Monday, July 18, 2011

The Process of Becoming: Understanding Personality from a Pagan Perspective by Shanddaramon

Spirit. It moves in all of us. It is the essence of every being and of all things. It is what makes us sacred in a sacred universe. Spirit is the energy that moves all things from the source and back again. It is the constant motion of the universe: expansion and contraction, extension and return. I call these two forces Becoming and Belonging and they move within all of us. They are anchored by a neutral force I call Being.

Some have called these same forces by different names. One such set of names is Agency (Becoming) and Communion (Belonging). Communion is the way in which we relate and cooperate with others. Agency is how we assert ourselves and succeed in our accomplishments. Another set of terms that have been used are Relatedness (Belonging) and Self-Definition (Becoming) which contrasts the desire and need to be close to others with the desire and need to be a separate individual. Those who use these different terms agree on one thing: both of these forces exist in each of us and they are interdependent of each other. If we focus only on Becoming we become ego-centered and disregard the needs of others but if we focus only on Belonging we lose a sense of our unique individuality and can be subject to the control of others. Our lives are enriched and fulfilled when we each seek to be a unique person who can relate, interact, and care for and with others.

When we connect to the force of Becoming, we become attuned to our own unique potentialities and learn to live in a way that allows these potentialities to manifest. When this happens, we feel connected and alive; we experience the joy of growing and shining like a beacon of light. It is like the sailboat that opens it sail and finds the wind. The sail becomes filled and pushes the boat along. We can find out which way the wind blows for us and then open our sail and soar. Finding out about who you are as an individual is acting in accordance with the force of Becoming.

When you find out who you really are, you develop self esteem and you become confident and self assured in yourself and your path in life. With self-esteem, there is less anxiety and you learn to focus on your personal strengths rather than dote on your perceived weaknesses. Many of the messages rampant in our culture seek to focus on weaknesses. We are taught to look at our deficiencies and to compare ourselves to impossible models of perfection. In order to sell the quick fix and the cosmetic cure, they have to convince you that you need those things. By focusing on negatives, you develop a constant sense of inadequacy. Coupled with the message that you do not have the power to find your own solutions you become compelled to seek out others who claim to offer the right answer or brand of snake oil. People who learn to focus on their strengths instead become engaged in their lives and increase the quality of their experiences; they find the joy in living. To do this, one must discover one's one strengths and unique characteristics.

The process of Becoming has two parts: knowing who you are and from knowing that, learning how to live so that you are true to yourself. This is called living authentically. To come to know yourself you need to discover your own personality traits. I define personality as an individual's external expression of internal characteristics used to obtain needs and desires and to avoid threatening situations. Our external expressions are sometimes called behaviors because they are not usually completely random actions. We tend to follow patterns of behavior based on things we have learned from our life experiences and from genetic influences. Those things create a set of internal characteristics which includes things like habits, attitudes, interests, values, principles, and priorities. Motivated by these things, most people tend to respond to a particular situation in the same manner each time it happens so long as all conditions are the same. Of course, conditions never are the same but the point is that we do tend to form general patterns of behavior over our lifetimes so that we maintain a kind of template of actions. Through these patterns we find ways to obtain what we need and try to avoid dangerous or stressful situations as best we can. These patterns create our basic personality. But, human beings are infinitely more complex than any simple typological system can express. We are more than mere labels. The complexity of the human personality is comprised of several different influences: our basic genetic type, our layers of past environmental factors, and our personal Inner Narrative which is your own personal story.

In looking at personality, it is possible to apply Pagan concepts to help us get a unique look at people. An important part of Pagan thought is the idea that all beings are sacred. I take the approach that there are no bad or wrong types. Each person has his or her own unique qualities. It is not these particular qualities that make a person good or evil. Rather, it is the actions of an individual and the resulting consequences of those actions that result in harm to one's self or to others that makes something wrong or “bad.” That is not to say that there are not some qualities of personality that are not better than others. Someone diagnosed with having a sociopathic personality disorder is more likely to take actions that cause harm to others than one who may be described as warm-hearted and generous. If we immediately judge the sociopath as a “bad” person rather than as a person who may be capable of harm we do not allow that person the chance to reform. It is a subtle but important distinction. If a person knows that she has antisocial characteristics in her personality but also knows that she is capable of working through or beyond any social phobias, she will be more likely to take charge of her own life. As Pagans we know that we are free to make our own choices. We do not blame the universe or a deity for being the person we are and we understand that there are consequences to every choice and action that we take.

Another important concept for Pagans is in honoring the cycles of life and the universe. Part of personality development is honoring that we are constantly in a process of change. Each phase of our life has its own challenges to our personal and spiritual development. We understand that we can be an important of creating and making our own lives. We can encourage positive change for ourselves and others. I call this process of willful transformation “magick.”

Shanddaramon is a Pagan writer and practitioner. He teaches classes, lectures and tutors students in Pagan studies; is a Pagan pastoral counselor; teaches and offers Tarot and Rune advising; and is a published author of Pagan books and articles including Self-Initiation for the Solitary Witch and Living Paganism . He is legally recognized in the states of North Carolina and Massachusetts to perform marriages and other sacerdotal duties.

This essay was adapted from the introduction to Shanddaramon's upcoming book – Just Becoming: A Pagan Guide to Discovering and Expressing Your Authentic Self.

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