“To be happy, you need to love yourself!’ How often we hear that, but what the heck does it mean? And is it even possible? In today’s 6-minute video I address these questions on two levels: the personal and the spiritual. If you’d like to get support from me on this kind of issue in the company of like-minded others, read more about the new free monthly teleseminar series starting February 7.
On New Year’s Eve day we hiked near Lake Ontario at Durand Eastman Park, winding between frozen ponds dusted with snow. One pond after another was crisscrossed by fox tracks, and I took this as a kind reminder going in to the New Year: the fox is my old friend and highly-valued HSP guru.
We made our acquaintance years ago in a vivid dream. I have a copy on my reference shelf of Animal-Speak, Ted Andrews’ wonderful book about bird and animal totems, so I pulled it out. In the seven pages of fascinating fox information I found there, these lines sprang out at me: [Read more…]
An HSP friend recently asked me, “How can I tell if I’m alone because I really need downtime, or because I’m isolating myself from other people? Will you write an article about that?”
This is a such an important question! It captures a central challenge of being highly sensitive. How “in” or “out” do I want to be? Where’s the balance? Is there a balance to be had?! If I’m “in,” do I know why I’m “in”? Is my “why” a healthy one? [Read more…]
Today I’m inspired to share with you one rose and three pieces of music.
Why share? There’s a lot of pain and fear in the world these days. To contribute to peace we need to support each other keeping our hearts open and our spirits up. This is even more important if you happen to be highly sensitive.
On a more mundane level, I’m sure I’m not the only one who could use a dose of uncomplicated beauty amid the deluge of year-end donation requests!
I chose these three pieces because they touch me so deeply. They move me to tears. When I cry, I know my heart is open, and I can access my compassion, my creativity, my intuition and my best energy. [Read more…]
During graduate school I had a series of nightmares in which people I knew and loved turned on me and tried to kill me. I didn’t understand the dreams until much later, but for the first time it dawned on me that a message was struggling to get through, and that I needed to take it seriously.
So I committed myself to learn the language of my dreams. I discovered my “dream director” has a wicked sense of humor, a taste for groaner puns and an eye for vivid metaphors. I also learned that if I ignore her, she will send a nightmare to get my attention.
But she never wastes my time. Even dreams that appear fragmented, trivial, or irrelevant contain useful insights once I figure out how to interpret them. My dreams have become a prized source of wisdom and guidance. [Read more…]
I’ve written a lot here about HSP self care. And yes, to thrive, we need our sleep. We need a sturdy personal infrastructure. And we need exercise, healthy food, ample time to recharge, and safe, effective ways to do our deep processing.
But I haven’t written about the serious pitfall that comes with this: we can get so attached to our self care that it becomes an additional source of stress. We try to control our environment—or ourselves—and when we can’t, we get stressed about being stressed. We’re in a hall of mirrors. [Read more…]
This weekend my partner and I took a day to “play” in the gorgeous fall weather. We hiked at a park near here, lined up with the crowd at a popular orchard to buy fresh doughnuts and apples, and drove further into the country to visit a beautiful arboretum where the dahlias are still in full bloom.
After five hours out and about, much of it in the sun, I noticed my energy dropping. My mental outlook shifted subtly but surely from, “We’re having an adventure!” to, “This feels a bit like an endurance contest…”
In the past, I used to ignore the onset of fatigue and overstimulation. As a result, I’d push through then out of gas completely. Now I know better: whether I’m sightseeing in a foreign city, meeting 1:1 for several hours in a row with clients, or just out playing with my partner, I can add hours more fun to my day (or evening) if I take a brief pause to restore my energy. [Read more…]
I set out for Michigan on September 23, a bit worried about the long drive as this was my first solo adventure in a while. But it was great: I got to listen to Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on CD for nine hours straight each way, guilt-free—yay! Then, in an impressive display of self-control, I hit the pause button long enough to attend the 32nd annual five-day HSP Gathering in Fennville.
Fennville is a small town close to the southeast shoreline of Lake Michigan. It’s a lovely area with fields full of sunflowers, raspberries, blueberries, pumpkins, and grapes, and it is home to the Sundance Center, where Ulla Frederiksen, her co-teacher Penny, and her herd of five horses practice equine-assisted therapy—a special feature of this Gathering.
I knew that Jacquelyn Strickland would be co-hosting the Gathering with Ulla, that we’d be spending a whole day with Ulla’s horses, and that we didn’t need to know how to ride. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect—from the horses, or from the Gathering itself. [Read more…]
How do you handle your most intense feelings? Are you able to keep them company when they come up, or do you feel swamped, like they are “taking over?”
Intense feelings are a regular feature of my emotional landscape as a sensitive person. For every-day events and feelings, a certain level of Presence within myself is sufficient, but I find it challenging to stay grounded in my body when intense emotions come up.
Happily, I’ve found a reliable way to create industrial-strength Presence: a body-grounding lead-in. In Focusing, we use the term “lead-in” to describe a series of suggestions that help create Presence in ourselves. This is helpful for any kind of inner work.
In this video, I take you through a lead-in I learned from Focusing-oriented psychotherapist and teacher Glenn Fleisch.* I have made some of the language my own, but the structure and principal content are entirely his. Thank you, Glenn, for your permission to share this. [Read more…]
I wish I could say I’ve never had an ugly, unforgivable thought or feeling. But I have had them. One memorable example: during an overwhelmingly stressful period with my ex-husband, I caught myself wishing my daughter had never been born.
I felt like a swimmer watching a hideous creature rising from the depths. Were these my true feelings, surfacing at last? Even if they weren’t, didn’t my very ability to think such a thought make me a terrible mother? Even worse, how would my daughter feel if she knew I was thinking this? [Read more…]
It’s common wisdom that sensitive people seek solitude to recharge. But is solitude always our best strategy when we are upset or over-aroused? In this 6-minute video, Emily takes a closer look at three reasons we get overloaded as HSP’s, along with different strategies that are most helpful in each of these situations.
Elaine Aron, who literally wrote the book about high sensitivity, defines two essential life tasks we must complete as sensitive people to feel happy and fulfilled. One is to accept ourselves despite our significant differences from the majority of people. The other is to heal pain we carry if we were not understood and supported in childhood.
As a sensitive person, I’ve found Focusing partnership to be my most important tool as I work on these tasks. A good therapist is essential for many of us, and Focusing partnership is a particularly good fit for us for three reasons: [Read more…]
My partner and I came around a corner and nearly stepped on this baby rabbit —he was that close. Who can resist a baby rabbit? His fur looked so soft…but I held still, not wanting to scare him off.
Our rabbit-human interaction reminded me what it’s like to approach touchy, jumpy, tender places inside. In fact, in Focusing classes we sometimes visualize meeting a shy animal in the woods: it’s a lovely way to evoke the qualities of Presence you need in order to hold raw, vulnerable feelings.
There are three essential steps to this process of “being with” your inner rabbits, and the real rabbit encounter makes them easy to see: [Read more…]
Boundary-setting is a skill I learned the hard way! By “boundary-setting,” I mean the art of being honest with yourself and others about what you need and what you are and aren’t willing to do.
In this 9-minute video I share the story of a series of stressful household moves I went through fifteen years ago. During that time, I came to three key realizations about the relationship between boundaries, acceptance and control. And I saw how my happiness depended on my ability to put into action what I had learned:
When we bought our house, we didn’t know it was a five-star groundhog resort, complete with deck refuge and salad bar—our garden. My beloved partner Duke has been the long-suffering CEO of a groundhog relocation service ever since.
Last week he stepped out back to find the Havahart trap occupied, but not by a groundhog. This time, two baby skunks had succumbed to the lure of organic kale and sliced cabbage.
Moments later, two concerned siblings and their mother showed up—an alarmingly adorable swirl of bright eyes and plumed black and white tails. We had what the dictionary calls “a surfeit of skunks!” [Read more…]
I worked incredibly hard over many years to win a principal oboe job. Ultimately, I failed at that goal. But along the way, the effort itself became a spiritual practice.
In this 9-minute companion video to the article, Chronically dissatisfied with yourself? You may be setting the wrong goals, I I describe how this slew of rejections gave me a new understanding of the nature of goals and how they can set us up for satisfaction and happiness or for frustration and misery. [Read more…]
I can’t deny I’m a perfectionist. But that word fails to evoke the painful lived experience: a nagging feeling that I should have known better, done better, done more.
Whatever you call that mindset, it has a key symptom: a chronic sense of dissatisfaction with yourself.
When I’m in that “should/shouldn’t” frame of mind, I compare my every action and decision to an ideal. And my reality never measures up. I even judge my own thoughts, and scarily, this feels normal and natural: “Well of course I’m not happy with this! I should have done better!” [Read more…]
If you experience low moods like many sensitive people, you’ll appreciate the way “wonder questions” can shift your state of mind right on the spot. And whatever mood you are in, wonder questions are an elegant, powerful tool to access your creativity.
In this video I go into more depth about the “why” and “how” of wonder questions, building on the article, How to pack a Focusing session into two short words.
At certain moments, I start to feel like this clam. Clamped shut, closed for business, knee-deep in a field of tidal muck that stretches into the visible distance.
That’s when I turn to my handy short list of self-excavation tools. It’s amazing how much even a change of position can shift your perspective. It also helps to say hello in a Focusing way to something in me that feels overwhelmed or stuck.
But then what? I’ve moved, I’ve said hello…but what if I don’t have time to sit down and Focus? Today I want to share with you a strategy you can use anywhere, anytime, in any company. It is quick. It is startlingly effective. And it will put you into the curious, open attitude of Focusing, even if you’ve never studied Focusing. [Read more…]
I’ve been thoughtful lately about my responsibility as a citizen—a citizen who happens to be a sensitive person.
Deep reflection is one of the attributes all sensitive people share. It manifests in a variety of ways: vivid dreams, a search for meaning in all areas of life, a discomfort with small talk…and a capacity for deep empathy.
This deep empathy manifests not just on the personal level, but on the social and global levels. Of late I experience it as chronic unease about the well-being of this country. [Read more…]
When I first laid eyes on this dress—one of forty haute couture ensembles from the 1960’s to the 2000’s, featured in the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit—I laughed out loud at the sheer audacity of the design.
Some of the looks were lavish, like the floor-length coat made of multicolored strips of mink. Others were slyly humorous: a slinky navy blue floor-length gown with silvery beads of “water” cascading down the back from a beaded shower head. And some were simply outrageous, like this beaded explosion.
Some of the designers were already famous. Others were unknown at the time. But they all had one thing in common: they clearly weren’t afraid to express themselves in public. Or if they were, they had overcome their fear with flying colors. [Read more…]
My mind is relishing a buffet of topic options after writing about Focusing partnership for six weeks. Today’s winner: what it’s like having a chainsaw for a brain.
We had a spectacular, terrible ice storm here in 1991. In the days that followed, chainsaw blades growled and whined as the city ground crews cut up the hundreds of beautiful old trees that blocked the streets. [Read more…]
Flocks of Canada geese often pass honking over our neighborhood. They inspire me to think about effort and mutual support.
Their V-shaped flight formation is a miracle of natural technology. Each goose takes a turn leading the formation. Each wingtip creates a vortex of air upon which the next goose can ride, like a glider on an updraft.
Do play an instrument or sing? Draw, paint, or sculpt? Write prose or poetry or drama? Make quilts, fashion furniture, take beautiful photographs? Cultivate a garden?
Most sensitive people are creative or artistic. You are keenly attuned to beauty and subtlety. You feel things intensely. And your style of thinking runs both deep and wide. How can you not be creative?
But creativity goes beyond noticing, feeling, and pondering. When you create, you interact with the thing you are creating. In fact, you go through these three steps: [Read more…]
In the chaotic year after I left my marriage, I put my oboe on the shelf. I worked as a sort of Girl Friday for an arts organization. One day a co-worker looked at me kindly and remarked, “You wear your heart on your sleeve, don’t you!”
I was mortified. I wanted to be professional and discrete. But my face blew my cover. It broadcast my emotions like a TV screen with weather updates rolling across the bottom: “Severe emotional weather advisory! Grief mixed with overwhelm and a 20% chance of tears from now until 6 pm…”
I’ve had a recurring dream over the past twenty years. My vacation in Hawaii is over. I’m driving my rental car back to the airport. And suddenly I’m stricken by a terrible realization.
I forgot to go to the beach.
I wake up crying inconsolably. If you’ve seen the white sand and the turquoise water of Lanikai Beach, you understand why. It’s no wonder you often spot a bumper sticker in Hawaii that reads, “Ho hum..another day in paradise…”
I was lucky enough to live in Hawaii for five years. Yet to this day I torment myself with the question, “Why, why did I not spend more time at the beach?!” [Read more…]
Being sensitive means you feel things deeply. As we discussed last week, Focusing builds confidence in your ability to stay with intense emotions.
But there’s a paradox here. Yes, skilled company can help you “be with” yourself in a transforming way. Yet many sensitive people are reluctant to express strong emotions in front of others. It doesn’t feel safe.
Can you be sensitive, be in relationship, and be yourself? The answer is “Yes!” Here are three powerful ways Focusing partnership can help you on the path. [Read more…]
When I was a kid, my grandfather taught my sister and me how to paddle and steer our red canoe. He had just one condition: if we wanted to venture out of his sight, we had to capsize the canoe then figure out how to get it back to the dock.
His big worry was drowning, but I had my own reasons to avoid going overboard: I dreaded the horrible things I knew were lurking under the deep water, waiting to grab an ankle or bite off a toe. [Read more…]
“If I had my s— together, I’d never feel despair.” Or so I tell myself. If that’s true, I definitely don’t have my s—together. I’m a happy person…and sometimes I experience despair.
Should I hit “delete” and retreat to a safer topic? Perhaps. But experience tells me I am not alone in feeling this. If you have not yet accepted your sensitivity, you too may know despair firsthand. [Read more…]
When my daughter was a tiny baby I carried her everywhere in a cloth sling close to my chest. She slept contentedly, curled up and out of sight, while I grocery shopped.
All this changed when she hit the ripe old age of five months and developed an interest in the outside world. So one day when we got to the store, I decided to let her “ride” sitting up and facing outwards—and wide awake. [Read more…]
I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It’s amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor.
—D. H. Lawrence
Last June my partner and I made pin cherry jelly. We picked the sweet, glossy fruit from the majestic old tree in our yard, sampling as we went, then boiled it, skimmed it, pressed out the juice, thickened it, and poured the ruby liquid into jars. It made us both ridiculously happy, and that’s before we even got to the jelly-eating part.
D. H. Lawrence is onto something important here. If you would no more can a fruit than rope a calf, no worries: that’s not the point. This is about leaving off thinking of the future in order to do something practical, tangible, and above all, physical. [Read more…]
I know too well what it feels like to wake up anxious: to feel nameless dread sitting on my chest like some heavy animal and to try to will myself back to sleep because I don’t want to be awake. I first had that experience as a teenager and it went on for so many years that I thought that was how life was.
If you experience this, my heart goes out to you. I’m happy to tell you that it can change. I almost never wake feeling that way any more, and when I do, I know what to do. This article is the first in a series of four this month about handling anxiety and its close cousin, worry. [Read more…]
Last week I shared Jacquelyn Strickland’s five stages of cultural awareness for sensitive people.
If you disparage or deny your sensitivity (Stages One and Two) you know first-hand how painful it is. To reject a trait you were born with is to reject your very being.
Fortunately there is a light at the end of this tunnel. It shines from self-awareness. When you notice what you tell yourself and how that affects the way you feel, you empower yourself to move towards self-acceptance. [Read more…]
As a kid, I felt like the Ugly Duckling—chronically awkward and self-conscious. If you had asked me why, I’d have been puzzled how to answer. Aside from not being popular or athletic, I was reasonably “successful” by the cultural standards I knew: I got good grades, I was reliable, I was musical, and and by sheer genetic luck I was slender, so I was spared that source of teasing. But I still felt “not quite right.”
The absence of any good explanation for my awkwardness just made me feel even weirder. I didn’t understand that growing up sensitive in this culture, I really was weird. I was an Ugly Duckling: different, and in the dark as to why.
I laughed out loud when I passed this sign near our house: I don’t speed behind the wheel, but put me in front of my computer and I push my limits mercilessly! If I’d been policing my personal work-zone speeds all these years, I’d have racked up enough fines to fund a comfortable retirement.
But it’s never too late to mend one’s rotten ways. And in my case that started with self honesty: specifically, noticing just how awful I feel when I push myself to operate at 80 miles an hour all day. [Read more…]
For this week’s Listening Post, I’d like to share with you an article I wrote in 2008. As you begin this new year, I hope it helps you connect to the preciousness of your time here.
Thanks to Kaitlyn (email@example.com) for this photo, which so beautifully conveys the feeling of the sheltering sky.
I watched a movie a number of years ago that changed the way I view life. It was called “The Sheltering Sky”, based on the novel by Paul Bowles. It followed a couple traveling across northern Africa. They had fallen out of love, and they took mortal, ultimately fatal risks in a desperate effort to find themselves and each other again. [Read more…]
As we finish up 2015 with a sudden snowstorm, I’d like to share a short but highly informative YouTube talk by Elaine Aron titled The Highly Sensitive Person.
In this eight-minute video, Elaine talks about the trait of sensitivity and makes very specific recommendations for self care.
If you are like me, you may react at first with incredulity: a day completely off each week? A week of rest every three months? Who can afford that? [Read more…]
I’ve always loved the Christmas season. Though I think of myself more as a Buddhist now, I grew up attending the Episcopal church, and the ritual, the carols, and the stories touch a deep place in me. I’ve performed Handel’s Messiah at least three dozen times and never got tired of it.
We had wonderful rituals at home too, including the annual decorating of dozens of ginger cookies rolled out and baked by my mother; a “lane party” where the three households on our dead-end street drank eggnog and ate homemade cookies, and our gift exchange on Christmas morning followed by the annual two-hour pilgrimage to the home of dear family friends for a late roast-beef dinner. [Read more…]
Is it Luke Skywalker? Yoda? Han Solo? The power of the Force?
Nope. It’s my favorite bickering droid, C-3PO (though if Harrison Ford felt moved to help, I wouldn’t sneeze at him.)
Did you know C-3PO and his fellow droid, R2-D2, are the only two characters who have appeared in all the Star Wars films? As my partner and I watch the first six in preparation for the new release on December 18, I’m reminded why: who can resist insults like, “Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of grease!”? [Read more…]
When I opened the paper last Tuesday and saw this headline, I physically recoiled. My stomach tightened. As I turned away and shut my eyes, a cry came out of me: a pained noise, no words.
Then questions crowded into my mind, and I leaned back in to read. I searched for answers: who? how? why?
In the background, I could sense a bigger question: “Should I, as a highly sensitive person, be reading this at all?” [Read more…]
Sensitive introverts need their sleep. Period. Take this from someone who once tried her hardest to ignore that, and paid the consequences.
In college, I had a huge crush on a guy who believed it was a waste of life to sleep for more than six hours a night. I adopted his sleep habits, and I got so anxious I could barely function. [Read more…]
This Thanksgiving, I’m especially grateful I am to all of you—the folks who have subscribed to and read The Listening Post since I began writing it nine weeks ago.
Gratitude carries much deeper meaning when we can express clearly the needs of ours that are met. So as I enter my ninth week of publication, I’d like to take time to tell you exactly why I’m feeling so grateful. [Read more…]
I find this sunset extraordinarily vivid.
“Vivid” is my attempt to describe the complex reaction I feel inside as I look at the shades of blue, the shapes of the clouds, the play of color on the water.
But then, I find all kinds of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings extraordinarily vivid: bumblebees and the clumsy, companionable way they lurch around the garden. Homemade pesto. The 15th century sacred choral works of Clemens non Papa. [Read more…]
I’ve never been an ambitious gardener. But that changed four years ago when my friend Ruhi gave me a dahlia plant.
It was an unassuming-looking plant at first, a single stem with four or five green leaves. Then it grew up and exploded. [Read more…]
Imagine you live in a small town in remote northern Sweden. Your entire economy is built on the deep seam of iron ore that lies directly beneath the town.
You’ve dug very deep: so deep that you face a crisis. If you dig any more, the town will collapse. But if you stop digging, massive layoffs will follow.
What would you do?
For many of us who are highly sensitive, anxiety comes with the territory.
If you feel anxious, the first thing to do is to come into Presence with something in you that is anxious. We’ve talked about this skill of finding the bigger “you” in earlier posts, and I demonstrate it in this video.
If your anxious feelings are short-lived and situational, this may be all you need.
But if anxiety keeps cropping up, that’s a clear sign something important in your life is locked up, bound tight or limited. In this case, there’s a key next step you need once you’ve moved into Presence: you need perspective. [Read more…]
“How long will it take me to heal this? Is there hope for me to get relief from this anxiety?” I’ve heard many clients ask these questions. I’ve asked them myself.
When you hear yourself ask these questions, be alert. You have just bumped into the central paradox of healing work.
What is this paradox and why is it so important? [Read more…]
Shame can be excruciating. I’m sure you, like me, have memories that can still bring that flush of heat to your face and that sinking feeling in your stomach. You feel overexposed and vulnerable.
For sensitive introverts, shame can be a too-frequent companion: you feel things deeply, especially criticism, and you are conscientious, which leads you to question what you did wrong when you find yourself in conflict. [Read more…]
This can get overwhelming. But it is entirely possible to enjoy this aspect of yourself once you develop the ability to move into that “bigger you” that Focusers call Presence. [Read more…]
Remember the Incredible Hulk? The huge, raging green guy in the torn pants?
I’d never offer him up as a model for emotional self-regulation. But we sensitive introverts could take a great lesson from the Hulk’s total disregard for his clothes. For too many of us, the shame shirt is a wardrobe basic. [Read more…]