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By Justine Buckley
Imagine sitting in a big global hippy circle holding hands with all other beings and hearing the following in a voice and tone that is so WARM and peaceful it could be the Buddha himself saying,
"You can relax now because you all have a brain and nervous system that produces hormones, feelings and reactions... so relax, it's just biology and we're all in the same boat. Every single one of us is struggling with the same ancient evolutionary system hard-wiring. Our default setting, thanks to evolution's motives, is our reactive threat brain system and not our caring and compassionate brain systems. This is a fact, it's not your fault, just a fact.
AND... we all have collections of traits and habits of attention that we can call a personality. Yep, this is just another given... your fixations, perception of the world, even the stories you tell yourself... are all part of our personality pattern. Again, it's no-one's fault, just a fact."
Imagine all breathing in together, one big hippy global circle, exhale all together with a gentle smile, deeply acknowledging "ahhh...here we all are, imperfect human beings with ancient nervous systems and personality habits and that's totally okay". Smiling at each other... a big global chill out.
This is no small step - to accept the givens of our existence. To back off the self-criticism, get off the self-improvement project bandwagon, lift up our heads and smile along with all other beings, lightly, lovingly, accepting, opening to the gifts showering down upon us and to this sense of solidarity with all beings. We are all in the same imperfect human boat together.
It is profoundly difficult to get on with appreciating life, giving love and relaxing into our highest spiritual potentials when we're struggling with accepting in ourselves things we can't change because they are part of the human condition.
This struggle I'm talking about is that inner voice, or vague sense that asks "why am I like this? What's wrong with me? Why can't I be more?". If we explore this sentiment we notice it comes from a deep sense of inner lack, emptiness and aloneness. "What is wrong with me, why can't I change? When will I be lovable? Am I enough?".
When we look closely at what we are trying to change and find hard to accept in ourselves... it is often these facts of our existence. Our biological reactions. Our personality. We hate our reactions, we dislike things about ourselves and this triggers our sympathetic nervous system to fire. We become the bullet and the target in our own minds as we blast away with self-criticism, impossible expectations, judgments and an unwillingness to be kind and nurturing emotionally; to listen inwardly and outwardly with warmth, patience and kindness.
Once we start to accept the biological facts and the fact we have a personality then the fun really starts. This is what I really want to get across in this little article today.
Buddhism and other religions awaken us to grateful living and help us begin to tame and train our hearts and minds because we can. Not because we're f#@^ed up. This is a super important point. Because we are free to... not because we're a f#@k up! We just do our best. These traditions help us remember fullness, acceptance, openness and help us remember that we can ACT and DO what needs to be done in this life without endlessly whingeing and demanding more.
A tool that has its roots in the spiritual traditions is the Enneagram of personality. Along with my Buddhist beliefs and practices I find this way of understanding and shedding light on personality habits to be profoundly useful personally and in my clinical practice.
Why? Because it cultivates self-awareness, presence here-now, and opens a world of choice as we can all see and act beyond the box that is our personality habit stream. And, used as the Enneagram was intended, in the service of self-compassion, wisdom and spiritual transformation for all our sakes - it's plain old funny at times to see personality for what it is and share in a laugh with everyone else because 'personality' - we've all got one! A 'light heart' is mindfulness and equanimity in action.
"The Enneagram number you find is not for the sake of mere self categorization, it is for the enlightenment of the person, by helping them to recognize their own addictive pattern of seeing and thinking."
- Richard Rohr