top of page

Sensitive or Sentient?

We humans are wonderfully sensual and sensitive creatures, and we are designed to feel. Each of us is a point of energy within a universe of energy, constantly transmitting and transmitted to through frequencies of colour, sound and light. We thrum and hum with the vibrational nature of life, and live in communication with this all the time. We experience this as sensation and feeling: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. You could say then that we are feeling beings. To be animate, alive and conscious is to experience the world through sensation and feeling all the time. In fact, it is literally impossible not to feel!

Our innate responsiveness is not something we want to switch ourselves off from.

It is part of our essential nature and it is a spiritual gift. I think of it as ‘sentience’ - a guiding intelligence that naturally arises in us when we allow ourselves to be connected to our feeling nature. Today, I want to explore the difference between this innate responsiveness and the kind of learned sensitivity that many of us experience as part of our daily life. I remember the line from Paul Simon’s song, ‘You can Call Me Al’ - why am I so soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard? For many years, I used to resonate with that phrase, I felt like I was too sensitive for this world. However, I also knew that I was a healer at heart and it made no sense to me that the Universe would create healers who were too sensitive for the times they were in. Slowly, I began to see that there is a learned sensitivity many of us experience that is not at all the same as our our native responsiveness, and yet we often mix up the two. This kind of sensitivity is more like the tenderness one feels after wounding or the vulnerable alertness one feels after experiencing something frightening. It’s a kind of residual hypersensitivity when we have felt hurt or accosted in some way and are left feeling the need to protect ourselves.

Learned Sensitivity

If we find ourselves habitually overwhelmed by sensation and emotion, or by the demands of life, we can assume that this is because we are a ‘sensitive’ type. It usually shows up as a tendency to feel strongly affected by particular things, people, substances, environments and/or situations. For someone in this state, what are often quite everyday aspects of life and the world can become trigger points that need to be carefully navigated. Whilst this is an increasingly normal thing to see in the people around us these days, as a prolonged state it isn’t actually natural. It is evidence of wounding, of something unresolved and unhealed in our being that has cast a shadow and consequently left our behaviour and our outlook changed in some way. We have now become vigilant and wary. We now feel the need to protect ourselves. We have become sensitised following trauma.

This is not the same thing at all as our innate sentience, for in this vulnerable state we are no longer available and responsive to the nuance and gifts of this fresh moment and all that it brings. Instead, we are bringing our past fears and superimposing them on the unscripted present. Now, let’s be clear: this sensitivity has wisdom at its core. Its roots are sound. It arose as a very useful and appropriate first response in a difficult or frightening situation - like the emergency services coming to put out a fire or to resuscitate someone. It has been instrumental in helping you to recognise danger and learn from it. However, as a long-term strategy it turns into a state of fear, and this state is simply too heightened for our central nervous system to sustain in the long run. There comes a time when we need to move on in the healing cycle, to begin to let our defences down and find our ground and our trust again. If we remain this alert and watchful, this simply warps and distorts our deeper responsiveness. We want to find our way back to that fresh responsiveness that is part and parcel of being a living point of energy in a sea of energy.

Becoming a Feeling Being

If I reflect back on my own life I can see that, as a child, I learned to become very aware of the moods and needs of my family because it was a way for me to stay relatively safe in a very volatile household. I learned to recognise when storm clouds were appearing on the horizon. I would sense the energy in the room as I entered, and try to ‘shape-shift’ accordingly - adapting myself to the circumstances in order to avoid increasing the tension in the room. That habit stayed with me into adulthood. I became so good at recognising shifts in energy and emotion, and making way for these, that I became a therapist and used that skill in my professional life to help others see these changes and understand them in themselves. However, in time I realised that there was something subtly and insidiously unhealthy in the way that I was doing this. I had become so aware of other people’s needs, of their changing emotions and energetic shifts, that I was almost totally ignored my own. Effectively, I was engaged in chronic self-neglect, and my body - through symptoms - kept trying to tell me that this wasn’t good for me.

In time, I began to see that the less I felt my own feelings the more ‘sensitive’ to life I was becoming.

I started to become intolerant of a whole range of foods, sounds, smells and toxins. I found myself feeling exhausted by conversations and interactions. I felt like I was at the wind and whim of life’s energies, and the more I tried to control my environment and my body, the more unhappy and unwell I became. I was constantly struggling with painful emotions and painful physical symptoms. However, what I didn’t yet realise was that all this that I was feeling wasn’t true feeling - this was the energetic and emotional kick-back of a body-being that was in pain and was throwing me alarm signals at every possible opportunity. Curiously, I needed to learn to become a feeling being - to become alive to my own aliveness - in order for the painful feelings and symptoms that I experienced each day to subside. I began to open up to the energy of my own alive responsiveness and let myself simply feel - scary and beautiful feelings equally. I let myself be here, and present, curious about and trusting the wisdom of the feelings that come to and through me, knowing that they have intelligence and logic to them, being open to what they might have to tell me. Very quickly, my 'sensitivities' subsided.

Recognising Sentience

There is a difference, then, between learned hyper-vigilance that comes from wounding and our native beautiful sentience.

We are feeling beings, utterly and impeccably alive to the aliveness of life and scintillating with the intelligence of this. Light and energy move through us all the time. This is our nature. This is the core of our being.

We are made to feel and respond … and to live in the shimmering of this: alive and listening, centred in our own being, open to the divine intelligence that is constantly streaming in, to and through each one of us, and co-creating with this in every moment. As we rest in this beautiful expansiveness, we find that we Know before we know, we See before we see, and we Feel before we feel. Emotion (energy in motion) moves us and moves through us as at will and we embrace this. Our feelings and sensations are the colours in our palette and the words on our page. They are part of us and yet they do not describe us. They are visitors who will never stop coming and who will always leave a gift as they depart. They are life force and energy and change.

We don’t have to be alert, worried, anxious or hyper-vigilant to be safe, to know which way to go in life, to make good choices or be loved and successful. This is not necessary - and as many of us already know - it doesn’t feel good to worry our way through life. We are more than this. We have more to rest in.

Trust the Feeling

Sydney Banks, the founder of the Three Principles understanding, talks about living from a beautiful feeling, and how deeply trustworthy this is. We can trust the feeling of sentience - of profound, open connectedness in this living moment - because it feels beautiful to inhabit. The more we rest in this, the more lovely it is and the more connected and magical life feels. We did not come here to live in fear, constantly guarded and self-protective. At some point we have to evolve from this - leaving behind reactive hyper-vigilance, allowing in and opening to our native sensitivity, letting the hum and thrum to life energy guide us in the living moment, daring to feel and be, and watch what unfolds when we don’t get in the way. To allow ourselves to be feeling beings at the deepest level.

I would love to know how and this post touches you. There is a difference between a learned sensitivity that locks you into fear, and the utter freedom of being a responsive, alive, spiritual intelligence that is here to co-create with the Universe in every moment of every day. What does this open up for you? How might life be different?

37 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page