As the naked rocks gather in the night
A summer mason chisels the blackest, the smoothest,
Being an HSP (Highly sensitive person) I often end up in situations where I feel overwhelmed or stressed out. I think this goes for most HSPs, but not all of us know how to recognize the “symptoms” telling us to slow down and have a time-out. I have been, and still often am, one of those who feel the aftermath of such situations like an emotional hangover hitting my body full on like a case of PTS (Post-traumatic stress).
I am brought up in a culture where emotions are something you should learn from an early age to control. Showing especially negative emotions is considered to be selfish as it becomes awkward for the person who has to deal with it, and emotional people are considered to be either overly dramatic or weak. I will go as far as to say that showing distress is considered to be rude. Being tough is a highly regarded virtue, which basically just means not showing any emotions, especially not weak ones like fear and insecurity. This, to say it mildly, is not an ideal environment for an HSP to grow up in. But I think many HSPs are forced to do just that.
It is hard to shake this way of thinking, even when you know that it does not work for you. Being polite, putting other people first, not being a burden, are all qualities we admire and like in each other, but being highly sensitive, especially if you are also an empath (someone with heightened empathy), we can take this to the extreme, thinking that just a simple “no, thank you” or “I am a little busy, can we reschedule?” is equal to being rude. Many of us are so tentative and caring towards others that we erase ourselves completely. And why do we do that? Because all of us, when going on autopilot, assumes that everyone else is like us. Well, they are not. How many of us haven’t been completely surprised when a friend we have spent half our life helping refuses to help us when we truly need them and finally dare to ask? That is not to say that everyone who is not an HSP are selfish. Perhaps it was just a bad time, or perhaps they just didn’t feel competent enough to help with that particular problem. Most people think it is okay to say no, and would not have any problem if you said no to them.
But we don’t really do that do we? Say no. And then we get in over our heads. Being overwhelmed is a typical HSP problem. For an HSP a job interview or a party with lots of strangers can invoke the same feeling of sensory overstimulation as a culture shock for a non-HSP. It is sometimes just too much. But if you, like me, have been brought up to smile and be polite, those emotions might be so strongly suppressed that they will not rise to the surface until after the overwhelming situation is over. It works the same way as PTS. When you are in the “dangerous” situation you remain completely cool and calm, but then when it is over and your body relaxes again the fear comes out. I call this an emotional hangover. An emotional hangover works a little bit the same way as any other hangover, my body is aching, my head is aching and I feel exhausted, spent and tired. I especially feel it in my eyes, I get tired eyes, as though they want to shut out the world, but I can’t sleep because I feel restless and I have a hard time focusing on anything. It feels the same way as when you are on an airport trying to read, there is so much going on and your body is on so high alert that you can’t process a word your reading, it just becomes meaningless letters. For years I thought there was something wrong with me because I used to get these emotional hangovers all the time, not knowing why. I was so disconnected in the stressful situations that I did not really register them as a stressful because “normal” people did not get stressed in such situations. I could even get these hangovers after being around people who talked a lot. The worst part started for me when I got my first fulltime job. I was forced to be on full alert for 8 hours in a go, and after a month of this my body just stopped cooperating. I was so weak I couldn’t even stand up, but I still wanted to be “a good girl” so I was forced-sent to the doctor by my colleagues. The diagnosis was acute exhaustion or simply “burnt out”. This came as a shock to me. I had only worked for a month and in a “normal” low stress job! I felt like a loser. I felt weak, and I didn’t dare tell anyone in my family about my failure to cope with normal adult life. I tried working a full time job three times. But the same thing kept happening, so I came to the difficult conclusion that a fulltime job was just too much for me. I thought maybe I had some kind of weird disorder.
It took my years before I figured out that I was highly sensitive. Funny in a way because I had always known that I had strong emotions and very alert senses. One thing I had always been told was that I had extremely good hearing. This I later found out was auditory sensitivity. No wonder I had been so afraid of balloons as a little girl! Learning that I was highly sensitive was not really a light-bulb moment that fixed everything and led to an immediate new self-awareness. It took time, and I am still adjusting. But now I don’t blame myself so much for feeling the way I do and I try my best to avoid certain situations I know will lead to overstimulation and emotional hangovers. But it isn’t easy. I still cringe when I have to do things that makes me feel like a burden. I mean, it took my years before I dared to press the service button on the airplane to ask for another glass of wine! I remember my heart racing and sweat appearing on my forehead the first time I did it.
I have learned some remedies though. But most of them are not quick fixes. It requires me to actually speak up and dare to say out loud what I need. I am still struggling with that. And I still get emotional hangovers. But there are some things that help, like holding the hand of a loved one who truly understands me (I call this borrowing energy) when I am in overwhelming situations, going for walks in nature like in a forest or by the sea, listening to soothing sounds like ocean waves, soft wind playing in the leaves, or bird twitter. Being around animals can also give relief, as long as it is stable and calm animals not an anxious dog barking frantically or a cat in hunting mode using you as target practice. A lot of therapists claims that talking about the stressful situations helps to ease the stress, but that doesn’t always work for me. Recognizing what caused the stress and why, is important as a self-awareness lesson, but once I have done that I don’t want to re-leave the situation over and over again. I mean that is pretty much what is the problem. So I have found that the best relief for me is in art. When using an artistic expression like drawing, painting, writing etc. I can access the emotions on a subconscious level and bring them out of myself so to speak. There is no need to compose or plan here, just letting the writing, or the painting, do its own creating freed from the rational mind is the best thing.
Being highly sensitive certainly has its challenges! I know that my life choices will always be unconventional and maybe not even accepted by many, but they are my choices and what is best for me, so I need to stand by them. I know that many people will think of me as weak, and childish and somewhat of a pushover. I know that I definitely will never live up to the new ideals for women such as “badass” and “boss”. But that is just not who I am. I know that many people will think avoiding certain situations is being a coward and that I should face my fears and just get over myself, but these people are not highly sensitive and have no idea what they are talking about. Thankfully, being and HSP has more gifts than drawbacks. I know that my creativity, imagination, spirituality, artistic talents, kindness and generosity all come from being an HSP. My capacity to observe, understand and find deeper meaning would not be the same if I did not have highly alerted senses. I know that I can see beauty that other people cannot see and grasp meanings that others will overlook. I would not be me if I was not an HSP. And the kindest sweetest people I know are all highly sensitive.
The lesson for those of us who are highly sensitive are the same as everyone else: Learn to know yourself and shape your life accordingly. We just don’t quite fit into the traditional mold. But that is okay. In my experience, when we are open about who we are and speak from the heart, a lot of people will actually respond by revealing sides of themselves that they would normally not show or talk about, and such openness leads to more tolerance and less prejudice.
So let us all practice being more of ourselves, to talk about, and show, our uniqueness, and be respectful and mindful of those who are different from ourselves. And if you are an HSP like me, be kind to yourself, dare to speak up about your needs, ask for help, ask for understanding, make the right choices for YOU even if it upsets others, you deserve to be happy and fulfilled just as much as everyone else. There are many of us out there just like you and we are rooting for you!
A while ago I wrote a piece on the soul and what the soul is. (You can read that piece here) In this article I want to talk about how we can find the voice of the soul and learn to let it guide us. My views are of course entirely my own and I share them to inspire, not to preach.
We have all heard it being said: Listen to your heart/gut feeling, follow your instincts, etc. But what does that really mean? To follow your heart or the feeling in your gut can be easily interpreted as following your emotions, as it is in the stomach and in the heart (here I mean the actual organ) we often feel things like fear and excitement first. Following your instincts is a little trickier. Our instincts are our survival instincts, the guidelines provided to us by nature in order to live and thrive and survive, these instincts are often the driving force of the ego which is, I have to say, not always a negative thing, but can lead to a less compassionate outcome. Some people also talk about the intuition, that mystic force that forewarns us about danger and gives us a good feeling about a positive outcome before it has happened. One can argue that the intuition is closely related to our moral sense, our values, life goals and desired achievements. But perhaps I am being too pragmatic here. My point is just that not all such life advice or guidelines are connected to the soul. They have more to do with moral, emotional health and life goals.
When we attempt to find the voice of our soul, or our eternal selves, we need to abandon our ego completely. We cannot try to influence the inner sounds by wishing for something to happen, or logically analyzing an event or occurrence. We have to try to stop thinking within the limitations of time and space and solid matter. It will feel a bit like reading between the lines without attempting to do just that. Yeah, I know, it sounds very cryptic. Let’s try using some examples.
When you look at a piece of art, for example an abstract painting, many times something vague, like a feeling you can’t quite put into words, might awaken in you. The same goes for a poem written using one or many metaphors. It might not appeal to your rational self, but if you are open to it it will still awaken something in you, something you can’t quite grasp, but it is still strongly present. An example is Zen poetry. Zen poems are mystic and often irrational, yet holds within something so vast that it will tickle your sense of eternity and enormity. It is a riddle where the answer cannot be comprehended by logic or “common sense” and hence it attempts to steer you away from this way of thinking.
Surrealism is another perfect example of such a means of communication. A surrealist painting breaks free from the bonds of conventional form and creates a completely senseless world where nothing follows the laws of physics, yet there is something there; a coded message just for you that you might not be able to fully understand, but it moves you and gently nudges you in a new direction. And such is the voice of the soul.
The Hindu god Krishna says in one verse in the puranas that none of us need a teacher to teach us anything. All the answers we need is right here in front of us if we only learn to see with the right eyes. He is talking about the natural world. When you look at a tree, do you only see a tree with leaves, bark, trunk, roots etc. or do you see something more hidden within the form that you have learned to call tree? Is a sunset just a beautiful scene where the sun moves away from your part of the world and rises in another? As poets, as artists, as musicians we learn to put these contemplations into words, images and rhythms, hoping that they will inspire others to see those hidden motions too.
When we learn to hear this silent movement, to grasp the vast vagueness within, our life opens up to a whole other dimension. We are moved by secrets we take joy in keeping secret, by quests without solutions and pilgrimages without sacred destinations, we learn to open doors others cannot see and delight in finding another door behind the first one. When we move through the world with this awareness it is like moving in two worlds simultaneously, one concrete and visible world and one shadow world.
To bring this back to earth a little…have you ever prayed for something or wished for something so hard you feel like all your happiness depends on it coming true? For instance, becoming an artist or an actor, or finding love, or moving to another country. Have you ever tried to listen to an answer? Not an answer given in words, but a wordless one, a vague sense of something that may or may not manifest into a metaphorical answer? Your desire will almost always have two sides to it. To put it into a more concrete and comprehensible answer, ask yourself this: Why do you want to become an actor? Why do you feel like you need to find a romantic partner? Listen to the silence within. Perhaps it has to do with needing to feel loved more than it has to do with romance. Perhaps it is not about acting but about your need to be seen or to express yourself. Perhaps you want to be a writer not because you love words, but because you feel you have something important to say? Perhaps you want to move away because you want to discover new sides to yourself? Even beyond these answers there is another door, another truth, more tunnels to follow.
Living with the awareness of this depth or this shadow world is not only inspiring and exciting it also makes you more flexible and makes happiness more obtainable. You learn to find purpose in everything, even watching a flower open its petals or the sound of waves crashing upon the shore. It will also expand your artistic and creative horizon, inspiring you to always look just a little further when you hear a piece of music or study a painting or read a poem.
Learning to find the voice of your soul is hearing eternity whisper back to you, it is about gaining access to your soul-memory, the memory that goes all the way back to creation and even beyond that, it is about always being on a pilgrimage without a destination, a pilgrimage that did not start with the birth of your body and will not end when your body’s journey is over.
Who nailed my life to the night sky?
Who made me a watchtower of naked light
In the middle of the black sea ?
With memories frozen into my face since dawn
and words rumbling like thunder among unfearing stars.
I am like that stranded boat on a snowy winter beach.
Without luggage, without pilling threads
I collect deconstructed rubies like red stormlights
From fishing trawlers.
How everything must wander so nonchalantly
Through me I question
Not just the traces of you, but the entire debris
Of unfearing stars
Shattering in the enormity of the sun.
I am sky; absent clouds shifting,
Bright dusk arising or descending,
Roaring quietly, but deeply and eternally
Birthing stars from darkness and
Obscuring galaxies into oblivion.
Like a sea of torrential consciousness
My awareness is illuminated by death.
I am emptiness; inhabiting;
Without space for nothing,
I am; availability; the taking
And making of matters,
A steeply elusive discus
Releasing at the precise millisecond
Of maximum thrust.
I am; a consistently integrated ambition,
clustering unlimited sub-selves
With a secret objective.
I am; impossible opportunity,
Bright darkness burning,
A moonlit sun and wind;
Unmoving wind tearing holes
In the moving of space.
I am; vision; reinvigorated
By the opposition, I spread through
Spinning slowly, enfolding
In art, biology, science.
I am; the invisible you,
The nothing and everything