As I was walking home from mass today, I noticed that I was standing in an odd place. Why was I there? I had walked a block from where I needed to turn to go home and I had not noticed anything on my way. My last memory was of crossing the street two blocks before and from that point, my legs moved, but I was lost in my mind.
Of course, most people and not just autistics wander off in their thoughts and get physically lost occasionally. Yet, this experience is often frequent in autistic adults as well as children. Sometimes, it's called, "wandering," and it can be quite dangerous, especially when children do it. In my case today, it was simple to change my path to walk home, but I cannot recall the number of times this sort of thing has happened to me. At times of my life, especially under stress, it's more the rule than the exception.
The comical part of all this is the content of the thoughts I was having. I was deeply pondering and contemplating why I am often so self-absorbed! Oh, wow. This is the very thing I've been "working on" in my spiritual life lately, and I was too self-absorbed to see it! So, I actually stopped and laughed a little bit, (well, actually I giggled pretty intensely,) out of the blue- also a very autistic thing to do. I did not care who might be looking on at the "loony girl."
On the way home, I was careful to look around and watch the trees and flowers. I really enjoyed the sense of being more open to the world. I did not want to look at the people, and that is common for me.
The social world is not a "safe place" for autistic people. The social world is a mass of confusing things- Nonverbal communication is supposed to be 80% of communication and my brain has no area that works to process such things. I know I'm missing a lot. By only hearing the words, I cannot detect deceit. I also don't pick up on insincerity well. I have to be careful to try to take in the overall context of the conversation anyway, so that I don't say something socially that doesn't "fit," and embarrass myself or offend another person.
People are also over-stimulating in themselves. Just watching their face while I hear their voice can be overwhelming. So, social time is tiring, to say the least.. and the better and more convincing I manage to do at it, the more exhausted I am later.
And, of course, this brings me to the topic of how is it that I can be less self-centered, when being inside myself is my sanctuary? At the end of the day, I look back on the times when people tried to share something about themselves to me and I assumed it was all about me, when it wasn't. I want to be more present for people. I want to be a better friend. To do that, I need to take risks and that doesn't mean I feel comfortable with them.
God did not intend a purely contemplative life in a cloister for me. He has called me to be a contemplative in the world. It's the "in the world" part I don't like. Yet, if I can get lost in a book, in artwork or a game or learning coding, I can get lost in a person and what they have to say as well, when I am determined to do that. People should never assume I'm not interested in them or that I don't care about them because of these difficulties, because it usually has little to do with that.
People who need the most love are the least safe. My Secular Carmelite friends are actually perfect friends. They do not gossip. They do not talk negatively about anyone else. If they do, they are running to confession right away! No, I am not worried about any sort of harm from them.
And yet, Jesus Christ calls me to open myself to people, who can be the source of harm, and to a life of loving, giving and service even to the point of the very crucifixion of myself. Now, it would make no sense to continually force myself to socialize to the point of meltdown every day. The trick is to take good care of myself so I can tolerate more and more time with people. To do that, I need to do more than merely monitor and reduce sensory overwhelm.
I need a deeply secure spiritual core, to provide a sense of emotional safety, so that even if I am in a meltdown, I am at peace. (And yes, that is possible, because a meltdown is the involuntary response of the nervous system to overstimulation, not a psychological issue.) We can have migraines and be at peace, so why not in a meltdown? I am learning this.
St. John of the Cross writes often about "strange islands," which is the experience of finding himself in a state of awareness and experience he has never been in before. He is referring to experiences he has within himself with God. For me, the "strange islands" are about taking God with me as I venture into the wilderness of unpredictable and confusing people.
And so, in this way, I hope I find myself "standing in an odd place" more often, with my deep sense of security in God unaltered.