Friday, June 11, 2010

HSPs and Attachments: Cleaning out the Old, to make room for the New

Change is difficult.

Or, if not "difficult," at least challenging.

Now I am not talking about "changing socks," here... I am talking about real, deep, meaningful and lasting change in how we live our lives.

When I think about change, a favorite quote by Helen Keller comes to mind:

"When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."

I've been "cleaning out the old" today, although only in a very small and microcosmic sort of way. I've been wading through literally 100's of old partially started, half-finished and almost-finished posts I've written for this blog, in the course of the past eight years. I realized, as I was doing this, that I had (and have had) a great reluctance to outright "scrap" any of these old pieces of unfinished writing. After all... "what if" they might be important? Or good? Or worth writing later?

When I contemplated all this "unfinished work" I actually came to the realization that it felt a bit an "emotional boat anchor." As long as I kept it, I was also hanging onto an unspoken/unwritten "obligation" to look at it and finish it... later. And it had a "weight."

I paused for a while to consider this. And got to thinking about other aspects of my life, and then about other people's lives... and what we all "cling to" from our pasts. Why is it sometimes so difficult to just let go of things that no longer serve us?

HSPs are masters of examining their lives-- deep introspection is broadly regarded as a part of the trait. It's "processing more deeply." It's "being aware of nuances," primarily in our own lives. Some would argue that we process excessively, and end up with "analysis paralysis."

But I'm not going to talk about that, today.

I'm going to spend a little time on the subject of "change." And the process of effectuating real personal change, as opposed to superficial "cosmetic" changes that may make us feel good about ourselves for a while, but don't really lead to our lives feeling better, in the long run. Central to forging a path forward is finding a measure of willingness to simply let go old stuff we've carried around, frequently with the intent of "dealing with it later."

Often we have good ideas about where we want to go. And a sense of what must be changed. The genuine challenge-- which seems to hold especially true for HSPs, as a group-- is to let go of "the old." Maybe it's because HSPs become very attached to staying in their comfort zones... and even if our old ways were painful and not serving us, there was still a comfortable familiarity there. And so, rather than let go of what no longer is useful, we remain attached to it, and try to "drag it forward" into our present; into the "new life" we are trying to build.


Don't get me wrong; I believe that examining the past in order to gain insights into the present is a valid endeavor. But once you've examined and processed "the past," why continue to burden yourself with it? Be aware of it? Absolutely! But continue to carry it around? Not so good...

Change is scary, too. As HSPs we generally don't like that aspect of change. And we are often a little bit OCD-ish about wanting to know what we're getting into. Stepping towards the "unknown" makes us hesitate. A secondary consideration is that we often refuse to get rid of the old, until we're certain we're going to take up the new. There may be a measure of sense to that-- at least in some situations-- but if the old warrants discarding, on its own merit, why do we persist in making the discard contingent on starting something new?

Could be a new job, or even a shift from corporate employment to self-employment. Even though we (A) hate our old job and it makes us feel stressed out and miserable and (B) we feel quite certain the new direction will make is feel much happier... we hesitate. Or more than hesitate. Instead of putting our energies and resources into our potentially brighter future, we trap ourselves in rationalizations about our not so happy past. We start telling ourselves that our stressful job isn't really that bad. That working 60 hours a week with people we really never got along with "isn't THAT bad."

Could be a relationship, or the promise of a relationship. Even as someone who has proven themselves worthy, over and over, waits for us with open arms we look backwards and reframe a wildly dysfunctional and abusive situation as "not that bad." In a fit of weakness, we may even decide to "abandon" our future and return to the "familiar devil" of our past.

Or, like my writing, it could a hobby. It could be the fourteen boxes of yarn we've been moving around for 15 years because we intended to take up weaving "at some point." And even though it has become pretty obvious that we will never take up weaving, we still cart the boxes around with us... and they represent not only physical baggage (we need to store them, and we could sure use the storage space), but also an emotional "weight" as we carry with us this "unfulfilled intention" to DO something with all this yarn... and even if that doesn't live in our active memories, we're still aware of it, and it takes up "space" in some way.

So what gives? Why do we cling so hard to "what once was" and "what has been?"

The reasons many, and I won't explore their intricacies and convolutions. The main thing I wanted to bring up is the need for awareness that we're clinging to things that no longer serve us. And to share that there is a great relief-- and subsequent healing-- in the act of simply deciding to "let go." Afterwards, there is a "lightness," and we suddenly feel more capable of stepping into the future we have dreamed about, and know that we want.

So... let go! It's gonna be OK.

So what happened to all my writing? Well, I probably scrapped about 120 unfinished posts today; maybe seventy-five thousand words vanished with a few clicks. I saved fewer than 20 that seemed interesting and were "almost finished," and mostly recent. After all, who the hell wants to read stuff written with a five-year old frame of reference? Then I thought "Oh, I should hang onto those, and release them one at a time." THEN I thought... "wait a minute, you're doing the same thing, AGAIN!" And I decided I'd release them onto the blog en-masse, with the original post dates (from when I first wrote them) intact, and then I'd have a clean space from which to continue writing.

It just seemed right.

And yes, I do feel lighter!

Talk Back: Do you have a tendency to hold onto the past? Does it keep you from being in the present, and moving forward? When was the last time you did some major cleaning out of old beliefs, objects, people and other things that no longer serve? If you have, how did it feel? If you haven't, what are you waiting for? WHEN will you do it? What is holding you back?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Reflection: Moving Beyond "Being An HSP"

As I write these words, the 19th "HSP Gathering Retreat" is about to begin, on Gabriola Island in British Columbia.

As I think about that, I can't help but contemplate my own participation in these events, and the many things I learned, as a result. I gained much, including the understanding that I had a "tribe" of sorts... but even while I recognized that, I also learned that HSPs are just as individually different as any other "tribe" of people. Sometimes I think we lose sight of that, and get very involved in the business of "being an HSP," like it somehow offers us sum-total summary of Who We Are.

Learning is about personal evolution. As we learn and gain wisdom, we change... and those changes result in our self-perception evolving, as well. HSPs tend to be quite passionate about self-improvement and the "study of self," sometimes to the point of getting bogged down in "analysis paralysis." But there is a big difference between eternally studying life, and being an actual active part of life.

Once upon a time, I was this largely "embryonic" human being, utterly unaware of myself and the "why" and "how" of my motivations. I emerged from a dysfunctional childhood as a glorified sleepwalker, moving through life like an automaton. "Functioning" (in the practical sense), but hardly "living," and certainly not living authentically. Then I picked up a psychology text and a few courses in college, and things changed. Some years later, I started studying the enneagram, which led me to a spiritual path of Nonduality, and things changed. Some years later (again!), I learned about this thing called "High Sensitivity." Again, things changed. In the course of another decade, I learned how to embrace this thing; this neurological trait... which had offered me the insight that sensitivity isn't always a choice or a learned response... but something written into my genetic code.

I feel blessed to have been a part of the evolving global "HSP Community" since 1997, and am thrilled at how much information is now available, compared to the great void I found when I first examined this new concept. I'm stoked about the ongoing research and the multinational studies now showing the science behind attributes people would often respond to with words like "That's not REAL! It's just in your HEAD!"

Indeed, it IS real.

For example, it is now known that the neural pathways of HSPs and non-HSPs fire differently, when they are studied with fMRI equipment, while subjects perform the same tasks. For example, the trait has now been observed in dozens of animal populations, as well as in humans. For example, the somewhat ambiguous and New Agey sounding "Highly Sensitive Person" is now increasingly supplemented with the scientific term "Sensory-Processing Sensitivity." For example, there's a whole new "generation" of people in the Helping Professions who are moving from an approach of primarily "validating HSPs" to "empowering HSPs."

But there is something that troubles me, a bit, about the whole HSP issue... and it's an extension of my "Staying True to What Matters" posts of earlier this year. It concerns where people "go" with their learning... or, rather, where they sometimes stop. And I know this matters, because I have been in that stopped place and realized that I had to move on. It's a place called...

"I am an HSP."

You might be asking yourself "What the &%$#?! is he talking about???"

Hey, don't get me wrong. You ARE an HSP! I think it's cool and groovy that we learn and recognize and embrace that we're HSPs. What's not so groovy is that so many tend to stop there. What's the problem? It's limiting. We are, in effect, putting ourselves in a box; drawing a "boundary" around ourselves that serves to "set us apart" from, rather than making us "a part of" Life. And it becomes particularly troublesome when the phrase "because I am an HSP" becomes closely held self-identification that restricts our involvement in life to being observers rather than participants.

Let me offer an analogy. I have no hair on my head. Like "being sensitive;" this is simply a fact about me. But I don't go through life thinking about myself as "a bald man." I think of myself (IF I even get that far) as "A man, who happens to be bald." I am aware of, and mindful that it impacts my life in certain ways. That I must always wear a hat on sunny days, and use sunscreen, up top. I understand that a whole set of "hair related" stuff is irrelevant to me, from what I can do when I am getting a hair cut, to what products I need. I understand that there will be some people who believe that you simply can't be "cool" if you don't have hair. But that doesn't stop my life, in any way.

And that's the point I want to get to, here.

The danger for many HSPs lies in this pervasive tendency to "get stuck" at discovering, then learning, then embracing that they are "Highly Sensitive," but then getting bogged down in a nifty comfort zone where they feel like they are "done." Like "everything has now been explained." Or maybe "done" is not the right statement... but certainly they languor in a state where "I am an HSP" serves as their primary source of self-identity. Because it's comfortable. And it feels safe.

I have news for you:

"I am an HSP" is not who you are!

What you are, is "A human being, who happens to be an HSP."

Maybe the difference strikes you as very subtle. And maybe it is. But please... stay awake, and be mindful of the choice points in your life, where perhaps you allow the personal statement "I am an HSP" to limit your choices. Be mindful that "I am an HSP" does not become like a "personal 8-ball" you carry around with you... and when you see something you desire, you take out your personal 8-ball, and place it between yourself, and what you truly want in life. I'm sad to say that I run into this, alarmingly often. And whereas people who get stuck like that will wholeheartedly agree with me that being highly sensitive is not a pathology, they are typically not very happy when I point out that using this "because I'm an HSP" statement looks an awful lot like pathologizing the trait.

Now, I do want to kick in an important footnote, here. We're all at our own unique "point on the curve," when it comes to personal development and self-awareness. And wanting to get immersed in the whole "I'm an HSP!" idea is a natural part of the progression. All I'm saying is "Don't get COMPLACENT and STUCK there!"

I should also finish by saying that this post is mostly for those who learned about the HSP trait a long time ago. If it's "all new to you," these thoughts and questions lie somewhere down the road for you. For now? Just enjoy the fact that you have "an explanation!"

Talk Back: Where are you, on your journey to yourself? Do you find that you often reach for the "I'm an HSP" idea as the "explanation" for many of your actions? Or have you moved beyond that point, in your life? Do you ever use the trait as an "excuse" or "crutch" to avoid certain aspects of life... even if you only "make the excuse" to yourself?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Seattle and Puget Sound Area HSP Meetup Group

The following is a "local" announcement. Local, that is, if you live in Western Washington, specifically if you happen to be an HSP in the greater Seattle and Puget Sound area.

I moved to Port Townsend (which is not so far from Seattle) a few years ago. When I left Texas, I also decided that when I arrived in my new home, I was going to get actively involved in an effort to "build community" in my area, for HSPs. For this reason and that, it got to be almost four years later, and I hadn't done anything about it. Sure, some of us had "talked about it" a bit, but it never got beyond talk.

So anyway, there is now a Seattle and Puget Sound area HSP Meetup Group. There has actually been a rather large "waiting list" for a Seattle area HSP meetup... I think (in part) because it just seems too daunting for most HSPs to "step up and be in charge" something-- especially group related.

If you're just stopping by and reading this, and you live in the greater Seattle/Puget Sound area... (it could be as far as Bellingham, Chehalis or Port Angeles, if you don't mind driving) ... and would like to be part of face-to-face meetings with other HSPs in the region, head on over to meetup and become a group member. If you live on the Olympic or Kitsap Peninsulas, or on Whidbey Island, also consider joining the smaller "sister" group, more specifically for people WEST of the Puget Sound.

If you haven't been to meetup recently, and/or you were once part of the "old" Seattle and Eastside meetups, the meetup site is QUITE different now. The group has its OWN "mini web site," with our own message boards, photo albums and more. It's a LOT easier to navigate and use than it was, 5-6 years ago. If you're a meetup member (in general) but haven't logged on in a while, you might need to take a moment to update your profile.

Hope to see you there!

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