Re-claiming Sensitivity


    I’m still learning to validate my sensitivity. In a culture that has equated sensitivity with weakness and fragility, I came to believe early in my life that I was too sensitive, that I wasn’t okay. As I reacted in childhood to other’s worry, judgement, criticisim, personal attacks, and punishment I unconsciously learned to stuff my energy. I learned to deny myself breath. Growing up in my family of origin, meant living in a frazzled atmosphere of anger, depression, anxiety and fear. Like other men, I learned I should steel my face, not let my emotions show as much as I could. I learned to be guarded, apprehensive, vigilant. I learned to be still when I wanted to move. I learned to depress when I wanted to express. The reinforcement of those habits of repression, over and over again, were like a tightening rope around my interior.

But my emotions came out in unconscious, uncontained ways that left me feeling vulnerable, exposed, ashamed. I still felt misunderstood and had difficulty recognizing, placing the intensity of my experience. With little-to-no reflection of my inner, emotional life or how to manage my energy, my body said what I didn’t know how to speak. Energetic blocks formed and manifested in childhood and into adulthood as isolation, emotional overwhelm, physical pain, discomfort. I didn’t know that my uncontained emotion—including uncontrollable crying, laughing— and physical symptoms were my life force trying to shine through. 

    Now, I know, when I give myself space, breath and attention, I’m welcoming the fullness of my aliveness to flow river-like through my body and into relationship. Of course, that’s easier said than done. To accept my sensitivity means it’s necessary to be curious and accept my uncomfortable physical sensations and ailments not as a “problem” but as information, as a path illuminating a way. Years ago, Chinese doctors told me I had “too much heat” in my body. The first time I heard that, I heard it as a problem—Too much heat! Oh no! I’m not okay! Before that, I’d already been diagnosed with a mild form of psoriasis and arthritic psoriasis—Oh no! I’m not okay! was also my response. I’ve had occasional inflammation in my joints over the last few years and I’m always surprised when the soreness visits. All these issues are related to an “over-active immune system,” which I know partly has roots in how prior conditioning shaped my psychological, emotional life and literally shaped my body. 

    Learning to stay Present with the sensations and accompanying emotions has been key to returning to balance, to making a grounded choice about how I want to let go.  Now, when I experience some physical discomfort I’m (sometimes!) grateful for the opportunity to develop my attention, for the opportunity to inhabit more of my emotional experience and energy. I’m grateful for the chance to identify the emotion and make the choice to show up for my self. I’m learning I can transform “too much heat” into a sustained, embodied warmth, a love that I’ve been longing to express through art, psychotherapy and intimate relationships.

    I’m learning to appreciate and flow with my sensitivity. I’m more present—and can presence more energy—and be more consistent and congruent. I’m taking risks to show up in ways I haven’t been able to in the past as I understand my feelings in the context of trauma and neurotic suffering. I’m less prone to being obstructed by unconscious fear, because I’m more familiar with the sensations and pure energy of fear. I’m learning too that this growing sense of aliveness and vibrance needs grounding. I’m taking better care of myself. I’m meditating to keep a light shining through my senses. I’m running and swimming to move energy. In the wake of this movement, I’m becoming more aware of a profound sense of freedom and beautiful translucence. 

    Making this developmental shift, I’ve become even more curious about the sensivity of many of the men I see in psychotherapy. (Men who are often stereotyped as being either insensitive or too sensitive.) I’m curious about how sensivity expands our capacity for intimacy. I’m curious how, when we feel balanced and safe enough, we can move our energy and find relief from physical discomfort and relational tension. I’m deepening my understanding of how emotional experience unfolds between myself and another, which includes within my psychotherapy relationships. My intentions are clearer: to tune and broaden my capacity for sensitivity, to embody feelings, intuitions, sensations from a pure—non-judgemental, non-conceptual—place of Awareness. It’s my intention to meet, in a powerful, authentic and transformative way, the people who have come to counseling to re-enliven their senses and find a vibrant path into relationship. All of us yearn to recover and reclaim our innate sensitivity and emotional life. Gratefully, I’m on my way. And I’m committed to welcoming others who are ready to embody the full force of their life.    

The River Home: Water as Emotional Resource


    Throughout my life being in water has been profoundly comforting. In childhood, I would swim in the Gulf of Mexico on spring and summer vacations. I spent as much time in the gentle, blue-green waves as I could, sometimes all day for weeks, body-surfing, snorkeling, diving down to the shallow bottom, collecting sand dollars. I felt rich, rejuvenated. In between those trips, I was lucky to spend regular time in pools, rivers, warm ponds and lakes. I simply loved swimming, and my memories of swimming usually evoke calm, a sense of flow and unity.

    Recently, a seasonal, temporary dam on the Russian River near our home was removed. The water is now shallow, running in narrow channels. The river has become an important place, where I can feel a sense of flow, intimate aloneness, vibrant connection and relief from uncomfortable physical sensations. In the last couple weeks, I’ve walked across the dry riverbed to look for dipping holes where the water is flowing. On a recent vist to the river with my wife and 20-month old son, we spent time wading, sending prayers to the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline to keep their water safe and clean from potential oil spills. I prayed too for our future, our son’s future, for clean water, for healthy, repaired and protected ecosystems. In the middle of the river, on a shallow sandbar we wrote in red and white riverstones in the sandy, pebbly bed: WATER IS LIFE, NO DABL. 

    Our son played along the edge of the water, throwing rocks into the rippling current and splashing in the mud puddles. When we got too far away, he raised his high-pitched voice in complaint. I picked him up and he snuggled into my body and calmed. There was the sound of the river rippling over stones. My wife was bent down in the water, her hands writing her prayer. The sun rose higher and pulled back the shade and warmed our backs. A great blue heron flew over and landed heavily on a favorite branch of hawks and osprey. A green heron flew over, croaked frog-like and perched in a high tree branch on the opposite bank above us. Our son pointed out the usual crows and said one of his first and only words, “Caw.” Later, he jumped at the loud screech of a stellar jay. The bird song, the birds themselves, the sun, the river, the cool air, and the soft trickling of the rapids wrapping around our legs were their own prayers. After we finished photographing the prayer to post to social media—to contribute to the growing global awareness of the importance of clean water and healthy ecosystems for our well-being and the wellness of all beings—I set my son down and waded out into the river to swim.

    In moments of intense sensitivity and energetic obstruction, when it’s difficult to let go, I’m learning other ways to let go, cool off and flow. When I sit “in the heart of silence” with clients, especially on a morning just after being in the river, I have a strong sense that the river is in me and I am in the river and everything is moving and flowing, even those places of holding and obstruction. So much awareness can be born in that space. Everything is in, nothing left out. Emotions move. Or clearly don’t, as if we were suspended in an eddy. In general, those sessions usually have a contained fluidity, sense of unity and unfolding, ineffable beauty.