Sounds Puzzling

A successful experience sometimes happens when it is least expected.

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Puzzling rings

It’s not often that a pleasant surprise surfaces. Especially when it defies my usual ABI (acquired brain injury) response. Sunday’s are usually my most challenging day of the week. As a result I have learned to be mindful of how my body responds to the different parts of my routine.

I ramp up my mindfulness once I enter my church. Being mindful includes monitoring how my body is responding; the cognitive demands, the emotional loading and the acoustics of the space. I typically  make it through a couple of songs. Occasionally I am pleased to make it part way into a third song. However, pushing it beyond the second song often results in my needing more recovery time, meaning I miss most of the rest of the worship time.

A Pleasant Surprise

I recently attended a worship service out of town that included a praise band with a full contingent of musical instruments; two guitars, a violin, a bass, a drum set and two vocalists.

While I was looking for a place to sit that would allow me to exit inconspicuously I had a growing awareness of the praise band. It wasn’t the particular song even though it was a familiar tune. It wasn’t the volume even though they were not holding back. I became keenly aware that the sound waves weren’t bombarding me. It wasn’t pushing me into a guarded stance. Instead, the music was gently embracing me, allowing the melody wash over me. My body remained relaxed. The music was slowly drawing me in.

For how long?

As much as I was enjoying the surprising experience, I couldn’t help being somewhat wary. It seemed wonderful to be embraced at the outset. My mindfulness was heightened because I didn’t want to be taken. I was wary of being entrapped by the gentle embrace only to find out it was trouble in disguise.

As the fourth song was belted out with full musical accompaniment I still sensed no hint of betrayal. By the sixth song I was willing to concede that there would be no betrayal.

Design

I did not crash. How was it possible? If it was the acoustics I have to give credit to the architects who designed the worship space. The acoustics were working for me rather than creating dissonance in my body. I wondered whether the lack of reverberation was enough to prevent the scale from tipping into the negative zone. It felt like the hard edges of the sound was being absorbed as the music traveled outward. It was wonderful to feel embraced rather than attacked.

Every enclosed space is designed to deal with sound vibrations and resonance differently. There are the sound vibrations that a person can hear and there are those that are outside of a person’s range of hearing. There are sounds which the ear picks up and there are sounds which the body absorbs. What is outside a person’s range of hearing, I believe, can still affect a person. Having noticed a different quality to the sound as soon as I entered the sanctuary, makes me think that the sound vibrations outside of my range hearing have a subtle but profound and cumulative affect on me.

Back home

It’s two weeks later and I was barely one song into the worship service in my home church when I realized I was approaching the limit of my tolerance. My eyes were starting to tear up and I found myself humming (not the music that was playing). I walked out and gave myself twenty minutes in a quiet place and then ten minutes walking outdoors.

I returned to the worship area but left 15 minutes later as I was still struggling. By this time extreme fatigue washed over me. I had no energy to visit with anyone in the fellowship hall following the worship service. I went and sat in the car waiting for a ride home.

A two kilometer hike in the afternoon did not improve my condition. Not till mid evening did the neural fatigue finally clear.

Detective work in action

How could two different soundscapes have such drastically different effects on me? That’s one mystery that begs an answer.

Two weeks ago I had a successful experience. It was an unexpected surprise because of several factors:

  • I was in an unfamiliar place (cognitive loading)
  • I had attended a major social event the night before (emotional loading)
  • I had traveled several hours by car the day before (PTS symptomology)
  • I was away from home over night (loss of routine)

I had hoped my most recent experience in my home church would show a slight improvement given my recent success. There are several factors that should have helped make it a positive experience:

  • I had an uneventful day the day before (no residual sensory loading)
  • I hadn’t traveled (no lingering PTS symptomology)
  • I was in a familiar place (anticipated routines)

There are factors that are not as apparent. For example being in a familiar place, I know the back story of many of the people – their joys and losses. Two areas of emotional sensitivity that has a way of ramping up my sensory loading.

Increased complexity

Uncovering the reasons for the contrast between the two experiences requires considering various factors. To name a few:

  • My emotional loading of the previous couple days
  • The cognitive demands of the previous day or two
  • How well I’ve slept
  • What stress factors I’m dealing with (stress being one of my key triggers)
  • How recently I’ve had a ‘red zone’ experience

Wrap up

There is one thing that I have come to expect. There is invariably a level of unpredictability to how most active environments will affect me. I can manage an activity or an environment successfully several times and then the next time find myself crash.

I can prepare myself for a significant event. That means relaxing and making a point of not pushing the boundaries of what I am capable of doing. In addition to that making sure I have minimized my sensory loading by avoiding activities or environments which cause me neural fatigue.

Despite my careful planning I am learning to accept the unexpected.