On August 30, I had an unusual dream. Here it is, minus a few details.
I’m in a popular park or plaza. A well-known man, John Welwood (I did not know much about him, but looking him up, he seems pretty neat and probably a highly sensitive man), is organizing a spontaneous event by walking around inviting people to speak on how they manage to act in an authentic way, to “talk the talk and walk the walk” or some such, and to take the next step in their lives. I go up to him hesitantly and say “Elaine Aron.” He nods his head vigorously, as if to say “Oh, yes, we need to hear about HSPs,” which encourages me.
But now I have agreed to speak. Oh dear. It will be after an hour break, which I know will turn out to be longer because the word is going out, more people are arriving, and I am sure the list is growing to include many famous local people. I decide to go home and meditate before I speak. As I walk past the stage, someone I know and respect, someone popular for his wisdom but rarely seen in public, is being interviewed. He is talking about the need to stay “in” enough to have anything worth saying. In this context he praises my work. More encouragement.
After meditating, I try to prepare. Each person can only speak five minutes. I’m thinking that after I explain the general idea about high sensitivity, I should address the topic of how HSPs could take the next step in their lives in a way that remains true to who they are.
When I come back, I see that the evening session is beginning with a ritual down in a circular area, involving fire and some women. Later I’m on stage, in a row of speakers. A curtain has been drawn in front of us so that only the introductory speaker can be seen. She is someone very famous, and now this seems to be her conference and is even more on taking the next step in one’s life, putting ideals into action, but still with the theme of the heart. That is, again, this is not about making resolutions, but taking a meaningful and authentic move forward. She uses a personal example, that she has always liked being in nature but wasn’t actually getting out in it, so began to do that.
You could analyze this dream in all sorts of ways. Why do two men acknowledge me so positively, but it is a woman who ends up running things following a ritual also involving women? Why the emphasis on simply being in nature? These may have to do with my personal next step, but I take dreams very seriously, and cannot avoid the possibility that the dream indicates I should be writing to you about this.
Why this particular subject, however? The dream emphasizes two ideas: a step, and that it be authentic. About the first idea, next steps in general, perhaps the dream brings up this issue because HSPs can be by nature slow to take their next step. As just one example, they wait until the last minute to sign up for HSP Gatherings or other events for them (drives organizers crazy). Again, we are naturally slow because we are processing everything carefully before making our move. Of course if we are familiar with the situation or see an opportunity or danger that others have not yet recognized, we may act faster than others. But what we and others notice more is our pondering or our hesitancy to take a risk. And it can indeed lead to missing out on life itself, because not to act is in a sense still a decision, in that the opportunity passes. Pardon me if I use that awful, stress-inducing quote, but it’s true: As far as we know, “life is not a rehearsal.” This is it.
The second emphasis, however, that it be an authentic next step, seemed even more important in the dream. In a sense, it presents a “tension of opposites,” to use Jung’s term, that all HSPs must manage. To make an authentic step requires you to be a true HSP and reflect carefully on your next step! Indeed, if one’s authentic self means your core, always-true-of-you self, that would be above all your innate personality, and your next step must certainly be grounded in your sensitivity. Other than that, I cannot tell you what, for you, would be an authentic next step. Probably it would not be the same as a non-HSP. You may be feeling that you simply must do something about global warming or some injustice in the world, but you will have to do it your way, a way that does not stress you out.
Another way to think of a next step is that it should probably involve “following your bliss” in the sense Joseph Campbell spoke of (not as always fun, but as the thing you feel you were meant to do).
If You Kind of Know the Next Step but Are Struggling with a Decision
Even when we have a sense of where to go, we HSPs see so many possible paths and consequences of taking them that we can get quite stuck on choosing one path and foregoing another. HSPs tend to struggle so much with decisions that we come to hate them, and so we can delay. But remember, you tend to make good decisions, and delaying is okay while actively trying to decide, but it is not okay if you are simply avoiding the hard work of making a good decision. Maybe I can help with a list of what helps me:
- Stall for time; usually decisions are better when they are made carefully.
- Pretend for a while that you have decided and see how it feels to be planning whatever you decided on. Then reverse that and live with having decided the other way.
- If possible, plan a way to undo your decision if it doesn’t work out–arrange to leave an event early, volunteer for a limited time, buy a ticket that allows you to change your return date, or whatever. Of course, the hardest decisions are those that change your life irreversibly: marriage, having a child, moving to a very new sort of environment, changing careers.
- Make lists of the all the pros and cons (financial, social, emotional, health-wise, etc.). Do this four times for the pros and cons of doing A (2 lists), and then again for B (2 more lists). The four lists are important. Then assign a rough number value to each, from 0, not important, to 10, huge. When done, add these up. You may be surprised. You also may want to adjust those numbers.
- Appreciate that you are having trouble with this decision because it really is such a close call, or the problem is that there is a large amount of uncertainty about the outcome that you cannot control. You will have to decide if the risk is worth it, and whatever you decide, plan how you will accept having made a mistake if that appears to be the case later, so that you do not feel life-long regret. Could life be good either way?
When You Have No Idea of a Next Step
What if you have no possibilities to ponder, no idea what your next step should be. Maybe it sounds too scary. That’s why I liked how the dream ended. You do not have to make the next step be off of the high dive. Spending more time in nature as a next step is a simple, nonthreatening, true-to-my-sensitivity next step that cannot go wrong and might lead to the next step after that. Maybe it is simply finally doing whatever it takes to have more time for yourself.
I would let the question rest gently on my mind and try doing a few easy things I would not ordinarily do, like visiting a place I have never been. I recently visited the Taos Pueblo on a whim and it helped clarify my next step. Or I would take time to sit in nature, or watch for a person I would like to get know better. As an introvert, that’s a big deal, but following a whim to chat with a stranger or get to know someone better can offer unexpected openings. Find a seminar or conference that would attract people who share your values and interests. Pay attention to your dreams. And just be patient. There is always a next step. A tree doesn’t have to figure out how to grow, and your basic self, your tree self, the one that shares 35% of your DNA with the oaks and pines and magnolias, it also knows which way to grow next.