Mindfulness Meditation as a Pathway to Love of Self and Other

Jill MacCormack

“To be loved means first of all to be recognized as existing.” Thich Nhat Hanh

By Jill MacCormack

What does it mean to love and be loved?

I cannot say for certain but I do know that what the great Vietnamese peace activist, poet and mindfulness meditation teacher, the late Thich Nhat Hanh said, that loving necessitates the acknowledgment of existence, is so true in my own experience.

By nature of being a late-diagnosed, woman on the autism spectrum, I have gone under the radar of so many people in my life. I have been spoken over, rejected, bullied or politely set aside.

Without the self-understanding an early diagnosis could have provided me and not intrinsically knowing how to interject my ideas or opinions into polite (or not so polite) conversations rendered me voiceless for much of my early to mid-life. Many persons I encountered did not think of me as having thoughts or opinions at all or of any worth.

It was through my journal writing that I first became real to myself as an adult woman. As I began to share my writings more publicly I slowly became more real to others, at least on the page. So many comments by people who had “known” me were “I had no idea…”.

My next greatest learning has come through training in the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness has helped me calm my often frantic, always anxious mind by changing my relationship with my thoughts. I’ve trained in moving from believing my thoughts were all true and deserving of my attention to a more dispassionate observation of thoughts and sensations. As well, this has greatly helped me to become less reactive and more responsive. Mindful breathing has afforded me a much more peaceful way to live as a deep feeling, emotive aspie who abhors conflict and desires peaceful interactions in all things. Learning to regulate my emotions and improve my executive functioning through mindfulness meditation has brought immeasurable goodness to my life.

I welcome you to consider, whether on the spectrum or not, that it might do the same for you.

This said, I am still on the journey of unlearning the years of being one with the wallpaper and of not being able to get a word in edgewise. Releasing the pain of having been stared at when words failed me or I made an unacceptable social maneuver or when I simply didn’t know how to proceed and actively choosing to forgive myself through the application of self-compassion is a journey in itself. Making peace with a lifetime of not living up to the expectations of others…”but Jill is so bright…why can’t she sustain a ‘normal’ job/education/life” takes time and a lot of self- kindness.

Letting go of years of not feeling valued by others and of not believing I was of value doesn’t happen in a day or two.

But it can happen and I believe it will and my practice of mindfulness is critical to this occurring.

Thankfully I have always had close family and friends who loved and cared for me no matter what. It breaks my heart to think of the loneliness and pain endured by those in situations less caring than my own. I strongly encourage anyone feeling unloved to reach out to another on the spectrum so you know you are not alone. This said, I also know that while I was/am always loved by my close circle, I was not/am not always understood. It was/is not intentional but I was considered to be making a drama of my life of extreme sensitivity. No one could understand that I feel as deeply as I do and that my sensory differences make for a deep and often times painfully overwhelming and exhausting engagement with the world of sight, sound, scent, taste, energy and touch.

People still struggle with understanding this about me. I struggle with understanding this about myself.

The only real differences are now I have mindfulness meditation to help me navigate my world with increased gracefulness and ease and thanks to learning self- compassion I no longer despise myself as I once did. If anything, I am grateful for the way my neurodivergence has made me hyper-attuned to the beauty in the world, to the kindness of others when it shows its face and to those differences as well as likenesses between humans and other less valued species of beings. I can vibe kindness in a creature a mile away, my own need for kindness so great.

In my lack of knowing of my autism despite seeing so many therapists and professionals since I was a young child (who all thought I was “different” but weren’t sure why) I grew up feeling “less than” and intrinsically flawed. So many of them thought that with my apparent intelligence, I should just be able to “watch the other girls and do what they do…” as I was condescendingly told by one social worker in my early twenties.

It has also left me with an eye for those who have been rendered invisible by this world of ours; for the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the lost and unfavoured for in these people I see myself.
And so I depended heavily and still do, on the kindness and compassion of others. On the love and support of my husband and family who have lived the difficulties and bewilderment along with me; each of us coping as best we could and sometimes better than others. I depended as well on my rich inner life as well as on my deep connection to the wonder and beauty of the natural world to help me keep going when life feels so darn hard (which is still quite often and basically on a daily basis since the pandemic).

So at the beginning of a fourth major winter storm during this winter of great darkness on my little Island in the sea, as the light slowly makes its way back into the world and the hearts and minds of those who’ve been closed off to the warmth and goodness of their own hearts, I welcome you to these two sparkling images of mindfulness and bright love I just experienced.

And please be forewarned if you do not like spiders. While I am not phobic, they aren’t my first loves either but they are the gentle focus of image one.

Image One

There I was carrying a spindle spider out of our hall closet on the bristles of our broom. A more languorous, cave dwelling sort of spider than the typical, very speedy brown house spider we have around here, hence the easy catch. Broom in hand, I carefully sauntered across the kitchen depositing said spider in a shoe box which earlier in the day had been filled with black oil sunflower seeds to feed the yard birds. The spider looked defeated when I placed it in the box and so I recalled a former time when taking an ancestor of this spider out in an empty tea box into the cold and thinking foolishly it might survive the drastic change in temperature. It didn’t and I felt broken and responsible for the tiny death.

So down to our unfinished basement I went and into a room not much used to a corner where an old jimbay sits. I set the spider free on the tall, silent drum and in an instant the previously slow moving creature spun itself up on what looked like a beam of sunlight coming in the basement window. I stood transfixed by its speed and agility and by the performance of what appeared to be an impossible feat by its tiny, fragile body. I was at the wrong angle to be able to see the strand of wonder it was climbing and so its light- bright body appeared to be walking on thin air.

The cobwebs in the corner that had been getting to me (but which I had yet to get to) suddenly looked like a place for a homecoming of sorts. This little beast in a family of creatures so often derided or disregarded or worse suddenly became real to me in that sparkling light; real in the way that you have to acknowledge the wonder of its existence in the same space and time as yourself. Wonderful in the sense that I got to watch it being its beautiful self with the graceful quality of its long, slender legs moving swiftly upward with the appearance of physical impossibility; impossibility to this human, at least.

It made me think how often we actually look at anything or anyone and see the true wonder of them just as they are. In a culture where we praise and raise up venerably the most talented, youthful, the most able, the most beautiful, the most cis-gendered, male and white for their supposed “gifts”–how often is this grace of being acknowledged conferred upon those “less noticeable” or those “intentionally un-noticed” and how absolutely deserving is every living creature of this gift of being recognized?

For, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, if we do not recognize, we cannot love.

Image Two

Later, on the same sunny afternoon outside in our side yard, above a depth of ice-encrusted snow, a sudden shimmer of snowflakes that looked too large to be real, all clumped delightfully together and not seeming at all like “typical” snowflakes, yet there they all were floating, swirling, oh so beautifully twirling and just like the spindly spider in my basement, caught in a slanted light beam that rendered them positively glittering. In fact, the whole side yard was glimmering of diamonds like a moment out of a movie scene when something poignant happens and all goes slow mo and everything seems too dazzlingly bright and perfect to be real.

Yet all of this was real and afforded to me in moments of mindful pausing; in moments of my own bright paying attention to my world, non-judgmentally, in the present moment. Moments in which my sense of self dissolved and made way for me to experience the realness of the world in which I stood and breathed. In both of these ineffably sparkling moments I was afforded the grace of being gob smacked by the utter amazement of small things.

And, dear friends, I am coming to learn that it is in paying attention to these micro, glittering moments of our lives that love grows its spindly legs and stretches our hearts wider than we formerly knew possible. As well, when love grows our vision wider, it does seemingly impossible things and utterly transforms our relationship to self and other– for the better.

Thich Naht Hanh spent most of his adult life dedicated to teaching this simple truth to those who would hear it. He was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King for a Nobel Peace Prize for the goodness of his work. The humble man knew how to love. He knew the power of seeing and being seen. And while persons on the spectrum are quite often amazing seers in their own right (artists, photographers, musicians, writers, performers, healers, visionaries and other wonderful beings) too often we do not know this gift of truly being seen by the world we live in.

Practicing mindfulness can welcome you to conferring at least a measure of this to yourself. It enlarges your vision and your ability to love this world in all its fragmentation and brokenness. It welcomes you to see with new eyes the gift of your own living breathing self. It opens you to recognize and be recognized and drops beneath the harmful thinking that wants to divide the world into so many little unconnected, lonely parts. It is a truly holistic pathway to healing and breaking down barriers the world has constructed between us.

In moments of such true presence I sense my deep connection with all beings. My sense of my own limited self melts away. This is my pathway to connection with others beings. This is where my true heart sings.

Wishing you the gift of wellness, sending you the gift of love!

Addendum

When telling the spider story to my naturalist son he made an important point. The spider I spoke of is a cave dwelling species that likes dark places (hence my broom cupboard). I didn’t for a moment consider that the bright sunlight would be off-putting to this little creature. My lack of knowing placed me squarely in the position of anyone who unwittingly causes harm through not understanding the needs of another. Always choose knowledge and kindness.

Jill M. MacCormack

Jill MacCormack

Thanks for reading and to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog Prattle and Ponder or follow me on Vocal. https://jillmarie8.wixsite.com/prattle-and-ponder/home

To learn more about mindfulness meditation you can access free teachings by the wonderful and compassionate Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield on their sites. https://jackkornfield.com/ and https://www.tarabrach.com/

Jack and Tara were my husband Paul MacCormack (The Mindful Superintendent) ‘s teachers for his two year certification as a mindfulness meditation teacher.

For a deeper look into mindful awareness through meditation see Dr Dan Siegel’s work. https://drdansiegel.com/wheel-of-awareness/

For freedom from depression see Dr John Kabat Zinn’s book and accompanying cd for home practice on depression and mindfulness meditation and his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) 8 week programs widely found across North America.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/112588.The_Mindful_Way_through_Depression