Welcome to Yourself
I'm Megan J. Robinson, and this is Creative\\Proofing, a space to think, feel, and design out loud. Every Thursday I'll send you a newsletter exploring the intersection of creativity, spirituality, and productivity, and what that looks like for each of us. In each issue of Creative\\Proofing, I’ll dig into various questions, ideas, and topics by sharing what other thinkers, feelers, and doers have said, followed by my take, and then, what it do and what it mean for us going forward. I’ll also try to throw in reader feedback, recommendations, and maybe something I’m enjoying that week. Stick around to find out more, hmmm?
Welcome to Yourself
I find questions of meaning and purpose fascinating, if sometimes daunting. The questions feel so significant, so large; the answers, endlessly proliferating. Especially if you've grown up in a culture that encourages maximum possibility and minimum limitations. But key to finding and formulating such answers begins with possibly the most significant, daunting question of all: Who am I?
In Western culture, we're used to considering questions of identity, meaning, and purpose by seeking the most authentic collection of interests, desires, and activities that best represents who we feel we are, or wish to be. It may sometimes seem that if your life is not carefully curated on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest, it doesn't fully exist. Or you may think that it's the people and possessions that surround you that give your life weight and visibility. Or even that it's the activities you engage and the results you produce that validate who you are; that say that you do, in fact, exist.
Writer Henri Nouwen once suggested that there exist three possible lies we can believe about ourselves: that we are what we have; we are what we do; and, we are what other people say or think about us. At their core, these lies make us question our identity and our dignity, that we have presence and value. Wrapped up with these lies comes another: that because we possess, do, or believe these things, we know ourselves well enough to understand why we think, feel, and act as we do. What the Enneagram asks us to do is to question those lies and assumptions — what's called the false self — and, in that questioning, uncover, and live out of, our true self.
One helpful place to start doing so is by engaging the three centers of intelligence we've covered over the last few weeks — our heart or feeling center; our head or thinking center; and our instinctive or doing center.
What Others Say
When we engage our centers of intelligence, we typically rely on one more often than the others. If we draw from our Heart Center most often, we tend to process through our emotions, assessing the strength of our relational connections by how well or how poorly our sense of internal shame has been managed. If we draw from our Head Center most often, we analyze the situation with objective, rational focus, managing any fear experienced through distancing ourselves from possible upheaval. If we draw from our Instinctive Center most often, we tend to respond through physical action (or inaction, in some case) to express or relieve frustration and anger at our lack of protection or control.
Drawing from our dominant center of intelligence comes naturally to us, and so, we simply keep doing it — it happens without conscious effort or awareness. This can lead us to misuse or overuse that intelligence, leading to outsized or exaggerated responses driven by that center. Additionally, in relying on one center so heavily, we risk ignoring or discounting information or awareness that comes through our other centers, essentially handicapping our ability to experience and interact with our world more fully. Perhaps without realizing it, at some point we told ourselves that something about those other types of knowing was less trustworthy, useful, or valuable. Such a disconnect within ourselves can also close us off to other perspectives and options available through others, whose unique identities and abilities contribute to our own flourishing as well.
By learning to engage each of our centers, we begin a process of transformation: from a single way of perceiving the world to a more complex and nuanced perception. This can sometimes feel like going from black and white to color tv: too much!! But, Moser notes that new evidence from neuroscience suggests that we have the ability to change our brain, in what is known as neuroplasticity. This insight should encourage us to hope that, by becoming more aware of how we think, feel, and act, over time, we can also reshape how our brain develops over time. Meaning that sometimes, you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
Moser goes on to remind us that our "thoughts, feelings, and actions are powerful tools of discernment." Because these capacities that help us connect with the world provide with us rich, meaningful information, he goes on to say that
Our lives are too important to live on autopilot. The goal is to faithfully employ our thinking, doing, and feeling to cultivate wisdom in life.
By engaging our hearts, we give compassion and love to others. By engaging our heads, we share wisdom and point toward truth. By engaging our bodies, we act to bring necessary resources and unnecessary delight to those who rely on, and enjoy, our presence. By bringing each of our centers into conversation with one another, we come awake to all that's possible for ourselves and for others, essentially "turning up the dial" on what we can perceive and appreciate through our whole selves. Welcome to yourself.
What I Say
Whew. I mean. Engaging transformation is hard. Wanting transformation, sometimes that's even harder. We all want things about ourselves and our lives to be different, but what exactly?
I remember taking an Enneagram assessment, and while going through the results, feeling as though a small bomb had gone off inside my head when I saw the graph showing the eensy-weensy, itty-bitty mark that measured my action center, especially when compared with my feeling center. Imagine the difference between the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man covering New York versus the proton pack that captured him. Yeah.
My moment of clarity came in seeing the results in black and white: I couldn't fully pursue the transformation I wanted in my life until I learned how to engage my action center. I had no end of ideas, visions, and plans, of which pursuing any one of them would have gotten me a very different life. So why hadn't I done it? Learning to answer that question, and discovering how to move from feeling to thinking to acting (and back again) has sparked a process of ongoing transformation that, actually, has led me to this moment right here: writing a newsletter for you.
But more than that, my own transformative journey has helped me to realize that I don't have to rely on "feeling inspired," nor do I have to wait until I've collected and analyzed every possible piece of data before making a move. Inspiration can come by doing, as can knowledge, and wisdom comes by paying attention to what I've learned. I'll definitely be sharing more over time, but for now, here's to cycling through all our centers.
What's It All Mean?
If you've felt frustrated by a lack of movement or change in your life, it's a lot to consider making a change. Where do you start? What makes a difference? What do you actually want in life? Who do you want to become?
These are big questions indeed, and it does actually take our lives to answer them; even more so if we want to answer them well. Start with these three simple questions:
- What am I doing?
- What am I feeling?
- What am I thinking?
Grab a pen and some paper, or open your favorite electronic note-taking app, and start answering these questions whenever you feel overwhelmed by a situation, whenever you have a decision to make, or even just reviewing yourself at the end of each day.
But more than just answering these questions, make a commitment to yourself to be honest in doing so. Shining a light on unconscious patterns and habits can get uncomfortable, and may bring up past hurts and old stories. Be gentle with yourself. Take as long as you need, and trust that your transformation is happening even in the pauses.
- I've linked quite a bit to The Enneagram of Discernment, by Drew Moser in the last few weeks, and I expect I'll reference it even more in the future. I've really appreciated his emphasis on the Enneagram as a tool for personal discernment, which is another way of describing the process of transformation. If you're looking for a solid introduction to the Enneagram, this would be one to try.
- Forgot how much I love the album So Tonight That I Might See, by Mazzy Star. An oldie, still a goodie.