Often, especially in touchy-feely circles, we hear people say they are highly sensitive and can’t bear what is going on around them. It’s sometimes even seen as a sign of heightened spirituality to be extra sensitive.
In recent years, a whole field in psychology has been built around highly sensitive people, with their own label – HSP, as if they were a special category of human being. But does such a creature even exist? Or is our society such that many normal people find it difficult to function properly within it?
We are all born as highly sensitive, intuitive beings, but our individual constitution (prakriti in Sanskrit) and tendencies (dosha) lead us to react differently to life situations. As we grow up, unless we learn how to take care of ourselves, some of us devise ways to mask this inherent sensitivity as a protection from a painful or stressful environment.
To cover all the earth with sheets of leather—Shantideva (685-763)
Where could such amounts of skin be found?
But with the leather soles of just my shoes
It is as though I cover all the earth! . . .
A Vata type will retreat into addiction and perpetual busy-ness, a Pitta type will puff up into blustery defensiveness and prickly criticisms, and a Kapha type will quietly accumulate physical layers of protection and shy away from activity and responsibility.
We are each somewhere on the spectrum from being so highly sensitive to what is happening day to day that we are unable to function fully in the world we created around us, or at the opposite extreme, where we become so hyperactive, and perpetually busy – even if only in the mind – that we have no time or inclination for an awareness of our inner state and emotional condition, thereby unconsciously evading what we feel. Obviously, neither of these extremes is useful or conducive to living a happy and balanced life.
Oversensitivity is a sign of not taking proper care of yourself.
Those who appear to be numb or lacking sensitivity are suffering internally precisely because they have shut down their ability to feel. Those who are over-sensitive are not taking care of themselves to sufficiently reduce stress and nourish the body and mind. Those who are aware of their feelings and needs and able to process them will take care of themselves, enabling themselves to function well through the ups and downs of life.
Being sensitive should not be a reason to withdraw from activity or society; it’s helpful to know one’s limits and to seek out an environment that balances Vata and calms one’s mental state on a regular basis, before feeling overwhelmed. This is especially important if you were raised in a family where stress and tension were the norm, and life was lived on an adrenaline-charged razor’s edge. The unconscious habits learned in childhood condition the way we live as adults, even if we think we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Surrounding ourselves in nature and with things we love that calm the mind and body helps to more easily maintain balance. Over-sensitivity is only possible if we’re constantly in an environment which is highly disruptive.
The three Āyurvedic constitutional types (Vata, Pitta, and Kapha) are intertwined with three basic state of mind, known as Gunas (essential qualities), which are Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. The energies of Vata and Rajas bounce off each other. When the mind is too Rajasic, or overstimulated, events around us, noises, or other people and circumstances will appear to be the source of our increased agitation. But the agitation is already in the (Rajasic) mind – our goal in seeking a harmonious life is to calm Rajas and become more Sattvic.
A Sattvic mind is balanced to the point that it inherently understands the outer situation need not affect us and disturb our peace of mind. This is a challenging task, especially if we live in an urban environment, unless we regularly quieten the mind and relax and refresh the body.
An important question to ask oneself is: Am I taking care of my daily routines and schedule to allow myself to come back to balance throughout the day? This is a typically Virgo notion, and the perfect thing to explore at this Virgo New Moon. You might want to look at new ways to establish a more harmonious routine which will allow you to flourish and live in balance with the world around you.
As our spiritual life develops, we become aware of needing more space – in every sense of the word. We seek out environments that support a Sattvic way of life, yet we don’t have to withdraw from the rest of life to do so. Feelings overwhelm and stress suggest there is a spiritual growth in progress that is not being given enough much-needed room to develop. This can cause a certain amount of anxiety and sensitivity if time, calm, and silence – necessary to grow into an increasing spiritual awareness – have not been cultivated. Trying to squeeze a spiritual life into a busy day is no different than expecting a child to thrive while being shunted from one adult rendezvous to the next.
When we become better attuned to our environment we see that everything around us is changing and adapting constantly. Bring over-sensitive to what is happening around us – socially, politically, or environmentally – suggests there is a blockage to this natural adaptation process. Resistance to change is causing stress that appears in the form of hypersensitivity, but this simply reflects our refusal to allow what is and to be in the flow of life.
Of course, as always, this does not mean we don’t take action to change what needs to be changed where we see things are not working or even harmful. It means that our spiritual practice entails staying in the process of allowing and accepting while noticing when we can and should take action and recognising when, at other times, it is not in our power or responsibility to act.
With much love and light,
My Vata is teetering rather off-balance these past few weeks as I have recently moved house. Luckily, there is a sweet garden which allows me to get back into my body long enough to remember my new address: 18 rue du Page, near Place du Châtelain in Ixelles. If you are coming around for an appointment or just a cup of tea, that is where you will find me from now on.