Are You a Highly Sensitive Person?

within us

Perhaps you are like me. All my life I have been told “I am too sensitive”, “too intense”, or “just too something. As a child I took that in as there was something wrong with me, that I needed to cover, adapt, or pretend better. Now as an adult I am finding that these traits can be gifts. They help me to write, to be intuitive, to care about people, to be deliberate in my way of speaking.

With psychological tests I seemed to perch on the edge, neither completely introspective or extroverted. I like people, and I need quiet time to recharge and come back to balance. With all the recovery work I have done, therapy I have undergone, meditations I have focused on there was still a place that felt broken inside. I often asked myself why couldn’t I stop being hyper alert, stop being overwhelmed so easily, stop caring so much about others.

Hearing the symptoms, taking the self-test, and discussing this with friends on FB I am accepting that I am and always have been a Highly Sensitive Person. There are positive attributes of Highly Sensitive Persons that can be remembered as DOES:

  • Depth of processing.
  • Over aroused (easily compared to others)
  • Emotional reactivity and high empathy
  • Sensitivity to subtle stimuli

Take a self test here on Oprah.com http://www.oprah.com/spirit/Am-I-Too-Sensitive-Highly-Sensitive-Person-Quiz

This is what I found: you’re a Highly-Sensitive Person (HSP)

With your hyperawareness come many strengths. HSPs consider matters deeply and often have unique and interesting perspectives. You are intuitive and tend to be an emotional leader (the first to be outraged by injustice, for example). But because you’re so tuned in to the subtleties of your surroundings, you can feel overwhelmed in chaotic environments. You’re not necessarily shy or introverted; you simply think more clearly when you’re not overstimulated—which is why navigating unfamiliar places and meeting many new people at once (think cocktail parties or client presentations) can be especially taxing. To avoid shutting down in such situations, it can help to prepare in advance. Rehearse what you want to say. Brainstorm conversation starters. Bring a friend for social support. Take frequent breaks. It’s crucial for HSPs to build downtime into their lives. Make rest a priority at least one day a week. Take time off every three months. Learn to meditate. And try not to overextend yourself when it comes to family and friends. Thanks to their affinity for reading other people’s emotions, HSPs frequently dole out more support than they can afford to give. To handle your physical sensitivities, choose decaf tea, coffee, and sodas. And carry a snack with you (preferably some form of protein) so you never get too hungry. Finally, keep in mind that HSPs tend to change careers several times. More than most people, you crave meaningful work—but a job that’s too stressful won’t make you happy. It may take several tries to find the right fit.
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New Year – New Moon

new moon1 2014

For the first time in 19 years this New Year is also a New Moon. Culturally we are looking at the chance to start over with a new year, or at least list our resolutions.  With any New Moon we ‘become open to new beginnings”. The combination has great potential for powerful intention which can lead to profound change.

This New Moon is in the sign Capricorn which is primordial feminine energy. Capricorn is a cardinal earth sign December 22- January 21. The qualities of Capricorn are: organized, ambitious, hard-working, creative, practical, and dedicated. Capricorn is the original planner with great ideas, and a wealth of energy to accomplish goals. However, Capricorn energy also opens the door to thinking we “have the perfect or at least the best” solution to an issue. When we avoid the mental state of having to have things be perfect we can mine great patience, or even better acceptance instead.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for anyone during this Capricorn time is to understand there is a process to everything. Just like our lives and our loves, we cannot make the plants grow faster in our gardens, they have their own divine timing. Acceptance of life on life’s terms is a great adventure. Some days we would rather have things be as we “planned”. And on those days if we listen closely we can hear God laugh at our plans as they skitter away like fish swimming in a pond. When we walk our days with acceptance in our hands and hearts we touch, and share healing.

The Buddhist’s have a great phrase “beginner’s mind”. When we approach this New Year and New Moon let’s experiment and travel this journey with an open mind and an open heart. With this openness we can also choose which words we want to use to define this time. What will be the words you choose? Will it be love instead of fear, or joy instead of settling?

words for 2014

To Walk in Beauty

September is national recovery month. What comes to your mind when I say recovery? Recently at a Yoga and recovery retreat at Yogaville, VA I heard this: “What do they mean by recovery? I just had oral surgery, and I am recovering from the treatment. Is that recovery?” In her experience she was in recovery. I have been in recovery from cancer, and in recovery from addictions. Both have their unique challenges.

For most of us who are in recovery from a physical, mental and emotional addiction, our only solution is a spiritual one. Reaching for a spiritual solution is opening to a power greater than the everyday minutiae of life. That power is beautiful and all about love. Finding that beauty in me, and the universe around me is a huge part of my recovery. My spirituality is always creative; it is at the center of all that is good, noble, and inspiring.

For most of my life I have had an awareness of the beauty of this world and an appreciation of what people can produce. Sobriety has made my writing as an art form more accessible. Sobriety helps me to broaden my horizons and see all the beauty around me. Today I see beauty everywhere in paintings, sculpture, music, literature, and the art of nature. Personally I cannot paint or draw more than stick figures, however, I appreciate and have a feeling of belonging to the beauty of this world. In a sense, it all happens and takes shape through me. The deepening of my spirituality has brought the beauty of the universe into my life to a greater level than I thought possible.

Today I know I walk in beauty. My meditation is: thank you for the desire and ability to re-create Your splendor through my experiences.

You and I are Not Damaged Goods

Owning our story B Brown

How we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to go to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am enough, and worthy of love. I am enough! What a concept! Would I rather think I am enough than think I am damaged goods? You bet. Would you rather feel worthy and loveable? I am sure. What stops us from feeling whole, brave and accepting all of who we are? What will help us to realize that we are not damaged, or that there are no mistakes? What are the tools we have or can create to change those beliefs?

This message of being damaged goods is pervasive and insidious. It can also be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We may say to ourselves, “I think I am damaged therefore I act like I am damaged. And if I act like I am damaged then I don’t have to act out of self-respect let alone self-esteem.” Thinking we are damaged may be at the root of casual violence, drug use, or any form of self abuse. The thought that we are damaged is wholly based in shame. When we create awareness of how we carry shame in our lives we take our first steps towards freedom. I am, and hopefully you are, ready to change that message.

Do we carry shame like some kind of emotional genetic code? Does our parents shame becomes our shame? Maybe it doesn’t look exactly the same. My mother was ashamed of her immigrant mother, my father was ashamed of his hillbilly father. My shame  comes out in second guessing and berating myself for apparent mistakes. Are we carrying shame around as if it is the sweetest smelling nosegay when actually it is a “hot mess” as the teens are saying these days?

Awareness of these messages of shame is the first step. Maybe the second is the realization that shame is carried forward through our families. My mother was ashamed so therefore she shamed me. If I can let her off the proverbial hook, then maybe I can do the same for myself. And only THEN we can create a tool that addresses these beliefs at the unconscious level. To simply notice something may or may not change it…however, when we interrupt the negative pattern and consciously reprogram the unconscious change is more likely to occur.

Most of us ‘try’ to change our idea of being damaged goods at the level of willpower. As in “I won’t think that way anymore…I will not think that way anymore…I will not think…oh shoot! I am back there again.” If we are still doing the same thing, can we continue to be surprised when we get the same results?

I had a conversation with a mentor the other day. We were talking about the pattern I still have after all these years of therapy and recovery of being upset by little things that did not go as planned. I used to call them mistakes and grind them into me like a broken record. She and I were talking on the porch of a grocery store, and just inside the door was a large sign that said, “Thank you!” And I realized that I could say thank you, when I have turned left instead of right. Thank you when I did not have the answer to a clients question. By saying thank you I am acknowledging that there might have been a reason for the left turn, or for saying “I don’t know”. I can be grateful that each time these alleged mistakes happened they  provided me with a chance to do something different. The first time I said thank you rather than berating myself the feeling of freedom and internal space was sublime.

You may already know that you are not damaged. You may already realize that you are worthy and loveable. What do you do to change your beliefs around shame, being damaged or making mistakes? What do you do to claim that you are indeed “Enough”?

What! You Did Not Do What I Wanted!

hooponopono2a

Today is 9/11. The memory of watching the planes go through the twin towers will always replay in my mind. Those actions continue to put things in my life into perspective. On that day, I could no longer as an American remain untouched by global violence. I was not in New York or DC at the time, however, I had friends who were, and they described eloquently what they went through. My illusion of “it can’t happen here” was busted. 9/11 made it abundantly clear that we are one world. I may not always understand or even like my world family, but we are all still living together on this one beautiful jewel of a planet. We all have a choice whether to live in fear, or live with love. And this day of all days is a reminder of that choice.

Today, I again realize that we are indeed one people, one world, one messy family. With that realization I can no longer focus on the miniscule dramas of my life. The thoughts of “but you said you would, but you promised, but you were going to, stop ricocheting around in my brain. They just don’t seem as important. I can relax into more acceptance for what is. I can let go of fear and move into a place of loving my messy family. I can forgive people for not doing what I wanted them to do. I can let go of my expectations, resentments and come back to being in the present.

Powerlessness, lack of control that is often my dilemma. And when I feel powerless I can find myself wanting to fight back and strive to have control again. When I am caught with that striving I think my vision of how the world ought to be is the correct one. My vision is flawed — after all I wear contacts because I am near-sighted. Though I strive to see a larger perspective I am still limited. And with that limitation I cannot see the perfection of what is.

The planes flying into the twin towers are an extreme example of powerlessness. There was nothing that could have stopped them in that moment. We don’t live in a world where there are Supermen, or other comic book heroes who can step in at the last moment and lasso the planes. Conversely, I am not a superhero. I am not perfect, I am a beautiful woman who is growing into more strength and beauty each day. I have to keep reminding myself that I am not in charge of the outcomes. I am not in charge period. Some days there is comfort in that thought. Other days I want to be the superhero that stops the planes from destroying so many lives.

So on this day of remembrance I offer the message of Hoʻoponopono (ho-o-pono-pono). Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness. “Hoʻoponopono” is defined in the Hawaiian Dictionary as “mental cleansing” in a family conference in which relationships were set right through prayer, discussion, confession, repentance, and mutual restitution and forgiveness. What can you do today to cleanse your world? What can you do to bring forgiveness into your heart? This is my offering.  I love you. I am sorry. Forgive me. Thank you.

A Little Night Magic

night's womb

Excerpt from the poem “Crazy Wisdom” published in Lightning Strikes Twice

dreaming the primordial word

I nestle in the palm of night’s hand visible yet empty

blinking in the radiance of the galactic eye

embracing whole worlds of the eye within the eye

perching on my shoulder angels sing hallelujah

invisible paws padding by my feet whisper put faith in every pace

smelling restless noise the tip of my tail twitches I lick my lips

don’t stop me before I am lost

curling up against night’s belly her great head turns towards me

her gaze stars full of mercy and magic

accepting timeless wonder my breath embraces dakinis devas

the dry rattle of skulls following every movement

praising the diamond night

I am the crazy wisdom of no hope and no fear

Because the Night Belongs to Lovers **

night

It seems I have always contemplated the stars. As early as I can remember I named the constellations, or made up my own. After midnight I feel more complete. I wrap the silence and the the velvety touch of darkness around me, a cape full of magic. I am safe inside this cape as I soak up the space that is empty of other people’s thoughts, and activity. Whole poems come to me in the quiet. Magic happens in through hearing an owl’s call. The night has always been my lover. Like Galileo I am wildly “in love” with the stars. However, sleeping has always been a challenge. And that is part of my story I want to change.

I am a walking contradiction. I am in love with the night, the stars and the darkness. But I am often sleep deprived. I have lucid dreams. But all too often I can’t remember them because I have not been able to get to a deep sleep. I have been told that acceptance is the key to change. I am learning that I need to accept my contradictions as they are all a part of me. I am a work in progress and I am changing my story.

I have an obsession about my sleep space. I have 100% cotton sheets, a pillow top mattress, and a special neck pillow. I have cleared out the space around my bed so my mind can drift and hopefully fall back asleep. I am willing to do all I can to create a space conducive to slumber.

When I was a senior in high school I just could not get to sleep. So instead, I read most of the night with my flashlight under the covers. Since then I have often joked that I do the 3:00 am, and 5:00 am shifts when I cannot sleep. Lack of sleep has often been my middle name – Mari, lack of sleep, Selby. Sometimes I am able to accept the sleep interruptions as part of who I am, part of whatever healing I am undergoing, and part of my passion for the night. Other times I get mad at myself for not having enough sleep to make it through my day. Then there are those frequent times that I take a nap and then I am not able to sleep until after midnight. And that begins a cycle of late nights, early mornings and then napping. How do I come to peace with this challenge is my question?

Sleep is important to everyone’s brain function and health. As someone who deals with Fibromyalgia sleep is the key to my not being in pain all the time. I have tried so many sleep aids. From melatonin to Calms, to Ambien and other sleep drugs. Sometimes the natural remedies would work for a little while then stop working. Or in the case of the drugs leave me feeling groggy and unable to function. I have even gone to a sleep lab and was prescribed a CPAP machine for sleep apnea.

Since losing a great deal of weight sleep apnea is no longer an issue. I meditate and my mind slows down. I practice yoga and my body is more relaxed. I give myself an Ayurvedic oil treatment before I go to bed and that relaxes my muscles and gives me a wonderful hit of loving myself.

Maybe in addition to calling myself a cancer warrior, I can also refer to myself as a sleep warrior. I have fought and the battleground is inside me. Maybe one day there will no longer be a fight, no longer be a battleground. Maybe one day I will feel more integrated with my passion for the night and sleep. Meanwhile I am willing to do all I can, follow any suggestion, and most of all be open to changing this story. I am tired of this chapter. It is time to turn the page.

** Patti Smith sang “Because the Night” in the 70’s