Chronic Fatigue and the HSP

There’s pattern which repeats itself pretty much each time I find myself home alone for a few days - which with the presence of the COVID pandemic is not that often right now. It goes something like this,

I drop my wife off at the airport - living on an island, that is usually the start of the home alone period. On the way home I run a few errands, pick up groceries, and perhaps go for a walk. Over the the days that follow, as commitments are crossed off my todo list and I get into my bachelor rhythm, I notice a weariness start to creep over me. It is more than just feeling tired. It is a fatigue that seems to come from deep within my bones.

With my home life running quieter, and with nothing planned socially I find myself just resting. A phrase comes to mind - I “sit deeply”. I am perhaps reading or writing, or just sitting and watching the world outside. As I do so I feel exhaustion rise up from my body calling me to rest, and so rest I do.

As I say, this is a pattern. Whenever I find myself spending time alone for a prolonged period of time, the weariness manifests. I want to explore here what has brought this about, so first let me step back and give some context.

Pushing myself too far

Weariness and exhaustion have had a presence in my life for many years now, I am going to say for two decades. I used to push against the fatigue. I was aware of its presence, though due to peer pressure, that is me wanting to be seen to be able to be keeping up, I would deny its presence and try to push through. “Keep going, keep up with others, don’t show any signs that you are not up to the job (read weakness as my self-imposed put down).” That was the place that I lived in, measuring myself against those around me.

More importantly, and with the benefit of hindsight, I did not have a context for how I was feeling and so put my feelings down to something wrong with me. I think if I understood the reason for my feeling fatigued and had the support behind me, I would have acted more responsibly towards myself much earlier.

So, how was I feeling?

This is maybe not an easy one to answer, as at the time I wasn’t clear myself! Tired and weary, yes. Another symptom was a racing heart. I use to describe it as feeling like I had put my heart beat through an amplifier. There was this intensified beating happening in my chest and “yes,” it was uncomfortable. I could also add to these symptoms a pain in my left wrist, as if a lot of pins were being stuck into the wrist. So there was physical pain and discomfort, but no cause that I could relate these symptoms to…and so I just pushed on.

Eventually my discomfort became too much and I went to see a doctor, however the visit was not of any help. My vitals all checked out fine, and I came away with no diagnosis. Dissatisfied and now desperately wanting an answer I went to see separately a Tibetan doctor and an Acupuncturist/Chinese herbalist. From those initial consultations I choose to receive treatment from the acupuncturist/herbalist, but in their own words they both gave me the same diagnosis. It was,

that I was pushing myself, physically and mentally beyond what I could cope with, and that I needed to stop and take a look at what I was asking of myself. My batteries were drained and needed replenishment.

Relief

When I heard those words, I had a sense of relief.

I believe that deep down I knew what was going on with myself, but that I was sitting in shame (see below). With so many around me being able to operate in a different way to me, I felt as though I had to step up - whether I could or not. These doctors were giving me permission to own my pain, physical and emotional, and to step back and take a look at what I needed and who I was. They gave me permission to stop and take stock.

That diagnosis pulled the wind out of my sails. I collapsed. The next two years were spent receiving regular acupuncture and Chinese herbs. I owe that doctor so much, and regularly think of my gratitude towards him. I rested a lot and paced myself. Some days I could not get up from my sofa. I just lay there. This was fatigue, not tiredness. Like the fatigue that I spoke of at the beginning of this article, it ate through to my bones. Although no formal diagnosis was given, for those two years I now say that I had chronic fatigue.

I believe that the seeds of chronic fatigue still rest within me. I now allow myself to rest or sleep if I need to. I am so much more in control of my energy levels now. If I do feel a drop in energy manifesting, I wind things down as soon as I can. Some previous symptoms can still arise, but I take them as warning signs and use them as a signal to slow down.

So what was going on with me?

To what do I put my exhaustion down to? I identify as an introvert and highly sensitive person. I don’t let knowledge of these traits in my personality run my life, but they do inform me. I now understand where overwhelm and exhaustion are coming from when they manifest in me. I now understand the ”why” if I don’t feel like engaging in some social activity while others around me do. I understand and I listen to my needs, and don’t let shame run my life…quite so much. I used to not only not listen, but also not understand what my needs were. I told myself that I should show up just as those around me were showing up in the world, and so pushed myself to keep up with them - shame was running the show. This was not only a physically exhausting thing to do, it was emotionally and psychologically exhausting as well. As I increased the demands on my body and mind, with my reserves slowly disappearing as I wore them away, so fatigue crept up on me.

Once I started to learn about introversion and high sensitivity, I was given a context for what gave rise to my limits. With that understanding and finding a supportive community, I started to change my behaviours.

Shame

Shame is a focus on self. It is feeling bad about who you are because of what you did or didn’t do. It is equating your’s or others’ judgement of an action you did or didn’t do as a reflection of who you are as a person. Brené Brown says,

shame is a fear of disconnection,

and,

shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.1

That makes total sense to me when I look back at what I did to get myself into such a fatigued state. For me shame and lack of understanding not only corroded self belief, but also personal health. It was driven because of fear of being judged and with that, of being left out.

The blessing behind that, the silver lining is what I learnt about myself, and about shame and self-worth. I can now look back at that time of chronic fatigue with a sense of gratitude, of lessons learnt.

The Comfort of Memories

I find myself sitting in my car on our driveway. It is overcast and there is steady stream of rain falling. The weather looks set in for the day, and likely tomorrow as well.

   I feel at ease, comfortable, safe.

This weather takes me back to weather in Britain that I grew up with. At times it might be weather that the British poke fun at, or complain about. Or it might be weather that visitors tease the country for. But for me this weather would fit my introverted spirit, giving me permission to hunker down, to write, to read, to be productive at home alone and not feeling as though I need to go out and be sociable.

I feel comfortable and at ease.

I’m grateful for the climate that live in here in Hawai’i, and when it closes in I remember what I miss.

Video - The power of quiet leadership

A short, inspiring video on the power of quiet leadership.

The power of quiet leadership - BBC Ideas

The Introvert and The Wet Weather

In this little corner of Hawai’i the wet weather has been slow in coming. While the seasonal changes are not as noticeable as in the far northern hemisphere, there is a subtle, perceptible change in the atmosphere - the light, the sensed feeling of the days. Autumn arrived a few weeks ago … in part. The part that was missing was the wet weather, the rain.

Days have been hot, the sun piercing in its strength. We have been running the sprinkler system off and on to keep the lawn from turning brown, and watering the vegetable garden three times a day to keep life in our vegetables and salad. There have been hints on rain, a few minutes or an hour or so of wet weather, but never coming to much.

In the early hours of this morning I lay in bed listening to rain falling. It was still falling when we woke up a few hours later, and although a little brighter now, the clouds are lingering and drizzle is in the air.

I love this weather. Not only do I appreciate the break from the hot sun, but it also takes me back to wet weekends that I grew up with in England and Wales, and then subsequently when I lived in Portland - weekends when I would stay nestled at home. The mood of this weather fits with my introvert nature - no reason for going anywhere, for getting involved in the noise of life. Of staying comfortably at home, reading, writing, or perhaps watching a movie.

When you are the lone one amongst many

When you are the solitary introvert or HSP amongst many who are not. When you are the quiet one and your actions or needs are looked on as being off or odd. When you are looked on as not fitting in, and the sole justification is because of what everyone else is doing. When your different needs are seen as wrong because and simply because no one else present has them, and everyone else is doing something else. When societal expectations tell you that something is not quite right in how you show up, and you are judged accordingly.

Just remember, you have have the right to be who you are.

Two tools that I would like to offer here can help you build resilience against the messages that you are receiving and to trust in your own worthiness.

Tackling the beast

Feeling inadequate and alone is a debilitating experience that can take the wind out of the sails of even the most well intentioned endeavour. These beliefs can feed a lack of worthiness, and knock our self-esteem. At the same time we stand there knowing that how we feel and act is who we are. We are not trying to be awkward or act different, this is simply who we are.

If I build a belief and trust in who I am and my own sense of self-worth, it is harder for the outside world to sway me when I’m challenged. A sense of worthiness is always a work in progress. Just as you conquer one critique, another challenge that you hadn’t dealt with before will find its way in and you will feel knocked down again. But as long as the wish is to build your worthiness is there, it will only get stronger with time.

Fear

Fear is the beast that gets in the way of us believing in who we are. Fear of loosing connection with those around us. That in turn feeds into shame, the shame of being different, of standing out and being alone. Of being different and being criticized for it.

Those who have a strong sense of self-worth have the,

  • courage to be different and accept themselves for who they are.
  • compassion for themselves first, not despite others, but recognizing that for worthiness to be there, they have to have compassion for self. It has to start at home.
  • vulnerability, to fully embrace vulnerability with a recognition that without it, they cannot embrace their self-worth. One cannot exist without the other.

This path to self-worth is not necessarily comfortable, but it is necessary. Without one the other cannot exist.

Shame

The critique of others or even simply judging ourselves against others will see the rise of shame within us. The path to self-worth sees one having to face the beast of shame.

Shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can do and be better.
~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

Shame quite often gets mixed up with its near relative, guilt. There is a difference between the two and it lies in the object of identification. Shame identifies with self, guilt identifies with action.

  • Shame - “I am bad, because of an action I did or did not do.”
  • Guilt - I did something bad, ie “I broke the vase.”

Guilt is an honest admission of an action that I did. Shame is identifying with the action to the degree that I believe that it speaks to the nature of my character.

Shame resilience

If we are to build our self-worth, we need to build a defense against shame, catching it when it arises and countering the story that it is telling us…and that we are believing. Essentially pulling the rug out from under its feet.

Shame resilience as developed by Brené Brown is made up of four stages,

  1. Recognizing shame and understanding the triggers - get to know how shame shows up for you. How do you feel in your body when shame is presence? What needs to be going on for shame to show up in your life?
  2. Practicing critical awareness - counter the stories in you that are feeding your shame. How realistic are the expectations that you are putting on yourself? Do I really want to be like that? Start pulling the rug out from under your shame by telling the true story.
  3. Reaching out - find an ally, someone who you can trust and who will listen. Someone who loves and respects you for who you are. Someone who will not try and solve the problem, who will not judge you but will listen and hear your story. Connection wounds shame.
  4. Speaking shame - naming shame’s presence. Shame does not like that. Speak to how you feel. Ask for what you need.

The bumpy path

This is not a comfortable path. Dealing with fear, shame and vulnerability will never take us into a comfortable place, but it will take us to a courageous place. It is from a courageous place that we can start to build connection with who we are and stand in our own power. Then despite the voices that come from outside we are no longer the lone one amongst many. We might be different in our needs and how we act, but at the same time we are at home with ourselves.

From that place I can say, "I am worthy."

The Exhaustion of a Family Visit

From my experience people visiting and staying in my home always requires a break in my routine. There is entertaining, showing around, just more going on and the house feeling busier and more full. I don’t say this to complain, just acknowledging what the welcoming of visitors entails.

For me, as an introvert and highly sensitive person, this creates an added struggle of overstimulation and exhaustion from the constant do, do, do along with accompanying conversation and noise. To borrow from an element that surrounds the island of Maui where I live, it feels to me like constantly being hit by the ocean’s waves. Every time that I come up for air another waves breaks over me, disorientating me and sending me tumbling.

At some point I just need to call "time out".

That is where I am at now. My sister-in-law and her husband are visiting from New York. It is wonderful to have them here, to spend some quality time with them, to show them the island that is our home (we have done so much in the last week and I have visited areas that I don’t go to often, probably because they are on my doorstep), and I am exhausted. Right now I am grateful for a morning that has materialized where I can have some time to myself. I really need it.

130 Guests and Me

This is a post written in installments over the course of, and just after a weekend of wedding celebrations. A weekend of activities that were just made for me… not. .. Having said that, I do wish to empathize that I am here to enjoy myself, make new friends and most importantly celebrate the commitment that a lovely couple are making to each other.

And so it begins…

I start this log on Friday evening. I am getting ready for the rehearsal dinner on the eve of the wedding of my wife’s niece - having married into the family, I’m not sure what her official relationship is to me? There will be 130 guests here tonight. Not the largest wedding that there has been, but by no means the smallest either.

I love this family. Watching the interaction between the parents and their adult children in many ways makes me yearn for a relationship with my own parents that I have never had…and probably won’t at their advanced age.

The wedding has seen me visit a part of the US that I have never been to, the Catskill Mountains, and I am always grateful for the opportunity to explore new vistas. So far the weather has been glorious, almost too hot, and it has been good to catch up with close family. We had a small, intimate dinner last night which was very pleasant, a handful of us having the hotel to ourselves.

Giving myself permission

As an introvert, an INFJ, I know that this weekend of extended activities will pose a challenge. Long periods of socializing, small talk with relatives who I recognize but do not know that well and with people who I am meeting for the first time. In the midst of this activity, I will have to find time to step back and recharge, and in doing so give myself permission to step out of the crowd when others are full into conversation and celebrations.

The permission part is important for me. When attending an event where the more extroverted guests are chatting, laughing and carrying on with seemingly endless energy, I find that I can very easily drop into feelings of inadequacy. A judging and unhelpful voice in my head telling me that I should be able to keep up with the crowd. As Aaron Caycedo-Kimur, writing under the alias INFJoe, says in his book “Text, Don’t Call,”

When we understand, accept, and appreciate our introversion, we become more at peace with ourselves. We learn how to tap into our strengths and protect our vulnerabilities.

The weekend - Friday

Friday evening went well. I had a couple of extended conversations with relatives that I had not seen for a while. Long conversations are easy for me if I get into the flow of the subject matter. I pulled myself away from the hubbub on a few occasions, just looking out from the periphery. My lack of enjoyment of small talk, and over stimulation from all the activity, did keep me away from meeting some people. I could feel an uncomfortableness creep in when I wasn’t drawn to conversation, a consciousness of my difference but I breathed into the permission that I had given myself, reminding myself that I am not less because of it. This is just an aspect of my personality….and I wondered who else amongst the guests was feeling the same way?

Saturday

Saturday, the wedding day, went equally well. Breakfast, a morning walk, long preparations, driving to the venue with my mother-in-law and helping her get situated….and then just taking in the celebrations of the day. The Ceremony was beautiful, the vows between bride and groom moving. Pre-meal drinks, a beautiful dinner, speeches and much dancing (which I enjoy) to a great band. At times I lent into conversations with those who I did not know well however uncomfortable or otherwise that I felt. At other times I could feel myself pulling back and choosing not to engage. Again it was about permission. Permission to honour myself and my needs. By the end of the evening I was actually reluctant to leave.

Sunday

The final hurrah was brunch on Sunday. There were conversations and reflections on the night before. Final words shared before slowly the guests started packing up and heading off on their various journeys home. Again I lent into some conversations, maybe more than the night before with the faces not being so foreign as when we first met yesterday?

And slowly it became time to leave….

Reflections

There had been a long build up to the wedding and now it is over. I felt that crash of coming down from the high of a weekend of activity and fun. As is the introvert’s tendency, I spent time in my head when it was all over analyzing whether I should have reached out to people more than I did. I probably spent far too much time doing that, dropping into feelings of inadequacy or wondering what people might have thought of me as I held back.

And I remind myself that such can be this introvert’s way. I don’t see it as good or bad, it is just who I am. I always see the possibility for change in who I am as an individual. That change won’t necessarily be how other people think that I should be. I am still an INFJ. However, I can still explore and see where my limits might be. I can make a stretch, to see if I am limiting myself by who I have told myself that I am and corresponding learnt habits.

And when I do reach my limits, when I do need quiet time, when I don’t feel like socializing, that is OK. To repeat INFJoe’s quote,

When we understand, accept, and appreciate our introversion, we become more at peace with ourselves. We learn how to tap into our strengths and protect our vulnerabilities.

Frayed Nerves

I am not going to pretend that I can work well when I know that people are around who might call on me at any moment, because I can’t.

Loud music, disturbances, kids shouting, people talking, these distractions and others just throw me when it comes to working. Sometimes, most of the time, just people present in the room with me will intrude on my ability to focus.

Unless they are the quiet type like me, in which case no problem, I sit there anticipating the next interruption.

I can feel it in my body. There is this sense of anxiousness and of tension. I am on edge waiting for what might happen next. All of this just plays into my ability to focus and concentrate. It plays on my ability to drop into the zone and get work done. When I know that I have space around me to work. When I know that people won’t be around for a few hours, I can sit back and relax and get things done. Time will drift by unnoticed and I drop into a zone that deeply feeds me.

But too much disturbance and who knows what mood will be triggered in me - anger, frustration, dejection, just wanting to disappear. Just wanting the world to leave me alone.

Finding Solace in Memories

Introverts spend a lot of time in their inner lives. It is what makes us introverts. We sit, process, think, ruminate and so much so that the external world can sometimes be just too much for us. It is why at times we just want to be quiet, or can seem remote, aloof. We are not ignoring you, just looking to find some time to rest from all that activity and noise.

One place I find myself going, sometimes unexpectedly and normally when I am looking for a safe space to be, is memories. Sweet memories of a time in the past when I felt safe, was alone or exploring the world by myself. Those times when I find myself in a place that resonates deeply with me and perhaps in some sort of way lets me know that everything will be alright. They are memories that I can go to and touch into a true, knowing aspect of myself. Something that I believe in. That no matter what the external world might be saying to me now, going back to that place touches in me a place that I know is can’t be taken away from me.

The memory might be a sudden flash that appears from nowhere, or an image that is invoked by words in a book. But wherever it comes from, the image is normally fleeting, vivid and is accompanied by a feeling for the place or time. And it is that feeling that remains with me long after the image has disappeared.

​I’d be interested to hear of any similar experiences that you have had.

Getting Things Done When the World Around You is Spinning Out of Control

Can you move from frantic behaviour to concentration? Can you move from disturbance to instant focus? Can you jump from requests for help to focusing on a job that you are trying to get done?

​I can’t! Spinning on that sort of dime doesn’t fit my personality.

I need to have time set aside, undisturbed time in order to be able to focus on and accomplish what I am doing. In fact I need to be sure that I won’t be disturbed. If I can’t get that environment, I’ll do my best to cope, but I won’t be feeling comfortable and probably won’t get a lot accomplished.

That does not mean that I wait for quiet times before I spring into action. Sometimes the life around me appears to dictate that noise is the way that things are going to be. I live in a family of extroverts. One can at times feel the uncomfortableness in the room if the volume drops or activity diminishes. And I am speaking here about people who I love.

In an interview HSP author Tracy Cooper, PhD, noted that extroverts need to speak to and explain their actions as they are doing them. The introvert and/or HSP on the other hand is likely to say very little about what they are doing, indeed might even choose not to be around others while they are working.

Flow State

Physiologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed the concept of Flow. In essence it is a state when we are totally absorbed in a task (work, sport, parenting), so much so that we do not even notice time go by. It is a state where we lose all sense of self-consciousness and a sense of total well-being, with euphoria or elation enveloping us, but that we don’t notice this until the job is done. The whole human species is wired for the flow state even if we don’t spend much time there.

For HSPs the desire (perhaps need?) to be in that state seems to be even more important because of our inner life, or inner complexity and sensitivity to the world around us compels the need to process it. And I find that to have a chance to drop into that state requires certain conditions to be in place, whether I am aware of them being there or not, before I engage in an activity….which takes me back to the title of this piece.

​Ideal Work Environment

​Now I am not going to suggest that every time that I’m busy doing something that I am in the flow state, far from it. But all the same if I find myself disturbed by external noise, disturbed by someone else asking me a question,  or just constant interruptions, I find it very difficult to focus on my own work. My mind feels like a glass of muddy water. It’s been shaken up and I have to wait for the silt to settle before I can truly focus on the job at hand…..and be pretty sure that I won’t suffer with further disturbances.

My ideal work environment is a room at home with a far, distant view and no one else around, i.e. complete silence and a view to clear a cluttered mind if I am not thinking clearly - yes, even focusing on work for me means that at times I need to clear a log jam in my head.

However, a paradoxically oddity about this ideal work environment is that I can find places which appear to be just the opposite in terms of fitting the bill that I described in the last paragraph, but where I can still focus well. I have sat in the back seats of my pickup truck to do some writing while in between appointments and disappeared into a flow state. I have sat in a busy coffee shop and while not maybe being a flow state, have still found it very conducive to getting work done. With regard to the coffee shop environment (in fact where I am right now), I think that anonymity is what plays into the game. The noise of people speaking and background music, providing neither are too jarring and the coffee shop is comfortable, become white noise, a comfortable noise in the background which appear to support the work in hand. I experience the same on a train, in an airport, in a hotel lobby, all providing that I am by myself and so essentially become anonymous in a crowd, just another face.

​Stimulation

​Does this mean that unless the volume is just right, the furniture is in the correct place and the walls are painted the exact colour that I won’t get any work done? Consider “Yes and No”. For the “Yes” answer - My introverted, sensitive nature can easily get overloaded if there is too much going on. If this carries on and on, it feels as though that glass of muddy water is continually being shaken, never being given a chance to settle. When that happens to me I just need to stop for a while, and by “Stop” I mean be surrounded by quiet, no more demands, perhaps a distant view to offer perspective and give a chance for my body and mind to settle - that or at least get away and be by myself. Even that anonymity around others can be of help, though solitude is always best.

For the “No” answer - If I can find a middle way balance between some focus time and disturbance, I can get by. It is hard for me to quantify that, but I do know that from time to time I need to take a break or I need a longer focus period. The important thing here is knowing that I will have time to do what I need or want to do, and know that between there will be sufficient quiet time between the disturbance time otherwise the with time the commutative effect of the noise will make  the ability to really focus a greater challenge.

​Meditation in a Busy World

​This reminds me of meditation. One can’t always get the quiet time that one wants and so one has to be flexible in how long one meditates for, and/or one starts to be creative in how one builds shorter meditation sessions into one’s day. So your meditation practice does not need to grind to a halt because you regular sitting environment is being disturbed, you just need to find ways that you can fit it into your day. However, with time the need to retreat will more than likely arise. A wish to step back from the regular activity of life so that you can focus on what you need to do for your own well-being and nourishment.

​Nourishment Through Flow

Because that is what I find what working in the flow state gives me - nourishment. It feeds me at some deep soulful level. There is a sense of deep well-being. And while I cannot speak for other personality types, that is something that I feel in deep need of as an introverted, highly sensitive man. The need for being able to touch into that space, the nourishment it gives is so deep, that a prolonged absence of it leaves a hole, a wanting, a sense of lack. I need to be able to spend time immersed in an activity, whether work or personal reading, to immerse and disappear into it to find that sense of well being and nourishment.

And what about yourself? As an introvert and/or highly sensitive person how do you resonate with the idea of flow state? Where do you go to find that place of deep nourishment?

Lessons from Japan - An Introvert's Experience

I recently returned from a visit to Japan. It was not my first visit to Asia, but my first visit to Japan. In my readings about introverts and HSP’s, I have heard it said that there is more acceptance of quieter, sensitive personalities in Asia. I would concur on that in the countries that I have visited - India, Nepal, Tibet. I’ve always put it down to their society’s support of contemplative traditions.

For someone to dedicate their lives to a spiritual search in these countries is quite normal. The quieter, more reflective are a norm.

Japan was new to me. Apart from some of its design aesthetics - garden design, Ikebana - and Zen Buddhism, I knew little about the country. I found myself visiting the country to accompany my wife on a business trip. I did little research before landing in the country and so what was ahead of me for the next two and half weeks was going to be a complete surprise….and what a wonderful surprise it turned out to be. Japan got under my skin in a very good way. I am under no illusions that such a short visit, along with not being able to speak the language, is going to get right into the bones of the culture. But trusting my experience and intuition, I’d like to share an aspect of the country which I believe goes towards making Japan such a comfortable place for the quieter, more sensitive folk.

The People of Japan

There was a graciousness, gentleness and humility that I experienced from the Japanese people. Initially I wondered if it was simply because I was a tourist, looking to be kind and welcoming to the visitor. But with time it became apparent that that was not the case. The act that caught my eye were the welcomes, the greetings and farewells. Walking into a hotel, store or restaurant being greeted by “いらっしゃいませ”, ”Irasshaimase” and a nod of the head. Similarly approaching people ahead of a business meeting, or being welcomed into the privacy of someone’s home - you were greeted with a bow. Departures are the same, the bow. It felt so much more than just a recognition or another variation on the handshake.

The Bow

A bow causes a stop and a seeing of the other person. To recognize the gratitude for them being there and what they give to your life, whether that be friendship, a customer, an opportunity to serve. It is a pause and a seeing of the humanity in that person, the common bond that you share with them, the wisdom experience that they have to offer. That stopping and _seeing_ of someone lessens that predominance to judgment. There is acceptance. Such attitudes are the birth place of patience, respect and humility. Generations old and it can change a society.

By withholding judgement and seeing the other, we can allow our perceptions of them to be less important than what they are bringing, what they have to offer. While studying for my Masters at Naropa University we would start each class, sitting in a circle, with a deep breath and a bow to the center of the circle - to the collective wisdom in the room, and also to each person’s individual wisdom. Indeed, when we were not in class but engaging in the online element of the program, we were encouraged to bow as we sat in front of the computer - sounds odd doesn’t it? But we were imaging our classmates online, whether they were or not, and bowing to them and their wisdom. Try that before you next log onto Facebook!

So what does this have to do with introversion?

My sense of the people of Japan was a softness, a graciousness, and a patience to see and hear those with whom they were interacting with. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that no one is seen and heard in the West, of course not, but I do believe that there is generally a harsher, more aggressive nature to life with less patience in the West. And this is not to idealize a culture. I have read about incidents that run counter to my observation. But I would suggest that they are the exception rather than the rule. For all the crowds that there are in Japan, for me as an introvert and HSP the country felt easy and comfortable to be in. There was a comfortableness that allowed the mind to rest and be at ease…and while there is no doubt much more about the culture that contributes to this, I believe that the bow plays its part.

Your turn

Try it in your own way. Stop and mentally recognize someone before you engage with them. Stop and offer a mental bow and welcome - no words need be said, no visible action engaged in - just make it a practice to see the other. 

  • See your life irreparably wrapped up in their well being.
  • Now expand that out to everyone in your street, town, country, … and imagine if they were all doing the same to those who they met.
  • I might have joked about it above, but try a quiet bow before your social media time.

Use this as an exploration. Try it from time to time and see how it impacts you.

Introversion - In the Cradle of the Night

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light
Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night”

~ Solsbury Hill, by Peter Gabriel

​Solsbury Hill is an Iron Age Hill Fort to the East of the city of Bath in England. From the lyrics of this well-known song we know that Peter Gabriel is on the Hill with the darkness of night surrounding him. I imagine him standing up there by himself looking out from the Hill’s peak, shrouded in darkness, anonymous to everything around him, gazing down on the lights of Bath. As you read on in the lyrics there is a sense that he has gone up there to be by himself and reflect.

The darkness around him affords him the solitude that he wants.

Gabriel’s song came to me a couple of weeks ago when I went up to the summit of Haleakala, one of the two volcanos that make up the Hawai’ian island of Maui. In an hour and a half you can drive from sea level to the summit of Haleakala at 10,000ft+. For me it is “the other” side of the natural forces of Hawai’i. You sit on the rocks and cliffs that go out into the ocean and you are sitting on a lava flow that centuries ago grew this island, these islands into the what they are today. The size of the volcanoes and the forces that grew the Hawai’ian islands, indeed continues to grow some of them, is humbling.

So that evening on top of Haleakala I could see across to the summits of Kilauea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island. As night fell the lights from that island’s towns became visible 30 miles away across the ʻAlenuihāhā Channel. With the sun down the temperature fell quickly - it was freezing and the wind chill ate through my clothes. People up there for the sunset started to leave to head back down the mountain, and apart from car headlights, discernible figures and objects slowly merged into the darkness. The lights of Maui townships became visible through the cloud, which I was above, and in the sky above the stars and Milky Way slowly revealed themselves. Satellites and pieces of space debris tracked across the sky. Comets burnt up on their passage through our atmosphere. With plenty of clothes and coats on, and a blanket wrapped round me, I just wanted to be up there and take in the experience - the silence, the isolation and detachment of the night, the raw experience of nature in this wild space…but there was also the image that Gabriel created in Solsbury Hill and the reminders that that brought me of similar situations in my own life.

There are times when I find something deeply comforting in being able to look out on the world with a sense of complete anonymity. My introverted nature craves periods alone to rest, recharge and rebuild, but having that sense of anonymity afforded to me by the darkness of the night along with no electronic contact, Haleakala has little or no cell phone service, allows me to go deeper. Standing on the “Hill” that was Haleakala, I was not just shrouded in my blanket but also darkness, and within my secret and unknown presence I could sit and watch the world going on beneath me. For a couple of hours I was apart from it, free to rest in the quietness that the isolation afforded to me.

Knowing that I would not be disturbed, indeed could not be disturbed, let my level of rest and letting go of mundane concerns run deeper.

Looking down on the world I thought of the people heading out and enjoying their Saturday night, it was Halloween, being with the kids (trick-or-treating), others staying at home watching television, reading a book, sharing a dinner party. There were doctors and nurses working in hospitals, chefs and wait staff busy keeping customers fed in restaurants, others keeping us in water and electricity, the police keeping order, the homeless sleeping or watching all this with their own perspective that I can only guess at.

Looking down I could feel the busyness of the world and felt the relief to be away from it. To be able to wander into my own thoughts and musings without fear of being interrupted.

Retreat

The great spiritual and philosophical traditions hint at the importance of retreat - Jesus’ time alone in the wilderness, Buddha sitting in meditation under the Bodhi tree, Muhammad spending time in silence, prayer and retreat in the caves around Mount Hira. But we do not have to follow any such tradition to take part in and benefit from retreat time.

Retreat time is alone time where we disconnect completely from the outside world for a few hours, days or maybe even weeks. No phone, no electronic communication, no personal communication, no business…no nothing. A place where the noise and worry of everyday life can be allowed to settle, like a glass of muddy water. The noise might still be there in the back ground, but not stirred up by life’s busyness it is given the space to take a rest, and with it afford you rest from it.

One thing you find with a complete disconnection is how the world gets on perfectly OK without you. Don’t worry, you can catch up later.

The complete disconnection allows you a deeper recharge and rest, and time to reflect on that which you want to. Maybe you are looking for time to be creative, time to just be, or time to just rrreeessstt.

Look for opportunities to build retreat times into your life. Timetabled into your life - twice a year, once a month, for a few hours or few days - will add to their power. You are giving yourself permission to take this time off, and you know so in advance. No last minute frenetic plan making, but more of a wined down towards your retreat. The mind starts to calm down laying a foundation for your time alone. Involve family and friends in your plans for added support before, while you are away and once you get back (you don’t want to walk in the door and be deluged with demands and requests). Also build in a plan for if you _do_ need to be contacted. Then breathe, thank all concerned for their encouragement and head off.


If you take retreat time already, what does it look like? If this is something that you would like to build into your life, what do you need to do to make it happen?

Introversion - Life in the Rear View Mirror

When looking at my life as an introvert and HSP, I can spend a lot of time gazing into the rear view mirror. Why? Because for the greater part of my life I had no formal reference point with which to frame how I have felt in different situations. While growing up my heart knew what I wanted, what I felt comfortable with, how best I worked, the outside world gave me different messages. ​

Listening to my heart was not something that I was brought up to do, and so to a greater and lesser extent - _I didn’t completely ignore the messages that I was receiving_ - I went with what I thought society wanted. So although my heart said one thing - _see, I was listening_ - the outside world said something else and I would pathologize how it was that I was feeling…”there is something in me that needs to be fixed,” I started telling myself. My approach to being in the world was wrong.

If you have spent time in your life not having a reference point for your introversion and sensitivity, it can badly undermine your self-confidence. Even if you are reading about the strengths and qualities of introverts, you’ll find yourself questioning and doubting. Transforming your past experiences, looking at them with fresh perspective can be helpful in moving forward. Look on those past experiences as compost, as the birth place for new outlooks and fresh ideas. This way the trials of the past become the genesis of a new you.

That’s not to say that things will change overnight, most likely they won’t. The Buddhist tradition that I have trained in emphasizes the importance of hearing, reading and understanding the meditation practices before engaging in them. It might sound obvious, why do something before knowing about it? All the same sometimes we don’t look before we leap and excited enthusiasm can get the better of us. Even if we do spend time studying, it is easy to mistake that intellectual understanding for having the subject licked. All too quickly, and rudely, we  discover that what we have just read about is not manifesting in our personality however much it resonated with us. The compassionate feelings that welled up in us while reading about the subject, appear to be the last thing that we are feeling right now after that put down!

It is very easy to get an intellectual understanding but there is another stage…bringing the understanding to our heart and integrating it within ourselves. Making it a part of who we are.  It takes time and patience, and ultimately an understanding of and compassion for ourselves. As the saying goes, old habits die hard, and what we are asking ourselves to do is to change the habits of how we see and experience ourselves.

The View from My Mirror

So for me it has been a gradual process. Even now I find myself reading articles about introversion and sensitivity, things that I understand and know, but now I see them in a deeper light than before because I have had the opportunity to integrate the understanding more into my own life.

So what does the landscape in the rear view mirror look like now with the benefit of my better understanding of introversion and sensitivity? Well the landscape hasn’t so much changed as I obviously can’t make the past different. What has changed is how I look on what is in the mirror and how I have integrated that into my daily life.

It might be that in places that rear view mirror is foggy. A lot of time has passed since my childhood, and so not all the stories are clear, it’s more just fleeting memories. I see quietness at times, having fun with friends. I see bullying, time spent in nature, enjoying time with family and I see inner conflict as I feel lost in what I perceived was expected of me. What learning about introversion has given me is  a smoothing out of the past road. It is now no longer a noisy presence from the past that hovers around me at times like a specter. It now has a quiet presence as it has been given context and is now held with compassion for the one who at times felt lost.

Making Choices

One time that I did choose to listen to my heart was after college. I packed a rucksack and hit the road for a couple of years. My heart was telling me to get some space and that felt like the best way to do it. Plans were there, but sketchy. Destinations were in mind, but I was on no itinerary and open to what might happen. I would be standing by the road hitch hiking, just me, my backpack and a destination in mind. Someone would pull over, pick me up and say that they were going somewhere else, normally somewhere part way to where I wanted to go. Did I want to come along with them, stay with their family, go camping with their friends,….?

We make plans, we have them set up in place, and then another opportunity presents itself. We take it and new experiences are had, new opportunities present themselves. Back in the hustle and bustle of everyday life that perspective can be lost, but opportunities are never far away if we look closely. We just have to be observant, listen and be ready to jump in when the occasion presents itself.

Where does this fit into my introverted nature?

The rear view mirror shows me a world that was. It has happened, it has past. With perspective I can now see myself standing by the road with choices as to how I act. Ultimately I can choose how I want that experience to be in my life now. It does not need to rule my life now, but looked on with the right perspective it can be helpful and inform where I go from here. I can look back with my better understanding of introversion now and give myself context for how I felt and compassion where there was pain. And with that new understanding I can stand stronger in myself now and the actions that I choose to take going forward.

I am forever standing beside the road with options as to which ride I take. One can read about how as an introvert your qualities make you a better listener or a better this or that, but your past life, your past habits can undermine your self-belief in what you are being told. So you fall back into old habits. You put yourself back in the cage - you want to be out of it, it is not very comfortable in there and you can’t breathe so well, but at least it is familiar. Instead trust in what you are reading, what you are hearing about your introvert strengths. Allow yourself to feel them in your heart. Next time you feel challenged remember that bit of advice that you read or heard and try it out. The ground could well feel shaky for you, but try it anyway. Once you have tasted the results of your work, you’ll have more faith in the advice that you read and be more willing to try it again next time that you are called upon to use it.

All the advice that you read and hear becomes yours when you have taken it from the page and made it a part of your own life.​

You will start to feel the efficacy and truth in what you are hearing and stand more firm in what you as an introvert and sensitive person are able to offer. You don’t stand any less than your extroverted friends and colleagues, having to shy away in the background with excuses, rather you stand alongside them with your complimentary skills and personality.

What does life look like for you in the rear view mirror? How have you managed that view with the benefit of your learnings around introversion and sensitivity?

The Silence of Male Introverts & HSPs?

I wrote this piece to explore some thoughts and observations that have been going through my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about introversion and sensitivity, as it is defined for a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), and men. Specifically the visibility of introverted and/or HSP men online, and what that might say to how these men are handling this aspect of themselves in their lives. I have included a question mark in the title of this blog as I also ask myself if I am asking the correct question?

Is it a silence or is it something else…though right now I don’t know what that something else is?

As we spend our time online we search out and are drawn to websites and groups that speak to interests that we hold. I spend some of my online time in forums for introverts and HSPs, but I do not see many men in them. At least there are definitely more women visible than men. Now I recognize that the online world is not for everyone, but I’m guessing that ”not for everyone” is not the reason that introverted & HSP men are not as visible as women online. Also just to acknowledge that I am using the word _“visible.”_ I can spend time online reading but not replying to threads or offering my comments - I remain invisible. But this does not get away from my experience of more women in these online forums than men.

In this post I explore some possible reasons for this apparent discrepancy and would be interested in hearing your own thoughts on the subject.

For me, acknowledging my introversion and sensitivity means making myself vulnerable. Or perhaps I would say that it is about stepping up a ladder of vulnerability.

I am not good with heights. I don’t bound up a ladder. On some ladders I am fine if I do not have to climb too high. However, if I am being asked to climb to a certain height, once I get so far up the ladder I start to proceed with more caution, feeling my way up to each new rung before proceeding to the next. One might ask what I am doing climbing a ladder in the first place if I have a fear of heights? Well a couple of things there. One, if the height is just too high, I won’t be going up. And two, if the choice is there, if someone is there who can do the work instead of me, I’ll let them go ahead. But when those options don’t present themselves, a job needs to be done and I think that I can manage the height, I’ll go up. If someone is around to steady the ladder or help in any other way, I’ll let them know I am going to proceed with caution. No heroics here. The head space that I find myself in at heights prevents any of those. I’ll go up and get the job done, but those below will see the caution and nervousness with which I proceed.

Sharing my introversion and sensitivity with the world has been like climbing that ladder - I can open to it so far, and from there on it has been a rung at a time. Perhaps sometimes a couple of quick steps, but inevitably there is a pause. Circumstances and company will determine the degree of my opening. This has changed over the years as my own confidence and understanding of what I am dealing with grows, but the challenge can still arise, sometimes when I not expecting it.

What causes that pause? Why not just step out and say who you are?

I believe that in no small part the answer to those questions is because I am a man. The terms introversion and sensitivity carry or embody for modern society meanings that are not what these personality traits truly are. Introversion can carry connotations of shyness, passivity, of being meek or weak. Sensitivity might commonly be understood as having a sense of fluffiness and weakness about it, or maybe a feeling that is more normally associated with the feminine. With both introversion and sensitivity there can be the sense that they are personality traits and ways of being that we choose to adopt and live by. These are meanings and values that have been put on those words by society at large, I would say especially in the west.

These misunderstandings are beginning to change with the movement that has sprung up from the publication a few years ago of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. More recently there has been the release of the movie “Sensitive, The Untold Story,” based Dr. Elaine Aron’s pioneering work on Highly Sensitive People. Hopefully these works and others will go a long way into clearing the misunderstandings surrounding these personality traits.

Introversion is not speaking to shyness, fear or dislike of people, but energy - what tires us out and what energies us and as a corollary of this, how we work and function at our best in the world. Similarly sensitivity is not talking about an affliction or “soft” way of being in the world that we choose. Rather it is a genetic psychological trait that cause HSP’s to experience the world in a more intense and deep way. As a consequence they can very easily become overstimulated.

But habits and beliefs are slow to change.

A man can read a book or a blog entry and hear the truth that is being spoken for him. He can know that his introversion and/or sensitivity is the source of his strengths and is at the core of who he is, but if misunderstandings and prejudices of those around him do not embrace his beliefs, he will be left feeling alone and cautious about what he reveals to who - whether family or work.

Speaking out when one is fearful of the response requires vulnerability. It requires facing the fear of being shamed. Author and researcher, Brené Brown, defines shame as,

the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.

Brown goes on to speak about how this is experienced separately by men and women,

For women, shame is a web of unattainable expectations that say, Do it all, Do it perfectly, and Never let them see you struggle. For men, the primary shame mandate is, Do not be perceived as weak.

When the requirement of men is to be loud, demonstrative, physically strong - as that might be perceived as the only way of getting results, of winning - then any quieter way of being will not even be given a chance to shine and will possibly be ridiculed. And if introverted men believe that they have to act in a way contrary to what they are comfortable with, their health and well being will suffer - I write that based on experience.

There are an increasing number of online forums (websites, Facebook groups, etc) dedicated to introversion and they are wonderful, helpful resources. I am very grateful for their presence and to those who brought them into being, but the vast majority of these are run by women and the members of these forums, or the one’s responding in the comments are mainly women. Where are the introverted and sensitive men? I am going to guess that vulnerability is the main barrier. I certainly don’t believe that men are not reading the forums.

Statistics say that 15%-20% of the population are Highly Sensitive…and as a by-the way, the trait is also found in animals. Of that percentage, the ratio of men to women who are sensitive is 50/50. Taking the lower, 15%, that means that there are over 48 million HSPs in the USA alone…and so over 24 million HSP men. Introverts are said to be 50% of the population - that is a lot more than 24 million.

This is not only about the introverted and sensitive men willing to step out and be heard, it is also about a society growing up, recognizing that “strength” and “qualities” can have many disguises. That it is not the domain of the few or those showing up in a specific, defined way, but also about supporting these men so that they can stand at the top of the same ladder in their own way.

Before finishing, I’d like to offer you links here to four articles which explore the subject of HSP men:

  1. Highly Sensitive Men: successes & struggle
  2. HSP Topics: The Challenges of The Highly Sensitive Man
  3. I am a Highly Sensitive Man
  4. Healing the Highly Sensitive Male

Are you an introverted and/or HSP man, or do you know one? How do you manage your true nature in daily life? Hide it? Display it? Regulate visibility depending on the situation? What informs these decisions?

Letting Go - A Lesson From the Road

I am not long back from a summer holiday visiting family and friends in different parts of the US and UK. Six weeks on the road. I have be away for much longer, much longer, but looking out from the perspective of pre-departure this felt like an exhausting trip before I had even taken off. Despite looking forward to seeing family and being back in England, this jaunt felt as though it would be busy - read, not much down time. This is not a good way to approach a trip abroad, expecting the worst…and in there lay the lesson, letting go.

For all the raised awareness around introversion that has emerged over the last few years following the publication of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and the online dialogue that now takes place everyday, introverts (and extroverts) must be careful that they do not fall into the trap of always expecting things to be the way that they want them. I am not suggesting here that we do not speak up and advocate for change and increased understanding where appropriate. I am also not suggesting that we go looking for trouble. But sometimes we do not get dealt the cards that we want and have to deal with the situation appropriately, i.e. not complaining, but as skillfully, patiently and as compassionately (towards and between all parties) as possible!

A question of balance

This can present a difficult dilemma of balance. In whatever aspect of our lives it is, we all have those moments when we reach our limit. The pot is full and we are struggling to maintain our composure and to function clearly. For me that can come when I have had just too much people input. I can’t detect the pattern here - time around some groups of people are fine, around others and the plug is eventually pulled out and my energy starts to drain away. I think that a lot of it has to do with what is going on and who I am with. So that dilemma of balance comes from on the one hand acknowledging a need to take a break, and on the other completely withdrawing from the world such that we become a stranger to those around us.

Having supportive friends and letting those around you know what your needs are is a big help. Do not be afraid of speaking to your needs. I recognize that at times that can feel easier said than done. Perhaps societal pressures make you afraid of what the consequences will be of speaking up - how will you be judged? Will you be put down (from which the way out can then seem further)? Or maybe other’s tolerance or understanding only goes so far?

So times can arise when you need to draw on other reserves until the downtime that you are craving becomes possible.

Seeking perfection

The Tibetan meditation masters warn us of procrastinating over our meditation and never getting round to sitting because we are constantly on the look out for “_perfect_” conditions in which to sit - completely quiet, the right time of day, temperature, smell, etc… Even the yogis who disappear off for years or decades of meditation in remote caves have to undergo all sorts of hardship - cold, lack of food, physical discomfort - but they stick with it because the end goal brings greater rewards.

While I was going to be afforded sometime to myself while I was away, there was definitely going to be a lot of time catching up with people, running around…fitting a lot into a short time. I would look to take quiet time to recharge where I could, but where not it was better to accept the situation and instead of expending energy resisting what I didn’t want, use other methods to recharge.

A verse from a 9th Century Buddhist text by the Indian scholar Shantideva speaks to this way of approaching the world,

Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (wearing) leather just on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.”

In ancient India and today the roads are hot, dusty and dirty and the holy men who have renounced the householders life wander those streets. The roads are uncomfortable to walk on. One could try and cover all the streets with leather…that would protect your feet but is wholly impractical. The other option is to put shoes on your feet.

Changing our attitude

This verse is speaking to how mentally we approach life. We could go out there and have all aspects of life set up just the way that we want them so that we do not have to deal with the difficulties. Imagine, every corner that you turn you find yourself being approached in exactly the way that you want, everything laid out just as you want it…all of the time. Wouldn’t that be comfortable…and I also sense a little boring? And of course this approach to life is just not possible.

So what is the other option? Change your mind. If you cannot change the physical world, change how you approach what the world presents to you. While our ideal for recharging might be a quiet room with a book, if that is not available to us, we still have ourselves. Instead of filling our head with dialogue such as, “I am tired and don’t want to be here,” we can rest our attention on the breath when we are not speaking. In the presence of others we can take time for ourselves.

If others are talking a lot while you just want to gaze out over some beautiful scenery, allow the talk to go on…but not your internal dialogue wishing things to be quiet. Keep a bare attention on the conversation should you need to respond, otherwise focus on what brings you joy - the view. Again, seek solitude in the presence of others.

Letting go

The world can be noisy, but sometimes we make it more noisy for ourselves with all our internal chatter that is complaining about what we don’t like. _Let go_ of that chatter, _let go_ of your resistance to what is going on, accept the situation for what it is (that _does not_ mean that you have to like it) and give that space to recharging on the fly. Letting go is not a giving up. It is an honest assessment of the situation, an acceptance of what you can and cannot do, not fighting against that and basing your way forward on that reality. Do not be discouraged by the struggle to let go. It is a practice. It is about getting use to something new, a new way of working with a situation. The more that you get use to the ability and seek out methods that work for you to seek solitude in the presence of others, the more the viability of letting go becomes.

Through all of this remember to look after yourself, but also remember your friends and colleagues. If you disappear, they could be left wondering what is going on. Find that balance for yourself - on the one hand letting go and spending more time with others, on the other letting them know what your needs are and taking some time for yourself.

What techniques do you use to replenish your reserves when life is busy around you? How do you take in the view while others talk away in the background?

How to Approach Difficult Situations ... and Manage Those Holiday Blues

A lot of good advice has been offered online on how introverts and HSPs can manage the social demands that might come their way over the holiday period. I was not intending to add to this well informed conversation, until I came across this short video (below) by Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who is based in Seattle. The advice that he gives stretches beyond the Buddhist world and applies to any time and place in our lives, not just the this holiday time.

He speaks of how by reaching into core principles such as love and compassion, principles that speak for the well being of the other and not of self, we find more peace of mind by not dwelling on that which is causing us pain. In doing so we lessen our own load and make the difficult more bearable. We transform the situation by not dwelling on the negative. Continued practice of acting in this way creates a new habit for ourselves, our heart and mind are more at peace and we are able to weather more challenges in our lives.

If and where the Buddhist terminology does not work for you, I invite you to replace Rinpoche’s words with words or phrases that help give his advice meaning to you.

Have a happy and safe holiday time whether with family and friends or by yourself, and wishing you all the best for 2015.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Every Thursday evening at a yoga class that I use to attend we started class by sitting in a circle, introducing ourselves, expressing any injuries that we had and then naming something that we are grateful for. Once while going round that circle a fellow Brit in the class expressed gratitude for the “Attitude of Gratitude” that had been installed in him through the Thursday evening class. Even when he was feeling a little down the Attitude of Gratitude was always available to him, opening up the world around him and lifting him out of his melancholy.


There is much to be grateful for each day, but it is very easy to go through life feeling as though our glass is half empty. The advertising industry in its effort to sell to us tells us that we don’t look right, don’t smell right, don’t wear the right clothes or drive the right car…and that the ever elusive happiness will be with us once we do change our appearance. A celebrity culture presents us with goals that most of us are unlikely to achieve, or a fantasy world in which to escape when our own lives become too much. With external pressures to conform to or being told our own interests are not cool, we can feel alone or unappreciated for who we are. The world of lack created by the media and advertising industry creates a hole in ourselves and society that we try and fill with external stuff, whether through the procuring of goods or running round chasing distractions that ultimately do little to satisfy us.

The Spiral

Developing an Attitude of Gratitude allows us to take ownership for who we are, reclaiming ourselves and our birthright. Through acknowledging that for which we are grateful the world no longer becomes a glass have empty, it is at the very least half full. Less and less do we dwell on the negative or the lack, we start to see the world through eyes of abundance. Joanna Macy speaks of the activist’s inner journey being made up of four successive stages, each interconnected and feeding the others, creating a spiral. These start with Gratitude.

  1. Opening to gratitude,
  2. Owning our pain for the world,
  3. Seeing with new eyes,
  4. Going forth.

More information about the spiral can be found here.

Joanna said that in the early days of her work, Gratitude was not a part of these stages. When I asked her why she decided to include Gratitude her reply was, “what else was there to do?”


The Benefits

The introvert’s world can be rich through spending so much time in our minds. Details are noticed of the world around us and this in turn fills our lives with an appreciation of its depth and diversity (by the way, I am not suggesting that extroverts do not also recognize this diversity). Counter to that though is the struggle that sometimes exists as introverts interact in an extroverted biased world. Expectations or judgements from others, based on a lack of understanding, can be tiring and also erode self-esteem and self-belief. Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude can be a balm for being in this atmosphere. It helps to create perspective and remind you of what is really important, at the same time building resilience in yourself.

As we move towards the North American Thanksgiving Holidays, what are you grateful for? What Attitude of Gratitude are you cultivating today?

An Aesop Fable and Introversion

We have been experiencing some very windy weather here in the Pacific North West. Accompanied by some unseasonably cold temperatures, the wind chill has been cutting through everyone. The skies have been clear and the strong winds have given a clarity to the air, while at the same time making swift work of the autumnal job of removing the trees of their leaves - piles are accumulating along the sidewalk.

While out and about in this weather a short story that I first heard when I was a child popped into my mind. The tale has never left me. As a child I was struck by it’s message, for reasons that I didn’t understand at the time, but something in there just felt right. This time I decided to look up the story.

Having nowhere to reference the story and unsure of how well known it was, I reached for Google. It turns out that the story was one of Aesop’s fables. I found many versions of it online, and share one of those below. It’s relevance to introverts and the quiet leaders of this world is there clearly to be seen. I hope that you enjoy it.


The North Wind and The Sun

The North Wind boasted of great strength. The Sun argued that there was great power in gentleness.

“We shall have a contest,” said the Sun.

Far below, a man traveled a winding road. He was wearing a warm winter coat.

“As a test of strength,” said the Sun, “Let us see which of us can take the coat off of that man.”

“It will be quite simple for me to force him to remove his coat,” bragged the Wind.

The Wind blew so hard, the birds clung to the trees. The world was filled with dust and leaves. But the harder the wind blew down the road, the tighter the shivering man clung to his coat.

Then, the Sun came out from behind a cloud. Sun warmed the air and the frosty ground. The man on the road unbuttoned his coat.

The sun grew slowly brighter and brighter.

Soon the man felt so hot, he took off his coat and sat down in a shady spot.

“How did you do that?” said the Wind.

“It was easy,” said the Sun, “I lit the day. Through gentleness I got my way.”


From my searches online, the message from the story is commonly articulated as, “Gentle persuasion is stronger than force.” If we were to substitute, as you might already have done, the wind as an extrovert and the sun as an introvert, we see a recognition in the story that quieter ways have their place in the world. The louder ones don’t always win.

Another version of the story has the sun acknowledging the power of the wind and its capabilities. I think that this addition is important and gives the message more strength. It is not a message of either/or but both/and.

But still, the important lesson is that in order to effect change, strength and ability can just as well rest with the quiet ones. Indeed at times, it is those to whom you should turn, though the manifestation of strength might not be what you were envisaging.

Meditation In Service of Introverts

Meditation and introversion have something in common - the mind. For introverts the mind is a place of activity, but also a place of refuge. Meditation is an activity for familiarizing ourselves with our mind, and for developing its unrealized potential. That might sound exciting and scary in equal measure, but hopefully this article will lend some perspective. With this close connection, I believe that there is a place where meditation can be of service to introverts.

As a way of finding balance and wholeness, introverts seek solitude and alone time. Time with themselves, their inner selves. As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says:

“…I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”

Mind and Meditation

The mind is the precursor to our actions and the lens through which we see and experience the world. It is something that we are so close to and yet so unfamiliar with at the same time. In the same way that as we get to know an employee or student better we understand what they are truly capable of and how to bring those qualities out of them, so as we get to know our mind better the tool of meditation can help develop the potentialities of the mind.

While introverts can spend much time in introspection at times the internal dialogue, our place of retreat, can seem as noisy as the world that we have tried to get away from. In such instances the activity of meditation, which will take us inside, can seem like the last thing that we would want to do. On the one hand is the image of meditation as providing peace, on the other is having to go inside and face the noise that we are trying to get away from.

The practice of meditation offers many tools for working on the mind. One of these tools is mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to observe the dialogue taking place in the mind but not get involved. As you are only observing the chatter, there is nothing for the mind to latch onto and develop the stories. You are not giving the mind any fuel to keep going and so in time the stories burn themselves out. The mind being the mind, a new conversation will start up soon enough, but you are there only to observe. See the mind as like a glass of muddy water that has been allowed to sit. As the dust settles, so the noise slowly quietens.

Mindfulness in Daily Life

The formal practice of mindfulness might see you watching your breath, just observing the ebb and flow of the breath as it enters and leaves the nose. From time to time you will be distracted by thoughts arising in your mind. You simply acknowledge them with no judgement of good or bad, simply ‘a thought’ and come back to your breath.

That is the formal practice of mindfulness, but the practice is not limited to solely that time that you are on your meditation cushion. No, mindfulness is a tool that is there for you to use whenever you choose. For introverts this can be especially useful if you are hitting saturation at the end of a busy day, during a long meeting, at a socializing event. For introverts that sense of exhaustion can be felt in the body and mind. We will sense the weariness coming on, latch onto those feelings and start identifying strongly with what is arising in our body and mind. However, by using our mindfulness practice we start to recognize that these noises in our body and mind are not solid, they are passing, ephemeral, transient. This is not to suggest that they are not real - you are still the exhausted introvert who would like to get home as soon as possible. The trick though is in how you identify with what is coursing through you. You can either see the aches and pains of your body and mind as solid and fixed, or as mindfulness enables us to experience, impermanent and ever changing.

The Pliable Mind

Your formal mindfulness sessions will reveal to you the transient, ever changing nature of your thoughts. This does not change when you go about your everyday life. So as you notice tiredness or aches and pains creep into your body, watch those feelings. Chances are as an introvert you are doing more listening than chatting, so use that quiet time at the meeting or social event to just be with the tiredness, observe the “I want to go home” thoughts, acknowledge the aches…and then just let them go. Just observe them, don’t engage or put any judgement on them. The wish to get away is still there, it is real, but now you are not allowing it to have such a firm grip on you. There is more space there with which to work, to relax (yes relax) into. You are still battling the storm of tiredness, but now you are finding time to come for air. An introvert is who you are, yes, but you are not boxing yourself into an image of what that means to you. Your mind is revealing to you who you are and what might be possible.

Mindfulness allows us to develop a pliability of the mind by seeing through and not fixating so rigidly on the images and stories that we tell ourselves. Mindfulness practice shows us that reality and gives us the malleability of our mind to work with in our daily lives. With that experience the world, not just for introverts, becomes more workable.

Quiet Time, Space, Mindfulness and Focus

How much time do you give to be just with yourself? Why should you want to? 

For six mornings of the week members of Portland Japanese Garden have access to the Gardens for two hours before they open to the general public. The other morning I finally made it up there to benefit from this special privilege.

The silence and stillness on that summer’s morning, the sound of the birds singing and running water, the vividness of the views seen many times before, but being all the more precise with the absence of people.

Why, or why had I not made it up there earlier?

I can in part answer this for myself. Morning quiet time is important to me. Unless I know that I am getting up for an early meeting or to travel somewhere, I plan on starting the day away from busyness and noise. There is plenty of time for that during the day, and my introverted self starts better with a quiet, self-reflective boost before the day gets going. Secondly is my daily meditation practice which is a stable for me just like having breakfast, or the sleep that I have just woken up from. So walking to the car, a drive and walk up to the Gardens, and an uncertainty of just how busy that journey might be and how many conversations I could get drawn into along the way, tends me more to the assured quietness of home.

I was nudged out the front door yesterday morning by some busyness at home. The Japanese Garden seemed like a good second option. As I travelled further up the hill it became apparent just how quiet it was going to be. There were few people around, and beneath the trees was the stillness of a day just starting. On entering the Gardens I walked to find a place to practice Qigong, before moving down to the Rock Garden to meditate. The few people there moved around respectful of their fellow visitors’ space, speaking in hushed voices.

After an hour I headed for home, nourished not only by the silence but also the time spent in nature. The day was still ahead of me.

Returning to those two initially posed questions. How much time do you give to yourself each day? Time free from meetings, emails, other people, phones. And if you were to do so, what would be the benefit? Our over busy, multi-distracted lives aside from not being good for our health, can also lead to less productivity and less time checking in with ourselves. The multitaskers are praised and celebrated, but time spent continually switching between jobs and worrying about what the next distraction coming down the pipe might be, all means less concentration and focus on the current job in hand and with those whom we are working with.

In our run around what is driving us - our fears, concerns, habits and reactions, or our clear thought through ideas? Time spent with ourselves is a “STOP” in the middle of the freneticism. It allows the dust of busyness to settle and what we are really feeling to rise more to the surface - is our body telling us we need to rest, are we really happy with the suggestions being made, would we prefer more time to think through this solution? More time spent in this space starts to change the habits of where we work from. Familiarity here does not breed contempt but a knowing of who we are and how we react to different situations. In the long term the result becomes us catching ourselves more quickly when we find ourselves simply reacting as opposed to coming from our heart.


Quiet Time

So what might this alone time look like? Here is a suggestion. Not a full blown, formal mindfulness meditation session, though the essence of it is here.

Early morning is a good time to give yourself some quiet time. You are fresh from the stillness of your night’s sleep. The day is still as the world wakes up. Before your reach for your smart phone, checkin on the news or your email, schedule ten minutes to be alone with yourself. Find a comfortable chair, or if you like sit on the floor. The important thing is to have a straight back. This allows the mind to stay fresh and alert.

Now as you sit there, just be aware of what is arising for you in those moments. What is arising in your mind? What sensations are there in your body? There is no judgement in what arises, just observation. Be like an usher collecting tickets at the theatre. You see the people walk up to you, and then they are gone. If you catch yourself getting involved in a conversation with your observations, without judgement let that go and return to the observing. If this is not something that you are use to doing, ten minutes alone could feel like an age, but stick with it.

During the day it can be helpful to reinforce the habit of mindfulness that you were observing in the morning. Look for opportunities to remind you to come back to yourself for as little as a few seconds. Here are some suggestions:

  • A telephone ringing - don’t just reach for it, take a deep breath, feel your presence in the chair and then answer the phone.
  • The brake lights of the car in front of you.
  • A stop light.
  • Try driving without the radio on or music playing.
  • Standing in line for food or a drink. If you are by yourself, don’t check your phone but be aware of your breathing. Deepen your breath. Be aware of your feet on the ground.
  • If you are eating by yourself, don’t eat and read. Just be aware of yourself eating. The chewing of the food, the texture of the food, swallowing the food.
  • When walking walk mindfully, staying aware of yourself walking. Use your breath, or the stepping of your feet as an anchor to keep yourself focused. I have written on this here.

So why should you want to give time to yourself? For you own well being, but also for the benefit of your work and those with whom you work and live. You’ll start to catch yourself being distracted, working off autopilot and find the space to stop and better consider the situation that has presented itself to you. You will start to find space where at first there appeared to be none.

The Silent Warrior

When I hear the word “warrior” I usually think of a fearsome character going off into battle, probably on horse back. Such a person appears to me as an ancient and noble figure, adorned in ornate clothes, and carrying some masterly crafted weaponry.

In this article I’d like to introduce to you to two other types of warrior. One is established and known within some circles. This warrior is motivated by altruism to battle the ignorance and suffering in the world.

The second type of warrior is one who has probably existed for centuries, but who I see emerging and gaining more prominence in this time.

In Mahayana Buddhism there exists the concept of the Bodhisattva. A Bodhisattva is one who has the bodhicitta mind. Etymologically bodhicitta is a combination of two Sanskrit words. “Bodhi” means “awakening” and “enlightenment.” “Citta” has the Sanskrit root “cit” which means “that which is conscious.” Bodhicitta is quite often translated as, “mind of enlightenment.” It is also referred to as an unusual mind. Why “unusual” - because very few beings have it. It is a mind that thinks of others before self. For most of us self normally shows up in the picture somewhere. How often do we offer of ourselves with absolutely no wish for anything in return?

The Bodhisattva is sometimes referred to as a warrior. Like other warriors, the Bodhisattva warrior goes into battle. This warrior is fighting against the delusional self-interest that causes so much pain to individuals and nations. To engage in this battle the Bodhisattva carries two weapons, compassion and wisdom. Compassion is that deep wish to see all suffering be removed from the world and to personally engage in the work required to alleviate this suffering. However, compassion alone is not enough. With only compassion there is the danger of burnout. The other weapon is wisdom, the insight to see into the true, interconnected nature of reality. The web of life that binds us all together. This is the root of all suffering. Like compassion, the weapon of wisdom cannot act alone. It is too cool, analytical. It needs the warmth of compassion.

It is with the Bodhisattva in mind that I see the emergence of another warrior in our midst. This warrior has a different, but no less important mission. Their mission is to enrich the world with the qualities that a quiet, but attentive mind offers. In a noisy world, this warrior reminds us of the value of silence, of observing closely, of listening deeply. I call this warrior the Silent Warrior. What weapons might the silent warrior carry? I’d like to suggest a few to you.

  • Patience: The qualities of a quiet mind might take a while to take root in the world. During that time the silent ones might be misunderstood, not heard. The Silent Warrior is not deterred. They know that they have some something of deep value to give to the world and are prepared to wait.
  • Persistence: With their rich inner lives, the silent ones have resources to draw on when the going gets tough.
  • Listening: The Silent Warriors listen deeply, carefully, feeling no need to rush in with their opinions. They take note of what is being said and act accordingly.
  • Relationships: For those with whom they connect, the Silent Warrior will build a close relationship. Not for them to run around and create shallow relationships. They will spend time with you, get to know you and see in what way they might be able to help.
  • Leadership: Feeding off the last two items, as a leader the Silent Warrior will not force their opinion on their team. The Silent Leader will work collaboratively, listening to what others have to say, encouraging team members to offer and synthesize their ideas.

These five weapons are the principle ones that I have identified the Silent Warrior as carrying. Are there others that I have missed? Are you a Silent Warrior, gathering your weapons to bring your quiet presence to the world?

The Hypnotic Sound of Silence

Life can be a game of give and take at times. We’d prefer things to be one way but for one reason or another we are called to meet the situation halfway. One area where this can be a real challenge is when our comfort zone is confronted. Unless resolution is strong to push through resistance, we’ll spew forth with reasons why we couldn’t, shan’t, are not able to show up.

As an introvert one area where this is particularly true for me is when I am in need of some silence and solitude. I have been through a particularly busy period and a window of opportunity to some quiet time alone opens up - I’m in! Like a glass of shaken up muddy water, my mind has hit overload and is yearning to allow the dust to settle. As the swirling mire of dirt particles start to come to rest in the glass of my mind, the noise in my head subsides and with that relief, comfort and deep nourishment start to envelope me.

This is all fine and I’m sure something that introverts can relate to, but perhaps they can also relate to,

  • “When spending a heavenly weekend alone means that you’re missing out on time with friends,”
  • “And you fear that by doing so, you are nearing ‘hermit’ status.” 

What about when the tug becomes between work needing to be done and the quiet recharge? The pull of quiet time becomes hypnotic. You start to feel the deep comfort wrapping itself around you like the ultimate comfort blanket. Hypnotized by the relief that the solitude gives us, we are sucked into inaction (and let’s not forget, rest as well) - friends go unseen, work languishes or at least is given less than our full attention.

Full time alone whether hour or a weekend has its place, but sometimes we need the click of fingers in front of our face to wake up and move into action. This is not about ignoring our introverted tendencies or becoming an extrovert, it is about adaptation. Adaptation in order to be in the world. To use words from the start of this post, it is about give and take.

Silence is golden for introverts, at least it is for this one, but I would guess that I am not the only one. As Susan Cain, author of  Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking has said,

“Solitude matters, and for some it is the air that they breathe.”

So all the more so, when we are called to step away from that which feeds us so deeply, it is helpful to have a strong motivation to give us the strength to keep going when we would prefer to be elsewhere. I have written a little about this sort of motivation here, but in essence it is about stopping and reflecting on why you need to step out of this quiet zone. Perhaps it is because of connecting with friends who you value deeply and haven’t seen for a while? Perhaps it is to do with why you are attending this meeting or networking event, the importance of it to your work? Sit and be with your need to be elsewhere for a while, that reason for putting aside your comfort blanket. Let this motivation seep into you and it will lend fuel to your action. With strong resolve and give and take, we can more comfortably step out from under the spell of that silence.

Here are some suggestions for managing our needs against the needs of being in the world. The motivation is personal to you. Find it, be with it, and then embracing adaptation step into the world.

  • Know that at least once a year, perhaps every few months (pick a time span that works for your life,) you will take a period of time to yourself.
  • During a weekend alone, timetable your time. You might spend the afternoon with friends, but make sure that the evening is yours.
  • At business events, give yourself a time that you will stay until. When you arrive explain that you have to leave at such and such a time. If you stay longer, so be it.
  • Let people know what you are needing in your life so that they respect when you excuse yourself.
  • At business gatherings and social events with friends set yourself a number of people who you will connect with. Spend time with those people. When you have hit your limit, unless you feel like staying longer, excuse yourself.

Have you caught yourself wrapping yourself in your comfort blanket? What strategies have you used for stepping out of your comfort zone?

"I Use to be an Introvert, But..."

When people ask what I do and I reply that I work with introverts I am surprised how often I hear back the comment, “I used to be an introvert, but…,” and the person then proceeds to explain how they managed to transform themselves. As I listen to them speak, I invariably get the sense that they feel as though they have overcome an impediment that was holding them back.

I believe that the statement and assumptions that underlie it arise out of a misunderstanding of what introversion is. I don’t doubt that the person who I have spoken to has overcome something that was holding them back, but I’m sure that what they have overcome is not introversion.

For me two assumptions are present in this statement. One, that introversion can be fixed, and two, that if you do fix it, i.e. are no longer an introvert, life will be better. Let’s examine these two assumptions.

First, introversion is not something that you grow out of. You either are an introvert or you are not. What you might be is shy, a social anxiety. This might overlap with your introversion, but it is not the same. Extroverts can be shy. Shyness is something that you can work on and with time overcome. Introverts have no problem meeting new people. They can show up for parties, even if their tendency is for more intimate gatherings. After a lot of socializing introverts find a need to retreat and recharge in their own company. Introverts who find social events draining can increase their capacity for social mingling. I’ve offered a couple of solutions in this article, however that does not take away who they are and their preference for quieter gatherings and time to refresh themselves.

This need for alone time is sometimes misunderstood as the person lacking confidence, being shy or a loner, i.e. something that is wrong with the introvert. Or, with the introvert moving away from the group, the group members can find themselves thinking that the introvert perceives that something is wrong with them. However this is not about anybody doing or thinking anything wrong, it is about the introvert doing what they need to do - take some alone time, some quiet time, to recharge, think, process. An introverts’ mind is wired to need that solitary time. To take a more prosaic example, no one thinks twice if someone excuses themselves to go to the toilet. There is a need and someone is taking action to fulfill that need.

One could also look at the issue of overload. We all hit times when we just need downtime. Life - demands, noise, what we can deal with - just get too much and we just need to take a time out. For an introvert who spends a lot of time in their head, that threshold is lower than for extroverts. With a lot going on, perhaps at a party, the need to take some time away, leave early can cut in before others. As an introvert, though, I have been the last to leave a gathering on more than one occasion. The trick? Usually I have got into a conversation with one or two people - the party has just turned into a small gathering, much more manageable!

Moving onto the second issue, implicit in that assumption is that introversion is something that one would want to get over. That those who are introverts are in some way lacking; not bad people, but that their situation in some way puts them at a disadvantage - so look for ways to move on if you can. In listening to the person who asked me the question, I am always left with the feeling that the person feels as though their life has moved on to something better now that they are ‘no longer’ an introvert. From my side I am left with the unspoken question, “Why would anyone want to get over introversion anyway?” I believe that this simply comes down to misunderstandings, fed by cultural conditioning, of what works in the world today and the introverts place, or lack of in that world. To be born into a culture where the extroverted nature is dominant the message that one hears from a young age is that if you want to get ahead, you are better off being one way rather than another. However, with a third to fifty percent of the population being introverts, that is a lot of people to look down on, and probably includes family members, friends and work colleagues (you might be surprised to find out who the introverts are in your life). We both, extroverts and introverts, have skills, qualities and strengths that can benefit each other and the world in which we live in. Reaching out and exploring and learning about those strengths is a stronger and more beneficial place to come from.

So if you find yourself saying, “I used to be an introvert, but…,” catch yourself and ask yourself what it is that you feel you have overcome. You probably have grown in who you are as a person, but no longer being an introvert is not what has changed. You are either are an introvert and still are, albeit with different social skills, or never were in the first place.