Saturday, 2 April 2011

Happy-Clappy and Hardcore

The non-typicallity of the way my autism is expressed has the potential to cause confusion.  Autism is like a fingerprint, and its manifestation is unique to each individual.  In the initial stages of learning about autism (or indeed, any topic) the learner must first approach the subject at the level of generalities; they provide a framework for understanding the specifics which follow.  This is clear enough, but at this stage in the learning process kind of cognitive dissonance can emerge when a subject does not manifest one of the generalities in the expected way.

For example, many books on autism say that ASD people "do not like loud noises and crowds."  This is, by and large, true.  I can find crowds and noisy places, when I am unprepared, overwhelming and a sensory deluge.  When I am prepared, under the right conditions, I can revel in them.  Just as a wave can swamp a person, or a person can surf the wave, sometimes I can "ride the wave" of crowds and sensory stimuli into places of great joy. One way?

I love happy-clappy, loud worship.  Gospel choirs, liturgical dance, spiritually-infused rock, even booming Anglo-Catholic organ music.  When prepared, my sensory sensitivities can savor the feast of auditory stimuli and color and motion that is musical worship.  Why am I so moved? Two factors come to mind.

One is that the mass of sensory input, under the right conditions, can lead to great clarity of thought, enabling reflection on the Divine.  My mind yearns for stimulus, for input.  ASD people are known to 'stim', or self-stimulate, engrossing ourselves in some type of stimulus, whether the whirl of a rotor or the texture of a carpet.  Sometimes, my "distractibility" comes not from an excess of stimulus, but from a lack of it. I am thinking for things to "stim" on and there are not any around! And most of the time, stimulus is only coming in through one source (e.g. the fan, the carpet etc.)

During loud worship, sensory input is coming in from all corners and from all directions, such that I feel borne aloft by it.  The clarion voices of the choir, the musky incense, the organ I can feel resounding, the stomping of feet - in this setting I am sated with sense input, and sanctified input at that.  Therefore, I am not searching for stim - I am swimming in it.  With the senses sated, the mind ceases to search for input and turns inward, then upward.  All that stimulus becomes like a mighty wind which frees the mind and propels it upward, since it is no longer looking outward for sources and turns toward its Source.

In happy-clappy worship, I also have the opportunity to move my body vigorously without needing to follow a series of prescribed steps.  Dancing is something I love, but due to my neural configuration (as expressed in another label, dyspraxia) I have difficulty with multi-stage planned sequential movements. Ballroom and even club dancing are not forms of relaxation for me - I need to focus intensively in order to be consciously conscious of where the parts of my body are in space, a concentration equivalent to taking an exam.  Not a fun way to spend a Saturday night.  Yet I love the *act of* joyful motion, when I am not confined to a set of steps, when I can just let my inner energy express itself in simple and seemingly chaotic movements, which are in fact articulations of joy erupting from within.

In happy-clappy worship, the motions are simple enough to perform but vigorous enough to express energy for the sake of God's love, rather than as performance for others.  For example, when in the congregation listening to a Gospel choir, I just need to sing, clap and sway, sing clap and sway.  No confusing motions, no disequilibrium, just happiness coming out in simple yet profound motions I can do and do happily.

I have also had the opportunity to join with Gaudiya Vaisnava Hindus (Hare Krishnas) in performing 'kirtan', the communal dancing and chanting of the Names of God, an act which heals and spiritualises the world. In kirtan, dance is worship, and all motion for the love of God is pleasing to Him.   There are no steps to follow or watching eyes to perform for, except those of God, who is pleased with all that we do for Him.  In dancing kirtan, I was free to move my body in my own way, in steps which to the eyes of clubgoers would seem silly and disjointed - jumping up and down, skipping - but motions which my dyspraxic system could still perform with joy.

Linked to my counter-intuitive (to societal expectations of ASD) enthusiasm for happy-clappy worship is my enjoyment of hardcore punk shows.  'Hardcore' is a subgenre of punk rock characterised by fast and heavily distorted music, and a style of dance known as moshing which involves bodies slamming into each other and frenetic movement.  Again, this is not textbook ASD. Crowded rooms? Bodily contact? Loud noises?
Yet at hardcore shows, I at times experience a level of clarity, and indeed, transcendent thought which some might find surprising for similar reasons to those mentioned above.

In hardcore dancing, I can move my body as it wants to without fear of judgement for performance.  I can express my emotions in singing, and indeed yelling, with the vigour their intensity calls for. Most of all, the stimulus coming from all sides - from the band, from the moshing - saturates me with input.  Some of my deepest thoughts and insights into spiritual matters have come when I am stuck within a pile of flailing punks with distortion blaring out the speakers.  Perhaps this is similar to the experience of the Mawlavi Dervishes founded by Jal├íl'ud'Din Rumi, who in spinning found a place for prayer.