The Art Of Slow Reading

Books

Your eyes skim across the pages of the book from left to right racing towards the finish line in anticipation. You feel exhilarated when you discover what happens next but the words quickly detach like a dried leaf falling off a tree. There’s a great sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a book, but ultimately reading is about quality, not quantity. If we are able to read a book and absorb the wisdom, lessons and knowledge while applying it in our own lives, then that’s one of the most rewarding things in life.

Remember when you were a child listening attentively to a storybook and the excitement of hearing what happens. There’s a great sense of presence, visualisation, engagement and empathy towards the characters. The story is read at a steady pace as we listen to the different tones and tempo of the story. There’s a simple joy in reading as we’re taken on a journey with the characters while being transported into an entirely new world.

We are often rushing through time which can make us lose sense of the present. Fast reading can come in handy as a skill and it’s incredibly prevalent in our daily lives. For example, when you’re reading a news article, watching subtitles on the television or when you’re looking through a document you will naturally look for keywords and information at a glance. However, when it comes to reading a book, the best kind is when we are able to engage with the story we’re reading and deeply listen and connect with it.

Art by Monica Barengo

The Importance Of Doing Nothing

Daily Thoughts

In a heavily switched-on world, it can feel like there’s no pause button, and everyone’s racing towards an invisible finish line. Our phones have become an extension of us most noticeably since the pandemic. The nature of unpredictability has become increasingly more transparent. We live in a society that values busyness and judges the idea of rest by perceiving it as lazy. In the article How to rest well by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, he states that “The world tells us: Work is important; we need to reply: Rest is important too.

Time for reflecting / Sitting down to clear your mind and think about things and write thoughts down can give you space to reflect. What are the lessons you’ve learned? What are the parts of you that have grown? What challenges have you faced? What are the gains you’ve experienced? How would you like to change? There have been an immense amount of lessons learned in the past year, and taking time to reflect on them can help you think about how you’d like to implement them into your life.

Switching off / The amount of time spent using my phone has heavily increased. I’ve been especially grateful that we are able to connect with our loved ones but I find reading the news can be overwhelming as it can be filled with negativity. Taking time to switch off can help clear our minds and give us some quiet from all the noise while enjoying the present moment.

Reconnecting with your soul / Rest gives you time to be alone in your mind and body. When you can rest you allow yourself to sit with your own thoughts. When we’re always interacting in the world, it’s easy to go along with what everyone else is doing. In the past year, I’ve felt burnt out at times, and only recently I have accepted how important it is to truly rest and do nothing. Time alone gives us space to be creative, curious, mindful, and aware of our surroundings.

Space to heal / The world feels like it’s becoming an increasingly divided place, but my greatest prayer is that we find deeper connections and openness through our collective struggles. When we spend time without a full calendar and we take time to care for ourselves, we give ourselves space to reflect, rest, connect and heal. The absence of distractions can make us look at ourselves inside and out.

What we value / What is most important to you in your life? What makes you truly happy? What do you enjoy doing? What are your personal values? Every person’s values can be different and living by our values can make us feel more grounded and connected to ourselves. Our values can be impacted by the experiences we’ve had in our lives, our personalities, and how we experience the world.

How do you spend your time doing nothing?

Art by Kate Pugsley

Five Benefits of Living with Less

Daily Thoughts

Living with less means creating space for the important aspects of our lives that bring greater value. We are increasingly encouraged to consume more in a tech-saturated environment, where the rise of targeted advertising is driving growth in our spending. The emphasis on needing more things in our lives to feel a sense of satisfaction leaves many of us unfulfilled. Where we put our focus on is how we feel within our day-to-day lives, and if our focus is on materials, status and money, we lose a sense of ourselves. When we let go of the need to fit in, we can feel a greater sense of freedom. When we have gratitude for all that we have and spend time doing what we love, we can look around and realise that we don’t need a lot in life to be happy.

1) Spend time with those you cherish

Friendships are quality over quantity. A person’s worth is not determined by how many people they surround themselves with. Time is precious. Spending time with those that we love means investing in a deeper connection with others. We can cultivate deep connections that are genuine and close. Living with less isn’t contained only to our material possessions but also in the relationships that we have. It allows one to give who they love more of their time because they aren’t spending their time in unhealthy relationships. It means putting up healthy boundaries with people and spending one’s time and energy into the people they love the most.

2) Save money and time from spending less

How do you spend your time? Perhaps you like learning new things such as a new language or joining a sports team. The more we spend our attention on the hobbies we enjoy, the more we save time on the things we don’t. We can save money from unread magazine subscriptions or unfinished courses. By picking up a few interests to focus on, you can spend your money and time more wisely. It means that we don’t buy unnecessary materials that may take up more space in our homes or have a list of unnecessary tasks that fill up our schedule.

3) Practice Social Minimalism for your Mental Health

Digital Minimalism is a term popularised by computer scientist and author, Cal Newport, who doesn’t use social media. In essence, it describes the philosophy of technology use in which the time spent online is cut down to a small number of carefully selected activities that support things you value, and then you can happily miss out on the rest of the online world. By leaving behind unimportant acts of social media, we reclaim time and we are more mindful of being in the present. The rise of anxiety and depression amongst younger generations have been significant. Technology has caused more online noise and distractions, by taking away our attention from what is important.

4) Embrace your own Personal style

The fashion industry seems to move faster than we can keep up, with changing trends and seasons. Personal style, on the other hand, never goes out of style, as it’s a part of our identity. Are there certain styles or pieces of clothing that you always wear year after year? When we embrace our own personal style, we save time from browsing the never-ending rows of shops and save money from buying clothes that may only be worn a few times. When we shop with the intention of having something for the long-term, it can make a piece of material feel more thoughtful and special.

5) A Minimalist lifestyle can nourish an Introvert’s strengths

Susan Caine points out in her book, Quiet: The Power Of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking that introverts are generally less interested in status, wealth, and popularity than extroverts. The accumulation of stuff and the larger amount of people in our lives can create more added stress for many introverts. Minimalism gives you more space to live your life and be in charge of your space, schedule and mind. An introvert thrives on being able to be in a quiet sanctuary such as at home. When a home is decluttered, it creates balance in our mind and we can create space to do the very things that we love.

Living a more simple life means embracing the need for deep connections, purpose in one’s work, and spending time and energy on the people and activities that you love the most. However, it’s just as simple to immerse oneself into buying things or engaging in relationships that don’t add value into our lives. These might be from purchasing books or clothing we don’t end up using or being in friendships that aren’t rewarding or are one-sided. This cycle can drain our batteries. When we aren’t always chasing for the next thing, we can spend time placing value and gratitude on what we have.

What makes you truly happy in your life?

Art by Marialaura Fedi

The Joy Of Shopping At The Supermarket

Daily Thoughts

A trip to the supermarket felt like an adventure as a child. It still does. Roaming the aisles of different food categories was comforting and easily amusing. Although it’s also been a crazy last two years during the pandemic with crowded aisles, social distancing, panic buying and inflation in prices. The nostalgia of shopping is a fond memory and one of those activities that bring joy. There’s something satisfying about having a full pantry of food. It feels like a blessing and a privilege to be able to have food and to browse all the different items. It feels like a treasure hunt of trying to find all the items you’re looking for. Below are a selection of the many ways the supermarket brings me joy.

1) Being present in the moment. Going to the supermarket forces you to be present and focused by making sure you don’t bump into someone and that you get everything on your shopping list. Although it’s also easy to do the very opposite of zoning out trying to find your favourite cereal box.

2) Discovering new things. Trying new recipes, finding ingredients, discovering new products and trying new things are a fun part of going grocery shopping. I previously would make the same meal nearly everyday, whereas, buying different kinds of items makes you creative and think about what to cook.

3) People watching and listening to music. There’s probably scientific research that the music played at the supermarket is designed to make you stay longer, feel good and buy more. I have admittedly stayed at the supermarket pushing the trolley around to finish listening to a song. There’s also something amusing about watching people do their shopping.

4) The necessity of grocery shopping. There’s something very rewarding about cooking your own meal as a self-confessed previous non-foodie. When you cook your own meals it can feel satisfying and it can make you feel accomplished. Grocery shopping is also a regular routine in our lives and supermarkets are a familiar place that we go to every so often.

5) A change of scenery. It’s easy to spend time sitting in an office or being at home, but when you go to the supermarket, you can switch off and just think about what you need to buy. Something is always different each time: different music, different people, different fruit and veggies.

6) Browsing farmers’ markets. The best grocery shopping is at the markets when it’s a sunny day outside. It’s fun to stare at the dogs walking by and to find the cheapest cauliflower. There’s also a lovely atmosphere and it feels different to the feeling of when you’re shopping in a supermarket.

7) Having fun with your loved ones. Going to the supermarket is a fond memory I have with my family. Whether being in New Zealand or Taiwan, or being at a supermarket or an outdoors veggie market. There’s something about food that quite literally brings people together.

What do you enjoy or not enjoy about grocery shopping?

Time Is How You Spend Your Love

Daily Thoughts

We can spend periods of our lives in a cycle that repeats itself if we don’t seek the desire to change. Nature is always changing and evolving. That is the beautiful part of nature, as it takes its time to achieve great change. How we spend our time is precious. When we break apart everything, time is really all that we have. Our lives are unpredictable, and no one can be completely sure of how long they are on this earth for.

Every moment counts. The moments we stand at the traffic lights, the moments we sit on the plane flying home and the moments we are there for a loved one. The beautiful words are from Zadie Smith. It also makes me acknowledge the sad reality that there is so much time spent on the things that we don’t truly love. We live in a world where people are deeply hurting or they are bounded to a life where they are helpless.

Thoughts and Feelings / What you focus on is how you will feel. The thoughts we feed ourselves and the feelings we have ultimately affect how we view the world, how we view ourselves, how we treat other people and how we spend our days. Our thoughts and feelings impact how we experience the world around us and the world within.

Precious time / How do you spend your time? What we spend our time builds us into the person we are. If we spend time doing more of what we love, it can only benefit us in the long run. It can enable us to have a healthy relationship with people and it can make us a whole lot happier.

Leisure / The Art of doing nothing. There is praise for always being switched on in a fast-paced digital age. Being productive and busy is seen as the definition of success, when in actuality good things take time, and our focus is heightened when we give ourselves conscious rest.

People / Who do you spend most of your time with? They say that the 5 people you spend the majority of time with can impact you as a person, from your world view, character, interests and behaviour. The environment we are in and the people we spend our time with can have a huge impact on our wellbeing.

Memories / What are the good memories you can think of? Remembering memories that make you smile can bring them alive. When we focus on a bad memory, it can evoke a strong negative emotional reaction. The time that we spend to create memories that are good are often built around the foundation of love.

Gratitude / What are you grateful for in your life? Gratitude is a practice that we can actively do each day. The moment we forget all the things we have in our lives is the moment we can feel empty and unhappy. Where we put our focus and intention is everything. Our wellbeing depends on it. Remember to cherish all that you have.

Change / In what ways have you changed over time? We are always changing every day. In everyday we are learning something new. Change is inevitable and people will change, but the important thing is to know your values. What is it that you want in life? What’s important to you?

Choices / The choices we make over time influence the person we are today. What you choose to do is your responsibility. How you treat others, the conversations you have, the products you buy, the food you consume and the activities that you do all impact who you are as a person. The choices we make and how we spend our time impacts who we are as a person. 

Creativity / What do you spend your time consuming and creating. We spend a lot of time consuming content from online articles to social media. We spend more time more than ever consuming digital content and buying materials. The time we spend creating is quite possibly one of the most precious moments.

The time we spend to practice something, create something or write something is valuable. When we do the things that we love and spend time with the people we love, then we must be doing something right. Our lives are meant to be enjoyed and the purpose of being here is more than we can understand. All that one can really know is that the existence of every being is precious.

No one is better than the other person. There is a false belief that by feeling superior to someone we can feel accomplished. Whether that is through materials, status or wealth. However, it is the biggest lie that we are sold in society. External things don’t add true value into our lives. It makes me think of The Little Prince quote that reads “What is Essential is Invisible to the Eye” all that is truly important in life can only be felt with the heart “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly”.

Art by Monica Barengo

The Power Of Humility And Empathy

Daily Thoughts

The greatest wisdom that I hear are often in conversations, such as the other day when my husband said to me that “Humility is not seeing yourself as above or below anyone.” We all have our insecurities and flaws. We’re only human. Perfectionism can be the death of our own sense of worth because it is an unattainable desire. The lens that we look through everyday comes from the thoughts that we have. The way that we feel comes from the way we speak to ourselves. If we look through a negative lens, then we will feel negative and see things negatively. When we see things through a balanced lens, we can see things rationally and clearly.

The thought that’s been pressing on my mind recently is the ability to have empathy. The human desire to be a better person comes from knowing that we don’t know everything and that we are learning everyday. Empathy comes from listening and putting yourself, truly putting yourself in someone’s shoes by feeling what the other person is feeling. Empathy requires us to be vulnerable and have compassion. Listening allows us to hear stories and perspectives that we wouldn’t otherwise hear. Listening opens up our heart and mind in a beautiful way so that we can have empathy for others.

Humility is the ability to say that you don’t know everything. We are life long learners. It’s the ability to say when you have made a mistake. It’s the ability to be grateful for the small things. We live in a society that places value and attention to external accomplishments. Humility, sensitivity and vulnerability are misinterpreted as a sign of weakness, when in actuality they are the greatest signs of inner strength. We need these crucial elements of existing to truly display acts of love and kindness. Love and empathy can exist when we stop looking inward, and start looking around at the world.

I love this beautiful excerpt: Humility is the understanding that we can’t go it alone. Empathy is the ability to identify with the challenges that have brought other people to where they are. Combined, these two traits invite us into authentic relationships with others, allowing collaborative energy to begin to flow. Humility keeps us open to new information, new insights, new wisdom. Empathy encourages us to unite.

I recommend reading the article The Beautiful Triad-Curiosity, Humility and Empathy here.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

― CS Lewis

Art by Lieke van der Vorst

The War Of Art And The Pain Of Resistance

Books

A battle with the ego is a daily war, a mere voice in our head and a character that tortures us. The sense of our true self is experienced when we let go of thoughts that aren’t true. Those limiting thoughts creep in to consume us and eat us alive. The voice feeds us lies that aren’t true, and those feelings can be overwhelming. After reading the book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield, he tells us the power of resistance, and the power of our ability to concentrate and do what we need to do. He enlightens us on the true meaning of the Self and encourages us to stay in tune with the Self.

How many times in our lives do we tell ourselves that we can’t do something? How often do we encourage people in their endeavours, yet we can easily bring ourselves down. Pressfield says that “Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don’t do it. If you’re doing it. Stop.” I really felt those words, as if a wise teacher was telling this to me directly. We can often become a victim to doing something we know in our hearts that we can do, or we desire to do it, yet resistance and fear pierces us and stops us from taking action.

Resistance thrives off of stopping us through procrastination and disbeliefs that end up taking more expended energy and effort. It becomes painful. It becomes soul-destroying fighting the resistance. Resistance exists from our fear. One of the profound words that Pressfield mentions is the fear that we will succeed. We are fearful to face our fears in fear that we might become the person that we truly are. Fear consumes us, yet failure is the necessary step that we must take to survive in the world.

What truly matters to you? We are dictated with definitions of what happiness, success and love should look like in society. We are told that we are always living in lack and that there is always something that needs to be cured, fixed, improved or changed. We are told that there is product that will fix our problems, and that there is always a problem existing in our life. Pressfield states that “We live in a consumer culture that’s acutely aware of this unhappiness and has massed all its profit-seeking artillery to exploit it.”

In the consumer culture that we live in, we are told that we can attain happiness in an instant pill-like substance that will satisfy our desires and needs. Whether that be in materials, money or status. Pressfield elborates on the differences between the amateur and the professional. The Professional understands delayed gratification and is patient in the end results whilst knowing the importance of the process. The Professional knows that good things take time.

You create the reality you live in. We decide our attitude regardless of the situation and we must remember that our emotions can distort reality. This is the wisdom that I strive to live by and often the truth is that as humans we are aware and knowing of many things, but the absolute difference is in practicing it. We can think about how we live in a world with two strong emotions of fear and love. When we have fear, we judge others.

Pressfield says that “Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others.” This may be a beautiful rarity in its purest form, but a practice we should all aspire to each and everyday. This world desperately needs more kindness, love and empathy. The ability to see things deeply and truly from another’s perspectives, to have true empathy, to have deep compassion, to act with integrity and love and to not judge others out of fear.

When we are chasing the finish line, we lose focus. When we focus on the journey, we learn and we grow. This is our own journey. It’s like the tortoise that persists and keeps taking that one step ahead, rather than the hare rushing to get ahead. Pressfield reminds us to “Remember, Resistance wants us to cede sovereignty to others. It wants us to stake our own self worth, our identity, our reason for being, on the response of others to our world. Resistance knows that we can’t take this, no one can.” He reminds us that Resistance is a bully that has no strength of its own. Its power comes entirely from our fear of it.

Whatever it is that you enjoy doing every day, whatever it is that brings you joy, whatever it is that makes you feel a sense of purpose – please don’t ever stop doing it. There are moments where our mind tells us it’s too difficult to start, but often making the small steps count. Whether it’s playing an instrument, writing a book, or painting an artwork. Pressfield’s words beautifully says that “When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates us. The Muse takes note of our dedication.

Our mind can be the biggest battlefield that we will ever fight in our lives. It will tell us all the lies to tear us apart and it will try to tell us that we can’t face the world. The mind can be a prison where escape seems impossible. We are trapped in our continuous cycle of negative thoughts, until we come to realise that the key is within us the whole time waiting to unlock and free ourselves. One of the greatest choices that we can make for ourselves is to fight to be our true self and to strive to go past the resistance.

We all have the ability, but as we get older, it’s easy to forget it. We watch the beauty of nature, and how it flows effortlessly and watches the season goes by. It’s as simple as a child sitting down, being lost in play and being completely present in the world. The child doesn’t judge him or herself for the artwork they draw, the child just draws because they enjoy it. The power is within us. The ability to get up and do something. The ability to fight through the fear. Whatever it is that we do in our lives, the ability to have humility in all that we do is one of the greatest.

The principal of organization is built into nature. Chaos itself is self-organizing. Out of primordial disorders, stars find their orbits; rivers make their way to the sea. – Steven Pressfield

The self is our deepest being. The self is united to God – Steven Pressfield

Art by Miren Asiain Lora 

Why Being Nice Is Not Always So Nice

Daily Thoughts
Art by Marialaura Fedi

The word nice is often said as a compliment to say that someone is lovely, sweet and friendly. “You are such a nice person, Katie!” was a very common phrase I heard growing up. As time passes by, it has been a blessing and a curse that has taught me many lessons. Being nice is different to being kind. However, from my own experience, it is difficult because my personality is naturally very caring and friendly. It often takes energy to be nice, and there are moments where I really do want to listen and help someone. However, it is important to be careful where you put your energy, otherwise you will experience emotional burnout.

The word nice has connotations of being modest, likable and well-mannered, but it also has negative underlying meanings of being weak, unaware and naïve. As an introvert, I prefer to spend more time having no activities in my calendar. Therefore, learning the art of saying no is very important. There’s nothing wrong with being friendly, but it’s important to know that there is a distinction between being kind and being nice and to set your boundaries with people. Don’t let people walk over you, and take control of who you are.

The pressure to be nice all the time The words we are told throughout our childhood have impact on our identity. The repetitive nature of being told something can make us believe those words. We begin to associate who we are as a person with those descriptions. The truth is no one can define who you are except for yourself. However, breaking a life time of believing what someone might say is good or bad can take time. It’s not realistic to be positive all the time and this expectation can create added stress and pressure.

The ability to be kind and assertive The moments I have been assertive are the moments I’ve felt the stress and worry decline. There is a misconception that being assertive means being loud and outgoing. You can be assertive and direct, but still be gracious and kind. Learning to communicate assertively in a fair and kind manner can be a relief to express yourself calmly and directly, yet still stay true to who you are without having to pretend to be anyone else.

Being taken advantage of A common experience I had growing up was being bossed around or being told what to do. I want to highlight that there is a difference between being asked for a favour, or designated work in a kind and direct manner. As opposed to someone who is taking advantage of you out of dominance and narcissism. There are many kind people in the world, but it’s important to know that there are people who will only engage with you when they need something or want something from you.

Stop caring what other people think Being caring and compassionate is being human. We have to remember that that is one of the greatest strengths we have as individuals. However, it is also important to stop caring too much what others think of you. The moments I care too much what someone might think, the more I want to try avoid situations that might upset anyone. No matter what we’re doing in our lives, people will always judge no matter if you succeed or fail. When you start to care less, you begin to live for yourself.

Self respect and self assurance Clearly stating your needs and being fair and open minded shows that you respect yourself. When you are sure about your choices and decisions, then you can communicate these more directly. When you know who you are, when you accept yourself and when you love yourself, that energy shines out into the world. Our self-esteem is lifted when we have a positive self-image of who we are and our identity.

Healthy disagreements are okay We can’t escape disagreements with people, and having wisdom to not be involved in unhealthy conflict is a good skill to have. However, it’s okay and very normal to have conflict, because we are all human and we can’t agree on everything. There will be problems and situations we get into that may bring discomfort, and learning to face the discomfort and find the best solution is important.

Avoid passive aggressiveness and emotional outbursts I can say very clearly from personal experience that one of the worst things for your mental health is bottling your emotions up. Learning to regulate your emotions and finding methods to feel calm and communicate clearly to others will save a lot of distress. The periods of my life where I felt deep depression was after a period of bottling everything up without sharing with anyone.

Pain of perfectionism and self-criticism The strive for perfection is impossible. The more we create an unreachable standard for ourselves, the more stress and pressure we create for ourselves. It can be debilitating and increase feelings of anxiety. I remember thinking if I upset someone, if I spoke up about a certain topic or said something that might cause negative feelings, then it would mean that I’m not a ‘nice’ person. The self-criticism is very intense in my mind.

Speaking your mind and being honest When we stay silent in the moments where it counts to speak up, we lose our voice. When we are honest in an authentic and well-intended way, we stay true to who we are but we still have the ability to be assertive. Knowing when to stay silent and when to speak up takes wisdom. Being kind means thinking before we speak and considering how our words may impact on the other person. It means seeing things from someone else’s perspective, and then expressing your views. Being nice is often associated with potentially hiding your true feelings, however, you can always be kind and express how you feel.

The power of saying no When you say no to things that you can’t commit to, you aren’t interested in or you don’t have the desire to engage with, you are setting your boundaries. The choices we make each day will impact on the life we live. If we say yes to everything, we don’t create space for ourselves and we make ourselves too available for others. It will become a set expectations from others that you are always readily available which can make you end up being taken for granted or attracting only those who will get in touch when they need you, not because they want to.

Set clear boundaries for yourself As a nice person, it’s easy to want to help others and invest yourself into doing more. The more you set boundaries for yourself, the more that other’s can’t take advantage of you, and the more you are clear about where you stand. Our boundaries keep us safe and conserve where we place our energy. It shows the respect that you have for yourself. Boundaries help to keep your emotions in check, avoid social pressure, be clear about what you don’t tolerate, and stay true to who you are as a person.

Avoid burnout by prioritising yourself When you prioritise yourself, you prioritise your mental health and wellbeing. This is a hard one, because if you are naturally caring and sensitive then you tend to put others needs before your own. It makes me think of when you’re on the plane, and the safety video tells you to put your own oxygen mask on before helping someone else. You have to take care of yourself first. This doesn’t mean that you are being selfish, it means that you are practicing self-care.

Unrealistic expectations of others We can’t control how other’s react or what they say, we can only be in control of how we react to a situation. When we’re too nice to others, it builds unrealistic expectations that others should do the same. When they do not meet these expectations, you may feel upset or resentful. I’ve noticed this in situations such as in work or friendships. The truth is we shouldn’t waste our energy towards people who don’t care or who only come to you when they need something.

Being kind is the care and compassion we show through our actions. We can be outwardly nice and polite to those around us. We can smile and be friendly with strangers. When we are kind from our heart, it shows genuine care and empathy. Someone can have a serious demeanour, yet they may show their care through their actions. Someone can be outwardly nice all the time, yet in the moments where it really counts, they aren’t present. This is why it’s important to strive to be kind and assertive, and work at it everyday.

Being assertive means that you stand up for your own rights and set your boundaries clearly. There are many situations in my life where I let things slide by, when all it takes is a moment to speak up. This created a lot of unnecessary pain and hurt. I really hope someone reading this can know how important it is to practice and learn to be assertive, and know that being kind and assertive go hand in hand.

Michelle writes that:

  • Being nice takes energy, tons of it. Being kind gives energy – you feel enlivened by it.
  • Being nice makes at best a small difference to someone’s day. Being kind can make a huge difference to someone’s day.
  • Being nice can feel fake. Being kind always feels genuine.
  • Being nice may be superficial. Being kind goes deep.

The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People

Books

Humans are wired to connect and to have authentic conversations. Being sensitive, empathetic and vulnerable are traits that allow us to truly connect with people. A highly sensitive person (HSP) experiences the world through a heightened way through high sensory experiences. This may be through crowded places, strong scents or loud noises. It is said by the clinical psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron that 15-20% of the population are HSPs. HSPs process and feel emotions more deeply than others and they are highly empathic and tend to have rich inner lives. The emotions they may feel are very deep whether that may be positive or negative.

Growing up as a classical musician, I was deeply moved by music during a performance, a painting in an art gallery, reading a book or watching a movie. Taking actions such as surrounding myself in nature, sitting at a library or taking time to pray or meditate would bring peace and calm. Discovering that I am an HSP explained so many factors from my childhood, career and the unexplainable feeling that there was something wrong with me. The act of practicing loving yourself and being gentle with yourself is one of the most kindest and lifechanging things you can do for yourself.

I recently read The Handbook for Highly Sensitive People by Mel Collins, and felt touched by a lot of the ways she describes the experiences that HSP’s have during their lifetime. The book is separated into three sections. The first section expands on the term HSP. This includes the definition of an HSP, the Environmental and sensory triggers and the challenges HSP face. The second section looks at different strategies through processing emotions, practicing self-love and tapping. The third section talks about the spiritual perspective from exploring our past lives and maintaining inner balance.

The book is a great introduction for those who want to have a better understanding of being an HSP. The book reminds you that you are not alone in this journey, as it invites HSPs to recognize their strengths rather than look at themselves as flawed. Collins expands on the top ten challenges faced by HSP’s. These include being empathic sponges, deep emotional sensitivity, a feeling of not belonging, a difficult childhood, self-esteem and self-worth issues, relationship struggles , health issues, difficulty accepting the ‘inner darkness’, parenting parents or other family members and feeling unfulfilled.

Being empathic sponges can be draining due to the HSPs being kind-hearted and highly empathic by nature. When surrounded in a negative environment it can leave them feeling over-stimulated. Collins says that “HSPs often feel a need to withdraw from the outside world to release the energies absorbed and to recharge.” Deep emotional sensitivity is felt through the positive (joy, kindness and love) and negative emotions (guilt, shame, fear, hurt, loss, unworthiness, jealousy, anger and feelings of betrayal). A feeling of not belonging can start from a young age particularly for those who have experienced a difficult childhood.

Self-esteem and self-worth issues may arise due to the HSPs sensitive nature being criticized or judged from a young age, causing shame and embarrassment because of it. Relationship struggles can be common for HSPs such as nurturing friendships, as they are natural givers and good listeners. This can attract the friendship patterns that are one-sided. Health issues can be a problem as HSPs are extremely sensitive to pain. For example, they may experience disorders such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia or insomnia.

Difficulty accepting the ‘inner darkness’ is a common trait for many HSPs. HSPs tend to be kind-hearted people who want to be good to others. Collins states that “They often have difficulty accepting what is viewed as the ‘darker’ side of themselves. This can lead to them suppressing what they see as their more negative emotions.” The words Collins adds rings true “whatever you resist persists.” It’s important to find healthy and safe ways to release any suppressed emotions.

HSPs can grow up taking the role of the parent subconsciously. This is common for HSPs whose parents were emotionally unavailable. The final challenge Collins states is feeling unfulfilled. Collins states that “In my experience working with HSPs, many have a strong drive to feel they are making a difference in the world. As a result, many believe that if they don’t feel fulfilled in this way, they are in the wrong career.” Many may find that there is a long period where they may spend searching for what they are ‘supposed’ to be doing. However, she says that “In reality, however, any job has the capacity to reflect an aspect of themselves or meet an inner need […] Every job can be viewed in this way if you make a choice to do so – as a stepping stone towards a more fulfilling purpose.”

For many HSPs it can feel like you are spending a lifetime finding your purpose and understanding the depth and complexities of your emotions. Embracing your inner self and accepting that you feel deep emotions will free you from the chains. The pain was only extended through the deep fear of judgment and rejection for how I was feeling. Taking steps and finding specific ways that help you with your feelings is an important step to healing. I really hope in writing this, that it can help even one HSP know that you are not alone. I spent many years with depression and anxiety. I found methods such as meditating, praying, journaling, walking, being in nature and self-havening incredibly healing in the moments where I’ve felt helpless or overwhelmed.

Your sensitivity is your superpower. The ability to empathise towards others and deeply connect to animals, nature, music and the arts is a gift. The search for meaningful connections means that you give your all or nothing in friendships and relationships. Sensitivity is both a blessing and a challenge, but sensitivity is a strength, not a weakness. We live in a world that tells us that we need to be a certain way, but when we acknowledge the strength of being sensitive, it opens the door to understanding. The characteristics that you may have not seen as worthy are the very aspects that make you beautiful.

“By becoming conscious of what it is in the ‘darkness’ or ‘shadow, you are shining light into the darkness and encouraging it to dissolve.” – Mel Collins

Art by Kate Pugsley

We Live In A Society That Praises Extroverts

Culture

Is freedom giving up the need to be understood by everyone? The exhausting part of our daily lives erupt when we feel the need for most people to understand. Every person is deeply complex. The greatest blessing can lie in feeling understood by those who truly care. I was reading the article Introverts are excluded unfairly in an extraverts’ world here, which was incredibly thought provoking and eye opening, as I spent many years thinking that there was something innately wrong with me.

Around seven years ago I discovered the term introvert and felt a greater understanding. We live in a society that praises extroverts. In the article it states that “The main cultural problem is that introverts are widely seen as not adapted to the environment, instead of it being acknowledged that the environment is designed to profit extraverts. Society’s praise and acceptance of extraversion as the norm has led many introverts, along with many ambiverts, to suppress different aspects of their personality, or to see them as flaws. This state of affairs is bad not only for introverts, but for society as a whole.”

Susan Caine cites studies which suggest that the majority of teachers think the ideal student is an extrovert, and more extroverts are groomed for leadership positions in the workplace. However, the level of introversion or extroversion does not equate to one’s level of competency. We need to live in a world that supports both introverts and extroverts in all environments. We need to create environments that allow both to shine through their positive traits.

Negative connotations tend to be associated with introversion and introverts can often be stereotyped as shy, socially anxious, awkward and quiet. However, shyness is not the same as introversion and being an introvert means that you need to spend time alone in order to recharge your batteries. The two important areas of our societies are schools and businesses. These are areas that individuals spend a significant amount of their lives in. These are designed largely for extroverts and the extrovert’s need for stimulation.

A person should not be measured by how well they can engage in small talk but in the ideas, values, character, opinions and empathy they express. The greatest freedom is being yourself. As children we are taught to play with other children, and isolating oneself is seen as an issue that needs to be resolved. In some cases there may be clear signs that the behaviour may be concerning, however it’s common a child may feel more stimulated through activities such as reading a book or painting a picture

The implication that it’s a fault is created by societal expectations and norms. Social exclusion through not conforming to societal expectation can also increase feelings of isolation and rejection. The ending of the article beautifully says that “More importantly, we must remember that introversion is not something to be fixed – but a blessed source of human diversity that comes with many strengths. The way to advance our personal and collective growth is not by eliminating this diversity, but by embracing it.” Every person has the ability to create change and to contribute towards society.

Art by Lieke van der Vorst