On boundaries, sensitivities and extraordinary experiences

Let me start by sharing with you a quote from a book I recently finished reading:

“Scientists Joseph Kirschvink and Shin Shimojo are uncovering that humans are magnetically sensitive organisms. It is widely known that honeybees, whales, bats, cows, dogs, fish, and other vertebrates can sense the magnetic pull of the earth. There has been great debate about whether humans can sense and experience the earth’s gravitational properties. Scientists now have evidence that humans perceive the earth’s geomagnetic pull. Perhaps, humans may experience a 6th sense, perceiving gravitational shifts, pulls, and properties” (Nicole Tetreault, Insight Into a Bright Mind).

She continues “Now we have evidence that humans along with other species experience and perceive the Earth’s geomagnetic waves. It is conceivable that people experience the geomagnetic pull in varying levels and degrees. This is another area where we are learning about humans’ rich experience in perceiving their surroundings” (source as above).

The point she is making, and I am so glad to hear it being said by somebody other than myself, is: “we are still uncovering the endless possibilities of how humans interact with our world and our environment” (source as above).

A specialist in unusual psychological phenomenon and the crossover of personality development, body/mind, emotion, and spirituality, the writer and researcher Michael Jawer (whose excellent book “The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion” I have often referred to before) makes a distinction between thick and thin boundary people. No prizes for guessing, I consider myself one of the latter, and then some; something I learned about myself many years ago and which has proved so helpful in both trying to navigate my experiences and curate my daily life (in other words, knowing what to avoid).

According to Jawer “Thin boundary people are likely to register anomalous influences” (this, as compared to thick boundary people who are more likely to “be involved in the creation of anomalous experiences” due to pent-up emotions spilling out into the environment…I think we have all been around individuals who somehow seem to disrupt the energy in a room, just by being there). Two examples of anomalous experience that we may have experienced, more commonly, are phantom pain or déjà vu whilst some people take their levels of anomalous perception way beyond these kind of experience into the truly extraordinary. Jawer includes amongst those prone to such extraordinary perception “synesthetes, savants, individuals with autism, prodigies and children who remember past lives”. He continues “The more we look into pronounced sensitivity, the more we can learn about the forces that sculpt us as human beings” (Michael A Jawer, Sensitive Soul: The Unseen Role of Emotion in Extraordinary States).

Another interesting point of view Jawer shares more than once in his material is that death brings us closer to the bone of our more animalistic senses. Animals live close to death all the time and are well known to have perception levels that are supposedly beyond our human capacity (as mentioned above); but when death comes close to us, its as though we (and this is my personal spin on it) “remember” our innate abilities, as have largely been lost or reasoned out of us over the last several hundred years of so-called evolution (which have been so dominantly left-brain oriented). This certainly applies to me as many of my anomalous experiences first blossomed wide-open after the death of my beloved mother in my mid 20s and this past year has seen another crack in the fabric of my reality broaden as I have struggled to come to terms with the loss of my closest friend, with whom I enjoyed an intimacy and depth of understanding quite unlike any other friendship, as well as the loss of my beloved dog with whom I had a most particular bond. Each time death comes close to me, its as though my boundaries grow thinner and my perceptions open up. I would even include in this times when I have felt as though my own health is floundering the most, my life force growing weaker (as happened several times in the earlier stages of my illness), from which state I would invariably “return” to life with enhanced perception abilities. Certainly, I have become more open to the awareness of experiences beyond the three dimensional the more I have had loved ones transition beyond the visible dimension into another realm where I sense they still exist, at least for me. However, what Jawer is also saying is that it is the particular strength of feeling that is aroused by the idea of death that, as it were, opens us up to somatic experiences that can take us beyond the ordinary, and I would concur.

In his paper “Our Boundaries, Our Selves: Emotional Thresholds and Personal Psychosomatic Health”, Jawer speaks of how feelings can evoke somatic experiences that may lead to, say, a migraine, chronic fatigue or chronic pain, or even just a blush. Watching TV or reading the headlines can alter the somatic experience of the body in an instant (as I can lay testament to, a reason I minimise exposure to both) and irritable bowel can appear out of nowhere from something overheard or the “negative” feeling in a room. Coming to understand how these somatic experiences are generated (and avoiding such triggers) has made up the bulk of my recovery process across the many of the years since chronic health issues first came into my picture; and yet, at the same time, the word “recovery” feels entirely wrong if what I describe is an innate ability to feel what is actually there…and what everybody else seems to miss!

This, in a nutshell, is what the world seems to get so wrong at this point in time, being the idea that those of us who are less mainstream in our sensory responses are necessarily ill or faulty rather than awake and aware. Perhaps it is those who fail to perceive what we do that are the ones “at fault”, if we are going to get so argumentative about it. Or, rather, we start to accept that we are all very different to one another and that it is neither wrong nor right to be wired a certain way…it just “is”!

For those of us who possess more in-depth (yet harder to rationalise) perception abilities, being those Jawer identifies as “thin skinned”, the sooner we can all learn to accept and then explore these differences, the quicker we learn some pretty fundamental things about the human species that are, currently, being overlooked by those who would treat us like widgets in a medical machine; thus the same “fixes”, same “doses” doled out for all of us along with the ridiculous presumption that if you can’t see it , it isn’t there (what utter nonsense).

His reference to thick and thin boundaries allude to the work of one Ernest Hartmann, author of “Boundaries: A New Way to Look at the World” (2011) and whose “boundary questionnaire” I have just taken (as have more than 5000 people since the 1980s and apparently more than 100 papers have referenced it, says Jawer. You can do the questionnaire for yourself here if you are curious. My results, no surprise to me, flag up a high degree of sensitivity and give me a sort of visual overview of other areas where I have thin boundaries but, note, there are no categories in which I have so-called thick boundaries. There have been countless reports of how results on this questionnaire relate to thick or thin boundary experiences and, in particular, an openness to anomalous experiences (for example, Scoring Thick and Scoring Thin: The Boundaries of Psychic Claimants, Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., Ian Wickramasekera, Ph.D. & Robert Tartz, Ph.D. (Cand.)). So, what are these boundaries?

“The accumulated evidence shows that thin boundary people are highly sensitive in a variety of ways and from an early age. They react more strongly than other individuals to sensory stimuli and can become agitated due to bright lights, loud sounds, particular aromas, tastes, or textures. They respond more strongly to physical and emotional pain in themselves as well as in others. They can become stressed or fatigued due to an overload of sensory or emotional input. They are more allergic and their immune systems are seemingly more reactive as well. And they were more deeply affected – or recall being more deeply affected – by events in their childhood. (Michael Jawer, “Our Boundaries, Our Selves: Emotional Thresholds and Personal Psychosomatic Health).

By contrast, the thick boundary person is “described as stolid, rigid, implacable, or thick skinned. They tend to brush aside emotional upset in favor of simply ‘handling’ the situation and maintaining a calm demeanor. In practice, they suppress or deny strong feelings. They may experience an ongoing sense of ennui, emptiness, and detachment, or their style may only come to their attention when others in their life demand emotional connection. “ (Michael Jawer, “Our Boundaries, Our Selves: Emotional Thresholds and Personal Psychosomatic Health).

Those thick boundary people still feel what they feel (feelings are comprised of energy and some of them remain unconscious). This is indicated by heart rate or migraine or blush, but those individuals are slower to acknowledge what they feel than the thin boundary person, who is also more suggestible (get them to imagine a fire and they break a sweat) as well as empathic (feeling sensations on behalf of others). I would add my own presupposition to this that those individuals with thicker boundaries are “wired” to feel less than the thin boundary folk in the first place, this all depending on a mixture (according to Jawer) of genetic and environmental, including prenatal, factors. Taking the words straight from Hartmann:

“There are people who strike us as very solid and well organized; they keep everything in its place. They are well defended. They seem rigid, even armored; we sometimes speak of them as “thick-skinned.” Such people, in my view, have very thick boundaries. At the other extreme are people who are especially sensitive, open, or vulnerable. In their minds, things are relatively fluid….Such people have particularly thin boundaries….I propose thick and thin boundaries as a broad way of looking at individual differences” (Hartmann, 1991).

Yet the way our boundaries are made can significantly alter how much perception is allowed to come into the individual and herein lies the vast difference, from one person to another; one which is largely outside of their control and which can completely alter their experience of the world.

Here we have the root of how one subset of people can be busily perceiving things one way and the rest are apparently oblivious due to perceiving it entirely another way. On this topic, conspicuously absent in the boundaries questionnaire (from my perspective) are questions to do with sensitivity to EMFs or wireless technologies; perhaps owing to the fact that the world was a very different place when it was first devised. These days, I would think some questions as to whether “unseen” electromagnetic forces can be perceived would be more than pertinent to include as they affect a lot of us by having a significant, often detrimental, impact on our quality of life. Yet, to most people, the very idea of “feeling” invisible interference from cordless devices is so analogous as to be deemed to be ridiculous or fictitious (not so when it starts to impact your health in some fairly tangible ways)! Its well known, by the way, that people with neurodiversities such as autism and ADHD can be more sensitive to electric lights and other electrical gizmos amping up the nervous systems and affecting the sleep-wake cycle to such a detrimental degree that all of their health is affected. In effect, this turns into a vicious cycle since (I know from experience) sleep depravation only amps up my sensory sensitivities the next day, not that it needs any amping!

This can be a factor in sensory defensiveness and, certainly, my electrosensitivity began to occur around the time I became generally more sensory defensive, in the run-up to menopause, which was also when I began to experience high-pitched variable tones in my “head” and constant tinnitus. At its height, even the induction hob or ordinary lightbulbs really bothered me if I stood too close but now, from years of mitigating the effects, my issues mostly relate to wireless technologies, which I feel (in my skin, my gut, my head pressure, my hearing and vision and my moods) more so than I hear. Or perhaps, if there is a sound, it is so subtle as to be hard to place. Sharon Heller describes how some highly sensory people hearing sounds that bother them “roam around their house, inside and out, to find its origin. Some of the suspects are electricity electricity pylons, water mains, underground waterways and water pumps, generators, fans, transformers, microwaves and electromagnetic fields set up around radio or TV transmitters, though as yet no cause has been firmly identified” (Sharon Heller,Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight”). This can be an extension of the normal hearing range towards lower or higher frequencies and it can also be a factor of autism, in which the hearing can sometimes be incredibly acute.

Another factor I was aware of when answering the questionnaire was that I tended to over-select preferences for “order” and “planning” and “rules” in situations where my natural inclination would be to go more with the flow…if it weren’t for a pressing need to set more boundaries, to be cautious, defended and well prepared for all eventualities, an urge that has only grown in me the more I have found life challenging or even threatening to my thinner boundaries. I started out as a child who perceived very few distinctions and boundaries between things, who trusted wholeheartedly and met most situations with optimism, eagerness and curiosity only to have had to learn to adopt more and more systems, preparations and cautionary rituals to keep myself well contained and defended against ever more painful experiences as the years went by.

Likewise, the questionnaire makes reference to synesthesia traits (the blending of senses that are normally distinct), which I had in spade loads in my earlier life (it brought me a great deal of fun as well as usefulness because I “saw” words, numbers and concepts as though they were technicolour objects, which made my world so much richer than it might otherwise have been and was a great memory aid in exams). However, this trait has faded somewhat in line with, as an adult, having had to “entrain” my brain towards a more left-brain, compartmentalised way of thinking in order to better fit in with the world and thus survive in it (nobody gets what you are trying to explain when you try to tell them you know something because you see it visually, in colour or with shapes). Whilst I still enjoy moments of pleasurable synesthesia, mostly when reading for pleasure or listening to music, I am well aware that this has become a faded version of what I had access to in my youth. Or, correction, my synesthesia more often takes the form of effects that are not life-enhancing these days, such as being able to “taste” grime, pollution or unpleasant visuals, or experiencing disconcerting visceral sensations on reading emotive or highly descriptive words (as just a couple of examples, also see my reference below to how I “taste” traffic).

Such cross-over sensory effects, no doubt, feed into other sensitivities such as food allergies and I am certainly affected by the environment in which I eat my food, even by the people nearby, or the mood of the kitchen and serving staff (I can sometimes “taste” their disdain or their black moods, for instance). It makes choosing where to go much more important to me, which can make me seem fussy to those who don’t relate.

Some people just seem to be predisposed towards heightened sensitivity, something that science is slowly catching up with (Jawer being someone who is fanfaring the way for other researchers to follow; his articles in Psychology Today and frequent contribution of papers, to which I subscribe, helping to keep the topic alive). Many times before, I have made reference to Elaine Aron who coined the term Highly Sensitive Person and who breaks down what this entails into these four areas, all of which must be present to meet the criteria: 1. Depth of processing 2. Overstimulation 2.Emotional reactivity, including empathy and 4. Sensitivity to subtle stimuli. For the record, I score very highly indeed (almost full marks) in her assessment questionnaire. Depth of processing means that, not only do you notice so much more than most people seem to be even marginally aware of but that you are consumed by it, condemned to ponder and ruminate, to question and pick over your experiences, dwelling on them long after the event and ceaselessly trying to make sense of them, which can be one of the hardest aspects of the trait since it takes over your life. Jawer makes reference to Aron when he says “In a nutshell, the thin boundary person is like a walking antenna, whose entire body and brain seems primed, in Aron’s words (1996), “to notice more in their environment…to detect and understand more precisely whatever comes in” (Our Boundaries, Our Selves: Emotional Thresholds and Personal Psychosomatic Health Michael Jawer).

I have also mentioned Sharon Heller a few times before, whose book about Sensory Defensiveness helped me to devise a “sensory diet” protocol that I have used with great success, this year, as a means of mitigating some of the most limiting of my sensory experiences, so that I can now bear to go out and do more everyday things without risk of constantly crashing from the onslaught of too much sensory overload. She holds the view that acute sensitivity is often present in earliest childhood and then may be added to by later experiences of trauma; both of which are my experience. Whilst enhanced sensitivity has enabled me to crystallise an immense stockpile of vivid recollections from my earliest experiences going right back to being in my cot as a newborn, which are mostly (not all!) pleasurable to recall, those later experiences of trauma plus the increasing overwhelm I experienced as a neurodiverse individual in a world devised according to neurotypical criteria (including that I find most of it “Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight”, to quote the title of Heller’s book) have resulted in layers of sensory defensiveness that materialise as various sensory challenges in adulthood. Once sensory defensiveness is activated, it activates the fight, flight or freeze response and can begin to rewire the whole of the nervous system, setting the stage for all manner of health issues. Therefore, once you recognise sensory defensiveness in yourself (which is a step beyond being “just” a highly sensitive person), you owe it to yourself to tackle this and Heller’s book can be a starting point. My post on sensory defensiveness covers some of what I did for myself.

These days, having learned so much about my own very highly tuned sensitivities, my realisation of the importance of grounding is central to how I am learning to cope. As such, I chose not to “invite” anomalous experiences where I don’t really need to be having any (whereas there was a time when I was eager and open to experiencing it all). I have found that, by sidestepping too much exposure to material relating to the psychic, out of body and even spiritual kind of experiences I used to relish, I do rather better than when I was wide open or even favouring such material as an escape from the rather depressing grit and grime of the visible world. It’s become a trade off, and I am aware that I miss out on much that is available to me, but the need to stay inside my body is pivotal to all of my efforts to heal and regain physical strength, which has eluded me all these years. In her book “The Language of Emotions”, Karla McClaren likewise cautions against getting so “woo woo” that you loose contact with your body. Even intellectualising too much, which I have always been prone to do (escaping to the inner sanctum of my head) can be a risk when you do so at the expense of being fully present and grounded in the body, which serves as an ancor and keeps you from tuning into sensations that you don’t need to be concerned with right now. Nicole Tetrault gives a similar example to mine in her book when she gives a case history:

“Mary describes having a truly intense emotional sensitivity and reaction in her body: “I’ve always had sensitivity to energy. I can feel energy. I can feel emotions. I’ve always done that, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I could look at somebody and talk to them and I could feel what they were feeling, and I didn’t know why, and I didn’t realize it was theirs. I just knew I felt it.” Once she became pregnant and gave birth all that changed and she came into feeling in her body. Prior to the birth of her firstborn daughter, Brianna, Mary had a nine-to-five desk job. That all changed after becoming a mother. She took her first yoga class, and in that yoga class realized the power of her body, being in her body, expressing herself through her body, and guiding others and healing through the mind-body connection. Mary spent much of her early life intellectualizing, being a math whiz, but she was meant to be in her body, a kinesthetic being. Being in her body allowed her to understand her emotions, regulate her thinking, and come into greater self-awareness and presence ” (Nicole Tetreault, Insight Into a Bright Mind).

Likewise, I also found that pregnancy and early parenthood grounded me, more than I had ever been grounded really, lasting for a number of years but I “flew out of my body” after the resounding trauma of my divorce years and when life became way too much for me in a corporate job that overstimulated me at every turn. For the next few years, I was like an essence of a person tied to a body as precariously as a balloon tied by a string to a moving object and my health situation became chronic. Slowly but surely, I have learned to land back in the body, to do yoga and dance, to remain present with my sensations and bring down my sensory defensiveness, but its still work in progress and the world still frequently assaults me with “too much” awareness at a level that most people would find hard to comprehend.

It doesn’t help that, societally, the odds are well stacked against those of us with thin skin and different “wiring”. Aside from not being taken seriously, the whole way that life is set up can mess with our very biorhythms from day one.

“From an evolutionary standpoint, it was not until more recently that humans adopted practices that are diurnal in nature. In fact, across all humans, there is great diversity for peak alertness and wake cycle. Perhaps people who prefer to be more active at night are conforming to a diurnal society and way of life that is inherently in opposition to their natural biology. For people with ADHD, living in a 9-5 world forces them into an unnatural biorhythm. Their issues with cognition and attention are connected to being out of sync with their innate clock. Being out of sync and having to live in an unnatural sleep-wake cycle creates a multitude of issues for an individual living with ADHD” (Nicole Tetreault, Insight Into a Bright Mind).

She points out how messing with sleep feeds into a multitude of health issues, including Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons since toxins are not efficiently removed from a brain that does not get a restful night’s sleep. It’s well known that chronic sleep depravation can cause or exacerbate conditions such as fibromyalgia and, when a chronic condition such as that continues unabated, other problems tend to spiral out from it the longer it goes on, as I can testify from my own health.

Tesault also talks about how highly sensitive individuals are more sensitive than most to incongruent sounds, as in, the kinds of sounds that are disharmonious and with which our modern environment, including most of our domesic neighbourhoods, are teeming.

“Unnatural sounds have incongruent frequencies that are in opposition to one another, which are distracting, overwhelming, and irritating to our auditory and nervous systems. We find ourselves working hard to extinguish these noises as our attentional shifts become highly distracting and challenging. In some instances, it can become impossible to ignore the sound and the auditory insult, even with the best noise-canceling headphones. Once the stress response is activated due to the sympathetic sympathetic nervous system, a person has an elevated sensory perceiving response. This in turn leads to changes in the mind-body balance, ultimately changing behavior, where the reaction of a highly sensitive person may be misinterpreted as behaviors related to ADD/ADHD. The sensitive person may also experience increased challenges in focusing, greater mood swings due to their attentional shifts, and express more frequent outbursts because their sensory system is on overload, and their ability to control their reaction becomes exhausted” (Nicole Tetreault, Insight Into a Bright Mind).

So called “green sounds” (from nature) can have the opposite effect but many of us, me included, find we have to rely on artificial sources of these, delivered through active noise cancelling headphones, to drown out the cacophony in order to keep our sensitivities in check. Ironically, there are times I have to listen to a recording of birdsong because the sounds of all the many birds I have attracted to my garden are drowned out by the relentless traffic I feel inside my body as though it is not so much an annoying “sound” but a vibration or a pulse, and the road itself bulldozing through my very body tissues, day and night (meaning my nerves are still more than aware of it, even when my ears are plugged). Sometimes I feel as though I can “taste” the traffic or its as though my heart is syncing to the vibration of refridgerated lorries pulled up outside my house at all hours delivering their load to our local shop. Lack of boundaries and synesthesia are no joy in these cases and it can get way too much to cope with for a sensitive soul. This is when Sharon Heller’s material on tackling sensory defensiveness comes in useful, although (ultimately) there is no cure if you are wired this way, in which case sensory pain is your lot to some degree or other in such an abrasive world. The best you can do is start to plan your life around it, do what you can to mitgate or move, as well as taking steps to increase what resilience you have, as per her methods.

The brain and body are so obviously linked together, and that has been the basis of all my healing approaches since I first realised this over a decade ago. This is exactly why I realise how important it is to stay in the body, however tempting it is to leave (through dissociation, intellectualisation, spirituality or psychic pursuits, addiction, distraction and a myriad other methods that people use to leave their pain behind). In this way, those of us that are the most sensitive of all sometimes become the ones who work the very hardest at staying grounded and more balanced than the general populace. We realise just how minutely our moods, our sensitivity, our clarity and our general wellbeing is affected by this necessity to take both body and soul into equal consideration…and to listen when our bodies tell us something, however “bizarre” or “illogical” that information may seem to a hardlined scientist. We also realise the importance of nature and of “being natural” in as many ways as we can hold onto a world that is so set upon turning nature into a convenient resource or a theme park, or the exclusive domain of the elite. We become the advocates and campaigners for the natural world and the free access of all.

Trusting ourselves. Reading the information at hand, including messages from our “gut”. Adapting to circumstances. Prioritising self-care. These are just some of the things we sensitives learn to do, with time and long experience of our sensitive bodies. We notice what affects us and we take it seriously, whether other people believe in us or not.

Yesterday, I talked about the effects of the sun in my post on that topic and (with perfect timing) it turned out to be a day when the effects of the sun stepped up significantly because a series of CMEs (coronal mass ejections) began hurtling off the face of the sun, one after another, each with an earth directed component, and so a GM (geomagnetic storm) ensued for several hours, with more to come. For days, I had been speculating to my husband that this scale of solar event was in the offing, I had felt it “brewing”, though official predictions remained modest in those places I use to check the space weather forecast. By the afternoon, not long after I had posted my blog about the effects of the sun, I could already feel this solar event was “happening”, as I have countless times before.

If I had been wondering, until then, why I was having such a sudden health dip (top of my post), here was my reason because I quite often have such a somatic response to times the sun in most active, and here it was, a big one (see these screenshots from last night’s space weather news on two of the websites I use to check the validity of my own sensations). So, is it a sound I hear when the sun is active (my tinnitus certainly increases and I often hear tones), is it a vibration or a pulse? Its very hard to pinpoint a single effect as it is simply just something I know, with all of my senses at once. Sometimes I see a brightly coloured visual “snow” or patterns in a dark room when the northern lights are active, though I am hundreds of miles farther south. Mostly, there is no one sensory “effect” except that I know, with all of my being, that a GM storm is underway, or that the sun has just unleashed a new solar flare, that the Schumann resonance is peaking or that we are in a corotating event as two solar wind streams, one fast and one slow, start to interact with each other. I didn’t always (consciously) pick up on these effects, it began about twenty years ago and became more pronounced during the last solar cycle, but begs the question, how do I tune into it at all?

I have already referenced the study that Nicole Tetreault refers to, demonstrating that humans are geomagnetically sensitive. In her book on sensory defensiveness, Sharon Heller talks about uncanny sensitivity to high and low frequency sounds, to electromagnetic interference and so on:

“Sensory defensives often hear sounds before others, and even some sounds that others don’t hear at all. As a child Barbra Streisand heard clicks and buzzing in her ears that evolved into a high-pitched, high-range noise, creating auditory defensiveness. She never heard silence. An ear exam revealed “supersonic hearing.” As the fidelity was poor and as she concentrated on the defects, she seldom played the radio. She felt different, abnormal, and kept her hearing sensitivity a secret (Sharon Heller, Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight).

Jawer mentions that “studies of migraine suggest that some people possess a strong and often uncomfortable level of neurobiological reactivity to environmental changes” (“Environmental Sensitivity: A Neurobiological Phenomenon?”)

Heller also speaks of how “Some sufferers (of sensory defensiveness) hear the Taos hum, a low-pitched humming sound that people have reported around the world, from the marine base in El Toro, California, to Worlington in England. One person described it as sounding like the Goodyear blimp at a distance. Many who hear it also feel a certain rumble or vibration in their body. For some it stays the same loudness and pitch, while others complain of it increasing in pitch, sound level, or frequency” (Sharon Heller, Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight).

Jawer makes specific reference to the Northern Lights in his book, “The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion”: “Some people seem to have an unusual reaction to that most spectacular of all atmospheric displays, the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights. Over centuries—and still documented today—a noise described as a hissing, swishing, rustling, or crackling has been reported in connection with the northern lights.

Yet, interestingly, he points out that one person might hear this sound and another, stood near them, may not hear it at all. Jawer links this to synesthesia, as in, the person experiencing the “noise” is translating other phenomena such as vibration into what they perceive as a sound. This is exactly what I sense, and have speculated about myself, at times when I am “seeing” Northern Lights in my visual field though I am stood hundreds of miles away in my bedroom at home. It seems obvious to me this is a form of synesthesia at work and, maybe, what I am detecting is a pulse from the ground or a frequency in the air, “translated” into a visual effect. Jawer states that “people who have synesthesia seem more prone than the general population to anomalous experiences” (Michael A Jawer, Environmental Sensitivity: A Neurobiological Phenomenon?). Either way, it certainly affects me.

Auroras purportedly produce infrasound high up in the atmosphere and though, by definition, this cannot be “heard” there are reports that being exposed to it can lead to feelings of sadness or sorrow. This also pricks up my interest due to the singular moods I sometimes experience when the auroras are most active.

One of my theories is that I know that I was born when a solar cycle was at its peak, with extreme space weather occurring during the very week I was born, also during my mother’s pregnancy and for several months afterwards. I have long suspected some sort of birth trauma that I will never be able to verify since both of my parents have passed on. Perhaps I was that already highly sensitive infant who noticed something in my environment and attached it to trauma memories that replay in my subconscious every time the sun is most active.

On this topic, Jawer (in his paper “Environmental Sensitivity: A Neurobiological Phenomenon?”) refers to the work of Wickramesekera:

“He believes that a person’s highly charged psychological issues can be transmuted into physical symptoms, such as asthma and other forms of allergy, chronic pain and fatigue, sleep disorders, etc. Wickramasekera terms the process by which psychological distress engenders physical illness “somatization.” “Put simply,” he writes, “the [individual] is being . . . made sick by distressing secret perceptions, memories, or moods that [he/she] blocks from consciousness.” Despite the unconscious nature of somatization, the affected person can become manifestly hypersensitive and even (in a parallel to Hartmann’s concept of thin boundaries) absorbed in the problems of others to such an extent that somatic symptoms develop out of this “surplus empathy” (Jawer quoting Wickramasekera “Secrets kept from the mind but not the body or behavior: The unsolved problems of identifying and treating somatization and psychophysiological disease” 1998).

He also makes reference to the Polish psychologist Dabrowski, who I mentioned in my recent post on giftedness and intensity, who noticed the tendency of the sensitive person to immerse themselves in something, so as to almost lose themselves in it. I can relate; to both getting lost in the intensity of a direct experience I am having via my highly sensitive nervous system and equally lost in the sensations of another’s experiences, to such a high degree that I become utterly absorbed in my situation or theirs and it can feel quite overwhelming, also highly distracting from everyday responsibilities and yet utterly unavoidable. When I am immersed in the experience of whatever it is, be it the effects of a solar flare that has turned my sensations upside down for a day (or some other sensation I am having), or an emotional upset that I am empathing on behalf of someone I care about (especially my child), it’s as though I have no resources left to do or be anything else in that moment. It’s impossible to explain to anyone who experiences life any less intensely or who can’t relate to having such tenuous boundaries.

There is no grand conclusion as such except, returning to the topic of my opening quote, we are very far from knowing all there is to know about human perception and the environmental effects we are capable of being tuned into. We tend to assume that animals and birds possess uncanny abilities when it comes to migration and navigation, sensing thunder storms or knowing when to leave but we also have these senses built into us, albeit far under-utilised these days. To quote Jawer one last time “Bees, dolphins, and people are among the species that have magnetic material within them: in our case, our brains contain the mineral magnetite; and bones in our sinuses contain deposits of ferric oxide” (Michael A Jawer, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion). Rather than hand all of our diagnostic and navigational skills over to a computer, why don’t we explore what we already have, or at least fully acknowledge it; especially those of us that are already wired on the sensitive side, so that instead of feeling painfully “faulty” we start to feel curious and rather blessed. Who knows what we could newly learn about our species and all it is capable of, plus all the wondrous experiences that await if only we took our sensitivities into account as we design a blueprint for the continuance and evolution of our civilisation.


Michael A Jawer, Sensitive Soul: The Unseen Role of Emotion in Extraordinary States.

Michael A Jawer, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion.

Michael A Jawer, Environmental Sensitivity: A Neurobiological Phenomenon?

Michael A Jawer, Our Boundaries, Our Selves: Emotional Thresholds and Personal Psychosomatic Health.

Nicole Tetreault, Insight Into a Bright Mind.

Sharon Heller, Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight.

Hartman, Boundaries: A New Way to Look at the World.

Wickramasekera, Secrets kept from the mind but not the body or behavior: The unsolved problems of identifying and treating somatization and psychophysiological disease.

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