“The exaggerated dopamine sensitivity of the introvert leads one to believe that when in public, introverts, regardless of its validity, often feel to be the center of (unwanted) attention hence rarely craving attention. Extroverts, on the other hand, seem to never get enough attention. So on the flip side it seems as though the introvert is in a sense very external and the extrovert is in a sense very internal – the introvert constantly feels too much ‘outerness’ while the extrovert doesn’t feel enough ‘outerness’.”
― Criss Jami, Killosophy
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about getting older, it’s that when it comes to experiencing what’s truly important in life, there are some major disadvantages to being an introverted adult.
Most frighteningly of all, I’m losing my sensitivity to life. It’s definitely not abnormal, but the tenderness and openness that used to define me–I feel I desperately need it for my writing, and I believe, for my spiritual development.
So how can I return to the child I once was?
How do I return to innocence?
This Memorial Day I need to remember this former land in me that’s in danger of being lost. For the freedom bought for me, undeserved, I feel I owe it to them–to my grandfathers–to fight for that freedom to receive life so freely once again.
Yet returning to who that boy was brings back so many mysteries. Even my own self, I don’t yet understand….
There once was a boy who lived in a secret world so powerfully present but no one else could see it. He heard a sort of music there, made invisible friends and was dazzled by their slow-motion swirls, dancing their incredible colors and blending with the tinkling bells and xylophones like a calliope at a merry-go-round.
One day he realized the real world created this inner one by its smells, stimulating and strange, noxious and complex. Literally thousands and each so different, he never forgot one and each could remind him of any time and place in his life thereafter. And the images and unnatural things only he knew.
Inviting or forbidding, life was what his nose told him it was.
So intense, but also so intriguing. He often longed for escape, but it was impossible, he knew. No one explained or helped him understand why it was like this, and as he grew, so many piercing memories, even the good ones, became too much to bear.
Too intense, his senses often overwhelming his sense. Continually forced to receive all he didn’t want in him. Until he learned a trick to keep them out.
Stay closed off.
Now no longer they’d come and he’d be affected. He could refuse to receive them and learn to manage life from a distance, behind glass.
He remembered one night around nine-years-old he’d developed a fever and the heat in his body and brain went from bad to worse. He watched animal-shaped puffy balls bounce and stretch and become fused with his image of orange demons in the hellish heat, expanding and overtaking everything around it.
In the pitch dark, he didn’t know if he’d died but he figured not since he still hurt. And the sounds, colors and smells grew stronger but he’d grown much smaller and out of reach of anyone’s touch. He’d become so afraid, it was a place beyond natural fear, beyond natural pain, where black and bleak become a comfort, a malicious lullaby.
From then on, by night, the memories became stronger, more insistent–the images louder, the smells more overpowering, sharp warnings and sour terrors. But still it was never spoken of. The silent war raged inside him.
In the constant bombardment, he’d learned his survival technique. Resisting and closing out much of the world, he limited his experience, straight-arming the sense-saturated real world that was too much, too loud, too full.
Unable to receive it all, he learned to fight and get by with little. Unusual and new sensory experiences still continued, of course. But this defensive posture would eventually isolate him from his life.
When we realize we’ve been shut out of the life we long for, how do we become receptive to it again?
Who are the best models who receive life well? Children?
To hold out my arms again, return to receiving life as a child before going numb, before erecting these strong barriers…
There’s a trick I learned to overcome stage fright — maybe it can work here. The idea was to see the inner life as a flowing river. And you’re the solid rock of the riverbed. The water moves and flows over but you’re stable. Any thoughts or anxieties are temporary. You feel them but the water carries them away and you can remain unchanged.
You don’t have to let powerful influences overwhelm you.
You can just enjoy the water.
Certainly that’s easier said than done. But as an adult, aren’t we more capable of exerting control over our interior lives now? Can we practice this? Surely this is an advantage to being older.
And maybe with time, this new perspective of being safe and letting life come, the new experiences won’t cause such fear. Even the “bad” that happens could somehow be necessary for life….
If you’ve felt disconnected or overwhelmed by life, I hope you’ll take time to relax, enjoy the freedom won for us and receive life as it comes today. Be the stable bed and let the river flow.
Maybe this is how you’ll return to the life you once loved.
“Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.”
― Anthon St. Maarten