It occurs to me that I refer a lot to some stuff that I’ve never really explained in depth here. So as we’re moving forward in this relationship where I write stuff, and you read it, and sometimes if you’re so moved, you comment on it, and so on and so forth, then I should probably back up a little and explain some of the stuff that will probably be coming up with increasing frequency.
I’ve been doing a therapeutic practice for a few years now called constructive living. Think of it sort of like pilates for your attention.
I’ve mentioned before that my personality type according to the enneagram system is a Four (which apparently means I am Che Guevara,) and according to Myers-Briggs, is an INFP. What both of those types have in common is the tendency to point our attention inwards and live in our (usually quite vivid) imaginations.
Fours also typically have issues with envy and gratitude. We tend to think we’re lacking something essential that the rest of the world has, and we tend to miss seeing what’s going well. I think that’s an issue that’s pretty common to most people, regardless of type, but it’s particularly noticeable with Fours.
Fours and INFPs are dreamers who are wonderful at coming up with creative ideas. But we often have trouble actually executing these grand ideas. We often feel a bit flaky, like we don’t quite have it all together. We also have issues with taking action when we’re overwhelmed with the powerful feelings that color our world.
After discovering my type, I read an article that recommended I read some materials on something called constructive living, because it was supposedly particularly helpful for enneagram Fours. Turns out it really is helpful.
Constructive living was created by an American therapist, David K. Reynolds, based on two Japanese forms of therapy: morita and naikon. They fit together like two halves of a whole. Morita is the action-oriented half. The central question of morita is “What needs doing?” Neurotic Fours tend to have trouble with doing because we’re so caught up in feeling.
The central principle of morita is “feel your feelings and do what needs to be done anyway.” Which may sound like a “duh” statement if you’re not a Four, but which can be really hard if you are. It turns out, often in simply doing whatever task is in front of you, you forget your neurotic woes and feel better. You can’t control your feelings directly by force of will, but feelings follow behavior naturally.
Naikon is the reflective half of constructive living. Naikon is about training your attention to notice what’s going right, the way that you’re being supported, and the ways you fall short in repaying that support. It’s not being a Pollyanna and ignoring your problems. It’s correcting the distorted way we pay attention to what’s wrong, and ignore everything that’s working.
As a Christian, a friend in the faith was concerned about my following a philosophical discipline that originated in a Zen Buddhist culture. However, as I began practicing constructive living, I recognized that it bore a strong resemblance to some of the spiritual disciplines practiced by Christian monastic orders. Interestingly, I found an unpublished constructive living text by Reynolds where he discusses his own Christianity, and how it has informed his work.
I’ll probably be talking a bit more about the enneagram, Myers-Briggs, and constructive living here, because I’m passionately interested in helping other flaky, creative types like myself figure out ways convert their ideas into reality, and these have been some useful tools for me along the way.
If you’re interested in finding your personality type, you might try taking one of these tests:
If you’re interested in learning more about Constructive Living, I can recommend Thirsty, Swimming in a Lake by David K. Reynolds.