thoughts on autism

This original post at BallastExistenz's (henceforth BE) blog discusses her own spirituality and the biases with which people often misrepresent autistics. She mentions she's a Quaker. I had no idea they still exist. Anyways. Really profound stuff, and I can understand why she doesn't want to talk about it. Though, she should know how often science at large is trying to pathologize religion, for 'ableists' as well.

This Reb Hayyim Qatan blog comment is what lead me to BE's original post and discusses potential kabbalistic understandings of autism.

Anyways, I was thinking this morning about prayer and meditation and awareness in general. From the limited reading I've done on autism, it seems many autistics are born without some of the tools to filter out or contextualize stimuli. This presents an unusual situation, namely that in order for autistics to enjoy a functional life, they need to find a way to balance or cope with the constant stimuli around them. In a way, this means that one of the first things an autistic person needs to do is master a form of meditation, a form of conscious control of their surroundings. Whether that control is through surrendering, or mantras, or anything else, (i'm not even qualified to speak about meditation on a novice level) it can be seen as a meditative state.

That's the inferrence that came up this morning. Now I just begin to deviate and apply it to differing ideas: Each person is born with certain personal propensities, traits, or middot. Most recent kabbalah relates these characteristics to specific sephirot. Still, we are each composed of all of these characteristics, just in different amounts/qualities. The different distributions of these qualities make simple generalizations much more complicated and that's how you can end up with the full spectrum of people. (both autistic and not)

Some look at these traits and qualities as veils that divide us from the divine. According to some (BE for one), it could be that autistics are born without certain 'veils' which other people have. Others (incl. the Hayyim Qatan post) point out that these autistics just have a headstart as the job of each person is to remove these veils. I question further and propose more levels (let's continue with this visualization of veils): There is certainly a difference between a person who has not yet been veiled and one who has removed his/her veil. Otherwise, why would we be put into the world with veils? If removing them is no different than ever having them? If someone is created without a particular veil, then perhaps they need to place that veil for themselves.. along the lines of the mentioning above.

But maybe it's a little bit more complicated.. (and here is where I get to the point where I'm accused of hyper-extending metaphors) Removing veils doesn't exactly seem like the ultimate goal. At least not according to kabbalah, as it is the very veils that allow our interaction and progress through the world. (Can you see the veil metaphor breaking down yet?) Removing veils is a perpetual process in which we remove one veil and replace it with a more refined, higher, veil. (Rebbe nachman talks about the chain that is all of humanity in which, as we rise our internal aspect becomes the clothing for what was the outer aspect of the next higher link in the chain, and that outer aspect becomes our new inner aspect. If you think I clearly understand the illustration, let alone what it actually means, you are mistaken.) Eventually we end up somewhere around teachings about lenses (ispaklaria) and illuminated versus misty ones.

I agree with BE's point that symbols and structure break down as you approach the divine, but I'd like to point out that symbols and structures are what God gave us to affect the world. Running and returning is an essential part of relating to God in the kabbalistic framework. When you are running to God, you drop all of the physicality in a mad dash to oblivion in your source. When you are returning, to carry out God's will, you settle into the symbols, the structure, so that you can alter and affect it and all those whose primary existence/awareness is (still) in it.

A notable difference between BE's philosophy and most other spiritual philosophies is whether or not others can help you be, as she calls it, 'spiritual.' In our Torah traddition [and lehavdil, in most other mono and polytheistic traditions] there are those who can guide you on your way; being themselves simply a willing (as opposed to the rest of creation that has no independent will) player in God's experience aimed specifically at you. (namely your life)


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