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This is the life journey of Caroline Hatfield, a subject of Asperger’s and Schizophrenia that she was suffering since her childhood. In my conversations with her, she has described how she has lived her life since her childhood and how she has overcome it with the practice of Qigong. As we both have learned Taichi Qigong Shibashi from Sifu Wing Cheung, she has given me permission to share her life journey that she has narrated it in her own words.
Caroline’s life journey is being published in America’s Autism Asperger’s Digest in the Aug-Sept-Oct Edition. The Publisher Lyn Dunsavage Young has been kind enough to allow me to share this story in Inner Alchemy India’s Blog.

As an infant, if someone slammed a door on the other side of the house, I would jump in my crib. I was not able to make eye contact, and, if anyone tried to hold me, I would stiffen like a board. These, along with other aspects of my infant and childhood behavior, were related to me by my mother many years later. Like most with Asperger’s, I’m very sensitive to noise, light, and touch.

As a young child, I jabbered away in an indefinable language that Mom said she was sure I knew exactly what I was saying but nobody else did. I bounced a ball against the wall for hours on end, until, out of desperation for her sanity, Mom taught me the card game of solitaire. I began to play solitaire all day long.

I had an obsession with “sameness,” so I always had to have the same utensils and bowl to eat with. I had a fixation on words and numbers and an obsession with playing with little things, repeatedly lining them up in sequences.

I recall Mom’s frequent suggestion that I not be “so literal,” along with her frequent request, “Caroline, please stop perseverating!”

I carried a tenseness with me always. Mom called it being “wound tight like a top” and said I threw tantrums every hour on the hour for no apparent reason. I had what is known as facial “tics.” And as a child – and for a good deal of my life – I lacked any hint of a sense of humor.

Even though I was an avid reader, had a photographic memory, and was curious about everything, in school I felt anxiety, experienced tension and was distracted easily. For these reasons, I had difficulty applying myself. For me, it was not a fun thing going to school. I wanted to stay at home.

Needless to say, I had trouble at school making close friends. Most of the time I was the outsider; often I was the third wheel in a three-way friendship where I was left out of the close two-way friendship that the other two friends developed. I just didn’t know how I could be “a part of.”

Being a “third wheel,” where I was invariably left out, was a pattern I kept re-creating in repeated moves my family made to new cities and schools. This pattern was a running theme for relationships in my growing-up years, and it was one that I carried into my adult years.

I’m not sure why I always placed myself where I would be the “third-girl-out.” I must have desperately wanted to belong, but eventually, as an adult, I learned I could be successful at having one-on-one friendships and to avoid group friend circles altogether.

As I grew older, I learned to navigate life. As I learned to find my way, I was aided by my own persistence and determination – typical Asperger characteristics – which Mom always said were my two middle names.

It’s always been very important for me to have structure in my life, like having set routines and plans – and sticking to them – to help me to deal with outside or internalized stressors and sensitivities. A challenge for me has always been in not knowing how to restrain my need to perseverate on things that bothered me or excited me. Similar to this, a big challenge has been to know just how to let things go!

Along with the challenging aspects of living with Asperger’s, there has been a highlight for me that has been a “constant” in my life.

From a young age and throughout my life, never a conformist, I’ve frequently found myself standing up for the underdog or for what I feel is right, often against “the many,” often with risk. Each time, it has felt like I was being prompted or pulled to respond and to do something. When this happens, what pulls me feels bigger than me, but it’s not. It’s just that small inner voice, filling me with concern, and making me feel moved to respond. There have been extraordinarily good outcomes doing so. Even when success was against great odds, life has yielded positive feedback.

Non-conformity is an Asperger tendency, and peer pressure has less power in those with Asperger’s. I am pulled more by my inner voice and less by the “crowd.”

When I first found the practices of tai chi and qigong in 1988, I was an outsider in the group of students learning from the same Master. Then something just remarkable happened! These amazing arts started to help me to center myself. I began to relax more and have less anxiety.

After many years of studying and practicing tai chi and qigong exercises, I became a teacher of these ancient Chinese mind/body/breath arts. Because I historically did not fit into groups, my sister still lovingly reminds me that I created my own groups with my students by developing classes. Finally, there was something that I could be “a part of.”

On July 4th, 2019, I put on my DVD of Master Wing Cheung’s Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi, a form of qigong, to study further. While I studied the Master’s movements, I practiced Shibashi with a clear determination to see and to do what I hadn’t seen before in the practice. I practiced Shibashi for over three straight hours that day and continued in spurts until almost bedtime. I spent the day enveloped in this obsession, paying attention to detail and nuance as I studied the Master’s Shibashi, then finished with some practice of tai chi.

I went to bed in what was a different mental space for me – a good space, a delightfully peaceful space, actually, a dream-like state. What this space was I didn’t know, but I was smiling as I went to sleep. I was still in this same “space” the next day, and the next, and the next, and every day after, all day long for some weeks.

I came to realize I had become fully immersed in my parasympathetic nervous system – a soothing state of calm – which was previously unfamiliar to me. Because of my Autism, I had lived in my sympathetic nervous system – the state of “fight or flight” – my entire life.

Even when these practices centered me and helped to relax me years before, it was nothing like this. I remember feeling when I was out in public, that I could understand people now – how they are different from me, I could feel this! Except now I had slowed and calmed to their pace, it was really as if I had just joined the human race. Where I had been all my life and where I was now, it was that stark of a difference for me.

For weeks I was fully immersed in the calm of my parasympathetic nervous system. So much about me has changed from this that something remarkable has dawned on me. Perhaps, by being in such a continuous calming state-of-mind, my brain had the opportunity to literally re-wire itself! Many medical researchers and neuroscientists are now attesting that, yes, this can happen. It was only relatively recently scientists began to understand that the brain has the capacity to re-write itself.

From a personal perspective, being in this dream-like state, it was as if a “channel” had opened up and allowed me to move through life in those weeks in a new way, dealing with things differently, and, finally, simply becoming different.

Fortunately, I no longer have to grip my electric toothbrush as if I am gripping a ledge from five stories up. I am flowing through life easier and laughing with my sister more freely. These are things I have always wanted to be able to do. Many of my Asperger characteristics have softened or have simply left me. My Qi (my life force or vital energy) flows stronger, easier, more freely than before. It is amazing and awesome for me, this change in myself.

My Qigong Master, Sifu Wing Cheung, calls it what is known in the practice of qigong as a “self-healing.” I learned from Sifu Cheung that the state I accessed is the “qigong state,” which is a place of healing. Sifu taught me that “the qigong state is something more than the parasympathetic nervous system, but current limited science can only explain it as that.”

Tai chi and qigong have truly gifted me in the past 32 years. It seems I have found a small piece of heaven for myself.

It is interesting to note that, as I fervently studied and practiced Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi for hours, my Asperger characteristics of being obsessive, determined, and persistent, along with my inclination toward loving detail, all contributed toward my uncovering this place of healing – my fervor brought me to my calm.

There is an easy way to illustrate the treasure of the qigong state: Qi is our “life force energy,” or “vital energy,” but there is also life force outside of us. When our inner life force deeply connects with this outer life force, then that is where we find the qigong state.

Taking it a step further, the qigong state involves a deepening awareness of a connection that is always there. Both our existence and our experience are flowing with Qi and they flow together.

I continue to access the qigong state daily through Tai Chi Qigong Shibashi, but to be filled with the capacity to remain in this healing state that is replete with tranquility is two fold.

One, it depends upon how deeply I tune-in to my Qi while deepening my awareness for Universal Qi, during my Shibashi Qigong practice. But it also depends upon how well I stay tuned-in by the choices I make in my thoughts, words, and actions. It’s like “getting gentle” rather than “getting annoyed,” for example. Qi is what teaches this.

Being gentle and kind, while also being steady and clear – in thought, word, and action – is just like the nature of our qigong and tai chi movements being soft and smooth. If you haven’t seen tai chi or Shibashi movements, they are noticeably soft and smooth – “soft” is reflected as being gentle and kind, “smooth,” as being steady and clear (being measured, restrained, calm, and clear), that is when we speak or take action and in our thoughts. In simplicity though – thought is pivotal – because what and how we think is key to how we feel and how we speak and act. Thought is the governing power.

The simple beauty of performing movements at a slow and calm pace reflects qualities of being thoughtful, measured, mindful, and still. From qigong and tai chi, we learn to be patient – with ourselves and with others and with life itself. We learn flexibility in our body and in our mind; we unfold to a holistic strength and balance.

Practicing each of these characteristics is a part of self-cultivation and will lead to positive, gentle thought. This will create serenity in yourself and in your daily life.

One day, a number of years before I found tai chi and qigong, I had a perception. It was compelling enough to consider, so I wrote it down. I wrote, “There is a door.” My perception was that there was a “doorway” to something else. I held onto that paper with a message for me so I would remember this strange and thought-provoking awareness I’d had.

In 2019 I realized I’d found that door and was blessed to walk through it. After many years of studying and practicing tai chi and qigong, I was blessed with a healing that went deeper than I thought possible and which smoothed the often “rough waters” of my personal journey with Asperger’s.

There are many stages of healing. When considering if it is worthwhile for you to take-up qigong or tai chi, it is important to remember the well-known proverb, written by the Chinese Daoist philosopher, Laozi, in his text named the Dao De Jing – “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

As it turns out, my perception about “a doorway to something else,” all those many years ago, though strange and unknowable, was a prescient sign of a blessing to come and the healing I found through qigong.

Caroline is a Level III certified tai chi and qigong instructor. As collaborating/contributing author, Caroline assisted her mother in re-writing her Mom’s well-loved book, Secrets of Self-Esteem with a 30-Day Program for Self-Esteem Development by Shirley J. Mangini, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Using this book as the guideline, over the course of a year, Caroline taught a self-esteem workshop for clients at a mental health day-treatment facility. It is available at Amazon.com. Caroline’s article, “Grace under Fire – The Stories of a Tai Chi Teacher with Schizophrenia” was published in 2018 by the American Tai Chi and Qigong Association. It is available online within their newsletter article listings under mental health.

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