“I feel too much”
“I get overwhelmed easily”
“I need to escape to recharge”
“I can’t make a decision”
The highly sensitive person (HSP), or in the Weightlessness Somatic Coaching model - sensate personality type - assuming we’re not talking about someone with extreme emotional reactivity, has what’s called sensory processing sensitivity. They actually experience more of their experience than the rest of us.
Information from their immediate experience - sensations from the their environment (exteroception) and even from within (interoception) - sings louder than it does for the headstrong, grit personality and the contemplative, cerebral personality. The highly sensitive person literally feels more.
This trait is both a blessing and a curse. Let’s start with the blessing. Sensitivity is the elixir of life.
If life is immediate, fleeting, and constantly changing,
sensitivity is the plugin that allows you to connect to it.
No other archetype has this potential. If grit is the father archetype that protects and cultivates, sensate is the mother archetype that nurtures and gives life.
-The ability for the martial arts master to adapt and react at lightning speed
-The insight of the innovator, who perceives a shift in market dynamics
-The empath, overwhelmed with compassion, removing the isolation and suffering of another
We all know the power of sensitivity intuitively, but it rarely gets the credit and appreciation it deserves. Why?
Because it’s rarely contained in a way that let’s it manifest with resounding impact, and, more often then not, falls into the category of emotional vice. A curse…
The highly sensitive person, or sensate, has the potential to be the best of us - the matriarch - the creative, adaptive, awe-inspiring leader. So what’s the deciding factor in whether sensitivity is virtue or vice?
Sensitivity is freedom. It's connection. It’s love.
But it isn’t infinite. There are real limitations to the environmental receptivity for which your nervous system can process effectively. This is due to one’s proclivity to attach meaning, connotation, and emotion to information. The highly sensitive person is often a highly emotional person. And the more emotional one is, by definition, the more attached they are.They lack fluidity (in this application - nonattachment), despite how many of them self diagnose.
But, while fluidity is a contiguous virtue that allows sensitivity to sustain without consequence, as in the case of the martial artist who doesn’t attach meaning to the last five blows he took, but remains present, focused, and connected to the evolving battle before him, it isn’t the container.
The container for sensitivity - the key that unlocks limitless potential for the highly sensitive person - is grit. It’s no coincidence that in the history of mind-body training arts, the cultivation of physical strength (and therein - grit) precedes the cultivation of higher mind spirituality (sensitivity) stemming from meditation.
The early systems tried. I go into this in greater detail in Designing a Modern Mind-Body Training Approach: Lessons from Shaolin Kung Fu and Yoga, but it’s always been fascinating to me that at their inceptions, Yoga and Shaolin martial arts were purely meditative arts. And they failed. They failed to successfully pass on the practices and higher mind capacities of their monks and sages. And in that failure, the masters realized a container was needed to pass on the skills and practices that lead to “enlightenment.”
In Yoga, the asanas were created.
In Shaolin, the animal forms were created.
It’s no coincidence that the first phase of Weightlessness Training is nutrition, strength training and structural conditioning. This conversation and developmental foundation must be set before progressing to meditation and mind-body connection in phase 2.
I too tried to teach meditation (and sensitivity) without first instilling the appropriate foundations, years ago. I failed…
Increasing one’s connection - their capacity for sensitivity - without improving the container, is like pouring water into a full cup. It spills over and makes a royal mess. The trainee finds themselves more open, receptive, yet exposed! They don’t have the tools to protect themselves from the deluge of data, and with it, emotional overwhelm that accompanies.
And instead of this capacity becoming the virtue it ought to, it makes the trainee weaker, more fragile.
Highly sensitive people - sensates, empaths - can choose to listen to their intuition, and feel what they feel. But how do they determine genuine insight from false signals?
How do they siphon out the subtle impulses based on deeply embedded insecurities and fears from those that are true, clear, relevant?
And more importantly, how do they manage the increase in the total volume of information, some of it rainbows and bunny rabbits, and much of it toxic?
Grit isn’t a state of mind. It’s authentic mind-body resilience on cellular and systemic level that one must cultivate over time, and that manifests in the form of physical structure (organized alignment) and the capacity for global tension and willpower.
You can’t positive-talk weight off the ground, you have to actually practice the deadlift to be able to do it. Again. And again. And again. (The deadlift is one example of a high stress, structurally integrative practice. There are many ways to prime the system for stress, and design grit.)
The nervous system receiving all that new, sensitive information is the same one learning to bear more load as it coordinates systemic effort to lift the weight. The mind that preservers when the weight refuses to move, and the body that super-compensates to adapt and grow stronger, is the origin of grit.
There are a plethora of stellar fail videos on the web where trainees scream and power through their heaviest deadlift. And then they faint and collapse. This is an example of a system exceeding its neural capacity.
The same thing happens with emotional overwhelm, but these two worlds are rarely correlated.
But, resilience can be trained. And improved, methodically.
And when it is, it transfers to all aspects of life. For a system that doesn’t shut down (or even get overwhelmed) from surges in cortisol, adrenaline, extreme neural load, and sensory processing, is one that can find the time to reorient in the moment, and filter signal from noise without fear-based bias.
Grit buys time for the mind to filter, process, and organize. And most importantly, it creates a safe container to “feel.”
Grit is the container that converts sensitivity from a curse into the highest human virtue.
Tom Fazio | Performance Coach & Owner @ Weightlessness