Hot sun rays squeezed juicy scents from the mangos and papayas and sent them swirling into the air, and up my nostrils.
A man played the guitar for change, vendors melodiously announced prices, street dogs nonchalantly brushed up against me as we weaved our way through the bustling crowd, decorated in their Sunday best, sprayed with their expensive perfumes. I felt mother tug me close to her, my sweaty hand in hers, as we passed the dusty beggars, uncomfortably settled on the cobblestone road, their skinny hands outstretched toward me, weighing heavily on my heart.
Later that day my mother found me in my room, sitting alone against the wall, a sheet draped over my head like a veil, my hand outstretched, my head bowed. I had internalized the beggars suffering as my own. I sought to understand it. I sought to find an explanation for pain in their eyes. I ached to find a solution for their hurts.
I am told I remained that way for long stretches of time, after each visit to the outdoor market. My mother insists that the first time she found me like this, I was only three years old. Just tall enough to be directly at eye level with the pleading eyes of beggars, which I can still remember.
And then there were the live chickens: tied together by their feet and mercilessly dangling in the hot sun until someone picked one out for dinner. I remember staring into a basket full of chicken heads when I was a little girl. Their eyes still open. Their headless bodies running around the market, wings flapping wildly, like feathered zombies.
By the time I entered adolescence, my diet reflected all the times I had listened to animals being slaughtered at the public market. Sometimes their screams squeezed my torso so hard I could hardly breathe. Their agony had automatically become my own. How could the others just walk by the butcher shops as easily as they would a clothing shop? Laughing and talking as if no pain was being inflicted. My childhood mind could not grasp this. Didn’t they feel it?
“Oh! You’re just too sensitive!” people would tell me, or “Toughen up!”
Eventually I realized that my sensitive nature seemed to hold negative stigma, so I learned to keep my perceptions to myself most of the time. Finding another sensitive person who could relate to my views was a rare treat. But who exactly determines what’s “too sensitive” and what isn’t? I questioned why society saw my sensitivities as a negative. It’s almost as if they were telling me that the way I experienced life was somehow wrong. But my way of being was who I was. And, as a little girl, I saw myself doing many things with it!
I wanted to be a magical healer when I grew up, because I automatically tuned into people’s pain. I was eager to be a dancer because music could never contain me, and sent me moving with each note. I was drawn to become a firefighter, because the big, loud fire engines excited me and fueled me with a sense of urgency. I saw myself as a vet because I was convinced I could speak the language of animals. And I definitely imagined myself a mystical sorceress, because as a little girl I was absolutely convinced I could communicate with the deceased. Then there was my love for baking. Life was so yummy and full of arousing options!
Every one of us wants to be deliciously aroused in one way or another.
We want life to awaken us, stir us, stroke us, and stimulate us just enough to delight in our existence, and not so much that we’re overwhelmed by it. We thirst for stimulation from the time we are born. Not too much and not too little, but just the perfectly balanced amount that will twirl us in a dance of experiences and growth. My mother tells me I was an unsually astute toddler with an endless capacity for exploration and inquiry. I felt the world beckoning to me. Life’s an endless playground out there and it’s calling our name!
Playtime is about perception. Those who are aware of more stimulants in their environment will naturally have an expansive state of perception. Two people may be in the same situation, receiving the same stimulation, but they way they experience it, and how aroused their nervous system becomes by it, could be whole galaxies apart!
How much of life are you awakened to?
Recent neurological research has discovered that some of us, (about 15 to 20%, to be exact), are more sensitive to the world around us than the rest. We move through life with a more pronounced state of awareness, and depth of experience. We are easily aroused by the subtleties in our surroundings, such as changing moon phases, ocean tides, shifting weather patterns, magnetic fields, sonic frequencies and the migration of animals, insects and birds, to name a few.
We are also more attuned to the activities in our own bodies such as imbalances, breath patterns, heart rate, digestion, muscle tension and sexual arousal. As well as being more active in our dreams, our fantasy life, memories, imaginations and especially, our intuition. Possibly, the most common way to detect us is that we are extremely empathetic to the feelings of others, including animals, almost as if they were our own. Sometimes it can all be very overwhelming and exhausting!
Being born with heightened sensitivity can become our greatest asset or our worst liability, depending on how we relate to it.
Although most most of contemporary society is structured in such a way that being extra sensitive can sometimes feel like a curse, ancient cultures recognized it as a special gift, and they admired and valued those who possessed it as special guides.
Take the test:
If you can relate to six or more of the case scenarios below, (or parallel ones you imagine in your mind), you are probably among the 20% of the population that has been gifted with this heightened level of sensitivity:
1. While others usually interact socially with many people at surface levels, you prefer to connect with just a handful of people but at very deep and meaningful levels.
2. While some merely watch movies, you participate in them on an emotional level nearly akin to the characters themselves, and use the ending credits after movies to transition from the world on the screen, back into the world around you. Oh! And did I mention we always bring tissues?
3. While others seem to move through public education with no problem, you feel oddly out of your element restricted by the ringing bells, the buzzing florescent lights, the deadlines on assignments, the superimposed pace, the lack of creativity.
4. While some may only notice the “lovely” sounds of birds, you can’t help but to decipher the tone of the bird calls and realize that they are not lovely at all, but distress calls, in which a larger bird is targeting the fledgelings of another for its next meal!
5. While others can enter a room without having its details faze them, you notice everything from the stain on the left curtain panel, to the cooking smells from the previous meal, the texture of the couch upholstery, its temperature, lighting, how close the traffic sounds are, and any residue tension lingering in the air from the argument that transpired in the room before you even entered it.
6. While others can run with the monotonous rat race at urban speed, through multiple tasks, rush hour traffic, complaining bosses and many co-workers, day after day, year after year, your constitution is more suited to working at your own pace, in peaceful surroundings, or you may become rattled.
7. While most will just walk by a crying child being ignored by its mother in a supermarket cart without incident, you feel your heart beating faster as you’re compelled to relieve it of its discomfort.
8. While most people can go from work, to shopping, to socializing in a single day without even blinking an eye, you find yourself needing to pace yourself and take time to recharge in between stimulating activities or events.
9. While most people can rush through an art museum ingesting one work after another in a short amount of time, you prefer to take time to absorb the essence of each piece at a more gradual, thorough pace, usually involving connecting with the emotional make up and mind-set of each artist.
10. While most people can go through lovers like fashion styles, your erotic encounters are whole person experiences with someone you love, leaving you feeling as if the whole room is spinning, and in need of recovery time from your intense lovemaking before you can participate fully in the next activity.
If you are gifted with a heightened sensitivity, remember that most of the world is designed for those who do not have this personality trait. But please don’t let that silence you!
If you ever felt as if you did not fit in, remember that there is nothing wrong with the way you are. We are the privileged minority! And although we may not always be welcomed or facilitated by most of the modern world’s structures, we compose most of the creative quotient on the planet, for we are always inventing new ways to go against the grain. And all life thrives on creativity!
People with heightened levels of sensitivity are often found designing our own alternative lifestyles, or innovating new approaches to living.
We aim to surround ourselves with others who will respect our sensitive nature, and not try to change it. Tribal cultures view us as their spiritual guides, and humanity’s doorway to the mysteries of the universe. As Marie-Louise Von Franz, who worked closely with Jung once mentioned:
“On a primitive level the highly sensitive is the shaman, who knows what the gods and ghosts and ancestral spirits are planning, and who conveys their messages to the tribes….these sensitive ones know about the slow process that goes on in the collective unconscious.”
In Elaine. N Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person, she writes about how today, rather than becoming our tribe’s prophets and seers, we are the the world’s poets, inventors, artists, musicians, and dancers!
The highly sensitive are the wild and the wise. We are the rebels and radicals and revolutionaries. We are the visionaries who can glimpse the future. We are so many things to so many people, probing generally unnoticed areas and returning with our findings. And as Von Franz says, though we may be misunderstood by our peers, we will most likely be recognized by “later generations, as a representation of what was going on in the collective unconscious at that time.” Life honors us!
So, you who ingests life at a whole other level of awareness, who we find in well-stocked libraries, and rescuing dogs from shelters, and in meditation rooms or tending to organic gardens as the sun peeks over the horizon. You who volunteers for human rights organizations, and who forgets to eat you are so consumed by your latest art project, and notices the spider web that appeared in your favorite tree from one day to another. You modern day shaman, who navigates through life to your own tune, gently, conscientiously, and as gracefully as possible (as long as our adrenals kick in when we need them most!). You beautiful, sensitive soul: Just feel free to be yourself, without apologizing.
Life needs you. So much!
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