is about commitment – it’s got to be by its very nature because it just doesn’t happen by accident like a squeak or a squawk might pop out of someone. It requires some synchronization – some intention. You have to call the air in and then suck it down – way down – and then slowly, with constricted throat muscles (and face, if you want the added effect of looking the part), let it back up and then out. Go ahead and try it, I’ll wait.

The thing is, I’ve been working with women and accessing their voice for years. When clients come to me wanting a particular change in their lives, we’ll often discover there is a big (you might say, “bear of a”) longing that is driving that change. But it’s been covered up – for whatever reason – with some blankets, and maybe a plastic tarp, and just for good measure, it’s weighted down with one of those Wile E Coyote anvils from the Acme Supply Company. I’ve seen women light up with something, open their mouths to give it voice, and then snap their mouths shut before anything comes out.

I’ve done it, too. During the period I was first harboring my dream of leaving the corporate world to start my own business that focused on women and transition, I found myself at one of those gatherings where everyone goes around the table and introduces themselves – who they are an what they do. I surprised myself by sharing that I was starting my own business (growl), and then snapped my mouth shut before anything else could escape. Traitor! Everyone’s interest was piqued, if not by my words, then certainly by my tomfoolery antics. The questions came at me like buckshot – “What kind of business?” “When are you doing it?”, “Who will you work with?”, “What will you call it?” And even, “Can I work for you?” Years later, I still am reminded of that moment. Of my growl. 

It happened again, more recently. I went away for a night to an island to do something thinking about my business, reflect and do some writing. As I checked into the Inn, the proprietress ask me what I did and I said “I’m a writer.” Growl. Snap. Traitor! And yet here I am.

So you see, growls are harbingers of a force waking up in us – either by design, by accident or completely unbidden.  Like a bear coming out of the cave after hibernation, it grabs our attention, can make our hair stand up on end and, yes, even climb a tree. 

I pay close attention to the things clients share with me in “the voice” – that quiet, “just between you and me”, if-I-whisper-it,-it-doesn’t-really-count-as-saying-it voice. The kind that has us both looking over our shoulders to see if anyone is overhearing what is about to be shared, even though we know we’re alone. Sometimes it can take on a “cutesy” tone – one that is so out of character it almost makes you laugh. I’ve come to recognize that “voice” is actually a wolf in sheep’s clothing –  it’s is actually a growl that’s been toned down, or altered, as if someone switched the language preference on the DVD remote to “buffoon.” I pay attention to those voices, fleeting as they may be, and start to dig through all the paraphernalia and contraptions that are muffling it. 

In my experience, that “digging” generally takes the form of blowing out the clog, kind of like a figurative Draino boring out a clean path from the back of your throat, down to your vocal chords, into your lungs and finally your gut. How this looks might be literally singing at the top of your lungs to 80s tunes in your car, to howling at the moon or laughing out loud. The idea is to open up the pipeline a bit so more sound – the growl that was meant to be – can actually come up and out. It’s like an auditory angioplasty.

So go ahead. Get your growl on. Find a safe space and let ‘er rip. Open your mouth and see what comes out. Sing it loud and sing it proud. If only for your own ears. But I tell you, it sure as hell sounds good in water. Grrr.