sensitivity as a superpower
When we are born, there are certain characteristics that get all bundled up with us. Hair colour, foot size, the type of laugh you will grow into, an adoration or disgust of coriander. There are certain qualities that perhaps we are susceptible to, and over the course of our childhood and school years they are either teased out, encouraged, celebrated or condemned.
I’d like to say I was born sensitive. During the time I was at school I would like to say it wasn’t my fault. Can’t help it! Born this way! Like it was as unfixable, as unchangeable as the colour of my hair (and if you have ever tried to dye red hair, you know this is true - I’ve been in awe of that fact for years that somehow, the most rare, the most oi-draw-attention-to-this-ranga-over-here hair colour in the universe literally refuses to be dyed.) Another quiet point for team Life Is Suffering.
The thing about being sensitive is that people will always tell you you’re too sensitive with the same tone they tell you that your spelling is atrocious or you have spilled food all over your nice dress. If it’s a particularly annoying person or occasion they will say it with pity too.
I always felt very embarrassed about being sensitive, like it was this deep flaw in me I had to excavate, draw out with a violent struggle, fling into a raging sea and be rid of forever. But I was conflicted. When I tried to think of the opposite of sensitive, I thought of the word strong. And despite my being a sensitive, red headed person with the physical attributes of a wheat stalk, I have also always felt very strong. That strength often felt like a secret, and when it revealed itself it would catch people by surprise.
It was only recently that I discovered some people don’t inherently feel empathy for others. Not to say that I immediately feel empathy for the dude clipping his toenails on a delayed by seven minutes train bound for the city circle, idling in that barren dead space between redfern and central where dreams of being on time to work go to die, but if someone told me his entire life story, up until this point leading him to a life of public nail clipping, I would probably feel something. It’s a natural reaction. I’m not saying that’s the best reaction. If you are endlessly moved and sensitive, then living in the world would literally be too hard, too sharp, too painful - but a sense of empathy and compassion is the necessary birthplace of meaningful action.
When I was fifteen I found out my favourite musician was vegan and had a PETA sticker on his guitar so I went online and probably waited half an hour to load a two minute video of day old male chicks being literally ground alive because in the egg industry their lives are considered worthless. It was my sensitivity that made vegetarianism an easy choice, and when I eventually realised that no matter how ethical, free range, organic and reiki infused your eggs are, if they are not being laid in your literal backyard, this still happens to every single male chick, veganism followed. I wasn’t perfect over the years, but back when there was no education, no community, no friends who felt this way, and everyone around me thinking I was insane (and that fish was a vegetable) my sensitivity kept me coming back to the place I knew was right for me. For me personally, the practice of veganism came from my sensitivity, but is something that makes me feel strong.
My initial resistance to teaching and practicing yin and restorative was part of my campaign to prove to everyone (dude like no one cares) that I wasn’t just this weak little petal who has cried in every Kung Fu Panda movie thus far. The thing about yoga in all its forms is that it simultaneously works on strength and softness. It’s totally the original adaptogen – if you practice intelligently it will help you to bring about balance where you need it. And sure, sometimes I cry even when every cell of my being is silently screaming dontcrydontcrydontcrydontcrydontcrydontcrydontcrydontyouDAREcry BUT practicing yoga has, without a doubt, brought my strength much closer to the surface, helped me to create firmer boundaries aaaand to accept that’s just who I am.
We need sensitivity to teach, to create, to write, to be good friends and sisters and daughters and lovers. We need sensitivity to truly feel joy and love and beauty. Although I fear sounding like a blogger who posts ‘green goddess juice’ recipes and slings my own personal brand of embossed gold affirmation cards, own your sensitivity (Babe! Angel! Fearless Warrior!) Don’t pretend you’re not. Don’t force it away into some dark overflowing cupboard filled with ex boyfriends and terrible hair cuts and that time you were really into DIY and by DIY I mainly mean attaching safety pins to literally everything you owned including your earlobes.
Because if you ignore it, it will own you. If you’re sensitive, be sensitive. But learn how to manage it and use it well. Use it to help others. Use it to take action. Use it to make stuff and connect with people. Use it to let all the shit out, to cry, to feel, to wriggle yourself into the tiny cracks between the couch pillows and then get up again, feel better, lighter and stronger for letting it pass. And next time someone tells you you're too sensitive in a way that doesn't involve a hug or a smile or some degree of sweetness, say "thanks, and maybe one day you will be too."