Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Church Chat

Here is the post of the talk I delivered at church on Sunday:

Good morning. My name is Cindi Brown, and I’m a member of this congregation. In this church, we often say, “Our spiritual paths vary…” My own spiritual path involves working with a model of personality psychology called the Enneagram.

One of the pieces of wisdom the Enneagram imparts is that, as Gail has so eloquently phrased it, “Our best trait is also our worst trait.”

In the Enneagram world, my own personality style is often referred to as the “Observer” personality type. My habit of standing back, watching, and observing life from a distance, has led to what I have always considered to be some of my best qualities. First of all, as Yogi Berra famously said, “you can observe a lot just by watching.” And you can learn a lot just by observing.

My ego loves to hear about how smart, knowledgeable, and objective I am. Chances are, there are some themes your ego loves to hear about, too. Maybe your story is the story of being fun-loving, idealistic, and enthusiastic. Maybe it’s the story of being strong, protective, and heroic. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Whatever it is, there is certainly nothing wrong with celebrating your strengths. Sometimes, that’s exactly what you need to do. But at other times, real growth comes from looking at your flaws.

For example, every instance of me standing back is not, shockingly enough, an instance of Buddha-like nonattachment. At times, my reluctance to get involved is not at all high-minded; sometimes, it’s just the stinginess of not wanting to spend my time and energy on someone else. In those times, my habit of pulling back is a symptom of having forgotten that we are all interconnected, and that that which is given, is not simply lost.

Working with this type of knowledge can be transformative. Let me give an example:

Years ago, I was part of an Enneagram discussion group. In this group, we would basically eat pizza and talk about personality psychology. After we had been meeting for a while and were comfortable with one another, the conversation turned to revealing some of the qualities we did not like in the various personality types. A friend of mine said that those with the “Observer” personality style were “just not generous.” She went on to share an illustrative story about a man with whom she had been romantically involved. Even though her story was not about me specifically, I could see myself reflected in that story, and I didn’t like what I saw.

I began to consider how to translate my desire to not be “not generous” into action. My first small act was to pick up the pizza for the next discussion group meeting. I didn’t pick up the tab for the pizza, mind you; I simply spent a little of my time and energy physically going to get the pizza. I realize I will probably not be canonized as a saint for this act, but for me, it was a step in the right direction.

And I do continue to take steps. I ask myself, what can I bring to this gathering? How can I not show up empty-handed? Finding, and acting upon, the answers to those questions, whether that answer is as tangible as a large pizza, or as intangible as my energy and attention, is a spiritual practice, and my experiences and relationships are better for it.

I have learned to recognize, at least sometimes, that the habit of pulling back masks the need to step forward. For some people, the rush of enthusiasm over a new prospect can be a reminder that old ventures are crying out for completion, that living one’s ideals requires sticking with them even when the going gets rough. For still others, the heady feeling of raw power may really be a calling for the gentleness with which power must be tempered in order to become enduring strength.

These words are from the Tao Te Ching:

Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Let us each consider the ugly and the beautiful, the evil and the good, within ourselves, as we enter into a moment of silent meditation.


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