Reader comment on Thanissaro Bhikkhu's passage ...

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    On Oct 18, 2010 viral wrote:

    From Sensitivity to Sensibility

    Being sensitive is a mixed blessing. Sensitivity to feelings or situations can be a great quality, but it can also quickly turn negative: “He’s so sensitive – being around him is like walking on eggshells.” What makes it a positive quality is a certain awareness of what’s beneath the surface, both within ourselves and in other people. It means picking up on subtle clues, reading between the lines, knowing our own intentions, and being able to distinguish between what we’re picking up from other people, and our own reactions.


    Sensitivity gets to be a liability when that awareness isn’t accompanied with a sense of balance. The danger is that it becomes self-oriented – we lose perspective and our own feelings become exaggerated and hyper-important. It’s even trickier when it doesn’t seem self-oriented – for instance, sensitivity to other people’s pain. Even with this, if we get wrapped up in our reaction to someone’s pain, our own reactivity becomes a distraction and it becomes counter-productive. It’s like jumping into the water to bring someone to safety, but then not being able to swim. So having an acute and even empathic perceptivity can be deeply helpful, but if it doesn’t come with equanimity, it’s limited in its ability to support someone in transforming a challenge. True compassion, then, is about sharing (com) the pain (passio), without sharing the suffering.


    The key is to ground sensitivity with equanimity – whatever we are aware of, are we remaining in a space of radical acceptance? Radical (coming from the Latin, radix, which means “root”) in the sense that it is goes to the heart of the matter and fully embraces what it finds there. And an acceptance that is more of an embrace of everything that *is* – without any resistance to the natural flow of internal feelings and external manifestations. When we come across something extremely pleasant, can we remain fully present, being fulfilled by it without fear of losing it? When we become aware of something painful, can we be completely objective to that pain, not subjecting it to habituated reactions, but instead allowing it to ebb and flow according to its own natural pattern? If so, we recognize that we actually have agency in any situation. Our sensitivity helps us pick up additional, useful, information, and our balance serves as a foundation for exercising a certain respons-ability, an ability to choose how we want to respond.


    Then, that same sensitivity, combined with this responsibility, becomes sensibility – the faculty of attuning ourselves to deeper levels of experience, and having the wisdom to learn from and act in accordance to our dynamic reality. 

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