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Friday, November 25, 2011

Hyper-Sensitive: Feeling Too Much, Too Often

The artists that I've always gravitated towards are the hypersensitive ones, those who drink deeply from the well of life, feeling too much of it too often.

Before sitting down to write this piece tonight I was moved to browse the Web for articles about Pearl Jam's singer and lyricist Eddie Vedder. I found a particularly poignant one that'd been published only a week after Kurt Cobain's death. It featured some comments from Cameron Crowe, who'd cast Vedder in a bit part in the 1992 movie Singles, an (unintentional) homage of sorts to the then-bursting Seattle music scene.

Crowe described Eddie Vedder as someone who felt life with uncomfortable intensity, someone who was "an open wound, even."

That fairly describes most of the creative people who've ever fascinated me. The hyper-sensitive. The wounded but gifted. I would not only devour their music, poetry, painting - whatever it was that they created out of their pain - but would also learn as much as I could about their lives.

When the grunge scene broke I was eager to make music my life, too, so it was easy to explain away my fascination with the movement: I was curious about how these artists had "made it". I've only recently become aware that there was another motivation at work: I was hyper-sensitive myself. I felt too much, too often. I'd been desperately searching for a way to cope with my own sensitivity. I wanted to know how these wounded and gifted artists lived with it.

Of course, many didn't - at least, not for long, according to the standard of an average lifespan. But that just made the ones who did survive all the more intriguing. What did they find? What answer did they cling to in the chill wind of hyper-sensitivity? Or was there no answer? Was their survival just a matter of sheer grit and endurance?

There is a pervasive philosophy that ensures us that the way to cope with sensitivity is to deaden it: with drugs, diversion, obsession, alcohol, indifference. But this is not living with it; it is dispensing with it. Sensitivity - even when it comes at the cost of great suffering - may be all that renders worth to existence in the end. A world in which no one feels outraged over injustice, bereft by loss - where no one loses sleep over the misery and misfortune of others - is a dead world.

In my novel, What Casts the Shadow?, narrator Brandon Chane describes his struggle to channel his acute feelings and perceptions into his music as an alternative to deadening them - or destroying himself:

In my poems and songs, I managed to create a depiction of reality that made sense to me. It was, arguably, a world that was more real to me than my actual surroundings. 

There’s been times when I’ve thought that only my artistic expression separates me from the “lunatics” who end up in asylums. They just never found a creative bridge back to the human community. They could only cling to their personal fantasies, which never hear a sympathetic chord echoing back from the world at large. 

We all live through stories, our own handmade mythologies. The highly-functioning CEO is shaping reality and perception through stories just as much as the transients, who argue with themselves, day and night on the subway, do.

During the early days of our band, I tried to present my personal story to society, in the hopes that it might be assimilated, become a part of the world. Then I’d no longer have to choose between realities. 

I thought about this fairly abstract goal more and more as I continued to write. I considered that maybe my songs could enable me to meet kindred spirits and perhaps even convert new ones. Eventually, maybe, I would even satisfy Saul’s wish for me and stop thinking of civilization as the enemy...


Wanderer Star said...

Indeed. Seth, when I saw the title in my reader, I nodded my head even before reading this. As to the list to deaden it: over-eating, writing, dissociation, day dreaming, television, and actually... spirituality. I am one of those who is hyper-sensitive. I didn't know this until about four-five years ago, and then it was too late. Too late for me to really go back into society. When my illness struck in my late thirties and I was forced to be home bound, I found out that I liked being a type of hermit, and that I needed solitude to survive. I balance better, now, in my life, taking small doses being out in society. I didn't learn to balance so well, though, being in social groups on the internet.

This subject is something I have been thinking a lot about lately for a very good reason... hmmm... something I hadn't intended to write about. Also, lately, I've been reading about how to go to the edge, and the edge talked about in a yoga book. The title of your blog, Spirituality with an Edge. So what is the edge, then, to be able to live and thrive as a hyper-sensitive as to physically, mentally and spiritually---balanced? This I am exploring because I do not care to just cope. And this is why I am considering in being more open (pushing myself to the edge) with my writings at my blog. Thank you, Seth, for your openness and expressing this.

Sherry said...

Sometimes, when I am least aware, I can "take on" too many feelings from others. But in reality, I would rather have those feelings, notice them coming into my space, feel empathetic, and let them go. I have no right to take the feelings away from another. That is their journey, their lesson to learn. Thanks for sharing and thanks for connecting on Twitter.
Blessings, Sherry

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Seth Mullins said...

Wanderer Star,

You've left a lot here to sit with. I have at times wondered whether someone like yourself, someone intensely sensitive to other dimensions of experience, might feel overwhelmed by the social world. To survive, I've often had to do very public work and there were times when I really suffered through it. I do best with a modicum of solitude, too, and sometimes my world doesn't allow me to have it.

You're the first to comment on this blog's title - I'm touched. You know, its meaning frightens me at times! I get scared because I feel like now I have set a standard that I must live up to, to always explore that edge and not shirk away. I appreciate your visit, always. - Seth

Seth Mullins said...


Your approach sounds very wise to me. Our pain belongs to us, is a part of our reality. At the same time, I'm aware of that impulse in me, at times, to want to take it away from someone else - to take it on myself - to play God and "spare" them.

Yes! Nice to connect with you here in Cyberspace - Seth

Goddess Aphrodite said...

Hi Seth,
You are very much an empath. I think there are many of us, some more deeply so. But I agree that it is a gift to be used, not to be numbed. Though at times I have numbed it.

I do also believe that all our great art, writing and music comes from these individuals. We're fortunate to have them.

Seth Mullins said...

Hi Aphrodite,

I very much agree with what you've said. I've always felt that it was a gift - that, in fact, it should be what is considered "normal sensitivity" rather than "highly sensitive". There was always the temptation there to want to numb it - because of intensity, pain, the loneliness and alienation it could engender, etc. Sometimes I succumbed, sometimes I had a spiritual grounding that enabled me to live with it in a more balanced way. That part is ongoing, never settled once and for all, I think.