Sensitivity and Suffering

Sensitivity and suffering go hand in hand. People who are more sensitive, tend to suffer greater. This is evident in artists, actors, musicians and so on. Why is this?

We can begin to understand this dynamic by exploring what sensitivity really means. Sensitive people have two things that are far more acute than others. One, their ability to perceive the world through the five organs of perception are superior and two, these things matter to them. That is to say, they lack the ability to casually let go of these impression that they gather from the external world.

Sensitive people are observant and introspective. They tend to have great powers of analysis and perception. It is this deep connection with themselves (how they feel and perceive) and with their environment that distinguishes sensitive people.

The trouble is, that this levels of attunement causes suffering. Why? Let us say someone says something that is hurtful. Then these words matter. They are taken at face value. Let us say someone’s actions or behaviour is insensitive to others, then this hurts. This often happens because sensitive people experience a sense of shared belongingness with people and the world. If a migrant child dies while trying to cross over to Europe – such people feel the pain – they feel the suffering that that child might have felt in its death. Sensitive people feel that the world is an extension of themselves.

On the positive side, this level is sensitivity brings enormous advantages. In relationships, it pays for the mother to be attuned to every movement her child’s face. She understands what each cry stands for. Or the husband recognizes the slightest tone of irritation in the wife’s tone as she prepared today’s breakfast. This sensitivity helps us get under the skin of people around us and provide them the support that they so badly need. Often, many people around us may not even be aware that they are afraid or irritated. Thanks to the powers of their observation, sensitive people can provide this emotional support to their loved ones.

However, this support is not restricted to domestic walls. Sensitivity in leadership roles is enormously helpful, if not, I would argue – critical. A good leader has the uncanny ability to sense moods of one’s team. This helps the leader nip problems as they arise in the bud. And it helps address these ‘group moods’ in a timely and emotionally consistent fashion. When an employee wants to quit, the leader gets down to the actual reason this person wants to leave. Often things like a pay hike or a position are excuses for an underlying cause that the employee herself isn’t aware of. A leader has the ability to sense something wrong (through facial expression, body movements and the eyes) and come to a conclusion that what is being said is not coming from a space of integrity. When someone speaks from a place of integrity i.e. thoughts, emotions, words and actions being aligned – it exudes confidence and truth. Any ‘lie’ or a ‘lack of honestly’ can easily be sensed through movements in the eyes, a glance or shifting in the body. A sensitive leader consciously or unconsciously watches for such cues and is therefore at an advantage in the conversation. (S)he knows the inner emotive state even before the conversation begins.

Therefore, sensitivity is a crucial aspect of being a good human and then a good spouse or a good leader in your profession.

There are two questions at this stage
1) How can we go about cultivating sensitivity?
2) How can this not result in suffering?

In short. Can we be sensitive and yet not suffer?

I think we can.

We can become sensitive to the world around us (people, events, things) by becoming sensitive to our own selves. Our emotions, our body’s needs, our mental fantasies and our shortcomings. By directing the power of our minds on ourselves, we get to understand things from a true perspective. We cannot start off by practicing this on others – for we can never know what is truly on their mind. However, when we practice this on ourselves, we know what we truly feel. Let us consider an example. We are invited to a party and it is an important one. It might be a professional one where our presence can be useful in forging relations with our boss or a potential client. On the other hand, we know that this is a total waste of one’s time – since no one is ever themselves in such social settings. We dislike the falseness and the shallow talk that accompanies such events. At this stage, many of us think something and feel something else. In fact, we do not even perceive this choice as distinct. It is often a clouded mass of feelings that swing this way and sometimes the other way. In the end, we rationalize this and make a decision. For example “Oh. I have nothing to lose by going”. Or “Every successful person needs to attend such events”. What would a sensitive person do at this juncture. Such a person would calmly sit down and understand how one feels at the thought of attending this event. Once they check in with their body and the emotions, they sense that their is a contraction in the energy and butterflies in the stomach. This is our emotions telling us – I don’t want to go. This must be honored, for they are a part of us. Then, they examine the rationale to go. Is this so important that it cannot be skipped? After taking both into account – a decision is made. Let’s say the decision is “I am going”. In this case, the negative emotions are acknowledged and allowed to be in them and the person consciously makes a ‘sacrifice’ for a greater goal. This clarity of purpose brings an alignment within oneself and aids in self actualization. If on the other hand the decision is ‘No’, then there are no regrets for not having attended.

Therefore sensitivity starts by coming close to ourselves – who are we? what do we feel? what do we truly want? how does my body feel in certain circumstances? And so on.

But how do we prevent suffering? After all, as we saw earlier, when we are acutely perceptive, we pick up the environment’s suffering. This is where, we need to ask ourselves – who suffers? Or to put it more plainly – what in me gets ‘hurt’ because of this image, person’s words, or the state of affairs of the world. This is known as the direct path of enquiry in spiritual traditions. We all know that ‘I’ get hurt at hurtful words. Go to the root of that ‘I’. Is it our body that gets hurt? Obviously not. Is it the mind that gets hurt? It it our feelings? No. Thoughts cannot be harmed. Yes, a thought can give rise to a feeling in the body which is uncomfortable. But thoughts or feelings themselves cannot be hurt. So where is – or who is – the ‘I’ that is hurt?

As we enquire deeply into this, we find that the ‘I’ is non-existent. It simply does not exist. And that is a true wonder. If there is no one there to get hurt, then what can hurt us? This is the beginning of spiritual peace and joy in life. We realize that we are beings that cannot be hurt. It is then, and only then, that we can be totally open to experiences – people, events, things – with total perceptivity and sensitivity – without any suffering. This is a path of love, contentment and joy with total attention, clarity of purpose and intelligence. Every other way – the way of closing oneself off or by continuing to be sensitive without this anchor – are sure shot ways to misery in life.

Therefore, in order to become sensitive, pay attention to your emotions with full grace and acceptance. In order not to suffer, go to the root of the I that suffers. These two practices should bring us closer to ourselves.

A modern mud construction. The Art of Living. Bangalore. 2021.

1 Comment

  1. Being sensitive has lead to too much of suffering. May be I can start practising what has been told in this post. Thank you so much. Take care.

    On Wed, 21 Apr, 2021, 3:28 PM Journey of a thousand words, wrote:

    > Akhilesh Magal posted: ” Sensitivity and suffering go hand in hand. People > who are more sensitive, tend to suffer greater. This is evident in artists, > actors, musicians and so on. Why is this?We can begin to understand this > dynamic by exploring what sensitivity really means. Sen” >

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