The way Ram Dass describes the psychedelic mushroom experience at its finest is how I would describe the autism experience at its finest.
An early page of Be Here Now, originally published in 1971 by Baba Ram Dass, claims in big bold print,
Become as little children
Become that trusting
open surrendered being
It is the same thing
A majority of the scientific information published about autism yet today remains focused on autistic children. It is also commonly acknowledged in much of the existing material on adults with autism that they show significant childlike behaviors of having difficulty expressing themselves, challenges with identifying emotions, and of course, common meltdowns.
It is of great relief for me, a thirty-something autistic woman, to look at my life from an angle where I am not expected to become un-child-like, but instead am supported to embrace the enlightenment of what is so naturally accessible to me in the ways I am indeed childlike.
The innate trust and openness of the autistic person is akin to that of a child.
This makes adult humor, sarcasm, complex social cues, etc, rather out of reach much of the time. Some of us spend our decades trying to understand, mimic, and mask ourselves with superficial demonstrations of such skills — I know I sure have — and therein we disassociate with the natural child-like brilliance of openness, surrender, and trust.
I think a lot of people can relate to noticing themselves distanced from openness, surrender, and trust — true?
Emotions are Simply Electric Charge
What autism is, in my humble opinion from the inside of the actual experience, is an authentic profound hyper-emotional connection to all things, which exists beyond the everyday language of feelings.
Kind of like dolphins with their advanced echolocation (as the beings with the most access to their brain of all species on the planet), autistics are constantly responding to the charges of life with extreme sensitivity that seems not to be understood or very appreciated by the rest of the world.
Heightened sensitivity is the base level of the shared “I AM” experience on the ladder that Baba Ram Dass describes.
I Am That I Am
Dr. Richard Alpert, aka Baba Ram Dass, was a psychological researcher at Harvard University before he got into studying psychedelics, eventually releasing academia for a path of spiritual devotion.
He wrote the book, Be Here Now, to speak about, and guide his audience towards, the central “I AM” experience of the soul that can be found through the use of psychedelic substances or devotional spiritual practices.
My understanding is that he created this book to share the great relief of connecting to the central “I AM” experience and that he believed this experience is available to everyone in an everyday way.
I put forth here that this central “I AM” experience is highly accessible to the autistic entity and not honoring this very natural capacity that makes the autistic community different does a lot to lock autistic individuals in the lower level of the psychedelic experience as Dass describes it.
He characterizes psychedelic journeying as having many tiers of shared experience. The shared experiences, growing closer and closer to the fully shared experience of being one with everything — the “I AM” experience — become less commonly experienced as we move up the ladder.
This indicates that the “I AM” experience is not a given in psychedelics (or autism), but is a bonafide potential (in both).
Expectations and Environment
The difference between accessing just the lower levels of shared experiencing versus having the full “I AM” experience of being in the oneness of the universe — that many traditions refer to as enlightenment — is the individual's expectations and the environment of the journey.
The trouble is, the “I AM” state is totally non-verbal.
This makes it tricky to talk about.
(That statement alone could explain a lot about autism in a nutshell.)
Willingness to Trip
Baba Ram Dass writes,
These experiences quickly became indescribable.
I couldn’t explain because it came down to this,
“To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.”
And we would feel frusturation when they’d say,
“It sounds very interesting.”
(And we’d say, “In order to know, you’ve got to try it.”)
Of course, Ram Dass here is speaking about trying psychedelics, but truth be told, I’ve been trying to force my family to try autism for years!
My whole life, I would say, has been dedicated to the task.
I didn’t know I was autistic and so I didn’t know that’s what I was doing. All I knew is that I have something beautiful to share that you don’t seem to know about and how wonderful it would be to connect with you there.
As the rejection piled up I leaned more into learning and emulating others rather than being my authentic self with this very child-like nature of surrendering to internal knowledge and trusting the universe.
Desire to connect became rampant with fear.
You have no idea how many times I have heard,
- “I don’t want to be like you, Kelsey”
- “I’m not going that deep with you, Kelsey”
- “Why can’t you focus on the positive, Kelsey”
- “Why do you need to be so special, Kelsey”.
(You know people are serious when they use your name at the end of a sentence.)
I can understand their firm resistance to my beckoning them into an internal nonverbal experience so opposite what previous generations were trained to strive for in common society.
Seriously scared, trying to maintain control, feeling their power being sucked into an unknown abyss — yes I can comprehend how defense emerges quickly around authentic me.
1. Bottom Rung: Hyper-Sensitive with Hyper-active thoughts
The first analysis we did showed up very clearly that the reactions were a function of set & setting —
a function of their expectations of what was going to happen, and the environment in which they took the drug…
all it did was intensify one’s experiences.
What Ram Dass is saying here is that your conditioned beliefs and your immediate environment directly affect your experience as those variables affect what you are grounded into and what you are open to.
The psychedelic experience is simply an intensification of what you already are — beliefs and reflections of your surroundings.
The autistic experience, in my opinion, is very similar — exceptionally absorbent and exceptionally reflective.
This is both how I masked for decades and how I am unmasking now.
I want to give examples here, yet I am flooded with memories of discouragement that I could not possibly be autistic because a non-autistic person could relate to my experience and therefore said it is normal.
Yes! To be absorbent and reflective is the most normal thing.
The more we can recognize this, the more autistic folks will be recognized as leaders and not as something to cure.
Autistic people are so sensitive, they are like stress-meters, in my observation.
Extreme is the key-term here. It is not something to be muted, it is, like Ram Dass’s study shows, something to be respected and used consciously to curate our own experience of wellness — and as the gateway that it is to the “I Am” experience.
Ram Dass reiterates that,
The most likely experience everybody had was a heightened sensitivity to all of their five senses and a speeding up of the thought process.
One of the most spoken about qualities of autism in the autism community (i.e. the community of actually autistic people) is sensorial sensitivity.
Autism is different for everyone but all autistics that I can find will tell you about what really feels like a strong NO to their system.
Likewise with the strong YES.
Strong could be replaced with extreme, could be replaced with full-bodied, could be replaced with conviction.
Being connected to your senses gives you conviction.
Being intensely connected to your senses also implores and underscores responsibility.
Since many people are looking for a cure for autism they think it is a misfortune, a blemish, a disease, or a disorder, yet it is none of the above.
In a society set up to prioritize intellectual capacity and override bodily wisdom, it’s not surprising that sped-up thought processing is also an aspect of autism – being highly sensitive, aka absorbent of the general intellectual-priority orientation of our times.
Photographic memories and savants skills are fawned over, but the fast processing required is a general feature of the autistic mind – it’s a matter of does the mind has space to flourish or is it bombarded by a sea of strong NO’s being ignored or refused?
Give the person a sea of full-bodied YES ‘s and watch what they can do.
This is true for anyone. Most of us are not trained to follow or even allow full-bodied YES’s.
And, with the sped-up cognitive processing of the general psychedelic trip participants — aka autistic people (is the argument I’m making) — ultimately the absorbing and reflecting happens at a radically increased rate given compassionate activation versus traumatic stress.
If the results within each person are reflective of the person’s expectations (set up by early years conditioning, no doubt) as well as their current environment, then conditioned beliefs and behavioral patterns must be attended to consciously.
When not attended to consciously the person is likely to attract or choose environments that reflect major aspects of their original environment where the conditioning took root.
It can be a negative feedback loop where a person can be stuck at this first rung on the ladder of experiences overwhelmed in hypersensitivity and hyperactive mind…
unavailable to harness it happily.
2. Similarity Focused
The next type of experience that people would frequently report was an interpersonal shift of figure and ground,
where they would look at another person and see the way in which the other person was similar, rather than different from themselves.
— Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now
In nursery school, my best friend had half a brain. They took the other half because he had too many seizures as a baby.
He wasn’t supposed to walk or talk, but he could do both. Other kids and even teachers seemed far away, but he felt close.
My mom has told me a story about how his nose was running and all the other kids were freaking out and saying ew gross. And I just got up and got a kleenex and wiped his face.
There was no difference between his booger and my boogers. And my boogers fascinated me as surely was true about every other three-year-old in that room.
So why did I think nothing of it?
Because he was me. No difference.
Even though we attended the same school until I went to University, I grew away from him much earlier as I learned to mask more and more.
And it was as if the whole western mind-training of individual differences had been made background instead of figure so that you’d look at another human being and say “Here we are”.
You’d see differences more as clothing, rather than core stuff. This was a profound perceptual experience for many people.
I think this is really worth mentioning since it is a current epidemic and could actually be cured, whereas autism cannot.
Imposter syndrome can actually be cured through the heightening of senses and the seeing of sameness.
Imposter Syndrom is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Maybe I am biased because I have been so intently masking for many decades and it is my personal experience that reconnecting with authentic autistic behavior and belief liberates me from imposter syndrome anytime I actively embrace it — and by that I mean embody it.
Masking is to do a bunch of things that you trained yourself to do, all of which are very stressful for your sensitive system — and you must constantly pretend not to be stressed out because if you tell or show anyone that you are stressed out they will likely project fear at you because they’ve seen you meltdown before.
This projection of fear amplifies the likelihood of a meltdown.
Masking produces a lot of meltdowns.
Meltdowns are a shattering of self, which is to say a loss of touch with your constructed idea of your self.
The constructed identity is always made of language. This explains why autistic folks, as non-verbal people with immense access to the non-verbal path of enlightenment, seem to melt-down more often or in more extreme ways than most other psychological groups in the broad population.
3. Intense Undeniable Similarity
The nonverbal path of enlightenment is the I Am That I Am Experience.
It is experiencing yourself as one with everything.
It is the next step on the road to enlightened awareness of yourself as a fractal of the whole that is the definition of spiritual enlightenment.
“Then there was the still less frequent type of experience reported: a oneness, in which subjects would say,
I remember being in a dark room with another person and one of us spoke and one of us said, “who spoke, you or me?”
— Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now
Being boundless is the main feature of the foundation for all the above-mentioned sensitivity and sameness orientation in both psychedelic explorers and autistic folks.
It also brings us back to the original quote in this article,
Be as little children [those] trusting surrendered open being[s] [of] cosmic consciousness.
There is a visceral internal and external freedom when you access your infant inner child — the trusting open one who understands everything without trying, without words, who is anchored in sensational experience and does not hold back expression.
When we can be like this, we can relate.
In Conclusion: Be as Little Children
See the world with wonder and awe. Hold ultimate compassion for all sentient creatures who experience material life through their bodies.
Autism and Psychadelic explorers are pretty similar.
Nothing is permanent in this universe of constant change.
We only become afraid of this fact through training.
Fear affects our trip.
So although psychedelic journeying is a seemingly short-term experience and autism is commonly viewed as a life sentence, they are both the same kind of trip where you don’t want to be afraid and you don’t want to be in an environment of fear either.
Be as Little Children and choose joy without sacrificing honesty.
Find joy in honest experiencing and humble navigation with respect to your moment to moment sensual experience — here we are all the same…
Here we are more likely to commonly experience enlightenment — the peaceful playful protection and provisions of I Am That I Am — rather than being stuck at the bottom tier gears-grinding in the over-stimulation of hypersensitivity and hyperspeed processing.