Developing Inner Strength

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In early May 2008, I attended a corporate session about coping with stress. The soft-spoken female counselor asked the class to share how they dealt with stress in their lives. As usual (in Singapore), no one volunteered. I raised my hand: "I gave up my career as an overseas inspirational speaker because of family pressure. Whenever I feel frustrated about being stuck in Singapore, I recite the Serenity Prayer."

I wanted to share more, but the counselor thanked me and concluded that I "turned inward" towards religion as a way of coping. She then turned to find more volunteers who responded with:

  • Shopping
  • Eating chocolates
  • Jogging outdoors
  • Flying overseas for tours
  • Talking to friends
 

None of these activities provide any insight or lasting satisfaction. Instead, they distract us from our true feelings and cover up the frustration in our lives. Yet surprisingly, instead of pointing out alternatives that illuminate our inner life, the counselor herself also mentioned that she used most of these herself. She took it for granted that using external activity as a distraction is an acceptable practice, even for professionals who are charged with treating the disorders of the human mind. This is like a car mechanic telling us to ignore the smoke coming from the car hood and just focus on the beautiful scenery or nice conversation with our friends.

If I had more airtime, I would like to tell the audience that stress is a symptom of inner resistance to the conditions of our world. We resist because we do not accept what is present in our lives. We do accept the present because we do not trust the perfect unfolding of our life within the Big Picture of Life. Hence, the first step to dealing with stress is by believing that Life is here for us as our helpful partner in our destiny. With this we can begin to trust Life to bring about the perfect conditions for our growth instead of fearing the uncertainties and dangers we perceive in Life.

I will then make it clear that the only viable solution is the ultimate solution: the complete dissolution of all our experiences of frustration and dissatisfaction in the total clarity and trust of perfection. With this, we accept the present as our present (i.e. gift) from life. How can stress exist in such a situation?


 

I find this topic especially important for autistics because they experience constant fears and anxieties. I have been in this hell myself for 2 decades. I experienced Planet Earth as a place full of unexpected surprises, with potential dangers lurking everywhere. I could not rely on anyone to help me because they do not understand me and are often part of the problem themselves. I could not even trust myself, because I was always too slow, too clumsy and too stupid.

[Note: Mainstream psychology does offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a means of ending these experiences. However, based on my experience with the mentality of modern psychology, I would not count on its complete success.]

Unaware of my special condition, my mother often insisted that I reach unattainable standards of "paying attention", completing tasks quickly, performing tasks without accidents, understanding "common sense" etc. When I inevitably fail, she compared me to my peers and made it clear to me that she was not satisfied with me: "since everyone else could do these easily, why can't you?" My Primary School classmates bullied me, my secondary school teachers did not understand me. My teenage life was about social rejection both in real life and on the Internet.

In 1997, after discovering the concept of free will and life purpose, I set off to understand the human condition. 11 years later, I came full-circle, learning to surrender my will and entrusting my destiny to Life. I realized that Life is but the Grand Illusion, like a beach where we scribe our life on. Some people scribble beautiful words, others vulgar language. Some people write intricate mathematical equations while others just place their footprints on the sand. No matter what, it does not matter, because the next wave will erase all our scribbling.

Explicitly speaking: One day, we will all die (physically). Planet Earth will be reduced to cosmic ashes. The universe will be no more. Let there be no doubt that the only question is when and how these will happen.


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Rather than sadness, there is great freedom knowing that nothing we do matters. It means that we can trust in Life, because the worst that can happen is our (physical) death. If we are always prepared to die, we will always be prepared to live. There is nothing left but our sole purpose in Life - to express ourselves and experience life in a manner that fulfils all of us.

Here is an interesting thought: If autistics can fully trust in Life itself, they would cease to be considered autistic by everyone else. Many of the syndromes of autism originate from resistance to Present Life. It arises from rejecting the situation, senses, body, mind, people, the slowness of time etc. If we take all these away, there will be nothing stopping us from accepting the world and from being accepted by the world.

Yet to do this requires that autistics jump a big gap, which took over a decade for me to cross. I lived through the pain of failures, difficult choices and resentment. I understood Life through my experiences and reflection a small bit at a time. One of which was about putting things in perspective. I found that with a retired Army officer who shared about life in Singapore in the 1960s after the counselor finished her sharing. Here are some excepts that I paraphrased:

"I collect a pension of over $2000 every month from the government until I die. Is it fair? No! Life is not fair. If it is fair, why can we all sit here enjoying air-conditioning while the people in Myanmar are dying (of thirst, disease and hunger after being struck by a massive typhoon in 2008)?"

"When people here (in a rich country like Singapore) talk about stress, they mean stress at work. When the people in the poor countries talk about stress, they mean that they have trouble finding food to feed their family. Who do you think is more stressed?"

"I have seen what Singapore was like long ago and now, but the people today have not. My children and grandchildren take their peace, wealth and stability for granted. Now they complain that the fighter jets (on training runs) disturb their babies. Would you prefer to have our fighter jets disturbing our babies or enemy fighter jets bombing our homes?"

"You can afford to throw away a pair of new branded shoes every month. When I was a child, how I wished for a pair of shoes to wear. Do you understand? Of course, you all don't. You have never lived in abject poverty before."


 

Although I was aware of the major issues that we struggle with as we confront our Humanity, it took real experience for me to develop insight. Thus, in 2007, I began practicing the my 3 Respects: Respect The Needy, Respect Planet Earth, Respect Other People. We respect the needy by using our money wisely. We respect Planet Earth by living simply and avoiding wastage. We respect other people by honoring them as they truly are, not as they seem to be. [When we see our own true nature and understand the role we play in other people's lives, we will see other people as they truly are.]

Even if we have ended our dissatisfaction, other people have not. Even if we ended our struggle for survival, other people have not. If the rich people lived a humble life in respect of the struggles of the poor, if the beautiful dressed simply in respect of the ugly, if the knowledgeable spoke simply in respect of the ignorant, Planet Earth would be a much happier place.

To accept our Present Life is inner strength. To respect our Present Life is inner strength. To know that we do not need anything, that we have a solution for our obstacles, that we are ready to live because we are ready to die, is inner strength.

Here is a clue for autistics who seek social companion: Imagination allows me to fulfill much of my needs, if I could not find them in physical reality. Sometimes when I feel lonely or frustrated, I played Holy Songs and sang silently with the angels. Sometimes, when I wish to travel but know that I cannot spend money, I imagine myself riding the winds to beautiful, faraway places. Or I imagine myself relaxing with someone I like as waves lap peacefully on a beautiful beach. Count our blessings and use our gifts: This is why we have them.

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