This summer I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. It has appeared on the NY Times Best Seller List and is sold at Target, so there’s a good chance a few of you have read it, too, or at least heard of it.
The essence of her message is the identification and explanation of introversion and extroversion. Her focus is on liberating introversion from the current society-inflicted interpretation as a bad or undesirable characteristic first by validating it’s existence and then by sharing various statistics, case studies, and research that show having introverted traits is actually highly beneficial for many types of success in life.
Most of our notable thinkers, philosophers, scientists, writers, inventors, healers, and artists are and have been highly introverted. Sacred space is essential to them. The occasional need to define and protect that space in a world that presses in from every direction sometimes results in a cantankerous (or worse) reputation for introverts, but that is more a reaction to stress than a true depiction of who they are. According to Quiet, introverts are often much more sensitive and perceptive than more extroverted people, and react more quickly and strongly on both emotional and physical levels. Some use various forms of addiction to dull the overwhelming onslaught of stimuli, a very human reaction to a very essential need.
I was delighted to read her book and am so glad her message is spreading. That said, as a life-long introvert, my other reaction was along the lines of “No shit, Sherlock”. Not to Ms. Cain, but to anyone who hasn’t recognized the absolute necessity of introversion, of sacred space, in the world.
Introversion is not about being shy. It is the yin of life. It’s where we let in the subtleties, where we find our inspiration, have our epiphanies, play in the shadows, and face our darker sides. It’s opening to intuition.
I was raised to be an extrovert. I think a lot of well-meaning parents bend – consciously or not – to the perception that extroversion is the route to success in our culture and time, to instilling in children the ability to shake a hand, make eye contact, smile with confidence, and speak publicly. Those are admirable and useful skills, but they’re not the only ones. I struggled for years both internally and externally trying to balance this tug-of-war on my personality, to find my true inner middle ground where I can both honor my sacred space and interact in the outer world. Despite finding it occasionally, a lot of days I’m still looking, pulling the rope too far across one side of the line or the other.
Yoga helps a lot because when I’m on my mat I’m in my own world, my own space, no matter how many people are in the room. And that’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s this awesome strengthener of self that has become socially acceptable. I say we run with that, even if the original form mutates a little as more people find their mats. Change is inevitable but doesn’t have to be detrimental. We can do this in a way we make it our own but retain the core message.
Of course, there are many who feel you have to be wearing the correct labels on your clothes, have the correct BMI, ingest the correct foods, or be performing the correct version of asana. Whatever. Maybe they’ll get over that in time; it’s really not my problem or business unless I’m looking for it to be. Spoiler alert: I’m not. What I will do is continue to focus on advocating for myself and yogis in my classes to honor their sacred space.
As a yoga instructor and author of this website, I have been encouraged by a couple of people I know to adopt an extroverted personality very unlike who I feel I actually am to “build my numbers”, to reel in more and more people for the sake of, yep, success. Because popularity equals success nowadays (hell, maybe all of days). We’re taught to measure success by what we can see, what we can show others, whether it’s a product or a reputation. It’s a numbers game, and that mostly means number of dollars. I like dollars, too – lots of them; having money isn’t inherently wrong, I’d just like to retain who I am in the process of getting it, and more than a minimal amount of self-promotion extends me beyond that.
There is so much success inside each of us that others won’t ever see. “Namaste” loosely translates to “the light within me sees the light within you”. But do we? I believe we have to see our own light so that we can recognize and honor it in others. I believe seeing that light can sometimes only be done in the darkness of our solitary caves. We each embody the archetypes, and the Hermit is no less important than the rest.
Throughout history many introverts who brought new ideas, thoughts, inventions, medicinal cures, and artistic creations to life died without note and as paupers while their offerings went on to make extroverts very rich and very famous. But don’t we all know better by now? In the end, it’s really not about the Benjamins, and having or not having them is not the point. How many reports from “successful” people that they are absolutely miserable or lost will it take for us as a group to stop promoting that version as the only one?
If success in life is, in truth, measured by contentment or even joy, by the stillness or pleasure of any given moment, then I think in those moments we’re all introverts – we’re all the Hermit – because the intimacy of a feeling can only truly be felt by one. By you. By me. And I believe that’s where our lesson lies, in our self-acceptance of that individuality, that autonomy, that whole validation of self…and the release of any fear that that isn’t enough. What brings those moments can vary widely person to person, and the circumstances can be loud, interactive, and extroverted OR quiet, solitary, and introverted.
Neither is more right or wrong than the other.
That is also the essence of yoga, to go within so that we may experience without. Yin to the yang, and back again until the circle is full within each of us, so that it might be full around all of us.Share