Factoring in the Physical – what makes #autistic #Stoicism different

wires catching on fire on a bare floor

It’s not enough to get your thoughts in order. The body also has a say.

So, I’m back from a four-day graduation celebration / reunion marathon with my in-laws. These are folks who speak quickly in accents I don’t immediately understand, which can be challenging — especially when I’m tired. The whole “shindig” took place in a major metropolitan area where the traffic is heavy and unpredictable. I almost got hit a couple of times by people who were driving faster than they were watching. That seemed to be the overriding theme of the whole long weekend. People moving too fast. Not paying attention. Endangering others with their excesses.

The airport arrival, rental car pick-up, a crowded and loud graduation, four group meals, and the rental car / airport return were one extended experience in general melee. Chaos. Unrecognized patterns. A way of life that’s diametrically opposed to my own, with no space left for someone like me. No space at all. Because people like me are somehow … “wrong” to be the way we are. Overriding hyperdominance of mainstream neurotypicality. Hypermasculinity. Hyperfemininity. Hyperactivity. All around.

And for someone as sensitive as I am, that’s no fun at all.

On the bright side, this sort of condensed slog through the dross of that brand of mainstream life isn’t going to happen again, anytime soon. That’s something to be grateful for. Actually, things could have gone much worse than they did.

I got to put my Stoicism to good use during the whole trip. I did a bit of reading of Stoic writers, to get myself settled. I put the principles to good use. I kept it together, more or less, the whole time. Actually, I did better than keeping it together. I was engaged. I was interactive. I was socially appropriate. I conversed. I supported. I struck up conversations with strangers and family alike. I listened to the litanies of complaints about people who weren’t in the room. And I offered what input and perspective I could, to round out the overriding tone of criticism and negativity.

And I handled the ups and downs (mostly) like a trooper. We had to leave no later than 5:30 a.m. to make our flight. I got us up and out the door in time. The flight out was delayed. Okay. I hung in there. My partner needed additional help getting around; I made sure she got the assistance she needed. The car rental took an hour just to get through the line, and then I had to wait another 20 minutes for my car to be available. Then they parked it in the wrong spot, so I didn’t find it for another 30 minutes. Traffic was intense, driving through the central artery at rush hour. Almost got hit a couple of times. (I think I mentioned that.) Got to the hotel 2 hours later than expected, due to all the delays. Didn’t have time to take that much-needed nap. Getting to the graduation that evening was a truncated version of the hero’s journey, and the night ended late – around midnight – because my in-laws wanted to “hang out” and talk about the most vacuous sh*t you can imagine, while eating food that I (and my partner) should not eat.

And that was just the first day.

The 2nd day, I at least got a break in the morning, because the rest of the family wasn’t arriving till later that day. I had the morning to myself, to read and think and write a little bit. And I got a short nap. Not nearly enough, though. Plus, the anticipation of them arriving – mentally preparing myself for the impending onslaught of their indignation and outrage – kept me on edge. I wasn’t wrong to anticipate that. The first words they said as they came through the door of the hotel suite were bitter complaints and acrimony about the relatives who had given us the occasion to deal with all that… stuff.

A big graduation gathering in an unfamiliar place with lots of (drinking…. and drunk) strangers who talked fast with accents I couldn’t understand… Followed by a day of confusion and lack of communication and no clarity at all, replete with two group meals in loud, noisy, chaotic restaurants. Six conversations going on at the same time at the table, at any given moment… not to mention all the sounds and conversations I could hear around me in the respective rooms… The day culminated in a drinking-induced accident where the 3-1/2 year old darling of the family was dropped on her head by an uncle who was playing with her after having a few drinks.

We got out of there on Day 4, leaving 30 minutes later than planned, “hauling ass” down the road on the Sunday before Memorial Day, when all the cops were out, looking for holiday travelers to top off their speeding ticket quotas… finding a gas station off a remote exit, getting to the car rental place, handing over the car and then getting a ride to the terminal from the car rental folks… Checking in with a very, very friendly agent (who also spoke with a very heavy accent and was hard to understand)… and then having to schlepp on a shuttle train to a terminal several stops away.

Ironically, just when things were going right, is when I lost it. A few small bumps in the road, on the very last leg of the journey reduced me to tears. And all the while, I was telling myself to chill… keep cool… it was going to be over soon… this was good training… I told myself this was my Askesis for the weekend – the week – the month – hell, the year. I reminded myself of all the right things… all the most Stoic things I could think of. I quieted my mind. I cultivated a “Bring It On” attitude. I was perky, up-beat, pro-active, can-do.

But in the end, I still melted down. I lost it on a relatively mild scale, when I was in the airport terminal — withdrew to a bathroom stall and wept quietly for 15 minutes or so — then got myself together. We made the final flight and drive home in good shape, which was a blessing. And I thought my collapse was over — a more dramatic one averted. But yesterday, while I was resting, recuperating, I melted down in a far grander scale. Full-on nuclear reaction to something my partner said that was unkind and aggressive, but certainly not on the level with which I reacted.

I hate when that happens. Especially because it’s not supposed to. Not with me. Not with my Stoic approach to life. Not with my practical philosophy that I put into action on a daily basis. I’m capable of better, I know. But it all fell apart yesterday. For real. For very, very real.

It’s not often I melt down like I did, yesterday. And I hate watching myself do it. The sense of sliding down into that pit of despair and self-loathing, watching and listening to myself say things I both mean and don’t mean, gripping the proverbial reins of my out-of-control system, so I don’t drive myself (and everyone around me) off a proverbial cliff. Praying (because that’s all I can do, despite being a borderline atheist) that I don’t do the kind of damage I know I could, if the meltdown took me over completely.

And the aftermath… the aftermath… That sick, sinking feeling where everything feels like it’s been marinated in manure… stinking and sticky and pathetic. That feeling that, if I were to be told I had just a week left to live, I wouldn’t care at all — I’d be relieved, in fact. I don’t get pro-actively suicidal at those moments, but I really don’t care if I live or die. I just don’t care. Nothing matters. Nothing is worth it. All I can sense is my uselessness, the utter pointlessness of my existence, which seems little more than a source of pain to myself and others around me.

I know logically that it’s not true. I talk myself through the objective facts that I’m loved, that I’m cared-about, that people want me in their lives. But the sense of it all… that awareness is simply not palpable. I can’t feel it. Can’t sense it. It doesn’t exist in my experience. Only the anguish, the biochemical dross, the aching, gnawing regret.

Only that.

And the day after — following a whole afternoon and early evening of taking to the bed to sleep and read and recover — I still have that hangover. Still have that nagging sense of uselessness, of failure. I’m a Stoic, committed, determined, well-practiced. And yet… this.

This.

Which inclines me to believe that while the mind is all very well and good, when it comes to thinking your way through life… the body still has to be reckoned with. The Autistic body. The physical vehicle, so excruciatingly finely tuned to each and every sensation, each and every input, each and every indicator of joy and pain and alert and ecstasy… that still must be acknowledged, factored in, respected for what it is.

As much as I’d love to believe that a well-trained mind can overcome adversity (and mine does, under most circumstances), the fact of the body can’t be overlooked. Or underestimated. Our biochemistry has sway. Our neurology has a say in how things develop. And defaulting to the mind — and mind only — under circumstances like the ones of my past week, can be a recipe for autistic disaster.

I realize that this is the conundrum I’ve been up against for the past 19 years, since I first realized that I was on the autism spectrum. Taking a mind-only approach to things, treating my life as though it can be thought into shape, steered down the right paths exclusively by habits of mind and applications of philosophy. Yes, those things can work. And they do often prove effective. But if I’m going to be 100% honest about my situation, I have to accommodate my body… my biochemistry… my neurology… my individual autistic corporeal makeup in everything I do.

I have to accommodated the body, as well as train the mind. It doesn’t make me weak. It doesn’t make me vulnerable. If anything, that realization gives me an advantage. When I use the autistic brain I was given to work with the autistic body I’m in, things have a way of sorting themselves out.

But when I go the mind-only route… yeah, that’s when things get needlessly “eventful”.

I still have a long way to go, before I’m on firm footing again. But I’m getting there. At least I’m aware.

And determined to do something productive with it.

Done with that autism spectrum “disorder” business

Here’s one more area where Stoicism is helping me a great deal — getting me over that danged devotion to what others think. And what they do. It’s actually none of my business, if I think about it.

Aspie Under Your Radar

outlines of people in different colors

I woke up a bit irritated, today. I’m happy for the weekend, but the weather is dreary, and my shoulder hurts. There’s a whole lot of stuff I want to do, while I have the free time. But I didn’t sleep quite as much as I’d wanted to, which is problematic. Oh, well — I’ll get a nap later. It’ll cut into my plans, but so it goes.

I was also irritated about the whole designation of “disorder” that goes with autism. I got my proverbial mental wheels spinning last night, thinking about Roy Grinker’s assertion that autism is a social construct. Gah! When I think about it, it just seems like yet another straight, white, neurotypical man getting pissy about being left out, and wanting to say that a group he can’t belong to doesn’t exist, rather than accepting that he’s not part of it, and will never be, so…

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Seneca : What makes us wicked

skeleton in the desert

For this is what makes us wicked: that no one of us looks back over his own life. Our thoughts are devoted only to what we are about to do. And yet our plans for the future always depend on the past.

Seneca – Letter LXXXIII. On Drunkenness

I’ve been wicked, of late – no, let me be more precise… I descended into wickedness over the course of days, in April. I’d love to blame it on “Autism Awareness Month” and all its attendant stresses, but that would be inaccurate.

I descended of my own accord, by never looking back on my own life, even the recent hours and days and weeks, and putting it all in context.

I got caught up in my individual troubles, the things that cropped up, along the way, the distractions, the annoyances, the hurts, the dramas. I got caught up in others’ dramas (its own particular form of wickedness). I lost my course. I lost my Stoic “star” that kept me centered and, well, sane, in the midst of all the world’s doings.

I forgot about the Stoics. I tend to do that. I pull inside myself, I go marching off in search of new and exciting areas of focused interest. I lose my bearings. I lose sight of my “star”.

And then… wickedness.

Fortunately, I seem to be recovering. Nope, life isn’t any more glorious than it was three weeks ago. But my frame of mind is considerably better. Part of this I attribute to waking up and exercising, listening to music while I read Stoic writings, instead of getting on Twitter. I love my Tweeps, and some of what I find there is so interesting and engaging. But it also gets me into fight-flight mode, first thing in the morning. And that’s not helpful, when it comes to keeping calm and starting my day on the right foot.

Ironically, I actually downloaded an audiobook about Stoicism to listen to, while I was driving home from my parents’ place. But the biography of Simone Weil held my attention more. So, I listened to that. I still have the Stoicism audiobook, and I may give it a listen, but I think I’d actually like reading it more than listening to it.

So it goes.

I’m working my way back from my wicked ways, once again discovering just why Stoicism appeals to me as much as it does… and learning my lessons as I go.

Training the body, training the mind – and chasing divine indifference

desert landscape

 3. The question which I ponder most of all is this; if the body can be trained to such a degree of endurance that it will stand the blows and kicks of several opponents at once and to such a degree that a person can last out the day and resist the scorching sun in the midst of the burning dust, drenched all the while with their own blood, – if this can be done, how much more easily might the mind be toughened so that it could receive the blows of Fortune and not be conquered, so that it might struggle to its feet again after it has been laid low, after it has been trampled under foot?

For although the body needs many things in order to be strong, yet the mind grows from within, giving to itself nourishment and exercise. Yonder athletes must have copious food, copious drink . . . and long training besides; but you can acquire virtue without equipment and without expense. All that goes to make you a good person lies within yourself.

Seneca – Letter LXXX. On Worldly Deceptions

Today is a good day. I’m back to my routine. I got to bed at a decent hour last night, and I slept till I wasn’t tired anymore. I got up, got my exercise and breakfast, and now I get to sit and write for a couple of hours till I head in to the office. I get to listen to my music — a slow groove on Pandora — and just settle into the flow of thoughts for a while. Uninterrupted by all the excitement that’s bound to happen, later.

It’s encouraging. But it’s also discouraging. The low I’ve been in, for the past couple of weeks, has dragged me down in ways that don’t exactly speak to my Stoic commitment. And I’ve felt as vexed by the slings and arrows of the world, of late, as I was once indifferent to them — flush as I was with my Stoic resolve. My father has been ill. I’ve traveled back and forth to my parents’ place, twice in the past 2 months. Work has been crazy and irritating. My partner’s health has been up-and-down. I got a nasty case of poison ivy and have been on meds that have made me much more volatile than usual. My aunt died. I’ve been off my routine. My diet has shifted (from the travel). I haven’t been able to swim for the past 2 weeks, thanks to the travel and the poison ivy. I’m all discombobulated. Turned around and tired.

Kind of the perfect storm for an autistic person like me.

But none of this should matter to me, quite frankly. None of it. It’s not just a new Stoic ideal — it’s always been my ideal. My goal has always been: to be indifferent to external conditions, and continue on with sound mind (and body), keeping to my path, regardless of what’s going on around me. Keeping up with my reading. Keeping up with my writing. Staying the course of equanimity, regardless.

I know, I know… easier said than done. But still. That’s how I feel.

And it occurs to me, as I read the Stoics, these days, that some of what they say needs to be put in context, in order to be useful. And certain parts of their philosophy need to be disregarded. Namely, their emphasis on the mind, rather than the body. I’ve read some passages, where Stoics (can’t remember which, but it’s been more than one) have admonished their friends/readers/followers to pay less attention to the body and more to the mind. To not put a lot of emphasis on physical fitness, but focus wholly on the mind.

Roman Litter

In the context of their time and place — ancient Greece / Rome, long before there were cars and gadgets and machines to do everything for them/us — there was no lack of opportunity to get your exercise.  Go for a good walk. Lift and carry things. Expend some energy. Not everything was made of a featherlight composite that was as durable as it was light. Not everything was handled for them by a machine. Yes, some of them had slaves who did things for them. And some of them had litters they could ride in. But getting through life wasn’t a simple matter of figuring out which button to push, to get the thing / result you wanted.

Nowadays, we’re living under very different conditions. And actually, if you want to train your mind, you have to keep your body going, as well. More and more research correlates a sound body with a sound mind. And I can definitely tell that my mind is not working as well as it could, when I haven’t been exercising properly… like for the past couple of weeks.

As much as I’d like to think my state of mind is completely independent from my physical state, science tells us otherwise. And my experience does, too. So, I can’t take the Stoics too seriously, when they laud the mind over the body. Both of them have to work together — and that’s never more obvious than when I’m regarding my autistic experience. Autism is such a physical phenomenon, for me. And for many others. We’re wired. We’re connected in ways that many neurotypicals aren’t (and don’t understand). Sensitive. Like we’re cats covered with whiskers that pick up on everything around us and send continuous streams of signals to our sensitive systems.

Info overload.  It takes a special kind of relationship to the rest of the world, to manage it. And that special relationship, for me, includes a healthy dose of exercise, to tame the physiological reactiveness and “reset” my sensors at the beginning of each day.

When I take good care of my body, my mind follows suit. And I can actually attain that state of divine indifference I cherish. Actually, when I think of it, I shouldn’t even cherish that state. It shouldn’t make any difference to me. Which is yet another paradox — the most valued state is one that can’t possibly value itself. So, the minute I start feeling smooth and groovy about my indifferent state, I know I’ve slipped out of it. The only way I know it’s “working”, is if I don’t have any awareness of it at all.

Interesting.

Well, anyway, I’ve got another hour before I need to start my daily hustle. I’m back on my schedule — not that it should matter — and I’m feeling more like myself — not that it should affect me — and life is good — not that it should make any difference. I’m learning as I go, noticing the most interesting things.

And that’s about the most I can ask for, at any given point in time.

So, there ’tis. All grist for the mill.

What’s in a name? Simone in pain

light streaks in darknessThrough a strange fluke of faith, family, and passing conversation, I recently became acquainted with the philosopher Simone Weil. I’ve heard of her in the past, and I’ve even quoted some of her sayings in some of my earlier writings, but I didn’t know nearly enough about her. I didn’t even know how to pronounce her name. In search of an audio clue, I downloaded a biography of her by Francine du Plessix Gray, and my question on pronunciation was answered within the first 30 seconds.

I continued to listen beyond the first 30 seconds, however, in part because the narrator of the audiobook had a very enjoyable voice and a great accent, and also because right from the start, the story captured my interest and held it. I ended up listening to the book while I was driving home from visiting my family, taking note along the way, even laughing out loud, when the narrator would point out some “quirk” that Simone had, which to me was quite obviously an autistic trait.

Example after example came out – her black-and-white thinking with which she refused to give way, her intense giftedness, her facility with learning languages, her disordered eating, her confusion at sending the wrong signals to potential sexual partners, her eagerness to spend time with men more than women, her habit of dressing in men’s clothing, her self-harm, her ability to blend in with others my mimicking their manners and ways of speaking, her intense focus and all-consuming devotion to her subject(s) of study, and finally – but certainly not least – her avoidance of human touch.

As I understand it, her friends in particular took note when she didn’t want them touching her. She wouldn’t link arms in that fraternal way, and she did not freely kiss and hug even her friends – which must’ve been strange in France. I’ve worked in France, and interacted with a number of French folks, and the lack of a comradely kiss  – even among virtual strangers – was taken as an affront. I can’t even imagine how it must have struck her friends, when she would not allow any physical contact from or to them.

Her tactile avoidance was mentioned a number of times in the biography I listen to, and each time it became clearer to me that she probably had some level of tactile defensiveness, as many autistic people do. It’s not at all uncommon for autistic individuals to avoid contact, to shrink from touch, and to experience even the friendliest and one in arm as a violent blow. Sensory dysfunction – including tactile pain/discomfort – is one of the hallmarks of autistic experience. Pain in general can be pervasive as well – involving all of the senses, which are turned up to the highest volume – higher than most narrow typical individuals can imagine.

In my own life, when I am stressed, I cannot stand to be touched — especially not lightly. Every touch feels like a blow, and I pull away from any advances, no matter how innocent or friendly they are. With Simone’s eating disorder and the unavoidable stress that would have put on her system, her pain — if she had it — might have been intolerable. Or at the very least, intrusive.  Uncomfortable. Pain.

Hearing the narrator talk about her disordered eating, called out as anorexia, the way that she pushed herself when she was physically weak, the way she said herself to challenges which you knew to be beyond herself, as well as her often inhospitable living conditions – for example, not heating her home adequately and living in freezing cold temperatures during the winter – it all sounded exactly like someone with sensory dysfunction and a whole lot of pain who created conditions that would both heighten the sensations to the point of inducing delirium and also eclipse one sort of pain with the experience of another.

I, myself, often push myself through pain, using the negatively nociceptive experience as both a motivator to escape my current condition, and using the intense focus on whatever I was doing to block out any sense other than the object of my rapt, arduous attention. At times, I can push myself so hard, that a kind of delirium sets in — an altered state that lifts me above my pain-wracked body and the intrusions of the tactile world. In fact, much of what I’ve done in my life has been for the sake of escaping the pain of senses turned up to “extra sensitive”. It’s well nigh impossible to explain to a neurotypical individual without sensory issues, just how it is to live in a body that seems to conspire against you at every turn. It blocks you from human contact. It cuts you off from even the most innocent touches. It keeps you at arm’s length — and more — from those around you, whom you may long to feel close to, but can’t. Literally can’t.

For me, as with many other autistic individuals, such pain is not an unfamiliar experience. In fact, if anything, it’s the hallmark of my every day life. I won’t belabor the subject here with details about how … shall we say, “challenging” it is to function in a neurotypical world where people seem to be about as sensitive as a block of wood. Suffice it to say, I know exactly what it feels like to transport myself from the hell of sensory overload to the heaven of all-consuming, devotion to abstract thought about complexities that most people can’t be bothered with. That solace, that refuge, has a rarified quality to it, and in the silence of my own mind, in the comfort of my own thoughts (which defy vocalization, but find their way onto paper much more easily), I find peace. A frenetic, associational, eloquent peace.

But this is not about me. It’s about Simone. It’s about Simone Weil – Simone pain – Simone Vile. It’s about her name. For if she was autistic (as I am convinced), she may well have been synaesthetic, as well — having the ability to physically sense abstract concepts in her life. Some synaesthetes experience numbers or days of the week as colors. Some experience distinct sensations at the sounds of words — tasting them, or having a soft or hard or some other sense that accompanies the words. The German language is like that for me. Every single word feels to me like what it means. English, somewhat, but not so much. French, too, has its own sense, but since I don’t speak it well, it doesn’t have much of a “sensory footprint” with me.

And the more I think about it, the more I suspect at Simone’s surname itself — something she carried with her through her relatively short life — the more I suspect it may have set the tone for her experience, her pain, her devotion to suffering.

Her last name, Weil, really only works synaesthetically when you’re speaking French. In English and German, it can be… problematic. It’s my understanding that Simone was fluent in both English and German, which could have been a problem for her as a child who grew up speaking both. For the French pronunciation of the name, when spoken, is a homonym with the German word Weh — meaning pain, ache, hurt. If something hurts you, Es tut Weh – It does you hurt. “Ach Weh!” is an expression of dismay. To someone standing on the outside, without an autistic or synaesthetic sensibility, this might not seem like a big deal. But for those of us who have a deeply visceral experience of our world – including our own names – this easily could have had a significant impact on her, even if only subconsciously.

Now, if you pronounce her surname with a German pronunciation, Weil is a homonym for Vile. Disgusting. Distasteful. She refers to herself and other aspects of her life as “disgusting” in a number of places, as I understand it, and again I have to wonder if that can be traced back to her name. Or, in any case, the German pronunciation of her name, recorded from an English viewpoint. Again, if you consider the intensely visceral experience that the autist has in life, including a profoundly moving, synaesthetic experience of words, numbers, even days of the week, you can see how carrying a name like hers could have been problematic.

There’s much more to consider in terms of Simone in pain, but this I think is important start. As the rest of the world wonders at her intensely focused nature, her prolificness, her uncompromising approach to so much in life, when you look at it in terms of the autistic experience, perhaps it’s not quite as mysterious as many seem to think it is.

As I examine her life in retrospect through the lens of actually autistic experience, I believe there’s even more that has a chance to come to light, illuminating both the mysteries of Simone Weil – Simone Weh – and the autism that inspired her, impelled her, and may have even driven her to self-destruction.

This is just a start, but I think it’s a good one.

At least, it feels that way to me.

Stoic Women: Simone Weil

I only recently discovered Simone Weil, but I’m so glad I did. If you look closely at her relatively short life, autism is very much a part of it.

Stoic Compass

Since writings by ancient Stoic women unfortunately did not survive, I have been looking for writings and quotes by modern women, that could have been written or inspired by ancient Stoics. Doing some research I came across French philosopher Simone Weil.  Her brilliance, ascetic lifestyle  and knowledge made her a unique philosopher, half anarchist half mystic.
18395

Simone Weil’s lifelong philosophical inquiries came from many sources, but the ancient Greeks were the most important of all; she was a precocious student, proficient in ancient Greek by age 12. Despite her professed pacifism, she fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side. She wrote extensively with both insight and breadth about political movements of which she was a part and later about spiritual mysticism. Her book The Iliad, or the Poem of Force is one of her most celebrated works- an inspired analysis of Homer’s epic that presents a nightmare vision of combat as a machine in which all humanity is lost.

Although born into a…

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Simone Weil : attention, attainment, and autism

photograph of Simone Weil

Simone Weil

I suddenly had the everlasting conviction that any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius, if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment.  … the same conviction led me to persevere for ten years in an effort of concentrated attention that was practically unsupported by any hope of results.

Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul. Every effort adds a little gold to a treasure no power on earth can take away.

Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 64, 107-108

Via Ekāgratā — Hold It All

As I said the other day, I’ve just recently discovered Simone Weil. I’ve actually been vaguely aware of her for years. I’ve cited quotes from her in some of my writing, over the years. But I never really delved into her work or life… until a chance discussion with my sister about her, and I looked up an audiobook biography of her.

My intention was to simply confirm how you pronounce her last name. Since I speak German, I’d always assumed it was pronounced like the English word “vile”, but as it turns out, it’s pronounced like the German word “weh” — “VAY”  for the non-English-speaking crowd.

I’ve got a ton of thoughts about Ms. Weil, many of which came to me on my 9-hour drive home from my parents’ place, yesterday.  What jumps out at me — and this is only from listening to one biography — is just how autistic she was. So many of her defining qualities and traits — stubbornness, refusal to compromise, avoiding human touch, getting confused about “messages” sent to men, anorexia, compulsive perseveration on a narrow range of topics, the ability to concentrate with ferocious exclusion of everything not on her radar… monotone voice, lectures which “wandered” from topic to topic, her deep-deep exploration of certain authors with her students, her untimely death (autistics apparently often die before the neurotypical average ate), her habit of dressing in men’s clothing, and most of all her passion and prolific writing — it all sounds so incredibly autistic to me.

It also sounds a bit Stoic. She even used a pen-name of an ancient Stoic for one of her works, so even though my admittedly scant preliminary research hasn’t turned up much evidence that she was heavily invested in the Stoics, the issues she faced must have made Stoicism an appealing philosophy and life practice.

There’s so much to say about this, and I want to say it (all) in a way that does her justice. But my sensory issues are pinging on the high end of the spectrum today, what with the weariness of all that travel, the Benadryl I’m taking for my poison ivy which is whacking me out and putting me into a sensory bubble that’s delaying the registration of sensory inputs, and now my fevered interest in this Simone woman whom I’ve just recently decided to get to know… So, I may not be up to the task.

Jotting notes. Keeping track. Jotting more notes. Running mental commentary. Fitting it all together. I’ll be writing more — so much more — in the future. For the sake of thematic integrity, part of me wants to start a completely separate blog devoted to the Autistic Simone. But the last thing I need, right now, is yet another web property to manage. So, I’ll keep my exploration and commentary constrained to this space — and possibly over at Aspie Under Your Radar, as well. Ms. Weil was most certainly One Of Us.

Studying Simone is about more than getting to know her writings. It’s also about better understanding the nature of her devotions, her passions, her “idiosyncracies” which alarmed her friends and annoyed her enemies. I personally believe it’s impossible to fully understand the nature of the work of an autistic artist/writer/philosopher, especially their passions and fervor, unless you fully understand the role autism played in shaping them and making their life what it was.

Furthermore, this is a fantastic opportunity to better understand autism in the context of a famous  and highly regarded woman, whose nature was shaped by her unique neurotype, along with the female phenotype thereof. Her example stands out clearly, and her behavior was — to the trained eye — so unequivocally autistic, that the more closely we study her life and words, the more insights we can gain into the autistic experience as it manifests in women.

It’s my hope that scholars and fans of Simone Weil will find their way to my writings on this. I also hope that autism researchers and those who want to know more and better understand, will also find their way here. Mme. Weil provides a fantastic kaleidoscopic sort of portal into the world of autism, and her larger-than-life examples can do much to illuminate a confusing and oft-overlooked population — autistic women and atypically presenting men alike. Not to mention the non-binary folks who will most certainly identify at least a little bit with her outward presentation.

There’s a lot here to explore. And I’ll do that. For now, though, my meds are numbing me out and making it hard to type letters in the proper sequence. So, I’ll take a break, do some more reading and listening, cobble together some notes, and come back later, when I’m more coherent and able to keep up with the words I’m stringing together.

As Simone said, all those years ago:

… any human being, even though practically devoid of natural faculties, can penetrate to the kingdom of truth reserved for genius,

That is, any one of us, no matter how “unschooled”, can dig deeply into the realms of truth. Especially with reference to her.

if only he longs for truth and perpetually concentrates all his attention upon its attainment. 

Her experience — indeed, the experiences of countless autistic individuals who don’t fit the criteria laid out for 8-year-old middle-class white boys — needs to be focused on in an intentional and deliberate manner. To this task, I bring my full attention, though my direction may vary, from time to time.

… the same conviction led me to persevere for ten years in an effort of concentrated attention that was practically unsupported by any hope of results.

These things don’t happen overnight. You have to work at it. Concentrate. Persevere. And what better person(s) to do this, than her autistic peers, who may have had far less privileged preparation than she, but can still nevertheless partake in the sharing of her experiences. It’s the hope of communion, the desire and drive to uncover the truth… regardless of whether or not it all appears to succeed. This site is fairly unsupported by any hope that it will spread far and wide, especially with academics, since I have no official degree or academic pedigree. And yet, I cannot give up. I must continue. Obscurity or no. Drugged-out reactions or no.

Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light that is in exact proportion to them will flood the soul. Every effort adds a little gold to a treasure no power on earth can take away.

Even if things don’t seem to be taking off, still we must persevere. We must continue with the work. For one day — and who knows when or how or why — all the effort we/I have put into this enterprise will return something of such value that nothing out there can ever tarnish it. Indeed, it already is. The Work is its own reward. Indeed, it truly is.

And with this, dear reader, I leave you — for the time being.

Much more calls to be discovered, explored, plumbed, and probed.

And so I shall.

I shall indeed.

Of #Stoicism, #Autism and #Loss

My ultra-autistic aunt just died without ever getting a diagnosis or adequate support or considerations in her long life.

My mom covered for her, her entire life. Took up for her, fought bullies for her, ran interference with angry employers, basically made sure she had the best life possible.

And she had 78 relatively good years, compared to many who have nobody to take up for them.

It’s crushing, though, knowing how hard she had to struggle, how alone she was, how hard she worked to be part of things, and how mean people were to her.

She was such a part of my life, growing up.

And my grandparents often called me by her name. I was so much like her, growing up, and now she’s gone, and all I can think about is how close we were… and yet how impossible it was for us to really experience closeness due to constant . relentless . unforgiving . brutally punishing environmental stressors.

I never interacted with her in a situation that WASN’T overwhelming for both of us. We’d both just sit there, staring off into space, just trying to make sense of all the frantic sensory physical contact. It was way too painful for both of us.

I know that now. I didn’t before. It never really sank in. But now it is.

Crushing.

I know that, as a practicing Stoic, I should be more reasonable about this. I should condition myself to take loss in stride, and treat this like I would treat another person’s loss. Like just another part of life as we know it. Life, death, life, death… the endless cycle, which we can all reasonably expect to confront many times in our lives.

But detached reason not happening for me, today. I’m not sure when it’s going to happen. Reason does make itself known, here and there, and I get flashes of relief from realizing that this is just part of it all, and there were a lot of good things to celebrate and appreciate. Still, the fact of how hard it was for her to just be in the spaces we shared — and how hard it was for me just be, as well, it still burns. It aches. It feels like ground glass being rubbed into my heart.

And I weep. It started last night, when I got the news that she was probably going to pass pretty soon. And it came on me again, this morning. Just that ache. That void. The keen sense of loss of things that will never be. That loss of what might have been (under different circumstances) is keen, and it cuts. It’s about as illogical and unreasonable as it comes, but there it is.

There it is.

As much as I know that it’s all part of the flow, all part of what just happens as part of our sojourn here, there is still the pain. And it has its place. Tears have their place. Because, like it or not, autistic or not, we are — each and every one of us — connected. And perhaps those of us who are autistic are even more connected than others. The science points to it, actually. A hyper-connected brain has been proposed as the “cause” for autism, to begin with — a divergence in the pruning of synapses (autistic folks have more). Some call it a “failure” of synaptic pruning, while I (and other autistics) say it’s an evolutionary advantage that hasn’t yet been fully appreciated or understood.

That connection, I believe, is more than just synaptic. It’s also biochemical. And I believe that our connections with others actually trigger certain types of chemical reactions in our bodies, which literally shape us into the people we are. It’s structural. It’s intertwined with who we are and how we are. And when the people who help makes us who we are go away, it cuts out a part of us in a deep and abiding way.

That’s where the sadness comes in. And the tears. I believe that they serve a structural purpose, readjusting our biochemical composition through the hormone releases that happen when we cry, when we mourn. I don’t mean to be overly logical about it, but I do need to find reason in it, and not just dismiss it as a distraction that wouldn’t trouble “a proper Stoic”. I need to find a rational explanation that makes room for both my Stoic practice and also the very real and human need to grieve.

I never used to cry. It triggered migraines with me. So, I had to find ways to keep myself from crying, so I wouldn’t be literally debilitated by my emotions. I also didn’t understand the biochemical connection between tears and re-regulating my system. Now my migraines have been well-controlled for over a year, and I find myself able to just cry without paying a steep price. Now I understand that hormonal regulation piece of things, and crying now actually serves a purpose for me.

So, I do it. Not a lot, because it still leaves me feeling debilitated. But I let myself do it, when I need to.

I let myself feel the loss. I let myself feel how important she was to me. Even if we weren’t nearly as close as we might have otherwise been. Even if it was logistically impossible for us to form a greater bond than we did. Even if my own sensitivities kept me from being able to fully include her in my life — and vice-versa. Even if we were both mysteries to one another in many ways… She was still a huge part of my awareness.

And now I so keenly feel the pang of that loss.

Of course, it will pass. These things always do. But what won’t pass is the knowledge that things were never what I wanted them to be. Things were never what they could have been. Because of ignorance. Because of hostile conditions. Because… that’s just how things shaped up, given the circumstances of our lives.

There’s something to be said for accepting things as they are, and making peace with it. At the same time, there’s something to be said for seeing what can be made better — and taking the steps to make it that way.

That’s why I blog. That’s why I write. That’s why I publish. This one small voice speaking, this one small personality dancing on the stage of life.  Maybe, just maybe, someone like my aunt will see these words, will realize they’re not alone, and something might shift for them.

However small that shift might be, it’s still something.

It’s still something that can turn out good.

Better than it did before.

Getting to the #stoic good

boy walking on railroad tracks

8. Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

9. Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

– Epictetus: The Enchiridion

What will I choose today?

I’m feeling sore from my exercise, yesterday, and I’m a little cranky about an upcoming vacation. You wouldn’t think that vacation – of all things – would set me off, but it’s a change to my routine. And it’s with my parents, who are non-stop sensory-seeking, and are extremely challenging for me to deal with.  Constant talking. Non-stop. Constant processing, intellectualizing along philosophical lines that I disagree with (but won’t argue with them, because they’re entitled to their own opinion). Constant movement. Action. Zero down-time.

Yeah, I’m pretty tense about it, to be honest.  And when I spend time with them, things never, ever go the way I would prefer them to.

Don’t demand that things happen as you wish, but wish that they happen as they do happen, and you will go on well.

Part of me wishes that Epictetus were here, in my shoes, to deal with my parents. He might be a little less cavalier than he sounds. Then again, he was a slave before he became a philosopher. And I’m sure, living in Roman times, ~2000 years ago, it was no picnic. Plagues. Pestilence. War. Corruption. The works. Sorta kinda like what we’ve got going on now…

So, I can stop complaining, now. I can quit feeling sorry for myself. I live in the 21st century, and I’d much rather be here now, than back there, back then.

Plus, I have a lot of cause to be grateful. My parents and I weren’t on the best of terms for a number of years. And they didn’t treat me well, either. My sister actually told me that my parents were much harder on me than on the rest of the kids — suspicions confirmed. I’d always felt that way, but I figured it was just my imagination. Turns out, it wasn’t. My parents “had it out for me” from a very young age. Must have been something to do with my non-compliance. I was very non-compliant with them. To me, their heavy-handed exercise of authority wasn’t logically warranted. Saying “Because I said so,” was no reason for doing anything. Yeah – I had attitude problems, according to them.

So, we didn’t get along at all, for a long while. It was partly me, partly them. But really, it was mostly them. I tried so hard, for so many years, to meet them halfway, and they wouldn’t do it. I extended myself, made lots of effort, and I deferred to their sensibilities in their own house, even though I didn’t agree at all with what they were about… even though the foods they ate tore up my stomach… even though just being around them was an exercise in punishment — which I gladly took, because I really wanted to make it work. Plus, what was I supposed to do? Just stop living, because of my pain and sensitivities? That was never going to happen.

It was my choice to be around my parents. It was my choice to show up for my beating. That was on me. Because the pain was worth it to me. And learning how to live through it was the best kind of training for an excellent life I can think of.

Anyway, this weekend, I’m spending more time with my parents. Four days, about.  I’m in pain. And I expect to be in pain for pretty much the entire time I’m with my parents. Of course, there will be a lot of good times. Needless to say. But the whole experience is going to come at a price. And I need to gird myself in advance.

This is nothing new. Although on a certain level, it sounds unpleasant and problematic, it’s just part of the whole. And I learned a long time ago (through a practice which I eventually learned was Stoic in nature), to take the bad along with the good, and put up with a whole lot of bad, in order to get to the good.

See, I’ve always had a very clear sense that I have a choice in how I feel about things. I have a choice in how I react to things (or if I ever do react — sometimes I don’t). Epictetus said it well:

Sickness is a hindrance to the body, but not to your ability to choose, unless that is your choice. Lameness is a hindrance to the leg, but not to your ability to choose. Say this to yourself with regard to everything that happens, then you will see such obstacles as hindrances to something else, but not to yourself.

Pain is a hindrance to the body (and mind — I do get foggy), but not my ability to choose. I can do plenty of things while I’m in pain, and I can do a large number of things quite well while aching and feeling like I’m going to fall apart. Pain doesn’t prevent me from picking and choosing what I’ll do with myself — unless that is my choice.

Sensory sensitivities are painful to the eyes, the ears, the skin, but they don’t inhibit my ability to choose.  I can certainly use sunglasses, earplugs, and I can either wear clothing that doesn’t hurt me — or keep my attention so focused on things other than the sense of uncomfortable clothing that I don’t even notice it. I’ve got skillz I’ve developed over years and years for dealing with my sensory issues — not least of which is my intense focus that blocks everything else out.

So, while my skin may feel like it’s being peeled off… my eyes may be blinded by shafts of brilliant sunlight… and I may double over in pain from a sound that hits my eardrum just the wrong way… none of that keeps me from choosing how I’ll handle it, or what I’ll do next. Nor does it necessarily need to wreck my day.

Sure, it’s tiring. Sure, it’s draining. But that’s all part of it. You wouldn’t expect a marathon runner — no matter how in-shape or accomplished — to feel bright-eyed and bushy-tailed after running 26.2 miles in one stretch. Nor would you expect the most accomplished mountain climber to go out dancing, the night they get back from their trek up Everest. That’s just ridiculous. And the same holds true for me, each day, when I’ve “left it all on the field” — worn myself out, wrung myself dry of all energy — in the course of just living my life to the fullest.

So, yeah — hindrances come, hindrances go. My autistic issues are hindrances to my sensory experience, and they do complicate things. But they aren’t hindrances to my choice — my ability to direct my attention and energies in directions that make more sense.

When I remember what the nature of my experience is — autistic, all the way — and I agree to work with Nature as it presents itself to me in my own particular instantiation, things become quite clear. When I understand the physics of my situation, accepting things as what they are, rather than what the rest of the world wants/expects them to be… Stoicism lets me sort it all out.

In short:

  • See and address things as they are. Quit wishing they were another way.
  • Deal with it. Work with the inherent qualities of the circumstances.
  • And move forward. It’ll happen. It always does.

That gets me from the seeming bad to the essential good, in relatively short order.

Epictetus and “little things”

multi-colored board game pieces

12. If you want to improve. . .

Begin therefore from little things. Is a little oil spilt? A little wine stolen? Say to yourself, “This is the price paid for apathy, for tranquility, and nothing is to be had for nothing.” When you call your servant, it is possible that he may not come; or, if he does, he may not do what you want. But he is by no means of such importance that it should be in his power to give you any disturbance.

It’s not always easy to keep an even keel in the midst of daily life. I have my ideas about how things should go, the patterns I think the flow of life should repeat. I’m an  Aspie. I love my patterns(!) And when things don’t go the way I expect — or they go directly against how I “need” them to go — it’s pretty easy for me to get twisted up in it all.

Indeed, being on the autism spectrum is a recipe for sweating the small stuff. We’ve got a keen eye for detail, symmetry, the proper (and improper) ways to do things, handle things, make things come out the way they (most certainly) should be.

And the anxiety that comes from the idea that they won’t flow seamlessly as hoped / expected… well, that can be pretty disruptive. Especially when the anxious fears come true, and things really don’t turn out like they were supposed to. At all.

But here’s Epictetus admonishing his readers (over thousands of years) to prize equanimity over things turning out the way they’re supposed to. It’s better to have a level temper and be of calm mind and disposition, than to get all twisted up over stuff. Even if that stuff seems to matter. Even if that stuff is life-or-death. That’s the great unexpected gift of Stoicism — a training program for not letting even the Big Stuff rock your world off its axis. Short on money? It’s better to have a calm mind and disposition than to be flush with cash. Don’t let it get to you. People who report to you not doing their job? Meh. It’s more important to maintain your composure than have perfectly responding direct reports (in his case, servants).

It sounds like a tall order, but that’s the path Stoicism puts us on. And to get there, we have to work our way up from the little things to the Big Things, one unpleasant experience at a time.

Spill the oil? Get ripped off? Nobody said it’s easy to take them in stride. But those things are part of the price you pay for a stable temper and a level disposition. After all, you can’t practice your composure, if everything is turning out the way you want it, every time you turn around. You don’t build ironclad character from only good fortune. Where’s the challenge in that? Where’s the practice? The demand? The need for rigor?

Now, some folks interpret difficulties as a sign that you’ve done something wrong in your life — either you didn’t manage your present situation properly, or perhaps you “have it coming to you” from some prior laxity or bad deed. Some folks even go back to prior lifetimes to find explanations for the pains that people must endure. It all sounds a bit judgmental to me, to be honest… Whatever the “cause”, we all have things happen to us that don’t seem to have any basis or reason at all. Sh*t just happens. And deal with it, we must.

To me, it’s far more productive to take each challenge and difficulty as an opportunity to grow and change and refine my character. From one sticky situation to the next… and there always seems to be a next… That gives me plenty of opportunity to grow and change, to watch my temperament, to observe how I handle things, and improve as I go. To exercise my free will in how I’ll respond, and to refine my approach, when I find something isn’t working, and I’m getting all twisted up over stuff I’d rather take in stride.

I’m not sure I’m ever going to have the kind of equanimity I prize. But given the myriad aggravations that cross my path, each day, there’s no lack of opportunity to work on my technique. If I must suffer, at least I’ll suffer in style.

Over the little things.

All those @#$&% little things.