Wikipedia definition of sensitivity:
The sensitivity or insensitivity of a human, often considered with regard to a particular kind of stimulus, is the strength of the feeling it results in, in comparison with the strength of the stimulus. The concept applies to physical as well as emotional feeling. Stimulus may consist of any or all types of stimuli, including political, nationalistic, religious, physical, mental, emotional, etc. In the political sense, perception of and reaction to stimuli is often inculcated by – and for the benefit of – power holders.
Sensitivity is a very important aspect to look for in spiritual persons. If you are very sensitive, the chances are that you would become very spiritual, but it’s not a rule. There must be certain degree of spiritual wisdom in you in order to really adapt because of your sensitivity otherwise there would be results which would make you go astray.
Lets understand these with the help of a few examples. Almost all of us are familiar with the life story of Buddha–he was a handsome prince. He was intelligent. He had a beautiful wife and a cute baby boy. But one day he witnessed certain things which made him very agitated and sensitive. He left his palace one night while his wife was sleeping and he ran away to jungle to find cause of suffering. He wanted to end suffering of humanity.
what were those ‘certain things’ which Buddha observed? They were most ordinary things for us. We all see corpses, senility, poverty and illness almost everyday in our day to day life. We don’t feel a buzz. Why Buddha became so agitated by witnessing set of certain events? Was he hypersensitive?
Yes, he was hypersensitive. If you read the life stories of greatest of spiritual figures you would find that their renunciation was not result of their actual suffering but rather that of their hypersensitivity. Please don’t get me wrong. The classical question of weighing the psychological disposition remains same–that is nobody can actually know how you are feeling about a certain thing. We all operate based on guesstimate as far as feelings of others are considered in day-to-day life.
For example–if you say to me “I am feeling bad.” and I ask you “how bad?”
Do you think that you can tell me the amount?
Suppose you say “I am feeling almost like committing suicide.”
I might understand that you cannot bear life anymore but it doesn’t really quantify the amount of your suffering to me in a palpable way. I might be one who thinks(decides) of committing suicide when my suffering reaches to 80 degrees(Lets assume 100 is maximum bad for feelings!) and may be you are not that hard and you decide to commit suicide just after touching 50 degrees!
This was to touch upon the problem of Psychology as far as understanding of actual feelings is concerned. Now, let us get back to Buddha. When I say that greatest spiritual figures renounced world because of their hypersensitivity and not because of their suffering–I intend to overlook the aforesaid classical problem of quantification of feelings. I assume that on an average we all suffer from certain things and certain other things are not that much of suffering.
For example–demise of a loved one is generally a great suffering. Becoming bankrupt might be a great suffering. Actually these should be called shocks.
Therefore, I state that spiritual figures don’t necessarily undergo great actual shock events in their lives. They are just hypersensitive to general shocks. I mean to say that most of the greatest saints were healthy and prosperous like Buddha, still they renounced world based on certain events. It definitely makes them hypersensitive to stimuli.
Having said that lets come to another side of sensitivity. It could be helpful only for a certain type of people in moulding them spiritually. Such persons possess a certain deep understanding of spiritual things or they come into contact with a great spiritual figure. If this wisdom element is missing in a hypersensitive person he either commits suicide or becomes a wreck or becomes highly anti-social. Adolf Hitler might be taken as an example.
Lets take another example to discuss this situation. When you are hurt you might remember it or you might forget it once the pain is healed. Those of us who remember the pain even long after it is healed are sensitive persons. Now, this is just crude ‘sensitivity.’ How much this tends to change our behavior decides the degree of sensitivity. If we care to observe most of us are suffering from the same set of cause and effects all through our lives. We read a lot and write a lot that ‘A fool is one who repeats the same mistake twice.’ But actually there are only handful of persons on planet who never ever repeat the mistakes. For most of us it’s life-long mechanical game. If you go deeper it all boils down to desires. Sufferings and desires are directly related.
Lets take an example: Suppose I suffer from ailments related to excessive fat. I can see that my over-indulgence with food and lack of preference for physical exercise is what results in my suffering but the same pattern keeps on repeating. I had to suffer from knee injury a few years ago–solely because of excessive weight. I was hurt–that pain got healed and I forgot my resolution to refrain from unhealthy dietary habits. I again started eating a lot of rich food and it resulted in breathing ailments–so what I see is I am suffering because I am insensitive. I forget that I get hurt and I continue to repeat the same cycle over and over throughout my life. This is the case with most of us.
Having established relation between suffering and sensitivity lets approach to the second aspect now. Only those of us who are equipped with certain wisdom tend to become more wise. Wise gets wiser. Suppose there are two persons–both of them are hypersensitive. They are bullied. One of them becomes vengeful–waits for gaining power and then hurts those people who had hurt him some twenty years ago–he does not forget even a single event because he is hypersensitive.
The other person is somehow more spiritual. In example of Buddha–Buddhists and others who believe in reincarnation suggest that since Buddha was very spiritually advanced soul(Bodhisattva) in his previous incarnations–therefore he renounced everything upon receiving slightest stimuli. Others who believe that he had special ‘genetic code’ might believe that it made him have ‘higher consciousness’ a special brain and that made him do what he did. So what happens with the second person in example who is bullied? He is hurt–but he has spiritual insights and he is compelled to think through. He realizes the root cause of his suffering. He neither befriends those who hurt him nor he despises them. He not only becomes stoic to those but to all of the people he encounters in life in general.
We observe that two hypersensitive persons react totally differently for the same set of stimuli. We have studied the reactions for two set of reactions–material and spiritual.
This is to understand that without being very sensitive you cannot be spiritual. You cannot meditate. You have to improve your sensitivity but without coming into contact with a source of wisdom your sensitivity might lead you in a wrong direction. Therefore it’s important to grow in wisdom as you grow in sensitivity. They are interrelated.
To give you another palpable modern example–same set of drugs which leads a Timothy Leary develop 8 circuit model of consciousness might lead a less wise person to get high and hurt himself and others. Drugs used for recreation and used for study are two most potent examples of difference in wisdom of subjects. Drugs are substances which make all subjects hypersensitive to stimuli in general. It is the wisdom element which decides what turn that hypersensitivity takes!
Every shock makes a conscious person more conscious and an unconscious person more unconscious. After enough number of such shocks a conscious person and an unconscious person both don’t feel any shocks at all because of two different reasons. One transcends the mind and the other becomes a zombie or a vampire.
image source: here and here