Well, I’m going to be an academic again, having been offered a place on the Master’s Degree for Autism Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. It was an interesting process choosing whether to return to Fine Art, do Art Psychotherapy or even an MA in Mindfulness which is now on offer. You get where I’ve been these last few weeks. But one thing that’s swayed my decision is that this MA will be about myself. Yep, three years of good old narcissistic gazing into the mirror of my soul, psyche or naval, weather depending..
‘Self as subject’ I heard myself say yesterday to my wife on my way to Prof. Nick Hodge’s inaugural lecture at the Autism Centre, while explaining the reasons for my final decision. Whilst an art student at the same uni, I recall hearing about someone who did a Phd literally about themself, which sounded fascinating, if a little mind-boggling, though I align very much with the premise that the best form of teaching is by example, which is where the particularity of self-knowledge takes on the universal form, in society.
The point I want to make here is about the sensorially enhanced and metaphysical, shifting nature of the autistic experience, with an urgent quest for selfhood at its heart. I am driven by the possibility that we each can take part in this quest and work directly with the ineffable nature of life itself. The ancient Chinese call life-force chi, the Sufis refer to tajalli and the Hindus call it prana or Shakti, and we’re not just discussing electro-magnetic energy! Each individual human already has the tools, raw materials and laboratory for the alchemy of self-realisation, but it takes knowledge and community to help light the crucible.
Here’s a thought: The opposite of something is nothing. Nothing exists. Nothing has to exist because something exists… OK, bear with me. When experience gets too much for an autistic person, when the social environment becomes too much to bear, they go into ‘meltdown’. One purpose of meltdown is self-preservation and in an absolute sense it is the final shutting down of social consciousness, which can even result in passing out or types of breakdown, so in effect, the opposite of conscious experience is the unconscious, or is it? What if, during a prolonged overwhelming experience an autistic mind learns to shut down ‘most’ of itself and yet a ‘part’ of the mind (the purely autonomous mind) manages to stay continually conscious, learning to adapt and from a safe viewpoint experientially learns about the constant unpleasantness and the consequent closure of a large ‘part’ of the mind? My younger brother, may he rest in peace, had this little chant he used to repeat, that went, “Every piece of mind is in a different piece of mind”. What if being constantly overwhelmed by the senses meant a constant and intelligent battle for survival emerged from a whole new ‘mind’? What would that new-age autistic warrior look like?
I escape from the intensity of my surroundings increasingly since a child, using a variety of methods and writing my life-story from the autistic point of view is helping me understand them all. Storytelling is crucial to a healthy life and our the rich, symbolic wisdom of stories is everywhere in our ancient cultures. Working chronologically I find I’ve arrived at the recent past and it’s starting to feel complicated because now I must write a true reflection of the experience of this nothingness. To me, nothingness is where everything disappears, it is the abode of indescribable bliss and paradoxically, emptiness ‘becomes everything’. I’ve continued to develop and evolve meditation practices for thirty-five years and as a young child would involuntarily live in ‘other worlds’ as a young neuroatypical person. This isn’t a rare phenomenon and most people can relate to unusual inner experiences, particularly as children, prior to too many layers of conditioning. Artists attest to being a conduit for ‘another power’ and the seer, medium or shaman might recall little from a trance because they weren’t ‘present’. Both are voluntary acts of surrender. An emergence from this nothingness must inevitably occur and here’s where we return to self-knowledge in the societal context.
I read somewhere the autistic person has a regard for the truth as holy*. Living entirely in a domain of heightened sensitivity is a constant inner struggle (this is the true meaning of the Arabic word jihad). Expanding self-knowledge aided by methods like Mindfulness is ammunition and victory over malignant spirits, from a cacophony of interchanging parallel worlds is rewarded by holistic alignment, inner peace, freedom from unnecessary guilt, and gratifying acceptance of the truth.
The battle continues.
*Quote: Sif S. Stewart-Ferrer