Introspection and Exploration

I continue doing my homework, and I have found a wealth of valuable information on the Internet. Life on the Spectrum is an English-based site, and avoids some of the psycho-hype one might find across the Atlantic. It is above all turned around the human experience, things that can go wrong and managing in the wider world of family, work, etc. How life has changed! We used to have to go to the library, and know in advance what we were looking for. There are tons of sites on Aspergers Syndrome, high-functioning autism and other information on psychology from a more or less scientific point of view.

It seems to be a “light bulb” moment for me as many life-long questions find resolution and elements of an answer. No two persons are the same, and I find the total absence of two typical symptoms: poor physical co-ordination and sensory hyper-sensitivity. I have excellent space-time-distance-speed perception which enables me to navigate at sea with a minimum use of instruments like the bearing compass, and above all to drive a car on the road safely. Very loud rock, etc “music” drives me mad, as it does to many “neuro-typical” people too, and I am sensitive to people crowding me in or “invading”. On the other hand, I have good night vision, good hearing and notice little sounds and noises – and I know what kinds of things I like to touch. I distinctly have my favourite clothes on the basis of the “feel”. One has to beware of auto-suggestion and the “placebo” effect, so my mind has to be disciplined to be able to make distinctions.

I spent a few hours yesterday between two translating orders on a “manifestation of conscience” in a Word document on my hard disk. That won’t be for publication, but it is helping me get my childhood and adulthood experience into some kind of order from historical and comparative points of view. I fortunately have all my school reports from 1967 up to 1976, and that has proved to be a valuable resource to me. The various “check-lists” on Aspergers sites and online tests have enabled me to shine my “laser” onto old memories of criticisms from parents and teachers. The picture becomes clearer, and I become inclined to seek a professional diagnosis both for the sake of my priestly vocation and my marriage – also to eliminate autosuggestion, because they use scientific controls in their testing methods. I don’t anticipate any changes, but I am convinced that self-knowledge will be the basis of my relations with other people and love of the world around me.

* * *

In the meantime, a Google search uncovered an old article by John Beeler in his blog. He has written to a certain extent on Aspergers Syndrome. I don’t know whether he has had a professional diagnosis, or whether he has made his own conclusions from the typology available in libraries and on the internet and his own personal experience. He has a healthy approach to it, as has Patrick Sheridan who has been diagnosed.

Here is the article from 2005, which compares my two “types” of human beings with “aspies” and “neuro-typicals”, the latter being 99% of humanity who are unimpaired socially if they suffer from no other mental or psychological problem. Quote between the triplets of stars:

* * *

Type As and those of us who aren’t

I’ve noticed this divide, which recent online friends from Fr Anthony Chadwick, an English priest in France, to Mia in Sweden have described.

Fr Chadwick writes (see his entry dated the 26th July for all of it):

Over the years, I have seen two fundamental temperaments of people:

– Those given to beauty and art. People of this group don’t always dislike sports, but prefer the non-competitive activities like cycling, swimming and fishing. They spurn the “pop culture” and prefer classical music and realistic art. Don’t ask me to be successful in business, because I hate to profit at the expense of others! This sort of person likes the Faith to be his entire life. Often this kind of temperament is more sensitive to friendship. Also, this temperament is kind to animals and cannot bear cruelty or indifference in regard to animals, and sometimes it goes to the extent of refusing to eat meat! Most of us are more moderate, eating farm animals killed by other people, but loving our dogs and cats.

– What I would call the “fundamentalist rugby-player type”. We often find liberals and conservatives in this group. They are often the kind of people who are great organisers, they like modern “pop” music, are often interested in sports and a competitive mentality, extending from the soccer field into their working and family lives. Such men are often successful in business, for business is played pretty much by the rules of football, that is when it is fair and honest. Religion, for this temperament, is all about the cut-and-thrust of apologetics, using the same techniques as for marketing. This temperament has no need for beautiful churches, but for assymetry and functionality. There is little or no aesthetic taste. A lot of church women are like this, when you see them destroy a priest who dares to counter their aggressivity!

It fairly describes the difference between many of us ‘differently brained’ people (like those of us with Asperger syndrome or what Mia describes as ‘social phobia’, likewise a real disorder) and what some of us call ‘neurotypical’ people, the type the larger world favours: the Type As as Mia calls them, the second type described by Fr C.

When you don’t understand your own condition, whatever it may be, it’s easy to react in anger by demonising the Type As by being self-righteous, thinking you’re better and more spiritual, etc. (Which understandably/justifiably only gets the Type As more pissed off at you!) Now that I understand AS I try not to do that anymore… but at the same time know ‘where I don’t belong’, and why (which makes a big difference), and that’s fine.

If anything I better understand why people like Fr C and Mia and I are friends and am thankful for that, and them.

* * *

I find that my comments of that time lack maturity, and it was in the context of singing the praises of the recently elected Pope Benedict XVI. I found the original text on my hard disk, since the website John was linking to no longer exists. My comments reveal a certain dialectic between one “type” and the other. We find this in all walks of life, between rich and poor, different races and cultures, religions and religious opinions, men and women, “gay” and “straight” and all the other binaries in life. Self-knowledge always carries this risk of thinking that “I” am better than the other. This was always the bane of Gnosticism in relation to the tradition of the Christian Church, and why it was persecuted by the orthodox.

Interestingly, many “aspies” are atheists since a frequent characteristic is not being able to relate to the abstract but only to the concrete. This brings me to the reflection of how we understand God or anything that is not material as we know it through the five senses and natural science. I mentioned my two fellow bloggers who are up front with their Aspergers. Patrick in England intended his blog to be about the liturgy, and he writes brilliantly. Because of his uncompromising position on the liturgy (unwillingness to go along the logic of the “pastoral” liturgical movement) he became increasingly burned out by comments made by traditionalist Roman Catholics and lack of interest in his other main theme, that of the great author Tolkien. John in America, on the other hand occupies a more classical traditionalist position with the ideas he has constantly expressed of “Office and Mass” and various other distinctions from neo-conservatism and “integralism”. I recognise many of the thought patterns in my own personal history, which I have had to learn to nuance by the use of my rational faculties over faulty intuitive judgements.

Science isn’t certain about the physical aspects like genetics and neurons. What makes for synchronisation between individuals of a species might be mirror neurons. These are very difficult things to prove in the laboratory – like quantum mechanics. This function would be impaired to some extent in individuals with the Asperger Syndrome and deeper degrees of autism. It is difficult to imagine a total loss of empathy and intuition and complete reliance on language to convey concepts. We have to reason out what we find difficult to “feel”. It is often said that blind people make the best piano tuners, because the acuity of their hearing compensates for their loss of sight. This notion is the source of a positive aspiration for those who have this condition. If this theory is anywhere near the truth, the intellect is privileged over the affective life. There are positive aspects, a different human experience and shift of consciousness. At the same time, “aspies” do have empathy, often too much, but feel it differently from other people.

One lovely thing about a blog is it isn’t Facebook or the local pub, where we can only remain at a social and superficial level. We can rabbit on and on about the subjects that interest us. I go on about boats and John goes on about classic American cars, those magnificent machines from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. I get into something, and I like to go into the technical details. Now, someone reading blogs is usually interested or shares the interest to some extent, otherwise he would shut it off and move elsewhere. When talking with people, we have to restrict the flow, otherwise they shut off and get bored, because they do not relate to the topic. I find it very difficult to answer the question “How does it work?” in three words flat! That is so frustrating. When we are teenagers or children, we can’t judge the limits, but as adults, we have to assume the person is not interested and make the effort to do some small talk on pain of becoming a party bore. It sucks or we suck! – to express it like the Americans.

I found this with my mother and my wife – no technical details. No talk about the things I really know about, so I have to learn more things to come up with something new and original. The worst is being asked what something is, for example a part of my boat. What do you say? A reefing line? What the hell is that? If I say, it’s a bit of string to tighten up the mainsail at the reefing line once the halyard is lowered, ouch!, that is too long winded and technical. It’s a bit of my boat – don’t chuck it out, please. That is probably just about the limit. Perhaps this is where friendships are made and broken. With friends, one can go a little further, especially when interests are shared. The inhibitions are removed and one can go quite a bit further and learn more from the other person.

Hans Asperger, the psychologist specialised in helping autistic children and who discovered this condition in 1944, was the origin of many fine quotes. Perhaps the most memorable is “It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential“. It is thought that Mozart might have been “on the spectrum” due to his brilliance as a composer and his quirky behaviour like getting up onto a table and meowing like a cat. Asperger summed everything up so simply “Social adaptation has to proceed via the intellect“. We have to compensate, like the blind man hearing and feeling his way around.

In everyday life, “aspies” are odd eccentrics, often the butt of jokes. What about the spiritual aspect, given that some or even many are atheists? Of course, we might find that some are “religion geeks”. We know about all the minutiae of the liturgy like the parts of an engine or a sailing boat’s rig. Information vegetable, animal and mineral as the Gilbert and Sullivan song goes as the modern Major General describes himself. Some study theology and open themselves to new areas of knowledge. What about a life of prayer? The very notion of God? Being religious isn’t just a matter of following rules and looking right. I do believe in the notion of altered states of consciousness and knowledge of what escapes our materialist experience. Of course, many things can happen under mind-bending drugs or conditions like schizophrenia or various types of psychosis.

The Red Indian shaman comes from a tradition of men who are conscious differently from the rest of us. Many religious and spiritual traditions have this element of the wise man, the wizard, the oracle or healer of the community who knows things differently. One would have thought that “aspies” would be suited to monastic life, but that is excluded in some of the totalitarian and personicide <neologism> communities I have come across with a philosophy more akin to the Army than anything else! That is a crying shame, because it is difficult for an “aspie” to assume the role of a parish priest as this vocation is currently conceived – for extroverts and the most socially adapted. Is any other model of the priesthood possible if monastic life is not an option? For centuries, priests have been used by their bishops for all kinds of ministries, from teaching to research and all kinds of chaplaincies and niche ministries. There is always somewhere in a paradigm of diversity.

An idea I can advance outside conventional religious categories is that someone “on the spectrum” has been on the front lines for years, knowing that something was wrong and not knowing what, being blamed for moral deficiencies and lack of virtue. Many are only diagnosed as adults after a considerable amount of suffering and soul searching, almost a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. It would seem to me to be the first step towards Gnosis, that of the person who is completely naked before God and his own soul where a spark of divinity resides in spite of our being broken vessels. This is the beginning of knowledge and experience. I am brought to remember the words of Walt Whitman:

Away O Soul! hoist instantly the anchor!
Cut the hawsers – haul out – shake out every sail!
Sail forth – steer for the deep waters only.
Reckless O Soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,
For we are bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,
And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.
O my brave Soul!
O farther, farther sail!
O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?
O farther, farther, farther sail!

That is our vocation, to go where others would not dare (trying very hard to avoid the Star Trek cliché). But, this is only a first stage of the “fool for Christ”, the “sign of contradiction”, you name it. At the same time, it cannot be an occasion for pride, thinking of oneself as better. We are just different, like men from women or different species of animals.

Patrick in Kent has probably passed through the gate, though he is still suffering from a kind of “purgation”. One who feels and experiences alienation from the ways of this world is on the way towards Gnosis, knowledge and not mere faith. To such persons, ordinary religious teaching can sound horribly hollow. Bible stories we once took for granted can only be interpreted allegorically, as metaphors to describe events outside human experience.

I won’t go into the Gnostic mythology, but I can affirm that what atheists say does not exist is not God! I’ll let you work that out for yourself. To give you a clue, what some people worship is not God but a projection of messed-up man and buggered-up creation.

Our alienation from blind acceptance of the way society works can make us very lonely, but it is something that protects us from lies and false egos. When we are in a social context in which we do not belong, it is best to be away from it. The “aspie” will feel this extremely acutely. I certainly do. It annoys my wife to see me not “playing the game”, but what is life about? I have asked myself many questions about empathy. Surely we become evil without empathy for others and an ensuing moral sense dictated by natural law. Empathy makes life hell, because we soak up from others what is bad as well as good. Compassion would seem to be better. Christ resisted all the lies and devices of the evil, but he was always compassionate to those he described as blessed in the Sermon on the Mount.

I have stopped worrying about fitting into society. People who are true of heart can deal with eccentricity and diversity. I do make efforts to relate to some extent but it is tiring. The old How do you do or more modern equivalents are quite obnoxious, since the person would run a mile if I were to say anything about my health or feelings! Why should they care? In old English etiquette, we had formal introductions – so that people don’t have to break the ice of their own with hypocritical banter. Perhaps there are compromises, opening up a true subject whilst keeping things brief and verbosity to the minimum. But, many would still run a mile if the surface is breached. Then why bother at all?

We will certainly find what we are seeking away from the false egos and the hypocrites. We can be sorry for them and pray for them, have good and positive thoughts, but by knowing that we have nothing to do in that world. The sea is indifferent, but at least honest! I’m not sure that I am an “aspie”, but I certainly think and feel like one. The housework is done and the rubbish cleared away, and we can seek what is true, beautiful and noble.

I’m not better than anyone else, just a broken vessel of clay that God can repair if he wishes. As St Theresa of the Infant Jesus once said: Je veux faire mon ciel à faire du bien sur le terre. This good is not simple philanthropy or charity to the poor, but the sharing of a higher light, good and truth.

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10 Responses to Introspection and Exploration

  1. Ian Williams says:

    Thank you for this. I have struggled with Aspergers my whole life, and with much criticism by those who do not understand it. I feel I cannot be the one thing I desire (a priest) due to sensory overload and what I believe is an inability to get through endless social functions (seniors’ dinners, parish councils, annual general meetings, etc.) where one must be lovely for others at all times. We live in a superficial world.

    • I am myself waiting for the possibility of a professional diagnosis, above all for my wife and to help untangle certain issues in my own life. I might start a fixed thread for the discussion of Aspergers and the priesthood and difficulties faced also by Aspies who consider the monastic life where overload is also imposed on the individual. I would be grateful for some ideas of what is a Aspie priest’s vocation. This will be something to develop in my internet ministry to priests ad others in unusual situations.

      • Ian Williams says:

        Thank you for your reply. Is it possible to contact you privately and ask you a few things about your experience? I have not met any aspies who are (or desire to be) priests, so this is a deeply important experience for me. If not, however, this is honourable.

    • Dale says:

      Ian, I think what you say about the modern priesthood, especially Anglican, is very true. One is expected to be this almost castrated, all-around nice guy; with as little real personality as possible, so as not to ever offend. Oh, and never believe in anything enough to get passionate about it, that could be construed as being less than welcoming and even aggressive.

      What is even more unfortunate about this, is that it was not always the case. Even in my own youth, many years ago, we, especially Anglo-Catholics, were actually quite proud of our eccentric clergy. One of the features of old-fashioned Anglicanism was once a priest was appointed to his parish, it took almost an act of Parliament to have him removed. Nowadays clergy can be moved, or simply put out-of-sight, for even the slightest pretense on the part of the bishop.

      • I think you are right. The tendency, both with the traditionalists and with the diocesan system. They want corporate types, the kind who would fit in with a large manufacturing or services firm. I know all the terminology of project management from having translated tons of words from French into English. In the “lay” world, appearance is everything, the style of the suit and close-cropped hair. Seminarians come from the right families and are accordingly the kind of person who would work well in insurance, banking or the legal profession. The pressure is on to be a career man whilst hypocritically protesting that one is in it for the vocation and the imitation of Christ.

        I hit up against this during my time as a Roman Catholic, coming from a Anglican background. Some of the vicars and rectors I knew up in Yorkshire! That makes a few memories! In the ACC, many of us set up chapels in our own real estate, and that makes us like freehold clergy (without the benefice). Of course my Bishop could throw me out of the Diocese, but he wouldn’t do so unless it were for a very serious canonical reason.

        It is heart-rending not to be able in conscience to advise young men to go for the priesthood these days! The RC Church is dying for lack of priests (because the criteria are too narrow and they live in shitty conditions for the rest of their lives) and very few lay people are interested in a Church that isn’t a big corporation. Too bad for them. The world is changing…

        On the subject of Aspergers, here is an extremely interesting thread – http://forum.ship-of-fools.com/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=70;t=025455

        In short, Aspies are more or less “mild” or “severe”. Some are physically clumsy, have no spatial perception, cannot sort out a practical situation. Others suffer from sensory overloads. I am just aware of having very acute senses (detecting smells other people don’t detect) and finding it difficult to deal with overbearing people or intense social situations. Many learn the social ropes, but “NT” people can always detect that we’re putting on an act for them, and that we are strange characters. Do I like liturgy because it is a routine? In my case, I am a very sensual person and am stimulated by beauty and finesse, by a sense of God’s presence and sacredness.

        Some Aspie priests get on well in the mainstream – http://www.sacredheartusa.org/feature-stories/diagnosed-with-aspergers-scj-now-advocates-for-others/ – the US Church is broad enough. In Europe, it would be no, non, nein, nyet, etc. and a life of being treated as someone who is just not wanted. I as a cradle Anglican found my narrow niche in Continuing Anglicanism.

      • Ian Williams says:

        I am not an Anglican — though I have much experience of you blessed ones — but your comment holds true for us Catholics as well. Every priest I’ve met in our archdiocese is not necessarily inherently shallow; however, each one acts this way. I have a sense that he feels he must act this way, too. It is an expectation of the faithful of the Church of Nice. For that is what Western Christianity has become.

        Certainly, passion is misconstrued as over-zealous fanaticism or bigotry. We must all be smooth and meaningless.

        I am only 27, so I do not know the charming old rectors I have heard so much about, of old Western Christianity. How I desire to have met just one of them! Grumpy, joyful, cynical, sarcastic, hopeful, optimistic, childlike, world-weary; I have the impression that they could be any of these things, sometimes all at once. Today everyone is, indeed, a sort of corporate brand-name priest.

        I believe this is more a degeneration in our overall society & culture, however, which spills into television & movies. I always like to say that the 1990s were the beginning of it. Take acting for example; the old stars could stand in a single cut and act for minutes on end, playing off each other; starting around the 1990s, I notice an increase in the number of cuts and “response shots”. It’s simply because younger actors lacked the strength of personality to carry a convincing character in fiction for more than 10 seconds or so.

        Take sitcom, too, for example. There’s something utterly superficial, to me, about Keeping Up Appearances, Father Ted, and The Vicar of Dibley; while they can be amusing at times, they are not funny because they seem soulless, over-produced, and sound as if they were written by committee. Blackadder, Fawlty Towers, and ‘Allo ‘Allo, and other older shows, however, come off as deeply funny and very honest, because the men who wrote them and acted in them were of the older time, I think, when people were brought up to be themselves (and nevermind what others think), rather than today when we are all meaningless names in social orders: genders, labels, titles, orientations, disorders.

        Anyway, I think this is … very far away from the original point.

      • I have very little to do with churches other than the one I belong to, not because I despise them, but because I just don’t relate to them. I can try to be nice, and they’ll be nice with me, but nothing good has come out of it – just nothing at all.

        My wife and I had a journey to make yesterday, and we stopped off at a crowded motorway service station. Smells of “other people” (their body odour or perfumes to give off even stronger smells), tattoos, shaved heads, whatever. I felt extremely cold inside and alien in the place which was all about collecting money from this mass of humanity. I wonder if they felt the same about me, or whether they just didn’t notice. I have no way of telling. How can I be a priest to those people who believe in anything or nothing?

        There is a new article – http://arealliveone.blogspot.fr/2016/08/fair-warning-religious-re-engineering.html. To what extent are we compromised too? Even in “traditionalist” churches? Fanaticism is the equal and opposite reaction, and not one I can approve of. Christianity may be poisoned from top to bottom and there is no hope, or there is a seed from which the Church can be re-born and witness to what it really is. JV’s article is quite astute. We are not called upon to become shrill but profound and authentic in our little corner of the world.

        Strength of personality? Do you have it? I don’t, at least not what would inspire some of the “other people” I come across – those people I will pass by and never know. With mass media and television, more and more is expected of the entertainer. I think the real problem is that the hurdles can been raised. I come to the conclusion that it doesn’t bother me, because I have no ambition of being an entertainer. Let’s concentrate on doing well what we can do.

        You and I might be “aspies”, but we are totally different and have our strengths and weaknesses, our own experience of life. We won’t react the same way to stimuli.

  2. ACHC says:

    This is the same poster as above, Ian. I’ve changed my username to reflect a new project inspired by this encounter on your blog. https://honcal.wordpress.com/about/ I will engage the matters of “autism spectrum disorder” there, and show, I hope, that there is more to a person than his title.

    • This new blog shows promise, and I hope you persevere with it. It depends on you. I don’t know if labels are a very good thing, even the artificial label of “aspie” which is not really scientifically quantifiable. There are just shreds of empirical characteristics that perhaps are better called “eccentricity” or living on a different level of consciousness from the rest of humanity. We are aware of both a handicap and a gift. Others do too in different ways. The essential is to be ourselves and bear the fruits – rather than seeking like-minded people who might fit in with our artificial label.

      I simply found that reading about Aspergers gave me a key to understanding some things in my own life. If a glove fits, wear it, but we have to realise that “aspies” are as different from each other as from non-“aspies”. You can’t have an “aspie” world any more than a Gnostic church. The esoteric life does nothing for society, nor can society accept anything other than materialism, the reign of quantity and the strength of winners.

      Just be yourself and write about what interests you, and don’t worry if very little interest is shown. I only got known because I was one of the most active bloggers in the run-up to the Ordinariates and going about it with a less than perfect understanding of the stakes. I deleted the “English Catholic” blog in 2012 after having started this one in a different optic. Numbers of readers and comments have diminished as just about everything has been said. Blogs can very easily become exhausted. Be careful not to become an “attention junkie”! In January 2017, this blog will be five years old.

      I wish you the best of British luck with your blog.

      • ACHC says:

        Thank you very much for the retrospective on your work and attendant advice. I have rescinded the Aspie label in every part of the blog. I will refer to my struggles with the characteristics, but it is indeed not right of me to make it a/the defining aspect (even before the adjective “Christian”) of the whole project, and of my whole life. Sometimes I simply seek comfort in the titles and labels, despite outwardly rejecting them before others. It is a way to find an identity for myself as an individual, which I find very hard to do in the increasingly-detached and rootless world around me.

        With regards to your previous work: indeed? All i see is this one blog, not the philosophical foundations. Fascinating to see how interest comes and goes based not on content, but externals as well. Something often just has to be timely in order to be read, rather than substantial (no connotations as to your blog, of course).

        Yes, attention-junkies we all have the capacity to be, regardless of label or title. Already I find myself compulsively checking to see numbers of views and such. Silly.

        Also, given that my nan was from Paddington (with an English mother & Scottish father), and my granddad is from Newcastle-u.-T. (with a N. Irish Belfast mum), along with all-Englishmen on my dad’s side, I do indeed appreciate the very best of British luck. May Bede the chronicler, Aidan the minister-to-all, and Cadoc the wise guard all our endeavours with their intercessions.

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