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As spring break loomed on the horizon, Joseph began asking about going to Arizona. He’d never been there before and he wanted to see Sedona and the Grand Canyon. He also wanted to see Las Vegas, which is on the way.

I had recently quit my regular part-time job and am hysterically happy about having spare time.  Blue Eyes was up for going, and we like to encourage adventuring in Joseph…so a vacation was born. We’d spend about a week and a-half driving to and from, and exploring the wild west.

Friends told us we would have a wonderful time. Arizona was one of their favorite places and it would be amazing. To most of them, I smiled and said I was looking forward to it. To one of them I explained that Joseph could have a hard time with change so it would probably be challenging. To Terese, who has an autistic kid of her own, I said that Joseph could be such a pill on these trips that it would no doubt be difficult.

Perhaps “a pill” wasn’t quite the right expression. Sleeping in new places is usually difficult for Joseph, going to new places (especially crowded ones) is difficult, and not getting his way is also hard. All three of which are happening on this trip to some extent. Add to this the fact that Joseph had recently finished a round of antibiotics and was displaying pronounced symptoms of autism and candida (much flapping, fingers constantly in mouth, etc), and we were headed for quite a time.

Yesterday was day three and was supposed to be “his” day. We had made it to AZ and had booked a train ride up to the Grand Canyon. Challenge #1 occurred when Joseph went to sleep late and woke at 4am, resulting in three straight nights of sleep deprivation. We arrived early at the depot to watch the cowboy shootout but, as soon as the first “shot” rang out, Joseph screamed and cried and would not be calmed down. Blue Eyes quickly ushered him out of the bleachers amidst the looks of curious families.

My impression of age 13 is that the volume’s been turned up big time. Joseph’s always been one for constantly making noise (“verbal stimulation” in the vernacular), but it’s really gotten worse lately. Walking around the incredible, breathtaking Grand Canyon naturally inspires a reverent silence — but my constant companion was a nonstop noisemaker which was, to put it mildly, draining. And disappointing. Yogananda used to say that, if someone got your goat, they got your inner peace — so don’t let them get your goat. Well, my goat went galloping down the canyon and I haven’t seen it since! So my disappointment was for both the experience of the canyon and in myself for losing that goat. ;-(

At one point, in a small crowd, a little chipmunk appeared. Of course everyone was thrilled to see the cute little guy. Everyone else, that is. Though he was quite a distance from it, Joseph started screaming in anxiety and the only way to calm him down was to find a quiet place in which to sit for half an hour.

I sound like I’m blaming Joseph but I also blame myself. Before the Grand Canyon trip, I forgot to pack nutritious snacks and had let him load up on carbs (hotel breakfast, anyone?). Things have been quite good with Joseph — many breakthroughs this year — and so I thought this trip would be easier than it is. I didn’t prepare myself for a difficult day, so the fall was greater. The idea that expectations set us up for being disappointed at some future point certainly applies here — but the expectations were so unconscious that I didn’t realize they were there until, well, now.

Speaking of now, it is 2:20 in the morning and I am in the hotel bathroom, typing away and dreading the fact that Joseph may wake up anytime and give us yet another difficult day, tainted by sleep deprivation. Is it an autistic thing that he simply can’t nap during the day unless he’s deathly ill? And if positive expectations bring future disappointment, what does dread bring? As my own private guinea pig, I hereby postulate the following effects of dread: Insomnia (did I mention 2:20am?), negative mindset, and separation.

Ah yes, separation. Where is God in all of this? Of course I know that God IS — but I’m not feeling the Love. What if I just take a moment to soften my body and open my heart. What if I close my eyes, take a few deep breaths and release some resistance.

Then I realize that the thoughts are not my thoughts. They come from I know not where and they go I know not where. They are there, but who I AM is something much greater.
Jaw softens, shoulders drop. Heart remembers.

And then, oh gloriously then, there it is: The felt inner communion. The spaciousness of Spirit, more breathtaking than any grand canyon. A shared silence filled with understanding and even amusement. A remembrance that this is just a tiny blip on the radar of life, and especially of life beyond. The reassurance that always, always I can come to this place – no matter what is happening externally. In this I can rest. Time to go back to bed.goat

Hello, little goat. Welcome home.


Reject your sense of injury, and the injury itself disappears. ― Marcus Aurelius

Last Saturday I went to San Francisco because my best childhood friend was going to be there. It’d been fourteen years since I’d seen her, and I loved every minute of our time together.

Tamara said something that’s stuck with me. She’d read an article that pointed out how, here in western civilization, we expect life to be good, smooth, easy. Thus we are disappointed and upset when something goes badly or not as planned. What if, the article suggested, we adopted the more eastern view that, essentially, life is full of struggle and suffering? Then we could be pleasantly surprised about the good things that happen, rather than bitter and distressed about the bad.

(I was pleased to find that the girl who was my best friend at the tender age of six was probably a wise soul, given that, forty-some years later, she was pondering this sort of thing.)

So your kid gets a diagnosis of autism. Instead of plunging into despair, denial and depression, you think: “Of course. This fits nicely into the struggle that is life.”  And on you go.

My friend, Jaquelyn, loves her pottery class. The running theme in her class is wabi-sabi, a Japanese phrase meaning flawed perfection. Jaquie might be forming a bowl when, at some point, she finds a crack or an inconsistency somewhere. “That’s the wabi-sabi,” she’ll say. The class agrees that the flaw only adds to the beauty of each creation.

And so it is with Joseph. When it gets difficult, I am now more accepting that it’s supposed to be. The challenges Joseph presents fit perfectly into the struggle of life. Joseph and his autism are wabi-sabi: imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Just like the rest of us. How beautiful.

pepsi generationThis is in direct opposition to the American “It’s all good” attitude.  I blame the media for a lot of this expectation of perfection. Like the Pepsi Generation: those young, beautiful, on-top-of-the-world  people who have not only Pepsi, but everything else they’ll ever need in life. No wabi-sabi there!

Of course, one in four Americans is on anti-depressants, trying to find their own personal Pepsi Generation. Lotsa luck, guys!

Expecting life to be difficult doesn’t mean I’ve turned into Eeyore. Rather than moping about,  I find myself much happier with lowered expectations.

Rabih Alameddine says, “…What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little; only stories of events affect us.”

Want to be happier? Listen to the stories your mind tells you about how it “should” be, and see what happens when you change the stories.




Autism and Spirituality: the Dance