The primary challenge facing most highly sensitive people (also known as "HSPs") revolves around how to maintain an optimal level of stimulation in their lives. When you have a very finely tuned nervous system, it also tends to hold true that "less is more," when it comes to deciding how much you take on in life. If you’re not entirely sure what an HSP is, please refer to this introductory article on this topic.
We live in a hectic world, filled with inputs, activities and stimulation. It almost seems as if a central part of our societal values system decrees that unless every single moment of our lives is filled with "something"-- an activity, a hobby, work, working out-- we're somehow "missing out" on important parts of the human experience. Even silence is regarded with a certain skepticism by many, unless we turn it into an "activity" called meditation. "What's wrong with you? Why aren't you saying anything?" is a common refrain, and you've probably experienced it yourself, perhaps sitting at a doctor's office where one of the other patients in the waiting room felt compelled to fill every moment with the sound of their voice.
No matter how much we may be trying to live consciously as human BE-ings, we're surrounded by a pervasive cloud of meta-messages suggesting that we should really be striving to be human DO-ings and human HAVE-ings. Somehow, in our being-ness, we have "failed." I have even met highly spiritual people who professed to have escaped the rat race, yet maintained jam-packed schedules of "non-activities." Ironic, no?
As an HSP, I must confess that I feel perfectly happy with my small and quiet life. I enjoy writing; I like beach combing and searching for old postage stamps and artifacts to resell-- all of which I do at a fairly leisurely pace. I feel a lot of gratitude that I have found a way to eek out a living from doing these things I love and I still have time to pursue personal development while also helping others. Yes, I feel like I'm on the right track!
Until the clamor of the world-- and a certain group of people in it-- insinuates itself into my gentle existence and tries to convince me that I must have "more" (more content, more money, more activities, more excitement!) in my life, and my reluctance to "strive for more" is actually a reflection that I am an undesirable underachiever who shouldn't be taken seriously.
Society-- especially in the US-- has a fairly toxic and co-dependent relationship with the word "more." And in many ways, it's our own fault. Going back many decades, we were willing participants in the construction of a "machine" that depends for its very survival on the relentless pursuit of more. Growth rules everything else. If someone sets out to manufacture yoga mats and makes a perfectly good living from selling 10,000 mats a year, they are considered a "failure" if they don't strive to sell 12,000 mats the following year, and on and on, ad infinitum-- regardless of whether they need to sell that many yoga mats. To make the statement that we have "enough" is akin to heresy... and possibly unpatriotic.
And so, we end up with these stressful and "overstuffed" lives, even as we seek ways to "relax more."
Sadly, even highly conscious individuals get caught on this unsustainable treadmill... perhaps fearful that if they don't participate in the system, they will become partially responsible for its demise, and by extension their own demise will result. Is that scenario really true?
The false assumption is that we're dealing with an all-or-nothing situation. Embracing "enough" and living life simply isn't the same as becoming an ascetic-- and we don't have to. We just have to live-- and choose-- consciously. Nobody says we have to completely "throw out" the system, just modify it to fit our new paradigm. And herein lies an important message: We have somehow forgotten that the system is there to work for us, not vice-versa.
The HSPs of the world-- simply be merit of the fact that choosing "less" helps balance stimulation-- are ideally suited to embracing voluntary simplicity and being leaders in the move towards more conscious living. The challenge is to find it within us to ignore the cacophony of critical voices and messages telling us that we "must do more" and that choosing "less" somehow makes us less. That's simply not true. My life is exciting and big enough!
Ultimately, we have to take a long hard look at who gets to decide what the right amount of "content" is, in our individual lives. We must not forget that we get be in charge of our own destinies, no matter what pressures marketers and a frenetic society tries to impose on us.
Peter Messerschmidt is a writer, beach comber, rare stamp dealer and eternal seeker. When he’s not wandering the beach or the Internet, he facilitates groups & retreats for HSPs, and shares his musings at “HSP Notes,” the web’s oldest HSP-specific blog, at http://hspnotes.com. He lives in Port Townsend, WA with the great love of his life and several furry “kids.”