Sunday, December 30, 2007

Making a difference: Soft Clothing for HSPs

I don't typically use this platform to "promote" or otherwise endorse people or products, but every now and then something crosses my path that I see as having the potential to significantly improve or positively affect the lives of people I care about; people who are members of "my tribe" of fellow HSPs.

As highly sensitive people, many of us have sensitive skin, and many have experienced the irritation of "scratchy labels" and uncomfortable clothing. Some of you are parents with sensitive kids-- and perhaps struggle to find clothing they are happy wearing. Perhaps you have also have found it difficult to find comfortable clothing for yourself.

This morning, I got a note from an acquaintance with an idealistic spirit, AND something else. She has an IDEA for a fledgling business that I realized could be of considerable positive impact for HSPs: She is designing and starting a line of "soft clothing" SPECIFICALLY for people with sensitive skin. Although her intended niche market (to begin with) is children with Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and a range of skin sensitivities, this is also a series of products that would appeal directly to HSPs, and might eventually include lines for adults, as well.

As I read her idea, I was reminded of how "fussy" I was about clothing, as a kid. I "made" my mom cut all the labels out of my shirts. Of course, that happened under duress, but still.

The reason I am writing this is NOT because I am asking you to go BUY something. Jessica (whose idea this is) is part of a "seed money contest" sponsored by Advanta Banking Services. Basically, the idea with the most "thumbs up" votes wins the start-up capital for their idea.

We often talk about how it's "part of being an HSP" to want to change the world, and to make a difference. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could help an idea that clearly is "HSP-friendly" make it, in the greater world?

Here's an opportunity to do just that.

This is VERY short notice, I realize-- the current contest ends at midnight on December 31st, so we need to act NOW.

If you believe this sounds like a "worthy" idea, please take a couple of minutes to follow the link below and cast your vote for Jessica's idea to become a reality:

Vote at the "Idea Blob" site

The site will ask you to register before you can vote, which will take you all of 30 seconds. If you feel like adding an encouraging comment to her entry page as well, that would probably be appreciated, too.

To see Jessica's web site, and more about "Soft Clothing," go here:

Please take a moment to make a difference for an HSP-friendly idea!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Peace on Earth!

The message is in the photo.

The peace sign is plowed into the hillside near the intersection of San Juan Avenue and F Street in Port Townsend, WA.

Yes, you can probably see it from space, if you have google earth.

Happy Holidays to all!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

HSP Writing

On occasion, I have alluded to the fact that I am a writer. Even though I don't really write "for a living" (meaning I don't get paid enough to actually live on), I have written many articles over the years, on the topic of being an HSP.

Alas, most of them have been scattered around an assortment of web sites and ezines. Some can still be found if you search for them, others have died with the web sites that hosted them, and yet others have just been forgotten. There are also some that are largely written, but still sit here on my computer hard drive.

I have recently been encouraged by a friend who told me I "out to publish" my writings on the HSP trait. I don't think she fully appreciated the scale of the "research project" that would be associated with gathering everything in one place... but her encouragement was enough for me to at least make an attempt.

I am going to use this post for links to my writing about the HSP trait... which I have decided to publish previously unfinished work through the "hubpages" web site, because it allows people to view without needing to "sign up" for anything. I'll also be adding links to writing in other places. I hope you'll stop by and read, and perhaps leave me a comment.

The Highly Sensitive Person: An Introduction
HSP Topics: The Challenge of Friendships

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Getting Enough Light: The perils of SAD

As we head further into the "dark" part of the year, some people discover that their moods also get darker. As HSPs, I believe we are particularly susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because we are so tuned in to our environments.

I used to live in the south (Texas), but now I live in northwestern Washington where the days are short in winter, and the sky is often cloudy. Although I much prefer the climate here, I am also very aware that it is darker than I was previously accustomed to.

If SAD affects you in an extreme way, light therapy might be the only way you can get relief. However, there are many HSPs who are just "mild sufferers."

I have found it very helpful to make a point of getting outside during daylight hours, even if the weather is yucky. I don't necessarily need direct sun (although that's a nice benefit), as long as I get some direct daylight. You may think you get "daylight" from sitting in your house, but it's not quite the same thing. If you work during all daylight hours, consider taking your lunch outside to eat... even if it's a bit chilly and nasty. If you have time (or get breaks) even a 15-minute brisk walk can be a great help.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

HSPs and Holiday Stress

As the holiday season approaches, I am seldom with a group of HSPs, or part of an HSP web group for that matter-- without a few moans and groans coming up. "HSPs and Holiday Stress" seems to just be "one of those topics" that comes up and gets rehashed this time of the year.

I find myself having some minor "guilt" over the fact that I basically live at the end of the world and will
NOT be dealing with "family situations" for the holidays. Actually, I feel somewhat grateful that I have so little family, and they live so far away, and I won't have to "deal with" a whole situation of getting together with a bunch of people who sit around and pretend to "like" each other and that they are "enjoying" themselves, even while making snide comments about everyone present.

Maybe my attitude towards the holidays reflects that they were never really very positive times for me. Some of my attitude is a certain "bah-humbug-ishness," left over from the 12-odd years I managed an upscale gift store. Dealing with the "general public" around the holidays really brings a person in touch with the less attractive aspects of the human condition.

I also know that some of my reluctance has to do with being an HSP, and easily getting overstimulated by social situations, and what I think of as "psychic loudness."

I was thinking about the above statement, earlier... and realize that I do
not have anxiety around social situations, and I am actually quite good at dealing with them. Even though I am an introvert.

What I am NOT good at is dealing with "forced" social situations... and so many family holidays seem very "forced" to me. And few things throw me over into overwhelm than needing to "pretend" I feel a certain way about a situation... when those feelings are actually not
AT ALL how I am feeling.

The holidays are a time of the year when it becomes especially important for the highly sensitive person to be aware of-- and honor-- their sensitivity. Now, when I say "honor," I don't mean we have to become "spoiled prima donnas" who have to have everyone accommodate us. What I mean is that we need to "ration" our available energy and good cheer more carefully, because there are more demands made on us, and the environment around us-- from family plans to the eternal commercial messages on television-- seems far more "invasive" than during the rest of the year.

Many HSPs want to be "up" for the holidays and for family and friends. So pause for a moment, and find ways to create more peaceful moments "in between," and take a little time to figure out what other actvities you can cut out of your schedule, to give yourselves more energy for holiday events.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts from the First Colorado HSP Gathering

I am gradually "returning to the surface" again after my trip to the HSP Gathering in Estes Park, Colorado. I had a somewhat different perspective this time, as organizer Jacquelyn Strickland had invited me to co-host the event, and I also facilitated a workshop (along with a couple of other "activities")... things that stretched my introverted self well outside my normal comfort zones.

This was my 5th Gathering... and each has its own unique "atmosphere." It was also one of the largest Gatherings, with a "peak" attendance of 37 HSPs... and I came away this time with perhaps more authentic and deep connections than I have before. Sometimes the mix of personalities seems "just right," and this was one of those times.

The setting for this Gathering was Estes Park, CO... adjacent to Rocky Mountain National Park, it was really a wonderful venue. We were at the YMCA of the Rockies-- which is not like most people would picture a typical "Y," rather it is a sprawling campus of buildings across a very large parcel of land-- capable of hosting conventions and retreats of up to 1500 people.

Gatherings are not easy to explain. On the surface, they unfold a bit like a spiritual/self-growth workshop... but on a deeper level, they also tend to be truly life-changing events for attendees. There's a level of comfort and connection and validation many people have never experienced before in their lives-- and that just changes you, as a person. For five days, you get to experience how it feels to be "100% OK" in the company of a group of peers. Being in a group of HSPs is nothing like the atmosphere we normally associate with "group" events.

When I first started going to Gatherings, it was to learn; these days I go almost purely for the fellowship, and to help other HSPs make connections. In talking to a couple of other attendees, I shared that Gatherings have become a fixture on my "social calendar," every year. HSP Gatherings (officially known as "Gathering Retreats") are constantly evolving. In the broadest sense, they now (loosely) follow a format fairly common in spiritual and self-growth workshops... there's a morning session that's more or less a "classroom" workshop; there's an afternoon session that's less formal, and might include discussions of "what we have learned," or may be some kind of "extracurricular" activity. Evenings are designed mostly for socializing.

The opening day, Thursday, is mainly for "getting-to-know-you" activities and introductions, along with a bit of orientation. The remaining days offer a mixture of workshops on HSP-related topics, typically culminating with Elaine Aron's workshop on Sunday morning. Because we were in splendid natural surroundings, this Gathering included a lot of outdoor activities-- hiking, picnic, watching the Elk at the Park (although they were all over the YMCA campus, as well), horseback riding. This time we also had "Art Night" and "Creativity Night," which are long standing favorites with attendees. In the late evenings, there was usually a group of people sitting around, talking, till the wee hours.

The learning is nice, but as one of my fellow attendees commented, "the real star of the show is the camaraderie between likeminded souls." And I must second that. It seems that even for those who come "to learn," it still ends up being "the people" that leaves the strongest impression.

I love watching people share what they hope to get from the Gathering on opening night, and then hearing what they are taking with them, as we go through closing remarks, five days later. The differences are often striking. "Something" happens to people who go to Gatherings. No matter HOW introverted, anxious and hesitant they might feel when they arrive, by the end of about the third day you'd be hard pressed to say that anyone present is an introvert. People who (three days earlier) would swear on a stack of Bibles that they would NEVER speak in front of a group voluntarily tell their life stories in front of a roomful of people. I don't know HOW it happens, it just DOES.

I find myself somewhat at a loss for words, trying to describe how it feels to be there. In fact, you really have to go to one to fully "get" what it's about. For those of you intrigued, the next fixed date for a Gathering is California (San Francisco Bay Area) on June 19-23, 2008. There MAY be a US East Coast event before that (spring 2008), but that remains contingent on someone "local" stepping forward to co-host. For those of you with a slightly longer time horizon, there's a Gathering planned for the UK in the spring of 2009... I met the co-host-- Sam New-Fielding-- here at the Colorado Gathering, and think she's going to help put on a wonderful event.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

HSP Gathering in Estes Park, Colorado, October 4-8, 2007

I am writing this post to share information about the next HSP Gathering, which will take place in Estes Park, Colorado, from October 4th-8th, 2007... and to encourage all who read this to seriously consider attending a Gathering.

This is the first Gathering (13th overall, since 2001) to be held in a location not on the west or east coast, offering more ready access for people all over the country. Also, with Denver being the "central hub" of most US air travel, this is an attractive location from the perspective of inexpensive air fare. And if you need a different sort of "excuse," Colorado is REALLY beautiful in the fall, when the leaves are turning.

Registration for the Colorado Gathering is now open, and the sooner you sign up the lower the conference fee will be. I know it's in the nature of HSPs to "pause and reflect," but please do register as soon as you can, as it will keep your cost lower... eventually, registration may reach an "as available" stage, if you wait too long.

I cannot overstate the "value" of going to a Gathering. I say this from the perspective of what I have personally gained from going to many Gatherings... as well as from the perspective of watching 100s of HSPs undergo major life transformations as a result of going. We may be able to intellectually grasp the idea that we're "OK," but there is no substitute fot actually feeling that, through direct experience.

Gatherings are about learning, about going on a retreat, and about fellowship with other HSPs. We spend Thursday through Monday together, engaged in a mixture of workshops, social time, and just "quiet time" to reflect on the ongoing experience. The atmosphere is casual, never stressful.

You might say "yeah, but it's just too expensive!" I'll save the long-winded explanation that it's actually a lot LESS than your typical 5-day self-growth workshop-- in fact, you'd spend twice the amount it costs to go to a Gathering, to go to a weekend workshop with Elaine Aron at a retreat center like Esalen, Omega or Kripalu. Instead, I'll just say that I feel fairly confident in stating that it will probably be the best money you'll ever spend in helping yourself understand the HSP trait, and in feeling validated as an HSP. There's a good reason why people keep returning to these events, year after year.

You might say "yeah, but it's a GROUP!" True. It is. But I can also assure you that a group of HSPs is like NO other group you'll ever be part of. The level of emotional safety and inclusion is-- literally-- "mind altering" for people... I have watched even the most retiring and introverted of HSPs virtually "become extraverts," in a matter of 48 hours.

You might say "yeah, but I am too much of a misfit, even for a group of HSPs!" If you are skeptical, or want to get a better sense of how a Gathering really works, I encourage you to read Gathering attendee Marcia Norris' words on "Why HSPs Need To Gather" from 2002 or read my own photojournal from the first Gathering I went to, in California. Again, I can only say that I have personally watched people's perspective change from a sense of "I am a misfit" to having made a dozen genuine friendships, in a matter of days. To loosely paraphrase one attendee of several Gatherings: "It is amazing to come here and feel more welcome and included by a bunch of strangers than I feel with people who have been my family for over 50 years."

I couldn't agree more.

Gathering registration forms are now available (as a pdf download) on organizer Jacquelyn Strickland's web site. You're also welcome to email me with questions about Gatherings, or leave a comment!

Monday, July 16, 2007

HSPs and the struggle with Friendships

I have generally stuggled with relationship/friendship dynamics for most of my life. Of course, until I learned about the HSP trait, I pretty much believed that I "should" be able to make friend with almost anyone... and it was a puzzle to me why it always seemed so difficult, and why so many friendships I formed seemed to quickly go away.

On a very general level, it seems to me that HSPs and non-HSPs often "interpret" the same situation quite differently... and there are communication issues, even when both people have only the best of intentions. And given that there are few HSPs in the world, it generally holds true that most people we meet with will not be HSPs.

Whereas I used to have trouble even making friends (but that was on account of social anxiety, not because I'm an HSP), I now make friends rather easily. However, keeping them is rather a challenge, at least when it comes to mon-HSPs.

One observation I have-- which I have explored in some depth with an HSP "internet pen pal"-- is that I believe a lot of people are initially attracted to the depth and intensity of HSPs; but while we (well, at least I speak for myself) want that intensity to continue, for other people it's like "the novelty wears off" and they want to return to the more superficial way of living they consider their "normal." Actually, it feels like they just get tired of the intensity, and want me to "lighten up." It sort of reminds me of a saying my former therapist liked to trot out: "Opposites attract, but they don't necessarily make good bed-fellows."

Most HSPs I meet seem to be very good listeners, combined with a natural tendency towards compassion and empathy. How often have you-- as an HSP-- been told you are "really easy to talk to?" HSPs also seem to have "soft" personal boundaries.... which (at least for me) seems to combine to create this dynamic in which I feel like I gradually become someone's "therapist" rather than their friend. I grant you, I am naturally predisposed to helping those with "broken wings," so I am sure that has influenced my choices. And I know that part of friendship is about sharing "troubles," but it ends up feeling like "one-way traffic," and I find myself pondering "does everyone have this much chaos and drama in their life?" And I am sure the fact that I don't tend to say things like "take your crap and drama to someone else" (which I understand "normal" people do quite readily) also plays into the picture.

I recently realized that during the past 10 years-- about as long as I have known about the HSP trait-- virtually all the new friends I have made have been fellow HSPs. Now, that may sound a bit "exclusive," but the truth of the matter is that friends are like our chosen family. Whereas it may sound all nicely egalitarian and politically correct to choose "diversified" friends, the basic truth remains that we choose people to be with because we enjoy their company. And I happen to like the company of HSPs... and I highly recommend finding and making some HSP friends.

Maybe that sounds hard... but it needn't be. Most of my HSP friends started as friends in cyberspace that eventually turned into "real life" friends. Remember, you always have the right to make friends at a pace that "feels right" to you, and the relative slowness of the Internet often works well for HSPs.

Monday, July 09, 2007

HSPs, a Sense of Rightness and Fanaticism

I don't typically write "op-ed" pieces here, but this is a bit of an exception.

As keen observers and deep processors, it often strikes me that many HSPs have a deep sense of what is "right" in the context of social justice, and what seems "right" in the world. We don't like to see people wronged, and it affects us very strongly when we see (or experience) something unjust. It is likely that a lot of HSPs can be found in non-profit organizations that focus on the protection of rights-- of individuals, victims, animals, and so forth.

In most cases, when a belief (even with good intent) is taken to the extreme, a line is crossed from rightenousness to fanaticism. In the case of HSPs, this can take on an interesting character, because most HSPs operate under a profound attachment to the idea that they are "nice people." Being a "nice person," then, ends up running head first into the contrary view that someone has become a raging fanatic.

What prompted this post was my reflecting, this morning, on a few HSPs I have known who vanished from my life at various times. Most, I knew through an online forum for HSPs, and I was reminded of them by a recent discussion on the topic "Whatever happened to?"

I considered these people friends to various degrees... and yet, they also had an unhealthy fanaticism about them; an obsession with their beliefs that precluded the ablity to empathize with anyone who did not see their point of view as "the only way things should be." And they disappeared because they felt like my failing to agree with their point of view was a "betrayal." Metaphorically speaking, they might have been crusading for something like the freedom for people to randomly yell "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theater, because it represents "freedom of speech." And then... condemn anyone who didn't agree that such a motivation was "wonderful." Or stand in the middle of a busy street and scream in outrage because cars honk their horns as they swerve to miss them.

In my opinion, a person does not become exempt from being responsible for sociopathic and antisocial behavior, just because they happen to be "Highly Sensitive." And whereas it is noble to crusade for the rights of a victimized minority... gaining those rights for a handful, to the detriment of a large majority, is ultimately indistinguishable from the atmosphere that created the victims, in the first place... the focus is on "winners" and "losers," rather than "solutions."

In a sense, it reminds me of insurgents in so-called "Banana Republics." The rebellion leaders are brilliant at overthrowing the "evil government," but have NO idea about how to run a country once the old regime has been unseated. In a sense, they are "professional complainers," but not "world changers."

The true "Social Justice HSP" is about a lot more than merely stirring the pot... that person is creating a viable alternative, and rallying support around it, making the old paradigm obsolete. And shouting "fire" in a crowded movie theater isn't going to cut it.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Lifelessons: A Whack Upside the Head

"Teachers" and "learning" take many different shapes. We're quite used to school settings and universities; some of us also see learning on a more personal level-- we attend workshops, read self-help books, and "study ourselves" in an effort to find meaning in our lives.

As adults-- especially when we embark on a journey that's fairly spiritual in nature-- we like to think of learning as "pleasant" and "insightful." Similarly, we like to think of our teachers as "kind" and "supportive." And yet...

... often the most meaningful lessons come in the form of our coming face-to-face with something we'd really rather not know about ourselves, or something we've been "pretending doesn't exist."

HSPs, for example, are often very attached to the idea of being "nice people." I believe many of us are, and there's nothing wrong with being nice, as long as it comes from an authentic and compassionate place. However, "cultivating" niceness, and subsequently burying authentic expression in its service tends to do more harm than good. In many years of observing myself, as well as other HSPs, there seems to be no place with more pitfalls than our often "dubious" relationship with anger.

Anger is a legitimate emotion, and often a very productive one, if understood and espressed in a healthy manner. Anger (usually) tells us that a boundary (whether we're actively aware of it, or not) has been broken... and serves as a "warning system" that something isn't how we want it to be. And yet-- for many of us-- the warning bells are ignored, because we want to remain "a nice person, and nice people don't get angry."

It took me a great many years to first recognize, and subsequently heal, my "relationship" with anger. I used to (with some pride, I might add!) declare that I didn't get angry. And to the casual observer, it probably looked like I was speaking the truth. But fellow empaths could always sense "the poison within," and would call me on it. Which-- ironically-- was one of the very few things that would make me feel anger... someone telling me I felt anger, when I was deeply attached to non-anger.

Dealing with my anger-avoidance took years of personal work. Central to "breaking through" was the understanding that my anger-avoidance stemmed from growing up with a rage-aholic father... and (mis)interpreting his random rages, thrown objects, screaming, cursing and resultant inability to make and keep friendships as a "global" definition of "what anger looks like." I categorically rejected his model... but had no model for "alternative" expression.

Coming face-to-face with many years of repressed anger was definitely NOT something I wanted to experience. It was an unwanted whack upside the head. And the therapist who "got through" to me, was a Teacher who told me something I didn't want to hear.

Another "Swampy" area for many HSPs on the learning path is selfishness and manipulation. Rarely do more hackles go up than when someone suggests an HSP is "selfish and manipulative." Again, this tends to play directly to our attachment to being "nice people," and "nice people" are NOT selfish and manipulative.

Unlike anger (which tends to be openly visible), this area is often fuzzy and ill-defined. But because we tend to be deeply empathic and "feel" the energy and emotions of others, it is often just a short step to "using" this information to get what we want. And it tends to be a sub- or unconscious process. We think we are being "selfless" and "helpful" to someone, and yet we end up raining on their parade through subtly insisting on the "how" and "when" of being helpful to others. Because-- by gum-- "we know better" than they do. Similarly, we often subtly manipulate groups through a process of publically attaching "non-importance" to our needs. A reluctant "I can go in spite of my sensitivities" is really an indirect invitation to others to put our needs before theirs. Not a popular view, of course. But when someone gently points out to us that we're "using" sensitivity to manipulate situations... a good "whack upside the head."

Which brings me full circle on the whole idea of Teachers, learning, and being an HSP. As HSPs we often have certain learning challenges that feel like they are compounded by lifetimes of feeling "unseen" and "unheard." Because of this "invisibility" we sometimes get trapped in patterns where we expect our teachers to "validate" us more than is really reasonable. When that happens, we're not really learning, we're asking someone to validate our dysfunctions, when we ask for support.

True support isn't having "emotional yes-men/women" around us... it is having someone who supports our efforts at growth, while remaining willing to share what they see.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

In review: 2007 California HSP Gathering

It felt like a bit of a homecoming to return to Walker Creek Ranch in Marin County for the 2007 West Coast HSP Gathering. WCR is one of my favorite spots in the world, and it was also the venue of the very first HSP Gathering, as well as the location for the first Gathering I personally attended.
View of Turtle Pond at Walker Creek Ranch
This was the 12th Gathering; the 5th at Walker Creek Ranch. 26 HSPs from as far away as New Zealand attended, spending four days together. As always, it was a beautiful experience to see people from around the world come together, and realize that they had "found their tribe" after many years of feeling like "the odd one."

Every Gathering appears to have a particular "spirit;" the spirit of this event seemed to be "camraderie." More than any other Gathering I have been to, "socializing" took center stage, as normally retiring and private HSPs stayed up till 1:00-1:30 in the morning, talking in the common room, or around an impromptu campfire.

In addition to social time, there were a variety of workshops to choose from, culminating with Elaine Aron's "keynote presentation" on Saturday morning, followed by a book signing. Although not attending to give a workshop, Dr. Barrie Jaeger (author of "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person") was also at the Gathering, and met informally with many gatherers to discuss HSPs and work.

As often is the case, the "closing circle" was the most emotionally charged time we had, as each person contemplated and shared what they hoped to take with them. Overwhelmingly, the answers tended towards the idea of "community," and "belonging" and a deep desire to stay connected with the beautiful people we had so quickly managed to connect so deeply with.


The idea of going to an HSP Gathering may seem unusual to many who read this. After all, it seems "unlikely" that an HSP would voluntarily travel across the country (stress) to be with a group (stress) of strangers (stress). All I can tell you-- as a result of experiencing many HSP Gatherings and workshops-- is that a group of HSPs is not like "a group" as you might be familiar with it. The energy is gentle and accepting; all the things you may have thought made you "odd" are suddenly OK, and probably shared by most present. I highly recommend going to gatherings, because they are-- quite simply-- life-changing events.

The next HSP Gathering will take place in Estes Park, CO on October 4-7th, 2007. For more information, and to register, please visit organizer Jacquelyn Strickland's web site.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

2007 California HSP Gathering

There are few things more healing and validating than spending time with other members of "Our Tribe."

"Tribes" typically form around a common interest, activity, or cause. It doesn't really matter what we might consider our tribe to be-- the common point is being among people who seem to "get it" in ways we don't experience in our daily lives.

In a few days, I am heading to Northern California for the 2007 West Coast HSP Gathering. Yes, HSPs have "Gatherings." This will be the 12th such event since 2001; the 4th I will have gone to. Past venues have included New England, B.C. Canada, Washington and the UK, in addition to multiple locations in California. A "Gathering" is basically four days of HSPs spending time together in workshops, meditation and general socializing with their peers.

The thought of voluntarily going and spending time with a group of relative strangers is daunting-- even scary-- to most people. However, I am really looking forward to the Gathering, because experience has shown me that the type of event I am going to-- even with 30 other people present-- will most likely represent the four most peaceful days of my year. I am also looking forward to meeting with HSP Authors Elaine Aron and Barrie Jaeger.

If you have ever thought about attending an HSP Gathering, I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

HSPs and Avoidance

I wonder sometimes, why so many HSPs-- and Sensitive-type people, in general-- so frequently become "avoidant." I don't speculate on this idly, because it has been true of my own past, as well.

Yes, on some intellectual level, I understand that HSPs are "hurt more deeply" when life gets rough, but in this particular case I am more referring to a different pattern I often observe.

Metaphorically speaking, the inner reasoning seems to go something like "I was badly hurt by event type A, therefore I will never attempt (completely different) event types B and C." Call it "non-parallel reasoning," if you will.

Being an HSP is an inborn trait. We can't make it "go away," so the only way to thrive in life is to understand the trait, and then-- armed with knowledge-- to strike out on a path that stays true to our essence and values. Hiding in a hole doesn't really use our potential. And we are not "owed" special treatment and concessions by others; the only "debt" we are owed is to treat ourselves with kindness that honors the trait.

Avoidance takes many shapes; wears many faces. On the simplest level, we may "wish" for something but say "I'll wait and let someone else do that, rather than take the initiative." It could be something as incredibly simple as avoiding posting an idea to a web discussion group, choosing to "wait for someone else" to do so, instead. More recently, I have had HSP acquaintances comment about my upcoming trip to the annual HSP Gathering in California with words like "I just couldn't do something like that, with a group-- but do let me know how it goes." The underlying fallacy is that the experience of being with a "group" of HSPs "must be" the same as a past negative experience with with a "group" of non-HSPs on a corporate team-building retreat.... because "that's how groups work."

The two, of course, bear little-- if any-- resemblance.

Whereas there may be exceptions, not much change comes out of waiting for someone else to "bring" us the life we want.

If we want change, we must be our own catalysts.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Calendar: 2007 HSP Gatherings

I am going to take a brief "commercial break" here to put in a plug to all HSPs to consider making one of the HSP Gatherings part of your 2007 schedule.

I have attended several of these events, and cannot stress enough how much of a validating experience they are for HSPs. There is nothing quite like spending a long weekend in a completely "HSP safe" space.

Some HSPs express concern about going to a "group event." And I must admit that the first time I went to an HSP Gathering, I felt very apprehensive about voluntarily agreeing to spend four days with 30 complete strangers. But my fears were unfounded. The "energy" of a group of HSPs is such that it really doesn't feel like you're "in a group."

Although it may seem expensive to many, the expense of going to an HSP Gathering is actually considerably lower than most spiritual and self-growth workshops of similar length.

Make a difference in your life-- attend an HSP Gathering!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Thoughts About "Enlightenment"

It is well documented that HSPs tend to be "deep thinkers." In her book "The Highly Sensitive Person," Dr. Elaine Aron describes HSPs as "prone to deep reflection on inner experience."

In a sense, this is the "puzzle piece" of HSP-ness that explains why so many HSPs are on paths of spiritual discovery, often involving much self-inquiry and introspection. The average person may not care much about such ideas as "Enlightenment," but it often holds a great deal of interests for HSPs, and often becomes a topic of conversation at the annual HSP Gatherings.

There are certain funny notions attached to enlightenment, and many of them apply directly to HSPs. The one I am going to focus on today is the perception that to live an enlightened life, we must turn our back on money, and any and all desires to have anything material in our lives. The ironic thing about this paradigm is that we see "enlightenment" as an all-or-nothing proposition, in which we either become the "Guru In A Diaper" who sits serenely on a mountain top, OR we have "accomplished nothing." The irony lies in the fact that a concept like "enlightenment" has its roots in nonduality, and we immediately assign an "either/or" duality to it.

Enlightenment-- to the degree we experience it-- isn't about abandoning money or things. Enlightenment is about reducing/ending our personal suffering. And we don't really end suffering by making declarations that we must be "dirt poor" in order to see the light. In fact, we just trade one form of suffering for another.

It is true that greater self-awareness often involves a certain amount of "downsizing" of the stuff we surround ourselves with-- "stuff" we have put there because it feeds our egos. But there is a huge difference between making a choice to be a "responsible" human (in the sense Daniel Quinn distinguished between "givers" and "takers" in his metaphorical novel "Ishmael"), and choosing a modern-day ascetic lifestyle.

Sometimes we just have to stop and think about whether we are making sense.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Conversation Café: Using Conversation to Help Save the World

As part of trying to feel settled in my new town, I have joined a group called "Conversation Café." It might sound somewhat "counter to type" for an HSP to "join a group," but this case is rather different.

An issue facing many HSPs centers around the fact that we tend to prefer the "deep and meaningful" in life-- be it in conversation, or in what we read, or in the people we choose as friends. This often feels like a great challenge to us, because we perceive most of the world around us to be "fluffy" and interested in largely talking "about nothing."

So what is a "Conversation Café?"

It's a group of people who meet once a week (at a local restaurant) to talk. Yes, I said "talk." What's different about it lies both in the structure of the dialogue, and in the topics discussed.

Each week, a topic is chosen ahead of time (so you can think about it)-- it might be something like "the value of collective wisdom" or "is there purpose to believing in God." The topics are never "lightweight" issues, but rather things that directly affect our lives, and the world at large. The conversation goes by a "talking stick" being passed around the circle-- and only the person holding the talking stick may speak. This means that there is no chance for more forceful voices to drown out the more softspoken people-- everybody gets equal time, and equal voice. This is an ideal format for HSPs, since they often feel "drowned out" by louder voices. Typically, the conversation goes for about 1 1/2 hours... and we all tend to come away wiser and more enlightened.

I don't often recommend group events to HSPs, but this is one of the rare exceptions. If you'd like to learn more, and perhaps see if there's an existing café in your area, visit the Converation Cafe web site.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Creating a New Way to Live

One of my friends-- and fellow HSPs-- once coined the phrase "Creative Slacker." I have adopted that term as a description of myself, because it seems extremely appropriate.

In her book "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person," HSP author Barrie Jaeger suggests that HSPs most often find the way to their true calling in life through some form of self-employment.

As part of my own ongoing life changes, I continue to explore ways that allow me to stay true to myself and what I believe in, without needing to "sell out," in the service of financial needs or "societal peer pressure."

I realize that I have never had much ambition or desire to strive for "success" in the sense greater society defines it. For many years, I pursued a carreer in sales, marketing and advertising-related fields, because I operated under the impression that I "should" do something like that, to "get ahead" in life. All the while, I felt like a horrible misfit in my surroundings. From speaking to many HSPs about their work, I get the sense that we HSPs often wrestle with the issue of "finding meaning" at work. And meaning is not the same thing as money.

The challenge for me, these days, is laying out a path that allows me to earn a basic living from things that really matter to me:
  • Writing
  • Helping people feel better about themselves
  • Being in nature, often with a camera
  • Collecting stamps
  • Walking on the beach

I think a lot of people go about the process of deciding on their work "backwards." They start at "will this make money" and then ask the question "do I like it?"

I once came across an exercise in a book, which asked readers to make a list of everything, ever, that made them feel pure joy, happiness and contentment. It could be sleeping, it could be petting a kitten, it could be winning at cribbage. The purpose was not to discover a career, but to discover "patterns" in what creates happiness. And from that pattern, we can discover ways of earning an income.

It's all a matter of creativity.

If all you feel you are good at is SLEEPING, you can always look for a job as a mattress tester, or working in a dream research lab.

It's all a matter of creativity.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A 10th Anniversary, of Sorts

It's hard for me to believe, but this spring it will have been 10 years since I first picked up a copy of Elaine Aron's book "The Highly Sensitive Person," and learned about this shared trait of ours.

In the ensuing 10 years, I have experienced quite an "evolution" in my relationship with the trait-- from curiosity, to denial, to learning, to acceptance... to the place where I am today, experiencing the trait as simply another puzzle-piece in the greater package that is "me." I suppose you could say that I have "made peace" with my HSP-ness.

The last 10 years have not been without change. A part of the "knowing" about the trait also serves to enable to to start living a life that "fits" an HSP. I have made considerable personal changes, as I have learned about the trait. At the same time, general awareness of high sensitivity has grown by leaps and bounds. 10 years ago, there was just "a book." Now there are scores of web sites, numerous books in several languages, and an increasing number of mental health and wellness professionals who are "HSP aware."

All of this adds up to a better chance for HSPs to live meaningful lives.

And yet, even as more people grow aware of what it means to be an HSP, it is also very obvious that only a tiny percentage of the world's HSPs (for many different reasons) are aware that their struggles in life is due to a biological trait, rather than some pathology. And many simply live in silence, believing that life simply IS "hard."

I suppose my suggestion here, is to urge those who are aware of their trait to "spread the word." Not in some forceful way, or by cramming your ideas down someone's throat, but in the sense of "noticing." Notice when someone seems to exhibit HSP-like traits, and find an opportunity to start a dialogue. Find out about this person, and then perhaps ask them if people have ever told them they are "too sensitive." From a simple dialogue, you have the opportunity to help some else find a sightly easier path in life.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reading: Ted Zeff's New Book for HSPs

I have been reading a copy of Ted Zeff's new book, "The Highly Sensitive Person's Companion." Ted is an HSP, and author of "The Highly Sensitive Person's Survival Guide," which came out in late summer of 2004.

Ted's new book is a small volume, which I expected to read through quite quickly. But actually, there's a lot more to this book than meets the eye.

The book is set up as a year's worth of weekly "exercises," with each short weekly chapter addressing some aspect of being an HSP, from challenges to self-awareness. I think it will be a very valuable addition to most HSP's library of self-help books.

I'll be writing more about it, once I have read the entire book, and worked on the exercises. No, don't worry, it won't be a whole year before I mention it again!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

HSPs and Relating, part II

I think "relating" is particularly important for HSPs.

Actually, I think what is important, is that we have peers to relate to. Other HSPs. Nobody understands what it means to be an HSP, like another HSP. And I feel it is central to our sense of emotional well-being to to feel "related to" on the deep level only one of our peers is capable of. Some might say it seems elitist or exclusive to specifically seek out fellow HSPs... and I have to ask "WHY those feelings?" What is telling you to just accept less than an ideal situation?

And that's why I always am recommending to HSPs that they make friendships with other HSPs. Even if you don't know anyone in your immediate circle, consider making friends with other HSPs online.

Better yet, make plans to attend one of the Annual HSP Gatherings. I have been to several of them, and a large part of my strong feelings about HSPs befriending their peers is a result of my personal experiences with the Gatherings.

It may seem expensive on the surface, but it really is worth it!

Friday, March 09, 2007

HSPs and Relating, Part I

I have been sitting here, thinking about how we relate.

What is it that makes one person interesting to us, and another not so interesting? For me, it is in the degree to which I relate to that person.

I have written before, about how HSPs often struggle with friendships and relationships. Most often, an HSP will lament that they just can't find "deep connections" with people... and I certainly understand those feelings, as they have been very present in my own life.

I am just not all that interested in which celebrity is airing out their dirty laundry this week. I don't really get excited about whether Brad and Jennifer have broken up, nor what the rest of the world thinks about that.

Phrased differently, I don't relate across that particular set of interests.

When I see HSPs struggle in their quests to make friends and have the kind of relationships they want, I often am witness to an inner struggle, of sorts. The struggle seems to be between the idea (usually fed to us by society and our immediate environment) that we "should" make friends, and "should" have certain interests to be liked and popular... and then the inner desire to just "be ourselves."

Apart from the obvious issue of "knowing who we are" it's not always easy to find the courage to stand up and say that we don't give a rat's hind end about Brad and Jennifer, in the face of everyone else at work being totally absorbed in their affairs.

HSP, or not, one of the bottom lines in being human is a desire to feel "part of," rather than "cast aside."

And, as HSPs, I suppose it becomes extra important to take the time to "find our tribe." More about that next time.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Update on the update...



That whole process took rather longer than I expected.

It seems a lot of things take longer than expected, perhaps because I am also really good at procrastinating.

I also learned that I write rather differently in my personal journal than I do when the words are going on a public blog. I am not sure if I can learn something about myself there.

Anyway, I have added some of the more HSP-related musings from my journals, since moving from Texas, and spending a little time here in Port Townsend. Whether anyone will ever read them remains to be seen... but it felt like they should be part of this "journey" I am sharing here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pausing for Station Identification

After a considerable break, I am returning to the HSP Notes blog.

I recently moved across the country, from Texas to Washington state. With all that a major move entails-- especially for an HSP-- both my bandwidth and inclination to post updates here were somewhat limited. Besides, I did not have particularly good Internet connectivity during the past few months. "Wireless Internet" is not all it is cracked up to be, especially when you live "At The End Of The World," as I do now.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to add some "back posts" about the process of moving when you're an HSP, along with the challenges and feelings of leaving one life behind, and embraching a new one. I say "back posts," because I am merely going to copy some of the most relevant journal musings from my journal, to this blog, with the dates as I wrote them.

Some might say "Why bother?"

And it's a valid question. The heart of the answer lies in the many HSPs I have gotten to personally know over the past decade, and in knowing how many dream of making "a major life change," yet are fearful of doing so because they have so little sense for what is actually entailed in the process of completely changing one's paradigm. Whether it is "altruistic" or "self-centered" of me, I feel that if sharing this experience helps even one HSP make a major life change for the better, then it is worth my while.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Feeling exhausted

I promise this will be the last post about my move, because I feel sure everyone is sick to death of hearing about it.

I have been exhausted, on a very deep level.

I came to the conclusion, a few days ago, that once the moving process ended and I was sleeping in a regular bed, in a real house... I pretty much died. A move like the one I just completed is a bit like running a marathon.

Running a marathon takes an extraordinary amount of training and preparation, ahead of time. In a sense, this is very similar to a major life-changing move. Then there is the race, itself. It's both tiring, and exciting, at the same time. At the end, you feel exhausted, but for a while you continue running on "residual adrenaline." Many marathon runners will rest for a few days after a race, and then "pretty much feel OK." So it was with me, once all the stuff had been unpacked, and I got settled in.

But there's a reason why marathn runners only run a few races a year. After a few days, a sort of "deep exhaustion" sets in... a long-term lethargy, as the body works to recover from a period of extreme effort and stress.

All told, I probably spent two years packing, reducing, downsizing, renovating the house, selling the house and a variety of other tasks before actually physically moving. All these things, while also going through the "normal" parts of life, like working to fund all the associated expenses. Then followed six weeks of frantic activity. Sure, it felt good to get settled in... but I found myself being happy, but completely lacking motivation. I basically found that I just wanted to sit and relax. A "busy day" was going to the grocery and walking on the beach.

As I write these words, I am slowly coming to life again. I have been "gone" for about three months... in a sense, that's how much the move "took out of me." Fortunately for me, I have been able to afford myself the relative luxury of being able to take the time to recover. I realize that not everyone can do such a thing.

Elaine Aron, in The Highly Sensitive Person, writes about how HSPs tend to have "in" periods and "out" periods. I realize now that I had been "out" non-stop for almost 24 months, so the three month "in" period was long overdue.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy New Year!

For lack of greater creativity, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

I often think about the turning of the year, in the context of where the mere marking of a date on the calendar gives way to something tangibly "new."

We often use the new year as a reason to "get started" on something, and to make resolutions of things we intend to accomplish in the coming year. In a sense, we try to "create newness" out of something that basically is-- if you think about it-- no more than "just another day."

I sense that my New Year actually has real elements of "newness" to it. After all, I am starting over, in a new location I have longed to be part of, for many years. I have actually created a new reality, which is a bit like a blank canvas I now get to start adding color to.

What do you have on the agenda for your new year, if anything?

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