Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mindfulness Meditation, Autism & More

True mindfulness meditation is the practice of entering a state of awareness without need to hold onto anything, control anything or focus on any particular object or thought. Many people seem to have the idea that meditation is a special mystical state, entered when one clears the mind of conscious thought and communes with the divine. After writing that, I realize that that isn't so far off. I think the place where practitioners often go wrong is with their methods.

True meditation doesn't have a goal. You don't start by thinking, yay, I'm going off to commune with the divine. You don't worry about emptying your mind. You start by simply being. For me, walking meditation is much easier than still meditation. I head off down the road with no goals, and when thoughts drift through my mind, I let them float way. I am fully aware of them, for I am awareness. I do not try to distract myself from them. I acknowledge their presence with no attempt at focus, control or manipulation. I am aware of my body and the things outside of it. I am aware of my five senses gathering information. On the other hand, I am not working at anything. I am not finding pretty things to remember. I am not creating stories in my head. I am not planning a blog post. I just am.

Another time I regularly practice mindfulness meditation is when falling asleep. I use to use the easy technique of counting backwards from 1000 when I found it difficult to fall asleep. Although that method works, again it is a distraction. My desire is not to become lost in distractions. My desire is to be present. As I lie in bed, I let myself become fully aware of my body. I recognize itches and aches. I do not distract myself from my congested breathing. I just am. When I achieve awareness, I fall asleep effortlessly.

It is not always easy for me to reach out for mindfulness. My mind wants to think. It longs to organize and build castles in my head. I let it have its way on a regular basis. Distraction is easy, but mindfulness is worth the effort. During period of mindfulness, my place in the universe is reinforced. As I become awareness, I no longer stress about the past or the future. My body systems get a break from adrenaline, and with regular practice, I am better able to handle stress in general.

Some recently published research on autism and mental health issues including major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder and post traumatic stress disorder found that traditional cognitive therapies that have been very successful with the general population fall flat in those with mid to high functioning autism. I fall into that category. On the other hand, they found that mindfulness training was an effective treatment method for this segment of the population.

I have fallen out of regular mindfulness meditation practice, but I know it is something I need to add back into my life. Mindfulness reduces my overall stress levels and may help me live a longer, happier life. I hope mental health professionals take notice of the research I mentioned and get some training in mindfulness techniques. Most of the adult autistic population suffers from anxiety disorders. I don't know if this is an inherent part of autism or if it is a result of living in the world so long as an autistic person. I do know that relief would make it easier to integrate into a society that is not often friendly to those who are different.

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