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Sensitive Soul

The Unseen Role of Emotion in Extraordinary States

Published by Park Street Press
Distributed by Simon & Schuster



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About The Book

Explores how emotion underlies personality, triggers the development of non-ordinary states and perceptions, and connects all life

• Shows how the flow of our emotions shapes individual minds and personalities

• Reveals the significant role of emotion in PTSD, alexithymia (not knowing what one is feeling), autism, savantism, synesthesia (overlapping senses), déjà vu, phantom pain, migraines, and extreme empathy

• Looks at the emotional lives of animals, demonstrating how life-threatening emergencies can trigger amazing sensitivities and abilities in them

Emotion, as it exists within and between people, underpins personality, spirituality, and a range of extraordinary perceptions, conditions, and experiences. These include déjà vu, phantom pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and extreme empathy, where people instantaneously feel the physical or emotional pain of another. Many gifted children, those with synesthesia, and people with autism--not to mention highly sensitive people in general--report forms of innate “knowing” and even paranormal experiences. In this exploration of the role of emotion in non-ordinary states and abilities, Michael Jawer shows how the flow of our emotions and those of the people around us greatly influences the development of exceptional capacities and sensitivities.

Drawing on a range of scientific studies, Jawer explores how 5 remarkable kinds of people--individuals with autism, synesthesia, savantism, child prodigies, and children who remember past lives--are linked through the biology of emotion and how a hidden emotional intensity underlies both autism and anomalous perception. He examines the psychological concept of thin and thick boundaries and how those with thin boundaries--those who are more environmentally sensitive--have a greater predisposition toward empathy, synesthesia, psi abilities, and extraordinary states of perception. Sharing extraordinary examples, the author explores how strong emotion may endure through time and space, possibly even after death. He also looks at the emotional lives of animals, our soulful connections with them, and how life-­threatening emergencies can trigger amazing sensitivities and abilities in our fellow creatures.

Revealing the unseen role of emotion in mind and personality, Jawer shows that emotion is the binding force that connects us with one another, with all of life, and with nature itself.


From Chapter 3: The Resonance of Perception: Instinctive Sensing as a Crucible for the Anomalous

The late Donna Williams was a remarkable person. Raised in Australia, she was autistic but didn’t know it until diagnosed at age 26. Up to that point, she had been regarded as exceedingly strange. “Retarded,” “mental,” “stupid,” and “crazy” were some of the terms used, starting with her own family.

In many respects, Donna was encased in her own world. She would see patterns and spaces, losing herself in what she gazed upon or felt herself a part of. She loved making collections of things and endlessly ordering them. She largely saw parts of people - hands, arms, faces - and didn’t easily connect the whole person together. Similarly, the meaning carried by gesture and intonation was often lost, with the sounds of words alone having an impact.

Donna constantly dealt with a barrage of sensation, finding high-pitched sounds, bright lights, and even the most basic touch intolerable. Emotion scared her, and she coped by further withdrawing on the one hand and developing a pair of trusty personas on the other. She also, it turned out later, was allergic to various foods; her behavior and demeanor improved to some extent when this was addressed. Donna ultimately became able to feel her feelings rather than being scared by them and retreating into her private, inaccessible world.

A Web of Sensory Impressions

In her memoirs, Williams strikes several themes that are highly useful in understanding what it is like to be autistic. Her first key point is that people on the autism spectrum view themselves and the world primarily through a web of sensory impressions, not mental constructs. Whereas most people know a comb, for example, as an object that has utility with hair, and that happens to be flat and has teeth and is often black, for an autistic person that same comb might be fascinating for the scraping sound it makes when run across one’s teeth. In the same way, individuals with autism perceive other people, animals, even insects based on characteristic colors, smells, vocalizations, and movements rather than taking them in as “wholistic” organisms.

A second, fundamentally related point is that people with autism will often “merge” into the web of sensation they are witnessing. They “resonate” with whatever is being experienced, losing their sense of body boundaries so that they seem to become one with the object. “Suddenly,” observes Williams, “there is no you and what had been you just becomes a tool, like a sponge through which this sensing or resonance is taken in. What is sensed is not taken in by the conscious mind and there is no thought and no reflection, no wonder and no curiosity. There is just a journey into whatever is being sensed.”

Resonance in Autism

The “intense world” hypothesis posits that people with autism are bombarded at an early age with sensory stimuli, and that they subsequently withdraw from the world in order to cope. It’s also worth noting that emotional stimuli are as prominent as physical stimuli in that barrage. Donna Williams calls it “an intense, uncontrollable empathy.” Around someone with a broken leg, for instance, she “felt their pain in my leg.” Similarly, “I could feel when people had . . . emotional pain whether they displayed it or not . . . I felt it within me, and [my] connection to my own feelings . . . simply switched off as though some frequency had interfered with my aerial.” The mechanism, as she describes it, is one where too much information is coming though and the person can either attend to the external stimuli or the internal stimuli but not both at the same time.

We Could All Be Born Autistic

My proposition is this highly attuned sensing is the “default” setting of human beings, beginning in utero. Gradually, through infancy and childhood, this fluid and multi-modal way of perceiving is superseded (in most people) as neuronal connections mature and sense perception becomes more discrete. Some people, because of a combination of nature and nurture, retain this mode of perceiving to a far greater extent than others. Individuals who are fantasy-prone, or who find themselves easily absorbed into various situations or pursuits, or who are suggestible, or who have thin boundaries are the types of people I mean. For them, it takes little or no effort to slip into a reverie, to empathize intensively, to “merge” into something or someone else, to conjure up a memory with such clarity and vividness that the recollected situation seems to be taking place all over again.

Williams suggests that people with thin boundaries are more likely than others to have anomalous experiences. This is not because they have some sort of arcane psychical powers but because they literally take in more information at a pre-conscious level.

The Centrality of Emotion

In reflecting on all we have covered, I return to the centrality of emotion in the formation and expression of self. Emotion is elemental to our existence. It allows us to recognize other people’s state of mind and, just as often, signals to us the state of satisfaction with our own situations and lives. The expression of emotion cements bonds between people - far more than the transmission of thoughts and ideas. Emotion plays a pivotal role in our preconscious, as it flows and manifests in associations, imagery, and dreams. Ultimately, feelings are essential to judgments of self-worth and the meaning of our lives.

The people most sensitive to emotional energy are those whom the rest of us find the most difficult to understand. But, I submit, they have access to a gateway to greater understanding of our embodied existence and the universe we are born into. I am reminded of Donna Williams’ frequent mentions that she was afraid of feelings and repelled by touch for much of her life but that, just the same, she would “resonate” with people and places without conscious effort.

About The Author

Michael A. Jawer is an emotion researcher and expert on “sick building syndrome.” He is the coauthor, with Marc Micozzi, of The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion. He lives in Vienna, Virginia.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Park Street Press (September 8, 2020)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644110829

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Raves and Reviews

“Cosmologists tell us the vast majority of the universe consists of dark matter and energy--‘dark’ because we cannot observe them, but they are vital to how the universe works. Jawer reminds us that the same is true of our personal universe--we, too, are permeated with forces we cannot directly observe but are vital to how we work. Sensitive Soul is a fascinating tour of the hidden influences that make us who we are and that hold the clues to some truly extraordinary abilities.”

– Dean Radin, Ph.D., chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences

“Jawer’s articulate writing, lucid descriptions, and remarkable case studies make this book not only a pleasure to read but a possible roadmap for people who always sensed that they lived in a different reality than their family and peers. Sensitive Soul’s compelling perspective will reassure emotionally sensitive people that they possess a gift, not a curse.”

– Stanley Krippner, Ph.D., coauthor of Personal Mythology

“Jawer is onto something vitally important: the astonishing individuality with which we think, feel, and process information. Backed by meticulous documentation and excellent science, Jawer weaves new threads in the tapestry of what it means to be human.”

– Larry Dossey, M.D., executive editor of Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing

“. . . invites us to put aside our preconceptions and approach the world of unanticipated influences with a sense of wonder. Jawer ties together research from seemingly disparate areas of study--from synesthesia to past-life memories to the feelings of pets--to demonstrate how emotion can align with sensitivity to unseen aspects of reality. The result is an important work filled with fresh insights.”

– Jim B. Tucker, M.D., Bonner-Lowry Professor of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences at the Univer

“Jawer brings together many accounts of non-human animal sensitivities, suggesting that a connection with emotion may help explain some puzzling anomalies. His provocative ideas will no doubt spur readers to think more about these questions.”

– Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, Ph.D., coauthor of When Elephants Weep

“This book takes up everything from ecology and child prodigies like Greta Thunberg to children who manifest birthmarks indicative of a previous death to the emotional, spiritual, and telepathic lives of cats, dogs, elephants, dolphins, and whales. What Jawer shows with such clarity is that the secret trigger to this hyper-connected cosmos is danger, distress, trauma, and, above all, embodied empathy, a kind of sixth sense that feels across space and time. Consciousness, it turns out, is not just conscious. It is sentient. In human terms, it is sympathetic, it cares, it loves. My response to this book was perfectly resonant with its extraordinary content and spirit. I wept. You will too.”

– Jeffrey J. Kripal, Ph.D., associate dean of faculty and graduate studies and J. Newton Rayzor Profes

“The insights of leading researchers and the accounts of highly sensitive individuals merge seamlessly, revealing human emotional biology as diverse, complex, and frequently uncanny. With his lively prose and intellectual curiosity, Michael Jawer has crafted a watershed volume on science, spirituality, and empathy.”

– C. C. Hart, founding member and secretary of the International Association of Synaesthetes, Artists,

Sensitive Soul brings to life the sense of wonder suggested by its opening sentence: ‘Life is full of marvels.’ By exploring the theme of emotional sensitivity through multiple lenses, Jawer paints a fuller picture of what it means to be human. He’s not afraid to tackle such unusual phenomena as synesthesia (the blending of separate sensory modalities) or even reincarnation and relate them to such wide-ranging topics as autism and savantism. Sensitive Soul is an invaluable resource for explorers of these inner realms, and I recommend it highly.”

– Eric Leskowitz, M.D., codirector of the Integrative Medicine Task Force at Spaulding Rehabilitation

“In this insightful and thought-provoking volume, Jawer bridges the gap between clinical research on the human emotional landscape and the unquantifiable mysteries that lie beyond. He includes the reader in his exploration of acute sensitivities and their underpinnings and offers plausible explanations for experiences that verge on the paranormal. Fittingly, he asks more questions than can be answered--as one can only surmise at the depths and complexities of the human soul.”

– Nick Jans, author of A Wolf Called Romeo

“Jawer explores the relation between self, body, mind, and spirit, enunciating a view that they are not separate but are integrated. This book takes us to a deeper understanding of sentience in a nature and cosmos that evolved sentience.”

– Michael Fox, BVetMed, Ph.D., author of the nationally syndicated column The Animal Doctor and the bo

“Jawer has added a brilliant fresh layer and lens to sensory research. His work on thin boundaries should inform all researchers in the space, particularly those looking at synesthesia.”

– Maureen Seaberg, expert on the senses for Psychology Today and coauthor of Struck by Genius

“A wonder-filled exploration of the sensations that pulse within and compose our bodies, shaping our individual styles of empathy. Jawer induces a lucid attunement to the uncanny emotional makeup of our shared world.”

– David Abram, Ph.D., author of The Spell of the Sensuous

Sensitive Soul makes a beautiful evidence-based case for living a life of wonder and curiosity. You will never see people and nature in the same way again.”

– Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., host of The Psychology Podcast and author of Transcend: The New Science

“This is a remarkable, informative book. Jawer has assembled a wealth of wisdom from science, anecdote, and personal experience into a rich tapestry and presented it with an engaging, empathic voice. If you struggle with any number of psychological or physical ailments, or are just curious to learn how the body and mind work in concert, I urge you to travel with this sensitive soul as your guide.”

– Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., author of What a Fish Knows

“Jawer’s exploration of the lengthy list of diverse extraordinary states and the related emotions opens the door to greater understanding of how these experiences are related and can be explained, a new world showing the importance of emotional intensity and the thickness of boundaries. His many examples and stories bring alive this understanding of how these states are related, a fascinating and important read."

– Nicholas Brink, author of Ecstatic Soul Retrieval

“Overall, this pioneering book makes a strong case for emotion as fundamental to sentient life -including animals and plants - and helps expand the discussion of the nature of consciousness beyond cognition and in the direction of panpsychism”

– David Lorimer, Paradigm Explorer

" overall impression of this book is favorable. The cases described are fascinating and I applaud Jawer’s challenge to the mainstream medical model and his advocacy of a non-dualistic approach to psychology, science, and philosophy. But he does paint with a broad brush. In part, this may reflect his intention of reaching a large-market popular audience. Sensitive Soul is, after all, a trade book, so perhaps the implicit constraints of the business model may have placed the emphasis on engaging anecdotes, with the development of key conceptual issues kept to a minimum. Still and all, I found this book of value and I enjoyed reading it."

– Steven M. Rosen, The Journal of Mind and Behavior

"For parapsychologists, looking at anomalous experiences from [Jawer's] viewpoint has many advantages. It builds bridges to areas of mainstream science, putting the work we do in a larger framework."

– Journal of Parapsychology

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