The Way of the Peaceful Warrior is one of the books that turned me toward the spiritual life in my twenties, so it was with pleasure that I accompanied Blue Eyes to a talk that its author, Dan Millman, gave recently.

I found that every time Dan discussed being a warrior, my mind flashed on autism. When he talked about life’s waves crashing over us and pulling us down, I saw how it happened to me with autism.  And when he spoke of the concept of effort over time, I perceived it in light of Joseph’s, and our, journey with autism.

You know how you attend a talk or read a book and, if it’s a good one, you leave with one or two gems that provide clarity and direction for you? Effort over time is such a gem for me: the idea that effort, consistently applied over a good amount of time, will make more difference in one’s life than almost anything else.

I think about all the effort we put in to help Joseph’s gut problems (chronic constipation, leaky gut, candida). For 3 1/2 years he was gluten- and casein-free. He took medications and supplements, sat in oxygen chambers, suffered through glutathione shots, and –worst of all — screamed bloody murder during every-other-day enemas. It was pretty much hell on earth for all of us. But it was this effort over time that has made him the healthy boy he is today.

Then there’s RDI, the behavioral intervention we’ve been involved with for about five years. One of RDI’s slogans is It’s not a sprint — it’s a marathon. In other words, effort over time. Regular homework assignments for us parents, which include reading, learning, creating video footage of us working on objectives with Joseph, and constant incorporation of the principles into daily life. Endless discussions with our RDI Consultant, who runs the marathon with us and hands us water bottles and power bars to keep us going. Effort over time for sure.

There’s also nasty stuff, like the fact that I got so traumatized by Joseph not sleeping for four years that, three years after that difficult period, I still can’t sleep well myself. If Joseph gets up in the night to use the bathroom and I hear him, adrenaline still shoots through my body and I wake up, terrified. Recently I asked Blue Eyes what else I could do to resolve this problem and I loved his answer: Effort over time.  Oh yeah. Patience, Yoga Mother. The trauma didn’t come in a day and it seems to not be leaving in a day. But don’t give up — it’s effort over time.

Joseph being goofy

Joseph has come so far that it’s like a good dream. Earlier today I spoke with the mother of one of his classmates, and she said her daughter has a huge crush on Joseph and wants to marry him. Could I have imagined anyone saying this four years ago, when Joseph would rather stim than interact with someone? Absolutely not. It’s due to effort over time — ours, his, and the support team we’re surrounded by. Oh, and grace. Lots and lots of grace.

I know that some of you who read this are early on the autism journey. You can’t know if your effort over time will be worth it, and believe me, I know how much effort it is. It drains your life force, ages you beyond your years, takes away your life as you knew it, and threatens your sanity. But really, what choice do you have? Amazing effort now might help your child reach his or her full potential, and if you don’t do it, you’ll never know. Today is Superbowl Sunday and I watched a little vignette of huddles of football teams getting motivated before previous Superbowls. In one huddle the quarterback said, “If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. So let’s just go and do our best.” Indeed. What else can you do?

How then can we approach autism, or any major trial in our lives? Effort over time, doing our best, and — if I might add one more concept — letting go of the fruits of our labors. We can control our efforts but we can’t control the results. We simply can’t, and it’s crazy-making to pretend otherwise.

I love where Joseph is now — and yet, as his peers grow older and more sophisticated, he well may not be able to keep up. Crushes on him may turn to laughter at him. I will continue my effort — that’s my business —  and I will do my best to let go of the results, because that’s God’s business.

To be honest, I’m not so great at letting go; I just plain like to be in control. So I continue to work on it, hoping to land in the body, mind and soul of the Spiritual Warrior I strive to be. This Warrior has great focus, puts in major effort over time toward a noble end and, at the same time, lets go of what that end might be.

Will I ever really become that Spiritual Warrior? Perhaps the effort alone will transform me into her. Then again, perhaps it won’t.

I’ll just do my best, pray that it’s blessed, and let God take care of the rest.

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