Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Meditation Group

I am back to blogging, I apologize for the delay. I had technical problems that were slow to be resolved due to….various fears, and what I am afraid that I must also call “procrastination”.  Let me be humble!  It amazes me these days how childish we all are. Growing up seems to be what life is about.  Now in my fifties, I don’t think I have accomplished much by finally realizing this.

It seems to me a blog is a place to write what interests you in your everyday life: many of us encounter things that might be of interest to somebody else, though not all of us are lucky enough to be able to “blog”, or care to tell, or are allowed to do so, or…

Topics that most interest me these days are:

  1. My Zen practice and what investigations transpire during and after it,
  2. Spreading the word about my book and all the interesting encounters I have because of that (its title is Being Seen, website anlordavin.com),
  3. Working at the freelance translation gigs from English to French or vice versa — that I first have to find, a challenging task.

I am not sure whether any of these subjects are interesting to you, which is exactly where I wonder about the validity of the “blog trend” of these days.  What matters most to me is that you are well, and I am not sure that my blogging will help any of that…  I must have faith that maybe, if you are like me, there is something in what I read that will be of help somehow.  Since my zen practice is the heart of all of my activities, that is what I will talk about here.

Over six months ago I was fortunate to be able to start and facilitate a meditation group for people on the autism and neurodiverse spectrum; it meets once a month at Dominican University in San Rafael (Northern California), in a beautiful calm environment.  For more information about it, see www.autsit.net.  This has been an extremely rewarding adventure: so far I have met several autistic people who also like to sit. Afterward, somehow “mellowed” by our time sitting, we have sweet little discussions in the safety of our shared autism and different ways.  Oh, and let me not forget the latest nurturing development: we now have a BYO bag lunch outside on the sunny (most of the time) porch afterwards.

This morning during my daily zazen, my mind wandered, as the mind often does, toward the subject of how quickly we are forgotten once we die: one or two generations down, and unless your name left a mark in history for a somewhat random reason, we are all eventually forgotten.  Sometimes I think, say, about my grandmother and my grandfather: at least I still have a little physical trace of them to bring them to my memory.  But then, what about my great great grandmother and father, and even further back…all these people who existed, who had a life basically like mine (take away the environment’s new developments) and are no longer thought of on a one-to-one basis?  If I start to think in this light, not only are you possibly “blood-related” to me, but in fact if I go further and further in the past, chances multiply that we are related!  Several months ago I visited the Paris catacombs, and all those bones really brought this to mind.

I could say more about the above musings, but I am sure you get the picture (and “your picture” 🙂 ), and I want to say that as far as the “after” effect of zazen, I can’t explain how they come to pass, BUT THEY DEFINITIVELY DO: my life is transformed by this simple upright sitting practice, take my word, and forgive me for not describing further how it comes to pass: I can’t.  Please don’t expect that once you start sitting, all will be well and all your problems will suddenly be resolved.  It won’t do that; the image of stormy waters comes to mind, and they eventually calm down.

BOOK LAUNCH

When does a book launch start and when does it end? So far I have given three book launch events…without having the actual book in hand! They were on April 2, 3rd and 10th. The physical copies of my book arrived at my place one day after the last event! I felt so bad for having all the people come to hear about my book …with no book on hand! I learned the hard way that when a book is about to be published, unexpected delays can –and did- happen at every step of the process.

For all 3 events I thoroughly prepared.  First I had prints made of the book cover image, both in “flyer-card” and in business card format.  To prepare those took a long time on the computer and then in transportation and printing. This also cost me what is for me a “pretty penny”.  My partner Greg and I biked to 2 out of 3 of the events, and though the rain is very much appreciated in these rain-drought days, we were glad it did not rain much while we were on our bikes.

. The April 2nd event was open to the public at large.  It took place at an “Autism Awareness” event held at a San Rafael church with a large room in the back. I was at one of approximately 30 tables, each presenting on autism-related subjects.  I became acquainted with the woman at the next table; she herself is the author of a book about her autistic son, and we decided to pair up in future conferences as the noisy environment made by so many people speaking together under the same roof renders such events challenging sensory-wise.  All and all it was a great little conference, with many people coming to visit.

Autism Awereness conference.jpg

. On April 3rd, the event was at a private gathering at the beautiful home of friend in the area near where we live.  Her gorgeous garden was in full bloom and the weather was nice enough that we could sit outside sipping cold tea… until it got colder, a rapid happenstance in springtime. At this event, I read out of a chapter of my book and gave people the “flyer-cards” I had printed.  These were all dear friends of mine, many – but not all – Zen practitioners, some having known and supported me during my bout of illness 7 or 8 years ago.  Thus, at the end of my 10 minute read, I asked them to share something about times they had experienced with me.

reading at Manuela's

. On April 10th, Greg and I took the bus and walked – a trip that took almost 2 ½ hours – to get to another beautiful home, this time located in San Francisco and with a great view from the very top of the house.  It was too far for us to bike there and luckily we were able to arrange for two friends to give us a ride back all the way home. The crowd was quite different from the first reading.  Many were people from the autism community in or near San Francisco.  One of the highlights of the day for me was when my 24 years old son unexpectedly showed up…while I was reading about being reunited with him (an excerpt from my book).

4-10-16 Anlor's SF private book event

In any event, my guests were all very gracious and did not once make me feel bad about not having the book yet.  Each of the 3 events gave me a happy feeling, the type one has when a new child is born.  Also, the feeling of having suddenly become “someone” was very new to me, and that was kind of strange as I am usually left to feel a little one-down.  Let me never forget in all of the future events that I am very privileged to be in an “author place”, I really believe the same possibility exists in each of us, given the right opportunities.  Without my Zen practice and its other indirect positive results, this could not have happened to me.

A PAIN IN THE NECK

 

[FUTURE TRADUCTION EN FRANCAIS A SUIVRE]

Hi to whoever reads this, whom I know is a person just like me, with likes, dislikes, joys, pains, etc.  This is Anlor once again. My book: Being Seen/a Memoir about me: an Autistic Mother, a French Immigrant and a Zen Student will be out on March 20, 2016, look for it on Amazon!  This post will be about a chronic pain in my neck, deeply connected to my autism, I have had for the past 16 years.
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Release date and celebrity endorsements!

Anlor pic

[FUTURE TRADUCTION EN FRANCAIS A SUIVRE]

Bonjour,

Here is my second newsletter about my upcoming book Being Seen.  I hope that you will forward this letter to others who may be interested in the book; If they give me their name and email I can add them to this list. A lot has happened in the four months since the last newsletter. First, according to the publisher and unless there are unforeseen problems, the book will appear in the:                                        

                                       middle of February 2016 !

Second, I have secured 3 great “endorsement-blurbs” to appear on the back cover of my book:  

1. “From beginning to end, Anlor Davin’s captivating memoir is a compelling read. It is at once tender and turbulent, but always honest and inspirational as it winds its way through the flats and pinnacles of life with an autism spectrum disorder.” 

Liane Holliday Willey, EdD author of Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome and Safety Skills for Asperger Women: How to Save a Perfectly Good Female Life

2. “Anlor Davin opened a window for me into the world of an autistic person. Her memoir, appropriately titled Being Seen is an honest, intimate sharing of her brave journey from a painful childhood in France all the way to Zen practice in California. Her courage turns misunderstanding of autism into empathy.”

Susan Moon, author of This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging and The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women.

 3. “This book is a tale of remarkable courage, giving the world a deeply personal experience of growing up within the autistic spectrum.  Unflinchingly honest, it gives us a perspective from human beings whose central nervous systems respond differently to the physical and social environment.  There is much to learn here, and much compassion to be gained by reading this journey.  Thank you, Anlor, for the strength to write this book.”

Richard Mendius, MD, neurologist, coauthor of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom.

My blog Autizen.com will give you more information and keep you updated about the book. The blog is written in English and translated (by me) into French. If you are French, please be aware that the book itself is written in English, at this point I do not know if it will be translated into French.

Anlor (Anne-Laure) Davin

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is he first newsletter, written four months earlier:

Bonjour,

This is my first time using a newsletter program. I have decided to use it in order to let you know about my upcoming book and in the hope you will forward this letter to others who may be interested in the book. If you or people you know are interested, please give me your name and email so I can add you to the list. My book is a memoir written in English (I am a native of France) and barring editorial changes, its title is “Being Seen”.  The book is about my life on the autism spectrum until I was formally diagnosed at the age of 46.  It is informed by my Zen practice of the last 15 years and includes a part about my life in France, where I was born and raised until I immigrated to the United States at age 23. My publisher is presently editing it and describes it as “insightful”. Once I have further information about it I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, my blog Autizen.com will give your more information and keep you updated about the book.  This blog is written in English and translated (by me) into French.

Anlor (Anne-Laure) Davin

Letter to Parents of Autistic Children

[FUTURE TRADUCTION EN FRANCAIS A SUIVRE]

In 2011 I wrote a Letter to Parents of Autistic Children. Almost five years letter, I thought I’d copy it to my blog. The only update I would put in about it today is in regard to the last sentence, asking parents to put limits on their autistic child’s “screen time” (that is all types of computers, IPhone, etc.) because I realize such devices are completely a part of today’s world and so it is useless to fight that off; however it is still a good idea to limit the time spent in front of screens. I know of a teacher (of autistic children) who has started a “Dark Screen Time” in his classroom: every day the students are asked to leave their screens dark for at least 45 minutes. It is apparently well accepted by the kids.

In order to empathize with all parents of autistic children, I also will add a picture of me, who was forever scowling or crying, at age 4, here at the beach with my mother and my little brother (the same picture is to be found in black and white in my book:

Beach

Dear Parents,

My psychiatrist suggested I write a letter to you, the parents of autistic children. I am an autistic 46 year-old woman. I have a 19 year-old child. A disciplined zen practice has allowed me to survive the terrible chaos and pain that autism is, and along the way I have learned to better (if imperfectly) express myself so that non-autistic people can understand some of what I experience.

Though at times I display unusual behaviors and my limitations are plainly visible, I am fully endowed with the longings and desires of human beings. I am a human being. As a child I was not labelled autistic and so “normal” ways, for example proper behavior and politeness, were expected of me. It may have taken me longer than most to learn these and I learned in unusual ways, but I did fulfill the expectations so that as an adult I was able to live independently. The way I see it, not to expect such “normal” behaviors is among the worst things that can happen to an autistic child exactly because some normal behaviors are the door to independence. Lacking them also results in our withdrawing from people we do not trust.

I have paid a great price in order to appear  normal. I have hidden my chronic agitation at all cost and some of this suppression now manifests as physical pain. I sometimes think of a human being as like a body of water: Some bodies are calm, some are agitated. The cause of this agitation might be invisible, as from a deep underwater source. As I experience it the longer an autistic person hides his/her true nature, the more the nerves “wear out” and become tense. By the time my son was born, on top of much emotional anxiety, bipolarity and such, my body became even more painful, until a few years ago I could hardly function any longer.

I do not want to be seen as crazy. I am not: I am only different. I may well solve a particular life problem in a different way, one that might take longer but in the end may also be more thorough or even more valuable. If you believe I have more limitations than most others, I suspect that is not true. Even as a young child when I could not express it, I would sense others’ smugness and it would cause me to shut off. We all have limitations. Others’ limitations may not be as visible, but they have as much reality as mine.

I have found that ‌sensory issues are often the deep “underwater” source of my agitation. I once wrote, ‌”This is how the world appears to me:

‌. Traffic noise, slamming doors and ringing phones, people, loud laughter, TVs ‌and radios

‌. Fragrances of all artificial kinds, exhaust fumes, laundry detergents

‌. Glints of moving metallic objects and scores of abrasive lights”

As a child I did not understand this. I even believed I liked the special effect my dad’s cologne had on me!  I have made up the word to desribe what makes me ill: AGRUAR — for AGgressive, RUshed, ARtificial. TVs, computer screens and all such devices fall into this category. Even though your child is swallowed into them, please consider protecting her/him from too much of them. Offer your child the gift of outdoor activities! Nature has been a true solace to me all along.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope it helps!

Anlor DAVIN

Change in my blog’ structure, video of my partner and me, my book, Tassajara and Autsit retreats

[FUTURE TRADUCTION EN FRANCAIS A SUIVRE] To sign up for my newsletter click here.

Due to the many challenges I encounter while translating my blog posts to French, I have realized that rather than editing my original English post to incorporate the French translation, it should instead be made another post, to come immediately following the English one.

Some of the challenges I encounter are as follows: the blogging platform I use does not directly allow me to type French accents (or I have not found how to do this), and so I type my French translation first in Word, then I copy and paste it in the blogging platform, inserting the pictures at the correct place. After this first pass comes the many edits needed to completely correct the initial translation.  I often find an error myself when I reread my post several days later, or French friends whose help I enlisted tell me about them.  French grammar is one aspect of these edits. Then I often find that I have translated a sentence too literally according to its American-English wording.

Thus I have decided that in addition to the many books I read in English, I ought to read some in French. However I do not have the money to buy books and there are very few French books to be found in my little town’s public library. To be fair, this library is a great resource in all other areas; I simply could not have done without it when I was so ill that just dragging myself there was so very difficult. The staff there was often beautifully supportive, and in many other ways than pertaining to books! Fortunately for me, a Parisian friend has come to my help: She sent me a link which allows me to read online French books whose authors have been dead for more than 70 years. Thus I immediately found myself poring over one of the first classic French book I read as a child, and I find I am still moved by it!  My mother also has told me she would mail me some French books for my approaching birthday; being also a voracious reader she has too many of them.

A few months ago, my partner and I were filmed by a crew of AASCEND(.org) members and a 15-minute-long video emerged.  It is called “Autism in France”, as in it my partner Greg and I talk (in English) about the experiences we had when we visited four autism organizations in France during our visit there in the spring of 2014.  We had already presented the material content at an AASCEND meeting last year upon our return. The video can be viewed at http://youtu.be/vMVcZdHezsY.

G & Al's Utube video pic

Over a month ago, my book (yes, the one I want to promote by writing this blog!) was accepted by a publisher.  It is yet early and I do not have much more information about it, but I promise to keep you informed.  All I can say so far is that about twenty literary agents to whom I sent email enquiry letters in the past 6 months turned me down, and the 3nd proposal I “snail- mailed” out to a publisher was accepted.  Also, the publisher told me that I would have to do most of the PR (Public Relations), so I ask that you my friend help me with this if you can.  I am sure you can all sense how exciting this is.

Last month I participated in a five-day retreat at Tassajara. Many of you may know that Tassajara is a major Northern California Zen monastery renowned for its beautiful natural environment and hot springs as well as its rigorous Zen practice. During the summer season it is open to the public, with delicious food prepared by the yearly residents.  Most Zen students in Northern California have gone to Tassajara: A visit there has become kind of the mark of an honest engagement in zen practice…and yet in the fifteen years since I began  practice, I had not been there!  It caused me much pain that my often invisible disability made it impossible.  However as I recover my strength, a dear friend who knew what a dream it was for me, helped me financially.  Another necessary support was that the retreat I joined was led by a former teacher of mine, one who had witnessed firsthand some of my illness and its accompanying behaviors six and seven years ago. She also was a former abbess of the Tassajara monastery and had led the same retreat for the past ten years.  She knew me well enough to be able to communicate my needs to the Tassajara staff.

Despite my love for Zen practice, the awesome beauty of the environment, the supportive resident staff and the awesome twenty (or so) people who participated in the same week-long retreat as me, the retreat clearly showed me my disability.  3 times during the five days I found myself in a painful position, once when after a sleepless first night I fainted in the crowded zendo (meditation hall), another time when a painful migraine was triggered by the potent fragrance one of our group’s member wore, and finally when I found myself asked to carry a heavy tray from the rushed, bright and overwhelming kitchen.

Tassajara

Lastly, a week ago my partner and I organized a four-day meditation retreat for people on the autism spectrum.  This was the third Autsit retreat we have organized at a cabin in South Lake Tahoe, and beautiful pictures of it (and of the past retreats) can be found at Autsit.net.  The cabin can accommodate only a little group, and this time around we were only five.  But the sitting meditation schedule was more intense than in the past (each of the two full days comprised five 30 minutes periods), and this pervaded the atmosphere of all other activities, like the beautiful cooking of meals (and doing the dishes!) that we all took turns at.

FLL Al's crossing

5 HINDRANCES, POST # 5, 5 HEADGEAR ITEMS

Last month I went to a three-day women’s retreat which had a big impact on me.  It was led by two Zen teachers and the thirty or so women who attended mostly remained in silence and sat zazen (the upright sitting Zen meditation) but not always as we shall see.  Here is a picture of the retreat, when I was the chant leader for our group.

Group EDZ

Integrated skillfully into these serious proceedings, the weekend also included a bit of playfulness. Several times during the three days we were divided in smaller groups to act out skits, complete with props and written prompts. One evening we sang a few rounds together. Encouraged by a French-speaking Vietnamese friend, we also sang together a classic French tune, “Colchiques dans les prés”.

The topic of the retreat and of the skits was “The Five Hindrances”, Zen parlance for various forms of confusion resulting from challenges, even small ones. The Buddha called these states “hindrances” since they hinder the mind’s capacity to clearly assess what’s happening. The five hindrances are:

. sensual desire (and/or “desire for sense experience”)

. ill will/anger

. sloth/torpor/laziness

. restlessness/worry

. (corrosive) doubt

I am sure we can all identify with at least one, and probably several of them at various times throughout our lives. The skit I performed that had the most impact on me was when my group was asked to act out for a few minutes the hindrance about negative doubt (not the healthy type of doubt that prompts one to question).  Not only was that the hindrance I identify most with (though by no mean was it the only one!), the written text given to our group to illustrate it was also one I most liked when I first read about it in the most recent book by one of the teachers who led this retreat. (The book’s title is The Hidden Lamp, author Susan Moon.)  The excerpt my group was given to “play” with is called “Faxiang’s Recognition”, China, 5th c., and here it is:

The nun Faxiang often shared her clothing and food, giving the best to the nun Huisu. The other nuns admonished Faxiang, saying, “The nun Huisu is uncultivated and inarticulate. When she wanted to study meditation, no one would give her instruction because she is the worst of idiots. Why don’t you sow the seeds of generosity in a more spiritually worthy field?”

 Faxiang responded, “One would have to be a saint to know the spiritual accomplishments of the recipient of donations. I’m a very ordinary person, so I would rather do it this way.”

 Later, Huisu sponsored a seven-day meditation retreat with the community. On the third night, when the others arose from meditation, she did not get up, remaining in a deep meditation state until the end of the retreat. It was only then that the other nuns saw Huisu’s extraordinary abilities, and for the first time they understood Faxiang’s insight.

As an autistic woman, I can really identify with Huisu, the woman who is not taken seriously, and am grateful than Zen practice helps those who do the practice day after day. They may thus (at times and relatively — it is a long and arduous road and I am far from being any good it) achieve a greater clarity.

So when it was my turn to prepare to act out a simple skit I chose to act out with my own impromptu props: I ran up to my bedroom to get them.  The prop was what I call my headgear: a hat, my large Ear Protective Headset, sun glasses and a face mask.  With that regalia fully on I am unrecognizable.  I wear it to protect myself as much as possible from what I call “AGRUAR”, a word I made up to describe the stuff that renders me ill: AG for aggressive, RU for rushed, AR for artificial — in this case, unwanted sounds, lights and smells.  This is what I look like with all of it on:

recent headgear

Of course, because of the negative feedback I often get when I wear this headgear, I try to not wear it all at once.  I am fortunate: as I recover I need it less and less.  Sun glasses and hat are not so different from what everybody else wears.  I wear the large noise protection headset only in the bus and on my bike when on a longer trip. If it is dark at night I often also wear my hat with it, a thing I dislike having to do as that appears so odd.  However, I have recently noticed some people wearing rather large headsets, albeit to listen to music, with their caps on.

At the retreat, when I wore my headgear in front of the others, and told them why it was I used it and how hurtful the negative feedback about it was, I suddenly felt very vulnerable.  One other group member introduced me with the sentence (It had to be a doubt): “I doubt anyone will take me seriously” and I collapsed on the floor in tears, hugging my knees.

This experience had an immediate effect though: the same day, in the evening, though I usually do not go to evening events because I am too tired and the lights bother me, I decided it was safe enough to go to the singing that was to take place.  When I entered the room, it was kept rather dark, though with enough light to see.  However a woman started to complain about the lesser than usual brightness , but then she looked at me…and she stopped her sentence short, she did not complain anymore.  This last picture is a close up of the one above, when I was the chant leader for the group.

Anlor EDZ