We humans are self-absorbed by nature, and spend most of our time focusing inwardly on our emotions, on our wounds, on our fantasies.
We are all on the spectrum of ‘Autism.’ Autism is defined as ‘a variable developmental disorder that appears by age three and is characterized especially by difficulties in forming and maintaining social relationships, by impairment of the ability to communicate verbally or nonverbally, and by repetitive behavior patterns and restricted interests and activities.’(Merriam-Webster Online). However, the root of the word autism comes from Greek ‘autos’ which translates as ‘self. Autos, or self, is the basis of automatic, automation, autonomous, automobile, autograph, autobiograph, autoimmunity, autopilot, and so many more. Auto is also the common word for car or vehicle. The self as vehicle, with auto transmission, self transmission, self-ignition, self-direction and self-navigation.
The suffix of the word, the ‘ism’ part, is also from the Greek ‘ismos’ and refers to a state of mind. The implication is that autism is a state of mind overly preoccupied with ‘self’ described as a ‘morbid self-absorption.’ Autism, or self-absorption, is not an all or nothing proposition. It is a spectrum, a continuum, not unlike the paradigm of gradations from kindergarten to college. Kindergarten age children are notoriously self-absorbed whereas adults are, presumably, less so. There is a maturation from more to less self-absorption, in stages and degrees through time. Any number of environmental and/or genetic factors can prevent the natural development to adulthood, in terms of decreasing self-absorption. Depending on what system of measurement and evaluation one uses, we are all on the spectrum.
One of the key features of morbid self-absorption is the intense fixation on specific repetitive thoughts and behaviors. As a ‘normal’ adult, we might like to think we do not have morbid fixations; And, typically, we don’t, when things are going our way; but when the unexpected happens, when that which we don’t want arrives, such as illness, we can perseverate for extended periods of time. Because of this rigid fixation on established patterns of thought and behavior, any disruption is terribly disturbing. Most modern adults are often horribly disturbed when established patterns of thought and behavior are disrupted.
Not everybody is equally disrupted and disturbed by the unexpected or unwanted. One can gauge their level or degree of disturbing disruption by using a ‘Likert Scale’ which is a gradation of value from 1-5. For example, you are about to get into your car and notice a flat tire. Disruption of pattern. How disturbed are you, on a scale of 1-5, such that 1 is so disturbed you are in tears, and 5 so undisturbed that you can laugh at it?
The Likert Scale can be used to gauge many states of mind in ways less dogmatic than all or nothing, either/or and what is referred to as absolutist or ‘black and white’ thinking. Life is shades of gray, and hues of colors, fluctuating from day to day. In a general sense, one can ascribe a baseline somewhere along the continuum. We tend to find ourselves most ‘at home’ near center or some deviations from center, one way or the other, more or less disturbed by disruptions in established patterns of thought and behavior. The less disturbed, the less self-absorbed. So, when asked ‘how are you?’ a number answer between 1 and 5 is more revealing than ‘fine.’ Or, add more nuance and gauge according to a scale between 1 and 10, or 1 and 100. On a scale of 1-100, with 100 being anxiety so high you must be hospitalized and 1 being so low you are more than mellow, where are you now? How high have you been? How low? So, again, when conveying that one is ‘anxious’ it can help to attach a scale value to help give more nuance to the state of mind.
The point is, we are all on the spectrum of ‘self’ and ‘state of mind.’ Generally speaking, the less fixated, rigid and dogmatic one is, the more flexible, fluid and adaptable. Granted, there are situations in which adamantine fixation is appropriate, necessary even. And, there are situations in which flexible fluidity is equally appropriate, perhaps even necessary. Rare it is when either extreme continues for an extended time. To become stuck in an extreme is a significant constraint on ‘self’ and ‘state of mind.’ To liberate the mind, extremism is subjugated to moderate fluctuation between the extremes, depending on the situation at hand. It requires a pliable self-regulation, which itself is a behavioral skill which has it’s own spectrum of gradations. We are all on the spectrum, somewhere between nothing and everything, somewhere between self-absorption and self-abandonment, somewhere between me and we.
I theorize that there is a spectrum of consciousness available to human beings. At one end is material consciousness. At the other end is what we call ‘field’ consciousness, where a person is at one with the universe, perceiving the universe. Just by looking at our planet on the way back, I saw or felt a field consciousness state.
-Edgar Mitchell, Astronaut