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The body is a great teacher. Mine has been a rather constant, somewhat troublesome body, with something painful happening in it almost all of the time.

Lately it’s been my right arm. Pins and needles through the arm. Massive pain through my wrist and fingers. Writing’s been hard. Sleep’s been harder.

I think that we have much more impact, and influence, on our health than we tend to believe. One night recently, Blue Eyes and I were talking about my arm dilemma and the thoughts/beliefs that might be behind it. He looked at me and said, “You carry a lot of fear.”

In characteristic old-married-person response, I rolled my eyes and told him how far I’d come in getting over that fear. But before I went to sleep that night, I put the question out to the Universe: What is this pain about?

Asking is soooo good to do. On the way to school the next morning, Joseph and I were listening to a recently-purchased CD by Staci Frenes, and we heard these words:

Your grip’s too tight.

That’s it! I realized. My grip is way too tight!

I think back to Joseph’s diagnosis seven years ago. My body and mind curled into a tight fist when the word autism was spoken. I held on through that oh-so-difficult journey, sometimes hanging over a cliff, barely able to grip the edge.

But grip I did.

sword fightRemember the old-fashioned sword-fighters? One steps up to the other, sword drawn, and says, “En garde!” I think I’ve been “en garde” for seven years: Body poised and tight, adrenalin flowing, at war with the medical industry, the school system, the naysayers, funding sources, the co-occuring conditions. At war with autism and its devastating effects. At war with my own stress level and insomnia. Even at war with the war.

Without much awareness around it, I have been wound tight, feeding off a hot suffocating tension, watching and waiting (even in my sleep) for the next battle.

And now? Joseph is nine, about to finish second grade in his typical classroom.  He is navigating his life in his own unique, amazing way. Yes, he still has autism. Yes, he still faces trials and tribulations because of it.

But.

It’s time to relax the fist.

It just is. It simply is.

I am going to open my aching fingers, spread my arms, open my heart…

…and free fall.

free fallEver wonder what it feels like
to free fall?

Nothin’ underneath you
To catch your fall
to look up at a big sky
and feel so small
Ever wonder what it’d be like, feel like, to live life
out of your control?
~Staci Frenes

Free falling is the image I am taking through my life now. It’s only been an illusion of control, after all. How much more fun it is to no longer pretend I have any. To be like a hawk gliding along, surfing circles on air currents, simply present and letting go into the experience. Not a thought about what comes next until it’s there.

Sometimes I’ll thank someone who is working with Joseph and they will respond by saying, “It’s a great privilege.”  To be honest, I have never understood this. But this morning I felt a little charge up my spine: How amazing that I get to help this special-needs kid go through life! Whereas many other parents are stuck with normal, think-inside-the-box kinds of kids, I get this really unique, creative, most unusual child to hang out with.

And I felt it. I felt how great a privilege it is to be Joseph’s mom.

* * *

My arm is getting better.

Interestingly, the soreness has made my right hand unable to grip into a tight fist.

That’s improving now. Soon I’ll be able to grip tightly.

But I won’t.

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We deal with anxiety over here.

I might step outside ten feet to put things into recycling bins. Joseph, upstairs, will hear the door open. He’ll call out,

“Mom?”

“Mom???”

“MOM!!!! YOU’VE LEFT ME!!!!” (This last one is to be read in a panic-stricken, terrified voice.)

How many times has this scenario repeated itself? Hundreds. Maybe thousands.

Sometimes it happens if Joseph is downstairs and I go upstairs. Then it changes its tune just a little:

“Mom?”

“Mom???”

“MOM!!!! I MISS YOU!!!!!!” (This one also to be read in a panic-stricken, terrified voice.)

Recently we took a little vacation to Southern California. We stopped at a hotel halfway down that first night. Joseph slept in a rollaway cot right next to Blue Eye’s and my bed. He woke up at 4am and never went back to sleep.

Why? He was afraid we were going to leave without him.

From that night on, he had to sleep with Blue Eyes, staying in contact with some part of his body through the night so that he could be sure he wasn’t going to be abandoned. We were house sitting. They slept in the master bedroom. I took the 14 y.o.’s room. How romantic!

On the bright side, he does sleep alone, in his own room, when we’re not on vacation.

Blue Eyes and I have been on the path of yoga for decades, so naturally we’ve coached Joseph on taking deep breaths and simply observing the mind when it says things that aren’t true. And it’s helped — but just a little.

We’ve worked some with herbs and homeopathy. I approached one of my best friends, a senior teacher at an ayurvedic college, about the anxiety situation. She confessed that she was going through a similar thing with her neurotypical son, and that she hadn’t been able to help him, either.

IMG_1109Anxiety in the extreme is crippling! I have a friend whose husband can’t work, who has trouble leaving the house, due to his. I see how it stops Joseph in so many ways, and I wonder: What kind of a person could he be without it? I would so love to see him strong and confident, stepping out in his full potential.

We know there are drugs that treat anxiety. They sit on the back shelf of our minds. Sometimes we take them down, turn them over wonderingly, and put them back. It feels like a big decision. I’ve struggled for years with the need for sleeping pills, and I would hate to create a dependency on drugs when there didn’t need to be one.

But when do you say, We’ve tried hard enough; now it’s time to try drugs. Or do you?

I think it comes down to this: Right now the anxiety is somewhat manageable, somewhat influence-able. If or when it gets too strong in the other direction, we will look seriously at medication.

I would be very interested to hear from any of you on this topic. Do you struggle with anxiety in your child/ren, and, if so, how do you deal with it?

Thanks.

Blue Eyes and I went out to see The Hobbit the other night. I wish I’d done some research on it beforehand, but I thought I could trust a movie that had been made from a delightful, magical children’s story.

Sigh. To say it was violent is like saying autism is a pain. A major understatement!

THE-HOBBIT-AN-UNEXPECTED-JOURNEY-PosterFrank Schaeffer from The Huffington Post, in his review of  The Hobbit, says that there were levels of “carnage, violence and needless clutter ‘noise’ in the form of extravagant needlessly complicated action (in) almost every scene.”

Sure wish I’d read that review before deciding to go.

The non-stop carnage and violence got to me. Big time. I felt sick and anxious. My heart was going a mile a minute. But, I thought, I’m a big person. I can make wise choices. So halfway through the movie, I told Blue Eyes I was going to go find a happy movie and that I’d find him when it was over.

The theater had two other movies playing. I stood outside one and listened: screaming, pounding, guns firing. Nope, not that one. I stood outside the other: dialog, laughter, sweet music. Maybe I’d found my movie.

I made my way to a seat and watched Django Unchained. This movie mixed in sweet southern scenes with horrid, violent excess.  I held my breath and shut my eyes while the dogs ripped apart the slave. Then we were back to southern sweetness and hospitality, and I relaxed. The unexpected bloody gun scene made my muscles rigid with tension. In a few seconds my fear drove me from my chair and out the door.

I was literally shaking.

I was also stuck. It was 37 degrees outside, so I couldn’t go sit in the car and wait for Blue Eyes. The ushers were hanging out in the lobby, talking and laughing, and I didn’t want to spoil their fun. I looked at my watch: 15 minutes left of the Hobbit. They must be calming down and resolving the movie at this point, I reasoned; I’d go back in and enjoy it.

In I go, 3D glasses propped over mine. Creatures attack the dwarves and the hobbit. The lovely dwarf king is brutally beaten. Crazy things pop out of the film at me. I turn to Blue Eyes and whisper, “I can’t stand it anymore. Can we leave?” “It’s almost done,” he says. In our parallel universes, Blue Eyes can separate fact from fiction, whereas I am unbearably stuck in the violence.

Even in my traumatized state, I flashback to Joseph turning to me in the middle of a movie and asking, “Can we leave?” What a pain that was. Yet now I was taking a walk in his moccasins.

I sob quietly, and tremble until the fighting is over. Finally the movie ends. People applaud happily; what a great movie.

On the way home I sit, shaken and sombre. I think about how trapped I felt. All the violence and noise and excess flying around me, and I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t stop it from affecting me. It was like the horror reached into me and did with me what it wanted, and I had no choice in the matter. Was I the only one who felt this way? If so, why was that?

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve gotten Joseph to a movie. He is so sensitive that the blaring surround-sound is difficult for him. If anything happens that is remotely bad or violent, he feels it deeply. We watched a video the other night and he burst into tears when they gave a dolphin a tranquilizer shot. He cried in his class when they watched a G-rated movie where the dogcatcher caught a dog in his net.

I used to silently mock Joseph for his movie sensitivity, but no more.

I tell Blue Eyes two things: 1) I will, henceforth from this moment, be much more careful about the movies I see, and 2) I will be much kinder to Joseph regarding his sensitivity to movies. Whereas many people can stand, and even enjoy, more than I can in movies, I can stand, and enjoy, more than Joseph. This does not make him wrong or bad or stupid. It is to be respected.

Once, at an autism support group, Blue Eyes and I made a joke about Joseph’s sensitivity. We told them that, when he was naughty, we threatened to take him to the movies. Everyone laughed.

They understood because their children, too, were ultra-sensitive.

But I wonder, how normal is it to enjoy the violence and horror of the movies I watched? For that matter, how normal is it to be unaffected when a dolphin gets a shot or a dog is captured? When is sensitive too sensitive, and when is it right to feel for another’s suffering?

Today’s normal is a far cry from the normal of 50 years ago. It is also far from humane. The normalizing of violence simply must play a part in the mass shootings that have been taking place way too often. I think that, on the spectrum of sensitivity, I’d much rather be on my son’s side than on the other.

There is so much in life we’re not normally sensitive about: Angels among us, intuitive guidance, souls we’ve known before, the presence of God. Whether it’s movies, spirituality or anything else, perhaps we’re meant to cultivate our  sensitivity rather than to try to lessen someone else’s.We’d be watching different movies, and it’d be a pretty different world if we did, wouldn’t it?

Sometimes, just before Christmas, I go to an eight-hour meditation. It’s always a stretch, but many years ago I attended one that went beyond being a stretch to become  a nightmare.

What happened was that I sat for eight hours of meditation without being able to meditate. My mind simply would not be still. I did my pranayamas (breathing techniques). I practiced my mantra. I prayed. I worked on my kriyas. But my mind kept running on and on. There was nothing I could do to calm it down so finally I stopped trying, and spent the better part of the day just watching this crazed, obsessive, unhappy mind.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

The meditation finally ended and, while everyone else filed out happy and relieved, I staggered out feeling I’d just been engaged in a long, intense battle. And I’d lost.

But as I stepped out of the temple, I received this amazing realization. It was about fear. I suddenly saw, in detail, how fear had run my entire life. I felt how fearful I was in that very moment. I realized how much power I’d given to fear, how many decisions I’d made because of fear, and how fear was in charge of me, rather than the other way around.

You know when it’s a real insight, vision, whatever, because it shifts you permanently — and this one did. Since that time, I’ve been much more observant about fear – more aware of it. I haven’t always been able to get past it, but at least I’ve had more awareness about it, and it hasn’t run me as much.

What does fear have to do with autism? Ha! Even the word autism can inspire fear in people’s hearts. I believe that there is massive collective fear around autism — especially in parents of autistic children. Certainly I have had relentless, unending fears around Joseph and his autism. Fears that wake me in the middle of the night for months on end. Fears that hurt my health. Fears that cripple me in subtle, invisible, but destructive ways.

I’ve been considering these fears lately, and have realized something more: At the end of every fear, there is a question mark.

The fear can be about anything, but for me, it’s often around autism. Perhaps I’ll be running one of my familiar fears, like this one:  “Nobody will take care of Joseph after we die.”

When I dive under the layers of this fear, or any other fear, I see the question mark hanging on the end of it. The question at the foundation of every single one of my fears is…

God, are you really here with me?

That’s it. That is the question mark hanging on the end of every fear. So I’m shifting the way I deal with fear. Now it’s not about the fear. It’s about getting to know God better. It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. I am focusing on deepening that relationship.

It’s something of a Catch 22: If I’m fearful, I can’t trust God and therefore God can’t make Him/Herself fully known to me. But the way to truly let go of fear is to let God in. Heh heh. One of those divine ironic twists that God seems to be so fond of.

The master, Paramhansa Yogananda, says, “When the consciousness is kept on God, you will have no fears; every obstacle will then be overcome by courage and faith.”

Putting my reliance on God doesn’t mean I don’t do practical things to take care of Joseph. But it does mean that, rather than acting out of lack, I act in faith and with courage. My Father/Mother/Friend is with me, now, and besides that, there are legions of angels just waiting to be called on.

I am calling on them! I am taking God at his word these days, and I feel the shift. Because I am more aware of God, I feel more abundant in every aspect of my life. And as I become aware of how I am loved and looked after, then I know that Joseph, you, all of us are loved and cared for just as much.

God is so much bigger than any of my stupid stinking fears. I’m going to be on the lookout for those fears, and for the question marks hanging on the ends of them.

Keeping my consciousness on God is no small thing, but I think of the Warrior pose in yoga. It involves strength and focus, as well as relaxation and openness. I’m going to be that Warrior, on and off the yoga mat.

I think that fear cannot exist in the same space as pure love. So when those autism fears come up, I’ll be striking the Warrior pose, relaxing into the Love that is, and watching those question marks fade away.

It was a hot day today, and Joseph had several nosebleeds. He freaks out when his nose bleeds. I don’t know why it’s so terrifying for him — but there is a lot about Joseph that I don’t understand.

In this particular freak-out, Joseph screams; he cries; he grabs huge fistfuls of Kleenex and fiddles madly with his nose. I encourage him to lie back and he fights me as if I’m trying to drown him. If I use some force to get  his torso down on the bed he thrashes his legs wildly up and down, crying, crying.

As I work with my child, trying to simultaneously calm him down and stop his nosebleed, that quote from Byron Katie pops into my mind:

No one has ever been angry at another human being; we’re only angry at our story of them.

I have major stories about Joseph. This blog is full of my stories about Joseph. I get mad and sad and scared and anxious because of my stories about Joseph. In many ways, they run — and sometimes ruin — my life.

Here I am, trying to help a kid whose nose is bleeding and who, according to my world view, has blown things way out of proportion. There are reasons to panic, I figure, but a nosebleed is not one of them.

Then I let go of my story and hang out with him in his discomfort. I don’t really want to be present with him, because then I, too, have to be uncomfortable. I have to feel, in part, what he’s going through — ride out the fear and terror with him.

The first time I went to India I was with 51 other spiritual pilgrims. From our comfortable, air-conditioned bus we’d look out at the city buses and see Indian people sitting nine to a seat (lots of lap-sitting), along with chickens, sweat, dirt, food, babies — the whole swirling mass of humanity. I felt separate but also somewhat superior, watching them from my cocoon of safety.

My stories about Joseph are like that air-conditioned bus. When I see Joseph from there I am looking down at him from a safe place. I am protected. I am better than him.

Eventually my Indian tour ended, and I went from air-conditioned buses to city buses, hanging out right there in the muck of humanity. You know what? It wasn’t so bad. It was — fun, kind of. I remember the woman who, finding no seat, held her baby out toward the back of the bus, silently asking someone to hold it for her. A man held out his arms and took the baby.The woman turned around and never looked back until it was time for her to get off the bus.

We wouldn’t do that in America. A complete stranger holding your baby in an overcrowded bus? Never. But that’s the kind of thing you see when you ride in the city buses of India.

It’s out of the comfort zone, for sure. Way out. But I really see the value of getting out of my story and into the reality. Just sitting there with Joseph as his nose bleeds and as he screams — not fighting it, not wishing it was otherwise. Trying to assist him without trying to fix him. Letting him be just the way he is in his own perfection — because it’s only my story that says he’s not.

Life is messy. But if it’s true that God sees us in our perfection — if, in fact, God has no stories about us — then every time I can do that with Joseph, I am seeing the world from God’s perspective. I am touching God.

I want to know the mind of God, Einstein says. Everything else is just details.

Me too, Albert — me too. So bring on the nosebleeds, and I’ll work on being right there in the muck, in the mess, and embracing it exactly the way it is.

I was downstairs doing the dishes this morning when Joseph called to me from upstairs:

“Mom? Do you know where my gray sweatshirt is?”

“In my backpack by the front door,” I answered.

He went and looked.

As I picked up the next dish, I began to marvel at this little interchange. To an outsider it would seem so ordinary – and it is. That’s what makes it so extraordinary. Here’s why:

He called to me. For years, except for when he was screaming hysterically, Joseph spoke only in the softest of voices. You’d have to get really close to him to hear what he was saying. It was as if he didn’t have the energy – the life force – to speak with any more volume.

Mom? He only started using my name – Mom—a couple of years ago. Before that, I could be referred to in the third person (“Is Mommy going away?”), but I was never addressed directly. It was the same for everyone in his world. Can you imagine how odd it is to never hear your child call you by name?

Do you know where my gray sweatshirt is? One of the big deficits of autism is the lack of other-mindedness – not understanding that others can view things, and know things, differently than oneself. This statement shows an understanding that I can know something Joseph doesn’t.

He went and looked. He took my information, processed it, and did something with it. In the not-so-long-ago past, he wouldn’t have had such a complete thought process.

For all these reasons, I was feeling good about Joseph. He’s come so far. I was feeling happy happy happy.

Then Blue Eyes came downstairs, fear in his eyes. He asked me if Joseph had gluten yesterday and, when I admitted that he did, he told me that Joseph was really disconnected — agitated, even. Immediately I felt fearful and panicked, and I hurried to check on Joseph.

As it turns out, Joseph had a fever and a cough, which can make anyone disconnected and agitated. He spent most of the day in bed.

What got me about that little exchange with Blue Eyes was how quickly I went from my own head trip — Feelin’ Groovy — to his — Danger! Danger!

I’ve been watching head trips quite closely ever since I gave up Ambien, the oh-so-powerful sleeping pills I’d used for years. I haven’t, in the past, really believed in the devil as a personified being. A dark force, certainly, but a cunning, manipulative being that can walk and talk? Nahhhhhh.

My viewpoint, however, is changing. Sometimes, in this past non-Ambienated month, I wake up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep and really, truly feel I am having a conversation with Satan. Or, rather, he is having one with me.

I mean, if this Satan character is real, he would kick you in your most vulnerable spot, right? And mine, most assuredly, is Joseph. And the middle of the night is when my defenses are most down.

Just a few nights ago I awoke in the wee hours, absolutely certain that Joseph was going to be bullied, teased, ostracized, and otherwise treated cruelly by the kids in his school. I was filled with terror. A few nights before that the subject of my insomnia was incredible sorrow that Joseph doesn’t have friends, as evidenced by the fact that nobody comes over for playdates. And so on and so forth. You get my drift.

I spent the next few days after the bullying conversation absolutely freaked out. How could I protect my child from these terribly mean kids? Especially the older ones at his school, which goes from kindergarten to 8th grade.

It was a most unhappy head trip.

Then Joseph’s teacher wrote me that Joseph spent a recess blowing bubbles. The older kids chased and popped them, and Joseph laughed and laughed at their antics.

Suddenly the bullying head trip left and I got a glimmer of a new perspective. What if older kids treat Joseph with love and care because of his special needs? What if they look after him, make an effort to interact with him, because they’re good kids and because the school places so much emphasis on tolerance and mentoring. Is it possible? Could it be true?

The no-friends head trip deflated on Thursday when I went to pick Joseph up. The kid Joseph considers his best friend came over and asked, “Can I come over for a play date in two days?”

I was astonished.

Yoga teaches that levels of consciousness have thoughts associated with them. In other words, if I’m hanging out in fear, I’ll attract fearful, anxious thoughts and ideas. Therefore, to change your thoughts, Yoga teaches, change your consciousness.

I have worked on this, mostly just by increasing my awareness of it, since dropping Ambien. Whatever you call it — a head trip or a conversation with Big Red — it’s fear, which stands for False Expectations Appearing Real. Watching it closely seems to be helping. A lot. I am sleeping through the night more often, happily missing out on those fear-striking midnight conversations.

I think that, collectively, there is huge catastrophic consciousness around autism. Fear. Terror. Grief. It’s an interesting dance to process what comes up while not buying lock, stock and barrel into the things that are whispered in one’s ear when one is most vulnerable.

Peace.

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegone. Joseph (and, therefore, Joseph’s family) has been dealing with anxiety issues once again.

Sirens are very hard for Joseph. He can take other really loud noises but there’s something about the combination of  loud sirens combined with the thought of ambulances, fire trucks and other vehicles rushing to an emergency that just freaks him out.

A friend and her boy came over the other day. We took a walk over to a bus stop that was a little further away, in order to give the boys some exercise. Then we caught the bus into town, which is something that the boys love to do.

But on the walk over, we heard siren after siren after siren. Just when we thought it was done, another would start up. Poor Joseph. The only way he can cope is to stop whatever he’s doing and cover his eyes until it’s over. Not his ears, mind you (we couldn’t actually see the rescue vehicles), but his eyes.

So, as the sirens wailed nearby, my friend turns to me and says, “It’s almost like it’s on purpose!”

It feels that way sometimes. Like God is up there saying, “Let’s turn the heat up for little Joseph and see if he can take it.”

Covering his eyes when he’d actually be a lot better off covering his ears. It makes me think about everything we do in order to feel safe.

Just a few days ago, I heard President Obama say that the primary job of the government is for the protection and safety of its people; that’s why we’re at war. I think about all the insurance we buy in order to feel secure; the “safe” places we put our money; the fact that we create a nest egg at all. We wear armor, physically (for snowboarding, skate boarding, etc.) and psychically (keeping people at an emotional arm’s distance). We buy nice houses in good neighborhoods — sometimes behind locked gates. We take our Xanax and our homeopathy. We say our mantras and our prayers.

I once met a woman who’d lost 100 pounds. She said that the hardest thing about it was that now people stood closer to her. She didn’t have that physical fortress around her, keeping them away.

Safety. Amazing what we’ll do for it.

My little boy doesn’t feel safe at times. More than most. Toward the end of his school day he frets, sometimes panics, about whether or not his mom will really come to get him. Dogs are a constant terror. Crowded new places are no bed of roses, either.

It’s the limbic system, where the rational part is not calming down the primitive part of the brain. How do you battle something like this?

Two things work a little. One is called approach and study. So there’s a dog up ahead. I take Joseph’s hand, we stop and I say, “Oh look, there’s a big dog over there. Do you think he looks friendly (I am trying to teach him dog body language)?”

If Joseph doesn’t immediately panic about the dog’s presence, we can talk about the wagging tail and the ears up and the dog’s general demeanor. Theoretically, we can then edge up a bit closer and study some more, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet.

However. We do have friends with a mid-sized dog, and we have graduated from the dog being banned outside when we visit to the dog being held on our friend’s lap to Joseph actually touching his tail on our visits.

And that’s the second thing that helps a little: repetition. Over and over we visit this dog, Miles. Over and over we talk about how sweet Miles is, and again and again we bring Joseph over to get to know him.

That’s our little anxiety/safety issue, but I’ve been thinking about safety on a larger scale, too, and I’ve come to one undeniable conclusion:

NO ONE IS SAFE.

Our community is being rocked right now because a sweet 8 year-old girl was in a car accident last week. Her skull is fractured, she’s in a coma, and she’s got titanium rods in her legs. Will she survive? If she does, will she be brain damaged? Nobody knows.

This is a family that, two weeks ago, I would have envied a bit. Loving parents who got to raise a nice, neurotypical girl.

But sometimes everything we do to be safe just evaporates. Our very foundation is whipped away, and we have nowhere to stand. It’s terrifying.

Unless and until we realize that we are in the hands of God, and that is that. We can do all this stuff to feel safe, but the truth is it’s not our business: it’s God’s.

And this leads me to another undeniable conclusion:

EVERYONE IS COMPLETELY AND ABSOLUTELY SAFE.

Why? Because God is holding us all in His loving arms.

What is the biggest fear? Death. We tell Joseph that death is going home to God and, deep in my being, I know that this is true. Going home to the Source of unconditional love, light, and peace. How unsafe is that? And we don’t have to wait ’til we die to access this Source. It’s available here, now, always.

Here’s the part we don’t get: though life on this planet feels very unsafe, there is an invisible, intangible cable connected to us.

God’s got our backs.

I wonder sometimes how differently I would live if I really, truly got that, in every fiber of my being. That I was safe. That God, in Her depthless love, was always with me, protecting me, caring for me. Would I be lighter, feel freer, see the humor in what is now only viewed with fear?

How about Joseph — how differently would he live if he could get that he is truly safe, on every level?

I suppose it is a question we could all ask ourselves. And then, when we feel that safety, we could focus more on the invisible cable that connects us to God than on the jump (or, let’s face it — the push) off whatever cliff’s edge we’re currently teetering on.

Joseph is doing some quantum leaps at the moment. The way we can most see it is in his drawing. You see, his coloring has been mostly squiggles and blobs and blurs, which he has interpreted as trains or thunder or some other objects.

But the other day, in preschool, his amazing teacher taught him how to draw faces. She got a mirror out so that he could look at his own face, and she had him look at hers as well. They figured out together that there are two eyes toward the top, a nose in the middle, and a mouth underneath.

And now Joseph draws face after face, with bodies, legs and feet, too! It’s an exciting step in development. One of my friends, who hadn’t seen him in perhaps a month, couldn’t believe the changes when she saw him yesterday. So hurray! for progress.

We were driving home from the store the other day when Joseph said, “There’s another silver Matrix!” Sure enough, right in front of us was the exact same make, model and color car that we drive.

I started waxing philosophically to Blue Eyes. Maybe that’s me in a parallel universe, I said. Maybe that me has a neurotypical kid. I wonder how she is different from this me?

So, Yoga Mother with the neurotypical child, how are we different? Have you had to learn patience as well as I have, repeating the simplest thing endlessly in the hopes that your child will one day grasp it? Have you tasted the humility of your child being different, being disabled, of your child (and, therefore, you) not fitting in when you’ve desperately wanted him (and you) to? What is it like to not have been imprisoned in walls of isolation — walls we are only now really breaking out of?

Most importantly, other Yoga Mother, I want to know what your spiritual life is like.  Have you experienced drowning in your own delusion — in stress, anxiety, hopelessness — the way I have?  Have you ultimately come to the knowing that God gives it all to us — that S/He weighs it out, measures it, makes sure it’s just right, and then sends it along — even if we never really understand why?

I think, other Yoga Mother, that the spiritual difference is probably the greatest difference between us. It’s not that you aren’t spiritual; it is the most important part of your life. But you haven’t been tested the way I have, and so you haven’t been forced to dig more deeply than you ever thought possible. You haven’t been broken open the way I have, so you haven’t experienced the same magnitude of comfort, grace, and simply the presence of Almighty Spirit with you every infinitesimal step of the way.

Would I trade with you, Yoga Mother of a neurotypical child? Yes. No. In a minute. Never.

Guess I’m not ready to answer that question. 😉

I have a friend who has recently turned 60. She says that, when you look back from that vantage point, everything that’s happened makes sense. She’s had some whopping challenges in her life — so, coming from her, this was no light observance.

And that is where I end today’s post: with trust. Trust that this journey is my journey. I wasn’t meant to be in that other silver Matrix. This road may have some incredible bumps, but it’s my road, my journey. So I bless you, other Yoga Mother, and let you go your way while I, with trust, an open heart, and the grace of feeling God all around me, go mine.

In our sleep, pain, which cannot forget,

falls drop by drop upon the heart,

until, in our own despair, against our will

comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

— Aeschylus

I have a friend, Brooke, whose sister had cancer. The cancer spread steadily until it had filled her entire body. The pain was terrible to witness. For hours, sometimes, she would scream with the agony of it.

Finally one day, when Brooke couldn’t stand to watch the struggle any longer, she asked her sister, “Why don’t you just die?

Her sister looked at her and responded with a remarkable question. She asked, “How do you die?”

You see, she’d tried. She’d surrendered. She’d let go as best she could. She’d tried to leave her body. She’d prayed to be released. But she didn’t know how to die.

I can relate.

Not about the dying part, but about the truly surrendering and letting go part.

Sleep is, after all, like a little death. And, since the day we got Joseph’s diagnosis, sleep has been difficult for me.

It’s anxiety. When you have a child with ASD, anxiety gnaws at you with the consistency of a rat who has discovered a rotting corpse all to itself.

If you’ve practiced prayer and meditation or other techniques for staying centered and present, then daytime is relatively easy. But when you sleep — ah, then your defenses go down. That’s when anxiety can rear its ugly, poisonous, fang-toothed  head.

In the last week I have stopped running from it. Instead of popping a pill and leading myself through deep relaxation after the dream or the sudden awakening, I have chosen to use instead the light of awareness. I am journaling, asking, why did I wake up this time? What triggered it? What did I dream? Where did my mind go then? How am I feeling?

The findings: at least half the time, it’s a nightmare. Filled with anxiety, terror, and panic.

About Joseph.

In my last nightmare, I was so tired and zombielike that, when I passed by a couple of women and looked at them, my deadened eyes led to them having nightmares.

Wow.

My cousin, Lisa, who also has a son on the spectrum, tells me that there’s chronic anxiety and then there’s situational anxiety. But what if it’s a situation that’s chronic — like autism?

Chronic situational anxiety? asks Lisa.

Whatever its official title, I am amazed at how deep the anxiety goes, and it’s the same for every single other parent I know who has an ASD child.

I know what hasn’t helped: running from the anxiety. Popping a pill to cover it up without even trying to look at it.

Working with the light of awareness is proving to be an amazing thing. It’s like I’m stepping aside and allowing this spotlight to go where it will, to show me what it wants me to understand.

I am humbled to see that, just like every other mortal in this situation, I am so very worried, scared, and fearful.

I am also vulnerable, open, and absolutely sure that I don’t know all the answers.

It’s a mixed bag, just like the rest of life. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — but, in this case, strength isn’t about squaring your shoulders and pretending it doesn’t hurt. Strength is about looking into yourself with compassion and awareness. It’s about honoring your process — and it leads to empathy with the process, the journey, of every other human being on this planet.

For me, there is now a new willingness to be aware of the deepest, darkest anxieties. Where it will lead me, I don’t know.

But I am trusting the process. The light of awareness is indeed a light — and isn’t that an aspect of God, after all?

Will this new approach teach me how to let go and sleep again? For three nights in a row now I have closed my eyes to sleep and not opened them again until morning. It’s the first time in over three years that this has happened.

So I think maybe I’m on the right track.

I am also discovering that, when those formerly dark corners are flooded with light, they don’t look nearly as scary.

We’ve been back from Maui for two days now. We came home, packed away our shorts and tank tops, and put on our long underwear. Yesterday evening we watched the first snowfall of the winter turn our yard white. It was pretty.

But just for these few moments, I ask to you join me once again in lovely, warm Maui, where the breezes blow such soft sweetness into your mind that you are unable to hold even the slightest of grumpy thoughts for more than a moment.

My last post had Joseph and me hanging out together at an expensive resort. After our healing time in the hotel room, we sauntered back out to the pool. This time it was a little easier for both of us. I stopped wishing that Joseph would just relax and enjoy himself like the other kids, for God’s sake, and he stopped — what? Feeling my resistance and reacting to it? Being as scared because he’d already gone to the pools once?

But it still wasn’t easy. In particular, there was a water slide in the pool — an easy, gentle one — that had Joseph scared to death. He’d watch smaller kids shoot down it — he’d stand there, watching, for long periods of time — but he couldn’t go down himself. I forced it once by pulling him on my lap and taking him down with me, but he screamed bloody murder and I got those looks from the other parents: Stupid mother! Abusive, uncaring woman! And I gave it up.

Eventually we got into the hot tub and Joseph got a little more courageous, swimming by himself small distances and just having fun. It wasn’t long before Blue Eyes joined us. Then evening fell and we watched a magical Hawaiian ceremony that Joseph still talks about.

But here’s the thing: when we left the resort, he was still scared of the pool, scared of the little slide in the pool  — just…scared.

One of the ways autism can present is in this kind of fear. There’s some evidence showing that the primitive part of their brains is not as well connected to the rational part, so all that primal fear comes up unabated. I’d say that, in Joseph’s case, this is probably true.

This fear presented strongly around the ocean, too. Joseph was very afraid of going in past his ankles But one day I just forced it…gently. I scooped him up and carried him into the water, holding him tight and trying to make it fun. He actually enjoyed it for a bit.

Blue Eyes saw it happen and took up the theme, giving Joseph a piggy-back ride right into the ocean. When Joseph protested I showed up behind him, wrapping my arms around him and pronouncing him a Joseph sandwich. Somehow this made him feel safe, and he actually enjoyed being in the ocean for quite some time.

Then, RDI style, we very consciously spotlighted what had happened, showing Joseph how far out he’d been in the water and how well he’d done. We even took a photo so that we could remind him with a visual once we got home.

In subsequent visits to the beach, we progressed to Joseph doing some assisted swimming from me to Blue Eyes and back. And when he was on his own, he’d venture in waist-deep. Everyone felt more competent.

Being more confident in the ocean must have felt so good to Joseph. Before that I would watch him watching the other kids in the water, quite a few younger than him, and I know that somewhere, perhaps not even verbalized into thought, he was wondering what was wrong with him that he couldn’t get into the ocean like that.

A few days before we were to come back home, Joseph started talking about the resort pool again. He said he wanted to go back; he wanted to go down the slide; he wanted to put his head under the water this time.

It looked like we didn’t have time to do this, and then a little Divine Choreography occurred: the people we were house sitting for called. They were delayed; could we stay an extra day? Thank you, yes. So, on our last full day in Maui, we drove the long drive to Lahaina and snuck into the resort’s pools.

Normally Blue Eyes and I have a lot of integrity. Normally we would not use a hotel’s facilities without paying for them. But our son’s special needs make us bold sometimes. He seemed to need closure on his fears, and we were curious to see what would happen. We wanted to help him. So in we snuck.

Joseph got onto a boogie board and swam around the entire lagoon twice. Then he went to his nemesis: the slide. He sent his boat down. He outright refused to go down on my lap. He sat at the top of the slide and, making sure that Dad was at the bottom should anything go awry, he slowly let go.

Many times. He conquered that damn slide. Then he put his head under the water. Then he swam on his own a fair distance.

When we left those pools (having constantly dodged the lady with the clipboard who was throwing non-guests out), we had by our side a competent, satisfied child.

Today was Joseph’s first day back at preschool. His teacher couldn’t believe it: Joseph used to have a paralyzing fear about going sledding down the long hill at the school. But this time he sat in the front and rode the whole way, twice, having the time of his life.

The moral? Never give up on your kid. Things may take longer than they do for typical kids — heck, they may not even happen in this lifetime — but when you run out of patience, remember that you can draw on the boundless patience of our Divine Mother/Father.

Most importantly, no matter what the obstacles may be, do everything you can to help your kid feel competent. That way, the (shudder) free-fall of incompetency and fear can be replaced by riding high on an upward spiral of competence and confidence.

It’s Joseph’s screaming that gets me more than anything else. Or maybe it’s his screaming on top of major sleep deprivation — for both of us.

I mean, I understand that regression is part of moving forward for ASD kids — and even, in less extremes, for all kids. But just now it seems that we’re spending equal time in both departments. And I’m getting bloody tired of regression.

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel that your kid is — after years of hard, non-stop work — recovering from autism: looking you in the eye, speaking with you, sharing his inner world with you — and then to have him fade away again before your very eyes?

Actually, “fade away” doesn’t do it justice. He’s screaming. He’s barking like a dog until late in the night and early in the morning. He’s fixated on certain things, like our cat’s comings and goings. And he’s very, very anxious.

So I’m not sleeping well and I’m feeling pretty anxious myself. As a long-time yogini, I give myself a really hard time about not being able to stay even-minded through these things. And then I give myself shit about giving myself shit. I mean, why can’t I lay off myself and have a human experience sometimes? Why do I have to be Super Yogi all the time?

Maybe it’s time to get my father’s critical voice out of my head. But we’ll save that subject for another blog.

Blue Eyes wanted to leave early for work this morning. I told him he needed to stay because I was going to abuse this kid if I was left alone with him.

It’s not true in the legal sense — certainly I wouldn’t have hurt him physically. But emotionally I was ready to break down and scream right back, say some things I’ve never said and, God willing, never will say. Things like wishing sometimes that he’d never been born or how sick I am of his autism — that kind of thing.

I’ve taught yoga and meditation for 20+ years, and so have probably told people thousands of times to breathe. But sometimes it is just hard to breathe. And if you can’t breathe some of those full, deep, renewing breaths, then your mind and body are both really tense. That’s where I was this morning.

After I dropped Joseph off at preschool, I drove to a nearby trail and took a walk. I walked fast, for two reasons: I had pent-up energy to expend, and I knew it would force me to breathe.

So there I was, walking up a hill, breathing (finally), and suddenly I remembered: it’s all stories.

It’s all stories! The mind makes ’em up like crazy. Especially when we panic. And if we believe the crazy, anxious mind making up wild, horrible stories that very likely won’t come true, then we go into a downward spiral. Anxiety, crazy thinking, scary stories, anxiety, crazy thinking, scary stories.

I am discovering (again and again and again and again) that the answer to everything is this: BE PRESENT. Even more fun, be present with an open heart. Feel the Divine presence, look for it, listen to it, and know that guidance and help are here. Now.

So this blog’s title, In Search of: Serenity, is a catch-22. If you’re in search of something, it means you don’t have it. It is something you have to obtain, procure, acquire somehow.

When I am present, when I let go of the stories, then serenity is who I am. There is no need to go anywhere or to do anything to get it.

Right now I have an easier space in which to be present and open. In a few hours I will pick up Joseph and it will probably be more of a challenge (or so says my mind). Well, I’m going to practice now, while it’s easier, and we’ll see what happens when it does.

The very nature of life is impermanent. I am playing the  role I have chosen and Joseph is playing the role he has chosen.  It won’t last forever; it is only now and now and now.

Peace.