Spirituality and Empowerment: a unique connection
by Jacquelyn Strickland, LPC
As we know, much in our world has changed since January 2020, which is why I believe the topic of spirituality and the importance of a spiritual practice are even more important as we all make our way through this unsettled and historical time brought about by so many external events beyond our immediate control.
How does one find peace? Find one’s say through so much uncertainty? As we know, there are no easy answers. I love a quote from Elaine Aron,
“For a deeper perspective, just take a look at the night sky.”
For some, this deeper perspective can feel like “living on solid ground” coming from a strong sense of faith, an inner knowingness or comfort. I’ve come to call this “place” my HSP Inner Sanctuary: where my inner world & my spirituality intersect with feeling empowered … even if, during these turbulent times, feeling empowered is just learning to feel all we feel, and to live with uncertainty while also finding and giving comfort when you can.
I have yet to meet a highly sensitive person, myself included, who has not embarked on some type of a self-reflection journey that seeks deeper understanding and truth about existential questions such as:
- “Who am I?”
- “What is the purpose of my life?”
- “How can I create and live a more authentic HSP life?”
- “How can connect deeply with myself, and my own values, and still serve others, especially those I love?”
- How can I find peace, comfort, and wisdom in a world that seems to have lost its way?
This inquiry is unique to each person’s life experience. It takes time to unravel the truths and meanings assigned to the stories we have been told, or those stories we have told ourselves. This process can be both freeing and joyous. Yet for some, it can be arduous and painful to understand and heal from past traumas, wounds, and often lifelong experiences of feeling misunderstood.
It may be helpful to remember this quote from Carl Jung :
“Where you are wounded, you are also gifted.”
Spirituality as a Journey
To me this sometimes lifelong journey is about spirituality. Elaine Aron Ph.D.’s closing remarks from the documentary, Sensitive: The Untold Story speak to this:
“ I like the idea of it being a spiritual journey because understanding sensitivity takes us all deeper into our actual true self, whatever that is …” ~Dr. Elaine Aron
Elaine has often referred to we HSPs as numinous saying:
“Most HSPs crave contact with the numinous…Those who have had it know what it is, but part of its nature is that there are no good words to describe it, yet the numinous stirs us, and creates a particular emotional state that can feel like a sense of devotion and love; a deep, sweet tranquility, security, or knowingness…” ~Dr. Elaine Aron
Rudolph Otto who wrote the book, The Idea of the Holy, refers to the numinous as the “mysterium tremendum.” He took his term from the Latin numen, meaning a god, cognate with the verb nuere, to nod or beckon, indicating divine approval. Or, God beckons approvingly. Of course, there are numerous other definitions of spirituality that cover broad areas of belief and experience. For some, Otto’s reference to the numinous could certainly be applied to one’s religious faith, and for others, broader definitions of spirituality might be a better fit.
My own spiritual journey has been similar to a calling … or a search for a feeling of home: a home, or existence which is filled with love. Tami Simon, the founder of Sounds True in Boulder, Colorado describes this experience as “Natural Human Spirituality” which can feel similar to a call of a pilgrimage, much like a homing instinct. It is an archetypal symbol for love of truth. It comes from an image of nurturing a small spark or inner desire into a burning flame which requires us to tune in, feel, and follow what our deepest instincts are calling us to do.
Two mottos from the HSP Gathering RetreatsSince2001 (1) that have helped nurture my own callings are:
- Trust the process and
- Focus on needs, not approval.
Trusting The (your) Process
Even if feeling confused, anxious or uncertain, taking time to ask and answer the two important questions below can help us move from feeling stuck to moving forward. It is often helpful to journal about these questions:
- “What is there for me to learn in this
moment?” and perhaps, most importantly,
- “What do I need in this moment?”
- “What is there for me to learn in this
Trusting the process involves responding to those tiny moments of inspiration, or hunches, that I have come to call “divine breadcrumbs.” This takes courage, vulnerability, faith, and often leads to a sense of being connected to something greater than oneself.
Focus On Needs Not Approval
The other important part of this motto is: Focus on needs, not approval. Learning to move forward, take action, without seeking approval of others requires is a necessary skill for personal boundary setting. This can foster confidence needed to take action on the synchronicities that can show up in our lives. Inspired actions choose us, we do not choose them. But we must be free of other’s expectations or judgments in order to honor and manifest these inspired actions.
A Spiritual Practice For Sensitive People
Practicing these two mottos can be just one form of spirituality, yet any spiritual practice can lead us to unique inspired actions, not necessarily goals to achieve. Creating and following a spiritual practice can seem daunting at times, and takes compassion for self and others.
Here are just a few tried and true suggestions which may be helpful on your journey to creating a more authentic way of life as a highly sensitive person:
- Meditation. For some, meditation is dedicated to training the mind to release all thought which, for the serious meditator, can eventually lead to a heightened sense of consciousness, or connection with “all” there is. Meditation can also be as simple as spending quiet time in nature, reflection or contemplative prayer. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches a wonderful walking mediation which suggests:
“…Walking meditation unites our body and our mind. We combine our breathing with our steps. When we breathe in, we may take two or three steps. When we breathe out, we may take three, four, or five steps. We pay attention to what is comfortable for our body…”
- Prayer: Prayer can be similar to meditation for many: that is spending quiet time in nature, reflection or contemplative prayer seeking solace, wisdom or answers to life’s difficult questions. My favorite, easy to read book about prayer is Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott. It is humorous, poignant, hopeful, and it reminds us to also use prayer as a way of expressing gratitude or thanksgiving.
- Spend time in nature: The more the better. Solitude time in nature can gift us with a heightened awareness of our thoughts, emotions, images, and memories. Much like prayer, taking a question, concern or desire with you into to nature is an opportunity to receive wisdom and solace which can bring a greater sense of clarity and peace. Here is a special Nature as Teacher and Healer exercise we often do at the HSP Gathering Retreats.
- Journaling: It doesn’t matter if you do morning pages as encouraged by Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way, or whether you just put your thoughts, feelings, experiences onto paper via bullet points. Research shows keeping a Gratitude Journal can increase a sense of happiness and fulfillment and improve our overall health – it could also help us to identify and reflect on our spiritual journey.
- Health: Awareness of health: physical, emotional, intellectual, social are of keen importance. Yin Yoga (slow, deep stretch) is a favorite of many HSPs I know. Being aware of which foods give you energy and which drain you is also a day to day practice – similar to becoming aware of which people/environments drain or energize you.
The Spirituality Empowerment Connection
Oxford Dictionary defines empowerment as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” But empowerment can have many different meanings to different people—depending on one’s life experiences, hopes, and dreams. Here are a few definitions from my friends and colleagues from the ICHS (International Consultants on High Sensitivity.)2
“I feel empowered when, whilst being aware of my shadow, I endeavor to express the truth as it lives in my soul “ ~Karina Zegers de Beijl, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
“For me empowerment is about thoughts, feelings, resources and experiences and how do deal with those. It is finding your inner strength and power to do what you really want to do.”
~ Lian Kirksæther, Norway
“To me it means to have power over my actions, thoughts, feelings and thus influence my experience of my world. If I consciously choose my actions, thoughts and feelings, I create my own world and can change things I don’t like into a positive. This requires openness and honesty and the willingness to learn from experiences.” ~ Annet de Zwart, The Netherlands
My own definition of empowerment is:
“Respects and honors our inevitable emotional reactions to disturbing events thus serving as a role model for authentic concern for others and world events- and when necessary choosing to act vs react in a way that honors ourselves and others.” ~ Jacquelyn Strickland, Colorado, US
Benefits of a Spiritual Practice
One of the benefits of a spiritual practice includes a day to day awareness of a new way of life: not perfect, and not without disappointment, but a life chosen by you, which is less influenced by uninvited external forces. Making small daily choices which honor your sensitivity, can clarify what is most true for you, and helps to identify and nurture your unique needs. This new way of living ~ trusting the process and focusing on needs, not approval ~ may not be easier than before developing a spiritual practice, yet, with time, you may find yourself experiencing more joyful peaks in life, while better understanding and managing the valleys that inevitable challenge us all.
Along the way, you will begin to trust ~ knowing what you’ve always known ~ a familiar, yet distant wisdom becomes your friend. You will feel more alive with creativity, insight and confidence. I’ve come to call these moments “HSP interludes of happiness & Joy, which I encourage and we experience at the HSP Gathering Retreats. Here is just one of many experiences of one HSP experiencing this kind of clarity and joy.
“Have you ever stood in the most beautiful place, taking in all that you see, feel, smell, taste, touch? Reaching out to the purest of water coming off a mountain stream. Allowing it to touch your lips, pure icy cold bringing energy to your very being. Taking in the fresh mountain air. Drawing your soul into the essence of beauty and life. It being the most perfect moment you could ever have as though you were soaring through the green lush valley as an eagle. It’s a moment so rare, as rare as finding your jewel in a crazy world. But today I experienced that moment. It would have to be one of the most amazing organic experiences I have ever had. A healing. Pure. Positive. Spiritual. Connection.” ~Mel Baker
You can also take solace from the words of Dr. Gary Linker, a psychologist featured in Sensitive: The Untold Story. He shares:
“…Often times, it’s the sensitive people are who are the Pioneers, who are the oracles, who can see into the future and see what’s coming…. but we don’t give them enough credit as guides to us, instead we … demean them because they are different than we are…”
~Dr. Gary Linker
Since Elaine Aron’s first book, The Highly Sensitive Person, How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You,” published in 1996, we have seen evidence of many highly sensitive people growing and evolving and taking their rightful place as oracles, or as Elaine likes to call us: Priestly Advisors.3
A dear friend and colleague, who I consider a Priestly Advisor, has this to say about empowerment. I think it reflects someone who has integrated a spiritual practice into their life, in that there is a true concern for self and others:
“The state of healthy empowerment is one in which an individual or group of people are able to express their unique identity, meet their natural needs and express gifts. Healthy empowerment exists without impinging on the empowerment of others. Thus empowerment as a personal expression includes using one’s power or right, but it can also include voluntary compromise or temporary curtailing of one’s own empowered right, to ensure that the healthy empowerment of other persons, or an idea, has room to develop or express itself. In that way, at times, one can actually feel empowered whilst appearing to be less empowered to the outside eye. The main element in operation in this case is the right of personal choice.” ~Barbara Allen, United Kingdom
Finally, Elaine Aron shares with us4:
“…Our world is going through vast changes, many of them frightening and many not clearly understood … and we all need these sensitive hearts and minds…people to study and reflect on our world as it is now…”
“…To the highly sensitive I say, I beg you: speak out, you now know you are in good company… we can support each other….. you are not the only one.”
With you on this journey!
- HSP Gathering Retreats™, were co-founded in 2001 by Dr. Elaine Aron and Jacquelyn Strickland. Since then, there have been 36 and counting national and international HSP Gathering Retreats.
- ICHS-International Consultants High Sensitive: a collective of national and international HSP professionals trained by Dr. Elaine Aron to serve as speakers, consultants, facilitators in order to advance accurate, scientific information about this unique genetic trait.
- Aron, Elaine. (1996) The Highly Sensitive Persons Workbook, p. 31
- The documentary: Sensitive: The Untold StoryNote: This article, edited here, for my newsletter, was first published in January as “Spirituality & Empowerment: A Love letter from Jacquelyn Strickland. “ It was part of Maria Hill’s 2020 HSP Empowerment Series. https://sensitiveevolution.com/spirituality-and-empowerment-a-love-letter-from-jacquelyn-strickland/