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Vibrant Days…. 

Flourishing with Sensory Processing Sensitivity

December 2015


Stop Looking

Yesterday I compiled a list of top-ten-gifts-my-sensitivity-has-given-me this year and by the time I arrived at gift four I gasped thinking, “Who needs another list? Not me so surely not them!” I have a list glaring at me from the kitchen counter, one on my phone and several competing for attention in my brain. Enough is enough.

It’s December. A month that can feel toxic and ignite intense emotion and overwhelm in a second! So much coming at us from the outside as well as internally. Feels like finals week but without the bliss of studying! You’ve read all the survival tips: less is more, say no to sugar, stay out of malls, focus on what matters, blah blah blah. I’m (attempting) to focus on things like lowering expectations, catching and curbing my subtle attempts to please or rescue others, and hardest of all: to embrace what is. “Stop looking for something and just look” says Paula D’Arcy. Can someone teach me how to do this? Count me in while watching the snowfall or sitting beside a crackling fire but noticing the empty chair once filled by a loved one and facing inevitable life changes that feel dreadful demands a resilience I often can’t find within. Oh to taste the inner fullness when I’m able to surrender to the moment laying down the demands of what it should or could be like. Why is this so difficult to do?

Ok I’m overwhelming myself with my own narrative. Please forgive me. I wish you joy in the simple things, some quiet inside and out and a gentle reminder that your sensitivity is one of your finest gifts to yourself and our world.


Last week I discovered this Christmas carol was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Learning this gave the song an entirely new meaning. The combinations of human distress, deep yearnings for peace and meeting “a voice as big as the sea” resonate with my own experience.

When Bing Crosby or Robert Goulet or Carrie Underwood sing of “a star, a star, dancing in the night with a tail as big as a kite,” it evokes the biblical Star of Bethlehem, leading the magi to the son of God.

It also evokes a nuclear missile.

Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne Baker wrote “Do You Hear What I Hear” in 1963, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, in response to the existential dread they felt because of the Cold War. “In the studio, the producer was listening to the radio to see if we had been obliterated,” Regney once explained. “En route to my home, I saw two mothers with their babies in strollers. The little angels were looking at each other and smiling.” This inspired the first line of the song: “Said the night wind to the little lamb … ”

With this context, a carol that may feel like a classical standard suddenly seems much more haunting, urgent, modern. Not that it’s not haunting on its own. Like many a great Christmas song, it is one of call and response, and of dramatic shifts in volume and pitch. Each refrain begins with a question sung solemn and low, and then jumps up the scales for the answer. This creates a sense of size, of craning upward for revelation.

The lyrics are impressionistic, writerly, about a chain of communications between objects animate and not; I have always felt a bit frightened at the notion of “a voice as big as the sea.” The mentions of The Child make the song Christian, of course. But when there’s the command for “people everywhere” to pray for peace, the import is beyond any one religion.

Baker once said that because of the fearful mood of the nation at the time, she and Regney had a hard time singing “Do You Hear What I Hear” without crying: “Our little song broke us up.” There’s reason enough for it to have the same effect today, unfortunately.


Christmas is a time when you get homesick — even when you’re home.

-Carol Nelson


How Smartphones Are Killing Conversation – by Jill Suttie

A Q&A with MIT professor Sherry Turkle about her new book, Reclaiming Conversation:

What happens when we become too dependent on our mobile phones? According to MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle, author of the new book Reclaiming Conversation, we lose our ability to have deeper, more spontaneous conversations with others, changing the nature of our social interactions in alarming ways.

Sherry Turkle – Turkle has spent the last 20 years studying the impacts of technology on how we behave alone and in groups. Though initially excited by technology’s potential to transform society for the better, she has become increasingly worried about how new technologies, cell phones in particular, are eroding the social fabric of our communities. In her previous book, the bestselling Alone Together, she articulated her fears that technology was making us feel more and more isolated, even as it promised to make us more connected. Since that book came out in 2012, technology has become even more ubiquitous and entwined with our modern existence. Reclaiming Conversation is Turkle’s call to take a closer look at the social effects of cell phones and to re-sanctify the role of conversation in our everyday lives in order to preserve our capacity for empathy, introspection, creativity, and intimacy.

I interviewed Turkle by phone to talk about her book and some of the questions it raises. Here is an edited version of our conversation…

Jill Suttie: Your new book warns that cell phones and other

portable communication technology are killing the art of

conversation. Why did you want to focus on conversation,


Sherry Turkle: Because conversation is the most human and

humanizing thing that we do. It’s where empathy is born,

where intimacy is born—because of eye contact, because we

can hear the tones of another person’s voice, sense their

body movements, sense their presence. It’s where we learn

about other people. But, without meaning to, without having

made a plan, we’ve actually moved away from conversation

in a way that my research was showing is hurting us.

JS: How are cell phones and other technologies hurting us?

ST: Eighty-nine percent of Americans say that during their

last social interaction, they took out a phone, and 82

percent said that it deteriorated the conversation they were

in. Basically, we’re doing something that we know is

hurting our interactions.

I’ll point to a study. If you put a cell phone into a

social interaction, it does two things: First, it decreases

the quality of what you talk about, because you talk about

things where you wouldn’t mind being interrupted, which

makes sense, and, secondly, it decreases the empathic

connection that people feel toward each other.

So, even something as simple as going to lunch and putting a

cell phone on the table decreases the emotional importance

of what people are willing to talk about, and it decreases

the connection that the two people feel toward one another.

If you multiply that by all of the times you have a cell

phone on the table when you have coffee with someone or are

at breakfast with your child or are talking with your

partner about how you’re feeling, we’re doing this to

each other 10, 20, 30 times a day.

JS: So, why are humans so vulnerable to the allure of the

cell phone, if it’s actually hurting our interactions?

ST: Cell phones make us promises that are like gifts from a

benevolent genie—that we will never have to be alone, that

we will never be bored, that we can put our attention

wherever we want it to be, and that we can multitask, which

is perhaps the most seductive of all. That ability to put

your attention wherever you want it to be has become the

thing people want most in their social interactions—that

feeling that you don’t have to commit yourself 100 percent

and you can avoid the terror that there will be a moment in

an interaction when you’ll be bored.

Actually allowing yourself a moment of boredom is crucial to

human interaction and it’s crucial to your brain as well.

When you’re bored, your brain isn’t bored at

all—it’s replenishing itself, and it needs that down


We’re very susceptible to cell phones, and we even get a

neurochemical high from the constant stimulation that our

phones give us.

I’ve spent the last 20 years studying how compelling

technology is, but you know what? We can still change. We

can use our phones in ways that are better for our kids, our

families, our work, and ourselves. It’s the wrong analogy

to say we’re addicted to our technology. It’s not


JS: One thing that struck me in your book was that many

 people who you interviewed talked about the benefits of

 handling conflict or difficult emotional issues online. They

 said they could be more careful with their responses and

 help decrease interpersonal tensions. That seems like a good

 thing. What’s the problem with that idea?

 ST: It was a big surprise when I did the research for my

 book to learn how many people want to dial down fighting or

 dealing with difficult emotional issues with a partner or

 with their children by doing it online.

 But let’s take the child example. If you do that with your

 child, if you only deal with them in this controlled way,

 you are basically playing into your child’s worst

 fear—that their truth, their rage, their unedited

 feelings, are something that you can’t handle. And

 that’s exactly what a parent shouldn’t be saying to a

 child. Your child doesn’t need to hear that you can’t

 take and accept and honor the intensity of their feelings.

 People need to share their emotions—I feel very strongly

 about this. I understand why people avoid conflict, but

 people who use this method end up with children who think

 that the things they feel aren’t OK. There’s a variant

 of this, which is interesting, where parents give their

 children robots to talk to or want their children to talk to

 Siri, because somehow that will be a safer place to get out

 their feelings. Again, that’s exactly what your child

 doesn’t need.

 JS: Some studies seem to show that increased social media

 use actually increases social interaction offline. I wonder

 how this squares with your thesis?

 ST: How I interpret that data is that if you’re a social

 person, a socially active person, your use of social media

 becomes part of your social profile. And I think that’s

 great. My book is not anti-technology; it’s

 pro-conversation. So, if you find that your use of social

 media increases your number of face-to-face conversations,

 then I’m 100 percent for it.

 Another person who might be helped by social media is

 someone who uses it for taking baby steps toward meeting

 people for face-to-face conversations. If you’re that kind

 of person, I’m totally supportive.

 I’m more concerned about people for whom social media

 becomes a kind of substitute, who literally post something

 on Facebook and just sit there and watch whether they get

 100 likes on their picture, whose self-worth and focus

 becomes dictated by how they are accepted, wanted, and

 desired by social media.

 And I’m concerned about the many other situations in which

 you and I are talking at a dinner party with six other

 people, and everyone is texting at the meal and applying the

 “three-person rule”—that three people have to have

 their heads up before anyone feels it’s safe to put their

 head down to text. In this situation, where everyone is both

 paying attention and not paying attention, you end up with

 nobody talking about what’s really on their minds in any

 serious, significant way, and we end up with trivial

 conversations, not feeling connected to one another.

 JS: You also write about how conversation affects the

 workplace environment. Aren’t conversations just

 distractions to getting work done? Why support conversation

 at work?

ST: In the workplace, you need to create sacred spaces for

conversation because, number one, conversation actually

increases the bottom line. All the studies show that when

people are allowed to talk to each other, they do

better—they’re more collaborative, they’re more

creative, they get more done.

It’s very important for companies to make space for

conversation in the workplace. But if a manager doesn’t

model to employees that it’s OK to be off of their email

in order to have conversation, nothing is going to get

accomplished. I went to one workplace that had cappuccino

 machines every 10 feet and tables the right size for

 conversation, where everything was built for conversation.

 But people were feeling that the most important way to show

 devotion to the company was answering their email

 immediately. You can’t have conversation if you have to be

 constantly on your email. Some of the people I interviewed

 were terrified to be away from their phones. That translates

 into bringing your cell phone to breakfast and not having

 breakfast with your kids.

 JS: If technology is so ubiquitous yet problematic, what

 recommendations do you make for keeping it at a manageable

 level without getting so hooked?

 ST: The path ahead is not a path where we do without

 technology, but of living in greater harmony with it. Among

 the first steps I see is to create sacred spaces—the

 kitchen, the dining room, the car—that are device-free and

 set aside for conversation. When you have lunch with a

 friend or colleague or family member, don’t put a phone on

 the table between you. Make meals a time when you are there

 to listen and be heard.

 When we move in and out of conversations with our friends in

 the room and all the people we can reach on our phones, we

 miss out on the kinds of conversations where empathy is born

 and intimacy thrives. I met a wise college junior who spoke

 about the “seven-minute rule”: It takes seven minutes to

 know if a conversation is going to be interesting. And she

 admitted that she rarely was willing to put in her seven

 minutes. At the first “lull,” she went to her phone. But

 it’s when we stumble, hesitate, and have those “lulls”

 that we reveal ourselves most to each other.

 So allow for those human moments, accept that life is not a

 steady “feed,” and learn to savor the pace of

 conversation—for empathy, for community, for


In this together,