Autism Dialogue Out of the the Box

Oak tree photo by Jonny Drury

Mindlessness:  “A style of mental functioning in which people follow recipes, impose old categories to classify what they see, act with some rigidity, operate on automatic pilot, and mislabel unfamiliar new contexts as familiar old ones.  A mindless mental style works to conceal problems that are worsening.” (Weick and Sutcliffe)

I like being me.

I’m starting to think that there’s something awry with the language generally used in the current autism discussion, on all sides.

We’ve all heard the line “we’re all a little bit autistic”.  The current discussion has a resounding cry from the actually autistic people that this is nonsense and one must be autistic to have any authoritative point of view or true understanding.  Even self-diagnosed autistics have to literally take the oath, certainly on Twitter.   But what about the ambiguous world of academia and science?  I’ve read many articles and the most recent book of a succesful and established academic and writer on autism, but I still don’t know if he autistic is or not.  Closet autism is not something that exists in academia alone and many people in responsible positions may well have good reasons for non-disclosure.  Is it important that an autism academic discloses?  There should be a good reason for only using objective, scientific language about a truly subjective phenomenon, upon which  transparent communication of experience is crucial to the discussion.  Does academic context imply there’s not enough of a conclusion to use autism as a definitive term, let alone apply it to oneself?  The material I’ve read on my Masters degree so far disproves most theories and places the origins of what we have very recently come to know as autism in a highly questionable light.  But by not clearly stating whether one is or isn’t autistic, aren’t we adding to the confusion? Perhaps we really are all ‘a little bit autistic’ and we don’t want to admit it because this is far too simplistic and doctoral students and professors everywhere will suddenly find themselves alienated from a large proportion of friends and followers.

I am autistic.  Being autistic is who I am.  But let’s take that apart a bit.

Firstly, being diagnosed by the team at SAANS using the DSM5 or whatever in 2014, makes me autistic. It is their official terminology for my type of brain and I accept it.  When I say I am autistic, I am using their frame of reference, not necessarily mine.  Being labelled autistic by the NHS carries some weight in society of course, otherwise I wouldn’t have sought their knowledge; I wanted an explanation and I was diagnosed by the UK’s predominant medical establishment.  I’ll leave my question of whether I am #actuallyautistic or not, and perhaps just such a fantastic actor I fooled them, to another post.  The NHS gave me an explanation, I got the biggest national medical organisation to diagnose me on their terms.  I wasn’t ‘identified’ as autistic by the NHS, as some people prefer to say (the NHS are not in the business of identities, as far as I am aware); my identity is made up of lots of things including this thing called autism, which interrelate to varying degrees and altogether identify me as who I am.

So I don’t question the definition, instead I accept the different views.  The NHS think I’m ‘autistic’. Hurrah! Good for them!

As well as a medical condition, autism is also a social, psychological and psychal phenomena.  A religious person told me its spirits in me.  All points are valid.

I am not separate from other people. But what do I mean by that?

What I mean is from a sociological, psychological, identification, spiritual and quantum point of view (that’s a lot of views), all of us exist, at the very least,  in this space-time continuum and social construct together.  In this sense, if someone wants to believe “we are all a little bit autistic” it’s fine by me, because it is not necessarily driven by an undermining of autistic people or some other ignorant, separatist motive.  It’s also on the face of it, a bit silly; one could just as easily state ‘we’re all a little bit non-autistic’.  Perhaps though, the sentiment behind this statement might be “We are all in this together, I have an understanding, I have compassion, I am intuitive, so hey, let me help.” and  perhaps the cliché, “we’re all a little bit autistic” is now just a little bit worn and needs to be examined in a positive way, by using dialogue, eg. by adopting the stance of:

“I accept your different view so let’s talk about that together.”

The field of Autism itself stems from early neuroscientists who observed particular behavioural styles in certain groups of people and so a great body of knowledge develops and continues to do so.  One can even study a Masters degree in Autism, of which I am a student.  However, many autistic people would deny the right of anyone who is not autistic (by diagnosis or identification) to have a truly valid knowledge on the subject.

Experience cannot be proven as entirely subjective and isolated as quantum field theory shows. So why would the father of an autistic daughter, who has devoted his life to her, since her birth for many years, not have experienced her life to some degree as the same as his and have a view on what it’s like to be autistic? Why would the experiences and views of a mother of two autistic adults, an autistic husband and an autistic father, be less valid than an adolescent boy with a diagnosis or a successful businessman who identifies with Aspergers? By osmosis, is there to be some sharing of autism, behaviourally or otherwise as a phenomenon and can the same be said for all traits in everyone on a societal level?  Our individualistic, opinionated and judgemental society can be a dangerous place and autistic people are just as much at risk from the dangers of peer-group pressure and with the additional complications of unusual modelling and masking habits, perhaps even more so.

Life is too short to be so technical and militarily challenge everyone who doesn’t meet our immediate frames of reference; we can always build on our compassionate, openness and flexibility.  Compassion begins with acceptance.  Gratitude is the key to happiness.

Autistic people should accept being autistic, and with more of an open mind and heart, and learn to accept it as only one of a multiplicity of different viewpoints.  By witnessing an example of honesty, others might see themselves more clearly too.  By holding mutually exclusive ideas in our minds at the same time, we might understand a lot more about, and be more accepting of, each other’s differences.  Acceptance of diversity leads to unity, that’s always been my position.

 

What is Autism? Discuss

I copied Nick Walker’s summary text to a page , which at the moment I really like and so thought I’d provide the opportunity for public feedback by also writing it as a post here.  I will use your comments to add to the page also, (please state in your post if you do not want me to do this).
There is provision for comments below.

What is Autism?  By Nick Walker

Autism is a genetically-based human neurological variant. The complex set of interrelated characteristics that distinguish autistic neurology from non-autistic neurology is not yet fully understood, but current evidence indicates that the central distinction is that autistic brains are characterised by particularly high levels of synaptic connectivity and responsiveness. This tends to make the autistic individual’s subjective experience more intense and chaotic than that of non-autistic individuals: on both the sensorimotor and cognitive levels, the autistic mind tends to register more information, and the impact of each bit of information tends to be both stronger and less predictable.

Autism is a developmental phenomenon, meaning that it begins in utero and has a pervasive influence on development, on multiple levels, throughout the lifespan. Autism produces distinctive, atypical ways of thinking, moving, interaction, and sensory and cognitive processing. One analogy that has often been made is that autistic individuals have a different neurological “operating system” than non-autistic individuals.

According to current estimates, somewhere between one percent and two percent of the world’s population is autistic. While the number of individuals diagnosed as autistic has increased continually over the past few decades, evidence suggests that this increase in diagnosis is the result of increased public and professional awareness, rather than an actual increase in the prevalence of autism.

Despite underlying neurological commonalities, autistic individuals are vastly different from one another. Some autistic individuals exhibit exceptional cognitive talents. However, in the context of a society designed around the sensory, cognitive, developmental, and social needs of non-autistic individuals, autistic individuals are almost always disabled to some degree – sometimes quite obviously, and sometimes more subtly.

The realm of social interaction is one context in which autistic individuals tend to consistently be disabled. An autistic child’s sensory experience of the world is more intense and chaotic than that of a non-autistic child, and the ongoing task of navigating and integrating that experience thus occupies more of the autistic child’s attention and energy. This means the autistic child has less attention and energy available to focus on the subtleties of social interaction. Difficulty meeting the social expectations of non-autistics often results in social rejection, which further compounds social difficulties and impedes social development. For this reason, autism has been frequently misconstrued as being essentially a set of “social and communication deficits,” by those who are unaware that the social challenges faced by autistic individuals are just by-products of the intense and chaotic nature of autistic sensory and cognitive experience.

Autism is still widely regarded as a “disorder,” but this view has been challenged in recent years by proponents of the neurodiversity model, which holds that autism and other neurocognitive variants are simply part of the natural spectrum of human biodiversity, like variations in ethnicity or sexual orientation (which have also been pathologised in the past). Ultimately, to describe autism as a disorder represents a value judgment rather than a scientific fact.

How to be an Aspie – my diagnosis story.

People often ask me about how I came to discover I have Asperger’s Syndrome / be Autistic and have ADHD, so here’s a brief account, as simple as I can make it.

Most of my life I’ve had existential questions like Why am I here? What is this? Does the sky go on forever? etc.  But they’ve usually not been helpful as I overthink or procrastinate to the point of obsession.  Instead of having a moderate level of enquiry like most people, my enquiring brain tends to the extreme.  I had some wonderful other-worldly experiences, including as a young child but I forced some answers by taking hallucinogens when I was a youth.  As an adult, after reading lots of spiritual books then meeting a Sufi Master, I went down the path of extreme spiritual practice, spending twenty years as a devout Sufi-Muslim, which provided a purposeful routine of sorts in the practices (plus marriage with plenty of parenting) and spiritual satisfaction with some powerful revelations, especially on retreat and journeys to sacred places in Turkey and the Middle East.  I devote a few chapters to a troubled childhood, adolescence and spiritual seeking in the book I’m currently writing. Writing my life story has been very useful so far, for further self-exploration.

In addition to having so many questions, preferring my own company has often made things tricky.  I also couldn’t deal with school, even though I was intelligent enough to once come out top of a High School year in English, I was very disruptive and unsettled.  I left as soon as I could.  Later on these traits resulted in me not having a satisfactory job, career or an income, but again, I wasn’t unmotivated as I gained an A level in Psychology (only going to night school to accompany my then-girlfriend).  Creative projects throughout my 30’s and 40’s were exciting and ambitious but never got off the ground enough to be called a real business. “You’re really great at making things happen!” people would say. Yes, but I could I turn this creative energy into a living?  No, and it got me down.  On one hand I was really creative, hyper-focussed (mostly on spiritual and existential matters (ASD) and on the other I was very easily distracted (ADHD) so this combination meant a normal day job would at best last a year, usually a lot less as it just wouldn’t sustain my level of interest.

Rumination was rife and soon after getting a Fine Art degree in 2013 (I had given up Sufism in 2009 in favour of various styles of meditation and a three year adventure in experimental music events & label) I started to get sick of being down (bouts of mild depression) and of having no answers to my continued strange ‘state of being’ and general unsettledness.  At the same time I started to hear about autism.  Being inquisitive I did an ‘online test’ and came out positive.  At the same time my Dad said a nurse once said to him he is possibly autistic and autism is genetic, so I started to dig deeper.  I made a list of weird habits and traits (from an obsession with existence to having to sing weird little rhymes in my head, general reclusiveness, sporadic motivation, intense over-empathising and sudden bouts of tears), which filled an A4 page; 2/3 was undesirables and 1/3 was things I liked about myself but still thought they were ‘odd’.  I took this list to my GP and asked if he thought I was autistic (he asked if he could keep the list and I’ve not seen it since).  He referred me to SAANS (Sheffield Adult Autism and Neurodevelopmental Service), part of the local NHS offering (and coincidentally, based in the hospital where I was born).  Two 2.5hr sessions in a darkened room being interviewed by a specialist resulted in a positive diagnosis for Autism and ADHD.  On being informed at a specially arranged appointment, I stared at the table, literally not knowing what to think and feeling a bit awkward.  The lady specialist said “sometimes people might have a little cry when they hear this”.   So I cried a little,  but only on being informed that this was an appropriate response.  This is typical Aspergers; a slow cognition, especially in ‘social’ settings ie. with others present.  How odd that in previous years I’d trained as a mediator, facilitator, counsellor and even as a multi-faith chaplain – it must’ve been me that needed the benefits of these special services.  I even auditioned as a method actor, which now I realise was another way my brain was cleverly mirroring a common autistic trait of social ‘camouflage’, in order to try to reveal and understand itself!  (I also have a strong desire to train as a clown)  Anyway, as far as I understand it, it seems typically, autistic people will have low cognitive empathy but an excess of emotional empathy eg. “I resonate with you deeply, but please try talking with less words as it’s already overwhelming”.  Or something.

I want to mention what I’ve found most helpful is knowledge and understanding and meditation.  The monthly support groups at SAANS gave me different people’s perspectives to relate to in a caring environment (the reason I think posting this article might be useful) and a few sessions of Occupational Therapy were invaluable for strategy and management.  A daily, short meditation practice provides my brain with the opportunity to create new pathways, which means there is more fresh, new space to learn and be conscious, meaning a happier life.  Reflecting on life, backed by knowledge and shared experience is crucial.  And forests.  Overall, it’s been a fresh and new perspective on my own self that’s provided solace and awareness; an extra lens to look through, that the autism community gave me and continues to give me.  By that I mean all good people everywhere, autistic and allied, who’s aim is to shine a light on its mystery and people who simply take the time to learn a little about it. Both Sheffield Autism Research Lab and The Art House have provided opportunities for work in the field. Knowledge has made me much happier and I seem to have finally found enough of a ‘clean mirror’ to reflect and consolidate a place in my world,  to find some congruence and plan a career with it, hopefully helping others to come to terms with autism along the way.

possible-aspergers-traits diagram
Click for enlargement (found on Pinterest).
Aspergers and Clowning: no proven links.

Notes:

  1.  Dx is short for diagnosis.
  2. We are not “all a little bit on the spectrum”.
  3. The ‘autism spectrum’ is not a grading system but simply means a range of variable symptoms.  If you are ‘on the spectrum’ you are autistic.  One is either autistic or not.  Terms like mild or severe autism, high-functioning, low functioning etc. cannot be definitive because everyone is different and so these describers are relative.  If comparisons are needed, it’s better to do it in terms of support the person needs.
  4. Asperger’s Syndrome is now a largely unused term since it was removed from the DSM-5 (the most widely used medical dictionary) and the blanket ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) or simply ‘Autism’ is mostly used.  However, some people still use the term Asperger’s.
  5. Autism does not exist on the moon (yet) or in the Amazon rainforest. Even when there are no trees left, the indigenous Shamanic tribes will probably not incorporate the word Autism into their language.
  6. The term Asperger Syndrome was not recognised in the UK until 1991.
  7. Context is everything.

Academy of Professional Dialogue Inaugural Meeting

At the Inaugural Meeting of the UK Academy of Professional Dialogue in July I had a really great day with thirteen others including Peter Garrett (who co-founded Dialogue with David Bohm) and Jane Ball, both co-founders of the Academy and Directors of Dialogue Associates.

You can read my main page about Bohm Dialogue here.

I was made a member of the Academy and look forward to further developments and engagements.  Of course much was discussed but when I got home there was one thing I hadn’t thought of, perhaps it was too obvious.  So I asked Peter on the members online forum – about measuring outcomes. ie. how do we know if a Dialogue was a success? This is Peter’s reply, reposted with his permission:

“A good question! I think it all depends on the situation. You may be using Dialogue as a research methodology, in which case collectively learning about the current situation and what to do about it may be the measure. If you were aiming to build from a group of individuals into a team, then a better understanding of each other and the common purpose may be the measure. Or it may be a cultural change situation where the relevant thing may be a clearer recognition of the tacit ‘rules-in-use’ and evidence of changing them. Common to all of these would be deeper awareness, stronger participation, better respect and a greater openness and sense of potential. Generally I aim for a series of Dialogues, rather than a single event, so that the development can be measured in terms of progress from one Dialogue to the next.”

This final point is particularly useful as it favours a more organic approach, whereby a community is assumed or established and encouraged to flourish over time.

Some photos of the Inaugural Meeting:

In 2018 I’ll be starting a two year project in Sheffield around Mindfulness and Dialogue to strengthen links among the UK Autistic communities, particularly to improve autistic people’s independent living and employability.  In order to nurture this, at the Academy’s The World Needs Dialogue! Annual Conference, I will be leading the theme around Autism and the Self.  The project is in partnership with Sheffield Autism Research Lab (at Uni of Sheff Psychology dept), Jane Ball on behalf of the Academy, who has kindly agreed to take part in some form and other partners including Sheffield Autistic Society, SOHAS  and CMLE.  As a loose introduction to this major project, I am convening and co-facilitating a Dialogue of Autism professionals and students next month (please see flier below). There are some places still available and if you know anyone working or studying in the field, I would be grateful of you could let them know and/or email me at jonnydruryATgmail.com or Liz Milne at e.milneATsheffield.ac.uk.

There’s a new Twitter account for the project @autismdialogue

Autism Dialogue ShARL University of Sheffield
Click for enlargement

AUTISM DIALOGUE

Usually a seminar provides the opportunity for individuals to convene and share common knowledge and understanding and hear about new developments in the field, usually with an agenda in place. Bohm Dialogue is a free exchange of ideas and information without an agenda and provides the opportunity to examine preconceptions and prejudices among peers by open conversation with active listening.

From my perspective, Autism brings into question the very nature of self and society. As an autistic person working in autism, student of autism and autism service-user, in just three years since diagnosis, I’ve seen a very wide range of definitions, criteria and ideas, some changing regularly, some driven by factors such as culture. It’s our objective to facilitate a Dialogue between professionals and students and support a greater common and more dynamic understanding. This one-off Dialogue on the 21st was arranged prior to organising a major programme, to begin in 2018.

Future Dialogue sessions will include autistic and non-autistic people from different cultures and sectors of society, and autistic people exclusively as well, and aims to increase common understanding and improve lives of autistic people. www.twitter.com/autismdialogue

Mindfulness – my story

‘Mindful Awareness & Remembering’ is a better translation of the Pali word: Sati.  It has become known simply as Mindfulness.  I attended an all day conference at Sheffield’s Centre for Mindful Life Enhancement recently and was surprised to hear how popular it has become, even at Parliamentary level a report has been produced called ‘Mindful Nation UK‘ led by and  around 145 MP’s are currently practising.  The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy) for the treatment of recurrent depression. Research also shows positive effects on several aspects of whole-person health, including the mind, the brain, the body, and behaviour, as well as a person’s relationships with others.

Mindfulness - in Chinese

This is the story of how I came to love Mindfulness.

I first started meditating in 1981, aged 15, using guidance from books on Yoga, Buddhism (and even Astral Projection!) from the central library.  I learned Chi Gong (mindful movement practice similar to tai chi) from various masters during the 1990’s and continue with it daily today.  In the 1980’s I had numerous experiences under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, which I know is controversial but it was an important component to my spiritual search.  In 1988 I realised deeply that drugs were not the answer to my search as their effects are temporary and limited. Shortly thereafter I met a Sufi Master of the Naqshbandi Order in a public talk at Sheffield City Hall and I became his student.  I followed the strict practices of the order for 20 years until near the time the Sheikh died.  These practices included prayer, recitation and zikr (‘remembering’ awareness by chanting both quietly alone and aloud in groups).  I lived a very ascetic lifestyle as the Sufi life took up every waking moment.   For example, I would awake every night, two hours before dawn, to do meditation, zikr and prayer for three hours until the sun rose then went back to bed and awoke mid-morning to begin again.  I fasted weekly and in Ramadan and performed many retreats in Sheffield, London and Northern Cyprus at the Sheikh’s home.  I once spent 40 days and nights in my garden shed in a village near Glastonbury meditating and chanting by myself, only eating lentils and onions.  In 2007 I broke from this religious lifestyle when I was living on the Isle of Skye, working as a postman and making a film about the island.  The intensely natural island atmosphere gave me a fresh, new perspective.  My family and I then returned to Sheffield.  I was to pursue a Contemporary Fine Art degree and a career as an artist.

In 2008 I was reading works of Thich Nhat Hanh, which I found very healing at the time I was going through divorce. In 2010, I decided to see what the Sufi practices felt like again. I also undertook a counselling course and trained how to be a Muslim Chaplain; here it became evident to me I was trying to marry my spiritual leanings with a practical vocation.  I applied for a couple of volunteer chaplaincy posts but then realised it wasn’t for me.  When I was on my final year of my degree I learned Bohm Dialogue, a radical, mindful way of group dialogue, as part of our wider critique methodology.  Dialogue was the best part of my whole three years at university.

Two years after graduating I learned Mindfulness Based Life Enhancement (MBLE) on an eight-week course led by Dr. John Darwin, based in the University’s Multi-faith Centre.  I began reading and watching the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the man generally accepted as the leading exponent of the modern Mindfulness movement in the West. He defines Mindfulness as “Awareness gained by paying attention to the development of experience with intention, here and now, moment by moment and in a non-judgmental way.”

On the MBLE course were formally taught a variety of tools including: sitting meditation, full body-scan, watching the breath, sounds, thoughts etc. mindful walking, mindful moving (yoga, chi gong etc.), thee minute breathing space, mindful dialogue, communication and eating and the Core Relational Qualities (loving kindness, compassion, empathic joy and equanimity).  We were taught that informal practice is about having mindful moments throughout the day where one is conscious of what is happening and what one is doing and experiencing.  We explored the relationship of mindfulness to positive psychology, negativity bias, savouring, optimism, hope, gratitude and forgiveness, through experience not exposition.  The course included a Day of Silence near the end which was a very good way of deepening the practice.  Since then to the present day I maintain a morning Mindfulness practice and maintain contact with the Centre.

In 2015 I visited Plum Village Monastery, the Mindfulness Practice Centre of Thich Nhat Hanh, with my father.  This commune is a very peaceful and loving place in the French countryside, where one can easily find deep peace, solace and love.  Here I even met a famous African war general.

Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh

Many of the Mindfulness practices and principles of Buddhism match closely with the essence of Sufi practice.  The core of them both is the premise that All is One – the universe is an indivisible unit.   This understanding has always excited me and driven me to pursue learning and meaning.  Mindful recollection of our primordial state is at the heart of the spiritual quest.

I have learned about many techniques and met numerous teachers. I read and watch interviews on an internet channel called Conscious TV.  I have been on various Vipassana retreats of up to three days, with Sheffield Insight Meditation Group.

Chisholme House, Scotland

In 2011 I spent time at the Chisholme Institute, the home of the Beshara School in Scotland.  I attended a short study course and worked in the forest. At Chisholme there are twice daily thirty-minute group meditation sessions. All the courses, learning, practices and living at Chisholme is done mindfully.  I then started my own monthly study group in Sheffield, which started with thirty minutes’ silent meditation and ended with a mindful group walk in our nearby woods.  Hester Reeve (my previous university tutor) and I held a four-hour Bohm Dialogue session at Chisholme for sixty five people and this was commenced with my leading a twenty minute guided Mindfulness session. Mindfulness is an intrinsic part of Dialogue and it is evident that for me it needs to be practically incorporated into Dialogue practice.  I am now a member of the UK Academy of Professional Dialogue.

In 2014 I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and ADHD, after going to my GP to ask about mild depression and unusual thinking habits.  I had also done the online test and came out positive.  The diagnosis involved various interviews with neuroscientists in quiet, dimmed rooms.  During one of the interviews I discussed my experiences with meditation and the notion of universal consciousness.  This diagnosis and new understanding helped my mental state greatly and I could improve my meditation techniques.   I have realised my spiritual journey is not separate from my diagnosis and my practices have helped me manage it and even lessen some of the more negative effects.

I started personal study of various other methods of meditation including some from the Advaita Vedanta tradition and now often incorporate some basic self-inquiry practices from this tradition.  The thing I enjoy about Advaita is the philosophy that Supreme Consciousness is ever present and there is no difference between our inner and outer world.

Mindfulness is my own private practice where I have a way to escape all of my thoughts and find bliss.  To visit such communities and places such as the wonderful Plum Village is a bonus.  I am pleased that my children are very much involved in Mindfulness in their own ways too.

We are born mindful, we just get covered by layers of ‘mindless’ conditioning.

Is God an Autistic?

Jonny Drury

I’m working on my memoirs.  They’re the record of my life’s attempts to mine the jewel of that all-pervading mystery of why things are as they are.   My goal is to tap as deeply into pure consciousness as possible, to discover the meaning to my existence.  It’s a story of becoming, and how late diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome at age 48 unravelled many mysteries and revealed to me my vocation.

Through my newly acquired lens of the autistic spectrum, I explore a life of soul-searching and mysticism, including twenty years living as a strict Sufi-Muslim, an overland trip to Mecca for the Hajj.  I reflect on a turbulent childhood with glimpses of a truer world, a troubled youth in Sheffield, profound experiences with hallucinogens, hitch-hiking to free festivals, a spell in a young offenders institute, finding a way out of drugs into religion, marriage, home-schooling, divorce, as a postman on the Isle of Skye, as a multi-faith chaplain, a film-maker and an experimental music promoter, an artist-educator, a university student, a food business owner and finally working in Mindfulness, Dialogue and Autism.

My book works with the idea that life is our greatest teacher and so has growth to selfhood at the core.  It’s a personal search for self with hope, reconciliation, finding happiness and becoming human.

I explore the challenges of living spiritually, consciously and socially in the Western secular world, personally and by observation, the many challenges of Aspergers and ADHD and being labelled as disabled.

The book will hopefully appeal to a wide audience, particularly those working in the field of autism and different cultures.

I never would’ve considered myself disabled. I argue that disability, particularly autism, is a societal and contextual matter and there are many things disabled with our society too.   Autistics can have a ‘spiky profile’ with social limitations but at the same time may be of higher than normal intelligence and therefore utilise aspects of their condition for positive means, excelling when alone.  A person with no legs is no different from a person with legs, when both are lying down. Taking this discussion as wide as possible, self-acceptance of one’s uniqueness becomes a positive, identifying factor.  Is autism a social phenomenon? I want to know why some autistic people on one hand need to assert their individuality / autism as a strength but at the same time seem to be frustrated with a perceived lack of others’ acceptance of them.  Autism has become a movement, which seems to have some paradoxes…

A disability as complex as autism requires an experiential viewpoint and from people who have lived on both sides of diagnosis.  I present my own experiences and it will be up to the reader to decide if I’m an expert or not.

‘Is God an Autistic?’ is the working title and publication is currently planned for Winter 2017.

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All in my mind

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.

Shakti – the primordial cosmic energy.

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

Conscious Art

'Fear of Other People'. (2007)
‘Fear of Other People’. (2007)

Consciousness creates constantly. You are continually, consciously perceiving, interpreting and creating meaning.  Therefore consciousness & creativity are constants and preside before anything else., except that which presides before anything else.

In the realm of art, in whatever medium, consciousness is of course extremely important, even crucial.

The painting pictured here took around 30 minutes.

I spent a whole year on a single painting once, without realising all I really, ultimately needed was to get out of the way and become a mere conduit for a ‘higher’ art… a higher consciousness.   When I look at that painting, it does feel somehow satisfyingly ‘real’ to me as something of that era in my life was unintentionally transmitted onto the canvas through the brush and colours.

I’m very interested in how art can connect with, and be a celebration of, the absolute and pure source of all creation, residing in and with each one of us.

Here’s a few more of my artworks.

Below is one of a series of workshops I designed and ran in schools and galleries.

My Sacred Identity – School Workshop.

How do you blog the present?

Spontaneous activity is what fascinates me the most.  Being ‘in the zone’ writing for others to read is an interesting idea.  The question of a book or a blog is how much weight of the original essence or the immediacy, does it carry? It’s the same with any art form and I studied this academically and experiencially at university (although I’m not sure we came up with any answers!) I do have a 4ft square painting hanging in my lounge which took me the best part of the whole of the first year on my degree, whilst I searched for the spark… it stands as a testimony for the search but how much of the ‘spirit’ of that search?  My final piece of the whole degree was a collection of video clips of people in the town centre staring into the camera. I’d also experimented with public ‘interventions’ such as randomly introducing myself to people or unreeling a cotton reel down a busy shopping precinct and consequent interaction with strangers, this uncovered something of the social and empathic in me.

After emerging from meditation, which I just have, I feel writing is a satisfying and useful medium to express spontaneity, merely because one’s nature is more spontaneous, this being the goal of meditation; to be free from concept and relativity. I have tried vlogging these moments but immediacy on video somehow gets confusing for me or it’s just too crude and live-streaming has already offered us a window into the worlds of the less sophisticated.

So we’re left with the age old problem of capturing time.   As a kid I recall conversations with my brother around time’s elusiveness, “Come back second!’ we’d laugh.  An art form must somehow embody something eternal, even if the message is about transience or temporality.

One thing I deduced from my reflection earlier is that it’s not totally futile to try to pass on the spirit of peace, love and tranquility cultivated in a sitting aimed at transcendence..

All states pass and all art can do is honour the total powerlessness of itself.

Livestream anyone….?

Om Shanti.

Meditation makes you happy.

Meditation doesn’t change life.  Life remains as fragile and as unpredictable as ever.  Meditation changes the heart’s capacity to accept life as it is.  It teaches the heart to be more accommodating; not by beating it into submission, but by making it clear that accommodation is a gratifying choice” – Sylvia Boorstein

“Our notions of happiness entrap us.  We forget that they are just ideas.  Our idea of happiness can prevent us from actually being happy.  We fail to see the opportunity for joy that is right in front of us when we are caught in a belief that happiness should take a particular form” – Thich Nhat Hanh