Posted in anxiety, Uncategorized

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.

 

Posted in mystic, mysticism

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.

 

Posted in tattooed buddha, Uncategorized

Songs and Chants in Buddhism

chanting

“For as long as space endures. For as long as living beings remain.
May I too remain to eliminate the suffering of the world.” ~ Shantideva

Chants and songs are probably present in all religious traditions.

I can imagine shamanic teachers in prehistoric societies leading chants around a campfire.

Chanting and Buddhist temples are ubiquitous, right there alongside the incense, bowing, and weird clothes. I’ve found Buddhist communities where they don’t meditate. I’ve never found one where they don’t chant.

It’s present in all schools of Buddhism, as far as I know, to greater and lesser degrees; the contents of the chants vary a great deal.

We hear chants and songs in other religions and sometimes we see these things as pointless, especially in a Buddhist context. Buddhism, we think, is supposed to be different. In other religious traditions chants and songs are a form of worship. People express their devotion in song. Buddhism is non-theistic. The Buddha doesn’t save us or even transform us. He invites us to transform ourselves.

It’s not about worship, so if they aren’t songs of devotion, why would we chant?

Sometimes when people first become exposed to Buddhism they really aren’t interested in chanting. The chanting is a tool, I think. It helps us get ready for practice. It serves to provide a doorway out of our regular day-to-day life and into the mystical place of the temple.

The purpose is to get our minds ready for the teachings and to help us awaken. This awakening is not intellectual, but a change in how we experience and perceive. Think of mindful chanting as a tool for helping us wake up.

I submit that chanting is a part of Buddhism because it’s something human beings value in spirituality.

It’s a ritual and rituals motivate and inspire us. Rituals keep us on the path, even if they seem weird or make no sense. Rituals build community too. A big part of chanting and singing is that we’re doing it together.

There are several types of Buddhist chants. Some people do believe chants produce some kinds of magical effects. That discussion is beyond the scope of what I want to discuss here.

Sometimes we chant things in the original languages and sometimes we chant things in English, like quotes from texts such as the one I put at the beginning of this article.

Chanting in a language we don’t understand, I think, makes it feel important or sacred. Maybe it’s more ritualistic and special if we don’t really understand it. OM MANI PADME HUM sounds important to us, and I think all those Ms mean something to us. If we chanted THE JEWEL IN THE LOTUS instead I think it wouldn’t mean as much.

Chanting in English obviously reminds us of the intent behind what we’re doing. When we chant things like “May I too remain to dispel the misery of the world,” we are re-dedicating ourselves verbally and generating our intention. I think this does help. It reminds us that this is important and it unites us as a community when we are doing it together.

In some branches of Buddhism, like Pure Land and Nichiren, chanting is almost the entire practice. I don’t connect with chanting nearly well enough for that, but plenty of people certainly do.

Chanting is one of the things we do in Buddhist temple. The practice would probably feel strange without it. I think it serves a useful purpose. It gives us something to do together, as a community.