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Knowing Me, Knowing God
Exploring Your Spirituality with Myers-Briggs
By Malcolm Goldsmith
Abingdon PressCopyright © 1997 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
A Technicolored Dreamcoat?
Prayer is part of a person's spirituality, but what is spirituality? This is a question which seems very simple but which proves to be extremely difficult to answer when the spotlight is turned on it. Workshops on spirituality are very popular today among people in leadership positions in local churches. Despite spending many years in church membership, many people acknowledge that spirituality is a difficult subject. Many Christians have a deep desire to learn more. "When it comes to spirituality" someone said to me, "we are all learners, aren't we?"
Spirituality is far wider an area than most of us normally conceive. Someone defined it to me as "the search for something to assuage the yearning." Spiritual experiences allow us to:
stand in awe as when we become aware of something (or Someone) beyond ourselves;
delight in our senses as when we enjoy something beautiful—such as art, music, flowers, or scenery; and
be enlivened as when we experience love, acceptance, or forgiveness—so that we know we are of worth.
This book is concerned with spirituality, but it can, of necessity, consider only a tiny part of it, and that is the part which might be called religious spirituality—and even then it is only concerned with a very small part of that vast area. We will look at what makes individual people so different from one another; and at how differences in the ways that people perceive the world and relate to it can affect both their understanding of faith and their journey of discipleship.
The desire to explore and learn more about spirituality must lie behind the amazing growth in the popularity of retreats and conferences on the subject in recent years. When I was ordained over thirty years ago retreats tended to be associated with the Catholic wing of the church and were viewed with suspicion or skepticism by many others. That is no longer the case, and today retreat houses are seen as essential resources for the life and work of the church. Perhaps it has something to do with the general loss of confidence that people have in "the secular." They may not be flocking back to the churches but people are no longer assuming that logical, scientific thinking has eliminated the need for the spiritual side of life. There is an openness to the "other," to the mystical or spiritual dimension of life, but interestingly, many of the people who are now searching do not automatically assume that the churches are the place in which to find this other dimension. What have been traditionally called "fringe" religious groups and many different types of "alternatives" are springing up, offering people a way in to new understandings of their daily experiences, of joy and sorrow, and of anguish, and their search for meaning.
The Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung used to say that he never had a patient in the second half of his or her life whose problem was not ultimately religious. By that he meant that anyone raised in European society, whatever their religious views, had consciously or unconsciously had to face up to ultimate moral, religious, or spiritual issues. Some people were able to deal with these, and they established a framework of belief (be it orthodox or unorthodox). Other people, for a whole variety of reasons, repressed them into their unconscious. There they might lay dormant, emerge in dreams, and/or create havoc at some later time in life.
But what is the nature of this spiritual quest? What is its destiny? What is its process? How do people choose from the vast array of options available? Why are there so many? It seems strange that, with so many people spending time in prayer and contemplation, the way ahead so often seems to be hidden, and so many differing (and often apparently contradictory) practices are followed.
There are many "flavors" to be found among Christian churches today. Within any one denomination there will be a vast range of ways in which people approach biblical interpretation, pray, worship, talk about faith, relate to one another, and expect to experience God's presence and guidance. If we look more widely to include people who do not go to church or profess any faith, we will find just about every point on the continuum which runs from "I don't know what on earth you are talking about" to "the faith which was handed down to me is precious and I have a duty to pass it on in the manner in which I received it." How we account for such differences is, in itself, a reflection of our understanding of and approach to spirituality and faith. It is the argument of this book that these differences in approach and understanding of faith are fundamental to our very being. What we each need to discover is an authentic and meaningful approach to spirituality which we can explore, experience, and maintain without compromising our personal integrity.
For many people, the spiritual quest is about an inward journey. It is an exploration of a mystery in which they discover who they really are. This discovery can only take place as they become more open to the reality and mystery of God. It is deeply personal and it is private. Others discover the reality of God, and probably the reality of themselves, as they engage with other people. They reflect on these experiences and the events of the world and seek to discover their meaning and significance. For them it is less a withdrawal from the world and more an engagement with it which sustains them in their spiritual journey.
Then again, some people need a rational base for their pilgrimage. Suspicious of too much emotion and alert to the possibilities of being overwhelmed by too much "religion" they want to be able to think through their approach to faith. They recognize that they may not be able to reach God by their intellect alone, but they are adamant that they can never be satisfied with a faith which requires them to let go of their intellect and cease their questioning. Yet another group of people needs to feel, above all, an accepting and sustaining relationship with "that which is beyond them." They find encouragement in what other people can offer. For them, the emphasis is likely to be upon their own individual search for meaning and acceptance, and they are more likely to be moved by an appeal to the heart than by an appeal to the head.
Another area where there are differences in approach is in the use and understanding of symbols and visual stimuli. Some people are greatly helped by music, or by colors and even textures, while others may not see their relevance. One person likes incense and another is appalled by it. One person likes to meditate for an hour, perhaps using a candle to focus attention, while another may be totally alienated by the prospect of spending so much time with so little to occupy sight or hearing. It is not that one approach is right and the other is wrong, it is just that they are different. In the same way, people's approach to Scripture may be different. One person may focus quite clearly on specific texts and their precise meaning. Another will use Bible verses as a springboard for developing ideas.
One of the most obvious areas where there is a difference in approach to spirituality today is in "zoning-in" and "openingup." "Zoning-in" here means focusing upon God by seeking to be freed from all distractions, and laying hold of the central truths and reality of faith by working to free the mind from the thousand and one ideas and thoughts which assail it. This is in sharp contrast to "opening-up" where a person seeks to explore new possibilities, and latches on to the ideas which come to mind to see if they are possible doorways into new understandings or appreciations of God.
With so many possible approaches to the spiritual life, it is not unreasonable to wonder if there is any such thing as an authentic, objective, spiritual journey! Could it be just an illusion? A technicolored dreamcoat? Fascinating, attractive, even seductive, but in the end insubstantial, a figment of our imagination, the sort of thing that dreams are made of?
I suspect that many people ask themselves these questions, because they feel that their own spiritual journey does not correspond to what they hear in sermons, or read in books, or observe in the lives of people whom they respect and admire. My aim in this book is to help you explore the many different experiences of spirituality and to reflect on them in the light of individual personality preferences. The spiritual quest is an important one. People need to be helped to be honest about their experiences. They must work at what is meaningful for them, and not feel that in order to have any validity, their own spirituality must in some way approximate to some sort of blueprint.
An interesting book was published in 1987 entitled Who We Are Is How We Pray, and a similar theme has been explored more recently by Bruce Duncan in Pray Your Way. Both these writers, and a number of others, endeavor to help free us from the shackles that can imprison us when we are made to feel or think that there is a particularly "right" way to pray (and invariably we assume that we have the "wrong" approach). There is a great need for each of us to discover a pathway of spirituality which is appropriate for us individually. It won't necessarily be an easy or straightforward pathway to walk. We may be able to discover a way of praying and reflecting, or thinking and living, which "speaks" to us in our uniqueness, and does not assume that what is right for someone else is therefore automatically right for us. I have discovered that it is a great deal easier to set out with confidence on this journey of exploration if there is a useful guide. Understanding the dynamics of personality can be such a guide. It is clear enough to point a way forward, but flexible and wide enough for us to be able to find our own way without being forced into a specific mold or pattern.
Joseph's technicolored dreamcoat was a gift of love which he wore with pride and assurance. If we can discover a spirituality which can be authentic for us as individuals, then this can be regarded as a gift of love. It will be something precious which we will wear, if not with pride and assurance, then certainly with gratitude and growing confidence.CHAPTER 2
There are many different techniques which people can use to begin to understand themselves. Transactional Analysis was very much in vogue in the sixties, emphasizing the different roles that we often adopt in relationships—parent, child, and adult. In recent years many people have been attracted to the Enneagram, which highlights inner drives. has become by far the most popular. It is the contribution that the MBTI can make to our understanding of spirituality that this book explores. Readers who already know about MBTI, have attended workshops and explored their own profile may want to skip this chapter and move on to the next section. For those who do not have a working knowledge of the work of Isabel Myers and her mother, or who need a crash revision course, this chapter is designed to introduce the basic concepts. The theory behind the MBTI is explained more fully in my book Knowing Me—Knowing You. However, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
Some people may find this chapter quite heavy going! It may be that you need to read it through two or three times before you begin to feel at home with the ideas. I hope you will persevere, because a great many people have found the idea of personality type a great help when exploring their own spirituality and the spirituality of others.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
It is called a type indicator because it is a process or framework which helps us to differentiate between personality types. The words "Myers-Briggs" are the surnames of the two women, mother and daughter, who devised the indicator. Katharine Cook Briggs was born in Michigan in 1875 and her daughter Isabel was born in 1897; Isabel shared her mother's passion for trying to understand different types of people and their personalities, and together they worked for many years trying to devise a way of describing and categorizing these personalities. In 1923 Carl Jung's book Psychological Types was printed in English and this provided the two women with the theoretical basis that they were looking for. From that time onwards they devoted their lives to exploring and expanding Jung's theories and formulating a way in which these could be incorporated into some form of personality profiling.
It was not until 1975, some sixty years after they had begun working on this, that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator was published on the open market in the United States, and it immediately made a considerable impact. Isabel Myers wrote Gifts Differing shortly before her death in 1980, and since then the MBTI has become the most widely used personality assessment in the world. It is being used increasingly within the churches to help people understand not only their own personalities and the personalities of others, but also to understand their spiritual explorations and journeys. I have found it to be a great help in exploring spirituality but would want to add the proviso that it is only one aid, among many, and I would not want to suggest that there should be some form of MBTI spirituality cult.
The MBTI theory of personality type hinges on the idea of preference. Jung believed that we are born with innate preferences, and that these affect the ways in which we perceive the world around us, take in information from the world, process it, and develop our responses to it, our actions and behavior. He believed that we operate on the level of our preferences in an unconscious way, and that these preferences become so well developed that we rely on them to enable us to live and cope in a complex world. There are other responses that we could make, and that we sometimes do make, and other processes and functions that operate in our personality, but we find these more difficult, we are less adept at handling them, and we use or prefer them less.
A simple and rather crude example can be taken from our handwriting. When we sign our name, we tend to pick up a pen or pencil and write automatically. We do not stop and ask ourselves which hand to use, or which way our letters should slant, or the style of our writing—we just sign our name. We could, of course, write with our other hand, but in that case we would have to make a conscious effort, and we would find that quite difficult and have to concentrate hard. The end result, in all probability, would be rather untidy and unsatisfactory. We can actually do it, and there may be times when it is appropriate for us to do so—those times when we have strained our wrist or damaged the fingers on our "writing hand" for example—but normally we write with our preferred hand, without thinking, and, over the years, through constant use, our signature has developed and become something special and unique to us.
That simple illustration can represent the whole range of highly complex decisions which we are taking all day long, every day, for the whole of our lives. Two people going into the same building can notice different things, two people having a conversation can remember different things, two people approaching a third person may interact in different ways, two people attending the same church service may respond in different ways, and the same two people, when discussing their career prospects may wish to follow entirely different routes and develop their interests in very different areas. The principal reasons for these differences, according to Jung, are born with us. Now this is obviously highly simplified, and there have to be a great many provisos and caveats. Nevertheless the argument is that people are born with different preferences and the way in which we handle these preferences as we grow up, and the way in which they react with our differing environments all play a part in making us the people that we are.
As we grow, so we develop preferred ways of Perceiving (taking information in) and Judging (deciding on our behavior in the world). Sometimes we feel threatened and under pressure, or we find ourselves in situations where we are expected to behave in certain ways, and we use other processes which may not, in fact, be our preferred ways of acting. We can thus grow up "out of step" with ourselves, and it may be a long and painful journey for us to become reconciled with the person that we "really are"—this will be looked at later in the book.
The theory behind the MBTI goes on to suggest that our behavior (the combination of ways of taking in information, processing it, and developing responses and actions in the world) is not random but follows certain patterns. These patterns are not determined so that they take away our personal responsibility. Instead we remain free to choose how we behave, but we are more likely to act in certain ways because of the preferences which we have developed. I am much more likely to choose a tape or CD of Bach than of the Beatles. That is not to say that I am not free to choose a tape or CD by the Beatles nor that I won't ever choose one, but it is far more likely that I will opt for Bach because that is my preference. People who know me well will begin to know my preferences and so my choices and behavior can be, to a certain degree, anticipated and predicted by them.
Excerpted from Knowing Me, Knowing God by Malcolm Goldsmith. Copyright © 1997 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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