Arnie Kozak, Ph.D.

Arnie Kozak Ph.D.

The Buddha Was an Introvert

If Introverts Ruled the World

Bringing action, energy, and well-being back into balance

Posted Dec 04, 2013

In an earlier post, I outlined the Four Noble Truths as the Buddha taught them and as modified for introverts. Here are the first three again:
  1. Living in the extroverted world leaves us feeling off, dissatisfied, and even anguished at times.
  2. The cause of this anguish is the expectation that we conform to the extrovert norms. We are overwhelmed by noisy chaotic open-plan offices, exhausted from superficial social contacts, and distracted by constant interruptions.
  3. There is an end to this anguish, when introverts self-empower themselves through knowledge, self-care, and setting limits on extrovert demands.

Many introverts report feeling out of place in the extroverted world. It’s as if the people around us are moving at a different speed. We think we should keep up but sometimes it is impossible. There was an episode of the original Star Trek series where the Enterprise encounters beings who move so fast, all the crew can experience is a high pitched hum. That’s what it feels like to be in the extrovert world sometimes.

Life has become frantic, overscheduled, and chronically stressful. It’s not fair to point the finger at extroverts for the demands of contemporary life. Multiple factors interact to create what we have today. Nevertheless there are certain aspects that accord with extrovert ways of being: fascination with multitasking, short attention span, and frenetic activity. 

Susan Cain in her groundbreaking book, Quiet, makes a compelling case that the United States has embraced an extrovert ideal. She defines this ideal as a preference for “action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt.” She cites a source from 1921 that captures the shift from a culture of virtue to one of personality:

“Respect for individual human personality has with us reached its lowest point and it is delightfully ironical that no nation is so constantly talking about personality as we are. We actually have schools for ‘self-expression’ and ‘self-development,’ although we seem usually to mean the expression and development of the personality of a successful real estate agent.”

A world ruled by mindful introverts would look a lot different. Life would move from performance to genuine engagement in the moment. At their best, these performances would be performance art (a skill introverts practice every time they behave as pseudo extroverts). Life would move from selling oneself to offering oneself to each interaction. Life would move from constant outward doing to more considered inward being. 

Perhaps we'd have shorter work weeks like many of the introvert countries on the list of shortest working weeks: The Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Sweden, Australia, and Italy all have shorter work weeks than the United States. Many of these countries also have superior child care systems.

If the extrovert creed is: Do More

The counterbalancing introvert creed is Do Less.

Mindfulness meditation is often described as the practice of “doing nothing.” Jon Kabat-Zinn pointed out that we were more like human doings than human beings. Actually, we are human becomings, but we’ll talk about that in a future entry. When we meditate, we are doing nothing other than attending to our breathing and retrieving attention whenever necessary (which turns out to be quite a lot).

The first two truths help us to identify the problem and understand its causes. The Third Noble Truth invites the possibility that anguish and its causes can stop.

For the Buddha, this truth was called nirvana. This term has a lot of connotations, many of them erroneous. It simply means “cessation” or “extinguishing” as you would blow out a candle or a bonfire goes out when its fuel is burned up. It is not some mystical realm of transcendence, it is simply the experience of now without the mind getting in the way. The following "rules" can help us to get our minds out of the way. 

 Mindful Introvert Rules:

  • Slow down and do less (as the popular adage laments: no one ever wishes they had spent more time at the office when they are on their death bed)
  • Do more by doing less (buck the fallacy of multitasking)
  • Care more: Go for depth, presence, and quality in relationships and everything else you do.
  • Care less (about what other people think of you)
  • Unplug and do nothing.

We all, introverts and extroverts alike, need time for solitude, quiet, and contemplation. The world might be a better place if we spent more time in reflection rather than pursuing power, status, and material wealth and consumption.

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