Imagine the busy highway system in L.A. or San Diego. Growing up in Germany, when I first came to the US, I had never seen so many highways go over and under each other in my life. I had never seen so many cars rush in so many different directions, drivers with tense faces ready to explode in anger.
If I would have to find a couple words to describe this situation: HECTIC and unpleasantly RESTLESS.
The other day in my classroom we were focused on our “Reader’s Workshop”. Students get 30 minutes (that is unfortunately the maximum I can allow in a public-school system), to escape into a book of their choice. When they finish a book, they write the teacher a letter about it and talk to the class about it. It encourages literature discussions and a love for reading because it empowers students to choose their own book, following their interest (Follow the Child).
During this time, I am particularly aware of our environment. I ensure comfortable lighting (which is certainly not the bright lights- students beg me to dim the lights).
The flexible seating allows for every student to find their preferred spot and really feel comfortable. I model the ‘sinking into a book’ and do not give in to temptation to get work done. I noticed, once students started watching me let go and relax and read, they copied the behavior since humans are very social learners, the ‘letting go’ and allowing themselves to disappear in a book for a while was contagious.
Of course, as a teacher you never fully let go and you still monitor and regulate when you have to. Most students actually appreciate the little peace and quiet they get, but even after over half a year, I noticed Giovanni still struggling to find peace.
The autistic mind is fascinating to observe, but I certainly feel for this little guy who hardly ever seems to be at rest. He is allowed to use an IPad to have him read and comprehend, but the issue is not his capability to read but finding the peace to do so.
Very rarely does his mind allow him a rest.
I realize how every social situation, every stimulation in the classroom is hugely magnified and so much more intense for him. Since my Movement training I am capable of allowing for more positive experiences, but either way, they are still extremely intense and overwhelming. His little brain constantly processing and busy, just like the restless highway system.
A lot of his processing is done externally, presented in talking out loud, movement, restless body movements- he must be exhausted! I can’t watch these highways for very long much less live in a life that constantly produces a busy highway system in my brain.
We were reading and I looked up - Giovanni looking straight at me - intense eye contact, looking straight into my sole with gratefulness, his body still, at peace - and me almost breaking down in tears of happiness seeing this very short moment of peace and absolute rest.
We have these moments were we just indulge in our connectedness and these moments are wonderful and make his restlessness and moving back into the stressful life of constantly being stimulated so much harder to watch. I feel for any parent who has to work through all of this but finding the moments of peace are absolutely worth trying everything in our power.
Interesting enough, I find the same restlessness when working with highly creative and intelligent people. I find that there is a very fine line between genius and maniac.
My daughter Catalina, being diagnosed with manic depression goes through the exact same experiences. Her mind is never at rest. She is more ‘socially acceptable’ by keeping her thoughts and movement inside, but what a torture!
She is absolutely highly intelligent and creative, but because she is constantly analyzing and creating new ideas in her mind, it is very similar to Giovanni who is constantly busy with the difference that Catalina understands the social norms and has to fight to fit in.
We know how it feels when we work on projects and get intensely involved - we get exhausted and need a break - now imagine not being able to get a break…your brain continues on, is never quiet, never allows to be turned off- how would we deal with that?
Ahh, yes the experts: Self-Compassion, Meditation, Quiet time - great ideas - really though?
Talking to the real expert, my daughter, it does not work for her.
Even things she loves make her anxious for example snowboarding gives her a rush but no peace.
When asked what gets her the closest to inner peace (and I only asked it because I remembered my MM training reminding me to ask the experts - which in this case is the person suffering from it), she mentioned primitive camping with just herself, Mom, and one dog. We have three (a dog that sleeps well and does not cause her to stress because of being too pushy and needy, yes even too loving can be overwhelming for her ;-)
But I can see the brilliance in their minds and can see so many other people around me now that might be in the same boat.
Their creativity and unlimited energy is impressive but makes me think that these people might never be at rest either, our society easily labeling them as maniac or genius- take your pick; it is so much easier to judge than to deal with a brain that just functions different than most peoples.