Something that has been on my mind recently is the constant and driving desire for people to diagnose and explain themselves and those around them. "He's an introvert that's why he doesn't want to hang out all the time," "she's a super extrovert that's why her mouth is always running." Sure, I do enjoy the good 'ol enneagram test that has helped me to better understand why I act certain ways, But you know what? I do things and think thoughts that cannot be explained by a personality test or "introvert" label all the time.
What brought this to mind was recently I found myself thinking, "I definitely do this because I'm an introvert, and he definitely does that because he's a 9 on the enneagram," when those explanations were not really necessary or even accurate. What does this labeling and diagnosing really say about us? It says we're not okay with our differences, with our weird nuances and mood swings. We have this deep desire to be explained and even put in a box because it makes us feel like we belong and like our desires are not strange and bad (even people who try to not be put in a box are inadvertently putting themselves in another box, oh the irony). But that need for community is not some self-conscious cry, the human is a communal being. We long to be around others, to be apart of something outside of ourselves. Our society throws so many trends, organizations, and communities at us, why? Because we demand it. This is not innately bad, it's actually quite the opposite. Our beings are deepened and strengthened through community. Even knowing our personality and characteristics undoubtedly helps us relate to others on a raw level. But the danger comes when we try and fit into those categories; when we analyze our actions and give them labels they don't need or even deserve. When we do this, we are taking away from just being with and truly knowing ourselves and the ones around us.
So what would it look like if instead of analyzing our every action and every emotional craving we focussed on just being with ourselves. What would it look like if instead of diagnosing, explaining, trying to understand or fix the ones we love, we committed to being completely present to them and their lives? Being wholly present, and completely apart of our own being and that of the ones around us. That is where the true community lies. When we can learn to set aside our diagnostics and explanations, our boxes and categories, that is when we can experience fully the presence of other humans. We can be strengthened, deepened, and grown by the people we love and even by ourselves.
I'm not trying to stop or demonize the usage of personality tests, because I really believe they have a helpful place, but I want to call us to something intrinsically deeper. It might sound easy, but this is not a task that can be just decided upon and then, poof! it's done. The very essence of this is what practices such as meditation and yoga work towards; to being present and aware of one's life and surroundings. If you were to ask someone who practices meditation how long it takes to become "good" at it, I can guarantee they will tell you it is a life long work, one that seems easy at times, and at others seems nearly impossible. I want to leave you with a piece from one of my favorite poems, "The Woodcarver" by Chuang Tzu that speaks to me in a different way almost every time I read it. Khing had made a beautiful bell stand for the Prince and everyone in the court thought it must be from the spirits, it was like no work they had ever seen, and they asked him "what is your secret?" Instead of describing his talents, skills, abilities, or education, he simply says,
I am only a workman: / I have no secret. There is only this: / When I began to think about the work you commanded / I guarded my spirit, did not expend it / On trifles, that were not to the point. / I fasted in order to set / My heart at rest. / After three days fasting, / I had forgotten gain and success. / After five days / I had forgotten praise or criticism. / After seven days / I had forgotten my body / With all its limbs. / By this time all thought of your Highness / And of the court had faded away. / All that might distract me from the work / Had vanished. / I was collected in the single thought / Of the bell stand.