My two sons, now grown, have always been unlike each other in some significant ways. As a shamanic practitioner and therapist I have worked with many clients and have learned that strategies need to be tailored to the individual; the same size does not fit all in healing work. So I have often wondered about the nature of temperament and how it relates to personal growth.
Temperament may include things like energy level when healthy, whether you are more extroverted or introverted, your preferred way of emotionally protecting yourself, some innate talents like musicality or dexterity. Twin studies indicate that temperament is largely determined by heredity (nature), rather than environment (nurture). An Indian swami I knew once claimed that we only have choice over roughly 3% of our lives, that the rest is determined by karma from past lives and social and familial cultures. So science and yoga seem to agree that most of what we are comes in with us at birth.
I have also thought about this as it applies to my own life. I’ve come such a long way. I was once a lost, unformed, traumatized person. I didn’t know my own likes and dislikes, fell into relationships based on other people’s desires rather than my own, lived without much conscious awareness of other beings, was completely unconnected from my body and Nature, experienced God as a stern taskmaster. And while I had many strengths, including intelligence, intuition, and empathy, my ability to use these strengths was limited by the numbing effects of unhealed trauma. Today, following years of psychotherapy, spiritual direction, shamanic intervention, energy work, and a personal commitment to honesty, authenticity, and the willingness to be vulnerable, I am significantly different. I am more conscious of my inner workings, I feel deeply connected to a God of Love and to the Earth, I am tender toward my body, and my consciousness continues to grow. I appear to be “a whole different person,” largely as a result of choices I made that shifted the trajectory of my life.
Could the difference really be explained by three percent? Can three percent of my life shift the other 97%?
I guess it depends on where you place the fulcrum.
Say you have a field you want to plow. And say there is a great granite boulder sitting in the middle of it. The boulder is heavy. It’s been sitting there for a very long time. It’s become part of the scenery of the landscape. Willing it to move doesn’t move it. Using the brute force of your body doesn’t move it. Using the brute force of your friends’ bodies doesn’t even move it. You need a lever, you need a team, and you need the right conditions. It’s going to be harder to move in the winter, for example, when the ground is frozen and the ice and snow are stuck fast to the base of the boulder. But in the spring, when the ground is thawed and heaving, or in the fall after the harvest, it might be easier. If you dig up the ground around the boulder, it will help. And if you then apply a lever, resting on a fulcrum, to the right place – perhaps a point representing 3% of the boulder’s surface – you can move that boulder all right, if it isn’t buried too deeply. Whether and how far you can move it may depend on some factors over which you have no control: the lay of the land, how deeply embedded it is, the size and weight of the boulder. It may also be affected by factors over which you have enormous control: your willingness to stick with working the earth around the boulder before you try to shift it, for example, or your willingness to allow friends to help you operate the lever.
But one thing I know. We all have plenty of boulders in the fields of our lives. And the point is not to get rid of the boulders. The point is to shift them, if we can, to more appropriate places so that we can plow our fields. Some we are actually able to shift to the side of the field. Some we will be able to shift into the low lying areas that collect water and aren’t very good for planting. Others we have to learn to live with, and we just plow around them. In those cases, it does no good each spring when we go out to plow and plant to fling ourselves at the massive boulder. We accept the boulder, understand that it is there to stay, and plow around it.
The goal is not to have a field that is 100% clear of stones and boulders. The goal is to have a field that produces a good yield, a yield that can feed and sustain us, and perhaps others. We can enjoy this work. It produces a good feeling. The good feeling of using our labor, wits, and inner strengths to shape the life we are inwardly led to live. The good feeling of nurturing the soil, and seeing it become, as we age, full of the rich humus in which life can grow. The good feeling of planting the crops we want to tend and eventually reap. The good feeling of living the Good Life, no matter the quality of the field we’ve inherited. In fact, I think the ultimate goal of the spiritual life is to tend the fields we’ve been given and, when they are yielding well, to assist others in their fields.
So, yes, there may only be three percent of our lives over which we have choice. Thanks be to God that it is a powerful three percent.