What we call instinct in animals is really a heightened sense of awareness and interconnectivity to their environment. Tribal cultures throughout history have long valued sensitivity as a tool in understanding and protecting the natural world and themselves. In our modern world, where we've paved over dirt and barricaded ourselves away from trees and birds inside steel and glass, sensitivities—from allergies to personality disorders—are seen as weaknesses. But are they really? What if sensitivities are actually the opposite?
Anyone who suffers from mild allergies knows how "un-mild" they can actually be: itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, insane sneezing fits. It's sensitivity all right, one that is simply annoying. Pollens, dander, or other seemingly harmless triggers in the environment send our immune systems into a tailspin, leaving us miserable and frustrated. And rightfully so. But not all sensitivities warrant the same treatment as hay fever or allergies.
For the person who's cleaned their body of toxic foods and chemicals, an increased sensitivity to those very substances might begin to occur: artificially fragranced detergents, soaps, perfumes, the dreaded Old Spice—all may have, literally, nauseating effects. And foods loaded with genetically modified, processed ingredients can cause digestive turmoil, headaches, mood swings, difficulty sleeping.
Doctors are quick to prescribe medicines to suppress our sensitivities, numbing us from the symptoms and distracting us from the cause. Many pharmaceutical drugs block neural function and interfere with signals in our brain would normally pick up on triggers in our environment, whether physical or not. It's often why heavily medicated people can seem to be in a daze even if they're only taking an allergy or cholesterol drug (as opposed to something to alleviate nervousness or depression, which intentionally dazes patients).
As a culture, we've armed ourselves with political correctness—a perceived awareness to sensitivities of stereotypes and profiling made about skin color, religion, and lifestyle choices. Yet the judgments abound in our homes and on the 24-hour news stations where pundits prevail. We often confuse our ability to use our once finely tuned gut instinct with qualifiers submitted to us by the media saturated world we live in.
Eckhart Tolle, best-selling author and spiritual authority, might say that in the ever-present moment, we are both completely aware of everything—as in sensitive to it—and capable of also completely withdrawing our senses, our reactions, our affectedness to the material world. What's most helpful in this assessment is the obvious paradox that we can actually be fully in both situations at the same time. Our human condition, or life situation as Tolle refers to it, is always within and without us. Our sensitivities are what we choose to perceive as much as they are what we choose to ignore. And when we're allowing ourselves to be completely present, without judgments, true observation of our realities is experienced.
In her national bestseller, The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, Elaine Aron explores what it means to be highly sensitive—from the physiological to the psychological effects experienced by as many as 20 percent of the population. According to Aron, the Highly Sensitive Person is actually picking up on the subtleties in the environment, just as animals and highly tuned in indigenous people might. Aron suggests being highly sensitive is not a flaw; it's more that we simply don't know what to do with the information overload we receive. High sensitivity is credited with being the force behind our most treasured attributes in society such as art and music.
Russian mineralogist and geochemist Vladimir Vernadsky and French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin suggested we're heading towards a place called the Noosphere—where our collective human thoughts sort of collide, forming a "layer" of consciousness that evolves along with our species, allowing us to access wisdom and awareness in new and profound ways.
Could our myriad sensitivities be priming our species for a reconnection with the natural world that we've tried to suppress over the last several hundred years? And could it possibly mean a connection with worlds beyond our own? As we evolve, and our bodies adjust to our constantly changing environment, our sensitivities are key indicators to the delicate shifts. Our challenge now is to learn how to use them as tools, rather than to see them as weaknesses.Learn more about Jill Ettinger
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