My friend Kaitlyn sends me her beautiful photos to use in the Listening Post. Last month she sent me this photo along with a note that said,
“I haven’t been able to pick up my camera lately…so I decided to share with you this hand painted mandala longboard I finished last week. I’ve doodled them for a few years now and decided to take it to the next level: it’s my version of meditation.”
Pondering this, it hit me that every highly sensitive person I know has his or her own “version of meditation.” Kaitlyn encounters the numinous through photography and mandala painting. Another friend of mine finds it hiking and skiing in the Adirondack Mountain backcountry. My dad is moved to tears by the numinous quality of certain pieces of music.
HSP spirituality: deeply personal and vulnerable to talk about
Elaine Aron has observed that HSP’s share a yearning for contact with the numinous. We gravitate towards experiences that have a spiritual quality. For us, the world is full of spiritual energy and events.
If we all share this, why do we show such caution, even reticence, in talking about it?
Because it feels really exposed, risky, and private—that’s why. This article serves as a case in point: I started trying to write it over two months ago. I couldn’t find a way to write it that felt right, but I couldn’t stand to write about anything else either. I got my knickers in such a twist that I actually missed publication on February 7! (I’m probably the only one who noticed, but it got my attention: it wasn’t like me. I hadn’t missed an issue since I started sending out The Listening Post in September 2014.)
Wow! Why the exposed, risky feeling? I can think of three reasons I feel that way (and you can probably add more):
- My spirituality is deeply personal. This is true for many sensitive people. If I’m going to talk about this topic with another person, I want to honor it by doing it in a way that facilitates a respectful, subtle exchange of meaning. I’d want to slow things down since it is so easy to leap to assumptions. It’s not easy to do this, and not a common way of relating.
- I don’t want to expose this sacred place to judgment, or inadvertently sound like I’m judging others who have different views, beliefs, or practices. (I know I’m not alone in this as a sensitive person: because we ponder our spirituality deeply and tend to put ourselves in others’ shoes, we are less likely to be rigid, formal, or doctrinaire about faith and spiritual practice.)
- Spiritual expression is an evolving thing for me. So to write about it, I have to find some way to express, “This is what I’m thinking/doing/practicing right now, but it comes from a context of such and such I’ve done in the past, and will surely evolve in the future…” This is pretty complex and subtle, and given the hesitations #1 and #2 bring up for me, I get to this point and say, “Ah, forget it.”
So why bother trying to talk about spirituality?
It would certainly be easier just to let this go. But it would be a mistake. I’d be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
My personal experience and my work with many sensitive people has convinced me that a sturdy connection to our spirituality is essential to our well-being. We need this connection to guide our decisions and our actions, and to manage and make sense of our intense emotions. Spiritual connection is the “mother skill” of all the skills we need to thrive.
It is a core HSP need to honor and cultivate our relationship to the spiritual. We need to hang out regularly with other people who “get” this, and we need to develop the listening skills to fully hear each other on this profound, essential, subtle topic.
In my next article I’ll write about the key importance of strengthening spiritual connection through a daily practice.
Photo by Kaitlyn Wyenberg, email@example.com
I completely relate to #1-3! I appreciate your ability to put into words what I have felt for a very long time. Thank you for that. I am hesitant to proceed with the connecting/sharing part of your writing because of a couple of reasons. One, past experience has shown me that even if like-minded people use the same words it doesn’t necessarily mean they mean the same thing to them. I’ve actually been shocked more than once. Two, I’ve found that the most soul-satisfying way to connect with others is through silence. All that being said, I will continue to follow you on this subject and remain open.
Mary, I’m glad #’s 1 to 3 articulated something helpful, and you have done the same for me here. You wrote, “even if like-minded people use the same words it doesn’t necessarily mean they mean the same thing to them.” That is so true, and it helped me define why certain specific situations have allowed me more successfully to talk about spirituality: I’ve done it in settings where we had a specific agreement to check if “message sent was message received.” I hosted a Tuesday night group for 10 years–5-6 of us who met and shared what we were “up to” each week in the areas of spiritual practice, self-care, health, and life purpose. We were able to share deeply about these things because we had a clear agreement that others would reflect the speaker’s meaning to see if they were “getting” it”…and if we did have a response, we’d ask permission first. But mostly we just listened for meaning (we always started our meetings sitting in silence for 5 minutes, too.) I agree that if the two choices are to withstand misunderstandings and assumptions OR to just be together in silence, I’d choose silence! But it is a very deeply meaningful and connecting thing to sit together with the stubborn commitment to hear each other’s meaning, so I’m exploring ways of facilitating that.
Thank you for this article. For 37 years I lived my spiritual life somewhat like a non HSP extrovert and couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t making friends of like minds. A year ago I experienced an intense anxiety attack and the spiritual life I had barely exists. It just stopped. In reading your article I now see why I was probably having so many problems in connecting with others who seemed to have shared the same spiritual path
. #1, #2 seem to put this in perspective for me now. I think the difference between HSP and non HSP within the same spiritual path, is as an HSP we possibly take our spiritual beliefs more seriously , more to heart and or get easily hurt, as with all things HSP . I was ridiculed, I was excluded, I was ignored. So, there is a possibility that after the intense anxiety attack that my body just shut down from the spiritual path I was on. I am at #3 now, trying to find a new connection that is peaceful. I have been walking in nature almost daily.
Hopefully more and more HSP people and therapists will write on this topic.
As HSPs are empathetic, I don’t think any HSP needs to be concerned about what other HSPs will think on this topic of spirituality. We ALL understand.
So please keep writing.
Dear S, your thoughtful response reminds me that sharing our own truth is often the most helpful thing we can do. Of course this is true wherever we fall on the continuum of sensitivity. However, for me as an HSP, it has always been incredibly helpful to hear about how others are thinking about or managing different aspects of their lives. We think about all this a lot!
Something happened that caused you to shut down on your spirituality. I hope you are able to find your way back to that essential resource in yourself.
Hi Emily, Wow this really spoke to me today. I am sorry I haven’t been in touch. Something is going on inside me that I can’t quite explain and am so hesitant to trust. Thank you for your very specific, pertinent, and we’ll written articles. I am really enjoying them and they are very helpful!
Hi Doris, Trusting oneself and one’s spiritual intuition can be so scary. Sharing with others can help reinforce your sense of safety, under the right circumstances which I’m going to write about for next Tuesday. Regarding the articles generally, I really appreciate your feedback! My hope is always to be supportive of anyone reading the articles but I don’t always find out whether I succeeded or not:)