Spirituality and my Autistic experience

“Picture a wave in the ocean. You can see it, measure it – its height, the way the sunlight refracts as it passes through – and it’s there, you can see it, and you know what it is, it’s a wave. And then it crashes on the shore and it’s gone. But the water is still there.”

Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place (Season 4 Ep. 13)

When the average person considers the word “spirituality”, they probably picture traditional places of worship associated with the major world religions. For me, however, spirituality is about a lot more than worshipping am unseen entity, and its arbitrary (and often outdated) models of morality.

When I consider my own spirituality, I think about my place in reality. I consider the interconnectedness of all things, and the beautiful tapestry that is our universe.

Humanity so often considers itself the pinnacle of existence, we are the “dominant” species on our planet. However, we are observably insignificant compared to the scale of our universe. It is, in my opinion, our connection to our universe, and how we influence it that makes us significant.

We are constantly altering our environment, which has knock on effects for all living beings within it. The actions of those living beings, in turn, effect us. Everything we do effects everything that exists in some way, even if to slight to be noticed. We have a responsibility to ensure that our existence does not leave the universe worse than it was before our existence.

This, perhaps, is why the following quote (that I have referenced a few times) has become a mainstay in my own form of spirituality. I use it as a guide for my actions, even if I do so imperfectly.

“To be is to be perceived, and so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds, that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time.”

Revelation of Sonmi-451, Cloud Atlas, Written by David Mitchell

The actions that we make in our lives will forever change the course of history. The things that we do are writing the future that those who come after us will have to live with. I’m not just talking about humanity’s collective actions. The things we do as individuals ripple out, contributing to huge changes.

We are the multitude of droplets that create an ocean.

In this sense, my work advocating for Autistic people is a spiritual practice for me. I am trying to leave the world a better place than when I found it. Spirituality, for me, transcends the boundaries of religion and such practices. It is a way of enacting good in a world that so often rejoices in the dark.

Another aspect of spirituality that is important to me is the exploration of the self.

The truth is that our entire concept of the self is built upon rules and structures that have existed long before we did. To truly know the self, we have to understand the effects we have on the universe around us. We have to understand how our actions influence our shared existence. We have to embrace the fact that we are imperfect, and that some times our actions will do harm.

When this happens, we have to be open to the process of accepting what we have done, and trying not to repeat our mistake. We also have to respect the fact that once something happens, it cannot unhappen. Every action we make has a permanent impact on the world around us. To put it another way, what is done cannot be undone.

Spirituality does, and should, look different for everyone. Our experiences of reality are subjective, and I believe this is where mainstream religion fails. It tries to box everyone together into a shared and objective reality, which in itself is an impossibility.

We have one life on this earth with which to do good. We can’t waste it trying to fit into someone else’s reality. We can only be ourselves.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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