Meditation and introversion have something in common - the mind. For introverts the mind is a place of activity, but also a place of refuge. Meditation is an activity for familiarizing ourselves with our mind, and for developing its unrealized potential. That might sound exciting and scary in equal measure, but hopefully this article will lend some perspective. With this close connection, I believe that there is a place where meditation can be of service to introverts.
As a way of finding balance and wholeness, introverts seek solitude and alone time. Time with themselves, their inner selves. As Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, says:
“…I also believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”
The mind is the precursor to our actions and the lens through which we see and experience the world. It is something that we are so close to and yet so unfamiliar with at the same time. In the same way that as we get to know an employee or student better we understand what they are truly capable of and how to bring those qualities out of them, so as we get to know our mind better the tool of meditation can help develop the potentialities of the mind.
While introverts can spend much time in introspection at times the internal dialogue, our place of retreat, can seem as noisy as the world that we have tried to get away from. In such instances the activity of meditation, which will take us inside, can seem like the last thing that we would want to do. On the one hand is the image of meditation as providing peace, on the other is having to go inside and face the noise that we are trying to get away from.
The practice of meditation offers many tools for working on the mind. One of these tools is mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to observe the dialogue taking place in the mind but not get involved. As you are only observing the chatter, there is nothing for the mind to latch onto and develop the stories. You are not giving the mind any fuel to keep going and so in time the stories burn themselves out. The mind being the mind, a new conversation will start up soon enough, but you are there only to observe. See the mind as like a glass of muddy water that has been allowed to sit. As the dust settles, so the noise slowly quietens.
The formal practice of mindfulness might see you watching your breath, just observing the ebb and flow of the breath as it enters and leaves the nose. From time to time you will be distracted by thoughts arising in your mind. You simply acknowledge them with no judgement of good or bad, simply ‘a thought’ and come back to your breath.
That is the formal practice of mindfulness, but the practice is not limited to solely that time that you are on your meditation cushion. No, mindfulness is a tool that is there for you to use whenever you choose. For introverts this can be especially useful if you are hitting saturation at the end of a busy day, during a long meeting, at a socializing event. For introverts that sense of exhaustion can be felt in the body and mind. We will sense the weariness coming on, latch onto those feelings and start identifying strongly with what is arising in our body and mind. However, by using our mindfulness practice we start to recognize that these noises in our body and mind are not solid, they are passing, ephemeral, transient. This is not to suggest that they are not real - you are still the exhausted introvert who would like to get home as soon as possible. The trick though is in how you identify with what is coursing through you. You can either see the aches and pains of your body and mind as solid and fixed, or as mindfulness enables us to experience, impermanent and ever changing.
Your formal mindfulness sessions will reveal to you the transient, ever changing nature of your thoughts. This does not change when you go about your everyday life. So as you notice tiredness or aches and pains creep into your body, watch those feelings. Chances are as an introvert you are doing more listening than chatting, so use that quiet time at the meeting or social event to just be with the tiredness, observe the “I want to go home” thoughts, acknowledge the aches…and then just let them go. Just observe them, don’t engage or put any judgement on them. The wish to get away is still there, it is real, but now you are not allowing it to have such a firm grip on you. There is more space there with which to work, to relax (yes relax) into. You are still battling the storm of tiredness, but now you are finding time to come for air. An introvert is who you are, yes, but you are not boxing yourself into an image of what that means to you. Your mind is revealing to you who you are and what might be possible.
Mindfulness allows us to develop a pliability of the mind by seeing through and not fixating so rigidly on the images and stories that we tell ourselves. Mindfulness practice shows us that reality and gives us the malleability of our mind to work with in our daily lives. With that experience the world, not just for introverts, becomes more workable.