An Unexpected Journey

In J.R.R Tolkien’s series of books titled, “The Hobbit,” we are introduced to the delightful, yet odd character of Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo is part of an imaginary race of small human-like beings called Hobbits with Bilbo being a rather eccentric hobbit who lives peacefully in a hole in the ground. In the first book, “The Unexpected Journey,” Tolkien takes us on a magical ride as Bilbo’s life is about to change. One of my favorite parts of the unforgettable journey is when Bilbo realizes he was meant to do something more with his life, and so, with a reasonable amount of persuasion, he packs his bag and races to join up with the band of dwarves and of course a wizard known as Gandalf the Grey as they head toward the Lonely Mountain.

Figure 1. Bilbo going on an adventure

As Bilbo races through the village of Hobbiton to catch up with his company, he is asked by a fellow hobbit:

“Bilbo, where are you going”

And with excitement in his voice, Bilbo proclaims back:

“I’m going on an adventure!”
A Hobbit Hole and an Ordinary Life – Both Comfy but Unfulfilling

Like many gifts of literature, we the readers are left to use our imaginations when reading such stories, be it fiction or not. For me, J.R.R. Tolkien’s hobbits reflect in a small way what being HSP is like. Many HSPs prefer to live quiet and peaceful lives. In Bilbo’s words, adventures were “Nasty, disturbing and uncomfortable things that make you late for dinner.” But something changed that for him as he stood there after waking up in the morning alone. I wonder what that was.

                          Most HSPs strive to avoid such experiences of adventure; preferring to surround ourselves with like-minded folk and share a deep liking for the simple lives they live while avoiding the “big folk and creatures of an unsavory nature”. Problem is, many of us HSPs have no clue who we truly are and most certainly what we are capable of. Unlike the hobbits in Hobbiton, we are scattered across this great planet with many living in preverbal dark holes in the ground for far too long.

Figure 2. A beautiful Hobbit Hole. Comfy as it is, it’s not a perfect place to spend one’s entire life, just like it’s not a great idea to spend a life idly without a bigger quest or a life purpose.

My Struggle with MY Hobbit Hole

                                I’m 59 years old, I’m not just an HSP, but an adventure-seeking one at that, almost as if I were Bilbo himself. Being both an HSP and an adventure seeker places me in a rare category statistically, even amongst my fellow HSPs. At my age, one would think I should have this all figured out by now, at least that’s the impression I get from society. I’m expected to “go back to my books and my armchair and my garden,” while showing no signs of emotion, but that’s not me. True, there are many things I have learned in my life through some amazing adventures I have already partaken in, but some things still elude me and there is an inner voice that keeps telling me to go out that door and find it. Funny thing is, as an HSP, my intuition (some would call it “my soul”), is screaming at me in a very garbled tone which I can not clearly understand. It’s like a stranger speaking frantically in a foreign language. I know there is something it is trying to say and it appears very important, but what? It’s a feeling inside that is telling me that there is something out there that awaits me.

I felt what Bilbo Baggins felt when he woke the morning after the dwarfs had left; alone and lost. And I have felt this way for most of my life. For the past 3 years, the safety of my small sanctuary, an 18-foot cargo hauler converted into a place I can shelter, was my Hobbit hole. I have a good job that pays over 6 figures each year, but the industry I’m in tends not to be the best suited for HSPs as it can be very harsh and cruel. I have always felt like there was a black hole in my soul that yearns for something more, something I was intended to do or be, but the expectations of society stood in the way. Unlike Bilbo, I do not have a wise wizard showing up at my door to “nudge me.” Quite the opposite, I have a dark social system screaming at me to work more, pay my taxes, don’t step out of line, conform with the will of the master…. Sound familiar?

Passion & Purpose Vs. Society & Expectations

The yearning to pack my bags and take that unexpected journey has been a constant whisper in my ear. So what’s standing in my way? Certainly not the financial aspect as I have subjected myself to hardships more than most HSPs would in order to obtain the financial resources needed. It’s not the equipment either as I have slowly acquired all I believe I need, although one never knows what trolls or dragons you would face along the way. It must be the experience that I’m lacking? Nope, I have acquired numerous skills over the years as if it was my destiny to take this journey. Is it time then? Well, none of us are getting any more of that, are we? In fact, time might be taken from us any day. I’m concerned about using it wisely, and this adventure is something I deem worthy of my time. So, what is stopping me?

The answer is simple, and you can probably guess it at this point already. We all face it, HSP or not: Courage! Courage to break away from society’s expectations and face the cruel and hurtful criticism we would expose ourselves to by members of that society. Bilbo faced that, even from his own kind. I have no doubt that I will too in some form or another. Like Bilbo, I have found courage probably in far liberal quantity, I believe, although I do not have a magic ring. For the first time in a very… very long time, I have found something I never thought I would find again: passion and purpose! And I feel lucky I did that. For a life without passion or purpose is “not a very nice life, not a very nice life at all.”

Figure 3. Trolls were supernatural creatures in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. The energies they give off are supposed to be mythic and challenging. In this real world, we will find trolls albeit in different forms. Our real world is not without challenges.

A Journey or an Adventure? What’s the Right Word?

The title that J.R.R. Tolkien gave to the novel was “An Unexpected Journey,” and yet as Bilbo ran through his town with a backpack on his back and excitement flowing through his body, his reply to the curious folks was “I’m going on an adventurer!”  What’s the difference, between a journey and an adventure one might ask?

Both are full of the unknowns and both require a certain amount of skill and certainly courage. There is truly only one thing that separates the two. An adventure is something that is shared by others who have a common goal.  In Bilbo’s case, he was joining a band of dwarves and a wizard to reclaim the dwarves’ homeland. A journey is a venture that one takes on their own. A good example of that would be Christopher McCandless in Jon Krakauer’s true-life book “Into the Wild.”

Figure 4. A still from “Into the Wild.”

                                   Although journeys can contain all the adversities and triumphs found in an adventure, the experiences and stories that come from a journey are not truly shared together as a group, but rather experienced by an individual and told to others, who either believe your tales of the trolls turning into stone at the first light of dawn, or walk away shaking their heads thinking you’re mad, for you have no witnesses to validate them.

Sure, you may meet others along the way, similar to both Bilbo and his band of fellow adventurers, but they had each other. As a solo traveler, I have had to learn to embrace my own company, cautiously disguising myself when encountering others along the way, for Orcs roam freely throughout these lands and care not for those of us who are kind in nature. In fact, they see us as easy prey, “and it’s times like these my lad, when you need to be especially careful.”

My Side Thoughts on the Discovery & History of Highly Sensitive Personality

I mentioned in the beginning that we HSPs often don’t know we are HSPs. Of course, it is a generic belief based on my own experience thus far; maybe I’m wrong in this assumption. I have found that many of us have tried so hard to “fit in” to society’s expectations from infancy that we have lost our way, similar to when Bilbo and the dwarves lost the path in the Mirkwood Forest. Some HSPs try to mimic in a way; they mimic those we encounter along our life journeys. Donning costumes of characters that never truly fit, often making us feel even more uncomfortable than we already do. We are a race of folk of our own.

It was in 1991 that clinic psychologist, Dr. Elaine Aron, began her study of the innate temperament trait of high sensitivity, along with her husband Dr. Arthur Aron. Don’t get me wrong, we didn’t just appear in 1991. Like many scientific studies, the HSP trait was vastly misunderstood since the dawn of time, until the Aron’s came along. HSPs have been around since the first humans, but we were un-noticed for who we were, or what we had to offer in the days of old; meaning pre-1991. Instead, we were believed to be weak and frail, emotionally. Considered handy capped by those with less neurological ties to their nervous system. As a result, many of us struggled with our identity and chose to camouflage ourselves, pretending to be something we are not in order to fit in. A daunting task and something that can not be maintained for long.

My Journey Begins

Now, I sit in front of my computer, pouring over old maps, while mentally holding that imaginary contract in my hand, like Bilbo did. My bag is almost packed, and a world of the unknown awaits me.  My question is, do I follow my intuition and my heart, which tells me to take that journey, albeit alone? A journey that maybe, just maybe helps me find who I truly am, and possibly encourages others to do the same? Or do I keep complying with the false social expectations by getting up, going to an emotionally challenging J.O.B. (Just Over Broke), pay my exorbitant taxes, and live in a cave while life dwindles past me?  For me, the choice is clear.

Help me make my journey into an adventure, by following me into the unknown.

“Bilbo, where are you going”

And with excitement in MY voice, I proclaim back:

“I’m going on an adventure!”

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