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Honoring Sensitivity in a High-Pressure World


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I’ll come out and say it—I’m sensitive.

Indeed, a “highly sensitive person,” as my closer companions often call me—“HSP” for short. And I’d like to acknowledge for a moment that it takes courage to share this identification with the world.

We pay a lot of lip-service to sensitivity these days. Brené Brown’s Power of Vulnerability skyrocketed from bestseller to instant-classic-manifesto status. We proudly proclaim ourselves as “empaths” (albeit with a twinge of self-pity) and we find ourselves riding the wave of the millennial self-love revolution. “Staying in is the new going out!” read lifestyle magazine headlines. And I can’t argue with any of it—most of the time I’m in full agreement—but does our culture actually mean what it says?

Frankly, I’m calling bullsh*t.

At the end of the day, we live in a high-pressure world. The new American Dream demands us to rise up, keep up, and make a name for ourselves—all while being 100 percent self-sustaining, “healthy,” environmentally conscious, and making a thriving living off our entrepreneurial dreams. In a culturally-relevant (i.e. expensive) urban oasis. Oh, and honoring our sensitive nature.

I have a hard time believing our culture is sincere in supporting this sensitivity. We can be sensitive as much as we want—off the clock. We can be sensitive as long as we are still highly-functioning, profitable members of society. Ultimately, we can be sensitive if we keep it to ourselves.

Does this pose a dilemma for you? Because I’ve been mulling it over for months, if not years. How do we honor our sensitivity in this high-pressure world?

First of all, we have to honor it within ourselves.

This is easier said than done—but it’s a must. It starts with a simple acknowledgement: “I’m a sensitive.” Hey, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Honoring our own sensitivity requires deconstructing the judgments we hold against it. I am in firm belief that our true nature is one of self-acceptance, so sourcing our inner-critic requires a little personal archeology.

Who said it wasn’t okay to be this way? Was it the boss who told us to get our sh*t together after a breakup? Was it the parent who signed us up for countless extra-curriculars, or demanded academic perfection? Or perhaps it was the schoolyard peers who said crying is for sissies. Dig deep and find the root of the belief.

Once I understood why I didn’t accept my sensitivity, I was able to have compassion for myself and change the script. While the outer world may still supply this message, I was no longer one of the voices. I became my own voice of care.

Then, honor it with our actions.

This often requires compromise. I hate to burst the invincible bubble, but we actually cannot do it all. We are human beings. As a sensitive, this is even more valid. Honoring our sensitivity means assessing our energy-level frequently and respecting where we’re at. Checking-in with our physical and emotional bodies allows us to make loving and informed decisions about how to fulfill our deeper needs.

We aren’t going to be up for every invitation or request. This requires saying “no” to others a lot more than we’re likely comfortable with. Start practicing. If we need to, we can say “no” in small ways and work our way up. “I’m sorry, I can’t drive you to the airport next week. I have a lot on my plate.” could eventually become “I love you, but I can no longer engage in this relationship.” or “On second thought, I never wanted to be a doctor.” If it was scary to read that, don’t worry. Baby steps.

Lately, I’ve scaled way back on the expectations I put on myself in my spare time. I spend a lot more “me time” at home: cooking healthy meals, playing music, journaling, or reading inspiring books. I love people, but when I acknowledge my sensitivity, being an on-the-go social butterfly doesn’t fit my life right now. Maybe again someday, but what’s important is I’m listening to my needs in the present and making the kindest choices I can to reflect that.

Get clear on priorities.

Sensitivity is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for life’s difficulties. There is no such thing. Sensitive or not, there are aspects of life we have to face to survive (and ideally, thrive) in this world. And I believe it’s entirely possible for us, so long as we’re clear on our priorities.

I like to think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for this thought exercise. I’ve literally drawn the pyramid out in my journal and made commitments to each layer of personal development. The base of the pyramid is “physiological needs,” meaning food, shelter, and sleep. If any of these aspects are out of whack, it’s highly difficult to feel balanced and healthy, much less engage with the world without getting drained. So we start there. Prioritize a good night’s sleep. I know it’s not “sexy,” but you know what else isn’t sexy? A zombied-out HSP.

Then, prioritize a stable, sustainable work and home situation. Sensitives are more impacted by change than others, so finding a good fit long-term in these areas is super important. Despite my sensitivity, I’m highly ambitious, so I used to set myself up in harsh, demanding work environments for the challenge and prestige, but ultimately would burn out and return to the same ungrounded, high-risk place I started in.

I’ve learned my limits and I’m clear about them with everyone in my life, so now I’m confident in the long-term potential of my current life choices. I go to bed before 11 p.m., I maintain a nutritious diet, and I created a cozy, modest home that feels good to return to. Much peace arises from these choices.

Lastly, commit to self-care practices.

Reclaiming my sensitivity began when I learned (and consistently practiced) meditation. This is something I believe all sensitives would benefit from embracing. Meditation is, quite simply, taking time to be with ourselves. Free of demands, judgment, pressure, or misunderstanding. Sitting with ourselves allows us to get to know what’s actually going on in our minds, bodies, and hearts. How else could we know how to best take care of ourselves? After several years of practice, I now receive direct, intuitive insight in my meditation sessions about the best choices to make, and answers to questions I’ve struggled with off the cushion.

There are infinite other self-care modalities we can adopt, as unique as each of us. I have a friend who is devout about her yoga practice. Another who is basically a mermaid and jumps straight for an Epsom-salt bath. Another swears by reiki to rebalance after tough weeks.

We all benefit from different tools at different times. Usually, quiet time writing does the trick for me, but other days I just need a long talk on the phone with someone who loves me. When sh*t really hits the fan, I break out my emergency first-aid kit (“When Harry Met Sally” and a very large bowl of popcorn).

I write all this in hopes that I, and my fellow sensitives, can embrace who we are and empower ourselves to build our strength, restore our health, and live out our best lives. I don’t want to view this quality as an adversity; it’s just another part of how we walk through the world.

We can, and we will, rise to meet every day with integrity, honesty, and the beautiful sensitivity we have to offer. We are everything we need to be. We are enough.

In Soul, Danielle

(This post was originally published on Elephant Journal)

What Went Down at Shambhala Training: Level 1

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” 
— Shunryu Suzuki

I’d like to share my thoughts on Shambhala Buddhism and their Level I training course:

This weekend I attended a three-day meditation training, hosted by my local Shambhala Meditation Center. Before getting into this specific course, I’d like to introduce Shambhala for those who aren’t familiar:

>> Read the rest of this post on Elephant Journal <<

If you’d like to chat more about any questions or apprehensions, shoot me a message and I’ll gladly discuss with you!

In Soul, Danielle.

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Learning to Live with a Broken Heart.

“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
– Leonard Cohen

It’s easy to aspire to strength.

It’s easy to offer a solid shoulder to someone we love when they’re suffering. It’s natural, we are empathetic beings after all. We conjure thoughtful quotes, or recommend a good book, or wrap them in our arms and say, It’ll all be okay, it just takes time.

But I don’t feel okay. And every day that passes feels like a years worth of grief. I’m heartbroken. In the past, I’ve learned how to move on. I’ve put my head down and got through it. I got dressed and went to work. I sent well wishes into the Universe with hope it would reach the Soul of the person I was letting go.

And then I felt better.

But this is different. You are gone and it feels like my heart left with you. No matter how I try, nothing can make me feel better right now.

Not the yoga classes, the healing sessions, the Skype calls with loved ones, or the healthy dinners and Buddhist podcasts I force myself to gulp down every night. Not the morning meditations, or even the long cries.

I’ve been on what I considered to be “the spiritual path” for about three years now, and it seems it has all led me to this moment. I’m drawing on every tool I know. It’s easy to be smart and strong when nothing’s wrong, but what about now? What happens when we’ve lost this much?

Feeling helpless, I bowed before my altar this morning and prayed, What more can I do? Help me.

And, somehow, through the roaring tidal wave of emotion, the soft and tender voice of Soul arose: Learn to live with your broken heart.

And the tears came again. I got my answer.

All week I’ve been searching for the vision of a future where my heart was mended, but nothing came through. I felt hopeless, but now I understand.

My heart will never be the same again, but I no longer want it to.

Now there is nothing between me and the heart of the world. The slightest eye contact brings me to tears. A genuine moment of compassion surges through my body like a river. I feel everything—everything I built a life around trying not to feel.

And while I may be broken, now I am free. I can finally put down my shield.

I know now I can no longer walk through Life guarding my heart like precious china. I cannot truly love that way either. It doesn’t matter how much affection is in me if I can’t touch the world or my beloved, just like a china cup can’t serve its purpose sitting behind glass on a shelf.

I don’t want my love to be precious, like some untouchable piece of art, I want it to be ordinary, every day, and real. Just as it is built to be. I want to hold my heart in my hand every morning, glide my thumb over the chips on its edges, and know it is still worth giving. I want to offer it as I would offer my most cherished belonging. Because it is.

What more can I give than my genuine, broken heart?

In breaking, I am no longer afraid. Now, I want to love so hard that I break this much every day. Because in breaking like this, I am broken open. I am forever changed. Even if it’s what we fear most, this is actually the greatest blessing we can receive in this human life. This is how we know our whole hearts.

That isn’t to say that I don’t need healing. Because right now, my porcelain pieces are scattered on the floor. It will take great attention and care to bring my heart back together again, but I’m willing to do it because now I understand why it’s worth it. I know what I was missing.

In this moment, I am reminded of the Japanese art form called kintsugiTranslating to “patching with gold,” this craft is the process of repairing broken pottery by rejoining the clay pieces with a golden lacquer. The fractures become the most valuable places. We don’t discard and replace a perfectly good cup, we honor its breaking, illuminate the cracks, and in doing so create something even more beautiful.

So I’ve given up trying to fix this, or even feel better, and in doing so I’ve restored my faith that somehow this heartbreak has opened me to a lifetime of genuine, raw, human love.

Now it’s time to master this craft—this healing—trusting one day, when I set the table for two, you will walk through my door with your kintsugi heart and learn how to love mine too.

In Soul, Danielle

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Finding the Freedom to Fail

One would think by now, what with all my professional experience, that I would be a seasoned and savvy fucker-upper.

But, alas, whenever I drop the ball, struggle, or straight-up bomb, I feel like a failure. A failure at said task, but also a failure at failing.

Such is the plight of the chronic perfectionist, a title I used to consider resume-worthy but now realize is one of my greater hinderances.

I’ve recognized a similar pattern between myself and other Type As. We were the classroom kids who sat in the front row and quickly mastered our textbook’s lessons. We were the know-it-alls. But the problem with “knowing it all” is there’s little room for anything new. Maybe we can get by this way for a while, but eventually our luck runs out.

>> Read the rest of this post on Elephant Journal << 

In Soul, Danielle

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Breaking-Up With California

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It’s hard to write this. It’s even harder to publish.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to admit I’m moving on. Will they think I’m a failure? Do I think I’m a failure? Am I letting the people who love me down by not coming back? The river of insecurity rushes by me faster than I can offer compassionate answers.

But here’s the hard truth: California never felt like home. So I left.

We had a good run. This feels like one of those break-ups between two good people who just aren’t right for each other. I planted so much love there, and despite the fact that for a while there we were on thin ice, I feel like we turned it around in the end. After years of trying to make it work, I finally understood that what’s right doesn’t take so much effort.

I’ll spare you all the sappy details. Because let’s be real, California has been through so many break-ups by now it will surely move on to someone new by the end of the week. It has a way of attracting sparkle-eyed adventure girls like me.

Regardless, I’d like to share a bit of what California meant to me during our three-year rendezvous.

Moving to Los Angeles was my first attempt at making it in the real world. I thought I was equipped for it, which I find unceasingly amusing now. Is anyone ready for the world at 22? I learned more about myself leaving the Midwest than I ever thought possible—and in such a short amount of time.

That’s what coastal energy does to us, I believe. There’s a sense of impermanence that feels heightened. The tides ascend and then decline back to Mother Ocean’s blue belly right as we dip our hands in to catch. The breezes carry seasons of rain and colorful wanderers into town to change the scenery and tell stories rich with lessons if we listen closely.

It was exciting but damn, was it ungrounding.

You know what else California taught me? Fucking up is normal. It’s human nature. If our Souls were perfect and had it all figured out we wouldn’t be on Earth, wobbly-kneed in these depreciating bodies. We’d be living it up, floating around somewhere golden and celestial.

We’re here to make mistakes, learn the lessons, and evolve.

Not every chapter is meant to be comfortable. Not every chapter is meant to grow roots. I’ve moved ten times in the past three years. I lived on the top floor of a Hollywood studio with a primo view of Capitol Records, and then I lived in a tent. In the process, I lost a lot of “stuff” I thought I couldn’t live without.

I did, in fact, live.

The funny thing about comfort is it makes change a hell of a lot scarier. We get slow, we get a little sleepy and complacent. The roaring fire of our dreams shifts from its perch under our asses and onto the back burner, slowly going out. Our new dream now is one day installing granite over the kitchen sink. Not me. I’m grateful for the upheaval since 2014 because in never settling down I never settled for less than my heart’s calling, even when I didn’t know what she meant or where to go next. Not this? On to the next thing.

Perhaps the greatest gift California gave me, though, was trust in myself. She has pushed me to endure more than I ever thought possible. I used to believe I couldn’t handle the demands and pressures of this world. That everyone wanted something from me and I would always come up short. I relied on others to rise to the occasion when shit hit the fan. But that changed. I’m my own guardian now, and it feels so good. I know, at all costs, I will show up for myself. Now I can leap off the most daunting cliffsides, into the darkness, without a clue of what lies below, because I trust that I know how to fall. How to heal. How to listen to Soul and take that next first step all over again.

Thank you, beautiful Golden State, for guiding this adventure. Thank you for breaking me so I could grow my bones back stronger. Thank you for holding me, and now, thank you for letting me go.

And just like that, it was over.

Next stop, Boulder.

In Soul, Danielle

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