The Gifts of AD(H)D

This first appeared as the introductory essay to the show “The Gifts of Attention Deficit Disorder” on Going Shamanic:

Our show today focuses on what it is like to live with Attention Deficit Disorder in our society as well as on the gifts the diagnosis can bring.   I became interested in ADD back in university when I was getting my teaching degree in 2000.  There was a gentleman named Paul in my Teaching Training class who caught my attention.  He was thoughtful, wise, and at 55, he was the eldest in our class.  I noticed that he was always drinking coffee in a to go mug.  He carried a thermos to every class.  One day, I asked him about it and he said matter-of-factly that it was the way he self-medicates for ADD.  This seemed counter-intuitive to me at the time but Paul explained, “It actually calms me down.  My brain chemistry is different than yours.  Caffeine also helps me to focus.”  Then, he told me his story.  Paul was actually born in Nigeria to parents who were Canadian missionaries.  They lived alongside the Nigerian people until Paul was seven years old when they returned to Canada.  Paul told me that it was then that he started having problems- when he began school.  Before then, Paul spent much of his time hunting with Nigerian men and boys.  They recognized his gift of being able to focus on one thing that interested him to the exclusion of all distractions early on and encouraged Paul.  He became a pretty good hunter.  In Canada, he was forced to sit still for most of the day- something he had never done in his training as a hunter.  This was excruciating for him.  I asked him why he decided to become a teacher after working in the trades for so many years.  He said, “I met a lot of apprentices over the years- young folks who had the same issues I had in school.  They were intelligent people who were simply misunderstood by the school system.  I found ways to work with their talents and I knew I could do the same for kids.  It made sense to me to start with younger kids when they most needed the confidence and skills.”  I had the privilege of participating in one of Paul’s classes during our practicum.  He was brilliant.  The activities were mostly hands on.  The kids worked together to solve problems and they were allowed to move their bodies as much as they needed to.

 In 2001, I got to see the opposite of what Paul was doing in his classroom when I did my own practicum in a Grade 3 class.  The teacher I apprenticed under was decidedly ‘old school’ using archaic teaching methods and running her classroom with rigid control.  The children were not allowed to leave their desks without permission and there was no group work allowed.  Anxiety levels were high among the kids in that class.  When I came in, I decided to do more group work and project-based learning with the kids- something they loved.  There was a learner in my class named Chris that year.  He sat quietly at his desk with glazed eyes looking more like a zombie than an 8 year old kid.  He struggled with the short blocks of time to do his work and the requirement that he compartmentalize his thinking.  He was also of First Nations ancestry and his culture promoted social learning and interdisciplinary ways of studying the world.  At the time I met him, he was a ward of the state being bounced around from one foster home to another.  I was sitting at my desk at lunchtime one day when I went to stretch out my legs and felt a body there.   Startled, I looked and saw Chris hiding.   I asked him what he was doing and he told me not to tell the secretary where he was.  When I asked why, he told me that she will give him the “pill” if she finds him.  I later found out that Chris was on Ritalin and the school was required to make sure this was administered daily by the state (his legal guardian).  I sat with him as he told me all of the ways he was stupid and couldn’t do school.  After a while, I looked at him and said, “Chris, you are a long thinker.  There is nothing wrong with that.  You put the things you know together in ways that are different than what the school expects.  That means there is a problem with what the school expects- not you.”  At first, he looked at me with eyes searching me see if I was mocking him.  When he saw I was sincere, he welled up with tears.  Maybe I was the first person to really show him that I saw his gifts.  I don’t know.  But it sure made me wonder about how we pathologize people in our culture when they don’t fit cultural norms and how that affects our kids’ self-esteem and self-worth as human beings.

I know that medication works for some people; I’ve met a few that are doing well on meds.  However, many folks I’ve met are not.  The journey to healing and wholeness is a deeply personal one.  This show is not interested in prescribing any one particular “cure” or “medicine.”  Rather, it seems to me that we need to reframe the way we see Attention Deficit Disorder as a gift- a difference in cognition that can help us to see the world in a different way.

Ancient Strategies for Cultivating Inner Peace

By now, most of you know about the ancient practice of meditation as a way of developing a state of inner peace- no matter what is happening in the environment around you.  This is a useful practice of engaging “not doing” or the feminine aspect of ourselves.  Our ancestors (Mayan, North American and Hawaiian) also saw a need to activate the “doing” or masculine aspect of ourselves in some instances where we are emotionally triggered by someone or something in order to gain self-mastery.  This is best epitomized in the “Serenity Prayer” that emphasizes that we cannot control anything but our own responses in life:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

So they developed some strategies the engage our imagination and will at the same time to support us in balancing our inner space. I personally have done each of these myself and share them in the spirit of supporting others who tell me they are struggling with “triggers.”

Here are some “active” strategies that are really effective alongside traditional meditations, which bring awareness to the triggers themselves.  Conscious awareness of the pattern that is not working is the first step to any transformation.  Over time of interrupting the patterns in these active ways, their grip will diminish and new patterns that are more lifegiving will form from your inner wisdom.  What happens at a physiological level is that your body starts to form new neural pathways instead of reinforcing the old ones in the brain that no longer benefit you.

1.  Cutting Cords:  Imagine that every time someone or something triggers and emotional response in you that they are “strumming” a cord that is already there somewhere inside you- a pattern from the past that is no longer working.  See if you can identify what triggered you and imagine cutting it from its source in your body with a pair of imaginary scissors.  If you can’t figure out what the trigger is, just cut away from the feeling of it.

2.  Energy Belt:  Imagine that you can contain your own space or personal “bubble” at will by choosing what comes in, stays in, and must go out of your personal space.  Know that you always have control of this because your space belongs to you and no one else.  You can command anything out of your space that you don’t want there at any time.  When you are going into a stressful situation or find yourself in one.  Imagine tying an energy belt (like a karate belt) around your center of gravity to act as a type of shield supporting you in taking command of your own space.

3.  Center of Gravity (COG): Just below your belly button at the center of your body is your COG.  This is the place where martial artists focus all their energy.  It is where our inner wise one lies.  When our focus is on our COG, we feel calm and collected- even in stressful situations.  When we are stressed, we tend to let our energy float up to our heart or head and this makes it hard for us to make good decisions.  Practice imagining that a net is coming over your head and body and pulling your energy (including your thoughts) down to your COG, allowing your inner wise one to guide you through the stressful situation to come to a resourceful solution.  If it is hard for you to keep your energy down, consider taping an earth magnet to your COG to support you in learning how to do this (you can buy these on the Internet).  I’ve noticed this is really helpful with people who have been diagnosed with ADHD.

4.  Self-Forgiveness Daily:  One of the best things about being human is that there is so many things we can learn, explore, and do in the course of our lives.  Some of the things we learn are fun and easy. Some things we learn are more difficult.  Mistakes are actually a very important part of learning.  If we never make mistakes, then we are not able to grow and mature.  Forgiving yourself means letting go of feelings that don’t feel so good so good feelings can come in.

Kid Quote:
“Mom, I need a back button in my life- erase and back button.”
– Cole Age 8

Put your hands on your heart and do your forgiveness that way.
I forgive myself for ___________.  For as many things as you need to forgive yourself for.

I forgive myself for losing my temper with my sister.
I forgive myself for forgetting where I put things.
I forgive myself for believing that I can’t read.
I forgive myself for forgetting to remember all the things I am good at.

And allow yourself to let go of your mistakes.

When you give something away, a vacuum is naturally created.  To add balance to the cutting away it can be helpful to “fill” the space with something you want to attract more of.  This helps us in our goal of self-mastery.

1.  Attracting what you want more of (Accepting):

With your hands on your body (could be your heart or COG even):

I accept______ into my space (i.e. self-love, peace, acceptance, calmness).

You can even tap these into your body to integrate them into your system.  Allow the feeling of them to melt into your body and become a part of you.

**General guideline is accepting one thing for every thing you release or cut away from.

You don’t have to have a spiritual practice or even have spiritual beliefs to benefit from these techniques.  If you struggle to keep your center in challenging situations, these could be helpful to you in tapping into your inner strength and innate wisdom.  I invite you to experiment with them and see if anything changes in your daily experience of life.  If not, then no harm is done.


Lake Louise Anniversary

Michelle and I took the day and went up to Lake Louise to celebrate our second anniversary together. We LOVED watching the ice sculptors work at the Ice Magic Festival. I am so grateful for our relationship and all the love, beauty and magic it brings into my life each day.

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