home free stuff is this you? how we work services introverts - wow! testimonials nancy okerlund contact us resources

Nancy Okerlund
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 sensitive" introvert.

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 environment."

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 introvert.

So, about me going to India. This wasn't my first trip it was my seventh. But it's been 7 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 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 possible.

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 this trip.

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 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 :-).

© Introvert Energy 2003 - 2007 | all rights reserved | 612.823.3199 | nancy@introvertenergy.com