Autsit: nature, meditation, and soul searching for people on the autism spectrum

Tom visits Autsit in Lake Tahoe

Tom Iland

It feels great to get back into blogging again! I recently had one of the most enlightening and empowering experiences of my life and I want to tell YOU all about it so you might be enlightened and empowered, too!

For the past three years, I’ve been attending regular meditation classes at a martial arts center in my hometown of Santa Clarita, California called Ekata (www.ekata.net). I began attending the classes at the advice of a personal trainer in order to find relief from stress associated with my accounting job at the time. I learned a number of practices including Zazen, Daoist meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Qigong and Vipasanna.

After practicing consistently for a few weeks, I soon found myself feeling more relaxed, my immunity to illness increased, my ability to empathize with others got stronger and I had fewer negative thoughts and emotions. Then, something unexpected and amazing happened…I began to find answers to the questions that I’d been pondering for years. Who am I? What do I want? What am I meant to do? How can I make the world a better place?

Through meditation, I discovered that I am a powerful human being!!! What I really want to do is to help people on a personal level instead of crunching numbers at a desk all day. I was meant to tell my story and bring hope and inspiration to people impacted by autism and beyond. I can make the world a better place by helping others realize their potential, too! In short, I found my true purpose with the help of meditation and now I live a life of purpose.

Now onto the enlightening and empowering experience! From Friday, June 1st to Monday, June 4th, I stayed in a cabin near Fallen Leaf Lake (just south of Lake Tahoe, CA) with the organizers of Autsit (www.autsit.net). Anlor Davin and Gregory Yates are Zen Buddhists and have been meditating (or “sitting”) for many years. Anlor leads regular meditation sessions at Dominican University in San Rafael and specializes in helping people with autism find physical, emotional, mental and spiritual fulfillment through meditation.

Anlor and Greg led morning and evening meditation sessions to start and end the day. My meditation classes at Ekata lasted 30 minutes…Anlor and Greg’s sessions went as long as TWO HOURS!!! These sessions, while longer than I was used to, taught me the importance of slowing down my fast-paced, hectic life and really taking my time to be calm, in the moment and to just…breathe. People with (and without) autism tend to be faced with chaos and overwhelming situations over the course of their lives. Occasionally unplugging from social media and choosing to focus on yourself and your well-being are imperative to living a happier and more fulfilling life. Meditation is a wonderful way to help start this vital process.

Another benefit of this trip for me was really seeing and feeling my own physical and mental strength. On Sunday, June 3rd, I embarked on a group hike led by Greg because I wanted to see some more of the nearby lakes while getting some exercise and fresh air into my day. I’d been shown a map of where we would be walking…some areas of which would not be on any paved trails so it was going to be really adventurous. What I didn’t check, however, was the map scale (how many miles were in one inch of the map). While the lakes on the map looked like they were close to one another, little did I know that one inch on the map equaled about THREE MILES on the trail!!!

Tired Tom

As we hiked on for hours on end, growing physically exhausted, I felt like turning back and abandoning the group or asking Greg, “Can we call it a day, please?” I’d never hiked so far in one sitting before and I wondered if or when it was going to be over. Furthermore, I was in distress when one of my water bottles had fallen out of my pocket (I found it a few minutes later, thank goodness!!!). I took a seat, almost as if in meditation, and I remembered what I learned from meditation that morning…breathe. I took a moment to assess my situation:

-It was a lovely day out,

-I was learning a lot about myself and my limits,

-I had enough food and water to last the rest of the day,

-Greg wasn’t going to intentionally put me through a situation that would hurt or kill me,

-I had loved ones back home that knew where I was and would come looking for me if something did happen to me.

Knowing these five things allowed me to push forward, keep going and see the hike through to the end. When it was all over, according to the map and my phone’s GPS, I must’ve hiked more than a total of 20 MILES!!! The best parts … I wasn’t sunburned, I had no scratches on my skin or blisters on my feet and I had food and water waiting for me at the cabin! I showered, had dinner and was in bed less than an hour later (~7pm) and slept like a log!

This experience helped me realize that even I don’t know my own strength sometimes, but that I have to stay the course in order to know for sure. What if I’d turned back at the first sign of exhaustion? What if I hadn’t focused on what I was grateful for and for what I had going for me? Not giving up, being grateful for what you have and confirming how many miles are in an inch on a map (lol) can allow you to soon realize that you have more power and potential in you than even YOU know. This was, by far, my biggest takeaway from the Autsit retreat!

Imagine what YOU, whether you have autism or not, can take away from spending time in nature, meditating and doing some soul-searching. Autsit can help you do just that and I encourage you to see how a retreat with Anlor and Greg can help you be your best self! For information on Autsit including the retreat for 2019, please contact Anlor Davin or Greg Yates through Autsit.net.

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Tom Iland’s achievements include graduating from Cal State University Northridge, becoming a Certified Public Accountant, and working in corporate America. Tom is now pursuing a professional career as a speaker and trainer sharing insights and practical advice with the Autism community. His new book Come to Life: A Guide to Transition to Adulthood (co-authored with Emily Iland) will be released this November. Tom is a Board member for the Art of Autism nonprofit. to find out more about Tom visit his website – www.thomasiland.com. Tom’s new book ‘Come to Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery’ (co-authored with Emily Iland) is now available to the public!

This blog was originally published on Tom’s website here.

1 Comment

  • Dear Tom IIand,

    Thanks so much for sharing your great and inspiring experiences…

    Perhaps some of us on the spectrum are even better in going deep with meditation practice, since focusing is often our strength !

    May all beings on the spectrum be happy,

    Love,
    David Goren.

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