“the quality of sounding harsh and jarring because of a lack of harmony”
As I sat through what could have been mistaken for a somewhat avant-guarde classical concert on Saturday night, though it was meant to be folk, there were times, I’ll admit, the I just wanted it to be over. I wasn’t the only one, several people who had clearly come for the first half, which was of a very different ilk, simply walked out. Yet it became apparent that these jarring, loud, abruptly transitioning “musical” sounds combined with snippets of voice segments from interviews that had been collected by the artist interspersed with bird songs and water sounds, overplayed by a wonderfully resilient violinist who kept going with her melodious part, though I felt embarrassment for her at times, had a point to it. Pete Flood, the artist, looked terribly earnest and, at times, anxious or perplexed as he alternated passages of read script with the fiddling of knobs on his technical equipment (at first, his frown combined with odd noises seemed to suggest things were going wrong…then it became apparent this was the music); his theme clearly meant such a lot to him.
He was talking about the ruination of a river that he grew up on, in his lifetime, the relatively rare chalkstream known as the Itchen in Hampshire, where he grew up listening to the “crashing of waterfalls” as the “sonic canvas” of his youth (undoubtably part of the inspiration for he music we were listening to). His overlapping narrative, supported by numerous interviews that he has conducted with people familiar with the Itchen, and which were often hard to follow over the noise, told a grim story of an ecological disaster unfolding (still) over the course of five decades and it was a baffling bombardment of the most heartbreaking material to take in over all the other sounds. He alluded to sinister goings on, cover ups, a complete lack of interest from environment agencies and the almost systematic pollution of the water by cress growers and salad importers (who apparently wash their cargo in the river) and other users of the river. One of the interviewees said, and I paraphrase, that there should be a very simple law in place; no one should be allowed to put water back into a river in a worse state than they took it out and the truth of that rang out all the more for the irony that its simple logic has clearly defeated almost everyone who has had dealings with the river Itchen for years. The Itchen is far from the only one under threat, I read, as at least 37 UK chalk streams are on the endangered list because of over-abstraction and many are in a poor state. Their ecological importance as ancient remnants of what river ecology should look like is immeasurable but time is slipping away when it comes to reversing the harm done…
Of course, all this was deeply affecting, not least the shock statistic that only 14% of UK waterways are ecologically intact. As oddly overlapping sounds continued at bizarre volumes, which went on and on, only to stop and be replaced by more odd pieces, some more melodious than others (we both enjoyed the piece about “The Dipper” for being the most recognisable as folk music…a short respite) I felt my body lock into pain. I’d been on my Nordic walking induction course that morning, after which I felt tremendous but the seat in the theatre plus the tension now in my body combined to ill effect and I felt my vibe plummet to the ground.
At 4am the following morning, when I woke up in discomfort….but not just my usual morning discomfort of muscular aches and pains…the similarity with another such occasion turned on a lightbulb in my understanding.
I was starkly reminded of the episode last summer after which my health abruptly collapsed for three months due to a flare up of EDS that knocked the bottom out of my physical strength. That time, were staying in what should have been the most tranquil place in the world, a converted barn on top of a Shropshire hill in a protected Area of Outstanding Beauty, miles from anywhere and with a tiny lane outside the door along which the only traffic was the daily post van, surrounded by birds and deer, flocks of sheep dotted on the hills and a peregrine who used our valley as her daily flight path…Yet! On that second night of our stay, a car rally was announced and I spent four hours gripped in tension as 90 or so petrol heads roared and screeched past our cottage at irregular intervals, ten metres from our bed, flooding our room with headlights and stirring up the lane into what was a sorry slop-fest of mud, potholes and broken branches plus the overhanging stench of car engines in the air by morning.
There was an exquisite balance of Nature, both delicate yet potent, in the valley our cottage overlooked and I had already lapped it up for 48 hours when this bizarre nighttime event was sprung upon us. Throughout that gruesome night, my whole body was locked in deepest apprehension as to what would be left of that exquisite yet delicate Nature balance in the morning….how on Earth were the animals and birds coping with the affront, what about the trees and the rhythms underfoot, the subtle scents and beads of moisture, the unseen spell of harmonious Nature that strings its influence from one grass blade to the next like a fragile aura that communicates seamlessly between every living species. All that night, I internalised the feeling of the abuse inside of me and the rest, as they say, is history. Afterwards, I could hardly walk!
To an extent, we are collectively feeling like that right now; some more aware of it than others. The Earth is something so few of us think of as something we are deeply attached to and yet our planet is the parent from which we are never truly severed, though we do a great deal to wear thin the connection. Like stroppy teenagers, the modern human abuses and tugs at the tie, hardly considering how it will come to value and rely on it in years to come (perhaps, as often happens with our human parents, somewhat too late). The more detached we get, the less we thrive and the deeper the wound inside ourselves grows as we sense our own discordance with the universal pattern of Nature of which we are meant to be part.
Flood was trying to convey this current state though his words and his music and he did so to powerful effect; no wonder it came across as jarring and discordant. Perhaps he was trying to get through to those who are less aware of the discord in our world than most; though I needed no such stark reminder and it deeply affected me; as did the car rally; as do countless other things I pick up on in our world, from fly tipping in Nature spots to the behaviour of corporates and the mindless pollution of oceans and rivers and the abuse of entire species of animals to the point of extinction. I won’t list all the triggers; the point is to realise that they are triggers, in a very deep place, inside all of us and the out of sync-ness with who we really are is a subliminal discord that plays out as our health, even for those of us who don’t notice with their minds or give conscious though to these matters from day to day..
Do I feel this discord more than someone who is not on the spectrum? I’m also an empath and anyone who is likewise will likely know just how deeply affected we can be by the kind of discord that manifests as disagreement between parties; we can be rendered weak kneed or knocked sideways by even so much as witnessing an argument take place in the street. So is it my Asperger’s plus my highly-sensitive, deeply empathic nature, all bundled together, that seem to plug me in so deeply to anything that harms Mother Earth?
What I have appraised via my own experiences, though others may disagree in the general sense, is that those with ASD seem to have no filters on our sensory awareness. To me, my body is primarily a vehicle for my awareness (which is the preeminent thing about me) and so I have always tended to regard it as an interface through which I get to experience a world about which I am deeply curious; thus, the more I get to find out about it, the more interesting it gets. Others, who are not on the spectrum, from what I observe, seem to arrive somewhat like this as babies but, by the time they are seven, have put in place filters that determine what they are prepared to receive inside of themselves as actual sensations. They prune their neurological trees into societally conforming topiary whereas mine still has so many branches and subtle energy feelers coiling out from me that I imagine it as somewhat like a member of the Hair Bear Bunch.
So, an analogy could be that they have now decided what experiences they they are prepared to welcome in as houseguests and which ones they will automatically turn away at their front door; slam! For me, its as though my sensory system is the door that is always open…whatever comes to it, I consider it afresh and, mostly, say “come on in, why not, the more the merrier”. Then, what I tend to do is to hold onto those sensory oddments inside of myself for far longer than I probably should, like the friend who doesn’t know how to say no, or the hoarder who collects things that, one day, might be useful. They keep meaning to sort through it all, have a good clear out, thin things out a bit, but what if that very thing they throw out turns out to be the missing piece of the jigsaw that they will need one day in the giant shape sorter they have made of life? In fact, collecting everything we can so we can make giant intricate patterns of meaning of the universe seems to be another shared trait. So, inside ourselves (in our ever-growing internal universe…) starts to feel like a cacophony of sensory titbits that continue playing their oddment of “noise” for far longer than the event that brought them to the door and we live with all that going on inside of us, deep in our over-filled nervous system…whilst continuing to collect more data.
Our life purpose is to make sense of it all; internally…and we do, to varying degrees. Through our fixed interests, our shape-sorter hobbies, our ability to connect dots, our philosophising or whatever our personal bent happens to be, we often make corners of sense and order out of a crazy world. So what happens when there is more discord on the outside? This is when we become meat in our own sandwich, depending on how orderly we have made our inner landscape when we encounter said discord. We may have our chosen antidotes to hand; be that mindfulness or music, perhaps time spent in Nature (and I use all of these). So, what happens when the outer discord uses one of these very things to present even more discord…say, a discordant piece of “music” that is loaded with feelings of chaos? Or when Nature itself comes under threat on our very doorstep? It can be all too much!
Of course, life does this on an ongoing basis, to all of us, and we get used to it to a point…learning our coping methods; how to mitigate and how to avoid. Our weak spots always come when we are least expecting them; the surprise factor when we are expecting to be in a tranquil state or when threatened closest to home. This, I suspect, is the same for all of us but perhaps more deeply so for those who feel the meltdown on the inside, not just as the breakdown of an idea that didn’t work out. For those of us who rely on the safety net of certain harmonious premises to balance out the intense amount of additional, often discordant, experiences we are soaking up all the rest of the time, the effect of surprise discord in one of our “safe places” such as in Nature or at a concert (or any situation where a degree of routine has been established) can be monumental; as I have found. And when meltdown happens to someone with ASD, their version of it will be personal to them but mine involves, primarily, pain.
So, at 4am after the concert, when I noticed that same tremor running through my nerves that was the theme of last year’s holiday, I guess it was no great surprise. This current, like an electrical charge in a room (not unlike the discordant sensations I sense around EMFs from mobile tech…since these are also highly discordant, not only in and of themselves but because they literally carry discordant human preoccupations through the airwaves and though our body tissues; a factor few people seem to give thought to) was actually inside of me, running quickest in my finest nerves, like a rhythm that made no sense. If it had been set to music it would have sounded very discordant, messy, grungy; instead, my nerves were all a twitter and a twitch. It pulsed through my fingers, my eyelids, my legs, I could feel it in my chest cavity, my stomach lining, the rhythms of my body fluids. That “music” had become me and I had taken it on, on the inside.
Thankfully, I learned some ropes beyond last summer, in the highly sensitive months that followed my deep-dive in July, and knew that CBD, taken in quantity and held under the tongue for at least 20 mins, could put it right if used promptly and it did. Targeting the vagus nerve to distribute to wherever it is needed, I sent it off with instructions to neutralise that systemic discordance that, left to its own devices, could so easily turn to physical weakness and pain by morning and knock me off my feet again. I did the inner work too; cutting off in their prime any thoughts that wanted to form as in mediation and keeping to my deeply harmonious place until I was a-swoon with systemic calm once again. I dozed off into a deep sleep from which I awoke feeling a lot better and, also, clearer for what I had just observed happening because it had all been so very fascinating. I kept my focus on the uplifting and the harmonious for the rest of that day; but I had still taken Flood’s message to heart and there was simply no undoing that. I would have to deal with both…and this is, in summary, what life is about to me these days; I don’t turn away from the triggers but I limit my exposures and I do the work to keep myself intact all the same. Is there anything more I can be doing to help with such matters of ecology as I have written about here? I want to find out (more than ever)….but I also need to be healthy and intact to even consider the wider layers of involvement.
Realising the degree to which I am an Earth empath recently was a big piece of my puzzle. I see how I can sustain myself through most times of discordance if I have to, using my methods to maintain inner harmony, which relies on a sense that “all is well” at the broadest scale. When Earth herself comes under threat, that sense is wobbled quite considerably and I can loose my footing.
Though my reactions are particularly extreme in this regard, this flags up to me how detrimental a loss of “Earth Hope” is to the collective as a whole. To varying degrees, we are reliant upon a core belief that this planet has a future and that it will all be “OK really”; but as soon as that starts to falter, we are on precarious ground. It weakens us and ungrounds us in the very core of our cells, making us susceptible to a degree of health-collapse that may baffle our thinking minds …“why did this happen to me”…yet we turn to local circumstances as “cause” and forget to consider our relationship to the bigger picture. More than most people realise, our health is more profoundly connected to a feeling of severance from the Earth as our mother (in the sense that, without a healthy Earth beneath our feet, we realise we have no sustenance, no harbour, no home) than can easily be grasped with the mind or handled by the emotions. I listen to my daughter talk about the almost universal state of what she refers to as “feelings of hopelessness and pointlessness” in relationship to the eco-crisis and their future lives amongst her deeply-thinking university peers and I see how this is Earth trauma is getting through to a whole generation. Some of us directly feel that connection as the state of wellbeing (or not) in our cells….and how tenuous it is becoming. Pete Flood is clearly one of them; and I am another.
The more we may deny that or block the very thought of it, the more susceptible we may be to its effect…ironically…since this is a part of us that is trying to garner our attention to the crisis at hand, though we may continue with materialistic pursuits and our disengaged lives as though today is all there is. Others amongst us realise all-too-painfully that there is a crisis and yet we know not what to do about it; so we do our best to help in small ways, fearing this is not enough and, meanwhile, we suspect we must focus on keeping our own body and soul together by maintaining our personal state of harmony as best we can or we literally wouldn’t be able to stay in our bodies for very long. One of the best ways I know is by listening to music, which is a powerful method of entraining ourselves into a harmonic state akin to the inherent harmony of the universe; so, conversely, music turned into an instrument of discordance and pain, in order to deliver urgent messages of chaos and crisis, is a particularly potent way of “getting to” people; and it certainly got to me.
I don’t regret the concert, though its content was unexpected. It has made me think in a much more serious way about rivers close to where I live; and it has helped me understand this thing about myself that is like a lynchpin to health; which now helps me to notice my weak point. Continuing to work on achieving an inner state of harmony that cannot…ever…be wrong footed is the work of a lifetime. Meanwhile, I suspect, the more we all come to recognise the importance of harmony (often, via its absence) the more we entrain to it and become volunteer members of its harmonious whole. This (as I am already learning in another new aspect of my recent life…subject of my next post) can lead us into powerful collaborations with others and is the best hope of the currently discordant planet yet it is the personal path that we walk, in search of that harmony, that does the work. As the Buddhist quote goes, “we ourselves must walk the path”, nobody else, nor anything external, will do the work for us so if we want to change the world, we start with ourselves and place our focus there.
Meanwhile, learning how to filter (while, I suspect, neurotypical types would do well to remove some of theirs…as Flood was attempting to help them to do, by penetrating their awareness though the shock route…) is another of my major tasks. There are several layers of myself where I am currently learning how to do this, from using protection methods described in some of my current reading about being an empath to setting my intentions clearly before exposing myself to likely triggers, to building up physical resilience in my body. Yet filters are not about denying anything or the shutting of ears….not in my case anyway; it’s simply not my way to exclude. Rather, it involves the setting of certain simple rules, like asking sensory visitors at my door to be on best behaviour or risk being sent outside until they learn how to respect my inner integrity. Its part of my evolving maturity as the complex, highly sensitive, empathic Aspie that I am and its allowing me to make inroads into the kind of outwardly involved life that would have defeated me just a few months ago; not to mention learning so much about the wonderfully complex way that us unfiltered types operate in a world that often proves too much to take in all at once yet we adapt in ways that often extend and evolve us, becoming more conscious, rather than conveniently shutting down what we would rather not know about. As ever, it’s all an evolution and fascinates me far more than overwhelming me, which is always how it should be.
Harmony – closely related post of Living Whole
The Last Dipper – Pete Flood