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About my zen practice

I started to practice zen in 1999 when I went to live for six months in a zen center (sfzc.org).  Since then this spiritual practice has subtly and deeply transformed me, and doubtless the ways in which I express myself in my book reflect this.

The basis of zen practice is zazen.   Zazen is simple upright seated meditation, in silence and complete stillness, without any outside distraction. There are variations on how people sit and for how long exactly ­- that’s all decided beforehand and it usually is about forty minutes – but people usually sit upright on their black cushions (zafus) while turned facing the wall with their eyes half opened.

I was 35 when I went to live in the zen center.  While I wrote about this experience in my book, there was not enough space there to tell all, so I will give some more specific incidents that marked me during that time.

Most often I worked in the guest house, cleaning bathrooms and making beds. When a visiting monk, who also was the head of a major nearby abbey, came to help me make beds it was for me a lesson in humility.

One morning when I went in to clean one of the small kitchen areas, I found out that because the room had not been locked properly raccoons had entered. Milk, sugar and honey coated the floor, but the monk who helped me clean (in silence) did not seem flustered in any way.

It was interesting to observe the changes that took place in me in just six months.  When I first arrived I often did the dishes in the main kitchen.  The monk I worked with at the time was very upset at me when I tried to kill a cockroach.  Six months later this same monk noticed my discomfort when I inadvertently crushed a snail’s shell (as soon as I heard the sound I took my foot off) and she kindly made me feel better as we said a prayer together in order to lessen the karmic damage.

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My Stim Banner

My name is Anne-Laure (Anlor) Davin, and the purpose of this blog is to promote my book.

My book is called “Being Seen:  A memoir about me, an autistic mother, a French immigrant and a zen student”.   I have completed it and am presently putting on the final touches.  On top of many autistic limitations (for example sensory integration challenges that mean I can’t do everything I’d like to do), I do not have much money and many friends help me with the final edits, which takes time.

Before going further about my book, I have to say how I am wary of saying “I am poor”, because after all it depends how you look at it: At this time in my life, I am quite privileged to live in a peaceful place and the county I live in is quite wealthy. Though I am on disability and do not work outside, I live independently, I have a roof, food and all basics; and there is greenery to be seen from every one of the four windows in my one bedroom apartment!

My first name is hyphenated as Anne-Laure on my French birth certificate; hyphenated first names are common in France.  However, after having lived 27 years in United States, I got fed up with the constant mispronunciations of my name and so I devised an easier way to say and remember it. When asked for its spelling and how to remember it I say “Anlor, like the words “and/or”, but with the letter “l” in the middle”.  Officially and when I deal with French people, I use the formal spelling.

I am autistic, formally diagnosed as such four years ago when I was 46: Getting there was such a difficult process and beset by such numerous misunderstandings and autism’s bad press that I decided to try to demystify it for others as much as possible.  The title “Being Seen” is not so much meant to say that I want others to know I am autistic; rather I would like others to understand the realities of autism.

I am the proud mother of a 22-year-old son; I immigrated to the United States 27 years ago, and in the last 15 years I have been immersed in my zen practice.  Without that practice, you can be sure that none of this would be happening; I either would be dead or my “presence of mind” would no longer be.

I thought that in this first blog I would tell you the story of my banner (the picture at the top of the page) because of its special significance: It is connected with my autism and I inserted it in my book, not only in the beautiful banner format above, but also individually as an appendix at the end of each chapter – where the schoolbook lines on which I routinely built it show:

Anlor's DoodleAbout 35 years ago, when I was a 15-year-old autistic teenager, I designed the doodle as a way to stop the overload I felt in some of my classes. The intricate pattern you see on the banner was in fact made as a way to compete for my parents’ attention: My brother had painted a beautiful vase with flowers, and my parents very much praised it, and displayed it in our dining room.  I felt that I myself did beautiful artwork, even if it was not the usual type.  Here is what I write in my book about it:

“Such behaviors are called, in the autistic vocabulary, stimming.  Despite the dictionary’s definition about it as a “self-stimulation” behavior I prefer autistic Carly Fleishmann’s description – at about age fifteen – that “doctors have the definition of stimming wrong.  Stims are when you make or create output to block sensory input or overload”. (This quote can be found in “A conversation with Carly”, at the end of her book “Carly’s Voice).”

In order to prove myself to my parents, I created the pattern seen on the banner, and I framed it myself.  I was disappointed though: My parents never said anything about it, and it was hung away from where others could see it.  A few years ago, when I asked my mom about it during one of our telephone conversations,  she could hardly remember it and she did not know what had happened to it  Fortunately, when I finally had enough strength to go visit (two months ago), I found it.