'All life is suffering'
- The Buddha
'The poison of the honey bee
Is the artist's jealousy.'
= William Blake
There are times when your sensitivity may cripple you, or the things people say and do penetrate to the heart of you and leave you in paralysis. And this can start a cycle of shame. This can cause you to spin into a nosedive of helplessness. You react with either a cowering fear, hiding your face from the world, or you lash out in some way, showing your teeth to the world.
In both cases, the upshot is you don't feel particularly proud of yourself. In the first type of reaction, you can see others pity you or, turn away in disgust. Your defencelessness makes them feel their own defencelessness, they cannot afford to acknowledge that kind of vulnerability and pain. It is distasteful, because most people seem to spend much of their energy doing whatever they can to avoid feeling shit about themselves. Can we blame each other for this? Our moments of carelessness and insensitivity spring form our wounds, from the depth of the human experience.
All people are sensitive. Most people though, do whatever they can to bleach their nervous system. The depth of the human experience, its mysteries and its surprises, the overwhelming richness of the subconscious, is just too unmanageable.
Our culture does not help. A culture that is obsessed with external measurements of value, and which treats everything in utilitarian terms, has no space for a very public dialogue about the hidden waters of the mind.
The unspoken, and the unspeakable have nothing to offer such a culture, and so they cannot be given centre stage. To talk about them or express them is tiresome, pretentious, and even considered to be narcissistic.
Those who insist on exploring this realm, those who cannot avoid doing so, and in particular those who venture into it at the expense of the prized external values of this culture, are therefore self-indulgent, and threatening. To wallow, or get hung up on inexpressible grief and fear, and feelings of existential helplessness, is, in the eyes of our Christo-science-dominated culture, is to be nothing more than a narcissist and egoist. This culture can forgive material lusts and greed, but it cannot forgive a person who insists that their inner emotional world is worth expressing, that it must be fed and nurtured. This is far more pathological than any materialist self-destruction.
So, there are good reasons for all of this. Obviously, survival is a matter of material concerns. Sustaining your survival, however, is not. Ice Age cave paintings are surely evidence enough that explorations of the imagination and numinous have been an essential element of human life for a long time. The fact that pre-technological ages appeared to place a high value in creative and craft-based activities, shows that human beings are, and have always been beings that explore their inner realities. With self-consciousness, comes self-knowledge. An obsession with external values, then, risks creating a culture of self-ignorance. This is our culture now.
So 'being sensitive' is a catch-all term to describe those who refuse to eliminate this realm from their primary experiences. It is a cause for resentment, but it is also a cause for division and unnecessary misunderstanding. Those who put themselves this category can very easily become defensive, and their emotional intelligence can become entangled with rage and all the resentments that come from feeling alienated. As a result, such people exacerbate that anger and isolation, and it can end up killing the fruits of their sensitivities. Resentment breeds resentment, and shame breeds defensiveness, rendering the richness of this emotional capacity useless.
Yes, our culture makes us feel weak for being vulnerable. The values of a male-dominated society often involve emotional repression for the sake of material gain. However, it is our own responsibility manage our sensitivities, and halt the cycle of shame that we get ourselves into for feeling weak and vulnerable. That much we can control. And we do so by understanding why our emotional and psychological alertness can be threatening in a culture that not only invests in purging such vulnerability, but has actually emerged from an inability to form relationships around it.
All of us feel deeply. All of us have a choice as to whether we should to cut ourselves off from the world when that richness and inexpressible realm overflows, or not. The task of the artists, and the poets of the future, is not to isolate these experiences and reduce them to functional memes, and nor is it to deepen the divide between the inner and the outer-realms of experience. No. The function of the poet is to bridge that divide, to allow people to feel what they cannot allow themselves to feel, in such a way that actually nourishes dialogue and human relationships.
Though we may be sensitive, though we may feel rejected and isolated from a money-dominated culture of external values and ignorance, we cannot afford to be self-pitying and precious. We must keep true our ministry, foster these gifts, and that can only be done in the realm of human relationships. We must risk the burn of our inner fires, if those flames are to mean anything, and our true selves are to flourish to their true potential.