Autism, Mysticism, and the Natural Self

Whirling DervishThere is a common phrase that “there is a fine line between genius and insanity.”  I think that line is just the lines imposed by the extreme sensitivity of unorthodox people.  Specifically, I am intrigued by the “primitiveness” of autism and the so-called enlightenment of the natural state.  I will use my own experience with mysticism also. Links for other sources quoted are below.

I think my brain was already wired for meditation/mysticism since my formal education was so late.  When I was moving from home to an independent living program and then on to college, the transition was very difficult.  The stress builds, and it has to come out somehow.  I had everything from anxiety attacks to expanded consciousness.  I will describe the expanded consciousness.

The expanded consciousness has no chain of thoughts.  One is no longer concentrating on anything or anxious either.  At the same time, the senses are extremely heightened.  One time when I was meditating (I had learned to meditate informally) I didn’t know whether I was awake or dreaming.  I also noticed my senses actually operated randomly.  In microseconds you are aware of your foot, the bird singing, a person laughing, etc.  There is no one there directing attention to this or that object.  That kind of thing is necessary for planning, for accumulating tension to be released, etc.  It is not necessary for life itself.  The ability to direct attention must have been crucial for the brain evolving the ability to plan in terms of time and space, and might have further narrowed our perception of the world.

If our early ancestors communicated through dancing, and if autistic people have their genetics, it is probable that these ancestors did a lot of twirling in their dances.  From what I read on autistics, one activity they do is to spin around and around.  I also enjoyed spinning around and around when I was young.  The social worker told my mother that I would be disoriented, but I was sensible enough to hold on to the couch, switching hands one to the other as I spun around.  I also know the Sufi mystics spin around and around as a way of getting in touch with the divine.

However, the main reason why I thought a few years ago that autism could have something to do with our natural primitive state was comparing Temple Grandin’s descriptions of her senses with that of U. G. Krishnamurti.  Temple Grandin is an animal trainer who says that autism is a kind of default mode the way animal’s function, without a coordinator to regulate activity.  U. G. Krishnamurti was a sage who died recently. He claimed he was freed from “the stranglehold of thought.”

Krishnamurti described the natural state as lacking a coordinator.  He describes the visual system as a movie camera taking still images, and the brain as a projector stringing them together to form a continuity. However, in the natural state, there is no cameraman directing the camera, no ego or psyche.

Temple Grandin also describes how the autistic state is similar to an animal in that there is no one coordinating the senses.  She describes how a friend, Donna Williams, experienced sensory overload to the point where the cat was just a blob, and she could only make meaning from a clock ticking or a washing machine.

Krishnamurti also describes to an author the state of not feeling a body:

The same afternoon, after lunch, as we sat gossiping, I noticed that U.G. kept banging on the wall cupboard with a loud bang.  I asked him why he kept on doing that.  He said, “Just to see if I am there. I can’t feel my body.  This bang shows me I am here. It is a very funny situation.  Not much difference here between me and Valentine.  Her brain is damaged, mine still functions.  She is afraid of this situation, I am not.”

It sounds similar to the severely autistic people losing the body boundary.  One can also experience this in meditation.  I even experienced while walking outside, where I wasn’t sure whether it was me walking on the ground or the ground moving under me.  It reminded me of the lyrics to a disco song, “I feel the earth, move, under my feet.”  Krishnamurti also said the only difference between him and the “madcaps” was that the “madcaps” have images which aren’t there, whereas Krishnamurti doesn’t.

Andrew Lehman claims that many people with mental disorders and addictions have non-symbolic ways of expression.  It is possible that they go mad when they are unable to find an environment suitable for their free expression and large absorption of information.  This lends some credit to the idea of “a fine line between genius (actually giftedness) and insanity.”

Lehman says that a lack of warm touch, as one might call it, from various people, especially women, may aggravate autism.  Temple Grandin, in fact, designed a chute designed to relax frightened animals to accommodate autistic people.  The machine uses deep touch stimulation to calm the autistic person, and gradually the autistic person can learn to tolerate more gentle touch.  I know from some sources that in pre-industrial folk cultures often the women carry their babies on their backs.  I believe my mother also said this was common in Japan before World War II.  She said, “The baby can also see what the adults see,” since they are on the same level as the mother.  If this closeness also provided deep touch stimulation, then autism could probably have been less aggravated.

I remember a show about a British man named Daniel, an autistic savant who could make vast calculations with symbols from his own brain.  However, unlike most savants, he is socially normal and talks normally.  I remember on the show I was watching his parents said they would put him in a hammock when he would cry, and they would rock him intensely to calm him.  Probably this helped Daniel retain his gifts without becoming disabled?  Certainly the deep touch stimulation and rhythmic rocking are similar to warm water baths, yoga, tai chi, and deep breathing exercises.  My body naturally flexed, straightened, and stretched in a rhythmic-like motion when the tension was being released during my move to college.  My main intention is merely to point out some possible patterns between mysticism, autism, and the natural state.  Whether they are direct or indirect I can not say.  I feel that if the various gifted people in the world, including the “teachers” and “geniuses” had not been venerated or lost, they would mostly live ordinary lives and probably make an appearance on “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.”

Note: UG says that the mystical experience is like a tremor compared to the natural state, which is like an earthquake destroying everything.  For further reading, a website on meditation and the science of mysticism is here.


Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals

Consciousness in Animals and People with Autism

U. G. Krishnamurti

— Tetsuya Sellers

on 01/20/10 in featured, The Unconscious | 5 Comments | Read More

Comments (5)


  1. Tetsuya Sellers says:

    Thank you very much for formatting the article for submission. If I might describe a little of my background, my babysitter actually thought I might be autistic since I would need everything the same. Because of my (wholeistic?) thinking, I wouldn’t eat a banana if it was broken when I was small. My favorite activity, even when I was an adolescent, was to listen to heaters and air conditioning vents, or to invision a whole universe in a grain of sand. This, even though I’m not really autisstic, which is an example of its spectrum nature.

  2. Fascinating perceptions. Subjective analysis is often difficult to communicate, especially in the realm of the mind/body.

    I have been studying an autistic savant friend for years. She maintains a degree of social normalcy most of the time, but over-stimulation can cause her to freeze in place and on rare occasion erupt into tourettes-like outbursts in public or emotional tirades in private.

    On the flip side, she compulsively writes stage productions and plays piano, or plays guitar and sings music she has written for her plays. She wrote, cast, produced and directed two plays, the first written in Shakespearean prose and set in the forest, complete with violin playing fairies, the second a more modern love story (all her plays are love stories) in which she, bravely if not competently, sang at least 5 original songs, accompanied by her guitar with about 6 months experience playing guitar. The first was a minor success, the second a minor failure. Of course her production budget of $0 was a factor, and casting her lead male with a brave man with a speech impediment was also a factor.

    I only recently heard the term “neurodiversity” and I think it is a very important part of the human experience and deserves acknowledgment and exploration. I was also one who didn’t fit into “the box”, and while I adapted and even excelled at “normalcy”, I always struggled with the inner knowing that I was not “wired” like other people. As an older adult I have come to terms with and learned to safely explore the less stable areas of consciousness where many autistics are stuck, but as a young child it was a terrible struggle to try to fit in.

    In a primitive culture people like me/us are often honored and revered for their high level of sensitivity. In a regimented lockstep society like that in many countries until around 1960, sensitive people were either isolated or crushed under the wheels of “progress”. Finally we are being recognized and validated. It’s about time.

  3. Nobody Home says:

    Hey Tetsuya and Rain!
    Either of you familiar with the concept of Avadhoot, the “highest” state of Indian mysticism?
    I am keen to have your feedback on this!!
    Many thanks,
    Nobody Home

  4. Michelle Kalina says:

    What a fantastically insightful article, well done!

  5. […] Autism, Mysticism, And The Natural Self ( […]

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