Tuesday, December 27, 2016

HSP Living: Planning, Politics, Getting Started and the Fear of Change

It's the 27th of December. The year is almost over; in a few days we get to "uncork" a fresh new year, filled with...?

Regardless, 2016 will be closed and put in the history books. It was a turbulent year for many, for a variety of reasons. For some, a great year. But many will feel relieved that it's over.

A lot of folks — HSPs and otherwise — feel that the political ruckus in the USA is somehow to blame for much of their malaise. From my vantage point, there is little doubt that the Presidential race and election brought everyone in touch with "something" that made many feel...

... feel what, exactly?

I have been pondering this post for quite a while... almost two months, actually... its direction changing like the wind on the back of  each new perspective and insight; its words prompted by the insistence of some that I am — somehow — a "thought leader" in the HSP Community, so I should "say something about how we're feeling" because people "expect" it.

Seriously? I hate expectations. And I have never felt like it's my place to "speak for" people. I find it challenging enough to speak for myself.

But this morning, the last puzzle piece fell into place; the missing piece of what it is we (or many of us) are feeling.

There is little doubt in my mind that a lot of people are struggling these days; struggling emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, financially. And there is a blockage or stuck-ness there... like patiently sitting at a traffic light that never turns green because you are following the rules and haven't yet realized that the traffic light is actually broken and will never turn green. But as long as you wait at the red light you are at least safe, even if you are wasting a lot of gas and your life is wasting away.

As I said, it took me a long time to determine exactly what people were struggling with. What I was struggling with. What also took me a long time was determining how to say what I wanted to share, without the overlay of the inevitable partisan political filters that permeate the world at the moment and seem to turn every civilized discussion into a battlefield.

I wanted to simply talk about what many are feeling from a purely human perspective, rather than a "Liberal" or "Conservative" perspective.

As HSPs — Highly Sensitive Persons — we are given to process deeply. But sometimes this deep processing goes over the edge into a sort of "analysis paralysis." We end up creating our own "broken traffic light" to get stuck behind.

The more I considered and sat with what I was feeling — while occasionally going off on assorted tangential tirades and rants — the more I came to realize that the heart of many people's dis-ease is centered around uncertainty. The unknown. People are getting "stuck" in a variety of cycling thoughts and analyses because on Tuesday, November 8th, the US threw out everything we "know" about politics and how the conventional political system works.

Regardless of whether you hate government, mistrust government or think it's a great thing... the election of Donald Trump meant that we can no longer look at things — and count on certain processes — the way we did before. It doesn't matter what your political affiliation is, everything changed. Doesn't matter whether you think Trump represents new hope or a total disaster... it still holds true that the "old rules" and the "old system" got swept out the door.

So let's reflect on that for a moment. That's what I did, and then I realized something. In the past, there have been Presidents who did — and did not — represent my perspective or point of view. That said, my reaction back then was something along the lines of "Bummer... now we have to deal with _____ for four years" or "I feel somewhat hopeful that ____ will make a positive change." But we were always dealing with more or less "known" parameters.

But let's continue to keep partisan politics and Presidents out of the picture for a moment... and examine our fundamental humanity.

There's little doubt there were a lot of people here in the US who wanted "change." They saw a system that was broken, and perceived the need for something to be different. The entire Presidential race started off as anti-establishment, with the most visible candidates — Sanders and Trump — swinging from the wings.

Now let's shrink this down to the scale of our daily lives; we often want change. We want to get in shape, get a better job, eat healthier, cook instead of eating out, get involved in our communities, lose weight. And yet?

We seldom DO.

We conceptualize and visualize and theorize the changes we want; we plan them, journal them, meditate on them but end up not acting on them. Or we get started but end up just "dabbling." Most of us join gyms, go 5-10 times, and then slide back into our old patterns. We talk about starting our own businesses, but we never really get around to actually quitting that corporate job and jumping off the cliff into self-employment. We say we want change, but our actions betray the depth (or shallowness?) of our actual commitment.

Because we — ultimately — perceive real change to be "dangerous." It's "scary." It's "uncomfortable."

The underlying ideas and intent are beautiful and rosy, but when push comes to shove, the ongoing actions and commitment required to create real and lasting change often seem overwhelming and harsh. At least for most people. And, truth be known, slamming our fist on the table and telling all our friends that "we need changes!" keeps us dreaming, yet anchored within our comfy safety zones of no-change. It gives us a feeling of taking action, without actually DOING. As a metaphor, we may say that we want to save the environment, and we get "involved," but ultimately, re-tweeting Greenpeace and EarthFirst doesn't actually reduce our carbon footprint.

Getting back to the recent political debacle, we can look at history and see that previously elected "change" candidates have come to power within a known frame of reference. They were governors, or senators, or mayors of some city. Even if we look at Ronald Reagan and feel tempted to call him "that Hollywood actor," fact remains that he was Governor of the state of California, the 6th largest economy in the world. If we look at Minnesota's colorful former Governor, Jesse Ventura, he might have been "a ridiculous pro wrestler from TV" but even he was mayor of the city of Brooklyn Park (a good sized city in Minnesota) and involved in politics for almost ten years before becoming Governor.

We don't have that, now. Phrased as an analogy, we have someone who may have "lots of experience" at operating "heavy machinery" or "sailing giant ships" who's suddenly decided that their debut attempt at flying an airplane is going to be getting in the cockpit of a fully loaded 747 with 450 passengers onboard.

What we also have is the knowledge that it was the election process we otherwise trusted that put him there.

These are things we KNOW, regardless of whether we consider Donald Trump a "welcome change" or "a dangerous sociopath."

And so, there is a sort of "stunned silence," emotionally and spiritually speaking. As much as anything, the underlying issue many are struggling with is the utter uncertainty of the new paradigm. The inner realization that we don't get to "talk about" changes to the system anymore... they ARE HAPPENING, whether we like it or not; whether we are ready or not; whether they even are the changes we want, or not. We have been kicked out of our comfort zones.

In short, we realize we're sitting at the broken traffic light, and we will have to go through on red — dangerous as it may seem — or we will stay stuck till we die of starvation. We must move forward, or we will never get ANYwhere, let alone towards any kind of destination. And there's no "turning around and going back," because it's a one-way street.

Of course, it's also easy to fall into the trap of "spinning stories" that aren't true. Stories that can't be counted on as being the actual outcomes for the future. Stories that keep us stuck in the world of rationalizations, without doing anything to move towards the future. Towards co-creating a future, rather than helplessly get swept along by the inevitable march of time.

The other day, I heard one of the "taking heads" from a major news channel confess his regret at having taken a "Catastrophist" approach to spinning news stories and their implications for the future of the US.

Spinning the future as "eternal doom" is not only disingenuous, it keeps us stuck behind that broken red light, paralyzed by our fear of change.

People don't really like to look at logic and facts.

If you're a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal, let's face it, "half the country" aren't "violent misogynistic racist pigs with guns," starting with the plain fact that Donald Trump received the votes of about 25% of the US voting age population. It's also a pretty good bet (although this is speculation) that the "scary and dangerous" individuals many people on the left fear... likely represent only the most dedicated 20% of Trump's supporters. Which means the other 80% — whereas they may be "conservative," philosophically — are basically ordinary Americans who were fed up with the way the world was turning out.

So you're seriously going to tell me that you're prepared to let 5% of the population keep you cowering in the corner in fear for the next four years?

Don't misunderstand what I am saying here. I am NOT a Trump apologist... I'm just suggesting everyone take a step back and evaluate what we are really dealing with, in our distressed emotional states. I'm also not suggesting that those who are horrified by the current situation stand idly by and "allow" it, if they are in opposition. What I am suggesting is taking a moment to clarify exactly what and whom, you are in opposition to. It's easy to paint everything and everyone we don't like with the same broad paintbrush.

If you're a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative, let's face it, "half the country" aren't "whimpering sore-loser libtard snowflakes" longing to turn America into a socialist playground where overcooked political correctness effectively squashes Freedom of Speech just as surely as a militant dictator would. Most people you think of as "Liberals" are much like you, but just didn't believe Trump was the best option we had. 

So... let's all try to stay somewhat civil about it all, and move forward.

Thanks for reading!

And DO feel free to leave a comment!

Friday, December 09, 2016

HSP Living: Peace and Quiet in a Noisy Chaotic World

As of late, I have been wanting to crawl into a hole and hide... overwhelm from many directions has been "triggering" my tendency to back away from being actively engaged in life and become an observer.

When I was a little kid, my mother — an extreme extravert and social butterfly — was eternally trying to "get me involved" in all sorts of things. I expect it was extraordinarily frustrating for her that I was always trying to undo her efforts, seeking instead a place where I could just sit and stare into space. Doing nothing was one of my favorite things.

I was generally a very calm child — in fact, calm to such a degree that various members of our extended family (who liked to think themselves "experts" on such matters) were seriously concerned that I was... "developmentally challenged."

"Little boys should be running around, getting into things, rough housing and making noise!" was the prevailing school of thought, and the fact that I was poster boy for the exact opposite was a cause for concern.

I have, at times, entertained the possibility that I was "wired incorrectly" from nature's side, because my inner reward system (in the neuroscientific sense) almost inevitably seems to issue "good feelings" when I am in a stationary detached state, and more of an "aversion warning" for most things that involve activity and engagement.

To the observer describing me in layman's terms, that pretty much adds up to "exceptionally lazy." But that's a hopelessly inadequate term, generally filtered through the eyes of a world obsessed with action, movement and busy-ness.

How much of this has anything to do with being an HSP — and how much with simply "being me" — remains open to discussion. I do remember the first time I came across Elaine Aron's original book in 1997, what I related most deeply to was not the title "The Highly Sensitive Person," but the subtitle "How to thrive when the world overwhelms you."

So where am I going with all this?

As of late, I have felt (as I expect many other HSPs have) particularly overwhelmed and inclined to crawl into a hole, as an extension of the whole US Presidential election and fallout circus in the US.

As I consider this, I've concluded that my feelings are really independent of political alignments and outcomes-- I find that the most distressing part of the process we recently experienced (and what most makes me want to climb in a hole and not come back out), and now continue to experience is the vileness, reactivity and violence of (much of) human nature.

I feel increasingly estranged from this species that seems to prefer violence, fighting, condemning and mudslinging to civilized debate and connecting across common ground to find peaceful solutions and compromises all can live with. This whole "MY way or you are EVIL/STUPID and must DIE!" approach that seems to have become so prevalent feels like a sad and pathetic throwback to primitive feudal times.

Of course, there are those who hold that those were the "good times," and that compromise and bridge-building represent a form of weakness and cultural decay... and they hold that totalitarianism and nationalism are good things. To be honest, part of me can appreciate their frustrations... but I can't get myself to a place of understanding how attempts to dial back the cultural clock 400 years is in any way useful. Let's face it... if a system of strong nationalism, kingdoms, strong rulers and armies and serfs and killing those who disagree actually had worked... wouldn't that system still be here, as the dominant form of social and political governing? What is all this fighting good for?

But I am digressing.... "good" is such a nebulous concept and-- at best-- a slippery slope of contemplating how life is viewed through each individual's experiential lens of perception.

I don't really care very much about the seemingly endless semantic and intellectual masturbation happening all around us... what concerns me is that we seem to-- here in freakin' 2016-- have returned to the middle ages and a bunch of (metaphorically speaking) "villagers with pitchforks"  are rioting, albeit "2016-style."

The thing about "villagers with pitchforks" is that they seem to be driven entirely by their emotions and reactivity, not by a sense of logic, nor meaningful objectives, nor reason or desire to live peacefully. And there's an attached irony there... in that a very large percentage of the "protesting villagers" who chose a new "king" will be the ones most hurt and left behind by the very "king" they elected.

But few people actually want reality, when they can live inside the fervor of their cause.

Regardless, I am just very tired of it all, and would like to hibernate for the next four years... maybe more!

Monday, December 05, 2016

"... When the World Overwhelms You."

I realized, this morning, that it has been almost 20 years since I first came across Elaine Aron's book "The Highly Sensitive Person."

As I pulled out my ancient dog-eared copy, I also remembered that it was less the actual title than the byline "How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You" that I related deeply to.

"... When the World Overwhelms You."

Part of me wants to say that I have felt overwhelmed by the world since birth... but I don't know that, for sure. But I do remember that the sense of overwhelm was in full flow when I started first grade and every day felt... exhausting.

As of late, I have not been writing much, not contributing much to the HSP "dialogue" for the very simple reason that the world has been overwhelming me.

In fact, I'd submit that the world has been "overwhelming me" on a full-time basis for about 4-5 years, now. Before that, the overwhelm was more "sporadic and periodic."

Don't misunderstand me, here. I am not trying to start a "wah-wah pity party" here, I am merely observing reality as I am experiencing it, in a non-attached Buddhist sort of way.

Nonetheless, my current state of mind leaves me pondering the question "Have I changed... or has the world changed?"

They (whoever "they" may be...) say that our sensitivities heighten as we age. I am not sure I agree entirely with that. It seems more likely to me that as we age we become more self aware, and thus more capable of recognizing that we are experiencing an extension of our innate sensitivity, rather than attributing our turmoil (or whatever we're feeling) to something else.

So that leaves "the world."

Thanks in large part to technology, I have no doubt the world is eternally "speeding up." Stated a little differently, the volume of stimuli-- information, news, activities, entertainment, obligations and so on-- increases every year. Meanwhile, a great many people-- at least here in the USA-- are experiencing that they need to spend ever more time and effort to merely "swim in place," financially, socially, functionally, psychologically and so on.

When I sit with that and contemplate it, it feels like I have less and less time to process more and more stuff. I am simply like an hourglass-- I process a fairly constant volume of stimuli well, but if more and more sand gets poured in the top half, the narrow opening can never "clear" the inflow. As an HSP, that leaves me feeling overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, it also seems like there is a lot of pervasive "time thievery" going on, these days... and I have to admit that this time thievery contributes significantly to my current feeling of overwhelm. I'll try to explain, and maybe you can relate.

For example, it's one thing that there was a controversial election that seems to have polarized this country. It's also a thing that there's a standoff over a pipeline in North Dakota and there's naturally a flood of attendant news. I can deal with that.

But now the new "time thief" is this whole concept of "fake news." Not only are there endless news stories, but now I have to spend additional time trying to determine whether any given story really IS a news story, or just some sensationalist clickbait created by a couple of profiteering vagrants who find it amusing to watch other people fall into a chaotic frenzy. IF (and that's an important question, here in our modern world) I want to remain a truly informed citizen, a five minute news story has now become a 15-minute research project.

But my day didn't become 24 hours and 10 minutes long to accommodate the new paradigm.

And so, the world overwhelms me... which is also a somewhat long-winded explanation for the repeated question I often get as to why I don't write anymore.

Of course, well meaning folks tell me I should turn it off and simplify my life... but isn't the whole ignoring it and sticking our heads in the sand with the excuse that "we can't deal with it" precisely part the the problem that created this whole mess? And how can you hope to make the world a better place if you're tuning it out?

Aside from which, how do you simplify a life that has already-- out of functional necessity-- been trimmed to the bare bones? I'm sorry, but living in a tent in the woods is not going to reduce my overstimulation... I like indoor plumbing and a bed! Of COURse there are lots of people who are "far worse off" than I am, but comparing our situation to the lowest common denominator doesn't fix the problem, it merely creates a greater pool of discontent... a sort of "misery loves company" circle jerk. I'm sorry, but that's not the world I'm looking to live in.

So how do we "thrive" when the world overwhelms us?

As of this moment, I am not entirely clear on that, but it somehow will involve a reiteration of a process I last went through in my mid-30's, when I abandoned working in the mainstream and became self-employed... which wasn't just about changing how I worked, but about changing how I lived, removing the expectations and trappings of "corporate life."

With 20 years of "creative independence" under my belt another revision now seems due, as I sit with the reality that I am not exactly thriving... I am surviving and getting by. I may have more "psychic income and wealth" than ever before, but the supermarket and electric company does not accept that currency in consideration of groceries and power. Which ends up creating a sort of inner dissonance which is another contributing factor to the overwhelm... if I am spending 70 hours a week in the business of simply maintaining, there's little left over to pursue other interests.

What is clear to me is that Being A Highly Sensitive Person is merely a piece of information about who I am. Whereas it influences and affects how I experience and interact with the world around me, it's not "a thing," in and of itself. It doesn't "do" anything. It doesn't "entitle" me to anything, nor does it make me "special" in some cosmic way most people give a rat's ass about. I am still a Human Being who needs to negotiate life, just like everyone else. Go to work, make dinner, pet the cat, take out the garbage, pay the bills. I am primarily a Human Being... who happens to be a Highly Sensitive Person.

In closing, I am considering that this is perhaps the natural "end point" in the journey of understanding ourselves, as HSPs. We start as "confused humans" who then learn we are HSPs; there's relief. Nothing "wrong" with us. We learn. We take on the "label" and adjust. We become wise in the ways of our sensitivity. And then we go back to simply being human, with an additional body of helpful knowledge.

Stay tuned for more ramblings; as I wrote a while back, I have let a number of my web sites and blogs quietly pass on... as a result of which, this will now double as both an "HSP" and a "personal" blog space. But not to worry, I'll still post the more inflammatory political and social commentary elsewhere!

Feel free to leave a comment!

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