Thursday, April 14, 2016

My Body Awareness Workout

I've not been very connected to my body for most of my life. I might as well have been a ghost for all the attention I paid to bodily feeling. But when you consider my diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, this isn't surprising. Many autistics report a deficiency in proprioception or proprioceptive processing, which basically means that we aren't aware of where our body is in space. This has a few consequences. For one, I can make anyone or anything into a kind of "body." To paraphrase autistic writer Donna Williams, I can direct my "self" equally as well at a toy, a computer screen, a tree, or even another person as I can at my body.

To put it another way, I don't have a very strong sense of "what it feels like to be me." I know what other people "feel like," sure, but not myself, unless I really pay attention. And even then, that focus on my body has usually excluded other focuses for my attention. It's either "all other, no self," or "all self, no other." "All other" is an obsession where I lose myself; "all self" often shows up as the knuckle-cracking or foot-tapping I have to do afterwards to feel like I'm really "there." This ability to choose my focus has its plus-sides, sure, but it makes social interaction hard. Since conversation involves a "dance" between my body's reactions and yours, I've normally found myself out of my depth when socializing.

But when I discovered this dichotomy of self-focus and other-focus, I came up with an idea: maybe I could exercise my capacity to focus on self and other at the same time. So, while talking with people, I decided to try shifting my focus back and forth between the myself and the other person. And I'd do this very quickly. Often going at a few "cycles" per second, I'd shift my attention back and forth enough times that something began to happen. Instead of being alternately "now-self" and "now-other," I started feeling like I was both at once. Or better, I felt like I existed somewhere "between" the two of us. I wasn't myself or the person I was talking to; I was the social interaction itself, the dynamic that emerged between us.

When I did this, the feeling was wonderful. I could suddenly feel both the other person's emotions and my own body. In fact, I felt the other person's emotions in my body. If they felt sad, I would feel sadness in my chest; if they felt happiness, I would feel a bubbling feeling all through my torso. We effectively became a single being. This might be what neurotypicals experience all the time; I don't really know, since I'm not neurotypical. But whatever the case, I'd encourage all autistic readers who have problems with "self" and "other" to try my exercise. Try shifting your attention back and forth between you and other people. Imagine that a little ball of light goes between your heart and theirs as quickly as your thoughts can go. Then see what happens, and let me know what you think.



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