Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Endings: Point of Contemplation

Last week, I found myself saying goodbye to an assortment of web sites I own-- and have owned-- for a long time. A couple of them for close to twenty years, which is practically "the history of the world," in terms of the Internet.

In a purely practical sense, my reasoning was simple enough-- faced with a hosting and domain service bill for $329, I realized I simply couldn't afford-- nor justify-- to keep these things running anymore. My inner dialogue was centered around the core reality that "they cost money to keep and take my time, but don't help me pay my bills, so they have to go."

The whole process of dumping these sites that had been part of my life for many years-- as well as part of my efforts to familiarize the world with the concept "HSP"-- made me pause to consider this world we live in. And it made me pause to think about the numerous HS people I know who are eternally "living on the edge" of barely making it.

We want to make a difference, and we want to have fun, and we want to make the world a better place but find ourselves living a world that demands 110% of our energy, focus and bandwidth merely to stay alive.

I suppose I am a bit of an idealist and I am trying to swallow the (somewhat bitter?) pill that my inner sense of how an ideal world could be seems to be perpetually at odds with the reality around me.

Although I have never really been someone who's "motivated by money," I am-- to some degree-- motivated by the idea of reciprocity. Not in the "giving to get" sense, but in the sense that it's nice to see one's efforts rewarded to the extent that continuing them seems worthwhile; at least to the extent that "doing right" is minimally self-sustaining... not just an expense.

I realize it's not just about me. It's about the world. The lady who has the shop next to our art gallery gets organic farm fresh eggs from her auntie. They cost $5 a dozen. I know as well as the next person that supporting local organic farmers is the "right thing" to do. I also have a coupon from the local supermarket for eggs at 79 cents per dozen. $5.00 vs. 79 cents. In so many cases, our choices are made for us, because we only (metaphorically speaking) have two dollars to spend.

As I pondered-- with a bit of sadness-- the demise of my long-time projects, my mind drifted back to earlier times when I was writing and trying to get articles published. And how often I was met with statements like "We'd love to include your article, but we're not able to pay contributors at this time... but it'll look great on your resumé!"

I used to believe that something good would come from persevering, anyway... so I did. These days I am more cynical, knowing that the supermarket doesn't accept "great looking resumés," they accept money. And I like to eat... at least occasionally.

Back when Sarah still had her radio program (another attempt at "doing right" that cost money, rather than made money), one of the things said by one of her guests on the program was "It's hard to change the world when you're always broke." As I thought about that, I realize that most people wanting to change the world are broke... because when you're doing well, odds are you're interested in keeping the system that led to your success.

In a strange turn of events, I was looking for a (re-) starting point for HSP Notes... and it became this story about endings. Funny, how that sometimes works out.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Random Musings on HSPs, Marketing, Social Media and Overstimulation

Sometimes it's the "little things" that bother us and can lead to HSP overstimulation. But what exactly ARE "little" things?

This morning, as I was wading through the daily deluge of email, there was an update from an HSP group I belong to on Google+ (It's a nice group, if you want to look at it). I expect many of us get these "so-and-so posted a new message to such-and-such a group" updates.

Anyway, because I am actually interested in HSP-related stuff, I clicked on the link... and got a "the content you are looking for is not available" message, and realized that the original post had been removed.

OK. Had it been spam? That didn't entirely make sense to me as the "so-and-so" person who'd shared the original post was somewhat known to me and is definitely not a spammer.

So I decided to poke around a bit to see if I could figure out what was going on.

Then I understood (I think). The original post had been an announcement of this person's new web site. Nothing wrong with that-- it was definitely "on topic" and relevant to HSPs and might be both useful and informative to those learning about our trait.

The real problem? The post had been an announcement of a web site that wasn't actually built or running yet, just "in the works." The splash page at the end of the link did nothing more than announce that "exciting content coming soon!" and then offered a popup form to ask for email addresses to "be notified of exciting new features."

Whether it's an "HSP cautiousness" thing or not, I now understood why the group owner had deleted the post. I, too, find it annoying to be be asked to support something that "isn't there." And if I am going to give someone my email address... I want to SEE what I am actually agreeing to, not just be offered some promise of future benefits.

As always, I had a lot of items in my email this morning. Whereas I had just experienced a "tiny incident," it made me consider how much time, energy and bandwidth we often waste on "empty information," especially in these days of every more complex social media.

Of course, it's easy to just take an all-or-nothing approach and shut ourselves off by saying "I'm just going block EVERYthing in order to keep my sanity!"

But is locking out all the noise of life really the best solution?

When I look at all the email I wade through, it is frequently overwhelming, and I sometimes wish we were back in simpler times with less information. On the other hand, I have to confess that there's lots of marvelous stuff I would never have learned about or experienced if I'd just applied a wholesale "nothing for me" approach.

For the Highly Sensitive Person, what really matters is finding balance, not shutting yourself off to all forms of external noise. And that means we do have to take the time to decide what is really meaningful and allowing those things in.

I still meet HSPs who fiercely state that they "don't do Facebook" with fiery determination... but ALL of Facebook isn't evil, per se. Like most things, there are good bits and bad bits. "Not doing social media" may eliminate that aspect of stimulation from your life, but is that necessarily ideal?

To that end, I am reminded of one of my Teachers of many moons ago-- I was attending a workshop, and the discussion somehow ended up on our social lives and connecting with people. A number of people commented that they felt like recluses and that "nothing ever happened" in their lives. The teacher then asked what they were doing to create a better social life. There was generally silence. In the end, he made the point that in life-- be it 3D social, or with managing social media, or with general experiences and adventures-- we can't expect much of anything if we are not willing to put ourselves "in harm's way," metaphorically speaking.

And so, in the end, I may complain a lot about information overload but ultimately I feel more informed, educated and balanced as a result of allowing my own version of "filtered noise" to reach me... because some of it really does turn out to be "gold nuggets."

How do YOU handle social media? And the endless stream of information we're subjected to? Have you found a good balance? Have you created "filters" that allows the useful, and lets the useless go? 

Monday, March 21, 2016

HSP Notes "Renovation," Updates and... a Change of Voice

A Day of Sidetracks

Sometimes, we just get sidetracked... today was such a day, for me.

If you haven't been by "HSP Notes" recently, you might notice that things look a little different around here. Even though it wasn't planned, I found myself spending most of today undertaking a much needed "modernization" of this web site.

These days, technology changes so fast I can barely keep up, and HSP Notes-- now in its 15th year-- was starting to look a little bit "dated." That... and I'd received a few messages that the site didn't present itself well on mobile devices.

So now we have a new look, and there's even a mobile friendly version of the site.

What's New?

Aside from a more modern appearance, quite a bit of site content has been updated-- and there's a lot more to come, in the upcoming weeks.

Meanwhile, I also want to draw your attention to the HSP Notes Bookstore which has been greatly expanded.

The bookstore attached to this site is a lot more than just "your average collection of amazon links from a web site." Instead, it is a large collection of handpicked books that are either in my personal library, or I have read, or have been recommended to me by people I know and trust... no "fillers," no "fluff."

There are hundreds of titles either directly about high sensitivity... or about topics that are near and dear to many HSPs. I hope you'll check it out!

Yes, I do earn "a few cents" from having it... but trust me, it's a few cents; If I'm lucky, enough to pay my annual web hosting fees. I mention this because some HSPs are put off by any and all forms of sales/marketing. I also mention this because-- absent those few cents-- I probably wouldn't be able to justify spending as much time as I do, doing this. So this site wouldn't even exist.

A Change of Voice

Last, but not least, what I publish here is going to change a bit. Well... the type of content won't change, but the way I write will. Here's the deal:

I started HSP Notes in 2002 as a mostly personal journal and place to share some ideas and experiences resulting from learning about this thing called "Being A Highly Sensitive Person." Back then, there wasn't a whole lot of information about our trait out there.

To be honest, I didn't really expect to get "a readership," but was certainly thrilled (and felt very validated) when others started reading these pages and shared that they could relate to my experiences.

HSP Notes was a very "personal thing" back then.

Somewhere along the way (perhaps inspired by "wisdom" from the greater blogosphere that blogs should fit niches and have a tight focus?), it seems that my posts became more and more academic and "third person."

As I was updating the site and looked over old posts, I became aware that I have increasingly "written myself out of the picture."

I won't comment on whether that is "good" or "bad," but I realize now that the increasing time interval between new posts could be attributed to the fact that the blog was no longer serving me-- as a cathartic journal-- and so I was less interested in writing.

Who do we do things for?

This made me consider the age-old question many creatives and artists have asked themselves: "WHO am I doing this for?"

Sure, I write in a public space because I hold an idealistic belief that maybe my words will resonate with and help someone, but ultimately I write because clarifying my thoughts in writing helps me solve problems and answer my own questions.

So not only will HSP Notes return to its more personal roots, I am planning to "free" some of the more "personal insight" posts I have written but kept private in the course of the past couple of years.

Of course, I still want HSP Notes to remain useful-- to which end I will be adding more book reviews and more web resources, as time goes by.

In the meantime, thanks for being part of this journey!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

And Now for Something Completely Different: Self-Promotion and HSPs on the Radio!


Many HSPs-- whether self-employed or otherwise-- struggle with the concept of promoting themselves. For a large number of reasons, we find the idea of "tooting our own horns" distasteful, in some ways.

Elaine Aron and Barrie Jaeger, both, allude to this in their books on HSPs when it comes to our work life... many of us end up "underemployed" because we don't stand up and sell ourselves to get a well-deserved promotion, or even to let people know about our talents and capabilities.

Many HSPs work in creative fields-- as artists, musicians, performers, writers and more. I'm one of those... and like many of my peers, I have struggled with "promoting myself."

"Promotion" sounds so... pushy... to me. Brings to mind insurance salesmen and used car dealers who scream at me from their home made advertisements on TV.

Of course, that's really just unfair stereotyping. And the fact remains that if you have a talent, or service, or art, or something else creative... unless you're willing to let people KNOW what you have, and allow yourself to be SEEN, nobody's going to even know that your marvelous creative "thing" even exists. The point being, nobody's going to magically show up at your front door, just because you "made something."

In my almost 20 years of studying the HSP trait, it's a common source of suffering for many self-employed highly sensitive persons that "nobody sees us," so we end up working hard for little reward. In doing so, we overlook the basic fact that we are partially to blame because we are almost afraid to "sell ourselves."

A couple of days ago, my wife (also an HSP) and I were having a discussion about this very thing... and remarked on the way many HSPs almost UN-sell themselves by downplaying the value of what they have to offer ("Oh, it's nothing... just something I play with now and then..."), rather than openly sharing it.

I am not excluding myself here... in fact, both my wife and I suffer from some degree of "unselling ourselves" in our various ventures-- she with her counseling and life coaching, radio show and healing organization... me with my writing, with my art and with my collectibles business.

Perhaps the first thing to keep in mind is that the "ugly" part of self-promotion (those loud car dealers, mattress shops and insurance salesmen) are not representative of authentic self-promoting with integrity. There's really nothing distasteful about letting people know that "I'm an artist, and this is my work" or "I'm a writer, and this is what I do."

This means we have to be willing to "be seen," and that means stepping outside our comfort zones.

Part of this post is about me stepping outside my comfort zone: I am going to do something that is FAR from my normal approach to things: I am going to be on the radio!

Now, granted, this is "baby steps."

My wife Sarah (yes, she IS an HSP, but more of the "HSS" variety) has a bi-weekly radio show, and she's doing "HSP month" and talked me into being on the show, since I have been studying the trait for a long time.

Yes, it's fairly "safe" because it's an interview done my someone I know and love, BUT it's still me allowing myself to "be heard" by a worldwide audience of thousands of people. Not only that, part of the show is going to be about "my creativity" (my art-- the hand painted mandala stones in the photo) not just about "the HSP trait." And that's the scary part... I'm not just on the air as a sort of "expert witness," but to talk about something creative that is near and dear to my heart.

That's where we HSPs-- especially the ones in creative and artistic fields-- must find the courage to stand up and "be seen" and "be counted" and get over our concerns that what we have to offer doesn't have value to the world-- it DOES.

So, I'd like to invite everyone to listen in (the show first aired on November 12th at 7:00pm US Eastern time/4:00pm US Pacific time)... to a couple of HSPs chatting on the radio! Don't worry if you missed it, or couldn't listen at that time-- the show archives instantly after it ends.

You can hear the archived version by clicking the ► below:


Talk back! How do YOU-- as an HSP-- deal with "self-promotion?" Have you missed opportunities in your life because you failed to "speak up" when you had something to offer? Do you wrestle with idea that your work isn't "good enough," even when it is clearly the best? Are you in a creative field, but struggle to promote your writing, art or other talents? Help start a conversation! Please leave a comment!

Sharing is Love. If you enjoyed this post, or found it useful, or interesting... please consider sharing with others, using these handy social media buttons, below! The more people become familiar with the HSP trait, the better off we ALL are. Thank you! 
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Friday, October 30, 2015

HSPs, the "Consciousness" business and Living a Meaningful Life

Recently, I have been spending a lot of time considering the whole "Consciousness" issue.

No, I don't mean "consciousness" as in what happens in the morning when you wake up after a night of heavy drinking... I mean consciousness in the context typically defined by the self-development and "New Age" industries. Some might call it "awareness;" others might call it "mindfulness" or "Being Present."

I expect this is not a "foreign country" for most HSPs, as our natural tendency towards introspection and self-improvement leads many of us down a path of discovery, driven by a desire to find-- and explore the nature of-- our "True Selves," "The Meaning of Life" and our "Life Purpose."

In the course of  living within the HSP Community for almost two decades, it would be tempting to latch on to the idea that being a Highly Sensitive Person somehow makes someone "more conscious" than the rest of the world... but my experience tells me otherwise. At best, I would feel more inclined to think of HSPs as "differently conscious" from the rest of the world.

I can already hear a few voices rise in protest, saying "How can you SAY such a thing?!?! Being Highly Sensitive automatically makes people more tuned into others, and more empathic, and so more conscious!"

Therein lies the rub, however...

By nature, our ability to "Live Consciously" tends to flow towards those areas of life that matter most to us... and not so much towards those that don't.

"True" consciousness also requires us to navigate-- with equal consciousness-- those areas that are not important to us. And that's where we (HSPs) don't do as well, because we tend to stay within our comfort zones and avoid those things that make us feel uncomfortable and overstimulated.

Let me offer a metaphor, to illustrate:

We may feel like we're doing the right thing by choosing to drive a Toyota Prius because it's environmentally friendly and gets 50 miles to the gallon (highly conscious choice), but are we being truly conscious if we're unaware that that anxieties that cause us to never go faster than 35 mph is actually endangering other travelers when we do so in a 55 mph zone and everyone around us is "doing crazy shit" to try to pass us because we're holding up traffic?

My point here is that "Consciousness" is more than just an esoteric abstract; it is a set of life choices, and many of them highly functional, as they exist in our daily choices. Like that other popular term "enlightenment," consciousness is not a thing; not something we can "have," but rather an ongoing practice; a perpetual sequence of choices that support the highest and best outcome for all-- ourselves included.

For HSPs, if there is one Achilles heel we have, it's our tendency to eternally "stay in our heads" as a means to-- in essence-- avoid interfacing with "real life" around us. And don't get me wrong... I am guilty of doing the same thing. However, it doesn't really help, in terms of becoming well-rounded, fully integrated people who can be of service to the world.

Think about this, for a second:

You are highly sensitive and have learned that the energy of crowds overwhelm you, and that's why you've never done well at festivals and concerts, even though some part of you really like them. Now, you can take that information and either translate it into "avoid crowds" and thereby withdraw from a part of life... OR you can observe yourself in a crowd, determine your "trigger points" and decide that the knowledge "crowds overstimulate me" means you can go and enjoy an event, be self aware, and then make a conscious choice to stay for TWO HOURS instead of "all day."

From my vantage point, the latter is definitely a more conscious choice.

Then I think about the many times I have attended HSP Workshops and Gatherings, and have found a great sense of community and connection, as well as a sense of "direction" in my life... only to end up at the inevitable question (posed by myself, and other attendees): "How do we take this home and continue to experience it outside the protected setting of a retreat?"

Good question!

Often, we know what "The Good Life" (or our version thereof) looks like-- in theory-- but the application is difficult. Or seems complicated. Or an invitation to becoming overwhelmed.

As regular visitors to these pages know, it's fairly rare that I recommend or "endorse" products or books... I think I have done so maybe five times in the 13 years I have been writing here.

Today, I am going to make one of those rare exceptions, because I am working with something I truly feel is of value.

Recently, I have been reading one of the best (and most "functional") books about Consciousness I have ever encountered:

Coffee for Consciousness: The Application of Perspective to Reality by Vito Mucci (opens to description on Amazon, in a new tab)

What I love about this is that it's not yet another fluffy feel-good self-help book overflowing with flowery motivational quotes that sound good without actually helping us-- instead it looks in depth at living consciously at the level  "where the rubber meets the road." In some ways, it reads far more like a "manual for life" or text book than your typical self-help book... and its 550-ish pages filled with no nonsense information underscores that.

In his book, Mucci focuses on the heart of consciousness, mindfulness and self-awareness... and instead of the eternal "rainbow soup" of cute sayings and quotes that sound good but leave us wondering what to actually do next-- this marvelous book is all about what these things actually mean, and how we apply them to our lives.

Of course, that also makes Coffee for Consciousness a challenging read, in its own right... because it asks us to-- or demands-- that we look beyond the pretty window dressing of the so-called self-awareness movement and graduate to making actual changes in our lives, rather than just talking about changes in our lives. So if you prefer "light and fluffy" over getting to the root of issues, this book is not for you.

Although this is in no way "a book for HSPs," I'm impressed enough to feel compelled to recommend it here on these pages-- something I rarely do. Yes, I know it's not cheap... but this is one of the rare occasions where I will counter with "Yes, but it's well worth it!" Whether Vito Mucci is an HSP I do not know, but the insights he shares definitely are meaningful for HSPs.

Now why do I care enough to write this? Well, because there is more to being an HSP than just eternally focusing on "being an HSP." We need to also become the best Humans we can be... and this is one of the few resources I have found that has the potential to truly help, in that respect. And the underlying ideas of the book seem to me to be very in step with the worldview and core values of many HSPs I have known. My wife Sarah-- who's also a Highly Sensitive Person-- has read it and now refers back to concepts learned with surprising regularity... and she's a 30-year "veteran" of the self-development trade.

If you're not quite sure what I am talking about, or you want to get more in-depth with the idea, I would like to recommend that you listen to Sarah's recent radio show where she interviews author Vito Mucci on Radio Nahmaste. As I mentioned, she's a fellow HSP and shares my high regard for this book as an amazing and helpful tool for life and for living consciously. And yes, HSPs do make good talk radio hosts!

Just click on the ► below to listen!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ambition, High Sensitivity, Too Many Interests and Having "Enough"

I've been spending a few days recently trying to get my work life organized.

I work from home. I run three "micro businesses" from the house, and help out with two more. When people ask what it is I "do," I usually tell them-- only half-facetiously-- that "I play with my hobbies for a living." How that came to be is a long story I'll write about some other time. Anyway...

On paper, that probably all sounds rather lovely and bucolic. In practice? Not so much.

Aside from the fact that I am an adult HSP living with ADHD, I tend to not get nearly as much done as I would like to, or as I need to. After all, there are "bills and things" to be taken care of!

Part of the problem (or "challenge") is that I am genuinely interested in a lot of different things, and I have always struggled with prioritizing appropriately. It's not so much because I am "scatterbrained" as it is because I see the potential of many different things, and what they could become... if developed properly. And even though I am often able to develop these things, the ongoing grind of running and tending to them soon wears me down.

Some people struggle to get "from idea to reality," but that's not me. I struggle more with "ongoing" reality. I've always attributed this to a self-perception that I am inherently lazy. I have never been a very "active" person, nor what I (or other people) would consider a "hard worker." And I have certainly never felt "driven."

As such, one of my greaest problems with being self-employed (as well as one of the "answers" to my laziness life dilemma?) is that I lack ambition. I have previously written about the issue of ambition and achievement as an HSP... and it's a topic I continue to struggle with in a world that often feels like it operates on a "work hard, or perish" value set.

What I mean by that is that I will do exactly "enough" to get by and no more. I am not lazy in the sense that I will not do my very best work, because I believe that's just "right action." I am also not lazy in the sense that I believe I should be "served" or that I deserve "money for nothing," nor that the world "owes me" anything.

However, I have no inherent ambition to "strive" and "be greater," beyond my basic ambition to just "be enough." And it's a very old feeling, for me. I remember being at University and thinking about what I was going to do and be, after graduation. At 20-something, everyone around me seemed like they wanted to "take over the world" and become the next industrial magnate, or whatever.

I looked ahead and I just wanted to be able to afford a house, a car and food-- without having to work too damn hard for it.

In years gone by, my perceived "laziness dilemma" always seemed to get in my way when I worked "real" jobs. I was never "driven," so I struggled to do well in work situations that required me be to be highly competitive. I even lost jobs because I was not interested in the work load that came with a promotion to a higher level of responsibility. I expect that may be part of my HSP nature.

Bottom line, though, was that someone whose essential sense of self was around simply "being satisfied" did not seem to fit into a world eternally focused "more, bigger, taller, richer."

Upon reflection, I have come to realize that one of the potential downsides to living by a paradigm of "doing enough" is that I often have ideas for things that "might work out well," but I lack the inspiration and ambition to put them into action, especially when things are "going OK."  If the bills have been paid, I feel no particular desire to "get moving," however good an idea might be.

Yet, many of these ideas are definitely things I want to "do later." But by the time "later" rolls around, I often discover that someone else (aka "someone more ambitious") has already taken my idea and run with it, so I can't even USE the opportunity any more.

I don't say this to have some sort of personal pity party, but to point out one of the downsides... namely the frequency with which what seemed like a potential to get "enough" gets transmuted into "nothing at all."

Anyway, this post is a bit of a precursor to more writing on the ongoing topic of HSPs, work and ambition... and how to carve out our niches in life, without getting overwhelmed and stressed out in the process.

There is also a new book that has just been released, about HSPs and careers-- more about that in an upcoming post!

What do YOU think? Does it come naturally to you to "strive" for greatness? Or are you more of an "enough to get by" sort of person? Is work a challenge for you? Do share and leave a comment!

Sharing is Love! If you found this article helpful, interesting, thought provoking or useful, please consider sharing it with others! Use the buttons below to post to social media or send by email, and help be part of  the ongoing process of spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. Thank you!
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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Time Traveling Through My Past

For the past couple of weeks, Sarah and I have been on holiday in Denmark. Denmark is where I was born and raised; where I mostly lived till I took a trip across the "pond" in 1981 to go to University in the US, and ended up staying there.

The summerhouse; the thatched roof was newly replaced this spring
We have been staying at my family's summerhouse; a quaint "fairy tale cottage" in the woods north of Copenhagen. The house has been in the family since 1939, and now serves as a sort of "family timeshare" for several generations of great- and great-great-grandchildren of the people who originally built the place... as a summer retreat in the country where people could come to relax and forget about their troubles.

Yesterday, we had lunch with my cousin... and as we talked, we got into sharing respective memories of what this place-- the house named "Tofte"-- represented in our lives. Later in the day, I continued to think about the pieces of life we carry around with us... in the form of memories... pieces of the past we either embrace or long for, or desperately try to forget and/or run away from.

For the past couple of weeks, I have experienced the rare luxury of being able to "forget" about my daily life and not live in a state where every waking moment is filled with the eternal demands and obligations of modern life in the US of A. Instead, I have been able to spend hours and days, doing little more than "contemplating" and thinking about life and "things."

As I kept wandering around these 12 acres of woodland and garden, attempting to connect with the land and nature around me, I realized that a large part of what brings me back here is a subtle desire to "time travel;" to re-experience how "something felt" in some distant part of my past. A search for "lost innocence?" No, not really... although there are elements of remembering life before it felt exhausting and filled with demands and complexity. That said, my yearning feels more like a search for something "solid;" a touchstone with a measure of permanence in a life otherwise shaped mostly by movement, instability and uncertainty. But, as the days passed, I had this growing sense that certain things didn't feel quite "right." After a while, I realized I was wrestling with the way things change... and yet they don't; and how things can be both the same, and yet never the same again.

In the broadest sense, this "place" I return to is exactly as it has always been. As I had determined, it is one of the few places on this planet I can return to as a "touchpoint" that somehow connects me to all times in my life. No matter how screwed up my reality otherwise was, this place simply "existed;" it had a permanence that was otherwise lacking.

The dining table on which my laptop now sits is the same table where I would eat salami sandwiches when I was five years old. Even the smell in the room is the same. The brown wooden wall clock is still on the wall-- and even though it no longer runs-- I can still hear its ticking in my mind's eye, as my 8-year old self would stand at one of the half-doors looking outside at a sunny day.

And yet? Even though this "place" is still here, part of it is "missing" because much of its character was shaped by my Aunt Ulla, who lived here every summer as the house's only "permanent" resident until her death in 1997. The "place" remains the same, but what is here now feels like a strangely "sanitized" version of what it used to be; or an "image" the same way a photograph of an event is never going to bring to life the event, itself. It is here, but parts of it have drifted away on the mists of time...

The lawn outside is beautiful and mowed... but the "old" lawn, filled with random bumps and weeds and occasional mole hills... ending in a meadow filled with wildflowers, butterflies and grasshoppers... no longer exists. Old garden furniture in varied stages of age and repair has given way to uniform modern replacements. Storms have taken down many of the trees I remember; others have grown up in their place. Many colorful flowerbeds have given way to grass, in the interest of easy maintenance... because, after all, nobody lives here permanently anymore. And there is absolutely nothing "wrong" with that... aside from the fact that it doesn't "match" my memories of a time that has been and gone and never will return.

These small differences notwithstanding, the "place" hasn't really changed... as much as I have.

A butterfly in the woods... just like 50 years ago
So I started contemplating what it really is I try to "time travel" here to find. The other day, I remarked to Sarah-- and later to my cousin-- that it feels more like I come here to visit memories of summers in the Denmark of my past, rather than the Denmark that exists in the present. In a sense, when I "go to Denmark," I am not really going to Denmark... I am visiting my own past... or at least trying to.

There is something mildly ironic about that, because my past-- that is, my childhood, in general-- was really not that much of a great or happy place that it should warrant retrieval and reliving. So what is the "allure" of this place?

When I was a child, visiting this summerhouse was a strange dichotomy, in and of itself.

I grew up in a very old-fashioned family, with very old-fashioned and often narrow-minded views on the world and how "one" were to conduct oneself in the world. In a sense, my cousin was exactly right yesterday when she remarked that "the family" would have been perfectly OK if it had been the year 1900 when we grew up... problem was, they were trying to live an early 1900's life with early 1900's values... in the 1960's and 1970's.

So I end up characterizing my visits to this summerhouse-- as a child-- as dichotomous, because on one hand these visits were lovely and filled with the "freedom" to be a kid and run around in the woods, climb trees and be outside... and get away from school, and the normal strict family life. On the other hand, this same "freedom" came wrapped in a very tightly defined "box" where I knew everything that was expected of me, when it was expected, how it was expected... which offered me a great sense of comfort from the perspective that it allowed me to completely "disconnect" from any kind of thinking... my existence was completely "mapped out" and no thinking of my own was required... let alone allowed. At home, this same kind of restrictiveness felt stifling, repressive and depressing-- yet here, it felt like "freedom."

The dichotomous feeling remains, but it has a different "flavor," in 2015.

In my 1970's experience of my family, children were not "allowed" to have any kinds of thoughts or opinions of their own, let alone any kind of "identity" (aside from coming when their name was called)... but now I come back to this place and experience it through the filter of 35+ intervening years of being "elsewhere;" of "becoming someone," in the sense of truly knowing myself rather than just needing to comply with someone else's perception of "what a young boy should be."

I left here with no "identity;" I went into the world and found one... and now I have returned.

And the effect is strange: Although I came here as "me," version 2015, I feel an odd "tug" at the corners of my being... pulling me back towards that place and time where I was "without identity;" where the desired state (and the state that would earn praise from the adults) was essentially that of "blending into the woodwork" as much as possible.

Although few of the people originally associated with this house are still alive and none of them would tell me "who to be,"... I still experience little pieces of myself; of my adult self-identity, "fading," like a reverse version of one of those old Polaroid photos where the image would slowly appear with exposure to light... I observe the arising of a subtle sense of needing to preface anything I say with an apology for "daring" to have an opinion or feeling about something... just like I did, all those years ago.

On this rainy morning, I sit here in this vault of memories and consider the strange allure of the past in all of our lives... and how it can "trap" us; keep us locked in stagnant places we seem unable to grow beyond. It's not an "evil" trap... but it holds us, nonetheless. The past can exert great power over us-- in many and strange ways-- yet we are powerless to "do anything" to change that past or to go back to it. And the naked truth is that there is no going back. It doesn't matter whether our pasts were joyful or traumatic... they are "back there," around a corner we can never get to, and no matter what we may do or want, those pasts can never be "here." Yet... we often give the past outrageous amounts of power and influence over our present choices and actions, typically to our detriment... because of the way it interferes with our ability to experience the present with our eyes as they are... in this moment.

And so-- two weeks into this journey to a past from which I am not even 100% sure what I was seeking-- I decide to leave the past where it belongs, in the past... and try to look at this place with my "Present Eyes:" A house in the woods where I once came to visit; a place that-- objectively speaking-- represented a feeling of "not AS distressed" in a world where I generally felt lost and disconnected. But this house? It is just here, as it has always been. The memories of the past are not... those only live inside my head.

A tiny blue butterfly from a distant past...
It was a sunny day and I walked across the bottom half of the lawn in front of the house, where the meadow used to be. I was looking for something familiar, although I was not sure what... but it had something to do with finding a "sign of the past;" of the past I was looking for but since came to realize no longer exists.

The meadow that no-longer-is used to have a wealth of butterflies, grasshoppers and other small creatures-- including lots and lots of tiny blue butterflies. Now... that acre  is nothing but neatly mowed lawn.

Then I saw a small blue speck flutter across the expanse of green and-- just for the briefest of moments-- settle on a single yellow flower that had somehow escaped the mower's blades. By some miracle, I was carrying my camera and was able to snap a picture before the little guy moved on.

And I realized that much of the allure of this place lies not so much in triggering the traces of personal memories I have been chasing, as in its ability to make all of outside existence fade into the background, allowing me (and anyone else who visits) to truly BE with themselves and their memories, and the sounds of birds singing and wind in the trees... and the sight of small blue butterflies fluttering across a flowery meadow of yesteryear. In some ways, this place feels as ancient and timeless as the land itself and the breeze in the leaves softly shares whispered memories from endless summer evenings of my distant past.

And that's as it should be. They are memories; they are not "now." And I'm OK with that...

Monday, May 18, 2015

HSPs and the Challenges of Ambition and Achievement

This morning, I was reading a post about HSPs and Achievement by fellow HSP blogger Cliff Harwin. Cliff asked his HSP readers: "What are the biggest obstacles to Achievement?"

I sent off my answer (below), but the question really made me think and realize that it's an issue with many "layers" of meaning.

Now, let me preface what follows by saying that these impressions apply to me, and are-- by no means-- intended to serve as some kind of broader summary of "How HSPs feel about Achievement." That said, I will also add that I have encountered a great many who could deeply relate to how I feel.

First, here's how I originally replied to the blog post:

My major obstacle is that I am just not ambitious. The concept of "achievement" isn't something that shows up on my radar. I want to "achieve" paying my bills... which is not to say that there aren't things I'm passionate about-- there are-- I greatly enjoy nature photography, beach combing, writing and other things... I just have never felt much compulsion to "do" anything with that. So I end up at the crossroads of HAVING to do "something" in order to have a "realistically functioning" life and just being a "stationary object." 
Thankfully, I have made it to where my life revolves around my basically "playing with my hobbies" for a living, which is quite enjoyable... but it doesn't afford me any more than the fundamental ability to "pay my bills." Which I am not sure where fits on the "achievement" scale. 
So then I can close my own circular reasoning with the answer "My biggest obstacles to achievement are that I don't care about achievement."

Now, whereas I stand by those words, they do beg some deeper exploration. Specifically, they bring to mind discussions I have had with fellow HSPs concerning how we define "success."

I have been asked the question whether I am "avoiding" or am "in denial" about something relating to achievement and success, and that's a valid concern,

Many moons ago, I spent several years in therapy-- and one topic that came up along the way was whether or not I was being "avoidant" of certain aspects of life, and specifically whether I was suffering from the (not uncommon) psychological condition referred to as "Fear of Success," which plagues many who are perceived by the greater world as "underachievers."

In the course of some pretty rigorous self inquiry work, I did manage to sort out the parts of my psyche that avoided "striving" out of a fear-- old "programming"-- centered on the negative thought pattern "as soon as I have anything, it will just be taken away from me, so why bother in the first place."

With that out of the way, I am still left with my "core values attitude" towards the meaning of "success" and "achievement." So let's poke around in that.

"Achievement"-- which we might consider a branch or cousin of "success"-- generally comes about as a consequence of our motivations. And this is an area in which many HSPs find that their personal life philosophies radically differ from those of the Greater World. When you're highly Sensitive, you're often not motivated by the things the greater world uses as measuring sticks for success. And I'm not just talking about work, here.

To narrow down what I was trying to arrive at, here are a bunch of things I can honestly say I am not motivated by:

Fame? Who cares...

Power? Not the slightest interest.

Material objects? I could see myself collecting art, but that's about it.

Money? Only to the extent that I'd definitely prefer to just PAY my electric bill, rather than deal with the stress of negotiating payments through a bill collector.

Winning? Being "number one?" Not really. "Doing my best," definitely... but not as a function of "ranking" myself; rather, to get a sense of satisfaction from "a job well done."

Of course, now we've taking most of the conventional measures of achievement and success off the table-- so what does that leave us with?

To some degree, I am motivated by wanting to "be happy." Of course, that opens up a whole new bag of worms... because what does "happy" mean? I won't explore that at length-- the shortest version (for me) amounts to some combination of "feeling secure" and "having enough" that I don't have to worry about whether I can afford the rent, electricity and food in the most basic of ways. Nothing fancy.

I am also motivated by a desire to maintain inner peace... and "being left in peace." I am also motivated by my enjoyment of exploring ideas; examining mountains of unrelated facts and data... and then pulling together common threads that turn relative "chaos" into a meaningful and more readily "digestable" summany.

Then there's that rather nebulous concept called "making the world a better place," which rings true in the idealistic natures of many HSPs. Again, it's something I can't generalize about because we each have our own interpretation of what that means.

For me, it means that if my presence or input can somehow lessen others' concerns and suffering, then I have "done right." But I am a fairly "passive" person, in the sense that I have no ambition to go forth and "wave abnners," or teach, or be a counselor or coach, or give lectures or workshops... in an ideal world, change for the better would happen because someone reads words like these and get an insight that helps them on their path; helps them navigate life a little easier.

But that's an outcome that's difficult to measure in terms of "Achievement." In fact, it's an outcome that's probably impossible to "measure" in any terms... and part of why the term achievement is more or less meaningless to me... and to a good number of other HSPs.

But now something else has arisen here-- a paradox, of sorts. As I have closed in on defining my motivations-- and let's, just for grins, call them things I would like to "achieve"-- I am opening up the interesting paradox that one of my "biggest obstacles to achievement" has almost always been "the need to make a living."

Perception? Or reality? Or excuse?

Maybe the truth is that I just haven't yet figured out how to turn a desire to... put the information in front of people that would inspire them to examine their lives and reduce their own pain and suffering... into something that pays for groceries and electricity, here in 3D reality.

So... my "ambition," and-- ultimately-- the "achievement" I strive for-- is bridging the gap between "doing what I want" and "I need to eat."

Until then?

I'll continue "playing with my hobbies for a living," because it's the best substitute I have.

If you've read this far, congratulations! And thank you!

What was the point of this article, really? In a sense, an exercise in thinking about the layers of deeper meaning behind words we see every day. There's that trite saying that "change comes from within." Whereas it's true, many people miss something in translation of "within." Within doesn't just mean that it starts with ourselves, it means that we need to get to the "center of the onion layers" of our being in order to gain real understanding and then make real changes.

What do YOU think? In closing, I'd like to rephrase Cliff Harwin's original question and instead ask "What does Achievement mean, to YOU?" Have you done the inner work to truly define-- "from the center of the onion"-- what your ambitions are? If not, is something keeping you from that? If so, what? Do share and leave a comment!

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