What does it mean to be thick or thin-skinned? Is it possible to exist in a way where both of these traits can simultaneously be in play?
We exist in a landscape of extremes, where we are quick to separate the thick from the thin. The modern age, with all its astonishing revelations, also carries with it the burden of this divide. You know the types. Those with super thick skin shrug everything off, have uber immunity, act utterly unbothered, and are lacking in vulnerability when it comes to themselves and to others. Those with ultra thin skin lack resilience, have limitless fragility and very little immunity, are delicate to a fault, and take everything too personally.
What we are really talking about here is the distortion of our personal levels of sensitivity, the blunting of our keen and innate abilities to quietly discern when it is time to be more receptive and unguarded, and when it is best not to be. It starts young, this penchant towards under or over susceptibility. In our kids we see more and more the embodiment of these hypo and hyper extremes. Both are destabilizing. In a time of heightened violence and sensationalism, we are not meant to be so impervious or numb. Nor are we meant to be so penetrable that it makes it hard to come through difficulties intact.
I am notoriously thin-skinned. If skin were paper, mine would be wispy like tracing paper, or like tender decorative tissue paper, the kind where you have to use five sheets just so the present you are wrapping is actually hidden. For the bulk of my life, I have regarded this thin skin of mine as a flaw. Yet in the past several years, I’ve begun to look upon my intense sensitivity with more detachment, as both a gift and a hindrance, and as a tendency that is in fact amendable.
We could all use to either stimulate our sensitivity or to soothe and stroke it down. I like to call this fine-tuning the balancing of immunity. Some of us need to toughen up and respond less, while others need to soften down and respond more. The goal is to be semi-pervious, in a truce between thick and thin, so that neither dominates, nor competes with the other. Instead, we learn to sense precisely, intuitively, consciously, and appropriately, taking in and keeping out just enough, censoring our loads of input and output, setting our own limits, and creating appropriate boundaries. Sculpting our immunity inevitably invokes wellness, by changing our connection to our nutrition, our work, and to self-care. It affects our relationships with our selves, our loved ones and not so loved ones, and with everything else we interact with.
In yoga, my understanding of restorative poses, especially savasana, or final relaxation, is that they are non-effortful practices in sensory disengagement. In these postures, we gently recede from the bombardment of sensory information. We take a break from hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, and feeling. This doesn’t mean we become insensitive at all. Rather, we sink into a place absent of the need to differentiate between too much or too little, a place where dualism dissolves. There is no thick, nor thin, just skin, and pulsing energy, and the breath. The head grows heavy and engorged with peace. The back of the skull becomes a collecting pool, gathering insight into beautifully proportioned sensitivity.
The world is so polarized, so caffeinated and decaffeinated. When we experience the removal of this separation, the sweetness and supple bliss of simply being in the moment, devoid of extremes, arise. We are after all of one common earth. We share one amazing, breathing, pliable, and enduring skin. Spanning and stretching across our planet, the biggest organ of our global body, we had better learn to take good care of it.