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The Gift of Sensitivity

When I was in my teens, my mother made an observation about me. ‘My you are sensitive aren’t you’ she said. It felt like a curse – sensitive was the last thing I wanted to be. Sensitivity was weak, especially in a man. Men were meant to be unfeeling, tough, able to handle the hurts that life inevitably presented – and without flinching too. Men were hard with an impenetrable armour-like shell that could take any kind of unpleasantness and even abuse that was thrown at them. ‘Man-up’ was the mantra. Sensitivity was to be squashed in favour of more ‘truly’ masculine traits.

My own observations have led me to the realisation that we spend a lot of time trying to change how or what we are feeling. Food is an obvious example. If ever there was anything I didn’t want to feel then a sure fire ‘antidote’ came in the shape a plate full of my favourite stodgy food. The sole intent was to dull or shut down what I was feeling – and had absolutely nothing to do with hunger or nutrition. And whilst I have never been one to take drugs, they are another example – and instant solution, a joint, a snort, a shot into the vein, popping a pill or two. Then there’s alcohol, sex, sugar, retail therapy, going on holiday, exercise, sport…the list is a long one.

The thing is, no matter what I tried nothing worked. It was as if this sensitivity could not be squashed. So instead I tried to hide it pretending to not be affected by all the unfeeling and hurtful ‘banter’ of the sporting changing rooms, on the field of play, the bar after the game – and in between games even. Large quantities of alcohol and food – quite often together and regularly after exercise or sport, served to distract. But their effects were all temporary and therefore required more and more ‘doses’ to maintain the distraction. All of this took its toll on my body which had to put up with more than its fair share of additional poundage. Being tall and well built, it wasn’t always obvious – but at one point I was probably 4-5 stone heavier than would have been healthy.

It’s an obvious thing to state, but it seems clear that we work so hard to change how and what we are feeling because we don’t like how or what we are feeling. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we were not so sensitive or did not feel at all? There have most certainly been times when I would love to have been able to switch off the feelings button. That’s exactly what I have tried to do but the truth is the innate ability to feel remains – and I continue to be sensitive – just as sensitive as when I was a child.

So, with the awareness that there is no off switch – and that the variety of options that offer temporary respite come with some not so healthy consequences – how about embracing sensitivity instead? No, really. How about understanding sensitivity and embracing it too? This is an exploration that I have somewhat unwittingly taken over the past few years. Unwittingly because it hasn’t been done intentionally with a plan – but more of a sense of awareness that ‘I am sensitive – so I will learn to live with it’.

To share an example, I stopped drinking alcohol many years ago now but soon after noticed I still got hangovers. I had assumed that hangovers were solely due to drinking excessive alcohol but then realised they occurred due to other factors, like what I had eaten, how much I had eaten and when I had eaten it. Sensitivity was communicating something to me about food and as I listened more and applied what I had understood to my eating habits, the more harmonious the experience of my body became. This led to a deeper appreciation that the body itself ‘communicates’ with us, not through thoughts but through feelings and not just about food either, but about many things. And, the body doesn’t lie. It just presents its feelings and offers us its honest feedback. These feelings are the pure responses of the body and are different from emotions. Emotions arise out of a more mental process like a judgement or interpretation and the subsequent re-actions. For example, there might be a feeling of bloating after eating something – bread for instance. That’s the pure response from the body. Emotions and the mental processes that accompany them, are in my experience, often a reinterpretation of the simplicity of what has been felt. In becoming emotional and reacting to what has been felt, the communication from the body is distorted and the purity of the ‘message’ can be lost. So, because I ‘loved’ eating bread, I reacted to the bloating I felt and then chose to reinterpret what the bloating was telling me to justify my desire to continue eating it. When I finally did accept that bread was making my body bloat and stopped eating it, the bloating did stop and I found I had more energy, no doubt because I was using less energy reacting to and fighting with what was disharmonious in my body.

Sensitivity is a very natural part of who and what we are…even men…especially men perhaps. The fact that we do go to such great lengths to try to change what we are feeling is surely proof of the fact. And feelings are important, being a marker of our wellbeing and an indicator of when things are not quite as they should be. When visiting the GP, they tend to ask what we are feeling not ‘what are you thinking?’ Feelings are purposeful and so I have learned to listen to them rather than try to bury them. There is less resistance and this in itself is a great release. Resisting our feelings can be fairly time consuming and uses a lot of energy too.

Embracing sensitivity and the innate ability to feel opens up a new kind of ‘communication’ between us and the world around us. It’s adding another dimension to our awareness. The more I allow this to deepen, the more it is apparent to me that everything can be felt – not just in an obvious way like through physical touch, but through what I feel is a truly ‘common sense’ –common to us all if we are willing to allow ourselves to go there. Things can be felt, people can be felt, energy can be felt. Walking into a room where there has been an argument tells us this. ‘You could cut the atmosphere with a knife’ we say, having sensed the energy in a room. It is true that there are things I would rather not feel, but to shut down sensitivity just to avoid them is ‘throwing the baby out with the bathwater’.

Being more aware is surely a wonderful step forward in life. It certainly has been for me. So, I have come full circle on this one and no longer do I wish to not feel, nor do I believe that men should not be sensitive. ‘Men are sensitive’ and if we accept the fact, we can work with our sensitivity rather than exhaust ourselves trying to resist it. Feeling energy gives us another take on life, offering a deeper understanding of ourselves, our lives, our relationships and other people too. On reflection, if I had trusted what I had sensed when younger, there would have been situations, like relationships I would not have got myself into. It is also true that trusting my senses has led me into more harmonious relationships and situations. Sensitivity has a ‘whole body’ way of saying ‘yes’ that is very different from a mental, intellectual or calculated yes.

With greater sensitivity and hence more awareness, I have found that relationships have a stronger and more loving foundation. For example, in paying more attention to what is sensed it is possible to ‘be on the front foot’. This means that what might have become a ‘head on’ challenge is averted because I can sense early on that something is disharmonious and addressing it then means it does not escalate into a more serious issue or confrontation. I have also found that sensitivity supports greater unity and flow with others as if it can ‘tap into’ what is needed for that relationship to deepen or evolve – never for the benefit of any individual alone, but for the couple, the partners, the friends or even a group. I would even say that through sensitivity, it is possible to know oneness with others, where apparent boundaries dissolve and two, or more, become one and the true richness of everyone is known as opposed to a superficial mind-based perception of how they look, what they do, what they say and ‘do they have anything to offer me?’ Oneness is something that describes love and real intimacy – where what is felt and sensed transcends the beliefs and ideals that ‘seem to separate’ us and ‘make us appear’ individual. This unified way of being is at the heart of my religion, The Way of The Livingness, a religion in which I find true depth and real integrity.

In denying sensitivity, we miss all this. I missed all this. And despite all the things I would rather not feel about life, the experience of reconnecting to it has been worth every moment. Life has taken on new purpose, guided by what is felt not what is thought. Thoughts used to tie me up in knots, leaving me deeply anxious and in fear of life. This very rarely happens now, and I feel this is because with deeper awareness, the truth of a matter is known before thoughts have time to ‘ambush’ the awareness and present their alternative, and frequently distorted interpretation of things. Is it possible I ask myself, that sensitivity and feelings happen in advance of mental processes? It seems to be the case. That is worth its weight in gold.

Today, I would describe sensitivity as a gift – no longer ‘a curse’ but instead a real blessing. The real curse is in dishonouring and denying it. It is wonderful and ‘delicious’ to feel everything that life truly is. Feelings are a compass offering guidance that the mind in separation from the body cannot. Feeling has allowed me to understand that there is so much more to us that we commonly appreciate, unveiling the Grand and Ageless Wisdom that is in and through our bodies and the incredible but so very natural interconnectedness – or Oneness – that is our ‘true’ normal. To me, this Ageless Wisdom and Oneness is in fact the essence of God who I was once taught…and subsequently believed…is beyond the reach of any man. Today I know Him to be fully accessible and closer than we could ever imagine.

We have denied our sensitivity at great cost, but joyfully, it is never actually lost, just ignored – buried perhaps – but in truth is eternally present no matter what we have piled on top of it – and is ready to be reclaimed in any moment.

With Love, Tenderness...and Sensitivity, Richard Mills

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