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Being human

Discovering autism

Trauma sensitive mindfulness

Mindfulness brings awareness to the present and reminds us that life can only be experienced in the presence of now.

Much of society struggles with living in the present. In the stillness we are vibrating in our natural state of unity, which allows us to experience the flow of awareness and oneness with all. Present awareness is not something we do but rather something we are thus a state of just being.

I am autistic with GAD, SAD, CPTSD and fibromyalgia. I have been practising and teaching meditation and mindfulness for decades. I now use mindfulness to help neurodivergent and trauma survivors. However, I teach it from a trauma sensitive approach. This does not mean it will automatically work for all trauma survivors and neurodivergent people, but it does need to be trauma sensitive to have any chance.

I don’t use it as a go to tool for everything for myself. In fact, it only helps me in very specific situations. In other situations, I need to disassociate in a safe environment from the present. I may also do some exercise which involves counting, sets and repetitions or find other ways to self-regulate.

Mostly it involves in me keeping busy in some way, and for many people with anxiety and trauma this is the case. While these things are not the long-term solution’s they allow trauma survivors and people with high anxiety to function while they are taking the healing journey in their own time. This looks different for everyone, and we must respect that they they just need to do it safely in their own time.

History

Mindfulness first began as a Buddhist practice to cultivate awareness, attention, and insight. Unfortunately today it is used as a go to treatment by clinicians to help many mental health conditions.

Buddhist mindfulness was made to make us happier in life, but more importantly change our sense of self and perception of the world. Mindfulness is about the realisation of “emptiness” and liberation from all attachments.

Mindfulness is conscious awareness of the present and it’s important that awareness is focused in the present, not whether it will be there in the future. Non-judgmental awareness is the key in finding peace and happiness. It free’s us from attachment, thus suffering the false realities of the past and future. Mindfulness is a form of concentration, and focuses on the breath, and what we are feeling. Whatever is brought to awareness whether it be the body, the breath, or the environment, we remain an observer.

Meditation and mindfulness cultivate present awareness for different reasons. Meditation brings our awareness to the inner, and assists us in raising our higher state of presence awareness, whereas mindfulness brings our awareness to the physical. To keep it simple mindfulness brings awareness to the physical and meditation is mindfulness for the the inner connection to ourselves.

Meditation could be viewed as a type of mindfulness because it does help us notice our thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness helps us become aware of how we behave in all situations so the key is self-awareness as without self-awareness we can't practice mindfulness or meditation effectively.

Mindful presence

Presence is expansive consciousness in the now. Creating a space for presence is more expansive rather than for a moment mindset thinking in mindfulness, and one that is more likely to reduce anxiety.

Thinking about being in the moment may trigger literal thinking by an autistic person feeling this will be for a short time unknown. This thinking can fuel more anxiety, feelings of demand, uncertainty and limitation. It’s not the use of the word moment that is an issue but more the interpretation so best to see it's use in context rather than a limitation to being present.

If we think in more terms of creating an expansive space to be present it is not linked to time, but rather a more spacious feeling where we can experience the presence of now. The future is the main source of anxiety for a person with an anxiety condition, so creating a place of spacious consciousness maybe more comforting, and less demand triggering for an autistic person who may also have an anxiety condition which is not uncommon.

Approach

I made these meditations for autistic people and trauma survivors in mind to help ease anxiety and sensory overload, but they can be used by anyone who wants a gentle approach to mindfulness.

Self-regulation can be beneficial for autistic people with trauma and trauma survivors as it allows the potential to manage behaviour and reactions to feelings. Many meditations are often lengthy, contain a lot of concentration and sometimes engineered with too much talk. People with autism and trauma are very prone to stress and anxiety, so sitting still for long periods of time can be very challenging. They will more likely benefit from targeted shorter sessions, rather than a long one where the mind will likely wander a lot more.

Sitting for a couple of 5 mins sessions a day may ease stress, sensory overload, and anxiety. In general 5 to 10 minute or shorter sessions will work best for most autistic people and trauma survivors. There are no rules so its best to experiment as what works one day may not work for another.

Trauma sensitive

Traditional mindfulness may not be suitable for some autistic and neurodivergent individuals as many autistic people have trauma. A trauma-based approach may elevate triggers and overwhelm.

We store trauma in the body so when we ask survivors of trauma to connect to their bodies or inner world, it may trigger them given many have disassociated from their bodies for protection. In this case it may be best to do more grounding and self-regulating exercises to feel safer. Things like present moment awareness, observing objects, colours or listening to relaxation and binaural beats. We want to create a feeling of safety so to avoid anything that will cause distress or pain, thus activate a person.

It’s also important to make sure we will not be interrupted, and the environment is sensory safe for us. Things like lighting, smells, colours, and noise could be a trigger for sensory and trauma issues, thus a potential to trigger trauma-based memories and feelings. Using weighted blankets and pillows may assist and bring comfort here.

Trauma sensitive mindfulness can be done with eyes open or closed or both during a session. For some having their eyes closed can create images that may be triggering or make them feel ungrounded. Focusing too much on the breath for awareness can trigger panic. Light and fast breathing can create trauma-panic, but focusing on the on the out breath is soothing when we use a longer and slow out breath.

Mindfulness for autistic and trauma survivors can be helpful with self-compassion self- regulation and present moment awareness, but it needs to be a slow and patient approach so not to throw someone into situations that are out of their depth which require professional therapy to deal with better.

Guided sessions

These guided meditations focus on establishing presence in the now, and are calming for sensory overload and anxiety.

It’s not the goal to empty the mind nor is that possible, but rather to let the mind rest rather than be empty. Inner awareness raises our consciousness, and the more we build an inner connection the more we experience our real selves. However, as we evolve, we experience both worlds of reality and illusion, thus we are swinging between different stages of consciousness.

When you here the bell ring in these meditations, it is to remind you to return to the present moment and also to receive instruction or affirmations (called Gathas' in Buddhism) to meditate upon, Gathas' draw your attention back to he present moment, and to the purpose of the meditation and what we are trying to achieve.

If your mind wanders bring your attention back to the breath and mentally affirm the affirmations you were given. Following the breath keeps the mind focused and aware so when the mind wanders, we use the breath as an anchor to bring us back to the present.

Audio

For best results please use headphones-earphones as it helps to keep the focus, and not be distracted from outside noises.

5 minute mindfulness meditation. Use it as many times throughout the day as you wish, especially if you are experiencing stress, anxiety or any sensory processing issues:

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Presence
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10 minute mindfulness meditation connecting to the heart enabling you to relax body and mind:

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Relaxing
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©:  Liborio Conti

15 minute mindfulness meditation to ease anxiety and bring about a sense of calm and peace:

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Calm peace
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1Calm peace
©:  Voice: Devaki Sokaris
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