The Gift Of Compassion From Sensitive People

I’ll be the first to admit I don’t always handle doctor’s office visits well especially with procedures involving unexpected pain. All too often, there is a sudden cold sweat followed by nausea and lightheadedness signaling I’m getting ready to faint. For the Highly Sensitive, fainting can be our ingrained response to the invasiveness of  modern medicine followed by the emotional recognition of what is actually happening to our bodies. Dramatic as it may seem, I need to avert my eyes when receiving injections lest I find myself requiring smelling salts in the aftermath.

Giving And Receiving Compassion

There is a bright spot in these experiences; whenever my face turns that pasty shade of gray during a procedure, I’m deeply touched by the compassion shown by the nurses who come to my aid. In the face of an environment where people are often at their physical and sometimes emotional worst, nursing is the profession where I encounter the highest number of Highly Sensitive people in the workplace. Perhaps everything is as it should be; our inherent capacity to feel another’s person’s distress brings with it the compassion generated from experiencing that pain first hand.

Always a remembered gift to those receiving it, compassion isn’t something which can be faked. You have it to give or you don’t. While for the Highly Sensitive extending compassion may feel like a second nature, understanding the gift of receiving it sometimes requires a bit more work.

Manny’s Compassion

Some years ago I attended a workshop hosted by author Manny Twofeathers. Manny was standing by the front door of the bookstore as I pulled into the parking lot by the front of the building. He had stepped outside to clear his head after giving intuitive readings for clients most of the afternoon. I was glad to see him again. During a lecture he had presented  few weeks earlier  regarding his experiences with the Sundance Ceremony outlined in his book My Road to the Sundance, he had shown me how to tie a prayer flag for a friend  diagnosed with breast cancer. Taking it with him when he left, Manny mentioned it would be taken to a sacred spot where he would pray for her. That was Manny; in his role as an Elder he extended compassion towards people through actions reflecting  his deep spiritual faith.

At the bookstore that evening,  Manny was hosting a divination workshop based on his latest book; Stone People Medicine. After a brief introduction where he explained the role and use of the stones and cards used in the divination process, Manny had us sit at a circular table. He sat next to me on my left. Handing me the cards and the stones, he told me to read for the woman sitting on my right in order to answer questions she had about her life. His actions startled me, I had expected that he would show us the process by reading for us. Due to my sensitivity I didn’t always like to be in the spotlight especially in front of  a group of strangers. Studying his face for a brief moment, I tried to get a read on his thoughts, but his eyes were hidden behind the deep wrinkles of his face. While I had often done one on one intuitive work for friends, I had never “read” for someone I didn’t know and the thought of it made me  uncomfortable.

Honoring The Gift Of Compassion

Manny watched silently as I consulted the stones and cards to answer the woman’s question. His only  response, when I was done was to ask her if her question had been fully answered. Thinking I was finished, I tried to hand the cards and stones back to him but he wouldn’t take them. Instead, he told me to read for the person sitting next to her. Regardless of my discomfort, the process continued. Manny directed me to read for every person at the table; finally finishing with the owner of the bookstore who was sitting next to Manny. Her reading was the hardest of all;  the divination predicted very dry times ahead, leaving me with a vision of such desolation it almost brought me to tears.

Manny continued the process by having some of the other people sitting at the table read for others.But, I had been the only one chosen to read for all. Although curious about why  he had chosen me to read for everyone, I knew it would be very disrespectful to ask an Elder about his actions. I could feel there was a bigger picture at play here and  for that I was grateful.

After the workshop had ended, I went over to Manny to thank him. Accepting my thanks, he looked me in the eye and said that my visions were very strong. That was his only comment about the workshop. One thing about the Highly Sensitive, we know instantly when someone is not being honest with us. I didn’t get that feeling as he spoke although I had a hard time believing it. In hindsight, the workshop was a turning point in my life and his words would be a source of comfort. Through those words, I began to see myself and my spiritual path in a different light; I knew I didn’t need to hide the intuitive aspect of myself from strangers for fear of ridicule or criticism.

After the workshop, I never saw Manny again. He became ill and died in a Tuscon, Arizona VA Hospital during June of the following year. In my bedroom is one of the dream catchers Manny made and sold while on the road. Due to my strong belief  in the power of our dreams I had purchased it from the owner of the bookstore not too long after the workshop. Hanging above the headboard,  it is a beautiful reminder  of our conversation. Ever silent it protects us from the images contained within the shadow side of our dreams as my  wife and  I travel the terrain of the dreamscape.

Stepping Into The Gift Of Compassion

A few weeks ago while standing in my den, I felt a strong urge to read  My Road to the Sundance over  again. Later that evening, I broke out in goosebumps when reading his words on page 65. Summarizing his insights from an experience where he felt unworthy when asked to pray for a woman Elder after one of the first Sundance Ceremonies, he wrote; ” We believe that sometimes the creator sends a helper to teach us. If she was a helper, I think her mission was to show me I was now ready to help people. In helping her, it gave me confidence in my ability to help others.” 

For the Highly Sensitive, compassion appears in many forms. We don’t always recognize it when it appears. But, the end result is always the same; we are supported through what is experienced as a mental or physical challenge. I hadn’t seen the compassion in Manny’s actions during the workshop because I was too engaged in the energy of my fears. But I saw it then and his compassion is what I’ll always remember about him.

Manny always admonished us to give something back to the world as a gesture of thanks whenever we receive anything in our lives. The law of Karma, as recognized in the ancient spiritual traditions of India reminds us that every choice made creates the landscape of our daily journeys. Both work hand in hand. For the Highly Sensitive, perhaps our naturally compassionate actions is a way of giving back to the world a taste of the  gift we have been given; a way of returning our capacity to feel deeply, to those who need it most.

Our High Sensitivity: Both A Gift and Vulnerability to Anxieties

Along with the many benefits of our high sensitivity trait, we may also be especially susceptible to anxieties.

One aspect of a highly sensitive nervous system can be a strong startle response, as noted in an item on the Self-Test on the site of Psychologist Elaine Aron, PhD: “I startle easily.”

Of course, just being easily startled, at any age, is not by itself an indicator of high sensitivity or a ‘symptom’ of anxieties – but there is some research that people who carry a gene that regulates the neurotransmitter dopamine in a certain way have an exaggerated “startle” reflex. Researchers concluded this sensitivity “may, in combination with other hereditary and environmental factors, make them more prone to anxiety disorders.”

From the article: Genes affect anxiety and startle response, American Psychological Association press release.

Dr. Aron writes, “The sensitive types in any species tend to freeze and hide rather than fight or fly in the face of danger. Any of these reactions to danger is all right, but involve different ‘costs’ or put different stress on the individual. Research on other species as well as on humans, including my own research, suggests that the cost for this strategy is being more prone to develop chronic anxiety and depression when exposed to danger generally or to threats from aggressive others.”

From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: A Future Headline: “HSPs, the Key to Human Survival”?

Author Susan Cain notes many ‘shy’ people seek “refuge from the socializing that causes them anxieties. And many introverts are shy, partly as a result of receiving the message that there’s something wrong with their preference for reflection, and partly because their physiologies compel them to withdraw from high-stimulation environments.”

From her book: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Dr. Aron thinks this is “an enormously entertaining book” but that Cain’s discussion of ‘introversion’ throughout “is almost identical to what has become the standard definition of high sensitivity—deep thinkers, preferring to process slowly, sensitive to stimuli, emotionally reactive, needing time alone, and so forth…”

From my Creative Mind post Are Introverts More Creative?

This brings up the issue of labeling. Many actors, for example, say they are ‘shy’ or ‘sensitive’ or ‘introverted’ and many writers and others use these terms as more or less synonymous; they aren’t, of course.

Dr. Aron, for example, says “Because HSPs prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called ‘shy.’ But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion.”

From my post: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?

What wrong with anxiety?

Ordinary living provides us with many reasons to feel anxious – and anxiety can be a way to protect us from dangers, both physical and emotional.

But mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem can interfere with anyone expressing their talents, perhaps especially for those with a “finely tuned” nervous system.

Therapist and creativity coach Eric Maisel, PhD thinks “Only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work. What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear… anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person.”

From post: Eric Maisel on anxiety and developing creativity.

Dealing with our anxieties

How we think about and label our physical, cognitive and emotional responses can have a strong impact on our acceptance of those responses, versus thinking we need to “do something” about them. Of course, some people have levels of anxiety that may need medical help.

But feelings such as a rapid heart rate, shallow breathing or racing thoughts can be confused with anxiety, and may just be a form of arousal, or excitement. Or too much caffeine: Dr. Aron notes HSPs are very sensitive to it.

She also points out that some items on an anxiety scale or test will sometimes be true for all HSPs, “since we do all avoid risks, which is something like being anxious or worried about outcomes.”

From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: A Letter from Elaine, Happy Summer to HSPs.

In her book “Emotional Freedom” Psychiatrist Judith Orloff, MD writes, “Since emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration are energies, you can potentially ‘catch’ them from people without realizing it.

“If you tend to be an emotional sponge, it’s vital to know how to avoid taking on an individual’s negative emotions or the free-floating kind in crowds. Another twist is that chronic anxiety, depression, or stress can turn you into an emotional sponge by wearing down your defenses. Suddenly, you become hyper-attuned to others, especially those with similar pain.”

From post: Psychiatrist Judith Orloff on coping with emotional overload.

She also gives specific suggestions in her book, and article How To Stop Absorbing Other People’s Negative Emotions.

It can be helpful to acknowledge that our trait of high sensitivity may include vulnerabilities to anxiety and overwhelm, but also offers many ‘gifts’ – such as enhanced creativity, greater empathy with others, deeper appreciation of the sensations of life, and more.

HSP Identity: A Plant In The Right Place

My name is Lisa McLoughlin and I am from Green Alder coaching, based in the UK.

I would like to share a personal account of my journey to discover that I am an HSP.

Is There Something Wrong With Me?

Most of my life I felt like a weed— not belonging to my environment. Being a weed was a bad thing and needed to be fixed, eradicated, changed, and just a blot on the landscape.

I often wondered, “If only I could be like all the others…the ornamental and outrageously colorful, extravagant man-made plants (people)…perhaps my life would be easier on me?”

Well, what is a weed? ‘A plant growing in the wrong place’ is the commonly accepted description. But wait a moment, how are we to know it is in the wrong place?

The war on weeds began with the coming of intense farming and public opinion. Who’s to judge a plant and name it a weed when all it is doing is trying to survive? Surely, a weed is entitled to the same life as any other plant?

Despite mans’ persistence to eradicate weeds by hand and chemical weed killers (like the Extrovert Ideal), the war has never been won. The same old weeds show up in the same spots, demonstrating gritty resistance, and persisting through centuries of persecution.

You have to admire their tenacity!

It’s only recently that I have come to respect the weed and understand that it is a plant, that might not fit in with expectations of its environment, but it has just as many rights to thrive and flourish as any plant—often with useful properties and benefits to the environment. So, I am left asking, “What if a weed is entirely normal and just needs to stand proud and comfortably in its environment—room for us all?”

Harsh Words

So, my life—to date—has been built on the sense that I was flawed or damaged in some way and that my purpose in life was to fix myself and fit in with others around me.

“You will never set the world on fire…you are so quiet…you are boring…you are a swot…you are too sensitive….stop crying…toughen up…you have the McLoughlin bad luck…you are self-absorbed…you don’t contribute” were some of the general comments I received through my childhood and adulthood.

I noticed the harsh words struck deep into my heart and I felt myself shrink into melancholy instead of flourishing in spite of them. The comments were like chemicals trying to eradicate the weed so that an outgoing and colorful ornamental pansy would grow in its place—just like all the rest of the ornamentals’ in the garden.

How I Came To Feel Damaged

Deep down I quite liked myself. I loved my ability to paint & draw and my creative drive and imagination, my spirit, and the rich texture of my internal world.

I could quite easily entertain myself for hours and I thrived when my environment was nurturing and supportive of the unique me. I had an internal warrior-like fire of passion and persistence.

Why didn’t my inner brilliance show in my external world? Why couldn’t I shine and show who I really was?

Unfortunately, I had a tricky upbringing with a mixture of overprotective love from a mum wracked with anxiety and guilt, and a father who had a severe form of Multiple Sclerosis (since I was two-years-old). Boy, did my mum and dad struggle. But, they did the best that they could at the time.

My mum was cautious and my father was a gentle giant of a man (an angel from heaven). My sister and I willingly tried to please them both; to make them proud, to soothe them, and make them happy. Due to our difficult circumstances, my sister and I were forced to grow-up before we were ready. I remember wrestling with my desperate need to stay as an imaginative child playing with my dolls, against the pull to be a responsible adult for my mum and dad’s sake. My sister and I were pulled into situations such as mopping my mother’s brow as she cried herself to sleep (when my father was placed in a nursing home), or, at the age of ten, dragging my father from the front door to the living room chair—he crashed out of his wheelchair trying to let the dog in, whilst my mum was at an evening class. She found the three of us laid out exhausted on the living room floor.

It kind of deeply affects an HSP as you grow up. It blossoms and develops your kindness and empathy, but also caustically hurts to the point of feeling ‘damaged’ in some way.

The HSP Career Challenge

During my childhood and early adult life, I looked to external guidance on what I should do as a career— I just wanted to paint and draw. But I was gifted in school with regular ‘A’ grades. I confused everyone with my hard efforts to please, often waking at 4 am just to revise and get better grades; to make my mum and dad proud.

My internal compass went awry, and I reluctantly agreed to pursue the sciences which eventually led me to physiotherapy (a role that required extroversion, ability to be with many people and groups for long periods of time and constant interruptions from junior staff and NHS bureaucracy). This career was not right for this HSP.

The whole of my physiotherapy career was a private hell. I tried self-improvement courses, numerous physiotherapy courses, and general soul-searching to see if I could change myself and grow into the role—it never happened. I was glad to eventually find some peace with regular mindfulness meditation and yoga since 2008.

In my personal life, I was naturally gravitating towards caring for the planet, positive news and healthy and nutritious food. Something inside of me was starting to take control and gain momentum—I liked the feeling. I became a voluntary Director of a Community Supported Agriculture Scheme (CSA) and trained in permaculture design.

I was instinctively averse to the regular negative news; depressing soap operas; seeing cruelty to humans, plants, and animals; I even struggled to watch the harsh realities of a wildlife program. There was a continued tendency to feel overwhelmed in work (seeking solitude at lunchtimes), in my personal life, and I became frustrated that I did not seem to have the robustness as others did around me.

The Beginnings Of Change

As a misfit in my personal and work life, I eventually burned-out with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. It’s no surprise I was anxious, I had increasing pressures in a career I disliked, and my marriage was imploding.

I did not resonate with the label of social anxiety disorder, but it was a start for healing. I noticed myself shrinking and struggling with a husband who, although extremely supportive, did not know how to nurture me gently. He too saw me as broken; just like my family and me.

With a call to adventure and internally growing courage and inner trust, I had no choice but to follow my deep-down instincts—I realized that external advice and manipulation had not worked and was actually harming me.

I left my old life and gradually grew into myself.

My inner guidance led me to coach the quiet person, painting, drawing, Susan Cain, Elaine Aron, writing and to a beautiful replenishing and nurturing experience—my new life.  On this journey, I serendipitously discovered I have been normal all the time—an introverted HSP. The power of knowing and feeling this label is immense.

I stand tall as a unique plant in exactly the right place! – a happy HSP!!

Working With The Energy Of Perception

 

” We need to spin you happy ” Danielle mentions as we walk along the tree lined path by the Mohawk river. I have always loved walking that path especially during those times when life was wearing me down. Like the bare trees around us which had dropped their leaves weeks before, my spirit felt stark and colorless. Unexpectedly,  my Highly Sensitive nature  experienced the emotional vacuum which can hit novice runners after their first half marathon is over. Now with the race and training behind me, there was a depressing hollowness in its place. Most runners will tell you; the underlying truth is that the time spent training for a race irrevocably changes how you see yourself and who you are. The person crossing the finish line is not the same person who began training months before. In that hollowness, the voice of my depression reminded me that once our awareness is changed by a new experience, we can never go back to who we were before the experience occurred.

Danielle had run the same half marathon. A Highly Sensitive woman whose intuition was uncanny, she was one of those voices of awareness in my life which always seem to cross my path when the timing is right.

“Let’s start with some gratitude;” Danielle tells me; “Who or what are you grateful for? ”

Besides the standard answers such as my wife, family, friends and health,  I’m not sure how to answer her. Something in the tone of her question tugs at my thoughts and I have a feeling she is  pointing something out. Contemplating her question as we walk by the marshland, I see the dried stalks of marsh grass bending in the cold November wind. As they sway back and forth, an interesting paradox appears in my thoughts; if my Highly Sensitive nature allows me to  feel and react to the multitude of energies contained in the environment around me, then why was I struggling to identify the positive aspects of my life? Through her question, Danielle was pointing out that similar to the movement of marsh grass alongside us, my emotions were bending under the force of my perception of the situation.

Recognizing The Energy Behind Our Thoughts

As Highly Sensitive people, one of our gifts is in feeling the energy of the world around us with an intensity unknown to those who have not experienced it. But like any gift, sensitivity requires awareness of what we are actually dealing with. While the emotions generated from strongly felt viewpoints can feel all encompassing, it is actually the energy of the experience and how we perceive that energy which also generates our emotional response. With the Highly Sensitive it is more than just forming an opinion after perceiving the glass as half full or half empty; instead, we want acknowledge our capacity to feel the energy of the experience itself and ask ourselves how we are reacting to that energy. In my case, there was an energetic vacuum created after the race was over and my friend Shelley and I were no longer training. Unexpectedly feeling the stark energy of that vacuum floored my emotions, dragging my spirit down with them.

Our Perception Of Energy

The study of physics teaches us that energy in of itself is impersonal. Yet, for the Highly Sensitive it never feels that way. It is very easy for us to label ourselves as “too sensitive” especially when the energy of the environment and people around us as perceived through our senses, creates a multitude of responses. Adding in the emotional weight of negative thoughts or self perceived judgments to the physical and emotional reactions of our environment can turn that label into a self fulfilling prophecy. One of the most common themes I’ve encountered through posts on social media websites dealing with the subject of Highly Sensitive People is that the majority of us perceive the reactions caused by our sensitive nature as a negative trait for the additional burdens it places on our lives.

Is The Glass Really Half Full?

So how do we balance our lives in the face of our constant reactions? The key is awareness. Anytime we react to energy regardless if it is the energy of the environment or simply the energy of our thoughts, a simple way to focus our awareness is by asking two questions; what am I feeling and what do I need. Labeling a reaction is easy but can leave us feeling victimized if we stop at that point. Understanding a reaction and the energy behind it is much more proactive especially if we tailor our response to it by focusing on our immediate needs.

Awareness Through Validation

One of the things I do to keep my perceptions accurate is to surround myself with people who validate or share my perceptions. Since I’m emotional by nature, the energy of my emotions can cloud my perceptions especially when I feel strongly about something.

 This past October I ran my second  half marathon with Shelley and another long time friend, Linda. Since we had been training since March, the month preceding the race had been physically tough on my body. I constantly felt tired. Two weeks  prior to the race, a muscle spasm in my hip during our test run of the course  left me unable to run the full length of it. Fearing I wouldn’t be able to run the entire race, I decided to share my concerns with Kim, another friend who was an accomplished runner and triathlete as the energy of my fears were building on a daily basis.

” Ed, the hard part is over with; your training is done.” Kim tells me. “Running the race this weekend is about having fun. Enjoy the company of your friends and the experience of the race itself instead of worrying about crossing the finish line.”

Her comment reminded me of a quote I had read earlier in the week stating that success in life isn’t always about happy endings but instead in our ability to fully understand the stories behind those endings. Behind the energy of my fears was a goal oriented viewpoint perceiving success as only as crossing the finish line to the exclusion of all else. Although she acknowledged the fear of not completing a race due to an injury, Kim still pointed out that there was much bigger picture to be considered; which was the energy of the race itself.

On the Sunday following our conversation, I did run the entire race. In the week which followed, I presented both Shelley and Linda copies of a photograph a race photographer had taken of the three of us running together about a mile before we crossed the finish line. I had chosen that particular photograph because reflected in our smiling faces was the energy of our journey together. Since my perception of the race was one of gratitude for their commitment to train and run the race with me, I needed to thank them. So at the top of the paragraph, I added a quote by Tim Cahill;

A journey is best measured in friends rather than in miles.

It was what I was feeling and what I needed. As I handed it to them, seeing the emotion cross their faces as they read the quote, I knew each felt the energy of my intention to honor our journey together.

For the Highly Sensitive, perception contains the gift of awareness. Yet, working with the energy of our perception encompasses much more than forming a viewpoint; distilled down to its essence, it is a way of recognizing the energetic details of our journey so that we can spin ourselves happy in the face of a cold November wind.

 

 

The Paths We Travel Working With Our Sensitivity

 

“All of life is a circle” my meditation teacher tells me during a discussion on  the lessons life often presents; “Regardless of the starting point, at one time or another life’s circumstances will always steer you back to similar circumstances; if for no other reason than to allow awareness of the progress of one’s own journey.”

In my memory of that conversation, the point he made lingers. While time has shown me that it is all too easy for the Highly Sensitive to fall prey to any negative emotions generated during these experiences, over time I have realized that it is actually our sensitivity which plays a key role in also allowing us to recognize the lessons in growth contained within the experience. Similar to a double-edged sword, our sensitivity can hinder or benefit us; it all depends on how we are working with our sensitivity.

Working With Our Sensitivity

Working with our sensitivity may seem like a strange concept. Similar to how we work with our sleep dreams, we can be passive or proactive with the experience. The key here is in recognizing that being a Highly Sensitive Person is not an identity as our ego’s would have us believe. Instead, it is simply an aspect of our energetic makeup which in itself has different aspects; one of which is intuition. Sensitivity and intuition often go hand in hand. A favorite teacher of mine put it succinctly when she  commented” It’s all about energy” when I had asked her where intuition comes from.

As I exited the building where our meditation class was held, I saw the lone figure of a friend, Kira, sitting on a bench by the Koi pond.  A tall, thin blond in her sixties, Kira held herself with a quiet dignity that I often admired. As I walked up behind her, intuitively I could feel that dignity was not foremost on her mind as she looked across the pond seemingly mesmerized by the occasional flash of gold and white as the Koi fed in the early morning stillness. One of the gifts of being a  Highly Sensitive Person is that we can easily feel the energy generated by emotions of others especially if we are within an arms reach of them. For me, it is a quick feeling in my midsection followed by that quiet, unassuming voice in my head speaking of emotional patterns and images.  Sitting next to her after a brief hello, I could feel that someone had said something emotionally painful to her. Questions of her worthiness lingered in her thoughts; a cloud of negative emotions obscuring the warmth of morning sunshine which surrounded us.

How Do You Work With Energetic Experiences?

In these situations , there is often a choice which presents itself ; we can be passive and simply acknowledge the emotional pain felt by ourselves or others as we journey through the experiences life presents.  Or, we can be proactive and use the energy in working with our sensitivity to tap into our intuition and search for the lesson behind the experience. Being proactive won’t make the lesson any less painful, but it will move us from a victim stance to one of power; instead of going for a ride and observing the scenery we are now driving the bus.

 I knew Kira was a Highly Sensitive Person from the moment I met her.  Often quiet in groups,  she preferred to sit towards the back of the room during our class. In an earlier conversation, she had told me she was divorcing her husband and being that this was her second marriage there was something reflected in her eyes which spoke of the emotional toll being paid. Now sitting with her, I wondered how I could follow the philosophy our meditation teacher often spoke of; that there is a lesson in growth in each and every moment of our lives.

When working with intuition, I always start by checking in with my gut; that is, I concentrate on the area just behind my belly button to see how my sensitivity is reacting to the energy of the person I’m working with. In this case, I experienced a strong feeling of blame and in my mind I saw an all too familiar pattern to which we all fall prey; faced with the negativity of the situation she was blaming herself for everything that had happened. As I searched my intuition for an  answer, suddenly I knew I needed to share one of Aesop’s fables with her; the story of the Scorpion and the Frog.

Turning to her, I asked her if she knew of the story of the Scorpion and the Frog. As she shook her head no, I began to recite the fable.

“A scorpion and frog meet on the bank of a river and the scorpion asks the frog to carry it across the river since the scorpion was unable to swim across. Ever mindful, the frog asks ” What assurance do I have that you won’t sting me as I carry you?”

The scorpion replies; “If I were to sting you, I too would drown”. Satisfied, the frog allows the scorpion to climb on its back as they set across the river, however midstream the frog feels the sting of the scorpion.

“Why are you doing this to me?’ the frog gasps as it grows weaker, knowing that their drowning is imminent.

“Because it is my nature.” the scorpion replies.

Finding Grace When Working With Our Sensitivity

Kira studied my face as I finished speaking. Because intuition can be  accessed through a person’s eyes, I watched  her eyes as I presented the lesson I had  observed through the fable;

“Perhaps your divorce centers around that fact that like the scorpion, your husband’s true nature is to sting causing you both to drown. In every situation there are two sides to the equation; take responsibility for that which is yours but also recognize the true nature of the person you are dealing with.”

As I spoke, I could see awareness register in her her eyes. She understood the lesson and I could feel that over time she would then see how the metaphors contained within the fable could help her understand the experience of her divorce. It wasn’t up to me to teach her those connections within the lesson; instead my role was to lead her to awareness of the lesson itself. To fully understand it, she would need time for contemplation. Only then, would healing begin. Giving her time to do just  that, I  leaned over and gave her a brief hug before walking back to my car.

The following week, Kira came up to me after meditation class. I could feel the question in her eyes before she asked it; “How did you know to share that particular story with me?” It was obvious from her expression that the lesson had hit home with her.

“It’s all about energy or using our sensitivity to perceive the environment around us ” I replied. “We are taught in class that we are all droplets in the same ocean of humanity; perhaps intuition allows us to see beyond the waves.”

I could tell she wasn’t entirely satisfied with that answer. She wanted something concrete to explain how I knew of her husband’s nature which she had never spoken of. However, it has always been hard for me to explain the mystery of Grace; the experience of being in the right place at just the right time in order to bring someone healing through awareness of the bigger picture. Reduced to its purest form,  Grace  is the gift our sensitivity gives others in the face of life’s lessons. As we become proactive in working with our sensitivity, Grace is the foot print left behind for others to follow, as we continue our journey on the paths we travel.

The Emergence Of The Outsiders

From the beginning of time, there have been outsiders.

Who Are Outsiders?

Outsiders are different from everyone else in some way. They are a special group of people who have developed skills and often different cultural models and ideas that put them in a different place compared to the other people around them. If Einstein had been born thousands of years ago into a tribe he would have been an outsider because of his more developed intellectual capabilities.

For a long time now, people have been working on stretching themselves and growing. As a result, many have outgrown the cultural institutions of their societies. This is why we have more and more outsiders and the cause of the clashes between entrenched power and the emerging increasingly empowered masses.

What Are Outsiders Like?

Human development is a process of growing in skill, compassion, and authenticity. Outsiders naturally see themselves differently from others which reflect their journey on their particular path to authenticity. This is how outsiders see themselves:

  • They hate constricting social, religious, and moral institutions, and feel it is their right to speak and act out against them.
  • They also feel justified in flouting an unjust law and not conforming to artificial regulations.
  • They are physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually different from others, and because of this find it hard to fit in.
  • They can see through people’s b——t, and that makes them want to run away from society.
  • Sometimes they resent ‘normal’ people, who were born with opportunities that they don’t have.
  • They would rather overthrow the status quo to allow fresh growth than try to patch things up piece by piece.
  • They respect an authority that allows them to be who they are and understand the gifts they have to offer.
  • Sometimes they think no one really understands them, and no one ever will. They love freedom and need to feel independent and free most of all.
  • Although they can fit into many crowds, they never really feel a part of any of them.
  • They wear many hats but none of them defines them.
  • People may see them as secretive or mysterious, but they are just the way they are– different.
  • By fate or choice, they are attracted to foreign lands, cultures, religions, and values, and have embraced some of these.
  • They have talents and abilities that are not always recognized, and it can be hard to make a living if they do not compromise with society.
  • Their ambitions are somewhat unique, and they have a quirky way of seeing the world.
  • Sometimes they feel lost— they don’t know what their true purpose is, but when they look at others they are reminded what it is not: they can’t conform to somebody else’s lifestyle just for the sake of security, even though they may not have found their own.

Being an outsider is a common experience of highly sensitive people.

Outsiders As Cultural Entrepreneurs

Outsiders are some of the most important people in society. I think of them as cultural entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs see what others miss, what might be and try to make it happen. Entrepreneurship is commonly associated with business but it does not have to be. There are different kinds of outsiders. Some totally shun society like Greta Garbo, others integrate and innovate so that you can hardly know that they are outsiders. Richard Branson comes to mind.

A book I have read recently compares outsiders to the skin of the body: it covers and contains the body but is also outside unlike the heart, brain, and liver. People who are outsiders are often multifunctional, and able to see multiple points of view. They are flexible and open and therefore not dogmatic and rigid. People who are outsiders have “space” for the variety of life of people, beings, and things. By virtue of their natures, they make space for the new to emerge.

The outsider develops when society fails. They see through institutions that would yoke them to a particular ideology or way of life. Outsiders love their freedom.

Nothing new comes into existence without the outsider. There is no innovation or revolution without the outsider’s instigation. Anything that requires radical re-thinking, leaps of imagination, and creative synthesis of many elements is the outsider’s purview. Ruled by the openness of space, there is no ‘where’ outsiders cannot travel, just as there is no experience they cannot have. From the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows, outsiders trek the terrains of the wild and the inner spaces of the soul.

Outsiders are brave people. If they are highly sensitive they are especially brave since being highly sensitive is a challenging path in and of itself. Being an HSP outsider is something to admire and applaud in ourselves because it is how we bring our unique and valuable richness to the world.

NOTE:

Famous outsiders include Brigitte Bardot, Richard Branson, Tim Burton, Albert Camus, George Carlin, Salvador Dali, Johnny Depp, Greta Garbo, Jimi Hendrix, Martin Luther King Jr., Osho/ Rajneesh.

Exerpts from The Dharma Types: Secrets of the 5 Ancient Castes That Will Transform Your Life by Simon Tony Chokoisky.

An Invitation To Intuition

One day, some years back, someone very close to me said in words close to these: You are not very intuitive. I wasn’t ? That came as a complete surprise to me. Is that what she thought? That was completely opposite to how I thought of myself. I thought I was, in fact, very intuitive. And yet, she was right in her way. I had problems making decisions. I had worked at a corporate career that felt wrong for over seven years. I felt chained, confined, miserable. And my personal life lacked any stability or direction.

With a huge amount of effort and inner work, I did get to a place where things started falling into place. I shifted many of my beliefs and worked through many self-harming patterns. And yet, when I looked back, especially to the dark times, times where I felt adrift, I wondered: What had gone wrong? What had happened to my intuition? Shouldn’t it have saved me?

Do You Listen To Your Intuition?

And yet, I do know the answer. The voice was always there. It was I who didn’t listen.

Why do we override this voice? How can we listen to it better? What beliefs hold us back from turning inward to know what we need to do next? These are all questions that feel very important to me now. Answering them can help me tune in to what feels right instead of getting hooked into what merely looks right.

There are some things that I have learnt and am learning about the nature of intuition that might help you too. They might clear the way to a deeper understanding of where you need to go and how to get there:

Many Forms Of Intuition

Our internal lives are such an unknown to many of us that the first thing we might need to learn is to become intimate with our feelings and experiences. Then, we can start seeing that intuition shows up in not one, but many ways. Sometimes, it is a nagging feeling that something is wrong. Sometimes, it is a physical sensation, like the hair rising on our arms or goose bumps. Sometimes, it’s a growing incapacity to take the next step, which warns us that we are making the wrong move.

For me, when I was working at my corporate career, intuition showed up as a loud, incessant voice. Sometimes, my body felt almost physically resistant to going through the motions. And yet, because I overrode my feelings with my intellect, the voice started dying down. It started faltering, became unsure of itself. That’s something to remember about feelings. If you are a person that approaches the world through feelings like I do (I am an INFP), your feelings of things not being right are the best barometer for what is right for you and what is not.

And yet, you might discount your style. There’s no way to validate it to the outside world which might ask you the “rational” reasons for it, which might consider your way of arriving at a conclusion invalid. If you, like me, internalize this and start discounting your own process, you will find yourself adrift. It’s not that your intuition has left you. It’s actually that you have left it. You have turned away from your own voice to listen to the louder voices outside.

What Intuition Is Not

Intuition is hard to pin down. And so, one way we can learn more about it is by learning about all the things that it is not. If we are obsessing about something or have destructive thoughts about harming ourselves or others, that is, most definitely not, intuition. In Sophy Burnham’s book, The Art of Intuition, she talks about this and how the root of the word “intuition” comes from the Latin “teuri,” which means to guard and protect. Our intuition is there to keep us safe from harm. That is its main function.

We also often confuse our intellect with intuition. Burnham gives an example of Joanne, a journalist, who talked to Burnham about her experience of waiting in a doctor’s office. There was only one other waiting patient in the room, but the woman looked so unkempt and repugnant that Joanne couldn’t bring herself to talk to her. But as time passed and she got bored, she did end up talking to this woman. She discovered, to her surprise, that this woman was actually a nuclear physicist. Talking to her was utterly fascinating.

Telling Burnham about this, Joanne thought that this exchange showed that you can’t really trust your intuition. But, in fact, Joanne had based her judgement on her intellect (the things she knew about the woman, the things that were visible to her). Intuition, in contrast, Burnham tells us, is based on information that is unavailable to the intellect. We just know, even though we might not be able to explain exactly how we know.

Understanding Intuitive Discomfort

In Burnham’s book, I came across an example that reminded me of many situations that I have been in. She talks about how she learned to play chess as child, but then gave it up after a few years because she found that her heart started beating so fast during games that she couldn’t think. She felt totally out of control. Her hands would shake. Sometimes, spots would appear before her eyes. Also, she always lost.

Years later, Burnham started playing chess again. Even after all these years, she had the same nervous symptoms, but this time, she recognized something she hadn’t before. These physical manifestations were not blocks, but in fact, signals from her intuition that she was about to make the wrong move! She talks about how this recognition has helped her. “Moreover, now that I’m listening, aware, the symptoms don’t manifest with such virulence. If my heart beats thump! I pause. I breathe. I reexamine the board. My Higher Self knows what my mind can’t yet see: I’m about to make a bad move: there’s another solution to the trap.”

This example might remind you of your own experiences. As sensitive people, we often pick up on things. But we can’t always make rational sense of them. We can start feeling like there is something wrong with us, when in fact, the opposite is true. We are uncomfortable because we are deeply attuned to what is happening, and in the situation that we are in, feeling uncomfortable might be exactly the right feeling to have.

How To Invite Intuition Into Your Life

In her book, Awakening Intuition, Frances E. Vaughan tells us that although we can’t “make” ourselves have intuitive hunches, we can put ourselves in a state of mind that makes intuitive insights more likely to happen. This is the receptive, as opposed to the “doing” state of mind.

One of the exercises in the book that I have tried and found helpful is called Open Focus. It has been developed by Dr Lester Fehmi of the Princeton Medical Center. Instead of focusing attention on just one point (like in many meditation practices), try this instead: Imagine the space between different points in your body. For example, imagine the space between your right knee and your right ankle. Let your attention float over this space and fill it. Then, use other points in your body and repeat this exercise.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. What we are trying to do is to diffuse our attention and let it cover a larger area. This can help reduce anxiety, tension and inhibition. It also helps us lose our preoccupation with time. It makes us feel more expansive, less linear. We are tethering our attention in our bodies, and this full bodied-awareness helps us tap into the wisdom that lies within our deep well.

This emphasis on the body is something that comes up again and again in my research on intuition. As sensitive people, sometimes, we are so inundated by stimuli that we run up into our heads (and remain there). But the best way to be more intuitive is to remain connected with our bodies. Yes, this is easier said than done. But the habits and practices that make us feel “in our bodies” also help us touch the luminous space of intuition.

So, whatever works for you, to let go of excess energy that you might have picked up – exercise, dance, being in nature – do that. This will make it easier to remain present in your body and not run away from it. It will help you access what you already know, deep down inside.

For me, it feels exciting to explore my intuition. Just the intention to take it seriously seems to be making it more accessible. I am learning that it doesn’t need to be hard. In fact, it probably isn’t hard. What’s hard is letting go of the need to know everything in advance. What’s hard is letting go of trying to control everything, and instead listen to the intuitive whispers of my own heart as it takes me deeper into the forest.

I hope you begin your adventure as well. I hope you find, in yourself, all that you need for your journey. I hope that we both learn to trust ourselves.

Quiet by Susan Cain: Book Review

If you haven’t read Susan Cain’s fabulous book, the bestseller Quiet The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, you are missing out.

Susan’s light approachable style takes a challenging subject and makes it accessible. Susan’s book not only explores introversion but also questions the extrovert ideal that dominates the Western world.

Quiet is extremely well researched. Susan Cain draws on medical experts, sociological researchers and experts in the field of introversion and high sensitivity. She also does a masterful job of illuminating the experience and reality of many introverted people including herself to demonstrate the value they offer society.

Most books on the subject of introversion or high sensitivity focus primarily on the psychology of the introvert. The daily living needs and survival challenges of introverts have been under addressed in our culture and many introverts have felt like aliens from another planet unable to navigate the challenges of extrovert values and expectations.

Susan’s book does a wonderful job of juxtapositioning the extrovert and introvert natures and offering perspective on the differences. Although extroverts are more visible in the public domain, it is amazing how many great advances for the human race come from introverts:

  • Rosa Parks
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Bill Gates
  • Warren Buffett
  • Einstein
  • many artists
  • many of the strongest and most effective CEO’s.

Introverts are often the creators and agents of change through their combination of compassion and creativity. They see what others do not which is why an introvert is known for being insightful. Introverts operate deeply and multidimensionally which makes the high-pressure, high-speed competitive economy of Western capitalism antithetical to their natures.

As Susan points out, introverts need to be careful about their career and social choices because their nervous systems require considerable rest. However, she also describes many situations where introverts are able to adopt some extrovert traits when working in a job that they consider a calling. Interestingly introverts make better leaders of self-motivated people.

Susan Cain does a wonderful job of mapping the introvert/extrovert territory giving us the big picture, the research, the wisdom of experts like Dr. Elaine Aron and many examples of people who have successfully mastered the art of living as an introvert in an extrovert world.

As a lifelong introvert, I consider Quiet a must read who anyone wanting insights into introverts, their challenges and value whether you are an introvert, a family member, or a colleague. As many as 1 out of 2 people qualifies as an introvert. Knowing about them is wise. Quiet can only help improve your relationships with these special people.

Sensitive And Powerful: Can You Be Both?

Powerful? Then you can’t be sensitive.

This is the message we receive from the time we are young.

Of course it is based on an idea about strength and power.

So perhaps we need to reexamine these ideas and see if they make any sense.

What Is Power?

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, power comes basically in two forms: personal and institutional:

  • power is the ability to get something done or create an effect of some sort. It is a skill.
  • power can also be assigned as in institutional power. This power is the ability to control. It is the province of rules, roles and laws. Often institutional power is maintained by the prevailing group consciousness in any society which essentially gives it the permission to make the rules and laws that govern everyday life.

These definitions ring true. Power is either acquired through working at developing a skill or through assignment.

Both of these definitions equate power with action:

  • the action of an individual in learning how to do something, and
  • the power of institutions to act to limit the actions of others.

They also have a flaw.

The Flaw In The Definition Of Power

The common definition of powerful is highly affiliated with masculine norms that have defined culturally accepted behavior and they are action oriented ideas about being powerful.

For so long masculine and feminine have been defined as opposites, so the feminine and feminine characteristics have been designated as less attractive and less powerful.

The feminine has been traditionally associated with right brained intuition and which means that being highly sensitive is also associated with being feminine.

“Doing” has been placed on a pedestal. Observing, knowing and intuiting are all listening skills which are generally devalued in a cultural systems that demands action oriented behavior.

A Powerful Distortion

It is interesting that we are still beholden to ancient ideas about the sexes. For all of our advances, we are still perpetuating simplistic ideas about men and women. Unfortunately these ideas have consequences and are not up to the challenges of complex modern societies.

Limited ideas about strength limits our ability to find solutions to our problems – and it is showing.

When we misdefine strength and power we also misdefine what it important and necessary.

If action is a strength then contemplation is not.

If logic is a strength then intuition is not.

If brawn is a strength, compassion is not.

One-sided dualities are inherently limiting.

So How Can Sensitives Be Powerful?

In reality it can be very difficult to break through dualistic ideas about identity and power.

Duality, however, doesn’t work. We certainly see plenty of evidence around us of how duality creates as many problems as it solves because it always leaves out key factors.

That is the opportunity for highly sensitive people.

HSP’s are the great noticers of disconnection of all sorts.

Our awareness is our power. Our challenge is to make our awareness available in the world.

Many of us have experience with resistance to change: sometimes it is ours, often the resistance of others. We know from personal experience that when people are not ready for change we cannot move them to do anything. Our ideas will fall by the wayside because it is not our job to get someone to change.

There are, however, some things we can do.

We can introduce ideas that someone might not have thought of.

We can show how a new approach can be successful by talking about innovative successes.

We can show how a positive view of humanity is worth considering because of our own experiences.

We can show how going too fast causes us to miss important factors that eventually lead to unnecessary failure.

We can help others see the benefits of going slowly and carefully.

We do not need to change the world.

We can open the door a crack and let in some fresh ideas. Perhaps someone will consider those ideas today or in the future.

All we have done is introduce some new possibilities.

That is powerful.

And it is powerful enough.