A quality of an increased receptiveness to one’s surroundings, heightening the intensity of sensory experience and moment-to-moment thought repertoires. It prescribes a finer finesse to the mindful reflection extended on the moulding of perceptions, and thus an increased vulnerability to the nuances that abound in abstract encounters.
The room felt alive with the sounds of the night. Beyond the sliding door the concerto of cricketsong melodiously intertwined with the rustle of trees that busied themselves in adjusting their crowns. The timbre of midnight musings gently caressed the ears, alongside the touch of the evening breeze that was chill to the touch. The moon cast its light from somewhere in the sky, diffusing softly between the bedroom drapes that was the only veil against the night. And steadily that pearly hue rolled over crisp white sheets, and refracted against his marble figure as he lay there silently on his back, with muscles rippling beneath skin that had been kissed by the sun on many a rising of day. But tonight he was bathed in silver, a sheen that hugged the curvature of pure physical power embodied in his form. And in that silence that seemed deafening in its serenity, was the deep and vibrant breathing that made the air around us shudder with the rise and fall of his chest.
I was in the nook of his embrace, with head resting where his shoulder met his arm, and I remember a distinct comfort in the warmth that radiated from his fingertips, from his caress, and from the gentleness of his hold that was betrayed only by his massive frame with clearly hidden Herculean strength. This magic seemed so completely untethered to reality in that private moment. And yet… nothing was private, with the night so intertwined in its enshrouding presence.
I remembered the safety I felt in that moment frozen in memory; that crystallised sense of security that was tangible on every physical level, but also a cushion to the feelings that were constantly roiling beneath the surface and demanding of my cognisance. Somehow he stilled that tempest, and he brought me to the eye of the storm. And yet, he was a mere visitor to my narrative. Forever a guest to my future reminiscence, and only someone who was passing through my life story. I knew it then, laying there next to him. I knew it even before I met him for a casual drink that night. But then, I had met few people I could trust with such reckless abandon of my reservations. I had met few men who wielded so much raw force to their spirit, yet were masters in taming that energy. I think, that night, I had met a sage. And god knows they were scarce out there.
As his fingers played through the strands of my hair, his deep whisper broke the silence that had settled momentarily between so many other drifting philosophies that had occupied our minds through that balmy night lost in the memories of late summer. “You are a very gentle soul. You have this tender spirit.” He looked at me slowly then, his grip tightening ever so softly. “There are two types of people you’ll meet: those who would cherish it, and seek to protect you, and those who would seek to misuse you for those qualities. You need to be very careful.”
It was a scene that joined many of my other vibrant recollections. There seemed to be so many; and I could not fathom how to be honest. ‘Life’ surely had an abundance of experiences awaiting me in its treasury. I was, after all, still in my 20’s: young, starry-eyed, naive, distracted, lost, intense… wise did not seem to be in the line-up of those descriptions very soon. And yet, I felt the slightest brush of the quality in my narrative. I felt it in single moments that stood out in their scintillating flashes of people, places and picturesque gestalt. I felt that my memory was filled to the brim with moments of reminiscence, and from each was taken something of considerable value.
I felt heavy with those memories. I still do. I so wished to quiet those ruminations and remain quiescent in thought. Yet somehow my mind was constantly floating high amidst so many amorphous musings, and the Florence Welsh lyric from a Sky Full Of Song seemed to bounce of the inner walls of my skull to capture my mood, “Hold me down, I’m so tired now.” At the age of 27, is it possible for your spirit to feel weary?
It appeared to be one of the signs of being an old soul. And perhaps in understanding the transient nature of one’s reality, and the limits that it imposes, perhaps I was deliberately collecting these moments in time. Perhaps, I was deliberately paying attention to how the milieu of these moments were pieced together in pastel imagery, olfactory nostalgia… in tactile desires, and in phonic harmonies. Perhaps I was desperate to make permanent the memory of the ambience, for a desire to recreate such character and impression to satisfy the longings for such memories that would arise once it was played out. Once it too, had passed. Perhaps there was something to this disposition of mine… that of sensitivity.
In his psychological expertise, Jerome Kagan would have undoubtedly placed me in the category of high-reactives when it came to temperament. This greater mark of sensitivity to the cues around me proved to be more than enough stimulation to push me into persistent bouts of withdrawal. Typical of my introverted nature, I needed to collect all environmental input and process it. I needed time to mull through its many meanings. But managing sensory information was something altogether different from the management of emotion. And when you are sensitive, you run the risk of great personal harm when those emotional projections come from people that have a particular flavour to their intensity.
In that line of reasoning, I knew that my gentle nature was perhaps a residual manifestation of my sensitive orientation to the world – that world so filled with bright colours, assailant sounds, perpetual movement and powerful feelings. I really did need to be careful…
But then, I was convinced that there was a mastery to be attained of this sensitivity. Yes, it presented a dichotomy. On the one hand, it intensified perceptual experiences to the degree that simple passing instances of one’s day was painted with such vivid character that one was really made to feel alive. So what others would regard as a mere lovely autumn day for example, would for me become a masterpiece by nature’s hand. I would be intensely aware of the soft textiles that hugged warmly against my frame: a metaphorical fortress to the discomforts of seen and unseen chills of both heart and mind. Why did a simple scarf feel like a defense against the greatest of tragedies? How did these soft fabrics provide so much comfort on contact? The sun would shyly wink between cotton clouds and illuminate earthy treetops in a thousand goldens shades that seemed to lend its warmth to the day. The very boles of the trees would sigh in tired anticipation of their winter’s rest, while the wind carried the crisp lullabies of forgotten seasons to sway the earth to hibernation. And I would wonder, how it was that I could hear the light refracting through molecules in chiming melodies; how I could feel the texture of the shifting season by its earthy colour… I was enveloped by this synaesthesia and by the composition of the day, and I was lost within it. Yet, audience to it as well. This was how I saw the world…
It was as if Demeter herself was steadily becoming aware of the impending sorrow of bidding her daughter farewell for another half-year (the Greeks really had a beautiful way of explaining the changes in season). Autumn became devine, the day become a meaninful reflection of that divinity, and I was relishing the million idiosyncrasies that presented itself in a million different variations. This was truly what was meant by the savouring of experience.
And then there were people… God. Now here we had an altogether different conundrum. Vibrant beacons flitting through the already occupied spaces of sensations around you. Each a light or shadow sewn together from so many misunderstood feelings and perceptible falsehoods. Each a construction of architectural beauty with visible loose strands of chaos. Did anyone really understand the ‘lonely’ child? Was he not preceived as the most sociable denizen on the playground by keeping to his own devices in conjuring fantasies overflowing with imaginary company? Was anyone truly looking at the old woman sitting at the corner coffee shop as she was gracefully swaying her eyes across the social sea that churned around her? Could no-one comprehend the acts of this wizened goddess in her exercise of reminiscent recollections because she was wealthy through the bank of her own memories? Or was anyone catching whiff of the pervading desperation that clung like an odour to the social wolves within the night club – those prowlers who wore their confidence as a pelt to ward of the chill of the slightest posssibility of rejection? Was anyone, ANYONE, really seeing any of this. And what of I? What did my embodied self communicate? Was my off-to-side positioning truly seen as shy? For I knew this as a strategic position from which to observe with even more vigilance, and assimilate greater meaning to my experience through other encounters playing out around me. Was my arm-crossed demeanour a gesture of defensiveness? For I felt a comfort in metaphorically hugging my concentration closer to my very being, to keep myself attentive and fortify myself from distraction. Was my stalwart expression and stern cast to my face really seen as discontentment or even anger? For I was merely immersed in a crystal focus on the ecperience at hand. Why was I seeing a sensitive thinker, when some saw a lost antisocial? Was our world really structured to this kind of ignorance to intensity? Perhaps they were protecting themselves.
For yes, on one hand of sensitivity lay experiential immersion. But on the other lay a susceptibility to the dangers held in the self-preserving pursuits of others. In such cases, that keener awareness and heightened reaction to experience proves burdening. For in their hardened state, people have become reacquainted with inherent cruelty. And I was a deer gently grazing in the headlights of many social predators. I knew this, because I felt unsafe nearly half of the time I would reveal myself to the world honestly. I knew this from how hard I took criticism to those qualities I regarded as strengths. I knew this from the false interest people took to my thoughts, only to talk over my vocalisations of them. I knew this from the genuine interest I had in sharing my version of the beauties I perceived, only for others to take no real heed. I knew this from the backlash people offered when they did not have a constant stock or grip of my mind. I knew this from my interactions with family, from friends, from lovers who moved on, from passers-by. But their mistook grip on my gentleness was not a fault of theirs. It was not an everlasting point to highlight as guilt-inducing criticism against a lack of their virtue. Not at all. It was a mismatch of energies; and in understanding such energies, I was merely being directed unknowingly to be in greater acceptance and understanding of my own.
At 27, I have come to learn that sensitivity is an art. And like any art, it takes practice. Boy, does it take years to just even realise that it needs practice: to expertly lay down the strokes of one’s complicated views on the world; to create with subtlety, to weave with nuance, to understand such executions to even begin with! And then, to survive it in its most primal unabashed form when enshrined in people, or abused by them.
In fact, for years this very quality was frowned upon in the face of the very hypermasculine communities I had the ‘privilege’ of growing up in. Gentleness was an affront to robustness; emotional intelligence was seen as an overcomplication in “trying too hard” ; and sensitivity was seen as a reactive response rooted in insecurity. It was seen as weak. But what I saw was a quality that, with its risks, still posed an immense asset to the enrichment of experience. It was a trait that kept me in connection with my emotions. It was a quality that I could not begin to imagine in its subdued form, much less its absence.
At 27 what I learned, or rather… what I realised, was this: that a resonance to the tone of the world is a sound that most would mute for the sake of a faith in their secure sense of sanity; that the truth of perception is a sharp arrowhead that is feared for its accuracy, and the value in the shot would most likely be evaded. That complexity would be bartered off for the first offer of simplicity, merely because of an ignorance in how intricacy is used. And that sensitivity is a craft that humanity is beginning to lose, because of a culture of disconnect and defensiveness that stifles the creativity of savouring experience.
Sensitivity is not frailty. It is an oculus that looks past the fickleness and denial of emotion; that reshapes the aesthetic of one’s surroundings; and that teaches a navigation of the world through emotional agility and poetic brilliance.
At 27, sensitivity has become an architect of my pedigree.
Love and light fellow bloomers.