The Highly Sensitive Person and Meditation
27th May 2020
The highly sensitive person and meditation by Liz Sparkes
So, you think you might be in Hufflepuff? Don’t worry, I’ll talk you through it.
I remember breathing a sigh of relief 8 years ago when the counsellor I was seeing told me that the way I experienced the world was quite normal, and actually being highly sensitive was a personality trait. Dr Elaine Aron describes this trait as a variation in the nervous system and brain, that allows subtleties and details to be processed at a very deep level. This can often feel like quite a burden in the modern fast paced world. Highly sensitive people will often be the first to shed a tear and emotional experiences can completely overwhelm and hang around for days.
The highly sensitive person has a more active insula in the brain which leads to raised self-awareness. This can cause huge delays in decision making (yep) and an extreme sense of wanting to do the right thing. Being highly sensitive means that you notice the most subtle details, cues and changes to the environment, and easily this leads to overwhelm and feeling somewhat unwell. Brain scans also show that highly sensitive people have more active areas of the brain responsible for empathy.
I have come to understand that this is all useful in many ways. I can often put people at ease quickly as I feel into what they need to settle. Often I know the emotion that someone is struggling with due to being able to follow body language and tone. Being a psychologist and meditation teacher this sensitivity is a blessing but also an aspect needing constant regulation. Interestingly not all highly sensitive people are introverts, like myself you can be extroverted and still experience high sensitivity.
Once I realised and read about this personality trait I was able to cultivate ways to ease the overwhelming side to it. One of the most life changing aspects was meditation. Using the breath, particularly the 4:6 breathing pattern (breathing in for four counts, and out for 6) calmed my nervous system quickly. The reduction in fight or flight mode was tangible. Compassion meditations have also enabled me to be OK with this high sensitivity, and have supported me to know when to draw back, take time out and shut out the external world. I still get caught out but I’m less likely to give myself a hard time for feeling emotionally exhausted by the world.
I have always fantasised about living in the forest, dancing around a fire, singing and chanting. To me, that feels like the most natural thing to do. I try to spend as much time in the natural world, forest bathing, meditating outside and really connecting with nature. Since this period of lockdown, I have been able to do this so much, and I realise even more the importance of earth connection. I often take people through guided imagery connecting with earth energy, and supporting a sense of groundedness (something I have always struggled to attain).
So, my advice to you, you beautiful highly sensitive person; meditation, mindfulness, music, compassion practices and forest bathing. Listen to music with your mind and body, and switch out of the mental processing and into the felt sense of music. Silent meditation retreats and quiet days are an absolute must, and Suryacitta runs some excellent ones. I also run one three night retreat a year, and many day retreats. Connect with other people who understand, and above all nurture and love your sensitivity, because when you do it grows and you can create wonderful things with that eye for detail and heart full of compassion. x
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