The Gift and Curse of Being Highly Sensitive

The Gift and Curse of Being Highly Sensitive

“You’re too sensitive!” I’ve heard these words most of my life, and if you are highly sensitive, you probably have too. Many artists are.

What is it that people who say “you’re too sensitive!” expect you to do about it? Turn it down? If I had a dial to turn down my sensitivity sometimes, believe me, I would welcome that!

The reality is that being a so-called Highly Sensitive Person is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s both my greatest gift and my biggest challenge. Sometimes it’s pure hell, feeling every emotion—not only my own, but often what others around me are feeling—at an 11 on a scale of 1-10. Reacting to small things in huge ways. Being flooded with emotion and sensation, often unpredictably.

And it doesn’t stop there. I’m extra-sensitive to sound, light, smell, touch, taste. Loud noises or music and bright lights or lots of visual stimuli, such as fast-changing images in movies, are really hard on my nervous system. I go into sensory overload in places like shopping malls.

I’m extremely sensitive to brutality, violence or unkindness, and to lies.

All of this makes living in this contemporary world hard, hard, hard!

The Gift of Sensitivity

Being highly sensitive is also a great gift. Most, if not all, of our great artists were probably highly sensitive people. Our sensitivity to sensory input, to perceptions and emotions, to the external world, as well as to our inner landscape and the invisible realms, makes us uniquely able to create works of startling beauty, depth, honesty, imagination and power.

We are the trailblazers, way-showers, visionaries and standard bearers for the culture. We help people feel more deeply, experience life more broadly, open their minds, hearts, bodies and spirits. We uphold sacred values, often not cherished in the forefront of our contemporary culture; values such as beauty, truth, love and connection, Spirit, imagination, play, wonder, possibility. In short, we help make this human world more beautiful, livable, connected.

My sensitivity is at the heart of my deep empathy for others and my ability to be of service to others. Many healers have this gift of extra-sensitivity, though others benefit from a greater detachment to help them do their work.

So, the next time someone tells you that you are too sensitive, you can hear it as a compliment and acknowledgement of your unique gifts, a signpost of something you are meant to use in your sacred work, sacred play, sacred beingness in this world.

In my next post, I’ll share some simple, practical, effective tools to help you deal with sensory and emotional overload and come back into feeling good in your own body and being.

Until then, to your beautiful sensitive heart,




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Facing the Blank Page: Tending Your Creative Fire, Part 2

Facing the Blank Page: Tending Your Creative Fire, Part 2

[This is part of a 2-part series on Tending Your Creative Fire and how to get yourself started creating each day. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.]

As artists, we all know the horror of the blank page (or blank canvas or the equivalent in whatever medium you work in), that gaping void waiting to be filled with brilliance, if only you knew how to begin.

So how do you begin?

Have a Familiar Entry Point

Having a regular way that you start your creative time can be a tremendous support to overcoming the blank page/blank canvas syndrome, and it will decrease your resistance to getting started.

For instance, if you are working on a novel, you might begin your creative time each day by rereading what you wrote the day before. And then, have decided in advance what scene you will be working on that day.

As a dancer, you might have a particular warm-up you always do. When I dance, I begin by lying on the floor for quite a while, stretching and rolling around. I need to make strong contact with the earth, the base for all my dancing, before I move into the upper levels and become more active. Knowing this is where I begin, I enter the studio and lie down and begin. I don’t have to wonder where to start.

photo by Derek Truninger

photo by Derek Truninger

As a poet, I usually begin by reading several poems by other poets. This helps me shift into a musical and alive use of language and sparks my imagination for what’s possible in a poem.

Then, I usually follow that with a writing prompt (a word, phrase or topic to write about) and do a 10-20 minute freewrite, using that prompt, to get the words flowing. (If you do not know what freewriting is, I highly recommend you read Natalie Goldberg’s now-classic Writing Down the Bones, and familiarize yourself with this extraordinary tool for writers.)

These two short activities—reading a few poems and doing a freewrite—help me to prime the creative pump. I don’t always begin in this way, depending on what I’m working on, but I always have this simple practice to fall back on, and it’s how I most often begin.

Use Creative Games and Playful Activities

I have various creative games and exercises to bring me into a more inspired state in an inviting, open way that often yields profound work.

Playful and inviting are touchstone qualities for entering into creative work.

Creativity is play, at its heart. Unfortunately, as artists, we often forget this, to our detriment. We turn our creative play into hard work.

We approach it as work, partly because that helps validate the activity in our minds and the minds of others. American culture, grounded in the Puritan work ethic, and many of our contemporary first world cultures, tend to revere work and think of play as frivolous. But approaching our creative activity as hard work is a sure-fire way to make it less appealing in the long run, and hence generate more resistance to doing it. And I believe, it is ultimately not true to the creative spirit.

ladypainting_123rfI recommend that you create some of your own playful invitations in whatever medium you wish to work in. Search out interesting creative exercises and try them on.

Small challenges and assignments are also incredibly helpful. As are larger projects you can work on over time. Limitations or boundaries actually set our creative imaginations free.

As a painter you might decide to begin each painting session for a month by making a quick 4” x 4” painting in 20 minutes. Or you might allow yourself only certain colors. Or you might always begin with a still life sketch. If you get bored with your assignments after a while, change them up.

The dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp in her wonderful book The Creative Habit has an exercise she calls “Do a Verb.” She expresses with her body for several minutes a single verb, such as “twist.” This gets her moving and thinking creatively.

Collect a Treasure Box of Generative Ideas

Here’s an idea:  Create an index card box full of creative prompts and draw one out at random when you begin your creative time. Then, do whatever is on the card. Come up with a batch of your own ideas to get you started. Ask friends for other ideas. Write them down. Collect them.

Or, choose a regular way to enter your creative state, a routine, a habit, a practice, and stick with it. Perhaps your regular way is drawing a card from your treasure trove box and doing it.

What matters is what works to get you started. Few things are more daunting than the blank page or blank canvas or stage with no idea where to begin. Have a way to begin and know what it is before you enter the studio that day. You might leave yourself an assignment at the end of the previous day’s work.

Collect some fallback methods or exercises that you can rely on. Ask other artists what works for them to get started. For me, when all else fails, I revise earlier work. No matter how uninspired I feel, this always gets me into creative engagement, and it moves my work forward.

How will you begin the next time you enter your studio? What helps you get inspired and flowing?

My Recommendations

Use some or all of these as they work for you.

  • Decide in advance how you’ll begin the next day
  • Start with something small and easy
  • Think playful, inviting or inspiring
  • Experiment and see what works
  • Consider creating a regular warm-up practice, a habitual way to begin your creative time

To your creative fire,


An Introduction to the Artist’s Way

Maxima KahnIn this free 55-minute Introduction to the Artist’s Way with Maxima Kahn…

You’ll discover the spiritual, philosophical and psychological foundations of the course and exactly how it works to bring such life-changing results to thousands of people.

  • The Artist’s Way helps free you of creative blocks that are limiting your full expression as the unique, remarkable being you came here to be.
  • It guides you beautifully to discover your own heart path, your gifts and passions.
  • And it teaches you how to co-create your own life of passion, purpose and deep play, from wherever you are starting now.

In this free introduction, you’ll also be guided through a meditation to connect with your own creative spark and discover where it is leading you at this time in your life.

Letter From a Student:

“The Artist Way course with Maxima was one of the best experiences that I have ever participated in hands down. Not only was that whole time period so vibrant and alive for me, but truly unexpected life changes, especially the ones I didn’t even know I desperately needed…, so potently and beautifully emerged throughout the course in such powerfully synchronistic ways. I loved it!! Months after the class had concluded, the most beautiful unanticipated gifts had suddenly become part of my life…or maybe more accurately they Returned to my life. 

I remain tremendously in debt to Maxima to this day. The healing and journey continue for me, alternately bringing me back ‘home’ and thrilling me in the healthiest ways. Maxima’s skill set is so vast, she is an exceptionally gifted channel for this path of healing and creativity. She generously offers a multitude of supportive practices that are unique to her instruction which go way beyond the course as shared in Julia Cameron’s book alone.” —M.A.

Click on the play button below to listen to the free Introduction to the Artist’s Way now! Right-click to download.

Note: There are about 15-20 seconds of music before the teleseminar begins.

To find out more about the course and when it is happening next: click here!


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