It’s a bit “duuh”, but also quite fascinating: There are no two people exactly alike. Yes, there are different types, instinctual priorities and even life experiences that we can pinpoint fairly well — but the specific combination of those things a well as the undefinable quality that makes you you, are unique for each individual. That’s why you, and your curiosity about yourself, are central elements in your inner growth.
So, self-knowledge is to some degree about finding out where you fit in within types, preferences, et cetera (whether you’re aware of them as such or not, and regardless of what you call them). But it’s also about … well, actually knowing yourself. Not just watching yourself, but also consciously experiencing yourself; you inner being within this balance — or unbalance, as the case may be on occasion — of thoughts, feelings and actions.
Not many of us have learnt this while growing up. Few parents have encouraged their kids to just be, stay in the experience and be curious about what’s happening. To do this, as parents, we would have had to be prepared to sit with our children. We would have had to be willing to experience with them and to some degree help them meet whatever showed up. And most people do not have anywhere near enough experience, presence and inner grounding to even be able to do this. If anything, we could have let our children teach us some of it, had we understood its importance. But sadly, these behaviours are often ones that parents question or even actively quench.
Starting now — or, well, continuing
This is no reflection on the adults. We cannot give something we don’t have, and it’s not our fault that our parents didn’t have it, either — and so it goes, back through the generations. But we can start now, from wherever we find ourselves. We might not have thought much at all about these things. Maybe we took up a yoga practice or art class recently and found it soothing or empowering or otherwise rewarding. We might have been in some kind of inner work for some time. Our engagement might ebb and flow, and we might sometimes feel we’re on top of things, sometimes not so much. We might be dedicated meditators. It doesn’t really matter; we can always make our way into more awareness, a more grounded presence.
So, we’re all different, in some sense. We are not clones of a type, or even a tritype, or however finely we like to define ourselves. We are us; distinct from others with the same type-and-instinct make-up, the same nationality, the same family. This said, though, we’re all human beings, which makes it likely that we have things in common with others, who have walked this path before us. So it’s not like there’s nothing to learn from, or to look to for tools in.
Tools for increased awareness, grounding and presence
The first and most important tool we need is our own curiousity. And no, this is not just a cute duuh-reminder; it’s actually important, and it is also a factor that a lot of people miss, and/or try to skip. Because sometimes, we just want to be done with it. We do not really want to know — to reflect on, or worse, experience, the depths of our own inadequacies. (Of course, that is not the end goal, either. But it’s probably the view the ego will take when it builds its case for us not to go there.) We want to know how to address issues and “be better”, whatever that means to us. But we are not as keen on exploring that which needs to be addressed. Why would we be? After all, we’re looking to be done with it, not give it more energy.
But the change we can effect by attempting to wilfully change is very limited. Likely, there are instinctual impulses or emotional reactivity triggered, patterns a long time in the making. Against that, our intellectual efforts don’t wield a lot of clout.
So, what good does curiosity?
So we want to be curious about ourselves, our reactions, and our feelings. When we’re genuinely curious, not just in mental analysis mode, we’re not judging what we find. Nor are we assuming, intellectualising, reasoning, expecting. We just want to find out. Our priority is being there, staying in the equation. This staying is the second important tool. Now, we are interested in the truth of what we’re experiencing. We don’t care so much about about putting labels on it, changing it or theorising. We want to know, and what we want to know is ourselves. Thus, the third important tool is not judging, analysing or trying to change the experience. (In Aspects of you, there are a couple of exercises on developing these tools.)
So other than curiosity, staying put and not judging, we don’t, theoretically, need any structural help. Techniques, formats, exercises and therapists are superfluous if we succeed at putting these three tools to use. However, doing so can often be harder than we might expect. Usually, what we’re experiencing is not all that comfortable. It’s a natural response to want to change it — to prefer something that feels less shameful, stupid, silly, bad or, well, just plain uncomfortable. So for many of us, we are greatly helped by techniques and therapeutic formats, as they can make it easier for us to muster both non-judgemental curiosity and the staying power we need to work things through.
For this reason, there are also books we can read, ideally ones that provide exercises for our own exploration. There are techniques we can learn. Also, there are workshops where we’re guided into certain practical exercises and, ideally, anchor our insights in experience so that our insights do not stay restricted to the mind. There are recorded, guided exercises, podcasts, and all kinds of modern ways for us to find help exploring ourselves. And, of course, there’s good, old-fashioned therapy and coaching (which might sometimes use newer, just as efficient approaches).
Only you know
In the end, you have the answers. Sometimes, we want and/or need guidance discovering them. Sometimes, we even want a much-needed kick up the back-side to start addressing what we need to address. At other times, that kick would have us shut down; then, what we really need is a soft, all-inclusive holding that allows us to relax.
So even though the answers you seek are ultimately found within, some outside help — shorter or longer term; in the one-way format of a book, in a more reciprocal manner with a friend, or something in between. This is fine. As long as you employ these three tools on any path you choose to follow, the path itself matters less.
(One important note, though. If you feel very fragile and unsure whether something is good for you or not — get help discerning. You might want to ask someone who knows you well and whom you trust, to help you choose.)
Time for a break?
Do you want to stop, take a break and get closer to yourself right now? Feel free to take a break and breathe with a free short, guided meditation exercises on the Exploring the Enneagram Youtube channel ❤️