Musical Identity: A New Year's Challenge

“When we don’t know who we are, we act like someone else.” (Tiffany Sankofa) It’s Social Media’s Fault I was trying to wake up this morning and started scrolling social media. Someone close to my age had a 1980’s “mixtape” challenge, (youngheads click here for explanation.)

You know I went happily tripping through time! These were the songs of my high school and emerging adult years! As I thought through songs, I found I still knew every note, word, stylized flip and nuance of every song, even if I hadn’t heard the thing for more than 30 years.

I decided to make my own playlist.

Body Memory Aaaalll the body memories! Fun ones, great ones, traumatic ones, painful ones, lonely ones, inspiring ones, confident ones, deflated esteem ones… they all showed up, note after note, tone after tone.

Because I truly believe what I teach about trauma re-experiencing being destructive and unnecessary (see “Why Bunnies Don’t Get PTSD” here,) I was careful to stay off my last nerve and keep the unhelpful body responses as observations. I let myself feel all of the other ones. I let them travel me back to who I have been, and notice what I’ve done with all of it.

Sankofa Sensibilities Most of you know by now that the name my husband graciously stretched over mine when we married, Sankofa, comes from a Twi proverb from his ancestors, the Akan people. The short version of the concept is, “Go back and get it.” (You can find thefull proverb here.)

The Sankofa bird goes back to the past, gathers what might have been left behind as a seed or an egg. It then brings it forward to the present. Here in the present, it either plants the seed or incubates the egg, ushering us into a much healthier, better informed, more healed, more complete future.

New Years might well be a perfect time to get intentional about this.

What Better Way Than Music? I am aware that music is an inextricable part of who I am. I started performing when I was in preschool and held the intention of building my life around it for a very long time. At the same time, I find that even non-musicians have pieces of their identity shaped by the music that accompanied them through different eras of their lives. So hey - why not use it! It is a scientific reality that the sounds we hear and don’t hearshift and change which chemicals flow through our bodies, how and when. It’s likewise true that we have tracks of chemical snapshots known as neural paths cut for each and every experience we’ve ever had Even when the path is a traumatic experience and the narrative memory completely drops out for a time, we can use these paths in the Sankofa way, going back to the past, consciously choosing what, how, and if we bring what we find forward.
Let the music lead you.
Try This First, (and do not skip this even if you think you don’t need it,) pick one of the six techniques found under“Changing Anxious Chemistry”to get off of your vagus nerve. Notice the difference between your relaxed state and your activated state. You will want to be able to catch when you’ve left the relaxed state and come back to it when you might be getting close to something that might traumatize or retraumize you.

Seriously, do not skip this. If you feel like you can’t do the exercise safely, please don’t. There are some pains that heal us as they hurt us, like grief. Trauma doesn’t work like that. Just don’t. If you get in a bad place please contact me so we can figure out what you need to heal. If you need more urgent attention, please either call 800-273-8255 or text 839-863.
The Exercise If you’re able to do it safely, take an inventory of the music that was part of your audible environment at different stages, starting as early as you can remember, or can guess well.

  1. Make a list.
  2. Find them online.
  3. Sort them by time period
  4. Take one chunk at a time, and think/feel through the following questions:
  • What do I hear when I listen? What parts stick out? How does this shape how I experience this song/music?
  • How did I feel about myself at this time?
  • What we’re others telling me about myself? What were others telling me about this type of music or song (if applicable)? How do these interact?
  • What did I accept and what did I reject?
  • Can you feel any strengths inside of you as you listen?
  • Are there parts of yourself that you miss from this time that you’d like to bring to the present, in a form that is well informed by everything you’ve learned since then? Bring them forward!!

True Story I’m tapping this blog out with my thumbs as I walk a manual treadmill in my basement. (Goddess BLESS you, Amari Sankofa, for your gym!!!) I had to stop typing to sing along with the Pointer Sisters. I was just SO EXCITED!!

I remember singing this at the top of my lungs in my dorm room at Oberlin in 1984 while my roommates were out. I made a lot of floor enemies that day, but it was worth it to feel that kind of freedom, empowerment, and unapologetic ownership of my Tigger side! Putting my voice right in the mix with Bonnie, Ruth and Anita felt like having soul sisters of my own at a time when I felt very lost and very alone in the weird and rigid culture of the Conservatory at Oberlin.

Thank you, ladies. Thank you for reminding me of the rest of who I am. I will leave the shoulder pads and blocky bright colors behind, (the fierce asymmetrical hair appears to be making a comeback,) and pull forward the part of me that stands and remains regardless of poorly-suited expectations hurled at me.
See How It Can Work? Ok, your turn, friends! Go back and get…you. Bring those pieces forward and fold them into your better-informed, more healed, more whole future. When you’re done, I invite you to join me, Earth, Wind and Fire as We’re Living In Our Own Time.

Coming Soon… In next week’s blog, I’m going to interview my favorite Music Therapist, Jazmyne Craig, LPMT, MT-BC. She has promised to tell us why this stuff works, and how we can use it to improve our lives.

............................................................................................................................................ If you get caught up anywhere in this process, or even if you just want company or someone to “bear witness” to your discoveries,contact Tiffany today. I got you!