12 Epiphanies

xii. It has everything to with a spark of the divine.

All of the guests had left, except for Ishaan who slept on the love-seat. Kate wrapped a quilt around him, pulled on a winter coat and stocking cap, laced her running shoes, and headed out to the wharf.

It was that strange, quiet time between night and dawn.

What had it all been about?

What had she sought, all those days ago, when she’d called her mother to see about Christmas?

Had she sought this?

She had sought something more…

More than a vacation in Hawaii.

Certainly more than the media’s hype of buying things to fill that void.

She had sought to discover what it was that the void was, in actuality, and what might, actually, fill it.

And she had discovered that it could be filled with music.

With the longing for magic, and maybe with a bit of magic itself.

She had discovered that turning towards was easier than turning away.

She had discovered that other people, too, have this impulse towards generosity, towards sharing, towards coming together.

She had discovered that all are welcome.

All is welcome.

Every part of being human is part of Christmas, even the brokenness, even the hurt, even solitude, and even company. All are welcome, the man sent to kill as well as the girl who stashes her gifts and the old woman who forgets to take her meds.

Christmas embraces all-that-is.

Her phone chimed with a text from her boyfriend.

How was your Xmas, babe? Miss u. Next yr, I’ll be home. Data-crunching. Report writing. I’ll be back. And then we can have a real Xmas. Make it up to u.

That would be nice next year to have Christmas with her boyfriend. But it wouldn’t be better than this year.

If she were lucky, and she resolved to be, she’d store the twelve gifts she’d received, so she could open them throughout the year, so that she would never forget what she had learned, what she had felt.

We have Christmas because we need it. We need to discover what is real, what we truly are, what it means to be human, which includes all-that-is, which contains, inside of us, this great immensity of it all–the spark of divinity within a human form.

Christmas acknowledges the birth of that spark, and Kate resolved that night to keep it burning all the year.

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Author’s note: How fun it is to collaborate with The Sims 4! I had a general idea of what I wanted to express in this series, which is my understanding of Christmas,that it can represent to us what it means to be human–all of it, including pain, loneliness, joy, bliss, and that at its core, our longing for Christmas magic is our longing to experience our true humanity: a corporeal form through which the spark of consciousness flows, and the alchemy of consciousness, in “turning towards,” as it infuses our being.

I wanted to tell this story, initially, through Kate’s encounters with the people she met. I’d planned that she’d meet vendors and, possibly, homeless people in the parks and squares of San Myshuno. But all the vendors were pre-mades! So, I just played the game to discover what Sims the game might generate. (Kate is the only CAS Sim–all the other characters, except for pre-made Geeta, were game-generated Sims.) The game created wonderful characters for this story, especially Bertha, who, for some reason, always showed up in bathrobe or night-gown and slippers. She had the dazed moodlet much of the time, too.

In my imagination, Geeta Rosoya was the neighbor who’d left the boxes of decorations, but Kate never met her until the Christmas party. You can imagine how excited I was when Geeta finally came to the door, with that neighbor-interaction of claiming that something smelled delicious!

Writing SimLit contains such an element of magic–it never ceases to astound me how, somehow, the game seems to pick up on and expand upon our intentions.

12 Epiphanies

xi. Stefan’s Story

“You’re cooking rice!” Stefan said.

“I am,” replied Kate. “It goes with everything.”

“I haven’t had rice on Christmas since 1968.”

Stefan grew quiet while the others ate and chatted.

“Do you like the meal?” Ashaan asked Bertha.

“Oh, yes. Indeed,” replied Bertha. “I don’t know when I’ve eaten so well.”

“Any special reason you haven’t had rice on Christmas since?” Kate asked Stefan.

“Oh, no,” he replied. “Just circumstances. You see I was in Vietnam then, 1968.”

“What did you do?” asked Ashaan, for whom that war wasn’t part of his personal history, only something he vaguely recalled having read about a time or two.

“Special ops,” said Stefan. “I was one of the guys they sent to fix things that needed to be fixed. That year, they sent me to fix a target that was, so they said, at some little Buddhist temple out in the jungle. He was supposed to be this big key figure behind a lot of really bad things that supposedly were happening.”

“That sounds like something out of a movie,” the fashionable guest said.

“Oh, they can’t make movies out of this stuff,” said Stefan. “The screw-ups. Nobody would believe it. They screwed up this time. Big-time. Bad intel. This was the wrong target. The little Buddhist monk really was a little Buddhist monk. I mean, you could just feel it. This zen-like stuff–this quiet–it just seeped out from him. You couldn’t be in his presence without feeling it. Without feeling calm, somehow.”

“This was the guy you were supposed to take care of?” Sofia asked.

“To kill. Yes. In a matter of speaking,” replied Stefan. “I couldn’t do it. It was Christmas. We ate rice. I couldn’t do what I was sent there to do. Their intel was wrong anyway, I found out later, though I didn’t know it then. But I couldn’t do it. We ate rice together. We sat. It became quiet. It was Christmas, and in the jungle, in this little temple, we ate rice and sat in quiet.”

“That seems so far away,” said Ishaan. “How do things like that even happen? Is that even the same world that we live in? What’s the connection between that and now, here, eating rice?”

“Everything,” replied Stefan. “The connection is everything. That’s what I learned from that man. He was the most Christian man I’d ever met, though, of course, he wasn’t a Christian. He was a Buddhist monk, just filled with peace. Quiet. Consciousness. The little guy actually shone. Radiated. Bliss and happiness. Pure joy. I didn’t go back. I couldn’t do what I was sent to do, so rather than just say I couldn’t find him, which meant they’d just send somebody else, and then send me to take care of the next target, I just never went back.”

“You never went back?” Ishaan asked.

“Nope. I stayed with that monk. We traveled. We went from temple to temple. He knew if we stayed in one place, they’d send someone out to find him or to find me, so we traveled. Those were amazing years.”

“You must have learned so much,” said Ishaan.

“I did,” said Stefan. They ate silently for a while and the room settled into a deep feeling of peace.

“Like a movie,” said Ishaan, at last, speaking into the silence.

“I lived in that jungle for years, going from temple to temple, until finally Jimmy Carter offered amnesty to all the people like me, and I came back home. Only I discovered that I wasn’t me anymore and home wasn’t here, not in this place, but here,” he said, placing his hand on his heart. “Inside. Where I am is home. Who I am is here.”

“You were one of the changed,” said Bertha.

“I was,” said Stefan. “I was changed by those years.”

“Power to the people!” yelled Bertha, suddenly jumping up onto the couch.

“Woot!” yelled Stefan. “The power of peace!”

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Spectrum: Shimmering

I haven’t a strong a sense of self; I have a strong sense of spirit.

Apparently, it’s common for autistic people to hold a “weaker” (Jawer, “Sense”) or “atypical” sense of self (Lyons and Fitzgerald).

Neuropsychologists Lyons and Fitzgerald, in their review, found some studies which attributed this to, among other factors, autistic individuals’ challenges with autobiographical memory and the narrative self. This isn’t my experience: I have an excellent autobiographical memory, and I can recall vivid details from the age of six months on, including the following snippets: lying on my back on my crib while the sunlight poured through the window, grasping my toes, and my brother, sister, and their friend coming into the room to giggle with me; watching dust motes in their golden swirl through the sunshaft that pierced the room when I was three; putting up the hood of my sweatshirt when I was five so that strangers would think I was a boy; and so on, with dozens of tiny moments sprinkled throughout my 59 years on this planet.

I can tell stories about each of these moments, too, and I can weave them into narratives.

My autistic friends have this ability, too: ask them about past moments, and you might be astounded at the detail of their memory and their skill in telling the story.

What’s missing for me, though, is a sense that this happened to me, whatever “me” means, for though the sensory and emotional details of the experience are vivid and easily accessible, the felt-sense of being the same person on the inside is not there.

I attribute this to an increased sensitivity to my internal environment, including the neurochemicals, hormones, emotions, and other responses happening within my body. That internal stew shifts and changes. It is affected by so many external factors: weather; external stress; the feelings and emotions of others; astrological factors; social and political events; noise; light… the list goes on. I feel my internal states acutely, and they shift.

So how I feel inside, which constitutes my own understanding of “self,” shifts and changes and varies in response to a myriad of internal and external influences.

Lyons and Fitzgerald grounded their study of autistic people’s sense of self on Kircher and David’s definition of “self”:

the commonly shared experience, that we know we are the same person across time, that we are the author of our thoughts/actions, and that we are distinct from the environment

(Kircher and David, as qtd. in Lyons and Fitzgerald)

This definition is problematic for me in a few ways: I don’t know that I’m the same person across time. I can conceive that this body, which continually and gradually shifts and changes in form from conception through the present moment, provides a container, a vessel, for the experiencing self–the conscious self–which moves and experiences through time. But I cannot hold that this is “the same person across time.”

I am not convinced that I am the author of my thoughts, or even, always, of my actions. Some thoughts simply appear. Some thoughts seem to be the result of specific processes. I have learned, through time, not to always pay that much attention to thoughts–I enjoy watching them. I enjoy considering whether they may have something informative or insightful to share. And I very much enjoy not identifying with them.

I certainly do not see myself as distinct from the environment. My experience of life–of being–is that I am an integral part of the environment, of all-and-everything. I am a cell in the greater being that is everything.

I am a cell, and I am a conscious cell.

I don’t have a strong sense of self; I have a strong sense of spirit.

For a while, it felt uncomfortable to me that I didn’t have a strong sense of self, that I would wake up sometimes, especially once I’d entered menopause, with its very different hormonal and neurochemical mix, with the feeling of “I don’t know who I am. I feel different inside.”

Learning about anatta and the concept of “no-fixed-self” in Buddhism helped to some degree, though I still felt some discomfort. And there’s the issue of agency, too, which can be problematic without a strong sense of self.

But the other morning, I came to a sense of peace with not having a fixed self: I realized that not having a strong sense of self is part of my personality–it’s part of who I am. So rather than being confused when I feel differently inside, I can realize, OK. This is just part of my experience. This is how I experience being alive.

I don’t have a strong sense of self: I have a strong sense of spirit.

I also realized that the “sense of self,” as most neuropsychologists present it, hinges on functions of the brain. This means that when the brain stops functioning, this particular understanding of “self” would also stop.

My sense of spirit is not connected to brain functions. (I know some neuropsychologists and philosophers will disagree, claiming that “consciousness” is a function of the brain. I disagree with them.) There is, within me, within each of us, within each cell, within each living being, within, even, the crystals of rock and sand, consciousness. Spirit. This infusion exists outside of the function of the brain. It was there, even in individual form, before the formation of the specific brain cells within our current bodies, and it will be present outside of our current forms, too, when those forms cease to function.

Jawer, in a series which explores connections between autistic people’s weaker sense of self and their gifts, writes that “synesthetes, savants, those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the highly sensitive, the gifted, the prodigious, the psychic… have a degree of access” to “the ‘seed ground’ of where we all come from.”

A sense of spirit, a sense of being connected to the greater consciousness, while embodying my own unique and individual portion of consciousness, the divine bliss of being a part of everything and all-that-is, the experience and memories of lifetimes before and lifetimes yet-to-come, that is a gift.

If having this gift means that I haven’t a strong sense of self, I will take it. Even if this were something I could choose–and it’s not, it’s simply who I am–I would choose it. I would choose energy, spirit, the infinite, over the limited sense of self.

Works Cited

Jawer, Michael. “Sense of Self in Autism.” Psychology Today. 7 Aug. 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-too-much/201408/sense-self-in-autism. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.

— “Sensitivities as Markers of an Infinitude.” Psychology Today. 16 Dec. 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-too-much/201412/sensitivities-markers-infinitude. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.

Lyons, Viktoria and Michael Fitzgerald. “Atypical Sense of Self in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Neuro- Cognitive Perspective.” IntechOpen. 21 Sep. 2012. https://www.intechopen.com/books/recent-advances-in-autism-spectrum-disorders-volume-i/atypical-sense-of-self-in-autism-spectrum-disorders-a-neuro-cognitive-perspective. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.

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