"It's my decision," the leader announces to our team, trampling divergent, wise perspectives and pushing forward his solution minutes before complaining that another leader higher up isn't listening. The irony is not lost on me. Or others of us.
A friend of mine texts. We kavetch and complain, both of us highly sensitive to power dynamics, authoritarian agendas, and hierarches in the midst of all the right words and phrases. Especially words like equity, diversity, and inclusion.
I feel my brain's stress response, spin and ruminating tendencies picking up speed, which only makes the pain of what I'm experiencing worse as my thoughts amplify all that's wrong. Taking a break from texting, I look around, taking in the natural world surrounding me. I'm attending the meeting remotely. And walking while it's happening. A solid attempt at helping myself stay regulated instead of instantly reactive sitting and unable to move in the midst of this work environment. What good will it do for me to be infuriated sitting there in the room with little I can do to influence? Better to stay open and less reactive. If possible. Which, even from a distance is hard.
Breathing, I look around at the beauty surrounding me. Peeling red bark of madrone trees opening to the dark waters of Bellingham Bay backed by islands. Nearer, a patch of daffodils, bold and yellow in the middle of a huge field. Their solid yellow faces, surrounding a sharp, invasive, purple briar careeing from their midst. I take a deep breath again. Then, pull out my camera, snap a shot and sent it off to my friend.
"Oh, this helps me relax and breathe," she responds. I continue walking, letting the people drama in all its inflated, egotistical glory prattle on in the background. The fact that I'm not sitting in the midst of it or watching it with my video on, only hearing the words from a distance, makes it far easier to stay present. And far easier not to carry all the drama, dysfunction, and pain with me into my weekend.
While this may seem like the easy way out, the decision to attend remotely was anything but easy. But on the heels of surgery and months of medical leave it no longer seems wise to sit fuming and furious for several hours on a regular basis. Just like it no longer seems wise to try and prove to myself that I can manage the intensity of my emotions and sensitivity if only I try harder in any situation. If I want to have energy left for my creative work in the world, the last thing I need to be doing is dropping myself into something dramatic and painful, then spending all weekend trying to unwind from it.
No. My creative work deserves more. What I want to do in the world deserves more.
For years I couldn't give this creative part of me much good energy. By the time I'd finished working to save the world and workplace from all its problems, I had nothing left. Other than frustration and a feeling of incessant dissatisfaction. Why did I feel so empty and unfulfilled?
The bless and curse of being deeply sensitive is that life is not only more colorful and alive, but also much more painful and challenging. And dropping me into the middle of a workplace with painful, unconscious, power-laden human dynamics (as someone who saw her role as the hero whose job it was to save everyone and everything from the wrongs of the world), meant I was constantly navigating riptides of stress I had no idea how to manage. And constantly using all of my creative energy to try and solve the worlds problems and rid it of its dramas.
Oops! :) Somehow I don't think the world will ever be free of that. And quite honestly, it doesn't light me up to continue dropping myself into situations I dislike in order to try and make things more functional.
It seems my sensitivity and creativity (which are correlated, by the way: high sensitivity is linked to being highly creative) have something better to do with themselves. Something that means I love the world and its beauty more, like those daffodils surrounding the bitter briar. And something that means I don't consume and exhaust myself tearing one thorn after another off that briar, whose canes likely run deep.
So, instead of trying to self-help or therapy my emotional reactions and sensitivity away, I'm giving this part of me that sees every detail, detects all the nuance and complexity, and feels so intensely an outlet to be used in my life. Creative work. A space where I get to shape every tiny detail, notice all the human imperfections and bring them to the page with humor or seriousness, and work with the intensity of all that I've felt and experienced navigating the ins and outs of life. How else does one make sense of or process the "constant intensity" of "emotional experience" that shapes the personality and lives--"job performance, social life, intimate relationships"--of deeply sensitive people? (in Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind p. 128).
"It hurts to be me," Michael Jackson once said. He was highly imperfect. And also highly sensitive: both "incredibly 'out there' and open, and painfully shy. So much so that producer Quincy Jones details that Michael would "sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat with my hands over my eyes--and the lights off" while recording. (from Wired to Create p. 122-123)
It's not easy to work with this level of sensitivity in the world. Nor to put in place a creative practice that means this intensity of experience has someting productive (instead of reactive) to do with itself. The moment we allow ourselves to create, we have to feel intense vulnerability, like Michael Jackson described. But it's entirely worth it. Especially if joy, meaning and fulfillment are things we want more of and being consumed in irritation and endless problem solving aren't filling us up.
So, for me, the answer is NOT to use up my creative energy solving the world's endless and incessant stream of problems. For me, I choose to find something that makes my heart sing, like writing my memoir. And I choose to make space for all of my intensity in some creative outlet.
Instead of burning my sensitivity up as I try and swordfight away power dynamics and create change in all that's broken in the world, I vow to give my sensitivity better things to do with itself: creative things, that require all the nuance, complexity, and detail I can perceive, and all the imagination for how I might bring those to the world in ways others can hear and see (and in ways that teach me what I most need to learn). I'm no longer pushing against all that's wrong and trying to make it right. Instead, I'm imagining and creating, giving my sensitivity with all of its intensity its rightful place in my life and the world.
Would you like to create more and problem-solve less? And start using your sensitivity for more than reacting to and trying to change the world's endless drama? And would you enjoy doing this with a small group of women? I'm considering opening another round of Women Create with a retreat on Lopez Island June 26-29. Let me know if you'd like to explore further. And cheering for you either way.
PS - If you haven't seen this video on the difference between our rational, problem-solving brain and our creative, empathic, mindful brain, check it out. It's SUPER powerful and by a neuroscientist. https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_my_stroke_of_insight