It has often been said that something that people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome are very good at doing is worrying. Though I can relate to this being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an aspect of worrying that took me a long time to realise was just how much tendencies to worry can lead us to losing touch with the present moment.
For me as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, I have found meditation practice helpful in managing and coping with high-level anxiety as described in my book Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness and in my previous piece in the Autism File about a meditation retreat. After experiencing much quality during meditation practice, I had felt that the next step was to bring the benefits of these qualities beyond practice. To help achieve this, I undertook an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course, based on the practice of Jon Kabat-Zinn.
In everyday life, there are many controlling factors in relation to being diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in terms of how obsessions, preferences, likes and dislikes, from the very mild to obsessive-compulsive tendencies can see us loose touch with the quality of the present moment. So often, stress and anxiety can stem from our own thoughts about want ourselves to be, as well as believing our thoughts and opinions to be facts which leads to frustration through not measuring up to unrealistically high standards or expectations we set ourselves.
One of the main goals of the different elements of the practice in the eight-week course, including sitting and walking practice together with basic yoga stretching movements, is gaining an acceptance of who we are, as we are, including as you are as an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome. For me, one of the most eye-opening aspect of the practice involves noticing sounds, including looking at tendencies we have of putting labels on different sounds that we happen to hear, including those we like and those we find irritating. This part of practice can show us how we often do this in normal life when we are least aware. When we are least aware, not only do we often miss out on the possible richness of living in the present moment, but we become constrained or clouded by what we like and don’t like, almost like wearing a straitjacket, thus becoming unaware of how our actions in the present moment affect both ourselves and others.
Like many people diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and people not on the autistic spectrum, I have personal preferences and dislikes in relation to how certain aspects of life affect me as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome, including sometimes not being comfortable in crowded places or certain social environments. Quite often, it is not easy as a person with Asperger’s Syndrome before entering an environment one is not used to or when undertaking a task they are unfamiliar with, including making telephone calls, to procrastination in relation to fear of the unknown.
The first sign of how the practice has helped me in normal life was when in September 2010 I started a new job in a completely new environment with completely different procedures to become accustomed to, as well as needing to make many phone calls to people whom I don’t know. Previously, I would have kept putting off such tasks through being stuck within worrying about what was going to happen next. Within practice, the meditator is encouraged to give the breath attention, as it is a neutral object so often taken for granted, and also acts as an effective ‘anchor’ to where one is in the present moment, thus keeping one in tune with the present. When more in tune with the present, I noticed a lessening of symptoms such as worry and anxiety which has enabled me to focus more effectively on tasks at hand, helping me settle into my new role well.
From the course, I found how just how much, most of the time, I am not in the present moment, however happy or awkward the situation is ‘here and now’ happens to be, as well as how much there is to me that I am not aware of or take for granted in relation to sensations in and around the body that one rarely notices in normal life. In relation to Asperger’s Syndrome, such awareness I feel has enabled me to become more aware of body language, something which I have previously experienced difficulty of awareness of, including how it affects those around me.
Rather than a cure, the eight-week course has been an effective coping mechanism for me an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome, enabling me to cope with each moment as it unfolds with a refreshed approach. Ongoing practice will hopefully continue to give me freedom to experience the richness of the presence the way I am, rather than being constrained by worry and anxiety.
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