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The Sensitive Mind Is a Creative Mind

Why sensitivity is not a curse, but a blessing.

Pearl S. Buck, the American novelist and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize, captured what it means to be a highly sensitive person:
The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create—so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.

I keep this quote pinned to the wall above my desk, to remind myself, I suppose, that there are other sensitive types out there like me, that the way I feel and experience life is not imagined but real, and that my sensitivity is not a curse, but a blessing, because it feeds my creativity.

I could not be creative without being so sensitive. Sensitivity can be overwhelming, but it is also like having extra RAM on my personal hard drive. Where someone might be aware of three things in a room, I am aware of ten, instantly, often subconsciously and whether I want to or not. I absorb information about the temperature of the room, the brightness of the lights, the colours and designs of the furniture, the feelings of the people around me, and every single sound within earshot, and it all gets sorted into categories and stored until I am bursting at the seams like a warehouse in the Port of Shanghai.

Creativity is the pressure valve for all that accumulated emotional and sensory data. It opens the doors and lets the energy flow out of me and into my work like electricity from Niagara Falls. And when I create, there is a peace and feeling of fulfillment that I can hardly describe. But that doesn't mean it's easy.

In an attempt to wrangle my untamed thoughts and energies into some kind of cohesive corral, I like to read and learn as much as I can and try to gain a little insight. Another HSP trait. We like to absorb knowledge. So I was reading an article about Edward Elgar, the English composer, who was on the verge of giving up composing at one point in his career. He was barely making a living composing and teaching and he felt unappreciated. But his friend August Jaegar encouraged him to keep writing music. Beethoven, Jaegar told him, had worries as well, but he kept writing. He didn't give up. So Elgar kept writing and his next piece was the Enigma Variations, the work that made him famous, and of which he dedicated the Nimrod variation to his friend Jaegar.

Creative people are abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. And sensitive people are unusually creative. It can feel, at times, like too much of everything. But the beauty that can come of that energy, when it is channelled into a creative work, can be sublime.