Highly sensitive people are highly aware of the state of our worlds, both inner and outer. As such, when it feels like things are falling apart – as it’s felt like for a while but has been amplified and accelerated since covid began last year – we can veer toward pessimism and hopelessness. And we might also struggle with guilt: How can I feel joyful when there’s so much pain in the world? How can I claim goodness when there’s so much pain? These are questions I’m asked every day in my work.
Of course, it’s not only the world’s problems that brings tears to the hearts of the highly sensitives; it’s the personal struggles of our children; the ache of friends; the conflict with partners; and, of course, the challenges of our own minds, which are wired toward anxiety, intrusive thoughts, and worry. Highly sensitive people are lightning rods that feel not our own pain but also to everyone around us, including the broader community. We’re also aware that, to some extent, things are always falling apart, for it’s the highly sensitives who are highly attuned to the fact that loss and change form the very fabric of our existence. What we’re less aware of because we haven’t been taught how to breathe and dance through the loss and change, is that joy is part of the fabric as well.
In the absence of these mindsets and practices, our small mind, which is rooted in control, believes that if it does everything right both internally and externally – if I do enough inner work and partner with the “right” person and eat the “right” food and have the “right” body and do the “right” compulsions – I’ll be happy. Perpetually happy. I’ll erase pain and live in the state of happily ever after that popular culture has promised me.
But our wise minds know this isn’t possible. Grief and fear and loss and vulnerability will never end; it’s part of our existence as humans. My son will always fly planes, and I’ll always need to lean into the practices that catch my fear so that I can support his joy. There will always be risk of illness, both my own and the people I love, and I’ll always need to rest in the hammock of prayers that hold the vulnerability so that I can return to trust. My kids will grow up and drive and fly away and leave, which means there will always be the risk and reality of loss, and I’ll always need to turn to my deep of well of Self that serves as a North start that I can rely on to navigate the ever-changing seas of love and life. Loss will always exist: the day will end, summer will end, another year of my life will culminate in a birthday that will contain both loss and joy.
And there will always be pain in the world. While I do believe that we’re on an upward trajectory that will land us on a kinder, more tolerant, more just planet – “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” (Martin Luther King, Jr as inspired by abolitionist Theodore Parker) – the simple fact that death will always exist means that pain will always exist.
It would be easy to turn away from the world’s pain, and to some degree we must safeguard our minds and protect ourselves from knowing every bit of pain that exists in every corner of the world. But we can’t over-protect, for that isolates us from one of the elements that makes us most human: our compassion. And so I lean into the practices of the heart, tending to my grief which, paradoxically, also opens pathways to joy. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes in The Book of Joy when a reader asks how to find joy in the midst of such large world problems:
“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others. I have frequently wept about the world’s problems… Yes, be appalled. It would be awful if we looked on all that horrendousness and we said, Ah, it doesn’t really matter. It’s so wonderful that we can be distressed. That’s part of the greatness of who we are – that you are distressed about someone who is not family in any conventional way. It’s incredible how compassionate and generous people can be.”
He’s talking about our interconnectedness – that we are one human family and we have this stunning capacity for compassion. The more sensitive you are, the more compassion you’ll feel, and then we need to learn what to do with that compassion so that it doesn’t paralyze us and we can continue to take action is whatever ways that allow our gifts to flow into our world.
What are these ways?
We grow a daily roadmap of simple and meaningful practices that allow us to root into reliable anchors that catch the uncertainty and open our hearts to grief, itself a pathway to joy. I know of no other way to live a life of fullness and well-being.
Without these practices, we stumble and fall into the grip of worry and intrusive thoughts, those elusive and compelling places that give us the illusion of control. We may develop unhealthy rituals in our attempt to find certainty. But these don’t work, and they ultimately land us in more fear and confusion.
In our ritual-bereft and grief-phobic culture, we grow up in the absence of healthy roadmaps and practices, which is why I created Grace Through Uncertainty. Through this course, I teach you how to find your own healthy footholds and what “spiritual practice” actually means (it’s different than religion) so that you can weep and dance and sing and practice gratitude in ways that are meaningful for you. And from there, from a full well of Self, you serve the world.
If you struggle with a fear of loss…
If you struggle with health anxiety…
If you struggle with intrusive thoughts, at the core of which is the need for certainty…
If you struggle with feeling guilty about your blessings…
If you struggle with knowing how to metabolize the pain of the world in a way that leads to joy and contributes to healing…
…and you would like to learn how to create a practice that can help you channel the fear of loss and need for uncertainty into grace and gratitude, I invite you to join me for this fourth live round of Grace Through Uncertainty. The course will start on June 19th, 2021, it’s filling fast, and I look forward to connecting with you there.
Following are the call times for this live round. Please note that only about 1/4 of the participants are able to make the live calls and that the recordings will be available immediately after the call.
Call 1: Tuesday June 22 at 5pm ET
Call 2: Thursday July 1 at 12 noon ET
PS: If you missed the most recent episode of the Gathering Gold podcast on morning and growing morning practices, you can find it here.