During the Pandemic when we all were in lockdown, I was separated by an ocean and locked borders from the man I love, separated by the continent from my family and by the rules of Covid safety from my friends. I was suffering from isolation PTSD. As I have often done, I wrote a song to comfort and inspire myself. In my first blog on my author’s website I thought I would deconstruct the lyric to reveal how it worked for me.
If I can smile when the world’s upside down
And land on my feet safe and sound
Rest in the space between each of my thoughts and see
Stars smiling back at me, Stars smiling back at me
The act and the metaphor of a smile has been important to me because in my operation when I was 9, I lost my smile (physically and emotionally), which was devastating and took me years to recover from. So the phrase if ‘I can smile’ means I am fighting against the pull of PTSD. When my environment suddenly changes, as it did in my body during the medical accident and as it did during lockdown, this idea of ‘smile’ helped me ‘be in the present’, remember my values and ground in them. One of my values is to be calm enough in my body so that I can notice and resonate with the beauty in my environment and in the people I see. To be able to ‘rest’ when there is high anxiety, in me and around me, is one of my triumphs against PTSD and one of the things I offer to others. This triumph has given me a path to a sense of perspective which is represented by the image of stars in the lyric.
If I can smile when the dark clouds are chasing
And fly as if my heart had wings
Transparent love and a hummingbird’s mind
Will carry me into the light, will carry me into the light
Many survivors of trauma fall into depression at various times in their lives and I am no exception—the dark clouds do chase me. One of my remedies for that is self love manifested in movement--everything from walking to dancing. This has allowed my body state (and identity) to steer clear of being ‘a depressed person’ and instead feel my ability to lift my heart into ‘flight’. What does ‘transparent love’ mean? To me it means love that is admitted, spoken and displayed even in the face of disappointment. To learn from each experience of daring to love will carry me forwards into a better place--represented by the image of light. And what is the significance of a ‘hummingbird’s mind’? Hummingbirds have very large brains for their size and this enables their sophisticated system of moving about the world. They can fly in all directions, hover and fly long distances. This is a metaphor for flexibility-- what is now called neuroplasticity. The idea that our choices will ‘carry’ us helped me to focus away from excessive effort during the pandemic and instead focus on careful choices.
If I can smile when the battles are raging
And finding some peace seems amazing
Strong as the river and calm as a lake
This peace I will never forsake, this peace I will never forsake
First let me give you my definition of peace. Most importantly, it includes the principles of truth telling and change. ‘Strong as a river’ is an image that implies there is something to be strong for: and that is revealing one’s pain and protesting the injustice that often goes with telling one’s truth. But what is the ‘truth’? In my definition it is ideas and actions that benefit society—that make things better for individuals and communities—it is what ‘works’ to promote health, connection and fairness. It is so important these days to find the truths that will help with the Black Lives Matter movement and will help with the necessity of facing the poisons of prejudice, war and dictatorship. I have had to face my old demons during this time of enforced solitude, tell the truth about them and gain that ‘river strength’.
The vagus nerve system is a huge system in the body that regulates our bodies and minds bringing us back to a feeling of safety. The phrase ‘calm as a lake’ is expressive of the body/mind state of a healthy vagus nerve--- of renewal and re-connection. I found I needed to commit to and practice this state which I call peace. Change happens best using a combination of truth and peace. Actions of truth and peace produce change. I am counting on the idea that many people in the world are having these same thoughts so that now we can find new ways to move forward. I invite you to write your own words of meaning, as a poem or a song, memorize them and then repeat it often. It could help you find your way.
Kristi Magraw is known for having developed a unique synthesis of Eastern healing (Five Element theory) and Western ways of working with the mind, called the Magraw Method, which she established in 1979. This method uses metaphoric language and release techniques to help people heal physical and emotional pain.