On Sensitivity

When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster.

Do not intrude in their homes.
Do not harass them at work.
If you do not interfere, they will not weary of you.

Therefore the sage knows himself but makes no show,
Has self-respect but is not arrogant.
He lets go of that and chooses this.

Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching: Seventy-two
Translation by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, 1972

It seems to me that it is impossible to act skillfully in the world and build harmonious relationships, without being sensitive to what is already present. Without sensitivity any attempt to create change will be forceful and oppositional.

In my experience sensitivity often has two core components. There is the “what” of the experience, my sense or feeling of something in the present moment – something being not right, something not being allowed or something present that is not being seen. And then there is the “why” of the experience, my story about what that means. I have come to trust that my sense is almost always right and that my story is almost always wrong.

This is also true when I do taiji, dancing or bodywork. When I follow and move with my embodied sensitivity I seem to be able to act much more effortlessly and skillfully than when I start attaching stories and concepts to what I am doing. The not-knowing sensitivity is what enables me to move with precision when it is needed.

The story for me often becomes quite destructive and leads to me taking something personally or making something important (which is largely the same thing in my world). It seems to me that this often occurs when I refuse (out of fear, resentment, stubbornness or similar) to bring my truth (the impact of the situation on me) in the moment and the feeling somehow gets stuck in my body. It is also quite rare that my story matches that of others and if i stick to it, it often becomes difficult to meet. It becomes about me rather than about the relationship.

However, when I dare to stay with my sense and go into an exploration of the unknown together with other people, it seems like there is often an opening or a deepening of the relationship.  This most clearly comes out when I allow myself to share the impact another person has on me. It often comes out as something like “I noticed that …”, “You seem to …”, “I feel really touched about you sharing …” or “I am still with you saying … what does that mean to you?”.

Paradoxically, sensitivity also seems to be about getting in touch with an embodied knowing. It is becoming increasingly clear for me that I can know a lot about another person by just being with them, seeing them and listening to them. Who we are is expressed in and through our bodies and how we hold them.

In my own experience it is incredibly scary and confronting, but also incredibly liberating when someone dares to trust their sensitivity and share what how they are experiencing me. In those quite rare moments I really feel seen.

A very curious thing is that our sensitivities seem to be largely based on our personal experiences. The lives we have lived makes us open for some parts of experience and closed to others. Another way of saying this is that our “trauma” or bad past experiences can be transformed to relational superpowers when we understand that they enable us to see parts of reality that would otherwise be invisible for us. We all have our personalized “puzzle pieces” that can (and in my mind should) be brought into connection with others and thus allow us to collectively grow.

Bringing sensitivity is vulnerable and implies courage. Working on my sensitivity means trusting my sensuous experience, not making my stories important and really bringing my curiosity for other people’s experiences. It means seeing sensitivity as something that can be brought in connection rather than something forcing me to suffer because I am feeling to much.