Touch of Grey

I’m not sure whether to say “I have a touch of autism” or “I’m at the very edge of the autism spectrum”. But there it is, plain and out in the open for everyone to see. Totally exposed and vulnerable.

I was tested for it last year. I’m in the range of just barely detectable.

When they had me my parents were over 40. I also had childhood epilepsy, which stopped presenting symptoms as I grew up. Both of those things have strong ties to autism. If they tested kids for autism back then as much as they do now, I probably would have been tested.

I don’t know how to talk about it, really. When you think of someone with autism, you probably don’t think of someone like me. So I’ve been reluctant to tell people. I’m a whole lot more comfortable writing about it. If you wish I had told you, I’m sorry. Right now I’m just wondering if some people reading this won’t believe it.

But I do have a lot of the traits associated with autism, it just wasn’t clear until I found out. That’s how life is sometimes, like a difficult riddle that you can’t figure out. Once the answer appears you realize it’s been really clear the whole time.

Sometimes I pay attention to the wrong things. Sometimes my memory picks up the weirdest details and forgets things that should be easy to remember. And I get lost very easily. I’ve been known to hurt myself when I’m really upset. And I’m sensitive to sound, simple things like hearing music while I’m in a conversation is challenging for me.

In social situations I don’t always know how to behave. And sometimes I stare at people. There are aspects of social interaction that are just common sense for other people, things that everyone knows but no one talks about. Those are the things that are lots on me. For the longest time I believed I just had social anxiety. But it’s a little more complex than that.

I suspect my affinity for meditation and other contemplative practices is directly tied to how my brain works. I sit and read books on meditation and Buddhist practice all the time. That’s not because I’m a perfect Buddhist (I assure you I am not). It’s because that’s what interests me.

In ancient cultures people like me had special roles as shamans, fortunetellers, or monks.

Just a little different.

It’s really really helped me understand myself  a lot more.

Anyway, I didn’t write this as a plea for attention, although I wonder if someone reading this will think that. I wrote it so that if there are other people like me they won’t feel alone. And because the only way to remove the stigma from things like this is to talk about it.


When I was nineteen

I was nineteen years old the last time I had a seizure.

I was in the hospital with pneumonia for five days. It was the first big thing to happen in my life since the loss of my parents, I think.

I spent five days in and out of consciousness with a heavy fever that kept coming back and going away again. And I had three seizures.

It was really scary. I thought I was going to die.

That happens. Some people have seizures when they have really high fevers. It happened to me because I had childhood epilepsy. It’s not really right to say “I had it.” I have epilepsy. I just haven’t had a seizure in almost 20 years.

A significant number of children born to women over 40 develop birth defects. Both my parents were in their 40s when I was born. And I was born with epilepsy.

I had what’s called grand mal seizures as a baby and less severe ones as a young child. I was put on a medication called Dilantin. I don’t remember how often I had to take it, but I remember very clearly that it didn’t taste as bad as a lot of other medicine.

I stopped taking Dilantin as a preteen and my seizures did not return, until one day in a hospital bed when I was nineteen years old and afraid I was going to die.

Something like 20% of people that suffer from childhood epilepsy also develop autism or autism-like symptoms. This isn’t hard to imagine if we realize that seizures sometimes re-shape the brain. If your brain is reshaped, your neurotype can be altered.

It took me a long time to realize that childhood epilepsy has had an impact on me.

The philosopher Terence McKenna said this:

“In archaic societies where shamanism is a thriving institution, the signs are fairly easy to recognize: oddness or uniqueness in an individual. Epilepsy is often a signature in preliterate societies, or survival of an unusual ordeal in an unexpected way.”

In many ancient societies it was believed that when a person had a seizure, they were entering the spirit world, seeing hidden truths. Sometimes children with conditions like mine would be taken away and raised to be shamans or oracles.

I don’t think I entered the spirit world when I had those seizures, but I do think they changed me. I see things a little differently. I think that explains my fascination with Buddhism and other mystical paths.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but I’ll probably be writing more about it in the future.


All Places Are Sacred

I noticed the small Ganesh statue behind the counter as I was purchasing a six pack of Hard Orange Cream Ale. The statue was pink and enclosed in glass, as little statues of this kind sometimes are. I thought he appeared to have a beatific smile, but who the hell can tell if an elephant is smiling? Not me. The Remover of Obstacles wasn’t facing the customers, it wasn’t there for all to see. It was there for the man working behind the counter to look at.

And it was very small. It certainly escaped the notice of most patrons. I only noticed it because I notice iconography and spiritual things. That’s when I realized that the Indian man who runs the liquor store in my neighborhood is a Hindu. Not a surprise at all, of course. But it just served as a big reminder to me that spirituality exists everywhere.

People tend to think that spirituality only exists in sacred places. Those of us who are paying attention, the mystics, see it everywhere. There’s a metaphor we talk about in Buddhism sometimes. It’s called “Indra’s Net”. It’s an infinitely vast net filled with jewels. Each of the jewels not only reflects all of the other jewels. This represents the interconnectedness of all things. Every jewel reflects every other jewel. There is no separation. We are the same. You and I reflect each other. We are not separate from one another in any meaningful way.

Why did I mention this?

The description of Indra’s net tells us that everything is connected. Not just temples and sacred spaces. Everything is connected and everywhere is a sacred space.

More importantly, our spiritual practice doesn’t just exist in the temple and on the cushion. Our engagement must be in all of our lives.

I think that’s why even when he’s in what might be the least sacred space he goes to, that Indian man has a little sacred figure displayed. Because sacredness and spirituality exist everywhere, not just where we expect them. The mystic’s journey doesn’t exist just at specific places and times. The mystic’s journey is ongoing.

The world is my temple.

The Mystical Branch of Buddhism


There are numerous branches of Buddhism and sometimes people ask me what is different about the Zen tradition.

What sets it apart from other traditions?

In Zen Buddhism the wisdom that leads to Enlightenment is transmitted.

Since the emptiness, or non-self nature of things, is the central idea of Mahayana Buddhism, it is hard to explain in words by definition.

The idea in the Zen tradition is that wisdom, or the mind seal, can be transmitted non-verbally from master to student. It is a personal and direct transmission from one who is already Enlightened to one in need of Enlightenment. In the Altar Sutra this lineage is traced back from the sixth Chinese Patriarch back to the Buddha.

The Sudden Enlightenment school of Zen Buddhism is the one that is represented in the Diamond Sutra. It became the standard interpretation of Zen teachings. It embraces an intuitive method of spiritual training aimed at discovering ultimate reality. Ultimate reality resides within us.

This reality is the fundamental oneness which pervades all things. It is called emptiness, that nothing exists apart from everything else. All things are one. It is from this emptiness that all things come and are what they are. Thus, nothing is independent.

One who comes to Enlightenment sees all things as a manifestation of this unity. The realization of the emptiness of things leads to a non-attachment. But, the goal isn’t to withdraw from things, but rather to continue to experience things but with the realization of their emptiness.

In Zen Buddhism the absolute is identified with our minds. The being who is Enlightened understands his mind to be identical with the absolute—without duality—especially between subject and object.

All things are connected and all things are one.

In the sudden Enlightenment school of Zen Buddhism, meditation helps calm the mind and eliminate dualistic thought in order to see reality as it truly is, in a nondualistic way. Enlightenment is sudden because it is our true nature and therefore can come upon us at any time.

One can prepare for Enlightenment by studying sutras and deep meditation, but Enlightenment comes all at once.

Since Enlightenment is intuitive, the teacher can try to help his student think intuitively by giving deeper teachings such as koan or hua tou meditation. But, the teacher can’t walk the path for the student.

They can only point the way.


Teachings from the Gaea Retreat. Part One

The following talk was given at the Gaea Retreat Center on May 22nd, 2015.

Welcome to Meditation Group. My name is Daniel.

The Buddha sat under a tree in the woods, kind of like this. He sat with the intention of attaining Enlightenment and eventually he did.

Let’s talk about what meditation is. Meditation is a general term for several religious practices, some different from others. These methods have the same mystical goal. To bring the awareness of the practitioner to a state in which they can come to an experience of ‘awakening’ or ‘enlightenment’. This means a state that’s beyond discursive thinking. That is, we have what’s called a ‘monkey mind’, this habit of always jumping from one thing to another. Our mind is often a crazy person. It takes us down whatever roads it wants to go, regardless of our opinions on the subject. If you’ve ever tried to sleep and been unable to because you were thinking too much, then you can understand what I’m talking about.

So, we are meditating to get a handle on this, so our minds become our servants rather than our masters. I started meditating because I had anxiety problems. I would worry and stress out about things that haven’t even happened. That was really bad for me. I tried medication for that first and it made me really crazy. Then I tried meditation and I’ve been a real lover of the practice ever since.

This practice we are going to do is going to help us concentrate and focus, calming and clarifying our thoughts.

Diligent practice will lead to great results.

When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Appears

There have always been spokespersons for spirituality.

These are the mystics who dwell in both worlds, traveling deeply on the spiritual path, but also bringing something back to share. These are shamans, yogis, and gurus who go beyond the culture to the Truth and bring some of the Truth back with them.

This was the case for thousands of years of human history, when spirituality was flexible, mystical and transcendent. This paradigm is probably not what it used to be in the modern world. But, I’m not writing this to criticize the state of religion today.

In any case, these mystics, these representatives of oneness served the purpose of helping others discover transcendence in this world, guide others in the spiritual life or, at least, demonstrate what the spiritual life could be. They set an example and actualize spiritual goals.

For an individual to walk this path, of course they would need to have seen something of ultimate reality themselves. They have to live the path—as I said dwelling in two worlds, the world of void and the world of form. The mystic has to have used the spiritual eye to see beyond the world of delusion, the world of separation, and penetrated the oneness that is fundamental to reality.

A vision of unity is important.

The mystic can’t make others change the way they look at things. The mystic can point the way to seeing beyond duality and unlocking our minds. The mystic can even give advice (if it’s asked for) and can certainly set an example. But no one can break out of the delusions of duality and see their true nature without putting forth their own sincere effort.

In tribal cultures it was easy to find a spiritual teacher. Mystics had a role in the community. They were isolated at times, but had an important role to play in a lot of the functions of society. Is this still true? No.

A seeker can have a hard time. A good spiritual teacher will hopefully present themselves as a guide instead of a master.

So, what are those of us who teach mystical truths to others?

I am not a teacher or a priest. I am an awakener.

Our purpose is to walk between the worlds of void and form and to help others do the same. I am dwelling in oneness and pulling others onto the path with me.