As we take a pause because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is increasingly apparent that what people call normal is not coming back. It cannot because the fragility and weaknesses of our current way of being are being exposed. Unfortunately it is causing pain for many even as we are being invited to reconsider how we live.
The Error Of Linear Thinking
The human world has been invested in creating material sufficiency for hundreds of years for good reason: too many humans lived marginal lives without the ability to have enough to survive let alone thrive. To do that we have created production and manufacturing processes using machines to take raw materials and convert them into much needed supplies. At least that was the original intention.
The chart below shows how the manufacturing process works:
Notice how resources and regeneration are outside of the process and are described as infinite in their availability and regenerative capacity. Unfortunately that is not how the world really works. Nature operates on a circular and regenerative process. Time in nature is not about producing; it is connected to the life supporting processes of nature. Producing is a very small part of the natural processes of life.
The productive model is about output. There is really no connection to nature except as a source of resources. Everything is a commodity. Many people feel that they are also only a commodity.
With this attitude comes a form of detachment from nature and others that creates a lot of loneliness but that can also feel a little like an insult. The rich world we live in is an ecological wonderland that is so much more than resources for production and consumption. But we cannot worry about that if we need to produce and consume, can we?
The point is that in being a part of this high demand system of ours, we become detached from life. Even those of us who love nature and find it healing, live in a system that does not recognize the value of the aliveness and vitality of nature.
Nature has built in healing and rejuvenative processes. the production system does not. As a result, it keeps depleting the earth and people, in spite of the good that it brings. It is a partial solution to life issues that comes with huge costs. How do we change this?
The manufacturing/consumption way of life has removed us not only from a direct connection with nature but also a direct relationship with the meeting of our needs. Few people cook their meals, make their clothes, or grow their own food. As a result, few people fully understand what it takes to supply our needs.
In addition, we have been encouraged to think of our needs and desires as unlimited in a world that has limits. Most of us will have to take some time to get reacquainted with what we really do need and what it takes to supply them.
Since manufacturing reduces our connection with nature and life, getting reconnected with our real needs and taking care of them will mean we have to become more intimately involved with ourselves, our places, and other people.
What Does This Look Like For Sensitive People?
Intimacy in not just about proximity. You can be sitting next to a stranger and not have an intimate connection. Intimacy involves more and some of it is natural to sensitive people.
Here are some thoughts on rediscovering the value of intimacy:
- sensory gifts. Sensitive people have strong sensory capabilities, which can be a hindrance in a world that values speed and quantity or volume of output. They are very useful when attention, compassion and discernment are important.
- listening. It is interesting how often active listening is promoted as something to do, as an additional skill over and above what we normally do in order to make it easier for people to work together. Active listening in a connected, nature based world is an important and necessary part of life. If you watch animals, they listen with all aspects of their being. That kind of listening is deep and without restriction.
- openness. When you connect in a sensory way, you have to be open to all sensations, not just the ones you want. The sensory world offers us information of vital importance not only to our survival but also to our well-being. This may be the most difficult part about becoming more open and more intimate with our world. We have been encouraged to be “positive” all of the time, and to shun and reject unpleasant emotions. Unfortunately, since all emotions bring us information, this way of handling feelings can actually harm us.
- empowerment. There is a relationship between intimacy and empowerment. If we are practiced at shutting out, then we may not be as skilled at letting in. We cannot fully process what we is going on in our lives and around us if we cannot let in information whether it is the wide variety of sensory information around us or the information offered by our feelings. All sensory information opens a window to physical qualities that provide us with important information. Wetness tells us something different from prickly, for instance.
- inner-directedness. Many, if not most, sensitive people are inner directed because of their nature. That is a good thing but does not work well if we cannot allow in all the sensory information we encounter. Where shutting out uncomfortable feelings may work in the high production culture we have been living in, connecting with uncomfortable information is much more suitable to a culture which honors natural limits and restorative processes.
A More Hopeful Time
Nature is reminding us that there are limits and that we must respect them if we are to live in a sane and life enhancing way. In order to do so, we have to change how and what we do. We have to learn to listen as a starting point for connecting to the world. We have to be willing to receive a wide variety of sensory and emotional information and become more intimate with all aspects of ourselves and our physical place in the world. We have to listen to understand what our real needs are and what it takes to meet them. We have to connect with others to meet those needs in the most resource smart way.
This is all goodness as we develop a more grounded way of living; however, it means that what we have rejected we may need to come to terms with, whether uncomfortable feelings or limits we are not used to. The upside is a freer and slower way of life that I think suits sensitive people more. But there is still some learning to do to rise to the occasion. It will be a different kind of demanding and we will need to be able to use more and more of our whole selves to fully participate in our world.
Many sensitive people are used to being marginalized and that is where a big challenge lies. How do we learn to participate in a more collaborative, networked world which will be seeking to solve the problems created by a high demand, high consumption system? Developing our listening and intimacy skills is a start. With discernment, we can then learn how to collaborate with others which will provide us with a path to greater participation in life without having to deny our natures.
Image Credit: Jake Colling – Unsplash