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A couple of nights ago, I had a scary dream. The details are sketchy, but somehow things were closing in on me, squeezing me, smothering me.

I gathered everything I had and yelled, “HELP!!!” Immediately things started shifting, softening and giving me some space.

Then Blue Eyes took me from the dream: “Yoga Mother! It’s okay. You’re dreaming!” I looked at him, wide-eyed. “You heard me yell for help?” He nodded affirmatively, and then he drifted back off to sleep.

As for me, I laid there feeling surprised and grateful. In some far-off post I’ve mentioned that, for many years, I’d dreamt of terribly dangerous situations where I’d be unable to call for help. I might try calling 911 but the phone line would be down. Or I’d try to scream and only a whisper would come out. I could never ask for help, and help never came.

Every now and then, I’d still have a dream like that. But this time — wow! I’d called for help so hard that it was heard and responded to not only in my dream life, but also in my real life! What a lovely shift.

on drumsAs always, the inner reflects the outer and the outer reflects the inner. Life has shifted a lot since I wrote that first post six years ago. Joseph still has autism, of course, but he’s a pretty different kid from the one he used to be. He’s made it to 5th grade in a neurotypical class. He can hold a fairly good conversation and he has good eye contact. He is making his way in this tough old world, and I am so proud of him. He’s still a pain in the butt and probably a lot more work than your typical kid, but we can live with that.

I feel like we’ve worked on everything: Eye contact and leaky gut and nose picking and voice regulating and social skills and fear of dogs and sleep disorders and gluten sensitivity and severe constipation and general anxiety and taking responsibility and appropriate stimming and self-regulation and co-regulation and crowd-tolerance and noise sensitivity and sensory defensiveness. And on and on.

But since, thanks be to God, much progress has been made in all these categories, now we get to work on what the experts say autism is: A processing disorder.

no planetTake, for example, Exhibit A on your right. This is a beautiful picture of a great variety of animals standing around the planet. In the center Joseph has written, “No planet is mine except home.” He showed me this picture with tremendous pride, and I, not wanting to shoot down his confidence, admired it greatly. In private I pondered how to help him to sort out the sentiment in the middle without shaming him in any way.

“Joseph, I love this picture,” I said to him. “I love it so much that I want to buy a big poster board and have you draw it again, painting all the animals. Then I want to hang it on the wall. Would you be willing to do that for me?”

What’s a kid going to say to that? He nodded proudly, and I continued. “What you wrote in the middle, can you tell me more about what that means?” We discussed it, and it meant what I suspected it meant: This planet is home to all of us. Then I kindly explained that it didn’t make sense the way he’d written it, and could he put it the other way on the big painting. No problem; he agreed happily. It was a non-issue, I am happy to say.

When he says, “I’m embarrassed!” Blue Eyes or I will say, “Embarrassed is when you’re ashamed. You don’t seem to be embarrassed. What are you really?” He’s getting better at this now; he’ll respond, “I’m mad (or whatever)!” Helping crossed wires get uncrossed is a pretty hefty undertaking, but I am thrilled to be here.

We couldn’t have arrived even at this place without all the amazing help we’ve had. I know without a doubt that one of my soul lessons was to learn to ask for help and to let myself be helped. I’ve still got a ways to go, but without this journey of autism I wouldn’t be near as far along as I am. So today I give thanks for progress, for challenges, for vulnerability and for help.

The Buddhist outlook toward challenges is to know that karma is so complicated that one can’t possibly understand why the situation is the way it is. And it includes the understanding that, for now, it cannot be otherwise. In other words, it is the way it is. Until it isn’t. Then it’s some other way.

Relaxing into that. Wishing the same for you.

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I could hear the sound of the whip as the man flogged them with all his might. When he left the room I sneaked in to see a pregnant woman, bound in a crouching position, losing consciousness from the whipping. I saw my husband, Blue Eyes, tied in the same crouching position, in shock to find himself like this.

As I left the room I ran straight into him: a huge, muscle-bound, ferociously angry man. Immediately he understood scary manwhat I’d seen and he decided to give me a similar fate. He was in a rage; I was absolutely terrified. Both emotions fueled us and, as he struggled to capture me, I fought back with everything I had.

It was my intention to knee him in the groin, disable him, and run out of the house to get help. But he was so big and strong that all I could manage was a weak punch in the groin, which stopped him for just a moment. As I turned and ran for the door, I knew my chances of escape — and life or death — were only 50-50.

Then I woke up, shaking.

I spent much of that night and the next day wondering what it could possibly mean. In my meditation the next evening I asked for understanding, and the following day it came in a flash.

The huge, strong, scary man was autism. So powerful. Such a force to be reckoned with.

The captive woman was me when I was pregnant: Bright with new beginnings, excited at the prospect of a baby, instead I was bound and flogged almost to death by autism. Blue Eyes, too.

Then there was the current-day me, still fighting autism with all I had, but scared to death that it was going to get the best of me. Outcome uncertain, to say the least.

I related this dream to a psychotherapist friend, who told me my interpretation seemed right on. “But,” he pointed out, “autism itself is not big and strong and scary and powerful. You give it all those qualities.””

“Also,” he added, “you need help.”

Ya think?

“Get therapy,” he told me.

“How do I find the right person?” I asked.

“Trust your intuition. It’s got to be the right chemistry,” he said.

Ok, I reasoned, if I was given that interpretation to the dream just the way the angels/guides seem most likely to communicate — inserting a flash of understanding — surely they can direct me to the right therapist. I found one who seemed a possibility to my rational mind but, if I had to be honest, I didn’t like the look of her in the ad. No chemistry there. So I continued to ask.

Today I had ten minutes free before I needed to pick up Joseph from school. I was in town so I thought I’d just pop into the local sports store.

Let me preface this next part by telling you I am a triple Capricorn. I almost never have ten minutes free time — I am usually very structured and have a list going of what to do with any of that rare free time that might show up. But this time I had nothing else to do.

As I walked into the store, I ran into two old friends, a married couple, walking out. They’d almost divorced and had clawed their way back into a good marriage again, so we were talking about that when they mentioned how amazing their therapist was.

Green light. Angels singing. Heavens opening and a Voice saying, “She is the one, Yoga Mother.”

I got the info on the therapist.

As the three of us left the store together, I checked my watch. That most informative encounter had taken exactly ten minutes.

I’m feeling hopeful. Guided. I used to be afraid of intuition because I thought my ego might get too blown up if I was good at accessing it. Now I realize it’s nothing to do with me in an egoistic way. It’s how well I can listen, how open I can be, to being told what to do by those who have a much bigger perspective than me.

It’s time to shrink that huge, scary, powerful autism image into something much more reasonable.

Maybe, with help, I’ll even be able to sleep through the night again. After all, it’s only been nine years.

Which, not coincidentally, is exactly how long I’ve been grappling with autism.

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.

At five this morning, I was awakened by the sound of Joseph coughing in his room.

Not so long ago, this would have shot a lightning bolt of adrenaline through my body. He’s awake already! my mind would say. Today is going to be a very rough day. He’ll be sleep-deprived and he’ll be out of control with autistic behaviors.

The prospect of my going back to sleep would then have been impossible.

This morning I still felt the shot of adrenaline, but it wasn’t a lightning bolt. It was a mild electric shock that came and went. I dozed a bit more, woke up and went down the granny flat where I do my spiritual practices.

When I sat for meditation, I watched the disturbance in my mind. I have set up a strong pattern of allowing Joseph to disturb my equanimity. Since awareness is half the battle, I didn’t do anything but watch closely, almost admiring how very much I’ve allowed what Joseph does and doesn’t do to affect my mind and my emotions.

Yoga talks about how much attachment and desire can take us off-balance, and that is what I was witnessing this morning. I am attached to Joseph getting sleep so that I can have a good day. I strongly desire him to not act autistic, so that I won’t be embarrassed.

There they are: attachment and desire. The root of all suffering.

Having witnessed these things, I then took my attention to the Divine.

“You know what a screw-up I am,” I said to Him/Her. “I would like to be more even-minded, but this is what’s going on right now. No sense pretending otherwise.”

My vrittis (attachments, desires) were really whipping up a storm. My mind responded by making up what appeared to be a very realistic story: What a horrible day it was going to be. We had a social occasion with NT’s (neuro-typicals) that afternoon, and Joseph was going to be a total mess because of sleep deprivation. He’d stim, scream and say loud, inappropriate things. I’d have to spend the whole time trying to calm him down and would be completely humiliated. I should probably just cancel the whole thing.

Fact is, this all used to be true. When Joseph didn’t sleep because of gut troubles, he behaved as if he was severely impaired. It was excruciating for me.

What I was experiencing wasn’t present-day stuff, though, and I knew it. But I couldn’t keep the trauma in my being from playing out, so I watched it. Fear, worry and terror washed over me in crashing waves. I stayed present to it, as best I could.

Then it was done. Some traumatized part of me had needed to be listened to, and I’d managed to listen. I landed back in my body, breathed some, prayed some, and gave God a deep pranam (bow).

It was around seven when I walked into Joseph’s room. He came down for breakfast and then said he was tired. He crawled into bed and slept for two hours. The rest of the day was great.

Last night I dreamed I was a war veteran. I don’t know much about post-traumatic stress disorder, but I wonder if I have it. No matter. I trust the process. I honor the process.

If this is how I am to let go of the past and move forward, then so be it. Bring it on, God! I am ready.

I have a large, lovely, crazy, wonderful extended family. When we get together for the holidays, there is usually around 30 people. ‘Most everyone is happy to see everyone else, and there is lots of conversation, laughter, and catching up.

In any gathering like this, you can see that some people get more easily overwhelmed than others. You can find a brother-in-law sitting alone reading, or a teenager lying on the couch listening to her ipod.

But what do you do when your kid is really, really sensitive? And shy? When s/he gets overwhelmed very quickly? And doesn’t know how to fit in?

We managed to avoid most of these difficult questions this year, because we missed Thanksgiving. We were in Maui.

But when we came back, I started to miss my large, lovely, crazy, wonderful extended family. So we called my older brother, Dan, and invited ourselves to his house for an overnighter.

I prepared in advance for this visit by listening to an RDI Webinar that gave  tips for holiday visits. One of their strategies was to make sure that the child with autism had a quiet place to retreat to.

Hearing that was a real “Ah ha!” moment for me.

You see, my younger brother, Aaron, has two lively young girls. As much as we love them, when we’ve stayed there I’ve seen Joseph get very withdrawn. He gets w-a-y overwhelmed and there is no private, quiet space for him to recover. He always sleeps badly.

I haven’t known how to explain to Aaron why we can’t stay with them, but now I have the words: Joseph needs a quiet place to retreat to.

Dan and his wife, on the other hand, have kids who are grown and gone. So half of  their house feels like a peaceful sanctuary.

Another plus is that Dan has a dog. Normally the mere presence of a dog would make the whole visit unthinkable, as Joseph is terrified of them. But this is no ordinary dog: this is a chihuahua. All four pounds of her.

Because she is so tiny, Joseph is not really scared of Randi. Randi is the one and only dog in our acquaintance who has this distinction, so it is no small thing. She is a great practice dog for us.

The RDI Webinar said to find roles for Joseph as much as possible, as it’s not always easy for people with autism to know what to do — how to fit in — among other people. So I got him involved in drawing and then giving the drawings to people. When it was dinnertime, he helped with table setting and various other things.

It worked really well. And then he slept beautifully.

Yesterday there were only the five of us, and then this morning two of Joseph’s cousins (the grown-up kids) arrived. At first, Joseph kept his distance. But eventually he felt comfortable enough to join us at the kitchen table.

Later, when it came time to go out, he requested that his cousins ride in our car, one on each side of him. This was big.

When they first sat beside him, he covered his eyes (he is both autistic and shy. I don’t know which was happening there — maybe both.) But slowly the hands came down and he connected, smiling and talking with them.

So there it is. Nothing monumental, but these small steps in connecting are huge steps for Joseph.

My hope is that, as Joseph makes these connections with members of his extended family a bit at a time, it will eventually be easier to be with more of them at the same time.

*            *         *

Joseph isn’t the only one in our little family who needs a quiet place. That’s one of the main reasons I meditate. My teacher says to create a portable paradise of peace within, and I don’t know what I’d do without that peaceful place.

Since Joseph was born to parents who meditate, we will, when the time is right,  teach him to do it as well. So perhaps he’ll learn to access the peace that passes understanding within his very own self.

Wouldn’t that go a long way in being able to stay centered and unshaken in crowded gatherings? We wouldn’t have to stay only in houses with quiet places when Joseph comes from that quiet place inside.

It will be interesting to see what happens when Joseph learns to turn inward for his solace — to turn to God for the calmness, peace, and serenity he needs.

I find it absolutely invaluable to live my life (as best I can) from the inside out, where my internal world defines my external world. It gives me much more serenity than living from the outside in, where what’s happening externally determines my level of serenity– or, more often, my lack thereof.

So what will happen when Joseph learns to live from the inside out? What will happen when autism meets yoga?

Stay tuned, dear reader, stay tuned.

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.

At first, it was just changing to a gluten-free and casein (dairy)-free diet.

And that was a lot — especially because, in one of those ironic twists of nature, we covet those things we are most allergic to. So by the time we got Joseph on the GFCF diet, his meals consisted almost entirely of cheese, crackers, yogurt and toast. It’s all he would eat — and, as his mother, I simply couldn’t refuse him and let him starve.

So the diet change was a huge shift for all of us, and perhaps I will write a blog about it sometime. But today I want to cover what happened after the shift.

You see, as the cliche says, one thing leads to another.

Even after Joseph was well into the diet, he was neither pooping nor sleeping through the night. Addressing the sleep issue, our biomedical doctor said, try an air filter in his room. We ushered in RabbitAir (another few hundred dollars into the Cure Autism kitty) to clear the allergens from his bedroom full-time.

Then I cleaned EVERYTHING in his room, looking for mold, dust, and anything else that might possibly maybe perhaps please God be causing his waking up — so that we could eradicate it and have a kid who slept through the night.

When that didn’t work, I did more research. As are most ASD moms, I became a Google Queen. Check other allergens, Google urged me. What is in his shampoo, for instance? Is there aluminum in your cookware? How about your household cleaners? Laundry soap?

Out went anything artificial, and ‘most anything with a fragrance. In came Le Creuset cookware (let’s don’t even think about how much that put into the Cure Autism kitty) and environmentally-friendly laundry soap.

I learned to make my own cleaners. One more thing, I grumbled to myself when I began. As if I don’t have enough going on in my life.

But the truth is, a little distilled vinegar or baking soda can go a long way, and they are incredibly easy and inexpensive to make. The Google Queen found many “recipes” for these things online, and is very happy with how well they clean.

The bottom line is, we were always into living naturally and greenly (new word — do you like it?). But Joseph’s sensitivities forced us to do it more deeply, more thoroughly. And I LOVE living in a chemical-free home. It feels light and clean and fresh.

So, going au naturale is just one of those unexpected gifts that we didn’t see coming on this most interesting journey.

If Joseph wasn’t sleeping through the night most of the time, we would pull up his carpet and put in wood flooring.

But I dare not try to fix what’s finally working. Sleep is one of the most precious of all human gifts, and, knowing the precariousness of it, I thank God every morning for another night of it.

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.