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Temperament and the path

personperson Don't believe everything you thinkThe liminal space Veteran
edited May 18 in Buddhism Today

Not sure how coherent this will come out. Its a first attempt to put down something I've been contemplating for a while.

In personality literature there are several models people use to contextualize and model people's varied personalities. From things less scientifically validated like horoscopes or enneagram to more researched like Myers-Briggs or the Big 5 that psychology uses.

The Big 5 measures personality along 5 spectrums, Introversion/Extroversion, Agreeable/Disagreeable, Conscientiousness/Carelessness, Neuroticism/Emotional Stability, and Openness/Closedness to experience. Some of the labels are kind of derogatory and more favorable terms are sometimes used, like care free instead of careless or challenging opposed to disagreeable. Also each of them contain lots of further categories that people may be high on some and low on others, like conscientiousness contains both industriousness and orderliness, one can be high on one and low on the other.

As a long time introvert growing up introversion was commonly seen as a negative and the kindly extroverts would feel bad for me and want to "get me out of my shell". Today there is a greater sense that introverts have important strengths that extroverts lack and that its good to try to appreciate human diversity and the strength it can bring to relationships and institutions.

To me all of these measures seem to offer a similar dichotomy that offer strengths and weaknesses. In addition to introversion I also score pretty strongly towards the emotional stability side of that spectrum. Because of that I feel I'm generally able to meet life's ups and downs with a positive, constructive attitude. But I also tend to overlook or sweep aside certain negative things that should be addressed, and the more neurotic people notice those things.

That brings me to my point. I was listening to Dan Harris' podcast and he had on one guest Gabor Mate, a pretty well known psychologist and author. His style was informed and seemed correct, but from my point of view at least, very neurotic. For example he talked in a sort of regretful way about the trauma and rejection he experienced as a child and how it led to him feeling like he needed to earn an impressive degree to win approval, how that was a trauma he needed to heal. Or when Dan shared his perspective on some of his own experiences but framed it in a more positive, growth light, Gabor challenged him to look at it as trauma. My point being, it does seem true that the feeling of not being enough would be good to heal, but framing his life as a negative instead of appreciating how his experiences taught and shaped him to where he is today, seems like a painful and backwards way of contextualizing your life. Getting a degree that has led to his current day success is a positive in his life. At any rate, his next guest was Gretchen Rubin and was almost the exact opposite in terms of temperament. She was upbeat and positive, very forward looking and constructive. Much more in line with my own temperament.

So I'm just thinking right now, that some people will find Gabor much more helpful and some will find Gretchen suits them better. They both present their way as the good way for people to follow though, rather than a path for certain types of people. If I'm being honest though it felt as though Gabor was doing more of it, maybe it was just a function of Dan's temperament being closer to Gretchen.

In addition to that there is ample research on separated twins and adopted siblings that seems to show that much of our personality is genetic and that it is relatively consistent over a life. So the question that occurs to me is how much of the path is changing who we are and how much is a self selection bias where those most suited to a particular spiritual path are the ones that continue with it? Is there a way that a neurotic introvert achieves enlightenment that is different from an extroverted stable person? Are tulkus generally more suited to Buddhism or do those identified as tulkus who are more suited reach the heights of the path and are noticed, while those poorly suited simply drop away? How much does the path shape us and how much does the collective dispositions of the sangha create the path?

Asking the question feels too subversive to me, I worry it diminishes the potential of Buddhism. But I've also been to enough different sanghas and heard enough teachers to see that there are often very different approaches and emphases to ask do we follow a path that changes us or do we choose a path that suits our temperament?

FleaMarket

Comments

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    In many ways we are similar people @person, I too tend to be introvert and a rather stable and upbeat personality. But I have found Gabor Mate’s trauma-focussed approach to be helpful, because it gets you to approach childhood events differently and maybe uncover a few blocks in your life. Viewing it as framing implies that it is only a difference in definition, but with the trauma-centric view come a whole different set of tools, which allow you to work on yourself in a different way.

    A more upbeat, positive view often carries with it the idea of ‘looking at the glass as half-full’, which is a useful position because it helps you avoid all those negative thought spirals about not being worthy enough. Often it is the topics which you give attention to that become large in your mind’s eye, the things that you feed.

    But I think it is one of the downfalls of progress-oriented, goal-oriented thinking that it tends to excessively discourage certain types of people from sticking with Buddhism. If you don’t pay attention to progress but just stay with practice, the tortoise may overtake the hare at some point.

  • personperson Don't believe everything you think The liminal space Veteran

    @Jeroen said:
    In many ways we are similar people @person, I too tend to be introvert and a rather stable and upbeat personality. But I have found Gabor Mate’s trauma-focussed approach to be helpful, because it gets you to approach childhood events differently and maybe uncover a few blocks in your life. Viewing it as framing implies that it is only a difference in definition, but with the trauma-centric view come a whole different set of tools, which allow you to work on yourself in a different way.

    A more upbeat, positive view often carries with it the idea of ‘looking at the glass as half-full’, which is a useful position because it helps you avoid all those negative thought spirals about not being worthy enough. Often it is the topics which you give attention to that become large in your mind’s eye, the things that you feed.

    But I think it is one of the downfalls of progress-oriented, goal-oriented thinking that it tends to excessively discourage certain types of people from sticking with Buddhism. If you don’t pay attention to progress but just stay with practice, the tortoise may overtake the hare at some point.

    You fleshed out a point I didn't really make very well. That looking at things from a different perspective than one's own can help us see our blind spots and make us more well rounded, integrated and balanced.

    If I went on a bit of a rant it was that my impression of Gabor was that he wasn't coming at it from that perspective. It all trauma all the time, and that's the good and right way to look at it. Similar to the example I gave about introversion/extroversion. To use a personal example from my childhood, when I was around 10 and my brother 5 my we were at the library with my mom, we were acting rowdy and were told several times to behave or she'd leave us there. We paid no mind, mostly me as I was old enough to totally influence my brother, and at some point we looked around and she had gone. I then took my brother and was able to lead us home about 3 or 4 miles, my mom came back and picked us up along the way, probably feeling guilty. I'm not saying that is a good example of parenting and I'm not saying there isn't a lingering emotional wound of some kind. But I still look on that event as a mostly positive experience in that I learned that there are consequences to my actions and that I was capable of handling care of my brother and getting us home. To look at it as, "oh how awful, my mom is a terrible person and I'm broken" seems like such second arrow type suffering inducing frame to look at one's life. But, yes, it is valuable to look at and understand the negative impacts things like that have.

    My thinking right now is that it's about understanding pros and cons and honoring one's disposition rather than there being one right way for everyone to follow.

  • JeroenJeroen Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter Netherlands Veteran

    I think you’re spot on to say that there isn’t one right way for everyone to follow. Gabor Mate is in my experience a largely very sensible chap, and I’m sure he’d acknowledge as much when he is not promoting a trauma-centric view for a book. He has been having a bit of a moment with this:

    The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture (pub. 2022)

    Trauma is an interesting way of looking at things because it forces you to look for turning points in your life, occasions when you saw or experienced something that had a large influence on you. But its a question of using that approach and seeing what it gets you, for some people especially those used to thinking in a positive way it is a bit counter-intuitive because it forces you to realise that nobody had a perfect upbringing.

    I tend to view these kind of alternative framings of one’s memories as a tool for understanding, which contributes another subset of data to your actual understanding, the whole superset of how you view your life and your mind. It’s all about knowing thyself, understanding what makes you tick.

    And often a view on trauma takes you to the pain points in your life, even those points of which you didn’t know they were pain points, and on examining them closely and understanding them with compassion they are often eased. Its as if these things ask for our attention, and only on being seen do they relax and dissipate.

  • FleaMarketFleaMarket Veteran

    Some maybe stray thoughts that came up reading your post

    @person said:
    So I'm just thinking right now, that some people will find Gabor much more helpful and some will find Gretchen suits them better. They both present their way as the good way for people to follow though, rather than a path for certain types of people. If I'm being honest though it felt as though Gabor was doing more of it, maybe it was just a function of Dan's temperament being closer to Gretchen.

    This is kind of like picking a theme for your music on the drive to or from work. Happy moods choose happy songs, sad moods choose sad songs. The encompassing concept is seeking something that speaks to the being's heart in the present circumstances. It's an important point though, if they are presenting their way as THE way rather than a path for certain types of people, it's counterproductive to their larger mission in favor of their self-brand.

    So the question that occurs to me is how much of the path is changing who we are and how much is a self selection bias where those most suited to a particular spiritual path are the ones that continue with it? Is there a way that a neurotic introvert achieves enlightenment that is different from an extroverted stable person?

    While there is still a self, there is a person who the self will hear better than others. As the self becomes understood more clearly and bonds like clinging-to-views are weakened and eliminated, more ways to the way are revealed. Someone who only hears Gabor Mate or who only hears Gretchen may begin to hear them both.

    When contemplating these things about this one life it's good to be reminded of the countless lives already lived. The beginnignless wandering on that is samsara and the kammic weight of unknown origins that accompanies it. The human life is rare and valuable in that it is the best life in which to learn the Dhamma and escape samsara. But because we are living this human life, it means we have come from some other life. Heavenly beings still fall after wholesome kamma is used up and hellish being still rise as unwholesome kamma is used up. It influences this life but doesn't force the choices offered. Choices that become visible when their volitional beginnings in this very moment are observed by a watchful and present guard.

    marcitko
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