Paramahansa Yogananda was an Indian yogi and guru who introduced millions of westerners to the teachings of meditation and Kriya Yoga through his book, Autobiography of a Yogi. I’ve been reading one of his other books, Journey to Self-Realization. It is the hoot that it sounds. This post is based on a chapter from the book.
Could you be accused of being oversensitive at times?
What is going on there? Why aren’t you able to stop yourself from taking things so personally?
Let’s be honest: most of us have spent at least a chunk of our lives being too invested in the words of others. It kind of flows naturally from the way things are set up around here. You’re more weird and confusing for people when you are not oversensitive!
Go too much in the other direction however, and you’ll seek to immunize yourself completely to the feelings of others. Maybe you will become like one of those people that claim not to give a fuck about anything. (Sorry, but yawn. So many yawns.)
It appears that there is a happy medium to be found, where we aren’t emotionally sensitive, but we remain keenly perceptive, and considerate of the feelings of others.
Here are some insights from the wisest yogi you’ll ever meet, Paramahansa Yogananda, on how we stop being so touchy.
You might want to keep your sense of humor close to hand. I’m not sure whether it was intended, but the yogi is quite the comedian.
‘over-sensitivity is thoughts run amok’
“An analysis of the psychology of touchiness shows that it is the result of a misunderstanding, inferiority complex, and an ungoverned ego.”
According to Paramahansa, sensitiveness expresses itself in a lack of control over the nervous system: when the thought ‘I’m offended’ runs through our minds, our nerves rebel against it. This causes us to convulse by seething inwardly, or letting our touchiness be revealed in our eyes and faces – and with a sharp retort of the tongue as well in some cases. So being touchy is being out of control. The results:
“To be touchy is to make oneself miserable, and to create a negative vibration that also adversely affects others. Even if there is good reason for being excited because of mistreatment, one who instead controls himself in such a situation is a master of himself”.
Being a master of yourself.
I can get on board with that.
‘your over-sensitivity makes you like an opium addict’
“It is a common trait of human beings to be touchy. Many persons think that they should pity themselves when criticized, and that sensitiveness brings a little relief. But such people are like the opium addict; every time he takes the drug, he becomes more steeped in the habit.
Be as firm as steel against sensitiveness.”
Paramahansa suggests that being oversensitive provides us with an emotional pay-off – some kind of righteousness. Therefore we must watch for the tendency to feel slighted and guard against it, knowing its devastating lure.
It appears that taking things personally is addictive.
‘if you’re feeling oversensitive, take yourself off quietly’
“Nobody should catch you in a touchy mood. Quietly correct yourself. If necessary, hide yourself in a room away from others until the fever of sensitiveness is gone.”
This seems like pretty sage advice.
I think most of us do this anyway, to be honest. Some of us just never come out.
The reason for doing this?
“Your face should be an inspiring sermon. Your countenance should be a beacon for others to follow, a lighthouse by which shipwrecked souls can find the way to safety in the harbor of peace.”
‘be sensitive, just don’t be oversensitive‘
The yogi makes an interesting distinction between being oversensitive and being a fully fledged member of the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ brigade.
“There is a difference between emotional sensitiveness and spiritual sensitivity. Those who are spiritually sensitive are discriminatingly watchful of their own feelings and keenly perceptive of the feelings of others, but they remain aloof from the disturbances of psychological impulses.”
Unfortunately he doesn’t give any advice about how to become more spiritually sensitive. Maybe I’ll write on that in a future post.
‘over-sensitivity will stop you from benefiting from the wisdom of others’
By his own admission, Paramahansa was very sensitive in his youth. Consequently, he said he suffered a lot. “It was a process of self-torture”, he said. “Because I was so sensitive, others seemed to take delight in ‘getting my goat’. Let nobody take your peace”.
The sensitivity was apparently ironed out of him by his master, who freely corrected the young yogi.
“Persons with a well developed spirituality can clearly see the faults in others. When a clear sighted well-wisher tries sincerely to help you, that person should not be looked upon as one who wants to exercise lordship over you, but rather as one who is trying to give you understanding and strength to see and conquer your weaknesses. You should cooperate. Be courteous and kind; and if you start to sink into the mood of touchiness, immediately control yourself.”
I definitely feel like here Paramahansa makes an excellent point.
Of course, there are those people who advise bears no resemblance to anything you’d consider adopting. We have to select who we take criticism from.
But either way, over-sensitivity is unnecessary and damaging only to us.
Maybe it was easy for Paramahansa to stamp out his over-sensitivity at an early age, given his upbringing. His advice definitely has a matter-of-fact quality to it.
Nonetheless, I have found his offerings helpful.
Hopefully you do too.