Why I Believe Music Will Save Us (Part 2)

Why this blog right now?   And why is In Tune with Each Other the perfect title?

In The Body Keeps the Score,  Besl Van der Kolk tells us that the “wiring of our brain circuits is devoted to being in tune with others.”  (pg. 212, 2014)  Our ability to attach to each other and attune to others is our greatest protection against the effects of trauma. 

Here’s the thing I’ve kept close to my heart since the first time I read his words:  you can’t “treat” a war, a divorce, a death, or an ongoing stress like COVID-19.  What has happened cannot be undone.  But, Van der Kolk goes on to tell us that what can be dealt with are the imprints of trauma on the body, mind and soul; the sensation in your chest that you may label as anxiety, the numbness of depression; the fear of losing control; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing.

Are you feeling those feelings right now?  Anxiety?  Depression?  Loss of control?  Maybe the fog?  That’s why this blog right now.  Because regardless of our differences we are all experiencing traumatic stressors right now.  Some are discrete events, like illness and death arising from the virus.  Some are compounding toxic stressors like the daily wondering about whether you will have a job tomorrow, if the grocery store will have the food you need, if your kids and parents will be ok.  Cortisol levels run high when every time you turn around there is a problem to solve.  We’re in the thick of it all.  Everything is scary.

And now that we’re on the same page, understanding that the time of COVID-19 is traumatic,  we’ve got to understand that we can’t “treat” the quarantine.  But we can treat the effects on our bodies and minds, and the best way to do it is through nurturing relationships.  Having quality connections with others.  Playing hide and seek with my children.  Taking a walk (at a safe distance) with your best friend.  Setting up a weekly online zoom happy hour with your extended family.

“I can barely put one foot in front of the other and you are suggesting that I be playful and outgoing?  I’d just like to make sure I eat and get a decent night’s sleep.”  might be what you’re thinking.  

That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  And I’ll go even further.  If we are to follow the suggestion of Van der Kolk, not just any relationships but those with purpose and meaning, reciprocity and attachment.  Nurturing relationships is as critical as eating and sleeping if we are to move forward.

Words may be too much right now.  That’s understandable.  Sometimes I need to just sit at my piano and play.  Sometimes I cry while I play, sometimes I sing at the top of my lungs.  I always do it when my boys are in the same room.  They play with Thomas the Train in synchrony.  Sometimes they find a drum or sit at the piano with me.  It doesn’t matter.  What is important is that we are co-creating the rhythmic and melodic experience.  We don’t have to have words to be attuned to each other.  Our mirror neurons are firing like crazy because we are doing, seeing and hearing each other’s actions. 

At three and five they can’t always tell me what they need.  At 43 I can’t always tell you what I need.  But when we are making music together we are attuned to each other.  I can begin to see things from their point of view and anticipate their next move.  So the next time they throw that Thomas at me I can see the fear behind their anger.  The next time you are on a call with your mother you can hear the anxiety for your health behind her advice.  When your neighbor shakes their fist at you, you can feel the worry for their job, their next meal, behind the clenched hand.

Knowing, being known, being in tune with each other will help us move forward, together.