Are You Highly Sensing?
On this September new moon, let’s do some definition scrubbing. Yesterday, my dog Lupe found a nest of baby marmots (I think) in the prairie grass. He kidnapped one and began to prance toward me. I turned a hot-faced Level 7 angry. Though dogs will be dogs and the circle of life is ever-palpable where I live, this method of death never lands as okay for me. The marmot was squeaking for help and I was helpless. I’ve learned the hard way that rescuing only leads to prolonged suffering. “Just kill it,” I growled at him. But he kept trailing me and it kept surviving—and squeaking. That tender and desperate sound of a creature trying to live despite dying is too much for me. I had to physically plug my ears as I walked the two miles back to our house.
My soul friend Holcomb once used the phrase “highly sensing” from Anna Holden from Soul Wise Medicine. It lit me up like a glowworm. We had been discussing, again, how the adjective sensitive is rarely used as a compliment; and yet, what is the deal with us sensitive ones? The ones who smell the gas leak, notice the slight twitch on someone’s eyebrow, feel the grief and joy of trees, and often say “No” to the activities that many have normalized. Holcomb had named the essence of the word: highly sensing people are actually sensing their environment. They aren’t tuned out. It is superpower and it’s difficult. As a child, I was always noticing and wondering. It must have been exhausting for my mom to field that kind of focus. It’s exhausting for me to interact with my own highly sensing daughter’s eagle eyes on every moment: the texture of my inhale, the posture of an animal, the timbre of someone’s voice, the way she remembers details like someone wearing an orange jacket in April at the music concert when she was 2 yrs old.
In nervous system speak, you could call this hyper-vigilance.
There are good reasons we get wired up to be supreme noticers. It’s adaptive—initially. Our bodies say, “Pay attention!” but we can get stuck there and unable to down-regulate, even when the circumstances are present-moment safe. Yes and… aren’t there so many more layers to it? Intuitive. Empath. Anxiety. Responsibility (hi to all the firstborns). Canary in a coal mine. Seers. Wise-ones. Labels. Metaphors. Both helpful and not. I once told friends that flip phones felt hot against my head. People mostly laughed and then we soon learned what holding a phone to your brain can do. Two months before the pandemic, I asked a mentor whether she also felt something huge and heavy and different than ever before and “world-changing” approaching. As a teenager, I couldn’t stomach watching Terminator 2 in the movie theater with my family but everyone else could. Why? I don’t like watching killing or violence or suspense. Life is already so intense. Am I overly sensitive or are they de-sensitized? I don’t have an answer, but I do wonder:
Why does the over-culture applaud those who are un-phased and snub the highly sensing folks?
Is it because the highly sensing are pointing out what isn’t convenient for the world to know? Perhaps. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for my friends who aren’t sensing to high degrees all of the time or ever. They are a hitching post of sorts. They bring me down about 20 notches and I help peel back their eyelids and say, “Do you see that?” From the highest cloud, it’s abundantly clear that all the archetypes and ways of being have necessary purpose. I will continue playing the edges of learning to open and close my own sensing nature. I can practice turning it off or, as another friend recently shared, “closing the aperture.” In the meantime, I’ll also hold my ground and refuse to accept that, for example, hyper violent films, constant pings and notifications, being inside all day, every canvas an advertisement, or 80-hour work weeks (to name a few) are okay for anyone.
I want to scramble the definition even more and say that “highly sensing” doesn’t mean unable to deal. Every highly sensing person I know has a deep capacity for sitting with some of the hardest and most textured (real life as opposed to media) moments and realities. They also adventure in wild ways outside of their comfort zones. They are simply tracking and noticing and feeling. Sometimes too much.
Check out these sculptures by Pinar Baklan (thank you Ashley for introducing me to her incredible work). You can feel the energy in these postures, yes? That leads us into the posture prompt below.
Can you try on the posture of what you aren’t? Not to change yourself but to be curious and learning. Try it in one moment. For example, my husband is aware but far less sensing than I am. Sometimes I try to move into the posture he would likely take. For example, when he drops our girls at swim team and walks out to go on a bike ride even though the little one (who can swim but not probably not save herself in the deepest end for very long) starts to cry. He trusts. He trusts the other adults. He doesn’t let her fear swirl through the air toward him like a wind current and make its home in his own cells. So, I tried it the other evening: widened my shoulders, sat back into my hips, looked out the window instead of scanning the pool, even walked outside to take in the gray sky green ground. A little step toward another possible way of being. Hmmm. For those who are more un-phased, try on scanning with all of your senses: see, smell, hear, taste, even touch. What do you notice? How does your body organize itself? Do you like it or not? Does this new awareness add some new insights for you? Or, you can look at the sculptures here and imagine yourself to be one of them, receiving or leaning or both. Notice within. Then do the other one.
I want Modern Mammaling to be LIFE GIVING. For you. And for me. Many gorgeous creations out there often drain some of the life out of the person creating them. That has been me at times, up till 2am, forgetting to eat, grumbly. Even when I couldn’t see it. No longer. It doesn’t serve me and it is less useful to you too. I initially resisted making this 4x a week newsletter because bye computer bye sitting bye screens, but I have found new exciting ways, which why, in part, I’m currently lying in my hammock. I’m here for the both/and, for the reckoning and detangling and the sensing and the choice-making around what comes in and what doesn’t.
As I’m new to Substack, I’d love to know who else you are reading here: anyone I would love to read? My ears are open, at least until I close them. :)