Being “sensitive” can be a compliment or a condemnation. Being told, “You are sensitive”, could mean that you are seen by someone else as being “too reactive” or it could mean that you are “able to feel things deeply and easily”. You only know the meaning if you understand the context in which the words are uttered.
As someone who was considered “hyper-sensitive” as a child and who found it very hard to function because of that, I learned to do things to make that sensitivity less jarring and less obvious. I developed coping mechanisms, I learned to deal with myself in a certain way. Some of the sensitivity has been a real blessing and some of it has been very hard.
I have written here before about how baffling it is to me that people can hear but not really experience music as a direct, visceral thing. Music happens to me outside but also inside me, in a very real way. It occurs in my body as concretely as the sensation of being full after a satisfying meal. It is nearly impossible for me to hear live music and not be deeply effected by it. It changes my breathing patterns and my heartbeat and gives me vivid images in my mind. Even good recorded music has the same effect. NOT to react this way takes a great deal of effort on my part. It takes resistance and in most cases I have learned through long life experience that I do not have the necessary strength of will or mind to totally silence or quiet these reactions. When I was young, sometimes I couldn’t quiet get ahold of my body’s behavior and occasionally I felt embarrassed at a public performance. I was often grateful for intermission, so I could calm down!
This same reactivity, however, has allowed me to cultivate the ability to sense what someone else is doing when they sing. I can feel their sound in my body as if it were my own. It’s as if my entire being is resonating with theirs. I often feel things that are not explainable in a rational manner. Once, I said at the beginning of a lesson with a student I knew well, “You are in love!!” She blushed and stammered, “Yes. I am. I just met a man this week and fell head over heels for him. How could you possibly know that?” she asked me. I said, looking sheepish I’m sure, “It was in your voice. The sound told me.” That’s not the kind of thing that happens often, but in over 40 years of teaching it has come up more than a few times. I cannot tell you more about these experiences than this because I do not have an explanation for them at all.
If you are a musician and you do not feel music deeply, you may not believe this is even possible. If you do not automatically become emotional when you play or hear someone else play or sing, you might find the idea of experiencing music “from the inside” of your physical self very odd indeed. However, if you believe that everyone who can easily cry at a beautiful song, or who is moved to tears by a great vocalist or instrumentalist, is just hysterical, you are mistaken. We who have this kind of reaction, whether we want to or not, whether we like it or not, whether or not it happens in a situation where we look stupid or not, do not understand how it could be that you could become a musician and not have automatic responses such as ours. It baffles us just as our responses annoy or perplex you.
I am not unaware of how much this sensitivity has enriched my life. I am much blessed by it and have learned to be quite comfortable being emotional but not, in any way, out of control while in this kind of emotionally heightened state. Emotion is, after all, just energy, and while it can be very powerful, I am not afraid of my emotions or feelings in any way. I think because I can deeply experience a full range of emotions, good ones and ones that are not so pleasant, I have no fear of them. I do not court these heightened sensitivity states but I do not run from them either.
Believe me, there have been many times in my life when I wished I had a switch to turn this sensitivity off. If I am caught off guard and exposed to something that is very powerful but negative, it can take me quite a while to calm down, and since this is the case I am careful about what I attend and what I choose to do for “entertainment” purposes. The sensitivity extends to movies, dramas, all musical events and dance, and occasionally (although less frequently) TV shows. I wonder, then, if there are times when you who are always calm and placid would desire to live with the kind of responses that people such as me have as easily as they walk down the street.
The opposite of sensitivity is not insensitivity, it is non-reaction. It is no or low response to external stimulus. It is objectivity carried to its fullest reach. Sometimes I actually envy those who are mostly in this state but in the end, I realize that each of us can only be ourselves, living in our own bodies, dealing with what they are, how they function and respond as best we can.
I do wonder, though, what it would be like to live for just a little while in someone else’s body and mind!