Yesterday, as part of my work trying to help children with immature vestibular reflexes, I was testing the listening thresholds at different frequencies of an eight year old girl, a very delicate and sensitive little creature. The earphones of my audiometer are a bit heavy and tight, so we kept pausing for a rest. But by the end of the test the little girl was weeping in her mum’s arms -- “Oh mummy, it hurts.”
Strange as it may sound coming from a karate black-belt who used to enjoy playing rugby as a back-row forward, I am a bit like that. No, to tell the truth, I am a lot like that.
For a couple of years around 1993-94, while living on the outskirts of Tokyo in Saitama Prefecture, I used to go to work in the city for a couple of days a week, staying at my friend’s flat in central Tokyo. I once commented to this friend that for those two days a week, I was living on fear. To go into Tokyo for me at that time was to enter hell. The stimuli I was exposing myself to were not particularly noxious ones -- trains crowded with orderly, self-restrained people, flourescent lights, humming computers, work to be done in an office staffed by thoroughly balanced and reasonable colleagues -- but I was hypersensitive to everything.
After getting back home on a Wednesday night, I would come back towards balance by, in between sitting-zen sessions, devoting myself to what I called my “donkey work” -- which mainly consisted of plodding through the Shobogenzo translation. I clearly remember around this time a conversation with Jeremy Pearson, who by then was living in Tokyo. “You are so sensitive, Mike!” Jeremy had commented, perceptively.
Actually that is how I am -- very, very sensitive. Too sensitive. The stuff that appears not to be so sensitive falls into the category, familiar to all good developmental therapists, of “compensatory mechanisms.”
Sensitivity, in the right proportions, may be a virtue. But too much of it is the essence of suffering, as is well known by all who retain an immature baby panic (or ‘Moro’) reflex, including many children and adults on the autistic spectrum and other beings in hell.