Unconditional Friendliness: A Retreat led by Zohar Lavie.
Whirlow Spirituality Centre, Sheffield. 24th & 25th September 2016
It’s 9pm and the retreat finished four hours ago. Here are some notes I wrote during it.
I am not my job.
I am more than my business.
I have much more to offer.
I wish to be of real service.
The aware breath is the pure breath.
I wish to teach the dharma.
Intention to Focus
Attention on breath/body.
Observe/acknowledge distraction and return to no.1
Then, it is all kindness to self.
The Four Immeasurables.
Metta; Unconditional friendliness
Attitudes / acknowledge suffering; whatever is happening is the training ground – Life is all. Reveal the true nature. Watering the seed / nourishing the conditions to grow (small experiences are as important).Metta: we are all share at the core wanting to be happy.
Consciousness is a constant / Gom (Meditation; Tibetan)
I am in the world, not of it. These practices are more appropriate for today’s society.
Karuna (Pali); compassion or ‘quivering of the heart’ (pain etc.) comes from or with the two; Acceptance and ‘wishing different’. Discernment is required.
The Glass Mask is a tool but ofttimes an incumbrance.
We all wear our personality traits (masks) and behave in special ways for different people, in different circumstances and in different social contexts and cultures. A measure of this would be to ask yourself how relaxed and open you were with the neighbour you don’t really get along with, or a store assistant. We have social norms and the way you behave with your spouse won’t be the same way you behave with your work colleagues. These masks, which are a major part of our psychology, we design not to disguise our total self but to ‘play a part’ of ourself in order to make things run more smoothly and efficiently, to get what we want and at the same time help maintain a functioning society.
The Glass Mask is a term that I came up with to describe the sensation or phenomenon of the continuous mask wearing that, an autistic person (in particular one with Aspergers, like me) might use in order to cope and maintain smooth functioning with the world at large. With the very unpredictable and usually heightened sensory stimulation an autistic person experiences, a constant coping mechanism develops; a glass mask. This could imply that the person, in wearing a mask constantly, is never their real self (whatever that maybe) but that is not the case. You can ‘see the person’ through the mask (and they can see you of course) but as the passive observer you may notice a slight unusualness about them; an odd, perhaps ungrounded-ness or intensity as the mask (and the person) does its best to maintain equilibrium in the sensory circus, which is the mind of the autistic.
For the person wearing the glass mask, a struggle is taking place. The unpredictable fluctuations of the levels of sensory input being received and transmitted by the brain means a constant guardedness is needed. Removing the mask would leave the person open to reveal extraordinary levels of brain activity, which could damage the circumstance and upset the relationship. Leaving it on, as strange and usually very tiring it may be, they know they aren’t being fully them self. This is the dichotomy of the mask; it is a simple yet profound coping mechanism, which is constant, but for some of the time (when brain activity is stable) it is an incumbrance.
Behind the transparency, looking out, there is a real person and like many people, often cautious and vulnerable. Mask-wearers are usually very perceptive and have the ability to spot other mask-wearers; they hold sincerity and truth in very high regard.
The beauty of the mask is also it’s transparency. If you look at an autistic person closely with the right eyes in the right moment, you might see through the mask and be rewarded in seeing a real, sincere and special (as we all are in reality) human being. In so doing you may even play a part in aiding them, for just a moment, to discard the glass mask.
Check this video out I just came across. Intriguing stuff and a great tune.
One thing you should never do if speaking to someone ‘depressed’ or ‘troubled’ is to make them feel guilt about it. Only with compassion have you any chance at all of reaching or helping that person. Otherwise it is better to leave your own baggage inside and not speak to that person.In the case of someone with Asperger Syndrome a depressed or troubled episode can be a ‘meltdown’. This is brought on by accumulated stress and manifests simply as an inability to process further input, which can be very disturbing or frightening, even if he/she appears to be in full ‘control’. Sensory input for an AS person is erratic and usually exaggerated. Again, exasperation of these symptoms can be brought about by challenging them. Although the sufferer might appear contrary, in denial, in control or defensive, these are survival techniques, of which a AS person is very good at, often to their own detriment. These situations can also be very difficult and disturbing for the person accompanying the sufferer too.
Think back to that persons recent activities or experiences and see if there’s anything you think may have resulted in this overload you are witnessing. Reflect on the real possibility that the person has experienced sensory input of an event(s) on a far greater level than a ‘normal’ person. Do not haphazardly question or interrogate but try and stay with a listening, compassionate ear. It may be a good opportunity to learn something for you both.
Finally, please be aware that that person harbours no ill feeling towards you and in fact is in all likelihood is in more emotional pain, with the inability to explain the enormity of their predicament to someone whom they may well love very much.
Last night I dreamed a dream. When I was a kid I used to see this disgusting black, slimy, oily, fat sausage like snake in my head. Frightening. Last night I saw it clearly for the first time in a dream. It started snake size then grew quickly as it ate through walls and everyone was very afraid. But then, shortly after it disappeared down the street, about 40ft long and 10ft tall, many people came out to try and trap it by lining the streets they thought it might go down the road between them and then end up in the public swimming pool where assumedly, it would meet its fate by drowning. I knew they were wrong as it could and would simply eat them and buildings and ignore their stupid idea. The thing that annoyed me though is that no one had made it clear what the plan was. Not one sign or announcement did I see or hear, which explained the plan to defeat the black snake, or why. I took this up with a few people who got annoyed by my asking, as though I was just supposed to join in by copying everyone else and not ask questions. In the end I went to collect my kids from where they were playing and was pleasantly surprised it hadn’t got us yet and almost got used to its impending appearance. Oh, big bad black oily snake, I love you for your unique horridness, but who are you and what do you want? And why are people so stupid and blind to your power? I don’t want to join in with them, even if they think they have a consensus plan to thwart you, with no genuine explanations or instructions whatsoever…
I sit quietly listening, watching, accepting. In deep reflection, in full acceptance. I submit before all the forces surrounding me, the combined forces are one. In my final and ultimate surrender to all that is, there I find salvation, subsumed and realised I am that force and that force is me. There is no difference between myself and the ultimate Self; I the separate disappears to become I the universal. There, all is perfect, harmonious peace. Sat Chit Ananda. Being Awareness Bliss.
It was simply that the door was wide open, the light flooded in and I should’ve gone, but something more powerful was holding me back. I was filled with a familiar melancholia I’d experienced too often and I still didn’t know the reason for it. I was tired and slightly hungry. I knew I needed some people around me too, but I had no means of transport except a bike with a slow puncture, which felt too risky. I also had work to do but couldn’t imagine doing it in the pub without a reliable means of transport to escape. This meant I had to stay in and do the work and either order a mediocre or too hot Indian takeaway or rustle up whatever I could find in the kitchen.
At least there was a cold bottle or two in the fridge I could look forward to. Relaxing wasn’t my strength in those days and this was the odd thing: the warm evening sun flooded in accompanied by a gentle breeze and distant birdsong. Yet as I sat there on the kitchen stool I was only imagining I knew what peace and tranquility was. I was detached from these oft talked about things. A foreboding also wafted around me, a telling of a stressful and troubled world, right here, right now. It could be the intense sadness and pain experienced by countless people at this moment, brought in by the dying sun. It could just be a chemical reaction to lack of food or a psychological one to an overwhelming day. Or both. I was also, as usual, missing the kids.
I had just returned from my monthly Asperger ‘discussion group’ and felt I’d left something behind. This was the more likely explanation if I had to provide one to myself, which I felt I did.
I sat quietly and allowed the feelings to rise.
What a strange and unusual setting. What a wonderful opportunity to simply ‘stop the world’ and explore ones feelings and experiences. What a chance to pause and reach into the air of compassion itself… to allow compassion to reach into us.
Perhaps this was at the heart of the matter; in such a gathering of minds, we shared something greater than ourselves and in doing so, felt the lack too.
I’ve always believed the individual doesn’t exist in entirety and my softened heart was now drawn to more of my kinsfolk. In a form of self-imposed isolation, miles from any chance of satisfying my need for more social experience, the sadness was real, yet as beautiful and fragile as the Earth the sun will one day destroy.