Beautiful music of chaos
In last weeks’ blog post I mentioned in passing that sensory sensitivities -including that awful version that sends me to bed for days to recover- usually are not all bad. Food sensitivity is just the exception that affirms the general rule. This week, I’ll discuss these happier times.
A few years back I visited Iceland. Volcanic activity! Birds! Beautiful waterfalls in every turn! Oh yes, waterfalls. We all know what they are, whether or not we have actually seen them in nature. A waterfall is a beautiful place in nature where water flows over a vertical drop and makes an excellent backdrop for a selfie.
Unsuspecting, I approached yet another waterfall. The noise turned into roar until suddenrly, a filter in my brain failed so that subcategory of auditory sensitivity known as filtering disorder activated. Just like that, there was no ”roar”. Instead, I heard a river approaching the cliff and disintegrate into millions of tiny drops and droplets, each of which made their way down via an individual, never-repeating path, until they reached the bottom and rejoined the river again. It sounded something like an one-instrument orchestra of a million players, each of them playing a different melody. That certainly was way more information than human consciousness can handle! So it’s no wonder that I spent the next two days sleeping and recovering from this experience that lasted only a couple of minutes until I managed to retreat to safe distance. It’s probably no wonder either, that nowadays my attitude towards waterfalls healthily cautious. I’m happy to admire them from a safe distance, wearing good earplugs.
Looking back from safety and quiet of my thinking armchair my strongest memory of the experience is, however, not how tough it was physically. After recovering from sudden overload, I noticed that my understanding of waterfalls had changed thoroughly. Where there used to be a ”beautiful sight”, is now a stage where countless tiny stories are being played. I know that inside the roar hides this strangely beautiful music of chaos. My world had become deeper, richer and more beautiful, and this feeling was only deepened by understanding that for a moment, I had experienced reality from a viewpoint only few people have a chance to experience directly.
I also understood, how silly and superficial it is to talk of this sort of experiences as ”OVERsensitivity” or even ”disorder”. As if the common way to experience the world were some how epistemically superior and right, up until the point where some believe that ability to experience otherwise should be purged from humanity, as if humanity would fare somehow better if there were none among us capable of seeing richness behind the commonplace and complexity under the ordinary. The more I think of it, the more I feel that the physical overload I experienced was quite a fair price for the privilege of getting to carry for the rest of my life with me the stories of all those drops of water as a part of my experience-based understanding of the nature of waterfalls. Those who insist on clinging to their small way of thinking may argue, that such understanding is ”of no use” -a claim that can be easily countered by pointing out that beauty is intrinsically and not instrumentally valueble. Those who attempt to harness it for their own gain often only manage to banalize it. Beauty is a transformative experience when it finds resonance in the eye of beholder. As my view of nature of waterfalls was transformed into something infinitely more complex and unbearably beautiful, also I was changed into a bit better version of myself.
Understanding autism only from the perspective of functioning and coping is nothing less than manhandling an entire way of existence. This way has a great potential to enrich humanity and take human understanding of what is this universe into which we have awaken is, to places unreachable by neurotypical powers of perception. Evaluating autism from perspective of support needs and functioning is useful at times, but evaluating how ”difficult” or ”deep” someone’s autism via these terms is a tragic failure to understand this. Framing exceptional capacity to experience as disorder is ableist and arrogant, but most importantly it is blindness to richness of the reality. Independent from how able to ”function” or ”interact with normal people” we are from the neurotypical perspective, every single autist in this world has per definition received as their birthright a clear view into aspects of reality that would otherwise escape humanity, and the fact that there exist human beings perceiving and experiencing those aspects provides the rest of humankind an excellent opportunity to better understand the world around us. In case humanity is interested in taking that chance, that is.