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My Cousin Varun and Me: Surviving Autism Through the Transformational Nature of Gratitude

My Cousin Varun and Me: Surviving Autism Through the Transformational Nature of Gratitude

  • Because he lacks the awareness to be blinded by Maya and the illusions of the material world, his autism can be viewed as a blessing in that the interactions with him are always authentic.

Varun is my autistic cousin who just turned 30 and I am so grateful for the time I get to spend with him. Being the sibling of an autistic child can be both enriching and challenging. From Varun, I learned to be a more sensitive and caring cousin-sister. Family members of people with autism know the cues of when our loved one is going to lash out or have a raging and sometimes violent temper tantrum, and that’s when we know to just move away and give them their time and space. 

Despite the inconveniences, having Varun in my life is such a blessing because his love for others is pure and innocent. He adds joy and laughter to any room he enters. Joy is a feeling so beautiful that when it is radiated and emanated, it propagates itself and then returns to us abundantly multiplied. By simply being himself and radiating joy, Varun contributes to society by co-creating a world that is indeed more joyful moment by moment, and for that I am grateful.

Spending time with Varun provides me with the nourishment of fulfillment that ONLY time spent with children can provide, and despite his physical age of 30, his consciousness is such that he will remain a child forever. In today’s society that is riddled with a culture of personality ethics and codependency, the authenticity of my interactions with Varun is something for which I am extremely grateful because as we age, we tend to become more entrenched in our egos and this phenomenon sometimes sours relationships with family members and loved ones. Because Varun lacks the awareness to be blinded by Maya and the illusions of the material world, his autism can be viewed as a blessing in that the interactions with him are always authentic and from the heart, and for that I am extremely grateful.  

Above, Anita Ghoshal with her autistic son Varun. Top photo, Varun with mom and dad Dr. Ashish Ghoshal.

Being the caregiver to an autistic child or any person with mental disabilities can be a thankless job. We experience very few relationships in life, based solely on love with no expectations, where there exists simply an assurance of being there for one another, and being the mother to a mentally challenged child is one of them. To play the role of lifelong caregiver to someone who is mentally challenged requires a tremendous amount of self-love and self-compassion to be in harmony with oneself in the face of the financial, emotional, physical, and personal demands of such a role.  

Sometimes when we go out of our way for another, and there is no acknowledgment, it can be very disheartening and this is often what is experienced by caregivers of those with autism. The lack of appreciation requires us to bring into our field of awareness a discernment for what is our intention in giving and what is our intention for wanting to be thanked. Is it self-serving, self-aggrandizing, or is it simply to stay in the flow of life itself? When we do something nice for another, and a recipient’s eyes dance with delight, and he or she is pleased and thankful, it makes us want to keep giving. Similarly, when our well-intended efforts are not met with appreciation, our ego structure is often wounded and we no longer feel like giving to that person. It’s a human reaction and it’s universal. 

As such, it’s easy for anyone to step out of their sovereignty into the victim mentality of the ego structure when faced with the challenge of caring for the mentally challenged as part of one’s life experience, and self-love is the key to overcoming the frustration. Self-love is the ability to love our own hearts first and so much that the act generates so much divine love within us such that there is an overflow with which to love others from a sovereign space within us. Self-love is the energy that recharges our battery in the face of disappointment such that we can show up for the people we care about.

It is not uncommon for family members of those with mental disabilities to be stigmatized by society, and for siblings to be bullied in school. Stigmatization of any form brings with it feelings of shame, unworthiness, powerlessness, despair, guilt and insecurity and propagates a form of victim mentality. This is all a result of societal pre-programming. When we succumb to our ego structures and live in this state of lack of consciousness, it can bring forth through us frustration, irritation, impatience, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. When we view life through the lens of victim mentality, we are living in a state of pride, discouragement, blame, worry, doubt, or even potentially anger, hatred, rage or jealousy. 

In life, we may all experience moments of despair, anger or potential rage and as it shows up we have the opportunity to ask ourselves if we want to remain in this state of thinking or instead make the choice to evolve into a higher framework of mind. As Abraham Hicks, best-selling author of “The Law of Attraction” writes, “We can always reach for a thought that feels better.” Through our choices, we can always reach for a thought that feels better. That which feels better, using everyday life as a barometer, are those feelings of peace, power, beauty, joy, empowerment, light, love, wisdom, and beauty. The majority of people, however, propagate pain by focusing on what they don’t have rather than what they do have, for either we can live in a state of complaining and victim mentality or we can live in a state of gratitude. It takes conscious effort to change our thinking to the latter. 

Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius tells us, “Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself in your way of thinking.” By being thankful for who and what’s in our life right now instead of complaining about what we don’t have, we can choose to live with an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a word, it’s a way of life. When we choose to focus on gratitude, we start to attract greater prosperity and abundance into our lives. Gratitude magnetizes all the people, places and experiences to us that make life so wonderfully worth living. 

By focusing on peace and the good despite the many inconveniences of raising and caring for a mentally challenged adult child, Anita Ghoshal, Varun’s mother and my aunt, serves as a role model to us all.

By focusing on peace and the good despite the many inconveniences of raising and caring for a mentally challenged adult child, Anita Ghoshal, Varun’s mother and my aunt, serves as a role model to us all. I admire that my aunt chooses to live her life in a state of happiness, love, joy, health, and creativity as culminated in her design and manifestation of the Ghoshal Family Farm & Ranch, built in honor of Varun and his love for animals. In so doing, she used her role in life to propagate good through gratitude which allowed her to apply her creative energy purposefully for the intent and purpose of magnifying it, radiating it, and attracting more of it into her world, which then allowed her to become a vessel to share that in life with others. The more we tune into our own good, the more we radiate it. In so doing, we give others the opportunity to do the same. My aunt chooses to live in a state of expectation that is affirmative, positive, and enthusiastic and accordingly, her life is reflective of a state of happiness and love. When we live with this mindset, we experience the transformational energy of gratitude that brings forth freedom and empowerment, and I am grateful for all that my aunt represents. 

By living her life the way she does and by providing for Varun the way she does, my aunt exemplifies that happiness is not a destination, but rather a manner of travel in our individual and collective life journeys. Happiness does not depend on external objects or things as it is a state of equanimity of spiritual balance that emerges from our inner thoughts and ideas based on our inner resources. At all times we are radiating and emanating energy that is reflective of our state of being, which is our state of mind. When we approach life using gratitude as our foundation, and we add it to optimism, selflessness, spiritual practices, empathy, and self-esteem, then true happiness emerges as the reality of our life experience. The happiest people do not have the best of everything — they make the best of everything. Being grateful for what exists in life right now and for what we are giving in life manifests itself as the magnetization of happiness into our present moment. 

Is Gratitude the Secret to Happiness?

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As Albert Einstein said, “everything is energy.” As everything around us is made of energy, the Law of Attraction states that if we want to attract positive things in our life we must begin by first giving off positive energy through our thoughts and mindset. Likewise, if we want to attract happiness into our lives, we must first give out happiness through our own inner resourcing which we can accomplish by shifting our own internal state of mind without relying on any external factors. 

In life, we are all passengers on a journey far greater than ourselves and although hardships will present themselves in various ways to each of us, it is when we can focus on the heart of life being good that our perception of our circumstances improves. We do this by expressing gratitude. Reverend Kieth Cox of the Center for Spiritual Living states, “The vibration of appreciation is the closest vibration that can be experienced by the human being that is reflective to that of our non-physical core energy, to our divinity. Appreciation feels good and it guarantees wonderful future experiences as the Universe responds to our signal.” Living in a state of gratitude aligns us with our higher selves and allows us to experience the richness of life on a higher level. 

It is when we focus on peace and the good that is already in our lives that our pain is mended. Peace is a state of inner calm and when you have gratitude within yourself then peace is more easily accessible. Gratitude is not just a word, it’s a way of life. Scientific studies have shown that gratitude “makes you 25% happier, rewires your brain, eliminates stress, physically heals, improves sleep, boosts self-esteem, boosts performance, enhances the law of attraction and improves relationships.” 

Gratitude shields us from negativity in life. Reverend Kieth Cox tells us a simple formula for creating more happiness in your life: “(Gratitude + Forgiveness) x Love = Happiness.” With this formula, we must keep in mind that forgiveness does not mean that you condone another’s actions were acceptable if they were hurtful to you or to someone else, but that you release the need to seek justice or revenge for what occurred and that you can approach the individual with an open mind provided that they are rectifying their behavior as an acknowledgment for having wronged you and as a way to not intentionally inflict further pain upon you in the future. 

Let us choose to live today with gratitude. Louise Hay, the author of “Gratitude: A Way of Life” writes, “Gratitude is a way of life, it is the active practice of thankfulness and appreciation…Being grateful can be as simple as sending positively charged thoughts out into the Universe to give thanks for all that you have and for all that you are. “ Before we even get out of bed in the morning, if we take a few minutes to say thank you for all the people, places, and experiences in our lives — it reframes the day in a new way and can shift our thinking from negative to positive very quickly. When we choose to be grateful it’s also important to be specific in our choice of how we express gratitude. Making the choice to not live in the overarching components of gratitude and the over sweeping, but to focus instead on acknowledging the specific details of the present moment is often most impactful. 

Dr. Suparna Saha is the author of “50 Shades of Domestic Violence: A Deeper Look at Social Etiquette and How We All Contribute.”

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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