Ep 6 - Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) and Creativity with Rayne Dowell


My guest Rayne Dowell and I have a conversation about highly sensitive people (HSPs) and how they approach creativity.

Music Credit: 

Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay


Links mentioned in this episode:

HSP World

The Highly Sensitive Person website

Sensitive the Untold Story, the movie

Alanis Morissette

Podcast episode where Alanis interviews Dr. Elaine Aron


Books mentioned in this episode:

Unmasking: A Page-Turning Espionage Thriller, by Rayne Dowell

The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, by Dr. Elaine Aron

The Highly Sensitive Person in Love: Understanding and Managing Relationships When the World Overwhelms You, by Dr. Elaine Aron

The above are affiliate links.



Thomas: Author Pearl Buck once wrote, "The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: a human creature, born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To him, a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy as an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism, the overpowering necessity to create, create, create.

So that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange unknown, inward urgency, he is not really alive unless he is creating." 

Thomas Hello, and welcome to the Creative Shoofly Podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.   

Thomas: Today, I've invited a guest to talk about the relationship between the highly sensitive trait and creativity.  My guest is Rayne Dowell. She is co-creator of HSP world and also an indie author.  She's published a book called Unmasking, a Page Turning Espionage Thriller. I've read it, it actually is exactly that it's, it's definitely a page turner and it's thrilling to read.  

Hello Rayne, how are you doing today?

Rayne: I'm doing great, Thomas. Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Thomas: I'm so glad to have you here to talk about this. You know, we both identify as having the HSP trait. HSP stands for Highly Sensitive Person. And I'm wondering if you could just speak for a moment about what the HSP trait is.

Rayne: Okay. So what it means to me? 

Thomas: Yeah. 

Rayne: Yeah. Okay. Sure. For me, the sort of the way I find easy to relate to it is, basically having a nervous system that's highly tuned. So as opposed to 80 to 85% of the rest of the population. So having a nervous system that's highly tuned, that's gonna mean noticing subtleties in my environment.

That's going to be noticing temperature changes, subtle smells, You know, can relate to food.  it can relate to hearing. So it's like, say, an HSP and a non-HSP walk into a room. A non HSP, will notice, you know, five things in the first 20 seconds. An HSP will notice, you know, 15 things in the same amount of time. 

So basically their nervous system is just highly tuned and food, all kinds of things can affect that. Other people's energy.  You know, all kinds of things. So that's how I find it easiest to relate to it. 

Thomas: The HSP trait comes out of research done by Dr. Elaine Aron and she's written a number of books about her research.  The main book is the Highly Sensitive Person and I'll put links in the show notes to the books.  

She's also done a lot of work around parenting and especially highly sensitive parenting.  She's also written books about HSPs or highly sensitive persons in relationships.  

So she's developed a fairly large body of work around this trait and there are a number of other researchers that are starting to pick up on it and do research on it as well.

Rayne: There's also a movie that I found when I was running an HSP meetup group. We would have showings of her movie called Sensitive the Untold Story,  which is an amazing resource for people who maybe aren't sure if they have the trait or not. Or if they have recently discovered they have the trait and they'd like to know a little bit more information on it, but they don't want to dive into the book yet.

Sensitive, the untold story is a great movie to watch. And it's not really that long. I think it's about an hour long, something like that, but it's on Amazon, so you can rent it and stuff. 

Thomas: I'm glad you mentioned that because one of the people in the movie is a singer songwriter Alanis Morissette. And she identifies with the HSP trait and has talked about it quite a bit. 

And for people who are interested in learning more about  the HSP trait, she has a wonderful podcast episode where she interviews Dr. Elaine Aron. She and Dr. Aron go over something called the D.O.E.S. acronym, which stands for Depth of processing, Overstimulation, Emotional responsiveness and Sensitivity to subtle stimuli. So I highly recommend that. 

And again, I'll put this in the show notes so you can listen to it.  

Alanis is an amazing artist and this sort of is a good segue into my interest in creativity and how the HSP trait relates to creativity.

How do you relate creativity to the HSP trait? 

Rayne: Well, to me from what I can gather so far when I look at how creativity kind of works for me, and how I've noticed it work for other HSPs are, one of the things HSPs are good at is noticing patterns and then noticing anomalies in patterns.

And sometimes those anomalies are subtle. HSPs process information differently. So I think that's something to...  You know, it took me a little while to kind of feel into that one and, and understand it.  Because we're always coming from only our own perspective. Right? 

Thomas: Right. 

Rayne: So realizing that oh, okay so everybody else doesn't process information like this. But maybe, you know, 15 to 20% of the population processes information somewhat like this, similarly, essentially. So I just find that, to me, because HSPs process information differently, so noticing the subtleties, noticing any anomalies and patterns, gives way to such a rich plethora of ways that they can then express that. 

So if you think of it in terms of music, there are music chords or patterns essentially. Right? 

Thomas: Right, right. 

Rayne: And sometimes those anomalies add really interesting twists and can bring up really,  powerful emotions in us.

A lot of the things that resonate with HSPs are things like music and plays and movies and books and things like this.  Because I think that's part of the, um, I don't know what you could call it. That's part of the creativity. There's a level of angst that comes with it.

Thomas: Yeah. I would say that's an understatement!

Rayne: Because,  you know, we can feel it when we're creating it, that no, it's just, it's not capturing what I know is there. And so going back to it or sometimes leaving it because it's like, no, it's just not the right time for that particular piece of art, whatever that is, whether it's a song or lyrics or a poem or whatever it is.

So yeah, there is the level of angst that comes with it as well. 

But it's also really cool in that it's exercising your creative muscle.  It’s actually really fun because it's about being curious and experimenting. And seeing where that takes you. 

And that I think is, that's one of the things we tend to lose. When you look at children they're intrinsically happy and curious and creative and so that's one of the things that I think is so wonderful about creativity is it can, it can bring us back into that state. 

Thomas: Into that playful state. 

Rayne: Absolutely. Where we don't have any expectations and we're just doing it for the enjoyment of it.  And just being, being in it, you know, 

Thomas:  We're not thinking about social judgment. 

Rayne: No, no, not at all. No. 

Thomas: I'm curious about something you said, you said noticing patterns and anomalies. I'm curious about the anomaly part. What are you thinking about there when you're saying that? 

Rayne: Okay. So one year for three or four months, I drove to Alaska and  I worked there for about four months during the late spring and in the summer because I don't want to spend a winter there.

So with that of course there are different smells there. There are different trees, there are different plants. So some are similar, you know, and some are the same as where I'm from, but some are different. 

Of course, different humidity levels, which you can smell in the air. You know, all that type of thing.

And one day I was working in a cabin and I could smell propane and it's smelled quite strong to me know.  And I noticed it about two minutes after I walked into the cabin and I thought, Hmm. So I waited a moment because I knew that someone else was going to be coming along shortly. So I could ask them because you know, that's a danger sign.

And a few minutes later, someone came along and opened the door and I said, can you smell propane? They said, no, they couldn't smell propane. And I thought that's really odd. And I knew another person was going to be coming along shortly after. So they came along and I asked them, can you smell propane?

And they said, no they couldn't smell propane. And they were both really good. They both, you know, stood there and, you know, really smelled the air and they couldn't smell it. So after the second person, I thought well, this is ridiculous because it's all I smell. So strong that I just don't understand why they're not smelling it.

So I told both of them, there's a propane leak. I know there's a propane leak and I can smell it really strongly. And, you know, can we check it out? 

And so they went and got some water and some liquid soap and the propane tank was sitting outside the cabin right next to it, but outside of it. And using a bit of water and some soap, they put it where the cones connect to the propane tank. And sure enough, there were big bubbles, big bubbles. It was really, it was leaking very badly. 

So that's what I mean by anomalies. 

Thomas: When things are out of the ordinary, 

Rayne: Out of the ordinary. Absolutely. 

And it can be noticing things out of the ordinary in terms of sight, smell, sound, taste, all kinds of things. You know, you'll sometimes hear people with the HSP trait saying, “I just knew something was off by the way they text.”

Thomas: Right. 

Rayne: You know, so it can even get as subtle as that. Because it's that's energy essentially, you know, somehow,  getting that understanding from how long it takes that person to respond to you. The exact words they say and how they say them and you know, all of it, to come to the conclusion, hmm, something's off. That's an anomaly for this person essentially. Right? 

So, yeah, that's how I understand it.


How do you understand it in terms of HSPs and creativity, Thomas? 

Thomas: Yeah, for me it relates to subtlety. I notice that in myself, I tend to notice very subtle differences when I'm out and about when I'm in nature.  

Or even when I'm painting or whatnot. I'm very much paying attention to what let's say, I'm painting with watercolor and I'm really paying attention to what the watercolor is doing, how the pigments are flowing. 

And for some reason, this is funny to me, but I like gradients and I don't know if that has anything, you know, I'm just relating it sort of freeform right now in my mind.

But one of the beautiful things about watercolors is that you get these wonderful gradients where things can go from light to dark. And so there's something for me about subtle differences and those seem very interesting to me, you know? 

Rayne: It’s interesting because when you talk about gradients in relation to watercolors, that reminds me of emotions and the gradients of emotions, we can feel. And how that must be such a wonderful medium to express yourself, you know, depending on how you're feeling, the gradient can be really bright and rich or more subtle and soft.

Thomas: Well, one of the things that I know that I struggle with is how to translate all those emotions, whether it's a painting that I'm doing, a drawing, or if I'm writing, how do I tell a story?  

So there's something to that, about how you translate all this great emotional material that you feel that you're picking up all the time from having the HSP trait.

How do you translate that? 

Because I think there's always that desire to explain your experience and have other people see it, as a form of connection. 

Rayne: Yeah. Yeah. I can see what you mean by that. 

Thomas: So I want to explore the topic of inspiration because I think that has some relationship to the HSP trait.

Do you think about how inspiration arrives to you? 

Rayne: Well, yes I do. Because, you know, it's funny, I believe a lot of artistic people are like this or, draw their inspiration from this. 

And to me, it's about states of consciousness because I believe I'm just a vehicle.

I'm just kind of a physical vehicle here and that's coming through me. It's not really mine... like it is, but it's not, you know? 

Thomas: I have read so many artists say that exact thing. Like they're just the vehicle. They're just almost like the translator. 

Rayne: Absolutely. And it's a very different experience to, I guess you could say, devote yourself to that.  Because it does take discipline. Because I have to say my understanding of different states of consciousness.  

And I didn't realize it at the time, but it came at a young age from when I drowned.

So when I had a near-death experience and I drowned, I left my body. My NDE is a little bit different from what I've heard. Other people say similar things though. 

But essentially when I drowned, basically everything went black around the outside of my vision, and then it kept closing into a white pin. You know, pinhole type of thing. 

And then that pinhole started opening and that light kept getting brighter and brighter. 

But at the same time, I felt like I was being hurdled forward really fast, like really fast. And then I was just in this other place and I didn't have a form, you know, there were no physical bodies.

There were no trees and whatever, it wasn't like that. It was pure energy, pure energy,  pure, enlightened consciousness.  

It was like unconditional love that hopefully more people understand what that means, but it was just, it was amazing. It was just amazing.

Thomas: Yeah. 

Rayne: And then I was sort of told that I had to go back. Meaning back to my body. 

And I was like, no, I like it here because you're not constrained there. Right?

You're not constrained by anything so. But anyway, that was one consciousness I experienced. 

And then when I came back through that tunnel, I was essentially hovering over my physical body, which was laying on the deck by the Lake.  

Thomas: And at that point, you have been pulled out?

Rayne: I must've been, yeah. Yeah. But I mean, I wasn't aware of it because I was in that other consciousness. 

But when I came back to the second set of consciousness, I was kind of like ghostlike, and I had a brain and I was hovering over, like I was looking over the top of, down on my body and my grandmother was giving me CPR.

Yeah. And I was very detached like, “Oh, Is that me?”, you know, what's happening? 

Isn't that interesting? Like not worried, you know, not concerned at all, but it was also a different form of consciousness, right? 

To then all of a sudden feeling like that spirit part of me had been slammed into my physical body.

And that's when I regained, I don't know what you call it because I guess the third form of consciousness, right, where I was inhabiting my body, my physical body and rolling over and heaving and throwing up water and all that unpleasantness. 

So it was kind of confusing to me growing up because  I knew I was different and I knew part of that was the HSP trait.

But I think also part of that was from having experienced those different types of consciousness. 

Thomas: Right. 

Rayne: When I am like that with my practice of connecting to that state of consciousness,  where I was actually, where it was just all energy. 

For me, that's where a lot of it... It doesn't, it doesn't happen. The inspiration doesn't come when I am actually enjoying myself there. 

But it might be afterward when I go for a walk. And I'm just on a walk, not thinking about anything, and then all of a sudden an idea will pop up, right? 

Or I'll see something and it, or I'll read something or have a chat with somebody or whatever it is. And it'll be like, Oh, wouldn't this be cool?

And that's where the different inspirations pop up. So it's not like I expect these inspirations to come to me when I'm in that state of consciousness, because I don't, I'm just enjoying that state of consciousness. And using it as a way to allow that energy to use me as a medium, I guess, or a tool. 

Thomas: But it sounds to me that you are very open to hearing the inspirations when they do come. 

When you're not thinking about being inspired when you're just doing your walks or whatever you might be doing, you say, “Oh, look at that. There's something that came out of nowhere!”

Rayne: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. And it'll usually come up, “Oh, wouldn't that be cool.” You know? “Oh, do I want to try that? Yeah, let's try that.” 

And then, and then trying it. Yeah, absolutely. 

Thomas: Do you, do you perceive any downsides to having the HSP trait and creativity, you know, like burnout or... 

Rayne: Well,  I think the most common thing for HSPs is that they try to behave and live their lives as non-HSPs. 

Thomas: Oh yeah. 

Rayne: And that is a big creativity killer to me because we require a lot more downtime, a lot more processing time.  

You know, being highly creative, you have to create those pockets and enough space for you to actually do nothing. As weird as it sounds, do nothing. 

I think there have been studies done whereby reducing work weeks down to 30 hours a week, employees are far more productive than employees working 40 hours a week. 

Thomas: I've heard that.

Rayne: Right. And, you know, these are scientific studies that are proving it. And so you add that on top of...  because that essentially is telling us that that's an unhealthy lifestyle basically, right? 

Because to be productive, you know, if you're productive, that's what we want.

Right. And for an HSP, you might as well double that. You might as well double that because,  they can be highly, highly productive. 

I mean, when I get on a creative thing, I'll go for 16 hours a day, like nothing will stop me. It was just 10 minutes to eat maybe, you know what I mean? Because I am so enjoying what I'm doing and I'm so loving it. And I'm so just in it, you know what I mean? 

So that after that whatever has been created, that's it. I'm exhausted. I'm done for a while. I'm gonna relax, you know, I'm going to relax and rest. 

And then connect to know higher consciousness and that next inspiration will come to me.

And then away we'll go again. You know? 

So it's, it's very different from,  say a nine to five job where you do-do-do-do-do, you know, it's not like that. That's very kind of monotonous, whereas when you're in a creative way of being, it's more like waves, you know? 

Thomas: Yeah.

Rayne: They really are more like waves that you go up and you're highly, highly productive. 

And then it's like, okay, because it's like, it just has to burst out of you. 

It's like, it's like, Oh, this is so cool. You know, and all these ideas are coming to you. And so you're just so excited and it's just so cool.

Thomas: That's pretty much me all the time.

And you really hit the nail on the head. I know for myself, I do not give myself enough time to just sit and do nothing. Because there's just that energy that's just there. 

Rayne: Yeah, that expectation that you must be productive at all times or producing something or whatever it is.

Yeah. I could produce something, but will it be the quality that I know I'm capable of? That I'll be like, “Oh, this is so cool!” Like that. I know I won't care what anybody else thinks about it. I'm just in love with it. Like, I think it's the coolest thing ever.

And then, you know, like doing it for your own enjoyment.

Yeah. I think that's one of the things that's the biggest thing for HSPs is to just understand that, giving yourself that time. 

Thomas: You need that downtime. 

Rayne: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. It's downtime because you're actually processing information in that downtime.

There's a lot of information we're taking in that we don't realize we're taking in that we're, processing. And giving ourselves that space where we can just to allow ourselves to do that. 

And that could mean just relaxing, doing nothing, listening to music or not listening to anything or reading, or, you know, like you say, painting or drawing.

 Or I recently got a calimba the other day and it sounds like this.

Thomas: And that's great. 

Rayne: Isn't that cool? 

Yeah. So just giving yourself different things to play with that you enjoy, in your downtime and just enjoying it. 

I think that's the thing is, we feel pressured to produce something, 

Thomas: That sense of obligation. Wherever that comes from. We make it up, you know, we make it up in our mind, but it's, it's there. 

Rayne: Yeah. We make it up in our minds. Or comparing to other artists, you know, or whatever it might be. 

I mean, it's all basically just finding what works for you, you know? Finding that nice, nice, good rhythm. It's a rhythm, really? 

And then when you find that rhythm, you know, stick to it, stick to it, which means having good, healthy boundaries and saying no to other things. That kind of thing, because creativity is just an absolutely amazing outlet for HSPs.

Thomas: It really is. 

Rayne: It is, it's healing, it's engaging, it involves our imaginations and involves our senses, all the things that were... I mean, everybody's blessed with those things.  

But HSPs, basically if we have to put up with the downsides of having the trait, which is,  getting overstimulated and you know, all these kinds of things, then we might as well enjoy the good things about it.

Thomas: That's right.

Rayne: Absolutely. Yeah. 

Thomas: Well Rayne. Thank you so much. This was a wonderful conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about this. 

Rayne: Oh, thank you, Thomas. I really, I really enjoyed it. I like talking about it. We haven't chatted about this before in this way, so I appreciate it.

Thank you. 

Thomas: Thanks, bye. 

Rayne: Okay. Bye-bye. 

Thomas: And thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two that will help spark your creativity.

And I hope you will join me for the next episode of Creative Shoofly. Until then stay safe and stay creative.

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