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Making Sense of a Toxic Life

As the first part of our experiment in Nicaragua is coming to an end, I am noticing many changes in us. The boys are much calmer these days. We have come very far the three of us. This experience is by far the hardest we are going through together but also the most rewarding, we are so different from when we arrived here.  We are much calmer and much more in-tuned with each other.  And we have learned to go slow. This trip has helped to eliminate  many external stimuli which stopped us from seeing each other past the toxicity of thoughts, food, people and air. It was very hard for me to pin down behavioral issues with them as being psychological, sensorial, social or physical. Now I am beginning to be able to as there is a “norm” that has established itself in how they are when content, happy and healthy.

My eldest son, who is an internalizer is now able to express how he feels instead of keeping it all inside. Slowly we are learning together how to help him develop strategy to be positive when expressing himself and not destructive, for the first time in our history together we can talk through issues honestly and without blaming or negative feelings toward each other. This experience has really transformed his relationship with me. He has discovered a love for dogs that has allowed him to find companions he can freely express his love to and get an immediate genuine return of his affection. He is less shy, and much more able to handle new foods. He will strike conversations with adults and talk for hours. I am so happy for him. He asked to go to school here next trip, this is an awesome development  as it tells me that he is ready to face the social world and to make friends. The reduction of stimuli in his life, both physical, environmental and emotional have made a real difference. I hope we will have learned  enough protective technics before we leave so that he does not suffer too much when we get back.

My youngest son who is much more extroverted is now much calmer as well, expressing himself more gently and learning to take better care of  his needs. He has much less mood swings and he is starting to care about himself and as a consequence care for himself. He is able to tell me now when he needs time alone. His anxieties are so much lesser here and his reactions much less damaging to him. I can sense his anxieties now as well, which he used to physically hide in his body. The more he lets them out, the less physical sensitivities he seems to have.   I have now a much better sense of who he is and how he perceives the world and what works for him. He is such a visual learner. He can navigate a 3d virtual space and build 3d objects in seconds but hates writing…..

As for me, I have learned to better listen but still not quite as easily as I would like to.  I am slowly learning to positively express my emotions and the three of use are now at peace most of the time.  Which makes parenting so much more enjoyable. We are beginning to enjoy each other and our discussions are becoming much deeper in content.

The following text is a summary of what I found out on this trip. Apologies for the long post but I had a lot to report.

Here are links to smaller segments for those of you who would prefer small bits at a time.

Part 1: Multi Sensory Intelligence
Part 2: Toxic Environments
Part 3: Attention Diet Overload
Part 4:Intensity as evolution

I am starting to see a pattern in my readings and what I am observing in our experiences here.  Our body and it’s many biological, emotional, social, spiritual  and physical sensors form a very complex natural communication system that is not limited to feeding the inner self.  This system is extremely sensitive and the high levels of toxicity of our western world are not only disrupting it but in the case of highly sensitive children also altering it.  For this communication system to work properly we must relearn to be in harmony with nature, ourselves and each other and reconnect to our multi-sensory intelligence.

A lot of research hints at how toxicity affects many of our sensory systems and by consequence our cognitive abilities. My own experiences with toxicity are making me doubt labels assigned to many children as learning disabled.   What are referred to as learning disabilities are different ways of beings with true distinctive modes of sensory perceptions and intelligence.  These forms of understanding must be respected and developed if we are to continue to evolve as a species.  To do so, we need to stop considering individuals deficient because they don’t fit a given system, and turn the lens toward the inadequacy of our systems to consider them instead.

Blogger Lisa Jo Rudy makes this point brilliantly: “I do wonder whether the world we’ve created is best for us as human beings. How important is it to be able to manage a constant diet of novel experiences, sensory assaults, verbal barrages and hourly transitions? How critical is it that we learn to live all alone, handle every aspect of life independently, and interact constantly with strangers whom we’ll never see again?

Is it possible that we have created a world in which any sensitivity or difference looks like incompetence or over-reaction? Have we developed a culture that specifically excludes a very significant proportion of its members?   ”

My personal experiences as well as those of my children make me agree wholeheartedly. The current generation of children counts many who are so sensitive they can sense things that we don’t sense, see and feel. To them, space and beings represent a full spectrum of textures and energy signatures that can be overwhelming.

These abilities are not disabilities

Current research is starting to understand that many “disabilities” are special abilities or different ways of perceiving the world, not defects. Finally, an approach that helps to reduce the labeling of children which is often damaging to their self-esteem, and instead work on developing their gifts. It is clear that many children today have access to a multi-sensory intelligence. The following definitions taken from the article multi-sensory children by T. Rowley presents a few labels within a sensory world perceptive which can be helpful in figuring out how to help these children:

ADHD – These children are often highly creative and relate to life in holographic ways, resulting in less linear, logical, sequential brain access. “A picture speaks a thousand words”, and these children may be better at communicating through art or theater than linear language. Also, competition means less in a holographic, un-sequenced world, so they may be less inclined to want to compete. ADHD children are more inside their bodies than those with autism, but they are not relating to physical reality in a relational way. They are in touch with other worlds that feed their imaginations and offer them ever more out-of-the-box creativity.

Honoring and nurturing their creativity and connecting them to environments that support their creative gifts are very beneficial. Professionals who can measure and support the development of spatial intelligence may also be helpful.

ADD – These children often notice and can take in more sensory data than others. This includes light, sound, vibration, verbal tones, and non-verbal cues, to name several. While they are sensitive to more stimuli, these children and even adolescents, may not have the brain function developed to process this overload of sensory data until their mid-twenties. So they can be overwhelmed more quickly than others. Physical problems, such as anxiety, panic, stomach aches, etc. may result as they try to take on the challenge of digesting their multi-sensory experience. They may have a harder time organizing material, distinguishing big picture from detail, and determining what information is most important. There may be a capacity to be sequential, but it may not be a common version of logical. Their nervous system may be vibrating faster than the rest of their body can comfortably contain.

Their energy and gift often leads them to be more comfortable in expansive and visionary roles than in routine or operational ones. For these children, helping them find and practice their energetic and physical relationship to the ground and the boundaries of their body is very helpful. It is also beneficial to help them with mental boundaries and structures in their thinking.

Autism: not a form of  disorganisation but of reorganisation of the brain.

According to the article “Maximising the brain potential of those with autism”, autism is a different way of thinking. Scientists from the University of Montreal have demonstrated that those on the autism spectrum use their brains differently and that while specific areas are more busy, other brain areas are less so. Dr Laurent Mottron from the University of Montreal explains: “The natural tendency is to think that autism is a form of disorganisation. Here, what we see is that it is a reorganisation of the brain.”  This reorganization is not a disability but in my mind the emergence of an evolutionary trait.

It is refreshing to read passages like the following:

“instead of trying to cure autism, perhaps we should be looking at ways to help those who think differently to develop ways of interacting within their community and to maximise their potential. And the areas of their brains which are not normally so active could be stimulated.“Maximising the brain potential of those with autism”,

Two other groups of people exist that are often confused with either autism or ADHD and who are gifted with enhanced sensory abilities. The first is highly sensitive and the second gifted people.

Highly Sensitive Children
Highly  sensitive people (HSP) represent  about 15-20% of humans and higher animals have a nervous system that is more sensitive to subtleties (HSP). This means that regular sensory information is processed and analyzed to a greater extent, which contributes to creativity, intuition, sensing implications and attention to detail, but which may also cause quick over-stimulation and over-arousal.(Aron, 1996).

Being highly sensitive may amplify or create psychological issues when over-arousal occurs. The ability to unconsciously or semi-consciously process environmental subtleties often contributes to an HSP seeming “gifted” or possessing a “sixth sense”.

Recent research in developmental psychology provides further evidence that individuals differ in their sensitivity. According to the differential susceptibility hypothesis by Belsky and Pluess (2009) individuals vary in the degree they are affected by experiences or qualities of the environment they are exposed to.

According to T. Howley, HSP perceive the world differently as they are sensorial intense. They pick up on the subtle things, learning via their senses and get over aroused easily. HSPs are usually very conscientious, gifted with great intelligence, intuition and imagination, but underperform when being watched. HSPs tend to socialize less with others, preferring to process experiences quietly by themselves. In addition, they can be very intense, mature beyond their years, feel responsible for the world, be insightful, clear, very intuitive or conscious, and sometimes mystic. They can organize their world around their spiritual awareness and are therefore often misunderstood. They can be very good symbolic, abstract thinkers, but may not be able to communicate their experiences. Many can easily leave their bodies and merge or find spiritual union. Some have extraordinary gifts.

These children in particular may pick up others’ thoughts, feelings, emotions, and moods. They may pick up information about another person’s current situation or the future, and try to make sense of it in present time, or they can carry around past family patterns with a sense of responsibility and intensity. These children may be labeled ADD, though they seem (even if not until later childhood or adolescence) to exhibit specific spiritual, intuitive and/or psychic gifts.

What does gifted means?

Just like autism, giftedness and high sensitivities represent a spectrum of characteristics. Two gifted or HSP people are not alike. There is no consensus as to how “gifted” should be defined, one definition that resonates for me is the following which is based on the gifted child’s differences from the norm:

“Giftedness is asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counseling in order for them to develop optimally.” The Columbus Group, 1991, cited by Martha Morelock, “Giftedness: The View from Within”, in Understanding Our Gifted, January 1992

Giftedness has an emotional as well as intellectual component. Intellectual complexity goes hand in hand with emotional depth. So gifted children not only think differently from other children they also feel differently. The theories of Dabrowski I discussed earlier have greatly informed our understanding of the social and emotional aspects of giftedness. And gifted is not the same as high achievement.

One of the basic characteristics of the gifted is their intensity. Intensity is not a matter of degree but of a different way of experiencing: vivid, absorbing, penetrating, encompassing, complex, commanding – a way of being quiveringly alive.

HSP are often gifted and both groups are at high risk for being misdiagnosed as disabled as when over-stimulated their behaviors reassemble those of autism or ADHD. According  to the article Gifted or ADD,  most people, including most medical professionals, do not realize giftedness is often associated with the following behaviors:
• underachieving
• anger and frustration
• high energy, intensity, fidgeting, impulsivity
• individualistic, nonconforming, stubborn
• disorganization, sloppy, poor handwriting
• forgetful, absentminded, daydreamsoooo
• emotional, moody
• low interest in details

Adults often do not realize a child is gifted because they don’t really know what “gifted” means.  As a result, many gifted children are being medicated for a brain defect they probably don’t have.

Why do Gifted people get misdiagnosed ?

A first reason is that gifted people become you bored easily in settings that average people find tolerable (like school or work).  Boredom leads to restlessness, and restlessness leads to all sorts of problems.  Fast thought processes can lead not only to boredom but to poor handwriting, errors in simple work, disorganization and sloppiness.

A second reason for misdiagnosis stands in that gifted children often go through asynchronous developmental process. Asynchronous development refers to uneven intellectual, physical, and emotional development. In average children, intellectual, physical, and emotional development progresses at about the same rate. That is, the development is in “sync.” However, in gifted children, the development of those areas is out of “sync.” They do not progress at the same rate.

A third reason is that if these children are emotionally intense. People often believe that sensitive children are simply being melodramatic. But these children often have an emotional supersensitivity or overexcitability and they experience emotions more intensely than others.

Emotionally intense gifted children exhibit a super sensitivity of the nervous system that makes them acutely perceptive and sensitive, more discriminating of external stimuli and more analytical and critical of themselves and others. This accounts for the tendency for young emotionally intense gifted children to be described frequently as “hyperactive” and “distractable”.

Emotional intensity is expressed by the gifted through a wide range of feelings, attachments. Compassion, heightened sense of responsibility and scrupulous self-examination. While these are normal for the gifted and appear very early in gifted children, they are often mistaken for emotional immaturity rather than as evidence of a rich inner life.

Feeling everything more deeply than others do is both painful and frightening and sensitivity to society’s injustice and hypocrisy can lead many emotionally intense gifted children to feel despair and cynicism at very young ages.

Finally, these children tend to be intense and get overexited in other areas to the extend of becoming anxious and/or act out in social settings they are not familiar with or when their sensititivites are engaged.

What is intensity / overexcitability?
(The following passage includes adapted excerpts from the following blog posts: http://talentdevelop.com/3388/intensity-of-the-imagination-precious-and-phoebe-in-wonderland/ and http://talentdevelop.com/articles/OIGC.html)

Stephanie Tolan, a writer and advocate for extremely bright children, notes the original Polish word for psychiatrist Dabrowski’s concept of overexcitabilities / excitabilities can be translated more literally as “superstimulatabilities.”

Kazimierz Dabrowski  proposed five different kinds of intensities that some people experience:

Psychomotor – surplus of energy: rapid speech, pressure for action, restlessness impulsive actions, nervous habits & tics, competitiveness, sleeplessness.

Sensual – sensory and aesthetic pleasure: heightened sensory awareness eg sights, smells, tastes, textures, sounds, appreciation of beautiful objects, music, nature, sensitivity to foods and pollutants, intense dislike of certain clothing, craving for pleasure.

Intellectual – learning, problem solving: curiosity, concentration, theoretical & analytical thinking, questioning, introspection, love of learning and problem solving, moral concern, thinking about personal and social moral values.

Imaginational – vivid imagination: creative & inventive, a rich and active fantasy life, superb visual memory, elaborate dreams, day dreams, love of poetry, music and drama, fears of the unknown, mixing of truth and fantasy, great sense of humour.

Emotional – intensity of feeling: complex emotions, extremes of emotion, empathy with others, sensitivity in relationships, strong memory for feelings, difficulty adjusting to change, fears and anxieties, inhibition, timidity, shyness, self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority, heightened awareness of injustice and hypocrisy.

Given that my children seem to have all of these intensities, I am going to assume that most HSP do as well but often, in some people, one or two seem to predominate. These responses to stimuli are different from the norm. Overexcitability is an expanded awareness of and a heightened capacity to respond to stimuli such as noise, light, smell, touch etc. The term ‘overexcitability’ conveys the idea that this stimulation of the nervous system is well beyond the usual or average in intensity and duration.

We must stop trying to “cure” these children of their gifts and intense experiences to insure they do not think that something is wrong with them.
Imagine how overwhelming modern life is to someone whose sensory, emotional and cognitive systems are calibrated to be able to perceive the most minute change in magnetic resonance, in air flows and other invisible energy forces.

If these children grow up with rules and boundaries that emphasize only rationality, neglecting emotional and sensorial experiences, these multi sensory gifted children can become anxious, depressed, alienated, socially inept or emotionally blocked. May be the misdiagnose exist because all these children have in common to be multi sensory gifted. All part of the same spectrum but coping and behaving differently depending on the intensity of their sensory, social, cognitive and emotional experiences.

I am convinced that autism, ADHD and ADD are the results of an environmentally toxic society on multi-sensory gifted. When multi sensory intelligence is too intense the children move into autistic or ADHD/ADD  behaviors as a means to cope, by shutting down or acting out… Two end of the same multi sensory spectrum, trying to keep armful energies out.

Multi sensory intelligence:  A gift or a disability or an evolution trait?

It is important for us to accept that these children simply have different ways of knowing and accessing experience than past generations, instead of considering their gifts as disabilities and deviances. To find solutions for my children and myself that celebrate our differences, I have had to turn towards alternative sources of knowledge and ways of life and it has been delightful to reconnect to a much more genuine view and understanding of what it is to be.

Parents of children on the spectrum often echo what this excerpt from the article Autistic Children Awesome Hidden Talents discusses:

“Rather than seeing autistic children as damaged and in need of healing, Rupert Isaacson believes they are very special, so special in fact that he calls them “Dreamweavers,” as Rowan’s condition led Rupert to achieve many of his dreams. Rupert’s views on stimming are that they are a method of creation, which are intentional. “

Dreamweavers of our worlds?  What is implied here is that these children a destined to walk between the worlds of humans and of dreams. In other words, to follow the path of shamans and become healers.  Shamanism is a way of wisdom as old as the first peoples who walked on the face of Mother Earth. It is the path of honouring the Earth and all beings and seeing everything as being alive and part of the web of life-We are all One.

Shamans have a strong sense of communion with the kingdoms of nature, the elemental realms and the spirit world. Shamans are hyper-sensitive people who sense and perceive things others can’t. Like dogs, their empathic sense is highly developed and they see colors, hear sounds, feel things we can’t see, and communicate with people, animals, plants and the elements.

These people need to have super sensitive senses and extra awareness of their environment to fulfill their functions. But this gift can become a nightmare in today’s current polluted world. Sensing intensily means that HPSs get affect more greatly by the pollution and toxic social life of our societies. And these days, the toxicity has reached incredibly scary dimensions.

Environmental pollution as an assault on the senses

It has been know for along time that our environments influence us. Leanne Rivlin theorized that the environmental cognition involved in human cognition plays a crucial role in environmental perception.  As early as 1947, Roger Barker who created the field of ecological psychology demonstrated that social settings influence behavior.

This means that if our environment, biological and/or social, is toxic our cognitive abilities are compromised. The common western life is extremely toxic, documentaries like the “disappearing boys” make that very clear and without some drastic changes in what we value, healing ourselves and our children will remain a very difficult, if not impossible task.

At a most fundamental level, our food is causing problems that are affecting our children deeply. The overuse of milk is a good example of that. Too many people are convinced that it is the most important source of calcium. Withstanding that it is an accessible one, it is also a very dangerous source of toxins. Besides the antibiotics it contains, it’s fat has now been linked by researchers to gut disease.

Researchers also believe that gastrointestinal disorders may be linked to autism and ADD. Recent studies have shown that there are beneficial effects of Enzyme Based Therapy not just for Autism Spectrum Disorders but also for ADHD/ADD. According to the AUDI, Autism Network for Dietary Intervention, website and others:
“In a study conducted by Dr. Timothy Buie, a pediatric gastroenterologist from Harvard/Mass General hospital, forty-six patients between the ages of 5 and 31 were selected for inclusion in a study based on a diagnosis placing them in the category of the autism spectrum disorders, ADD and ADHD. Their diets were supplemented with a dietary enzyme formulation. The results: The enzyme formula beneficially and safely affected all thirteen of the parameter measured. Improvements ranged from 50-90% depending on the parameters measured. The enzyme was effective at improving the symptoms such as socialization, hyperactivity, attention, eye contact, comprehension and compulsions.”

There is abundant literature in alternative medicine pointing to the fact that diet has a big part to play in how we feel, think and learn. Unfortunately mainstream medicine and mainstream society do not believe in these ancient forms of practices based on centuries of experiential knowledge.

The body is so sensitive that all these things have to be introduced with special care. Each body is a unique intricate chemical media and we must learn to respect it by trying to understand its need outside of main stream, standardized processes.  Mass production and mass knowledge cannot respond to the need of individuals. And frankly, I have found traditional doctors less than helpful in this matter. They are too busy, to preoccupied and too invested in a ideology of controlling the body with drug dispensing to be able to cope with relearning how to understand humans. And in a way, each one of us should take responsibility for our own health and well being, no one else can.

I know in my family the wrong diet leads to major changes in behavior and ability to listen, focus etc. It seems just logical that nutrition is an important contributing factor.  I am also becoming very cautious with vitamins. One dosage does not fit all. for instance, fish oils which are suppose to be essential for fatty acids depress me and my son. Pure, organic, etc, make no difference. Same with vitamins,  regular,  full of chemical and hidden residues and even organic and produced with care ones do not work  for all and I do think this is particularly true for sensitive people.  I recently realized that my high grade multivitamins makes me become anxious…. As soon as I stop, within three days my mood is back to normal.

But our mouth isn’t the only way for toxins to get in our  bodies. The skin and our lungs are also previous organs and we need to consider what we expose them to.   Creams, shampoos, perfumes, lotions all penetrate our skins and chemicals such as flame retardant and other similar chemicals are added to most products. Water, air, dust, soil, cleaning  products,  factory production substances released in the environment, plastics, treated cloth, etc,  are all sources of contamination.. Through our stomach, skin and nose wears exposed to countless numbers of chemicals.

Scarier still, the exposure of past generations are affect us. According to the article ” Today’s Environment Influences Behavior Generations Later: Chemical Exposure Raises Descendants’ Sensitivity to Stress” ScienceDaily (May 21, 2012), researchers at The University of Texas at Austin and Washington State University have seen an increased reaction to stress in animals whose ancestors were exposed to an environmental compound generations earlier:

” The researchers — David Crews at Texas , Michael Skinner at Washington State and colleagues — exposed gestating female rats to vinclozolin, a popular fruit and vegetable fungicide known to disrupt hormones and have effects across generations of animals. The researchers then put the rats’ third generation of offspring through a variety of behavioral tests and found they were more anxious, more sensitive to stress, and had greater activity in stress-related regions of the brain than descendants of unexposed rats.

“We are now in the third human generation since the start of the chemical revolution, since humans have been exposed to these kinds of toxins,” says Crews. “This is the animal model of that.”

“The ancestral exposure of your great grandmother alters your brain development to then respond to stress differently,” says Skinner. “We did not know a stress response could be programmed by your ancestors’ environmental exposures.””

These findings create a direct relationship between our molecular system and our mental states:

“We did not know a stress response could be reprogrammed by your ancestors’ environmental exposures,” says Skinner, who focused on the epigenetic transgenerational inheritance and genomics aspects of the paper. “So how well you socialize or how your anxiety levels respond to stress may be as much your ancestral epigenetic inheritance as your individual early-life events.”
This could explain why some individuals have issues with post-traumatic stress syndrome while others do not, he says.
Crews says that increases in other mental disorders may be attributable to the kind of “two-hit” exposure that the experiment is modeling.

“There is no doubt that we have been seeing real increases in mental disorders like autism and bipolar disorder,” says Crews, who focused on the neuroscience, behavior and stress aspects of the paper. “It’s more than just a change in diagnostics. The question is why? Is it because we are living in a more frantic world, or because we are living in a more frantic world and are responding to that in a different way because we have been exposed? I favor the latter.”

The researchers also saw intriguing differences in weight gain, opening the door to further research on obesity. “

Some insight into how sensitive we all are may be a way to reduce obesity.  WebEd, scientists are starting to understand that:

stress may stimulate obesity by unlocking the body’s fat cells (…). Researchers found a molecule the body releases when stressed called NPY (neuropeptide Y). NPY appears to unlock certain receptors in fat cells, causing them to grow in both size and number.

Turns out that fat is a defense mechanism. According to another article from dlife.com, stress is like a steroid for fat cells. When the body is stressed, one of the substances it releases is a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol causes heart rate and blood pressure to increase, along with a number of other physiological reactions. It causes the release of fatty acids from fat tissues, and raises blood pressure. One other thing this molecule does is to unlock certain receptors in fat cells, allowing them to grow bigger than normal and also to multiply.

Scientists at Georgetown University have found a connection between stress, a high-calorie diet, and extreme weight gain. These scientists tested two groups of mice — a stressed group and a non-stressed group. Each group was fed normal diets and high-fat and high-sugar comfort food diets. The stressed mice on the high-fat and high-sugar diet gained twice as much fat as unstressed mice on the same diet. The stressed animals used and stored fat differently than the non-stressed ones.

Stress is not the only toxin that makes our body generate fat cells. it has also been noticed that fat people have less toxin in organs than skinny people. HSP can not handle the same amount of pollution in the bodies then others so, the body uses its natural defense mechanism to filter out as much of it as possible with fat so that it does not reach organs.

According to this article on detoxification:

“When you regularly eat toxic foods, your body filters and eliminates what it can and stores the rest of the toxins in fat cells to keep them out of your blood stream. As the body becomes more and more toxic, it becomes less and less able to filter out toxins. This means more toxins are stored in fat cells and that bigger fat cells are needed to store them.”

Toxicity travels across generations, we must reduce it now before it is too late by focusing on nourishing ourselves and our children in healthier ways.  We can’t change the system but we can change ourselves, personally I have decided to learn how to nourish myself and my family with a different life diet, to slow down and become less stressed. We nourish ourselves in many ways, and all elements that affect the individual, from the micro  levels biologically, sensorially, psychologically to the macro level spiritually, which are interwoven and affect each other, must be taken into consideration. Thus our leaving the city for a while.

Attention diet: space, technology and people as sensory overload

In The Globe and Mail article ” Why is walking in the woods so good for you?”,
Alex Hutchinson explores the results from a study, which will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that volunteers suffering from depression who took a 50-minute walk in a woodland park improved their cognition, as measured by the ability to remember a random string of digits and repeat them in reverse order, compared to those who took a walk through city streets. An earlier study found similar results in subjects who weren’t depressed.

“ The lead researcher Marc Berman, a research fellow at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest in Toronto, makes a distinction between two types of attention: “voluntary,” in which we consciously focus on something; and “involuntary,” in which something grabs our attention. The ability to direct voluntary attention is crucial in daily life (and for cognitive tasks like remembering random digits), but it’s easily fatigued. Dr. Berman and his colleagues believe that going for a walk in the park gives voluntary attention a break, since your mind has a chance to wander aimlessly and be engaged – involuntarily but gently – by your surroundings.

“In a lot of natural areas, you’re away from loud noises and distractions,” Dr. Berman explains. “It tends to be less crowded so you don’t have to worry about bumping into people, and it also has interesting stimulation to look at, which captures your attention automatically.”

In contrast, honking horns and traffic lights and crowded sidewalks – and pretty much every other ingredient of modern life in a big city – constantly force you to exert your voluntary attention to react or block them out, leaving you more cognitively depleted.”

Children are born today in a very demanding sensorial and social environment, given how much less able to filter date than adults, their brain functions must have to adapt to these bombardment of toxins.

Adding to these attention seeking environment poor air quality, and as Hutchinson points out:

” A single exposure to polluted air can trigger lung and heart problems, and chronic exposure has been linked to cognitive decline. Even downtown parks and riverside bike paths are likely to have significantly better air quality than busy city streets, and trees offer an additional protective effect. The level of vehicle emissions just 200 metres away from a road is already four times lower than it is on the sidewalk next to the road.”

As pointed out by Therese Rowley in the article, multi sensory children, we also don’t know what the collective impact of electromagnetic fields such as cell phones, computers, videogames, microwave ovens, wireless environments, etc. is on children today.

No wonder a walk in nature or relationships with animals can help, I personally would add that in nature all senses can relax. Smell, hearing, empathy, skin, energy sensors are less exposed to toxins and recharging on natural sounds, smells, air, magnetic energy etc. I think that part of the answer is that we can easily synch with natural waves and fields and that in such settings we no longer sense the technological and pollution layers that are so intensely packed in cities.

I am experiencing the difference for myself. Air, water, wind, soil and sand create an environment that allows my body and mind to relax and become at one with the environment. We are animals, we need to be in sync with what surrounds us. This is particularly important to highly sensitive people.

And finally there are fewer people. As I discussed in another post on empathy, Empathy is a double edge sword. In a peaceful space, it is awesome, but  in a stressful environment, which I find most social setting to be (Work, family reunion, when we work too much, etc) sensing stress can drive me insane.  It can drive me to deep levels of depression if I do not stop the input.

One thing which really astonishes me to this day is how much I and my kids can mirror and mimic how others perceive us. When someone believes I am stupid, I become that stupid individual, When I am surrounded by angry people I enact “angry-ness”, even if I am not angry. When my kids are around someone who thinks they are weird, they immediately become agitated, use incoherent speech. If me or my husband are stressed, the kids immediately show it….. Empathy is a double edge sword… it can be wonderful… or hell…

Scientists have demonstrated the existence of mirror neurons humans: According to Wikipedia:

mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behaviour of the other, as though the observer were itself acting. Such neurons have been directly observed in primates and other species including birds. “

This neuron is key to empathy and seems to me that HSP exist to help this world move towards what Jeremy Rifkin calls an empathic civilization and what Matthew Taylor believes may be 21st century enlightenment.

“Sensed” empathy explains why sensitive people may seem strange to others. As most people are completely unaware of how their energy affect others. So we learn to compensate, but not in positive ways. I always have a laptop in front of me when in a meeting in order to create an energy and visual barrier between me and others. I never used to be able to look at people in the eyes as what I sensed was too intimate, the core of their being and often saw very negative things that simply drained me. Same with my sons, they can’t yet filter, so they have a very difficult time in unknown social settings and busy settings. My eldest is learning strategies to cope, my little one does not have that control yet. HSP are sponges for everyone else’s emotions without becoming consciously aware of their own emotions, they can not help but to absorb others emotions and thinking.   This makes awareness of emotions and sensations the most important skill for them to learn. As far as I am concerned, it is a form of literacy and as important to an empath than learning how to read. Reading someone is like reading a book, once you know how to control it.

I am learning to listen to my senses in a positive way and to eliminate negative inputs. I am trying to help my kids learn how to do so as well. But one day in the social world and we come home exhausted….. This social exhaustion is hard to explain to others….. and it affects us physically, if we don’t rest a lot, we get sick and fatter.

Making sense of environmental toxics

The denaturalization our environments has serious consequences to our entire body, mind and spirituality which originally formed out of our communion with nature. Adding sensorial settings to the realm of influence, it becomes evident that environments can be very toxic to humans.  Why wouldn’t our young be influenced by changes in our environment. Why wouldn’t our youngsters’ brains adapt to these environments and as a consequence behave differently?

A toxic world can only poison  dreamweavers, HSPs, creatives, and anyone gifted with sensory intelligence.

Given that  geneticists have discovered that RNA, the junk DNA, is not junk but the adaptable part of our genes. They exact to environmental stimuli and signal the DNA to change the type of protein it produces, depending on what the environment requires. DNA is not all preprogrammed, it changes to programming to fit the environment. Environmental genetic is as potent as environmental behavior. I would not be surprised if in the case of extremely highly multi-sensory gifted children the only way to survive overstimulation is to shut down their communication and sensory systems in order not to go insane. Signaling the genes to shut off gifts sensory inputs to save the person.

Holistic health practitioners know that decreasing the stimuli in their environment on all levels supports them in the presence of the children and honoring the richness of silence may also help.

Trying to get us not to go insane with the saturation of inputs that bombard us in the city we came to Nicaragua and what a change it has made. The kids and us are so much healthier… This calm and peace we are experiencing is allowing us to retrain ourselves in one of the most toxic, yet, least discussed topic in the sensory therapy material I have looked at, dealing with parental stress and emotions.

In the book, how to raise your kids without raising your voice, Sarah Radcliffe discusses how we as adults must show our children how to deal constructively with our strongest emotions, anger and stress.  As she explains it, when we are angry, and quietly brewing, the suppressed anger spits into the house like a poisonous gas, toxic to all that come in contact with it.  Stress works the same way.

Having been away from mainstream culture for a few month, I have been shocked at the negativity all visitors bring with them. The first few days on their stays, their thoughts and discourse is full of hidden anger and other negative emotions. As they relax and slow down, the tendencies lessen….

One thing about children, and shamans, is that they are empathic. Imagine living your life sensing every ones anger, sadness, stress, bitterness, resentment, criticism, rage, etc… Imagine, feeling it and in some cases thinking it as your own.  In western societies as expressing strong emotions is becoming increasingly unacceptable, people are living in states of constant denial and suppression just to be able to survive the day. To sensitive people, children and shamans, however, none of these things are hidden. They feel them for those who hide them. They act out the thoughts of others, having mirror neurons much more active than most. They become the negative thoughts other have of them and behave “badly”, aggressively, angrily, etc. when a empath child is being disobedient, he/she is usually picking up on the insecurities of their parents and acting them out… And of course get punished for such behaviors. So, given that most elements in their environments that they can pay attention to is toxic to them, could it be that they turn of and stop paying attention just to be at peace and not get anxious themselves?

Paying attention with senses or focus has just become too painful. But if the multi sensory gifted  are the artist, healers, scientist, innovators of tomorrow and they are no longer able to cope with our society. How are we to continue evolving ? The social norms within our culture and institutions are not only places of systemic discrimination against races, physical abilities and genders but also those with sensory difference. The “cure” is in us not institutions or traditions.

Intensity as a pathway to personal change

We must reduce toxicity in our children’s lives if we are to continue to exist.
Multi sensory gifted have an innate potential for development that is determined by a higher sensitivity and by a related tendency to develop individual differences and autonomy from the group (Aron, 1996), and as such to change our societies.

I agree with Lesley Sword that instead of blocking, censoring or repressing emotions and sensorial knowledge, it is crucial to help these children accept their rich inner world of experience both happy and negative and value them as a strength. This means that we, as parents, teachers, mentor or family member must do the work necessary to accept and value our own emotional and sensorial experiences and feelings in order to become a positive role model for our children. For most adults, expressing and valuing our emotions and our senses is very difficult to do.

Such an acceptance is key to the growth of these children and our species.
The Theory of Positive Disintegration (TPD) by Kazimierz Dąbrowski describes a theory of development that views psychological tension and anxiety as necessary for growth. Overexcitabilities play a central part in Dabrowski’s theory of advanced development.

Michael Piechowski, who worked with Dabrowski, explains the overexcitabilities as an abundance of physical, sensual, creative, intellectual and emotional energy that can result in creative endeavours as well as advanced emotional and ethical development in adulthood.  In other words,  overexcitabilities feed, enrich, empower and amplify talent.

Further more, individuals with strong developmental potential tend to experience frequent and intense crises (positive disintegrations) that create opportunities for the development of an autonomous, self-crafted personality. Dabrowski observed that gifted and creative populations tend to exhibit increased levels of developmental potential and thus may be predisposed to experience the process of positive disintegration.

These “disintegrative” processes are seen as positive. For Dabrowski individual developmental potentials include three aspects; special talents and abilities, overexcitability and a factor describing an inner motivation to develop. As W Tillier explains:

“ People who display an individualized developmental pathway break away from an automatic, socialized view of life (what Dabrowski called “negative adjustment”) and move into a series of disintegrations. If development continues, people go on to develop an individualized, conscious and critically evaluated hierarchical value structure (called “positive adjustment”). The hierarchy of values comes to act as a benchmark by which all things are seen and the higher values in the hierarchy direct behavior. These higher, individual values characterize a second integration reflecting individual autonomy. At this level, each person develops his or her own vision of how life ought to be. This higher level is associated with strong individual approaches to problem solving and creativity. Giftedness and creativity are applied in the service of these higher individual values and visions of how life could be. The individual expresses his or her talents energetically, through action, though art, through social change, etc.

The experience of, and reaction to, crises are a very important aspect of this approach and people are encouraged to experience personal crises with a positive and developmental view. Without internal disease there is little stimulus for change or growth. Rather than trying to rapidly ameliorate symptoms, this approach encourages individuals to fully experience their feelings and to try to maintain a positive and developmental orientation to what they may perceive as strong depression or anxiety.” (Tillier, 2009)

interestingly, shamanism has a similar view, a shaman often being a wounded healer.  The shaman must become sick to understand sickness. When the shaman overcomes her or his own sickness s/he will hold the cure to heal all that suffer.

Through this wounded healer concept both Jung and shamanism understand an opening towards other dimensions  of the self which can connect us to our humanity.  As Paul levy, a shaman, explains:

“As wounded healers, we become transformed when we recognize that our wound is completely personal and uniquely our own, while simultaneously being a universal, impersonal process in which everyone is participating. It is this shared felt sense that deeply connects us with each other. This is the paradox: An experience of our wholeness, what Jung calls the Self, is both personal and archetypal/transpersonal (beyond the personal) at the same time. To experience this contradiction consciously is itself the expansion of consciousness which initiates a transformation in ourselves, and by extension, the world around us. This is to paradoxically step into being a genuinely autonomous, independent being while at the same time realizing our interconnectedness, interdependence, unity and ultimate inseparability from the world and each other. The energetic expression of this realization is compassion.” http://www.realitysandwich.com/wounded_healer

What a wonderful potential…

In my next posts, I will explore how my family is attempting to become sensory  and emotionally aware and how we are detoxing our life diet.

Slowly, as we are living a simpler life and deschooling, I am beginning to see potentials for use of media that enhances instead of numb intense emotions, experiences and thoughts. But I need more time to understand the effect of media on my children.

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