As a deeply introverted person, I was exhausted and at the same time utterly grateful for the respite from my mind’s usual ruminations. When I think of introspection, that is usually what I imagine: my personal, individual process of journaling and examining my mental states. I didn’t miss it.
But I was engaged in a much more vigorous form of introspection required by CPE: exploring the states of my mind and heart in response to patient visits, articulating my insights to a group of interfaith religious professionals, and listening to their feedback.
It was a fierce, humbling process, and so tender.
This summer, David Brooks wrote an Opinion piece called “Introspective or Narcissistic?” claiming that “when people examine themselves from too close, they often end up ruminating or oversimplifying.” We really do need others in this awkward process of acquiring self-knowledge, and hopefully others who are not too crazy, depressed or narcissistic themselves. Even better if there is some kind of tradition or framework involved that makes it less of a subjective exchange of arbitrary free-association.
But what if we have work that requires hours of alone time at a computer, and we’re not married (and reading the Old Testatment makes us never want to get married), and we’re suspicious of therapists who pathologize the tumult that comes with living a rich and meaningful life?
Where do we find those intimate, loving people who help us see ourselves in brutal, life-giving truth?
What I love about many faith traditions is that they teach a kind of unconditional positive regard for our fellow humans. I think that uplifting others with our support and care is an important part of introspection; highlighting the good in others’s hearts as we experience it from the outside. That’s what we’re up to these days.
- Molly Padgett