I’ve heard the word "gentle" a lot lately and I've been reflecting on gentleness as a useful approach to life, especially for us sensitive, creative, and/or neurodivergent folks because we often experience both our inner life and the world around us with great intensity. This can be a beautiful thing leading to extraordinary depth of feeling, sensory pleasure, and creativity. The flip side is that it can more easily lead to sensory and emotional overwhelm and burnout. So there's this fine line, a precarious dance between the gift and the shadow of intensity.
We all know the myth of Icarus who, out of hubris, failed to master this dance when he flew too close to the sun. But what if Icarus had GENTLY approached the sun, allowing him to still enjoy its warmth but also to feel the very first drop of melting wax, alerting him to pull back a bit? Could he have saved himself with a gentle approach? Could we?
As I've been reflecting on gentle, I've noticed it being modeled in nature - the breezes, delicate flowers, easily-gliding birds... They've reminded me what going gently looks like.
I've started playing with the concept in my own life and noticing that new options and opportunities seem to open up for me when I approach a situation from gentleness. If I'm feeling overwhelmed with a project, approaching it gently becomes taking a baby step that no longer feels overwhelming but still keeps me moving in the right direction.
I think almost any situation could benefit from an infusion of gentleness. Is there anything that you can do more gently this week? Can you approach your day with more gentleness? The next hour, creative project, meeting with your boss/client, call with your friend/partner/relative? If you do this, let me know how it goes:)
Nervous system regulation tool # 3: Earplugs. The nuances of being a neurodivergent, highly sensitive person can show up differently for different people and for me it includes a sensitivity to sound.
Earplugs have played a crucial role in managing my auditory sensitivity and regulating my nervous system. I first stumbled across them in college and found that when I wore them to study, even in the fairly quiet library, I could concentrate a million times better because I didn’t have to put any energy into filtering out the noises around me.
Fast forward several years, I decided to experiment with earplugs in a variety of settings beyond the normal places like live music shows where my friends were wearing them too. I put some in to help me focus on my shopping list when I was heading into a noisy, crowded Trader Joe’s during rush hour, or Costco at any time of day(!), or when I was walking around Lake Merritt in Oakland on a busy, Sunday afternoon. They would drown out the background noise and allow me to fully focus on the task at hand or the visual beauty surrounding me.
Now, they are a staple in my day-to-day life and I couldn’t imagine living life without them. I use neutral-colored plugs with lower decibel coverage when I’m at a store so they aren’t noticeable and I can still hear if someone needs to squeeze by me. When I’m concentrating on a project at a cafe, library, or at home, I use the ones that have a higher decibel coverage.
Do you have a sensitivity to sound? Do you use earplugs, ear defenders, or noise canceling headphones in your daily life? Or any other tools for auditory sensitivity?
Unsurprisingly, my nervous system regulation practice # 2 is: MAKE SOME ART!
It doesn’t matter what it is — it could be coloring in a coloring book, pasting a collage, doodling in a notepad, painting on a canvas, or messing with some clay. We can approach the act of creation as an active meditation and easily access a flow state, regulating our entire system.
I’ve been working more on my houseplant series and truly nothing calms me and grounds me in the present moment quite like sitting down and focusing on pasting these little torn pieces of paper onto the canvas. Everything else drops away and I am immersed in flow... calmed, grounded, and regulated.
I invite you to try making something this week if it’s been a while. Don't focus on the outcome or finished product - no need for your creation to look good or to be shared with another single soul -- just create as a form of meditation and let the rest go.
With my sensory sensitivities and "overexcitabilities," regulating my nervous system has been an ongoing practice and place of deep learning and experimentation for me. While at times, these sensitivities and intensities can inspire an almost magical experience of life and can be great for artists and the creative process, they can also make certain aspects of life a lot more challenging to navigate.
I wanted to share some the practices, tools, and resources that are most useful for me in this long learning curve of nervous system regulation in case they are useful for you as well if you're exploring your own sensitivities and intensities or are simply craving more peacefulness and balance.
It may be obvious from my posts that one of the most foundational practices for me is moving my body in the beauty of nature. Nature's beauty: the sun, the air, the particular shade of green grass or tree leaves - speaks to my senses and grounds me in that which is so much bigger than my small self.
Truly one of the fastest and easiest ways to reset / bring our systems into balance is diving into nature. There has been research study after research study proving that spending time in "green space" has vast physical/mental/emotional health benefits. If we have access to this resource, it behooves us to put it to good use. Let this be a reminder (for both you and me!) to get out into it if it's been a while.