Volume 3, Issue 9, 08/20/09
Around the World in 80 Hours
A little over two weeks ago I came home from a three-week
pilgrimage to India.
It seems I can't tell the story of this trip without bringing in
a dimension of life in my body that's an interesting sub-topic
in the conversation about introversion. It's that I'm a "highly
High sensitivity, of course, isn't just a sub-topic. According
to research, it's a trait shared by 15-20 percent of the
population (of all mammals, not just people). It's of
particular interest for introverts because the statistics suggest
that 70% of highly sensitive people (HSPs) are introverts.
Some years ago, when I interviewed a couple dozen introverts for
a writing project, a fair number talked about their high
sensitivity, and considered it intertwined with being an introvert.
Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person (and a number
of other books about high sensitivity) is the research
psychologist responsible for raising consciousness about this
trait. Like introversion and extroversion, high sensitivity is
a physical characteristic: "a highly receptive, highly sensitive
nervous system....designed to notice subtleties in the
So, back to me and my trip to India in my highly sensitive
introvert body. I bring up high sensitivity in talking about
India because it seems such a potent ingredient in the experience.
Comparing high sensitivity and introversion to see what can be
said isn't a small undertaking – and I hope someone is doing
that. What I'll say here intuitively (most of my coaching
clients turn out to be highly sensitive introverts) is that
being highly sensitive as an introvert seems to turn up the
volume – it's maybe a more intense version of life as an
So, about me going to India. This wasn't my first trip – it was
my seventh. But it's been 7 ½ years since I last went. Here's
the moral of this story, I think: I'm glad to be a conscious
introvert (and a somewhat conscious HSP). Seven and a half
years ago I didn't identify as an introvert or highly sensitive –
I like it much better this new way.
I'd guess probably no one who visits India from the West (and
my hunch is this includes people who were raised in India) would
disagree that it's very highly stimulating to the senses. The
density of people. The easy possibility of cows, goats, dogs,
chickens, boars, and burros mingling freely with the humans.
The indescribable traffic patterns. Activity seemingly 24 hours
a day. Breathtakingly beautiful color wherever you turn. The
way the harshness of deep poverty intermingles with all other
modes of living. Sadly, more and more pollution.
And depth and richness of culture that, to me, feel palpable.
India is, of course, a very old culture. A scholar friend of
mine who's lived in India for several decades was talking to me
about India and continuity. He said the information Indian
culture has about its past is astonishing.
People know what people were eating for breakfast in India 5000
years ago. He laughingly told me about an Indian hit tune –
it's a mantra Indians today sing with the same words and melody
they did 11,000 years ago :-). It's an old culture and a
culture whose ground of being is spiritual.
For a highly sensitive introvert like me, going to India could
be the kind of activity her mother would strongly discourage :-).
Besides that it's dramatically over-stimulating, we were on the
road 39 hours going and 40 ½ coming back – non-stop extroverting
through eleven time zones.
Add to that the dimension of pilgrimage, that this was a
spiritual journey as well as a physical one, and we have an
experience that boggles both my heart and mind. And is always
hard on my body. But I think I'll do it again as soon as
Even before I identified consciously as an introvert, I'd guess
I was doing a fairly good job of taking care of myself or I
wouldn't have gone six times.
What I regularly say about the benefits of being a conscious
introvert is that you have more of 3 "e's": energy, ease, and
effectiveness. I was happy to notice that was true for me on
There's a cheerfulness I've developed about the challenges of
being an introvert (and highly sensitive) that made this trip
more matter-of-fact than any I remember. I think it comes from
how much I've grown to love being an introvert.
I took more vitamins than usual and found a special "travel
tonic" to help prevent airplane-induced maladies. I did get
sick a couple days after we arrived (it seems to be part of my
pilgrimages – I think of it as part over-stimulation, part
spiritual cleansing) but I didn't resist it – much.
And I appreciated that my symptoms were gentle and that being
mildly sick gave me a lot of down time I probably would have
otherwise skimped on.
I gave myself permission (for the first time) to do very little
socializing, somewhat hard to do because there were interesting
people from all over the world around me. But I don't regret it.
I made it a point to write every day. Usually it was sort of
feverish scribbling to describe the day's events, with a little
of my thoughts and feelings sprinkled in. On the one hand it
was frustrating – I was having rich experiences and only enough
time or energy for "the facts".
But on the other hand, I liked it. I knew I was saying enough
to get me back into my impressions later. I have 86 (little)
journal pages I'm really appreciating these days.
While I was sick I prescribed "qigong walking" for myself.
Those of you who've read The Introvert Energizer for awhile
know I'm a student of qigong ("chee-gung"), an ancient Chinese
field of "energy work". Qigong teaches that walking is very
good for our "life force" energy (kidney energy) because it
stimulates kidney points on the balls of our feet.
Walking is also great for helping busy introvert brains move
that brain energy down into the whole body. I could often be
seen bundled up, slowly walking the verandahs, plugged into my
iPod. It was a fun way to recuperate :-)
To our pleasant surprise, my traveling companions and I
discovered we'd been upgraded to business class when we got to
the Mumbai airport to board our 2:30 AM flight to London. My
highly sensitive introvert body got to stretch out under a nice
quilt in the quite-empty business class section and rest
luxuriously for 9 ½ hours. A little present from the universe
to help me re-join the masses in the coach section through two
more flights to Minneapolis.
Once home, I felt not one bit guilty having a whole week with
nothing on my schedule but rest and re-entry. (A habit I got
into a few India trips back, which used to include guilt.) The
following week (last week) I noticed I felt more focused and
rested than ever by that time, post-India.
The highly sensitive introvert back home, bright-eyed and
bushy-tailed – pretty much :-).
End of food for thought – on to some practical ideas:
A Practical Idea for Introverts
Think of something new to do to take care of your introvert self
the next time you travel.
A Practical Idea for Extroverts
Smile at all those solemn-looking, inward-focused introverts
next time you're cooped up with them on a plane :-).