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On #AutisticJoy, Personality & Being in the Flow…


Autistic joy is hard to explain to another person. Pretty much ANY non-autistic person.

And trying to… drags me into Deep Philosophical Waters…


“What are you doing…?” My former mother’s voice was sharp…

I’m lying spreadeagled on the backyard grass, face down.

“I’ve called you three times.” She’s annoyed. “WHAT are you doing…?”

I don’t know it in Second Grade… But I have difficuties shifting attention when I’m focused…

So, I try to focus my ears… Then think back, review my short-term memory, and replay the last few moments. I try to hear, then translate, anything she might have said while I’m in my focus bubble…

Already at 7, this process of “rehearsing” or “rewinding the tape” to interpret what’s going on is an automatic and constant process. Any time I’m around… well, people.

Checking for my verbal mistakes. Missed social cues. Guessing if they meant what they said… or were just mocking me…

Desperately trying to understand what’s going on…?

Anyway… I’m still in the grass… sorting it out. Choosing words carefully to avoid trouble. Clearing my throat. Moving my sleeping tongue. Loosening my jaw. Just about ready to speak…

“HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

“Umm… Nothing…?” Close as I come to a falsehood… at that age.

I’ve been in the backyard an hour or so. Gloriously alone. Exploring with my new magnifying glass.

See… There was this great hobby shop in Johnson City. It had all kinds of cool “science toys.” And I’d saved up my 50-cent allowance for weeks to buy what the colorful package promised…

A “Real, hand-held, glass magnifying glass — with ALL-METAL handle!!”

I peered through it entranced. Examining grass leaves, dew drops, and…

Ants.

Dozens of ants. One after another. Legs. Antennae. Mandibles. Eyes. Guiltily burning off the occasional leg with focused sunlight…

Endless fascination…

I was in the flow…

“Okay. Whatever you’re doing…” I wait for her command that will end my timeless bliss… “Stop… doing it. It’s time for lunch.”

I sigh. Roll over.

And. Trudge. In.

Hardly sounds like abuse, right…..??


Ya know? Autistic joy is hard to explain. Like, to another person. Pretty much, ANY non-autistic person.

And trying to explain… to you… drags me into Deep Philosophical Waters.

Imagine that last, delicious dream you’re enjoying… as you drowse… in a warm snuggly bed… on a lazy Saturday morning… when you don’t have to get up…

Then, out of nowhere, someone screams, “GET UP!”

You’re so startled, for a second. You don’t know where you are, what you’re doing, the time of day, the season…

Now… imagine that…

Every. Damn. Day. Many, many, MANY times a day…

Torture. Right…..??!

Being startled out of the flow? It’s like that.

Capisce? Ya dig? Get it?

That’s as close as I can think of to explain Autistic Flow. Or, better yet, Autistic Joy. That same joy you see on the face of an autistic kid dancing endlessly… unashamed… in a sprinkler… in the sun…

Lost to the world. But found… in himself.

If I had to guess, this is precisely what Being in the Moment, in the Now, maybe, even Zen Satori…

Mean.

Now, this is all preamble to what I really wanna talk about…

Here’s the deal on Flow…

I think That’s where I spent most of my time as a kid.

When I wasn’t interacting with family, schoolmates, parents, teachers… the few humans I let into my life back then.

And that time alone…? Endlessly exploring, learning, feeling, being?

Bliss.

Gradually as I aged, these blissful moments became fewer and fewer… further and further and further apart… nearly gone…

First, I was forced into a school system… That I clearly was not wired for. Rigid. Lockstep. Regimented. Regulated. Scheduled. BORING. With no Free Time…

To be me.

Later, of course, it got MUCH worse. Jobs, relationships, finances… Life in modern Adult America?

I had a stress-induced stroke at 30.

Now, I’ve developed methods and routines to recapture flow… And I will talk about that in a moment.

But I have some personal speculation to get off my chest. First…

I don’t think I had a native personality when I was a kid…

At least not as neurotypical humans understand a personality.

My natural state, left to my own devices? Wandering from moment to moment of Autistic Joy. No motivations. No intentions. No (verbal) thought.

Which meant… I was either happy exploring…

Or I was forced to don my “personality”…

In other words, the language, facial expressions, body language, polite responses, and social lies that humans think of as “personality.” And that the social contract demands.

All of which is so natural for most humans, they aren’t even aware of it…

But, for me?

It was like being dragged out of my comfy pajamas, and forced into
the worst, most cumbersome, restrictive, awkward, embarassing winter coat,
ear muffs,
muffler,
heavy snow boots,
and mittens
your mother ever stuffed you into to get on the bus to kindergarten…

And it still is. At nearly 70.

Especially, “fun times”… Parties. Family get togethers. Intimate conversation…

That’s when I adopt my “personality.” You know, to survive.

Really nothing more than habits of behavior & speech that make it easy for other humans to predict what I’ll be like… So THEY can feel comfortable… around me.

Not an essential Self. Just, ya know, “personality.”

Certainly not me.

I’m going to hazard a guess. Which may be narcissistic delusion…

Flow seems awfully close to what the Buddha described as experiencing “no-self” vs. the “conditioned mind.”

From age 2 on, I clearly remember long waking periods without any verbal thought. Just perceiving, in awe and wonder…

EVERYTHING.

Until I had to interact with humans. Any humans. Even those I was required… to “love.”

But when the “personality” switched on? The joy collapsed.

Not into pain…

Collapsing into an all-absorbing effort..
intellectualizing every word…
gesture…
tone of voice…
of my own…
and interpreting all those of each and every human I was with… And THEN carefully weighing… precisely… the right word, tone of voice, facial expression, and body attitude to project…

all at the same time…

To avoid being in trouble.

Plus even at a young age, I had a growing sense of the need to protect others…

From me.

Because I was different. Because I acted as if I were “arrogant.” Because I hurt people without understanding…

Because I was… Bad.

And I had to protect everyone around me from that.

Every. Single. Second…

That I was with another human. Except very young children. And of course, animals…

I promised to share what I’ve found about recapturing flow….

It’s simple… You just gotta do more than nod sagely and mumble “Yup, I get it.”

You gotta make it a priority. While everybody else is telling you it’s the wrong priority.

Step 1? Remember what made you happy when you were young. Or whenever you remember being happy.

Step 2? Ya know, actually do it.

Here are my go-tos. Yours will be different.

  • 20 minutes walking in the wildest Nature I have access to… And my thoughts slowly, slowly… slow down. My breathing becomes regular. I stop internally commenting on things I see, smell, feel… And begin simply seeing, smelling, feeling, Being….
  • A little light, repetitive, prolonged exercise can get me into a light trance, a runners’ high space.
    Walking… alone.
    Or sweeping the floor.
    Even shaving my face… in detail…
  • Playing a musical instrument works for me… An hour of scales or studies on my guitar doesn’t always work. I can certainly get sick & tired of it. But many days, it snaps me right into wordless joy.
  • Ya know, reducing even one sensory input can restore my inner balance.
    Turning off the sound of an annoying fan.
    Taking off tight clothes or shoes.
    Something so simple can put me in a happy place. If everything else is going pretty much okay.
  • And I gotta bring up meditating… I’ve used maybe a dozen methods. They all work to get me there, in slightly different ways… at least with eyes closed. Just 10 or 15 minutes of silence. Relief from the constant internal monologue, intellectualizing, thinking… If you’re autistic, OCD, ADHD… you need to see if periods of deep, deep silence don’t give you relief. If you’ve never tried it, it’s easy to download guided meditations for your phone… And a metric shit-ton cheaper than noise-canceling headphones. (Which are great, too, by the way.)
  • And maybe MOST OF ALL… I need unstructured, unlimited time on one of my special interests… baking bread, fermenting pickles, gardening, deep-focused reading, painting, writing, searching news, sci-fi flicks…. so, so many others. When I pursue a special interest… alone? Sometimes it’s nearly orgasmic…

In fact, I’ve redefined my understanding of my “special interests.”

They’re not a forbidden pleasure. A shameful quirk. Something I “waste time on” when there’s nothing more important to do…

They are my guiding passions. My gateways to Bliss, Transcendence, Oneness…

Maybe even whatever God is… or isn’t…

My reason for Being….

My job.

—I learned a lot that Spring day on the lawn in Johnson City.

I saw Infinity in a burnt-off ant leg.

And, eventually…

I went for it.

You can too.

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