So, about a month ago I went to a seminar on meditation at the Smithsonian. I Am not sure what I expected to happen, but I knew I was seeking some "thing" and needed to go to this event.
Before the event even started I had a rather interesting experience just getting off the metro and crossing the Mall. I walked into an Autism Speaks walk. I had seen some sorority girls on the train (a gaggle of them) and they exited with me - and I saw them go man a both of games. As I walked closer to the center of the event, I was overwhelmed with emotion, to the point of tears sliding down my face. I stood in the middle a moment, and then went to look at the booths. I noticed organizations I didn't know about in my area - therapy places I would have latched on to 2 years ago. The funny thing was, that I couldn't even name the strong emotion I was feeling. I almost wanted to just thank people for caring so much to get together, but then I had this undertone of coming at it from the wrong angle, like there was passion to be heard, but that the forum (?) wasn't quite "right". I noticed all the families/ teams in their colored T-shirts, identifying a child they supported, the one they wanted to heal. I kept thinking about overwhelming numbers of people. (Know that I am a born performer and do NOT have crowd anxiety). So, I just stood there in the middle of this event, crying, and .... nothing. No one spoke to me, no one looked at me.... I almost felt invisible. I have almost never had that feeling before - I am pretty flamboyant.
And so, I left and went to my class. As soon as I turned the corner from the gathering - the intensity left me, the "pressure"/ "sensation"/ whatever-it-was just dissipated and I felt "normal".
I have a "gut feeling" theory about what happened, but I am not sure I want to put it in words- yet.
So The seminar was informative, and I enjoyed it. I knew that I was seeking some kind of link with our journey with Autism and whatever meditation is/ does, but I did not know what I was looking for, what the connection would be. I think I will need to do some more mediating and research to see it clearly. This particular seminar had a great emphasis on brain mapping and brain function with meditation - which DOES have strong connections. At the very end, the instructor talked about a study that looked at brain imaging while decision making, and his point was that meditators make wiser decisions (it was a money offer thing) - but an audience member brought up that the actions of the non-meditators were a natural part of the bartering process...a form of communication if you will... In the context of how he explained the study, it was as if the meditators were able to choose to forgo the social bantering in light of the end result (getting a little money gift)... I am compelled to consider then how that works with the diagnostic criteria of "social awkwardness" - are we saying that it is ok to choose to not follow social conventions, but if you are unaware of them to begin with you have a problem?
I think this is an extension of the communication argument How do I know or believe that there is conscious thought when I cannot communicate with it, "touch" it? We seek "signs" of communcation all the time - the person in a coma who can lift a finger when we speak, or the dog who goes to the door when we say "outside", or the object in the drawer that wasn't there before we prayed for it... how about the look from your husband showing he will get the diaper, or the hug from your mom that shows she really can't stop loving you, or the child who does something you've asked (over and over) for the first time. That's ALL we are really looking for, is "proof" that "someone is in there" and we are connected to them.
So when Theory of Mind says Autistic people don't have any inkling of what others around them are thinking, that they even are thinking - are we saying that we can't make effective "contact"? There are too many parents, too many families that KNOW that not to be true, that have WITNESSED the empathy and concern. We ARE making contact. But it's like we are in totally different worlds, bridging unbridgeable gaps...
I had some insights on the mechanics of mediation itself too...
Meditation is NOT about stilling your mind. The whole "thing" about meditation is self-awareness, self-acceptance. It is characterized by being able to live "in the moment" - not trying to hold on to a past or avoid a future. There were 2 things the instructor said that REALLY hit home with me:
Think of your mind as the sky- VAST. Your thoughts are like the clouds, the weather. They roll around inside the sky, but the sky is always bigger than the weather. His instruction was to "see" the cloud, the thought, identify it, and let it just pass through. Just let it "be" there without holding on to it... Here's what I saw:
From the top of the mesa you can see the sky for ever, from the curvature of the Earth to the mountains reaching for the heavens. Settlers walking across America could see landmarks for weeks (sometimes 4 to 6) before they were actually at them. If you haven't driven across the deserts and seen the Big Sky - you need to follow in Lightening McQueen's footsteps and do it. Historic Latin American literature features the Bigger Than Life geography that is America. From Skyline Drive, Virginia I can see at least 13 ridges of mountains to my west, stretching into West Virginia and Kentucky - places I cannot drive in one day, and each nook and cranny holds a story, several epic life histories. The sky is VAST. From the top of the mesa, I saw the clouds, casting great shadows across the Earth - you drive through them on the interstate, can see the lines on the ground of dark & light - but from the top of the mesa you can see the shadow footprint of entire clouds. Then a Great Thunderhead Storm, rolls across the desert - you can see the cloud extending up beyond your sight into the atmosphere, and hear the thunder crash across the flat lands. The Earth turns dark beneath it, from the shadow and from the deluge of water that is washing the ground below. I have driven in one of those in Albuquerque. On one side of the line the ground was sandy, and on the other mud, rain so thick wipers could NOT keep the windshield clear, and you saw it as you came into town, could see the ribbon of highway leading into the heart of the storm, and disappearing into the wall of water. I have also seen those storms from the top of the mesa that stay away from the highway, that follow the alleys of the mountains and rivers, that seek nature's curves and convolutions - not man's straight highways. You can see them for hours, and then never get "in" them.
And I had a sudden insight. I suddenly understood what it meant to live "in the moment". If I am standing atop the mesa or the mountain, I can observe and eventually predict with some accuracy the familiar path of travel the clouds will follow, but I cannot stand atop the height and call them to me! There is no use in worrying about the cloud that will never reach me. It will either come, or it will not. And if and when it does, it shall pass - it cannot "stay". I will have some consequences of the cloud's path to deal with, whether they are big or small, but I will again return to the sun and find glory in it's warmth and power. If I spend all my time preparing for the Great Thunderhead, then I will not have time for the light mists, or the sunny days, or the rainbows.... and I may spend time being afraid of a Great Thunderhead that will NEVER cross my path!
Then, I had a vision, of "falling"/ "flying" off the mesa into the cloud, of pulling the Great Thunderhead to me and pulling me to it - and I suddenly understood all the conversation about creating our reality, about finding what you seek, about how our expectations determine our outcomes! By "choosing" to be as big as the sky and let the cloud follow its path, I free myself from it. It will either come, or it will not. I will have times when I am wet, and times when I am dry. Peace is NOT in "stillness", it is in bobbing through the changes, rolling with the punches, dancing with time, not trying to hold it.
Love trumps everything. Most cultures hold this Truth, but in meditation, the idea is that your self-love, self-acceptance is what creates your ability to be as "big as the sky". If you are trying to form the clouds because you fear them, then you will be immersed in them, not larger than them, but if you you can find a place to value, to love everything you find, then you can accept it into the picture and allow it to "be". The lesson of meditation is that love starts within yourself, and once you can accept you, even with your shortcomings, then you can accept others. Once you have "loved" your own pain (looked at it, felt it, valued it, solved it) you can look to others with compassion because you know their pain too. Empathy, compassion - the outward expressions of Love - have to begin with in the self to have genuine understanding. And Love trumps EVERYTHING.
Love and JOY are NOT the same thing. As an Autism Mom, I find Love even in things that do NOT bring me joy... like cleaning crap out of the carpet or finding an entire bottle of shampoo emptied in sink, or seeing my grandmother's arm chair collapsed from jumping. These actions bring me sorrow, but I can choose to either Love them or Fear them. If I am choosing Love, I see these sorrowful events as windows into my child's function, communications into his needs - whether they are sensory or emotional or intellectual. With Love, I can use these as opportunities to connect with my child and then define new ways to relate (act towards one another). Fear drives me to correct without providing alternatives, with out identifying the underlying drive (communication), and if I continue to operate fearfully, I will undermine whatever loving actions could have been manifested, continue to warp our relations with fear.
I speak of this often to my children. There are so many "things" they need to know about God and religion, but ultimately there is One Truth:
Make EVERY decision out if Love. COMMIT LOVING ACTS.
In discussions about social appropriateness (that was a rude thing to say), in discipline about treating resources wisely/ respectfully (not breaking toys, not leaving messes), in demonstrating treatment of animals (gentle hands on the dog), in helping them accept their differences (refereeing their jealousy, offering them labels to call themselves) - in ALL things, there is One Truth that could motivate ALL their actions - COMMIT LOVING ACTS. I tell my kids all the time, that the only rule is to COMMIT LOVING ACTS. If you Love someone, you will think about how your actions and words affect them - you will try to think about if something you are doing will worry them (wander too far, eat unhealthy things, practice dangerous activities, etc.) and you will show you love them by helping them not worry (building TRUST). Jesus said: Love others as you love yourself. So DO that, be kind to yourself and others! Forgive yourself and others! Take care of yourself and others! Be sure that every act you make is motivated from Love, and you will not mess up!
This discussion has been helpful to us in so may arenas. I use it to talk about Star Wars (Anakin commits murder out of FEAR for Padme, for the vision of her death he sees. He could have made the decision to LOVE her every minute he had her, but he did not - and his redemption comes when he chooses to LOVE Luke instead of FEARing the Emperor.)
We use it to talk about conservation (we can choose to LOVE the land and those who live on it, to honor their natural processes, to be a respectful part of that process because we LOVE it and share it, or we can act out of FEAR that people don't think like us and have to be kept away from nature, or FEAR that putting animals first will destroy what we already have or could have). We use this to talk about our daily wranglings with family dynamics (your sister sees you get extra time with therapy, she is AFRAID that she gets less time because we don;t love her, how can we show her we LOVE her? You grandmother's body is very tired, and soon it will no longer work for her. She is AFRAID that we will forget her, how can we show her we LOVE her? Your bother hears people talk about how different he is all the time. Do you think that he is AFRAID he is not supposed to be different? How can we show him we LOVE his differences?). I use it to talk about sensory processing (We are doing something new, we don't know for sure what we will need to do, but should we avoid it because we FEAR the unknown or should we prepare ourselves and LOVE learning).
Ultimately, every decision by every person is driven by one thing: what you think of "people" - either you FEAR them, or you LOVE them - either you go through your life expecting to be lied to, cheated, hurt or you go through your life expecting the best of everyone - including yourself. And it IS a choice. And you, a parent, shape the direction your child will face first.
Back to the seminar: I expect to follow up with the instructor or another formal meditation community (because I learn better in community) and keep exploring, because for me, it is will probably be an effective window into action.