Sorting out myself as a unique individual, and myself as an introvert is impossible. Nevertheless, even while I was trying to live in an extroverted way, and judged myself according to an extroverted value system that makes certain assumptions about “healthy” sociability and busyness, as opposed to the “unhealthy” need for solitude and stillness, my introversion shaped my life.
LINK TO INTERVIEW
For an interview I did for the show, “Don’t Dis My Ability” Introversion: http://audio.wscafm.org/audio/2013/NO-DIS/WSCA-NO-DIS_08-20-2013.mp3
(This interview gets cut off at the 47-minute mark, but it still has good info.)
An Introvert’s Autobiography
I wrote About Jane from my perspective as an introvert, and in a way that is most natural for me. I think of it as an inside-out autobiography. It describes how I track the trajectory of my life—pivotal insights and moments that changed my interior—both my heart and my mind. I am in the world in an inside out way: a change in my heart and mind changes my actions and, thus, impacts the exterior world.
Usually autobiographies are like elaborate resumés written about externals: date and place of birth, family, parents, schools, formative events, and the most important part—accomplishments.
But this is an unnatural way for me to talk about myself. My natural orientation is inward. Contrary to what I was led to believe, this does not mean I am self-centered. It means that inner work, inner toil and inner accomplishments are most meaningful to me. I mark my life and its progress according to pivotal internal events.
In this competitive culture we learn to shout: “Look what I have done!” And so, when people look, we’d better have something to show them. I could say, “In May 2009, my book, The Universe Within Us, was published.” While I’m happy to be published, what it represents to me personally is the final phase of a long, intense process, most of which went on in my head. The process was, by its nature, invisible. The result, however, is visible and tangible. It might not have looked like it, but I wasn’t doing nothing all those years.
For me, it is the process that matters, the ignorance that has slowly been replaced with knowledge. So my natural resume would have to say things like, “Yesterday I thought I was a physical object. Today I know I am a multi-dimensional work-in-progress.” Or, just as important, “I have become kinder than I used to be.”
The geode is my symbol for introversion, taken from this poem by my dear friend, Sharon Lester:
Jane is a geode
someone easily passed by
not tugging at your eye
with flair or fashion
glitter or passion
displayed for the casual
While I instantly treasured this poem, it wasn’t until years later that I realized it is a good description of your typical introvert. For all appearances they seem calm and serene, their faces impassive, and are capable of long silences. But behind the placid façade the wheels are turning and, when conditions are right, they suddenly reveal imaginative ideas, extensive knowledge, well-thought-out opinions, and original thought.
The world works against us, however. It demands we live in a very exterior, energetic way which, in truth, chips away at our mental, physical, and spiritual health. This is how I’ve learned to restore my natural balance and keep my geodic self happy and healthy.
The Need for Solitude
Solitude is vital to my well-being. This does not make me a hermit. But it does mean that I must withdraw from the fray regularly in order to recover my energy, my equilibrium, and my equanimity. I take what I can get, generally, an hour in the morning. A day to myself is most precious. An afternoon alone in the woods, divinity itself. In solitude I find my center point, and the doorway opens that connects me with the greater world. It is, in short, what I need to connect with the Divine and with God. And so it represents a life-line to me. To be without solitude is to suffer spiritual death.
The Need for Stillness
As important as solitude, and usually intertwined with it, is stillness. As if in obedience to some strange immutable law, only when I am still can my mind wander far and wide. In stillness I rediscover the joy of daydreaming. In stillness I meditate and pray. In stillness I learn my own heart and mind. In stillness I hear the answers to my questions.
We live in a fast-paced society, and it’s natural to adopt the pace of those around us. I first noticed this tendency in myself while driving on the highway. No matter what speed I’d set out at, I’d suddenly realize I’d sped up to match the surrounding traffic. A little self-observation revealed that I automatically sped up to match the pace of others in my non-driving life as well.
As an introvert, I need to conserve my limited energy, and pacing is critical. (This became doubly important while I was recovering from Lyme Disease.)
Besides, what’s the hurry? In nature, speed is the exception, not the rule. The way I see it, animals hurry for only three reasons. They hurry if they are in danger of being eaten. They hurry if they are trying to catch and eat something. And sometimes, they dash about for the sheer joy of it. Otherwise they move slowly and deliberately, and lie about an awful lot.
Here are some things I do to go at a more natural, energy-conserving pace:
• I set out early when I need to go somewhere.
• I have cut my daily “to do” list wayyyy down.
• With few exceptions, I only make plans for every other weekend.
• I attend only one social function a week (if that).
• I make myself walk slowly. I walk quickly only when I intend to.
Depth vs. Breadth
I prefer depth over breadth. I think many people confuse these two things, but they are not the same at all. It is natural for me to focus on one thing until I feel like I really know it, before moving on to the next. To those who prefer breadth—who like to know a little about a lot—it might look like I’m not moving at all. I am—just in a different direction. To me, breadth looks like a stone being skipped across a pond—fast, lively, and stays pretty dry. What I want is to get soaking wet. Toss me into the water. Let me sink in and settle deep.
Interior World vs. Exterior World
Too much time focused on the exterior world exhausts me. This does not make me unfriendly or anti-social. It just means a little goes a long way.
The way I see it, the exterior world is simply where bodies bump together. It is the interior world where hearts and souls connect. How many prejudices develop because we don’t like what we see? How many are wiped away when we truly get to know each other?
My natural condition is “receptive.” I listen and I watch. I am quickly overwhelmed by smells, sounds, and sights. I can quickly gauge the emotional climate of a group. I will quickly reflect the emotion of the person I’m with. In order to be able to identify my own feelings I need to be alone.
My internal orientation doesn’t only apply to me, it applies to you as well. This means that I’m not that interested in your exterior. Don’t get me wrong, please be neat and clean. But I don’t much care how you dress, what you do for a living, what size house you live in, whether you are rich or poor, where you went to school, or what degrees you’ve earned. (Yawn.) You may as well not tell me, because I probably won’t remember.
Tell me what lies close to your heart; that I will remember.
I love my friends and family, but the human world is like being subjected to hail, rain, and thunder—resulting in floods of chatter—with occasional outbreaks of sunshine. I need to limit my interactions in order to avoid overwhelm, exhaustion, and loss of that most precious receptivity to the divine.
Good Talk vs. Bad Talk
Though my natural orientation is internal, I am not at all stuck in my own mind. I love to hear what’s going on in your mind too—just not every minute of the day.
A meaningful one-on-one conversation about matters of the mind and heart fills me up like a nourishing meal. Then I need to be alone again to digest and process what I took in.
On the other hand, a half-hour of chit chat about externals—gossip (especially about people I hardly know, or worse, don’t know at all), where you are from, where you work, where you went to school—is like eating a bowl of sugar. It makes me hyper for awhile, then I feel sort of dizzy and have to go lie down.
What happens if chit chat goes past that half hour? It becomes torture. Compare it to eating a slice of cake. The first couple bites taste pretty good. They taste less good by the last bite, and you’re ready to put your fork down. Now eat five more slices! That kind of torture.
I have learned to take meaningful conversations in measured doses; chit chat I try to avoid altogether.
Personality vs. Character
Oh, one more important thing. Introversion is a dimension of personality. Personality is a component of the physical body. If you spend time with animals, you understand that they come in a variety of personalities: outgoing and withdrawn, cautious and curious, affectionate and aloof. These personalities cannot be changed, and the wise person learns to relate to their animal companions from within the framework of their existing personalities. The unwise person may try to change an animal’s personality, or force the animal to conform to their expectations. But as soon as those attempts at control cease, the animal reverts to its natural personality.
Personality is often confused with character, but they are very different things. Being extroverted or introverted is neither good nor bad, just as having brown eyes or blue eyes is neither good nor bad. Character, on the other hand, is within our control, and is shaped as we develop our virtuous potential. While character goes to the next world, personality dies with the body. Nevertheless, it is part of your God-given toolkit while you are here, and will influence just how you build your character, and what kinds of contributions you make to the world.
One of my current projects is the development of a book(let) about the gifts introverts bring to a group or organization. I wish I knew when it will be released… in time it will be, God willing! (Unfortunately it is competing with other projects.) In the meantime, feel free to download “I’m Not Shy,” a handy brochure you can wave about in self-defense when the need arises.