Concentration and Autism

Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 5:42 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 5:42 PM

Concentration and Autism

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Hello everyone,

I am new here and have recently rekindled interest in meditation and the spiritual path (in the Buddhist sense). I am looking for some specific advice and hoping someone here may be able to help.

I was recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Level 1 (formerly known as Asperger's syndrome) and I am wondering what consequences, if any this may have on my practice.  For the curious, some context follows, but if you have anything to say on the preceeding sentence feel free to skip the rest, I appreciate any leads you may have.

ASD can take on all kinds of forms, but in my case it is characterized, among other things, by a very distant and nebulous relationship to emotions (my own and those of others). To put it another way, I am very much 'in my head' most of the time and it is my nature to (over-)intellectualize most everything. I've also dealt with persistent mild to severe depression for the last 18 years or so.

I've been interested/fascinated/frustrated by the promise of spiritual enlightenment for some time because the idea of investigating experiential reality in the manner proposed by the Buddha and his lineage resonated with my chronic dissatisfaction with life. It gave me hope that there is something more to being an conscious entity than that model proposed by the society I was born in.

In the past, my forays into daily meditation (sometimes very intense, sometimes more laid-back) have tended to end in frustration as I felt unable to reproduce the effects I would read or hear about with eager curiosity. At some point an aquaintance glowingly recommended I go on retreat; they claimed all sorts of benefits. I was not well at all at the time and had nothing to lose and lots of time on my hands so I went on a 11 days silent retreat at a local vipassana center hoping to find something new. I was very dilligent, did as instructed to the best of my abilities, morning to evening. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but in those 11 days nothing really worthy of note occured and when it was over I felt no different than when I began and was quite dissillusioned. This was about 7-8 years ago, and in that timespan I mostly put the whole enlightenment thing out of my mind.

It's only recently after discovering MCTB through a podcast interview with Daniel Ingram that my interest was rekindled. Daniel's pragmatic approach really speaks to me, I feel like this is the kind of book I have been waiting for. It demystifies a lot of things. And with my newly awoken interest, I naturally began practicing again. I don't have anyone in my entourage who's interested in this stuff so I've been going solo. I decided to focus on concentration practice first, as it sounds like as good place as any to begin. I've been trying to take things one step at a time, I don't want to push to hard and burn myself out. I started with 10minutes twice a day, I've slowly moved up to 30-40minutes twice a day. So far I've only used the breath as an object of concentration. But as before, I'm not sure I'm seeing any progress or change in my concentration ability, mood, or anything else really.

And so we get back to my initial question. My recent diagnosis makes me wonder if the lack of appreciable results may have something to do with my disorder. Or am I just not being patient enough? How long should it take for changes to be felt?

I'll be very grateful (although to be perfectly honest I have a hard time 'feeling' gratitude) for any help, feedback, questions you may have.

Derek2, modified 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 6:12 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 6:12 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Hi, Nico,

A search on PubMed came up with one study, "Mindfulness-based therapy in adults with an autism spectrum disorder: a randomized controlled trial."

Unfortunately I don't have access to the full text.

The abstract says:

"Results showed a significant reduction in depression, anxiety and rumination in the intervention group, as opposed to the control group. Furthermore, positive affect increased in the intervention group, but not in the control group."

Perhaps your lack of results is due to not following the same method as the study. They called their meditation method "Mindfulness-based therapy (MBT)."

So perhaps all you need is some coaching on technique.
Derek2, modified 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 6:53 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 6:48 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Someone has kindly uploaded the full text to the Internet, and I was able to examine it briefly.

The length of the study of "MBT-AS" for autism spectrum disorder was 8 months. The authors explain what they mean by MBT-AS:

"Specifically, the MBCT protocol of Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2002) was used, but because of the information processing deficits that characterize autism, the cognitive elements were omitted."

The text referred to as "Segal, Williams, and Teasdale (2002)" is Zindel Segal, Mark Williams, and John Teasdale, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression (New York: Guilford Press, 2002). There is now a second edition of that work, dated 2013, and available for Kindle as well as in print.
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 7:55 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 7:55 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Thank you Derek, I will definitely look into this!
Ben V, modified 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 8:50 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/28/21 8:50 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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I know one person who is a very advanced/successful meditator who also has ASD.

​​​​​​​All the best in your practice!
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 6:07 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 6:07 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Hi Nico! I'm an autistic meditation nerd. I find that being autistic in some ways can be an advantage in the practice, but one may need to find one's own ways into it, as most dharma teachings are based on more normative brain wiring. It's often a good idea to depart from one's own strengths rather than some idea of what usually works well. I would also recommend doing a practice that you really enjoy doing rather than focusing on expected results.

Some questions that might help me fill in the picture!

1) Du you enjoy focusing on your breath? If so, what do you like about it? If not, what is it about it that you don't like? (If "enjoy" and "like" feels like too vague wordings, feel free to replace them with whatever makes sense to you - take interest in, feel comfortable with, or anything else that drives you and makes you engaged or relaxed or both.)

2) How would you describe the breath with your own words?

3) What difficulties do you encounter while doing the practice? 

4) In daily life, what senses would you say that you depend on the most? 

5) When you sit down to practice (or whatever body position you prefer), how do you do to get started? 
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 7:32 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 7:32 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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That's encouraging, thank you!
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 8:31 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 7:58 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Hi Linda, thanks for your response! I'm happy to have found another autistic person who may (or may not!) be able to relate to my situation. And thank you for your questions, here are my responses

1) Du you enjoy focusing on your breath? If so, what do you like about it? If not, what is it about it that you don't like? (If "enjoy" and "like" feels like too vague wordings, feel free to replace them with whatever makes sense to you - take interest in, feel comfortable with, or anything else that drives you and makes you engaged or relaxed or both.)

I don't think I enjoy it at all to be honest. Meditation has always felt labored and tedious to me. I find it difficult to muster any genuine interest or curiosity in the actual sensation of the breath. I've tried other sensations, but the experience is always similar. My focus varies, sometimes I can stay with the breath for a few cycles without getting distracted, but it's very intense and demanding. Not relaxing at all!

2) How would you describe the breath with your own words?

The in-breath is always clearer while the out-breath is sometimes so faint that I wonder if I'm imagining the sensation of it. Frequently my chest feels tight, as if it lacks room to take in a proper full breath. I tend to focus on the sensations on/in the sinuses; these seem to be "in front and below" me as I usually seem to be perceiving from the inner vantage point of somewhere behind my eyes.

3) What difficulties do you encounter while doing the practice? 

Mostly just difficulty maintaining focus. It's ironic because in other activities I enjoy (ex: reading, programming, the game of go) I tend to have laser-like, effortless concentration for as long as I want. But when it come to getting "out of my head", I find it very difficult. The sensations are there, I can watch them, but I fail to engage in the way I am accustomed to. There is nothing there for my intellect to latch on to, and the bare experience of sensations feels alien and uninteresting.

4) In daily life, what senses would you say that you depend on the most? 

I know it's not a sense, really, but I want to say my intellect. That's where I reside. But if I had to pick a bodily sense I'd have to say my vision. I'm a programmer so that's unavoidable. But beyond that, I think I tend to perceive the outside world first and foremost as a visual realm.

5) When you sit down to practice (or whatever body position you prefer), how do you do to get started?

I usually sit cross-legged (not lotus or anything fancy) on a cushion, start a timer and begin. I'll usually take 2-3 deep breaths and then launch directly into the cycles of watching the breath, getting distracted, noticing I'm distracted, coming back to the breath. getting distracted, etc.
Siavash ', modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 10:45 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 10:45 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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If you enjoy programming, then I'd say that it's likely that you have some enjoyment in your fingers too, not just your head. Otherwise it would be hard to engage in it for long periods. Fingers can be a great source of enjoyment (and misery of course)!
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 11:06 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 11:05 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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It's important to have a meditation subject that you enjoy. The mind is very much one of the six senses. If you enjoy using your intellect and playing games, then why not try some koans?
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 1:04 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 1:04 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Right. Doing a practice that one doesn't like while striving for a specific outcome is bound to mess things up. You are far more likely to benefit from the practice if you enjoy it so much that future outcomes seem irrelevant, perhaps especially if you are doing shamatha. If you get concentrated enough, the concentration in itself will generate pleasure, regardless of what meditation object you are using. However, it is so much easier to get there if you can sort of fall in love with the object. You don't seem to "click" with the breath. I'm not so sure that shamatha is the best practice for you to start with, but it might be a good idea to try out some more different objects before abandoning that plan. Since you are a visual person with a strong intellect that might need stimulation, maybe you would enjoy visualizing a focus object of your own choice? Is that something that comes easy for you? If your mind is still bored, you can either add complexity to the image or add other sense gates, for instance using a mantra to occupy your verbal thinking. Fire kasina is also something that might be worth trying. Daniel has an entire web site dedicated to that practice, with lots of great resources available for free: That practice can render very cool visual effects that might catch your fascination. 

Personally I have found it incredibly helpful and healing to use meditation to get away from just being in my head, as I feel like I was sort of forced into my head when I grew up because the social environment required me to manually figure out the rules of the game using my intellect. One's wellbeing often increases if one can widen one's focus to take in the whole space with all its richnness, and also get grounded in one's body as one part of that richer spaciousness. I love to sort of merge with the natural elements and stuff like that. That may no be your thing at all, and that's okay. Yet, I believe it would help your practice to find ways to let your busy mind rest for a little while now and then and allow sensory input to just flow through your awareness without either processing them that much or try to shut them out. That reduces stress. Also, just starting the timer and practicing like it's a duty probably doesn't work that well. Therefore I would suggest that when you start your session, regardless of what practice you choose to do, you take some time to tune into all kinds of sensations and just be with them for a while. Relax and take some deep breaths. Then breathe a bit slower - soft, light and smooth breaths. See if you can find some sensations that feel really good - any pleasant sensations. There's usually at least some pleasant sensations available, perhaps hiding in the background. Enjoy those and see this as a time for yourself during which you don't need to accomplish anything. If you notice that you are holding some tensions that you are able to easily let go of, then let go of them. Relax into a position that you can hold for a while without doing any movements, and mentally sort of sink into it like you would sink into a nice warm bath if you like those, or maybe a really comfy bed with soft blankets. If you take your time do this, the practice usually gets more focused.

If you really don't feel like relaxing is your thing, if it makes you even more tense than when you started out, you may be what Daniel refers to as the aversive type. If so, fast noting might be a great practice for you. It allows you to use your mind more actively, and if you notice tensions and annoymeny and stuff like that, that's just more things to note. You really can't fail it, and it doesn't require that you like it. It makes you more conscious about how your mind functions, and that way you can stop being a slave to mental habits that are sort of lousy programming. If it helps you, you can do it with your eyes open, and you can do it while going about doing stuff too (although I would recommend that you do daily formal sits, to continue building the habit). I have done a combination of Mahasi noting and Shinzen Young style noting and found that helpful. This isn't shamatha, but it helps building concentration too, and when you have improved your concentration through that practice, shamatha may be less challenging and more enjoyable.

Have you read Michael Taft's book The mindful geek? It's available for free:

I would be interested in how this resonates with you and in following your practice if you decide to try any of it. All the best wishes for your wellbeing and practice! 
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 1:27 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 1:27 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Thanks for the tip, I will definitely try to give my fingers some attention and see what happens!
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 1:30 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 1:30 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Interesting, so really anything can be an object of meditation, even thoughts. I've heard of koans but never tried to "solve" one; I think knowing in advance that they have no real answer seems to defeat the purpose for me; i.e I don't think I could engage my mind in them. But I will give it a try! Thanks for the tip
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 2:24 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 2:22 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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The point with koans is to sort of force the mind into surrender, to open up for just being awareness and thereby see that we are so much more than our limited persona. So saying that it is about using one's intellect is midleading. 
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 4:12 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 4:11 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Nicolas Epstein
Interesting, so really anything can be an object of meditation, even thoughts. I've heard of koans but never tried to "solve" one; I think knowing in advance that they have no real answer seems to defeat the purpose for me; i.e I don't think I could engage my mind in them. But I will give it a try! Thanks for the tip

Yes, anything can be a meditation object! Some objects work better than others obviously, depending on your conditions. Experiment and have fun. Observe the effect that different meditation objects have on you.

The point of a koan is that the author sees something which you can't see yet, and the solution is when your mind flips and goes 'aha'. Some koans are designed to "defeat" the intellect, or rather put it back in its place (e.g. what is the sound of one hand clapping?) If you are a thought based person, they can help loosen your attachment to thinking and conventional logic. Other koans are more rational and contain important insights (e.g. if you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha).
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 8:53 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/29/21 8:53 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Hello Linda, thanks a lot for taking the time to write your long and detailed answer! I really appreciate it.

There's a lot to unpack in your message, and lots of new doorways to go through. I guess I have a lot of experimenting to do! It's a bit overwhelming, but I'm just getting started and it's also exciting. emoticon

Your suggestion to do visualization is very interesting as I think it might be something I actually could enjoy and would have natural ability for. I will definitely try that out! Do you have know of any good resources on that specific topic? I was already curious about fire kasina, so that's another one on the list!

I appreciate what you are saying about relaxing into the body although I guess I never thought of relaxation and meditation going hand in hand. I know a lot of people meditate with that specific purpose in mind, but to be honest I don't really care about using meditation to become more relaxed or to have pleasurable sensations or experiences; I'm much more curious in using meditation as a means to an end, the end being gaining greater insight into what the heck is actually going on here emoticon
That being said, I can see how being in a relaxed frame of mind could be more conducive to practice. Conversly, it makes sense to me that being wound up or coming to meditation with a "this is a duty that I need to do in this exact way to acheive X" perspective winds up being counter-productive. I have a bad habit of getting deep into performance anxiety, i.e. "I need to do everything perfectly" and this has caused a lot of problems for me in other areas as well. So I am really taking this advice to heart, thank you!

Then again, as you suggest, maybe relaxing just isn't my thing, I really don't know... what's certain is that it does not come naturally to me, so it's something I'll have to discover through experimentation. I had never heard of the aversive type you mention (I'm only partway through MCTB, if that's where the expression appears) but just from the name I have a feeling this could be me... I did try some noting the other day and it was definitely a lot more engaging for me than breath meditation, so I will do some more exploring there too.

Thanks also for the book recommendation, the title alone make me want to read it.

I'm still navigating the whole terrain, and it isn't yet clear to me exactly how these different meditation types, trainings, concepts and frameworks fit together.

On that note, I have a few questions:

1) There seems to be a glaring contradiction between the desire to practice in order to acheive, or produce, a certain outcome, and a lot of advice I hear that seems to boil down to "don't strive", "don't try", "don't do", "just relax". How do you navigate this?

2) You mention that, in your experience, being autistic may have certain advantages when it comes to practice. I would love to hear more about this, if you don't mind.

3) How valuable have "maps" been in your experience, and do you think they are pertinent for neurodivergent brains?

Lastly, I would would be glad to stay in touch as well! All the best, and thanks again!
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 5/1/21 3:40 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/1/21 3:40 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Insight isn't rational. 
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 5/1/21 5:38 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/1/21 5:37 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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I really enjoy talking to other neurodivergent practicioners, so it's a pleasure.

Yes, that's a lot to unpack and I'd suggest that you do it in your own pace with no rush. You don't have to make any big decisions about your path right away. There's plenty of room for exploring and trying out and playing around a bit. I'm emphasizing this because you are so goal focused. You might benefit from balancing that with some ease so that you don't get trapped in your performance anxiety. Others might need the opposite advice because they run the risk of getting lost in trying out new cool techniques all the time and never really settle to find some depth.

That's also a reply to your question number 1: pointers seem so contradictive because the points of departure differ. It's sort of like in everyday wayfinding - my left might be your right, and going in the estern direction only works if you're departing from a point that is west of the destination. So some practicioners find it really helpful to just let go of striving. Others need to strive so hard that they eventually are forced to surrender because of the exhaustion. This is of course very simplified. There is a trap in letting go of striving too soon, because you will likely just fall back into old patterns of behavior. On the other hand, sooner or later you will have to let go of it. You sort of need to keep doing the meditation until the meditation does you, and when you awaken you will see that all that doing sort of just did its own thing, and still does, without there being any real separation between the doing and the done and the doer, so to speak, and yet there is that multifacetted quality that makes division possible too. Ugh, this just seems awfully cryptical. Sorry about that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the opposites sort of meet. There are lots of stuff that seems contradictory, and even though it sort of is, it also sort of isn't. Pragmatically speaking, it's helpful to be aware of one's own tendencies and balance them.

As for relaxing vs getting awakened, I think getting awakened is a great approach. However, awakening isn't possible without at least temporarily relaxing that sense of wanting to accomplish stuff. You will have to let go of lots of things along the way. Awakening isn't really about adding something, but about letting go of identifications with lots of stuff that is limiting us and weighing us down, to learn our true nature. You can't really relax the mind without relaxing the body, as it's all intertwined. However, no worries if relaxation doesn't come easily for you. You don't have to start in that end. It will happen on its own eventually, one way or another. It really isn't necessary to force it. Just play with it to see if it's helpful. If there's a lot of resistance to it, it might be the case that you aren't ready for it yet. The awakening process brings up a lot of subconscious stuff to the surface, and although that is very healing, it can also be too much to handle if it happens too rapidly. It's helpful to learn to listen inwardly and thereby get in tune with a pace that opens things up in a way that is managable. Only you can learn how to find your own tells, but communicating to other practicioners about it can help a lot. 

Navigating all the different practices is a jungle! You don't need to learn about all of them, thankfully. The best practice is the one that you actually do. Just be sure to keep exploring what occurs in the practice. Don't settle with some ideas of what is going on. Don't take anything for granted. 

I had a hunch that you would find noting more engaging than focusing on the breath. Noting is a great tool to have in your tool box, very flexible and also very revealing, illuminating. Can be done anywhere, anytime, in any mood, and it keeps one alert. 

I'm not very visually inclined so I haven't really been looking for resources on visualization. I find that there's an abundance of instructions and guided meditations that focus on vision, but I haven't kept track of them. Some like to visualize the moon, others an entire mandala - intricate and complex - or an archetype of some kind, or a beatiful dragon, or a symbol, or a Tibetan syllable that has many layers of meaning, or a blue skye. 

As for advantages of being autistic with regard to the practice, I'll post a link to a thread that I recently started. 

As for the maps, they were very helpful for me, especially before stream entry, because they normalized what I was already experiencing and gave me comfort because what felt like huge setbacks was reframed as progress. They also helped me to balance things. Knowing how a specific nana would color my experiences, I could secondguess those tendencies and see the emptiness of them at least to some extent. For those purposes the maps were awesome. For the purpose of getting to a specific destination, they can be a trap. They just show you how things go round and round. They don't show you the way out of it. Still, if you are skilled in diagnosing where you are at, reading that chapter in MCTB2 can be incredibly helpful, as it points out traps and possibilities of the different nanas. Nowadays the maps don't seem quite as relevant. It's not that I have gone beyond cycling, but there are so many layers of cycles and it's all so transient and it's more helpful to see the emptiness of whatever arises than to pinpoint it and name it and attach a story to it. I think you will need to find out for yourself if the maps are helpful to you or if they trigger too much of your striving. I found that they fit my experience well, so being neurodivergent doesn't render them misleading per se, but there's no guarantee that they will be helpful for you. 

Now I'll try to find that thread of mine so that I can post the link. 
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 5/1/21 6:03 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/1/21 6:00 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Here's a link to the thread: I also bumped the thread.

I'd say that one advantage of being autistic with regard to the practice is that I have had to struggle so hard in daily life to construct some manual versions of what the majority takes for granted that deconstructing that stuff comes rather easily. That's applicable to many areas. It probably manifests very differently for different individuals, though. 

Another advantage is that I really don't mind being alone in silence, or doing silent retreats without smalltalk and the usual social games. That might differ between individuals too of course. It's just how it manifests for me.

I have found that my sensitivity to sensory input is a great doorway to developing great sensory clarity - and the sensory clarity makes sensory input much easier to deal with too, as a very welcome biproduct.

​​​​​​​Best wishes, Linda
Tim Farrington, modified 2 Years ago at 5/2/21 6:36 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/2/21 6:33 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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Hi Nicolas, and welcome to DhO! You're already engaged here with Linda, and the vast richness of her hard-won experience of neurodivergent navigation among the normal, and of the path of meditation practice. And I think you'll find that this sangha harbors a remarkable range of uniquely wired people making their own attempts at finding out what the heck is actually going on here.

to be honest I don't really care about using meditation to become more relaxed or to have pleasurable sensations or experiences; I'm much more curious in using meditation as a means to an end, the end being gaining greater insight into what the heck is actually going on here emoticon

This is the fundamental meditation motivation, as far as I'm concerned. Throw in mortality and how utterly appalling so much of what is going on here is, and you should find sufficient material for a lifetime of practice. That curiosity of yours is as primal as it gets.

As far as method and technique, I think it will take a bit of something like luck. You can try this and that approach, but there's no substitute for a moment when you catch a glimpse, a genuine taste, of a bit of "greater insight." It's sort of like heroin, except that meditation is free, and legal, and is generally one of the slowest-working addictions, as far as how long it takes to kill you. (Also, non-fattening!) Call it insight, the juice, or interest, or an opening, you will discover your vocabulary, but at some point you will experience your own specific sense of waking up to a bigger picture, will catch a glimpse or an intuition, a taste or a whiff, a warmth or a space: something that you recognize as a fruit, as qualitatively different and utterly fascinating, and full of promise. It's all rumors until that happens, and it's impossible to know what your unique recognition moment will be, which is why I say, there's something like luck, or grace, a mysterious X factor, in the whole process. It doesn't have to be a big deal with a fireworks show. You know it when you get it. Your deep curiosity will know that it has been fed, and that will be that, you're a fucking goner, looking for your next meal. You'll also be capable of knowing hunger pangs and the agony of occasional starvation in a whole new way, once you've tasted insight. But you'll know that whatever the hell is going on here, we don't live here by bread alone.

You're basically doing it just right, right now, I think. You've heard the rumors, and are intrigued, and now you're testing methods and approaches. Your bullshit detector seems adequate, your evaluations so far are honest, and in general you're on track existentially and intellectually. You've already been very lucky crossing paths with Linda, who can help your in both the stranger-in-a-strange land aspects unique to those on the spectrum, and in "straight" meditation (which is actually totally neurodivergent in its own right, is basically a neurodivergence generator, and gets more so). So keep practicing the method that seems most promising to you. Given your intellectual bent, I suspect that paradoxically what may work for you first is something that quiets the verbal mind, that allows you to let go of your usual thinking by turning your attention to . . . something else. The breath, a mantra, the object of meditation matters less than that renewed movement of returning the attention to it, letting go of the mind when it spins away on its threads of story and thought, and re-turning to your designated meeting place at the breath, or the mantra, or whatever, that quasi-symbolic object of meditation where you keep your appointment with the something beyond the usual mind (which you may eventually think of as nothing, but that may be ahead of things here, lol). It's a blind date for you right now, but at some point, that object of meditation will turn lucky for you, it will show up better late than never, and in the experience of that luck you'll be much better prepared to trust your practice and pursue your curiosity deeper into what is actually going on here. So hang in there long enough to get lucky, would be my sage advice, lol. And, uh, obviously . . . good luck!
Zarbook !, modified 2 Years ago at 5/2/21 8:22 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/2/21 8:22 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

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I have an ADHD and relate to a lot of ASD traits. I haven't gone for official diagnosis because of the pandemic, plus I'm a bit edgy around mainstream mental health care professionals. Before I found out about ADHD last summer I just thought of myself as "a weirdo" - now I can show you on paper. 

It's hard for me to relate to and name my feelings, both physical and emotional. "Alexithymia" describes that. I can give a thumbs up or thumbs down, good vibes or bad vibes, but getting specific is hard. 

Learning about neurobiology feels spiritual to me. I had some sort of experience last summer which changed my sense of self (so far) permanently, and it came after reading about the ADHD brain. It was sort of like seeing no-self (maybe) through an intellectual understanding that I'm a collection of aptitudes for interfacing with the world experiencing as a unified self. I never would have used the word spiritual before, but there was no other way to describe it. 

Techniques to get me feeling my body like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, and Somatic experiencing help me with feel "here", as do yoga, qi gong, cold exposure. Trauma informed dudes like Gabor Mate, Bessel Van Der Kolk, Peter Levine, and Stephen Porges are extremely helpful with waking up.

​​​​​​​Good luck!
Nicolas Epstein, modified 2 Years ago at 5/5/21 6:14 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 5/5/21 6:14 PM

RE: Concentration and Autism

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Thanks for sharing your views and suggestions, it is much appreciated!

It's been a few days now and I've had a chance to do a bit of experimenting. A consensus seems to emerge, that I might benefit from reconnecting with my body. I can certainly see how meditating daily is beginning to have that effect in daily life, albeit still subtly. I am quicker to notice the bodily sensations associated with a creeping emotion.
I've explored different meditation objects with varying success. Mental visualization was not as engaging as I had expected, it felt sort of directionless, so I decided to leave it for the time being. I tried looking at a flame, but I started to feel pain in my eyes and got a mild headache so I didn't try that again! (can this practice be dangerous? emoticon ). Eventually, I felt my attention seemed to naturally gravitate towards a tense cloud situated right between my eyebrows and I have been returning to this sensation over the past couple days, both on and off the cushion.

I'm not sure why, but it feels easier to focus on this sensation than the others I tried. It's not a particularly pleasant sensation either, it's actually somewhat irritating, but I am able to "stabilize" it a bit better.

On that note, I've been observing that it is seemingly impossible for me to actually stabilize anything. The more I look, the more sensations seem to break down into flashing, morphing, pulsing, vibrating "things" that co-occur with all kinds of thought-sensations (that sometimes sweep me up for a moment or two (or twenty!), sometimes not). From the little I know, I think this breakdown of sensations into micro-sensations is an aspect of insight meditation, is that correct?
Is this normal? Or should the object of my meditation rather become more solid and continuous if I am practicing concentration correctly?

On the subject of the breath, I noticed yesterday, when shifting position during my session, that I had been using a very shallow breath all this time. I realized that if I consciously breathed "from the belly", the sensation of the breath became stronger, clearer, easier and more relaxing. I will do more experimenting with this. Does anyone know if there are specific ways one can alter the breath in order to improve results?

Regardless, the practice is becoming more interesting, which I suppose is something to be thankful for!

I know it's probably the kind of thing that varies so much from person to person that it's practically impossible to answer, but I've been wondering how to mesure my progress. How long does it take usually take to develop concentration for someone practicing 1-2h daily? Is that kind of schedule realistic? It's only been a few weeks since I began this regimen.

@lindaorulv Your advice about taking some time to relax at the beginning of a session has been super helpful! I notice that in that mindset, I can sort of meditate in an undirected way, just letting sensations come and go while remaining aware and present. Is there a name for this type of meditation? Is it a constructive way to practice in your opinion, or does is there something about deliberate, focused awareness that leads somewhere the other method does not?

@tim-farrington Your message is encouraging, thank you! When you talk about this sort of "when you see it you'll know it" kind of thing. Are you referring to a transient experience sort of thing like the jhanas, or are you talking about some sort of "ah ha" moment of understanding something (which would then be forgotten?)

@danglantern Thanks for all the leads. Sounds like you've had a wild ride. Incidentely I had seen your medium article on hacker news a few days before you posted here! Some serendipedous joo-joo there for sure! I can't say I relate with any of it, but it's fascinating. I've been curious about these things for a long time. I don't think I have ADHD myself, but I have to admit I envy your experience of encoutering a body of knowledge that resonates so deeply with your own experience. I can't say I've yet to read or hear about any sort of "brain functioning" I felt I could relate too. Maybe I just need to keep shoping for the right disorder! As for the alexithymia, that does fit pretty well; emotions are few and gross (in the sense of not subtle) and I guess they've always been that way. At a practical level, I'm hoping meditation might give me a better perception of the emotional landscape, or lack thereof. Best of luck on your journey as well!
Andrew Myles, modified 2 Years ago at 9/2/21 10:53 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/2/21 10:53 AM

RE: Concentration and Autism

Posts: 4 Join Date: 9/1/21 Recent Posts
hi there, 

i just wanted to chime in and say welcome, best of luck with exploring your practice, and also thanks to Linda for the great prompts and suggestions. This post is a few months old but I found it while searching for 'autism' on this forum. I wanted to share a bit of my experience and then respond to your last post: 


my experience: 

I'm someone who for a long time identified as not good at concentration. I'm also someone who has a variety of mental/emotional/experiential phenomena that for a long time i lumped under various categories (depression, anxiety, personality, etc. . .) but who has recently been doing My Own Research (TM) and underlining literally pages of descriptions of various neurodivergent traits with a sense of shock and awe. So, I can't say that I share your diagnosis or your experience, as I experience a lot of emotional intensity, but I do relate to an extent, and I wanted to share a couple things that have worked for me. 

Echoing Linda, identifying my strongest concentration object--for me, the felt sense of the body, energy body, physical sensations, etc. was a b i g  d e a l. I struggled with narrowly concentrating on the breath for a long time. Limiting it to above the nose wasn't fun, and sometimes even the nose-throat-belly is too narrow. I worked with Rob Burbea's instructions on opening up to the entire body and this really helped--but I think a lot of teachers/traditions use this approach. 

There was also something else that helped a lot. I'm still trying to clearly articulate it, but I'd say it maybe relates to using the other senses in various ways to enrich the concentration while still maintaining the body as the primary focus object. I don't want to misrepresent any technical terms or others' experience but I believe it may relate to synesthesia. Sometimes, I am able to leverage the discursive, narrative nature of my thoughts to redirect my attention. For example, when I think about soaking the body in the bliss, I came up with the phrase "god's hot tub" and this was a kind of funny and light hearted way for me to imagine how these qualities would manifest, and then I could go back into the body. I like stories and narratives so I found that this provided a much more engaging sense of direction for a session rather than "Gotta sit for X minutes so I can stop being miserable!" For me, it all relates to how I conceive of the practice, which it sounds like something you're thinking a lot about, too! 

In other cases, I find that even if I don't have strong access to visualization, a certain flash of color (e.g. orange or red in the case of the hot tub) may or may not manifest in the visual field. Sometimes, even sounds help in this regard. I was doing a visualization of a blooming lotus in the heart centre, and I found at a certain point i was seeing the pink petals, feeling their texture as both the imagined softness of the lotus and the softening in my chest region, almost being able to hear the sound of the petals blooming/the sound of their texture. All of these things are different senses but they point me towards a more singular/total experience of the focus object.   
There is an art of fine-tuning this, and it relates to my next point/response to your last question. . .


your last post: 

-impossibility of stabilization: it sounds like there is a natural degree of vipassana arising here, which is cool. Many descriptions of insight meditation involve breaking things down into their bare, vibratory, sensate components. For you, again, it depends on your goal: you started this thread on concentration, but there's been a point running through this about what might feel most accessible or natural for you. I agree with Linda that it makes sense to double down on your strengths, as they can help you along, and perhaps other things that seem more difficult now can be mastered once the mind has some more flexibility? Maybe you want to go where your mind is naturally going and take that deconstructive lens as far as you can? Overall though, yes in concentration, you are looking for continuity and more detail. 

More "solid" is tricky semantics. I think most concentration practices suggest that over time you should be attending to more "subtle/refined" sensations rather than gross sensations. E.g. the breath might start as a big block and eventually become as subtle as a flicker of wind, but the mind completely comprehends that object arising from start to finish. 

However, based on your other recent posts, it sounds like effort is another thing to interrogate here. If the sensations are already so subtle/vibratory, it doesn't sound like you really need to try to look any harder than that. When things start to get that subtle, what does it feel like (in your body/mind) to ease up a bit? If the breath is just pulsing or vibrating, can you just let it happen and watch without staring it down too hard? 

There's something about the art of concentration that involves checking in with yourself on how things are going and making subtle adjustments depending on what you want to do. It sounds like you have great awareness of what's going on, but you're maybe not sure which direction to take it. I'd say you're on a great track, and should keep experimenting with what feels right =D 

RE: posture, it sounds like you made a great adjustment and breathing from the lower belly can be very grounding. Similarly, I have found that it helps to consciously relax the muscles around breathing (nose, throat, chest, belly) while gently maintaining an upright back and posture (top of the head high, as if slightly suspended from a rope, but the chin is slightly tucked, so the neck gently 'opens'). You don't have to force stuff to open up if it's tight, just see what low hanging fruit is there. This is similar to what Linda said about relaxing at the beginning of a sit. I believe Linda also sits with Michael Taft's sangha, and his youtube is full of great guided meditations. He has a very soothing voice and some shorter meditations that specifically focus on relaxing the body. I say this because he also has tons of varied instruction on there, and it might be overwhelming. 

RE: progress, Culadasa's the mind illuminated has some good maps for how progress happens in concentration. It's based on the traditional elephant path which is historically part of many traditions' descriptions of different stages of staying with an object. Progress can be really varied, from person to person, but also within a person, day to day, or even within a sit. I feel like if you can find out how you want to practice, what works for you, and have a balanced amount of effort, 1-2 hours of good practice a day could move you along quickly--but who knows! It helps to pay attention to the conditions that lead to a good sit: e.g. what time of day really works for you, what other stuff is going on in your life at that time. If you feel you can manage 1-2h/day between everything else in life, I'd say that's strong practice! 

 Enjoy the ride, keep us updated emoticon