As someone with Asperger syndrome (AS) I have always been keen to consider anything that gives me peace of mind or “inner calm”. For this reason Buddhism has always interested and appealed to me – from little I have read about it.
Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness: Taking Refuge in the Buddha, by Chris Mitchell, is written by someone with AS and who has found Buddhism extremely beneficial. I am grateful for his book in introducing me to the subject and a central theme Dukkha or suffering – and how it can be overcome.
Mindfulness is a technique, or state of mind, where one becomes intentionally aware of ones thoughts, including being aware of how different thoughts can arise. Doing so enables open, non-judgemental thought to occur and to effectively assess oneself in relation to one’s surroundings. There are useful inferences and lessons listed that can be of assistance in a work or corporate environment!
The Dhammapda (a Buddhist scripture), states that the mind is flighty and sways between thoughts. Like the author, my [AS] mind drifts and exudes different thoughts simultaneously which can lead to distraction in important workplace settings such as meetings.
The key ameliorative methodology – meditation – is not unique to Buddhism, but can be invaluable for achieving relaxation and overcoming anxiety and low self-esteem: all areas where improvement can help someone with AS in the world of work. It has also helped Mitchell manage life’s “ups and downs”, rather than “eliminating” them or trying to pretend they didn’t exist.
Central to the Buddhist path are the Four Noble Truths: suffering, origin of suffering, cessation of suffering and the Eightfold Path or middle way.
Understanding suffering has helped the author to perceive and experience how suffering varies and how personal general unhappiness, disappointments experienced or what he feels he has missed out on life often relate to social isolation.
Recognising the origin of such suffering is in the second noble truth. Because people with AS develop narrow fixations it can lead to difficulty with flexible thinking and a key cause of suffering the Buddha taught: that of attachment.
Wanting leads to the third truth: cessation of suffering. If someone with AS can develop an intuitive awareness of the real causes of their suffering, they can realise the truth about who they are. This can be a long and mentally challenging journey as it typically takes a person with AS longer, but this insight can help via the Fourth Noble Truth or “middle way”; or, as I interpreted it, finding a balance.
The “Middle Way” consists of a number of areas. The Right Understanding helps to develop a non-judgemental approach towards the world by understanding how biases can distance oneself from the truth. Right-Directed Thought enables this via neutral thought. Right Speech helps avoid malicious or harsh discourse and the avoidance of back-biting if one feels they have been spoken to incorrectly. Right Action and Livelihood are moral guidelines for living such as not taking what is not given.
Right Effort, Mindfulness and Concentration emanate from meditation. Gaining a balance between these facets enables a person with AS to retain the strengths their condition provides whilst remaining close to truth through mindfulness.
The book is not a lesson in meditation: this should come via professional training. However, some key aspects are described.
A fundamental technique for sustaining attention is focusing awareness on the body. To achieve this author practices:
• “Samatha” – calm breathing and concentrating mental energy to feel peaceful and calmness to achieve clarity of thought and;
• “Vipassana” or insight into the true nature of things. Often we interpret things on our preconceptions, opinions, past experiences and other related issues, as opposed to, how they really are.
Undertaking Samatha enables thoughts to be collected and reflected on past, present and potential future experiences to see the true nature of things. The author has also learned techniques of loving-kindness meditation to extend sympathies and benevolence wider, even as far as bullies to avoid attaching accusations of blame from both the past and present. I feel this could be most useful in a work context.
Though not a Buddhist The Middle Way enables Mitchell to relieve himself from excessive attachment that has isolated himself as a person with AS in the past.
The book starts by looking at the Five Hindrances and how they affect a person with AS directly and indirectly, before looking at different situations and how issues can be overcome.
According to Buddha these are negative – or unmindful – states of mind; where one is unintentionally aware of thoughts in relation to surroundings such as being frustrated or excited but not conscious of ones’ immediate vulnerability. As people with AS experience “mental blockages” in relation to frustration and anxiety these can make such issues very difficult to cope with.
The five hindrances are:
• Sense and desire
From an AS perspective this means deserving “better” or an image of “how I should have it”. An example for me is being treated “fairly” at work
The author has experienced sense and desire in social situations, where talk about personal [material] success and of progressing, networking and developing relationships – common topics of conversation which he can’t relate to, result in social isolation and low self-esteem.
The Asperger personality means that others don’t understand how related emotional issues affect the author differently.
This causes misunderstanding on both sides and can lead to teething troubles in relationships: when I use inappropriate words for example. From these teething problems people have developed ill-feelings towards him.
When one feels misunderstood by so many, as Mitchell has often felt throughout his life, it is very easy to feel discriminated against. What helps is remembering that not everyone he is going to meet is going to know the way he is. Not being happy with the way someone has treated him, or if someone he has treated him badly, doesn’t mean that ill-will of any kind is intended. This is a scenario that certainly played out for me in my main career position.
• Sloth and torpor
This emerges from a lack of confidence, not being able to see a way forward and also the general difficulty with flexible thinking. The latter involves the ability to consider the different thoughts, views and opinions to ones own way of thinking and being able to view events and situations from different perspectives.
All these apply to me in work situations that involve negotiation and debate such as in meetings. Having inflexible thought means it can be difficult to find the mental energy I need to challenge different points of view or suggestions.
• Restlessness and remorse
This affects Mitchell most of all as there are many personal issues he is unsure or worries about: uncertainty in situations where he can’t predict or anticipate; how long he will be doing a job before having to move on, what he will be doing if he does and how much change there will be in terms of tasks, responsibilities, and location.
This occurs when the author has to complete something or achieve personal goals and targets. Being a slow learner has meant it takes him longer to acquire new skills and fulfil tasks to the appropriate standard. This has lead to others thinking he is not good enough or to assume that he will never achieve what is required. Having faced such negativity previously makes it harder to commence a new journey without self doubt; when starting a new job for example. I can think of many similar situations at work.
Often, the hindrances are only noticeable when related issues affect Mitchell such as periods of low self-esteem due to doubts about future uncertainty when currently troubled for example.
Recognising hindrances’ existence and understanding what they are and what form they take opens up awareness to their potential effects and the reflection on feelings of contextual anxiety by anticipating related issues and events beforehand to avoid panicking. When the author is affected he has found his mind contains negative or apathetic thoughts, meaning he loses mindfulness or concentration and views the issues internally without consideration of others.
This can make it difficult for him to see the consequences his actions on others which is hurtful as he never purposefully intends to create ill-will or enemies. When it does occur he is often unsure what causes it – by not understanding the unwritten rules socially for example. I can resonate with the vast majority of this from my own experience at work, and in once instance in particular.
Then author then turns to avenues of amelioration. Central to this is: liking and accepting oneself for who you are, something which I believe is essential for someone with AS who often feels low esteem.
Buddhism believes that the easiest person to like is oneself and focuses on finding positive aspects and personal qualities. It means taking frustrations and trying to locate positive actions from where they originate to avoid viewing them as problems or sources of personal failure.
Mitchell then makes a point that has also been made to me; one which I found initially hard to understand. People with AS do experience deep emotional thoughts and may actually understand other people better than is often believed. This potentially does make them good managers or trainers as they have a good understanding of the anxiety that a beginner learning a new task may experience.
Like me, the author is primarily a visual thinker. However, this can present problems insofar as images can become fixated in his mind making it very hard for him to delete. Building up such images puts pressure on him as he cannot live up to what he would ideally like to be or to be somebody he cannot which leads to frustration and forgetting positive personality aspects. For me, personally, this is when I have been unable to realise the managerial potential I believe I am capable of.
When such thoughts enter the mind, identifying their root causes, rather than confronting them directly – or what is causing the mental image – helps to locate more appropriate solutions. This has enabled the author to understand how others who have experienced similar issues may feel and make him more tolerant and able to relate to the positive aspects of their personality.
By focusing on positive personal qualities, self confidence can be developed by valuing yourself by liking who you are. This might take some effort initially for a person with AS, but it can be achieved by identifying where others’ like your different and unique qualities.
Another important point made is trying not to be overly positive or negative personally. To build self-esteem, don’t compare yourself with other people and view progress in relation to your own capabilities. I feel this is important as it removes pressure.
Mitchell then addresses his difficulty with flexible thinking and how Buddhism teaches how the mind “proliferates” thoughts that leads to concepts being taken as automatically true which may not always be the case. Holding onto fixed opinions can create problems; opening up to the views of others can help one see and interpret the truth more clearly. Taking on board the views of others at work and assimilating them is something I have found very beneficial.
Developing an “identity” for oneself – in relation to others – is described by the author as “isolating”. His strong views about – say – politics means he came to viewed as self-centred as his conversation revolved continuously around the same themes which closed him to different perspectives and made it harder to understand why others wouldn’t agree with them.
Not clinging to comfortable views or becoming fixated with certain subjects or opinion has helped him accrue significant, related knowledge by understand that each individual has their own views and opinions – important with corporate politics.
The next point is interesting. Namely, how others have suggested the author lacks the necessary personal qualities in certain situations, but how this is the result of their mind proliferation and interpretation being different to how others see situations.
According to Mitchell, believing the interpretations of yourself by others in this way can give them power. I have experienced this with protagonists at work by believing I am to blame when, in fact, it is others who have been the source of tensions initially.
By labelling themselves as “aspies”, people with AS can set themselves apart, cause divisions and, possibly, conflict with others. Developing negative identities for oneself and for those one considers different can lead to the hindrance of ill-will, as it excludes others who don’t fit such identities.
According to Mitchell, mind proliferation means not seeing ourselves or others as we/they really are, often because we are unhappy or uncomfortable with who we/they are this lead to non-acceptance of others. For me, at work this is where people do not conform with my perception of what is acceptable
The author believes that mind proliferation can be controlled with effort. Being aware of the potential consequences of how holding onto a view or opinion can sow seeds of conflict and respecting them instead is valuable advice in a work context.
Practising empathy and not reacting angrily if offended by another person’s views so as to give them power and seeing you consequently as vulnerable is another. If you do disagree or are offended by another person’s views, it helps to recognise the sources of their mind proliferation.
The author then investigates how he has been treated in the past and how easy it could be have been to be unpleasant to other people; especially those who have bullied him. There are two work-relates instances where this has applied to me.
Mitchell advocates learning how to look at people from the past as they are in the context of the present – in other words, don’t hold onto grudges or initial, negative impressions. Many people now relate and view him as he is currently also and not like when he was young; this means he can respond with regard to their concerns and values more effectively.
Many people with AS often feel vulnerable socially, including being gullible and easily led as a result of social competition. For me, work can replace the word social here. Competitive tactics such as bullying and belittling continue in different guises meaning that stigma’s become attached to one’s position in corporate hierarchies.
This involves trying to project successful images. In business it may be necessary to project an “image” towards clients and others or, in some cases, trying to project such an image to hide weaknesses – having AS for example.
Extolling strong, personal values not shared by others is one example cited. This can lead to misunderstandings, especially when others have expectations of the author that have clashed with what he values such as being driven by status and success which is often too stressful for him to manage in terms of anxiety. Letting colleagues know his values has helped prevent them making such assumptions.
Insight meditation techniques have also helped Mitchell think more flexibly by being able to collect his thoughts when responding to others by recognising the second hindrance of ill-well. By seeing other people as they are now, he has become more tolerant and avoided holding grudges.
Now, when meeting people with whom he has experienced friction, he tries to look at the situation from their own difficulties or frustrations to see why the person acts way they do. Doing so means he can extend compassion to them whilst accepting – and not worrying – about how others interpret him which is up to them. To me, what this is doing, is taking my [AS] emotion out of the context, something which I think is extremely important in any work situation.
The author then turns to understanding social relations and how respecting others more can help develop close, personal relations by accepting people as they are and not how they appear to be. Holding on past instances can reopen old wounds and lead to friction and the formation of grudges which can preoccupy the mind and acting without thinking. I personally have forced myself whilst at work not to pre-judge people and to give them the benefit of the doubt precisely to avoid this scenario.
The author re-iterates this point by emphasising how where people show apathy and enjoy exercising control over you, it may be best to avoid them as reacting gives them power. Work-wide this, for me, is relates to bullies. As authors of my book Managing with Asperger Syndrome will know, I strongly advocate withdrawal in such circumstances.
Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness: Taking Refuge in the Buddha then looks at how to make your values known to others without causing friction which, I believe, is hugely important for someone with AS. Like the author’s my values are often different to others but, as I have come to appreciate in a work context, they are usually not be aware of them!
Consider what you do also; observe yourself and how you act in relation to others around you, including how you treat other people so as not to cause offence. Ask others for feedback and reflect and find out how your values relate to what others expect of you.
The next subject discussed is anxiety which, according to the author, can take over his mind. Work-wise this is, perhaps, one of the most important topics, especially when a specific anxiety occurs which leads to playbacks which become difficult to curtail.
Here the fourth hindrance of restlessness and worry presents the interference that leads to difficulties. Inability to recognise and curtail these “mind blockages” can then lead to further ones associated with “ill-will”. Often these surround emotional issues and at work I have experienced these in relation to bullying, injustice and a sense of unfairness.
The anxiety has caused uncertainty and mental overload and has affected Mitchell’s quality of work as his mind was troubled by uncertainty making it hard to focus on the immediate task in hand which, in turn, meant his mind reacted to people and situations in a cynical way.
His inability to recognise the fourth hindrance of restlessness and worry led into the second hindrance of ill-will towards himself and others by responding to difficult situations and taking actions without thinking about the consequences of subsequent actions and their impact on others.
This, for me, emphasises his conclusion of a need for routine and predictability to manage change effectively without anxiety. Being forewarned of any changes obviously helps. Avoiding awkward or unpredictable situations is assisted by planning, i.e. when travelling.
Samatha meditation techniques help here by realising a sense of calm and bring the author’s mind to calm by letting issues slowly pass. By generally stepping back from stress and meditating helps to put these feelings aside. When facing pressure or even “meltdowns” at work, this is the course of action I have found most effective.
People with AS are good at worrying which adds to anxiety and cripples the minds’ capacity for effective thinking to overcome it. Worrying can demonstrate weakness and give others power to exploit it and also lead to social isolation. I believe that this has significantly impaired my performance at work previously as a manager.
Stress can also lead to anxiety via pressure and being overloaded with tasks or duties. Utilising suggestions such as undertaking different tasks to separate oneself from worries and so balance thought processes and expending finite energy in concentrated bursts are all very pertinent from an AS perspective.
According to Mitchell, taking life – or work – in moderation, ascertaining what you feel you need from it and slowly balancing life with relaxation is essential. If you feel you are being “put upon” in terms of taking on extra responsibilities in a working environment, try to set limited tasks with your supervisor via an allocated workload.
Next: frustration and anger which, according to the book, feed off of each other. Importantly, the text looks at how the anger expressed by others at a person with AS can lead to ill-will on two sides.
In social hierarchies like the workplace there are often pressures that feed down from one level to the next, almost like a “chain reaction”. Criticism from a superior at work could be an example and this is something that certainly resonates with me.
A person with Asperger may have trouble coping with such anxiety and frustration meaning they lose focus and the mind becoming detached from the body. This then affects control of the nervous system and leads to tension.
When Mitchell becomes angry he shuts himself off from others, whereas most other people try to talk to the other person about it. Doing so when one is angry however is difficult and can lead to blaming other people.
According to Mitchell these anger problems can detach a person from reality, and if you run out of people to be angry with, you end up being angry with yourself! Being angry with other people however directly or indirectly gives then power which, for me, is one of the books most important lessons as some people may use this to their advantage to put you in difficult circumstances.
Sometimes anger can be justified – when seeking to correct an injustice such as unfair criticism by a work colleague for example. People with Asperger will often feel this. However, as the author correctly says, for anger to have any kind of positive effect it must be channelled carefully, appropriately and for the right reasons.
Being angry otherwise only usually makes the situation worse. Though one can feel better by having someone else to blame, it only makes more enemies and fuels further anger through insecurity.
Mitchell then looks at the problems with anger from the perspective of having AS. Firstly, it can make you vulnerable to social isolation. I have often found that I am not “on board” in a work context with colleagues which can have further, detrimental consequences.
Secondly, it can lead to regrettable actions, including inflicting emotional hurt on others. Anger can give power to those you are angry with, who may then use it to their advantage against you or exploit you. This is especially true in an organisation when the other person has power or authority over you.
To cope with anger effectively the author advocates spending time alone or pursuing an unrelated task to give the mind a break. If you are angry with someone try to put your sense of anger over diplomatically as this can distance you from those who are angry with you.
Usefully, Mitchell then investigates how people with AS can find themselves on the receiving end of someone else’s anger, yet often not realise what they have done to cause the anger, i.e. questioning someone’s morals. Here it is suggested trying to avoid “back biting” or responding with anger as this demonstrates vulnerability. I would always recommend exercising this in a work context.
Curtailing anger allows for a more considered approach. Considering you own part in any discord is part of this, as is being mindful of the potential consequences of “blaming” others including long-term effects’ such as making enemies.
The text then researches routine and self-discipline and suggests that the former needs the latter, something meditation can help with. Loss of routine can mean development of unhealthy habits; poor eating or sleeping patterns for example, all of which, I believe, impact negatively on work performance and results in experiencing the fifth hindrance – doubt! This then turns into the third hindrance – torpor and sloth.
The author has found it difficult to establish a routine where there is a lack of a set timetabled environment. I believe this is important to productivity for someone with AS in a work environment. Meditation and religion can provide self discipline in this area by providing guidelines for a daily living pattern and so exercise awareness and control to provide predictability to reduce anxiety.
Attention is required for effective meditation and helps call back the mind when it wanders in situations when attention is needed – being required to listen attentively to someone else, i.e. when in meetings for example. I concur strongly here with the author who suggests this is especially important when learning a new skill.
The Buddha’s teachings suggest that one of the sources of dukkha relates to impermanence in our lives. This certainly applies in today’s job market where anticipating change is always needed.
Routine can provide a sense of dukkha, especially if one becomes attached to it. Being aware of the possibility of change arising without transcending into fear of it, can enable one to anticipate and manage change effectively.
Discipline is essential to get through a day’s work or to make the best of difficult situations. To achieve this, the book usefully advocates trying not to see tasks or duties as “chores” as this can lead to a negative state of mind. As time management is often difficult to grasp for someone with AS, try to respect a deadline for completing a task to prevent it from being put to one side. Adapt comfortable routines to different environments, especially if you are changing jobs by making occasional subtle changes to day-to-day life routines to avoid attachment developing and make any required adjustment easier.
I found the next subject: how to develop tolerance through acceptance of, and openness towards others, very useful. Buddhism offers a way of accepting others even when disagreeing with their views and opinions, through exercising tolerance. As, at times, I have found this very hard, the use of Buddhist techniques here could be very useful for me.
To assist in this area, the author advocates having different social outlets to help develop social skills. In different environments, topics of conversation vary and so enable awareness into different social behaviours to be gained. Being able to relate to others through different channels aids tolerance towards people for the author and has enabled others to become more acceptable of him.
One Buddhist approach that helps here is by seeing, appreciating and accepting how the views of others can add – not hinder – situations. Through the practice of self-loving kindness mediation (Metta) avoiding holding onto the hatred that only gives bullies power when they see you as vulnerable can be avoided by extending benevolence to those that one dislikes. For the author, this doesn’t mean having to like someone or agree with them; it is accepting a willingness to allow others to be different in their views and actions.
This is invaluable in a work context where one is always going to meet people one views unfavourably. Developing tolerance towards someone you may not be comfortable with is a very important for someone with AS, as demonstrating anger, can make you appear insecure. If the actions of another person do hurt you mentally, avoid responding likewise unless you feel the unavoidable need to defend yourself and so prevent the very damaging aspect of Asperger – demonstrating low self-esteem to become apparent.
The book then looks at measuring success and goal-setting which is highly relevant from an AS perspective in a work context. As the author correctly asserts, measuring success for an individual with AS may not be conventional. Mitchell has found that it is important not to try and live up to anyone’s expectations other than his own. To avoid disappointment he keeps his hopes and expectations realistic.
I believe this to be vital for a manager with AS. Considerations such as not assuming tasks before necessary technical skills are acquired or avoiding pressurised, anxiety provoking contexts are important.
According to the author, if false aspirations are built up in a person with Asperger, the mind will creates unrealistic images of what can ultimately be reached that go beyond reality. As readers of my book and visitors to my website Aspergermanagement.com will know, I strongly believe that people with AS are able to hold down responsible management positions, but only if they prepare properly for them and do not over extend themselves initially.
The book then explores specific aspects of Buddhist teaching and five components or “Khandas” of sensory perception that contribute to such irrational distractions: rupa (physical phenomena), vedana (feelings of pleasure, pain or indifference), sanna (concepts, labels and allusions), sankhara (mental fashioning, formations and processes) and vinnana (sensory consciousness).
The Khandas make up personality and determine the different mindsets a person experiences. Recognising them means the more one wants the things to be the way they want them to be, the more this can expose the dukkha. At work, contexts are rarely how someone with AS wants them to be. Fear of what may happen, such as losing ones job, is something that I have often experienced.
The text then describes how becoming over immersed in such mental states, means mindfulness is lost leading to irrational fears. To overcome this, the author measures success in accordance with what he feels his capabilities are to avoid exposing his AS traits to anxiety provoking scenarios.
For the author, the most important way of being happy is doing a job well, being valued and liked by my colleagues and being able to make a positive difference to the lives of others which may mean doing lesser jobs. Another measure of success is how he has progressed socially.
Having goals to overcome the uphill battle people face with having AS means having motivation. But to avoid vulnerability to low self-esteem, it helps to focus on one goal that it is set realistically.
I can concur with this. Often I have failed to focus and taken on too many tasks at once and so have not been a sufficient “completer/finisher”. As Mitchell rightly points out, concentration and patience are required to see objectives through and mindfulness can help one achieve this
So, review progress in relation to your own capabilities. Avoid measuring it against others to bypass irrelevant distractions that cause hindrances to your self esteem. Set realistic goals by assessing within your capabilities what you can realistically achieve. Do not set personal standards too high as the mind can become overloaded and never satisfied which leads to fear of failure.
Reaching goals often takes a lot of patience, especially if one struggles along the way and begins to doubt whether the goal can be achieved. If this occurs, take a break and refocus. Self confidence is important. Do not expect dramatic achievements straight away as this creates pressure. If difficulties are experienced, try to avoid anger and focus on what you have already achieved and extend elsewhere.
The book then looks at coping with dukkha or suffering and how to manage it through reflection. Dukkha often arises because we are not happy with the way things are, often because we want things to be a particular way. This often occurs with having Asperger meaning that dukkha needs to be proactively managed.
As with most people with AS – especially in a work context – Mitchell experiences extreme levels of ups and downs. By balancing difficult periods with happier times he has been able to understand suffering by opening himself up to it and so recognise its causes and effects and slowly tolerating, and then removing them, by learning from that experience.
Admirably, the author acknowledged the need to make a new start by “re-inventing” himself after diagnosis. Observing his immediate experience through Vipassana practice by reflecting, rather than dwelling on, his past enabled him to understand what caused his personal suffering This is a lesson I would do well to take on board from my own work experience!
Dukkha can result from many aspects of work: social exclusion, not being fully understood and manipulated by peers, good employment opportunities and feelings of regret for past actions as a result of not knowing the reasons behind them.
Sumedho believes suffering should be welcomed because it is impermanent and the most important and valuable lessons come from the hardest experiences. However, as people with Asperger can become fixated in a particular mind-set, they can become unmindful of the changing circumstances that contribute to it whilst exercising permanance.
An awareness of different circumstances through reflection and acknowledgement can be a good way of coping with dukkha and enable confidence to be drawn from a situation, rather than, feeling distanced by it. It can unite people with AS and others by making the former less worried about being subjected to feelings such as jealousy, inadequacy and inferiority. Vipassna practice has enabled Mitchell to welcome dukkha by becoming aware of how it affects other people.
Dukkha can be found and managed by noticing impermanence (like never being totally happy with one’s surroundings) rather than wanting it to be different. Periods of low self-esteem are unlikely to last if you practice positive thought combined with awareness. Trying to recognise impermanence as a “quality” in relation to ones surroundings enables the letting go of suffering without resorting to anger.
To avoid feelings of uncertainty and trying to be something you are not in social situations, it is suggested one looks at things from the perspectives of others; appreciate that other people may be colouring their experience and situation also. This, I have found, is highly important at work and in politicised settings especially.
If you do feel regretful about past work experiences review how you handled it and don’t blame yourself to help remove feelings of guilt and allow for clearer consideration of present and future actions. Do not talk negatively about yourself in front of others to avoid impacting detrimentally on your self-esteem and never use your condition as an excuse.
The next subject explored also relates to AS: how to find a balance between mindfulness and concentration; how to take responsibility for one’s own world and recognize the world’s others live in. Buddhism believes that all people “live in their own world” which is a creation of the mind. Everyone selectively notices what’s around them according to their likes and dislikes.
As Mitchell says, however, people with AS pay attention to their surroundings differently. Awareness gained from Samatha and Vipassana and social experience can though help develop the mindfulness needed to take responsibility for one’s own world whilst also retaining awareness beyond our own minds.
The way the author thinks doesn’t accord with that of others and issues like eye for detail and memory, if over-used, can cause overload meaning awareness of his surroundings becomes lost and narrow perspectives in terms of interpreting and seeing the world from the perception of others becoming impaired. Development of mindfulness has helped him gain a better understanding of his surroundings and understand the different attitudes of others. Meditation has helped him to develop mind flexibility.
Mindfulness is not developed overnight. It requires the right effort and concentration to cultivate the mind but it can lead to numerous benefits all of which, I believe, could be hugely beneficial for someone with AS working in a management role. It can:
• Help assert greater responsibility in relation to the world through awareness, both physical and social. It can reduce narrow fixations, excessive reliance on conditioned traits/ habits; recognize how thinking patterns including the Five Hindrances, can enable problems like low self-esteem to pass without “holding onto them”.
• Doing Things Differently. Mindfulness can be developed by occasionally altering daily routines to open one up to new perspectives and help plan for any changes one may have to make due to unforeseen circumstances. Read different newspapers and watch different TV programmes are cited as appropriate methodology.
• Recognizing Mindfulness. Review your progress as you develop. Be aware of hindrances and inconveniences, but do not be “pressurized” by them, respond to, and perceive people and circumstances, in a non-judgmental way.
Finally, the book looks at overcoming the five hindrances. Understanding them can help one understand the “ups and downs” associated with Asperger and so mitigate their effect in the workplace. Coping with different experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, including noticing and managing their impermanent nature, helps to recognise and balance what the Buddha describes as Spiritual Faculties and has delivered real personal benefits
Firstly, overcoming the hindrance of ill-will. Understanding how holding onto thoughts and views, or distancing oneself from the views and thoughts of others, can create conflict and lead to ill-will meaning that personal biases which relate to one’s own social conditioning can be managed.
To experience ill-will or friction between other’s based around personal differences, can create a lot of stress for someone with AS and also expose one to the hindrance of restlessness and remorse. Being aware of these potential causes of ill-will has helped the author avoid them. If ill-will is experienced unintentionally, the best way to respond is not with one’s own ill-will as it leads to false accusations of blame and the creation of enemies.
The neutrality I have experienced during practice of loving-kindness (metta) meditation has enabled the author, when feeling angry towards others, to concentrate anger, and to recognize his own anger outside meditation and put agitation behind him from past instances of bullying. He has then been able to understand the reasons for others actions towards him so as not to lay blame.
Having mental strength and energy has also helped Mitchell to overcome sloth and torpot as mediation cultivates the mind which helps concentrate mind energy. Doing so has enabled him to realize that difficulties with flexible thought have arisen through not being able to recognize “locked up” mind energy.
Meditation has also helped to develop a neutral state of mind and become aware of areas of the mind he didn’t realize he had, such as the ability to understand and respect other people’s views and opinions and the difficulties others experience besides his This has opened him up to flexible thought which he can apply to situations such as negotiation and debate – all typical occurrences in a work context
Finally mental energy has helped him to recognize how mental strength can prevent him from being easily led through the enabling of effective thought. He cites when in “hopeless” situations and negotiation is difficult, it can show others that you are not weak and enable compromises to be reached.
Mindfulness has enabled the author, through meditation, to recognize who he is both in himself, and in relation to, his surroundings. Doing so has also enabled him to recognize the sources of different mental states, both negative and positive all of which have impacted beneficially from a work perspective. Recognizing his mindfulness has helped his self-esteem to review his progress and set goals in accordance with his own capabilities rather than the expectations of others. Doing so has helped him remain realistic and overcome the hindrance of sense desire.
Improved concentration has helped overcome the hindrance of restlessness and remorse and avoid becoming attached to worrying thoughts to manage different situations and mind states more effectively.
Being able to apply this faculty to situations that require attentiveness, such as undertaking training or participating in a workshop, has allowed him to absorb material more effectively and apply what he has learned more mindfully.
I really enjoyed Asperger’s Syndrome and Mindfulness: Taking Refuge in the Buddha. I feel that any techniques that provide insight into the disparity of how I and others sometimes act is invaluable for someone with AS, especially so as there will always be occasions when this occurs in a work context.
The book alluded to things that I have always found difficult to understand: how reacting aggressively and without control can give power to others for example. I certainly wish I’d had this insight when dealing with a protagonist when in one position.
The suggestion that you should set your own goals and judge yourself by your own standards and expectations, rather than placing pressure on yourself, by adopting those of others, is incredibly important for someone with Asperger I believe in the world of work. Doing so means one can help achieve the more responsible positions it is sometimes believed are beyond a person with AS by working at a pace that is suitable personally.
Above all, the book made me think and want to explore the subject of Buddhism further. I doubt whether I will be a convert, but I will certainly be taking some of its lessons on board.