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Yesterday was Father’s Day, and Blue Eyes chose a hike in the Sierra Buttes to celebrate. It had been a long time since we’d been to the Buttes, and we were all quite excited at the prospect. So far so good, right?

We got an early start, drove a ways, parked at the trailhead and started to hike. Then it happened. The dog thing came up…again. The crazy, totally unfounded and irrational terror of dogs reared its ugly head. What did this mean? Well, almost every other party hiking yesterday had a dog with them. The first family that went by had not one but two of the fearsome creatures. Joseph ran off the trail and into the woods as they went by. But in his fear and panic, he also started insulting the dogs (loudly): “Those dogs are mean! They’re nasty!” And here comes the winner: “They should be killed!”

CheckersRepeat variations of this many times over. At one point, Joseph was out in the woods again, and Blue Eyes and I were waiting for him on either side of the trail. Our dog, apparently NOT one of the fearsome creatures, was hanging around happily.

I looked at Blue Eyes and said in a trembling voice, “The pain body! The pain body!”

The author, Eckhart Tolle, started the pain body concept. He says that all our past and present pain accumulates to create a negative energy field that occupies our body and mind. He seems to treat it as an invisible entity in its own right: which, if you think about it, it really is. How many of us do things we wouldn’t normally do when we are in a lot of emotional pain? I know that I almost always regret what I do when my pain body is up.

Tolle’s recommendation is to watch the pain body closely, as there is a lot to learn from it. Also, when you are watching it you are not sucked into it. You are being the witness — that oh-so-powerful way of living life.

So I watched it. And Blue Eyes and I had a good talk about it: His pain body was not up. He was surprised and a bit frustrated, but not angry and sad the way I was. He didn’t want to push Joseph off the cliff at the top (note: I am speaking figuratively here. While the pain body part of me certainly did want to push Joseph off the cliff, the rest of me remembered that I (a) love him, (b) feel sick when I kill even an ant, and (c) don’t want to spend a good portion of my life — even a Joseph-free life — in prison).

Then I added in something new I’ve learned from the Buddhist teacher, Sylvia Boorstein. “Sweetheart,” I said to myself, “you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what’s happening. Then we’ll figure out what to do.” I am paraphrasing, but this is roughly what Boorstein says about these lines: “Sweetheart” reminds us to be compassionate to ourselves. “You are in pain” is stepping outside and being the witness. “Relax” suggests to the mind that there is another approach to this situation. “Take a breath” offers a new focus. The rest suggests more witnessing — looking within first and acting second.

It helped. A lot.

After a couple of hours on a steep, dog-filled trail,  something happened: a man we had gotten friendly with stopped ahead of us to talk with someone. His sweet dog, Sammie, wandered down to say  hi. Joseph went into reverse fast, while Blue Eyes and I loved-up Sammie. “Joseph!” we called. “Come pet Sammie. We’ll hold him for you.” Joseph made his way slowly toward us, then gave Sammie some pets from the back. He got more brave as he went, and soon it became apparent that Sammie had also landed in the “not a fearsome creature” category.

We climbed some outrageous stairs to reach the observation tower at the top of the mountain, 8900 feet up. What accomplishments! A long, hard hike, at least one new dog on the friendly list, and a pain body observed.

The way down was much more cheerful. Less dogs, and even the ones we encountered didn’t cause so much drama. Blue Eyes andSierra Buttes I congratulated each other: We hadn’t seem any other special-needs kid on the trail, and we could understand why. With a kid like Joseph, it’s much easier to stay home and do something he wants to do, like screen time or whatever. A large portion of this hike was a pain in the behind. But I remember John, our RDI consultant, telling us we needed to teach Joseph board games so that it wasn’t another thing left out. And so it was with the hike yesterday. Another thing not left out. It was hard. It took determination and embarrassment and tenacity. But we did it.

Afterward, I asked Joseph how the day was for him. “Good!” he said. He was proud of himself. When he looks back on this day, the episodic memory will be one of accomplishment and pride. Us too.

So there we have it. Another thing not left out. Thank God.




Joseph was a real stinker these last few days. Whiny and selfish and resistant. Screaming and hitting things in anger. A real pain in the butt.

In Eckhart Tolle’s viewpoint, I responded by letting Joseph’s pain body trigger my own. I got into a terrible funk. No matter how enlightened I tried to be about it, no matter how I wanted to shift, I seemed to be stuck in my own bad mood.

Lately I’ve acquired the lovely habit of asking for, and receiving, help from beings unseen. During this funk I forgot all about that. I was in it alone.

Or so I thought. I may have forgotten my angels, but my angels apparently hadn’t forgotten me. Since I wasn’t asking for their help, they seem to have decided to work through someone with skin on.

Joseph’s school is a mixture of income levels, races, and blue and white collar workers. I hadn’t found any other spiritually-inclined people until a couple of months ago, when I connected with the mother of a 6th grader, a chiropractor who knew all my favorite books and grokked me completely. We haven’t gotten to know each other too well yet, but this morning she ran over  to tell me about a children’s book she’d been listening to on her way to school.

It’s about a mouse, she said, who was reading a fairy tale that ended with happily ever after. But in the mouse’s life, it wasn’t going to end happily ever after.

What to do, in that case? the story asked. The answer: Live bravely.

Live bravely.

With that, Kaya gave me a hug and ran back to her car.

Thanks, beings unseen.

I know that none of us are guaranteed a happily ever after in earthly life, but with autism the odds are a lot lower than average. What to do, in this case?

Live bravely. And I would add to that, love bravely. Love even if autism seems to block our children from loving us back. Step into the tough times with courage, because they’re what’s been given. And because courage feels a lot better than anger and upset and big funks.

Of course I had to google the book Kaya was talking about. It was Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux.  Here’s another quote from that book:

Everything, as you well know . . . cannot always be sweetness and light.

The Masters have given us renditions of this sentiment many times. You should never expect a smooth, problem-free life, says Swami Satchidananda. A smooth life is not a victorious one, says Yogananda. The Bible says, Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Happily ever after is some far-off, ambiguous thing. All we have is right here and right now. I am focusing on living bravely in this moment, no matter if war, death, destruction, or a kid in a really foul temper dance around me. And I know — that is, know — that  you and I are constantly being encouraged by beings both seen and unseen.

Ever think about that word encourage? In-courage.

Let’s do it, shall we? Let’s live bravely. Encouraged and courageous, asking for and receiving help, never expecting life to be trouble-free. Willingly stepping into the fray when we know we can do some good there.

Living bravely may not be living happily ever after, but it must at least point the way there.

Autism and Spirituality: the Dance