Raising happy children

It’s actually not difficult, since children are naturally happy and find happiness easily.

All you really have to do is not actively undermine them and you’re already ahead.

I took to heart some painful lessons from my own childhood, and so with my kids I make an effort to:

Not belittle them, their efforts or their interests.

Not criticise, pick on, or draw attention to perceived faults.

Not mock, ridicule or laugh at them.

Limit the harm

We aren’t perfect. I get angry, frustrated, and can be petty or stubborn.

But I make an effort to limit the harm my bad mood might have on my kids.

I apologise to them, and explain that even if they’ve done something wrong, they aren’t to blame for my mood.

Sometimes our reactions as parents can be remarkably childish. It’s important to admit that and apologise rather than dig in and get defensive.

Focus on happiness

As part of my own efforts to be happier I’ve taught my son the “feeling game”, which is basically about finding good things to focus on rather than bad ones.

He’s taken to it with enthusiasm, and will even remind me of it when I’m frustrated or tired.

He has learned through his own experience that focusing on the wanted aspects of life is far more enjoyable than whining about the unwanted.

I don’t think we have to be perfect to be good parents. But I hope at least that my kids will grow up with a clear sense that happiness is accessible to them, and that my honest admission of my slip-ups and shortcomings on this path will aid them in their own journey.

Love, and the kingdom of God

“seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you”

What is the Kingdom of God?

A kingdom is not a physical location. The suffix -dom is a state, as we see in freedom and wisdom.

The Greek βασιλεία can also be translated as kingship, authority, sovereignty.

So the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven is not a place we are trying to enter, but a state in which God or heaven leads and rules.

And since we know that God is love, the kingdom of God means the rule of love.

Seeking the kingdom of God means being ruled by love.

I love the coming together of Christian spirituality and the Abraham Hicks material on this point.

In Abraham terms, we should try to feel good and seek the most positive feelings of love and appreciation, and be led and guided from within that state of alignment with our source (God).

And from within that state we will no longer be resisting the abundance of life prepared for us. And all these things shall be added to you.

It’s ultimately as simple as the commandments to love God and our neighbour, and to remain in a state of love.

The best of the mystics are like this. They simply live in a state of the highest love and appreciation.

Their lives are transformed because they remain focused on love. They bring joy to others because they are focused on love. They perform miracles because they are focused on love.

People came to them for guidance because of the love that enlivened and enlightened them, the love that ruled their lives.

Writing from my couch

This past week I finally downloaded the WordPress app to my phone and I’ve been writing my posts while lying on my couch.

I should have done this ages ago! Forget stand up desks, yoga balls and ergonomic keyboards; this is true creativity untethered!

Lying on a couch is the best way to write. Honestly it feels so good I’m jealous of myself.

There’s something simultaneously rebellious and luxurious about it, playful and deeply satisfying like a childhood dream where bed becomes a boat and we float on the ocean waves in the miraculous comfort of dry linen, pillows and blankets.

I can hear the cars go by on the busy road outside my door. A clean breeze is blowing through the room. My head is supported by the arm of this 100 year old sofa, as I share my thoughts with you through the glowing screen.

And who needs ten fingers to type, anyway? What can be said in two minutes that can’t be better said in ten? I’m all thumbs right now but that’s more my speed.

Whatever makes me feel better, what makes writing more satisfying and more fun, what turns work into relaxation…

I don’t think I could have done this before. I’d have thought writing should be more serious, more intentional, more focused.

But more relaxed? More happy? More easy?

This tiny miracle of technology and receptivity is just one of many I attribute to my work of learning to feel better.

The smartphone, wifi, and apps are one miracle, but more significant is even allowing myself to consider it, to think that enjoyment is worthwhile, and care enough about how I feel to reach for it.

Empty your cup

Yesterday I started tidying the kids’ bookshelf. It was a real mess, with new books having been piled horizontally on top of the others making it almost impossible to retrieve one without triggering a book avalanche.

There wasn’t enough room for everything so I moved onto the parents’ bookshelf hoping to make some space.

An intellectual house-cleaning

Wow! There were some really old books in that shelf!

I don’t mean hundred-year-old treasured volumes. I mean books that represent a part of me I no longer want or need to hold onto.

Textbooks on Neuro-philosophy from my Honours year that were horribly bleak when they first came out and are now outdated to boot.

Books on orthodox Catholic philosophy and theology from when I thought that perfect intellectual formation was the key, as if the answers to life’s questions could all be found via sufficient mastery of the Summa Theologicae.

A couple of new-age and qigong books from people I now know are basically charlatans.

Incredibly abstruse texts on philosophy of language and parsing religious relativism from my PhD studies that might as well be treatises on theoretical physics for all the interest they now hold for me.

The tome-like “Zen and the Brain” I ordered from America back in the early 2000s which I hoped would give me some kind of objective guide in my search for spiritual insight.

Books complaining about the decline of Western civilisation, marshalling the proof that the world as we know is falling apart in all new and exciting ways!

Whether these books were on apologetics and philosophy or mysticism and prayer, they each represent part of my search outside myself. A search for identity, a search for wisdom, a search for inner peace and happiness, a search for empowerment through knowledge or spiritual practice.

Getting rid of these books is like allowing a space to open up for new things in life. Not likely new books, but a new approach. Nor new answers but a new receptivity to what life is offering me.

Because the only reason for keeping a big old textbook on Philosophy is to have it there, on the shelf, as if to advertise my intellectual inventory.

Not a single person has ever inquired, and with good reason. I kept those old books on the shelf but they weren’t active in my life. I was presenting them to others, but even I didn’t value them anymore.

Empty your cup

“Empty your cup” is a popular martial arts idiom derived from a Zen proverb.

It means that we can’t learn something new when we are already full of our own opinions and ideas.

It’s become cliché but I think it fits well with another popular saying “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”.

What does this mean in practice?

For me it means that yesterday I got rid of all the “answers” sitting on my shelf, all the tomes of dead wisdom and intellectual esoterica that I’ve been carrying around as part of my identity, like a sticker saying “ask me about my philosophical background!”

And these non-answers, like the proverbial overflowing tea-cup, kept me from receiving actual answers and insights and wonderful coincidences.

So this morning as I walked home after dropping my son at school I bumped into a friend and enjoyed a conversation that was a perfect match for where I am at today.

There was more satisfaction in receiving that answer, like a sign-post along the way, than I could ever have found digging into my old resources searching for wisdom.

Besides, I’ve already become what I was looking for in many of those books. My personal knowledge and experience outstrips what one might gain from rereading them.

So with a great appreciation for irony I’ll end with a quote from the long-dead Zhuang-zi, translated by the also-dead Thomas Merton:

The men of old 
Took all they really knew
With them to the grave.
And so, Lord, what you are reading there
Is only the dirt they left behind them.

Repentance for the disenchanted

I succumbed to disenchantment at a young age and took for truth my fear that there was nothing magical or mysterious in this world.

That’s what led me to investigate religion. Not the outer form but the inner essence, the mystics and sages and saints who performed strange feats and spoke of an utterly different relationship with reality.

I divided life into the sacred and the mundane, the mysterious and the miserable.

Yet this very division was an error that made most of life a misery to me, a self-fulfilling prophecy of disenchantment as I tried to push back against the banality around me.

Turning mysticism inside out

All the mystics spoke of a transformed vision of reality. They went to the very heart of existence and their eyes were opened to the true beauty of all things.

I tried to follow the same path, but my experiences were fleeting, ironically because I was so desperate for that transformation.

Like a clingy guy who pushes people away with his neediness, I was so fierce in my disenchantment that even God couldn’t make me appreciate this “ordinary” existence.

Even now I take for granted my deep antipathy for modern life. I’ve written screeds that only touch upon my full disdain for modern ugliness and meaninglessness, projecting my own unhappiness onto an entire planet.

All the this time I never thought disenchantment might be my fault, something I was doing rather than being done to me.

Too many people talk about having to grow up and accept harsh realities of life, it can’t be just me that resents and despairs of it, right?

No, it’s not just me. But that doesn’t make it the truth either. A delusion can be shared but that doesn’t make it reality.

I’m the one who chose to see the world that way, and of course I found evidence to support my choice.

It may have been an unconscious choice but it was still a choice, and one I repeated over and over for years.

Forgiving reality

Forgiveness might not be the right word but forgiving reality for being mundane, crappy, ugly, and bland goes some way to realising that maybe it isn’t like that after all.

Repentance might not be the right word either, but perhaps we disenchanted cynical and disillusioned people can accept that this very attitude of ours is what keeps us stuck in an unwanted reality.

I’m the one focusing on the ugliness and banality around me. I’m the one telling a story about a bleak and empty world. I’m the one wishing life was different and constantly reminding myself “but it’s not!”

I’m the one who approached mysticism as a way to transform the unwanted reality that I myself created.

And I’m also the one who undermined every moment of transcendence, quickly checking to see if things had “changed” yet.

In the Abraham Hicks material that’s called “keeping score” and it tends to undermine any actual progress in feeling better.

Feeling better about life

There’s a subtle yet profound difference between clinging to a problem and receiving a solution.

Often people sound like they are wanting a solution when in fact they just want to reiterate their problems.

But after a while it becomes obvious.

It’s obvious to me that my focus has been firmly on the “problem”, my unwanted aspects of life.

I’ve lived and breathed disenchantment, mistaking it for truth and reinforcing my own powerlessness and despair.

And how was that working out for me?

It’s time to take a deep breath and appreciate that the disenchantment was in my thoughts alone.

I create my reality, and by focusing on thoughts of disenchantment and banality I created more of the same.

But I also have the power to change my focus. I can find thoughts that match the enchantment, wonder, and excitement I have yearned for.

I can re-enchant reality as easily as finding thoughts that feel good to me.

A good place to start would be the exact opposite of the unwanted. If I don’t want disenchantment and banality then what do I want? What story would I prefer and to tell?

And if the answer is “I don’t know” then that right there was the real problem all along. Not reality, not banality, not other people, but my own unfamiliarity with the stuff of my desires.

Is there ‘more’ to life than enjoying it?

When people told me that the purpose of life was enjoyment I used to feel let down.

I felt there had to be more to life than just enjoying it.

But I never found the “more” I was searching for. And I could never shake the suspicion that this mysterious “more” was just a different form of enjoyment.

Why did I react so badly to the idea of enjoying life? Isn’t enjoyment prima facie a wonderfully desirable thing?

In hindsight i can see two, interrelated, reasons.

The first is that I was very unhappy from early childhood onward. While there were lots of things I enjoyed, the struggles and conflicts of home life were firmly in the foreground of my experience.

So by the time I started wondering about the meaning of life I already had a very negative outlook and had trained myself out of enjoyment.

The second reason I didn’t like being told that the meaning of life was enjoyment was that I didn’t see much to enjoy in the lives of the people who were telling me this!

To my mind they were satisfied with very little…much too little to convince me that their “enjoyment” would give me the meaning I sought.

But that was simply an error in my understanding: they weren’t telling me to enjoy their lives, but to enjoy my life.

The power of big contrast

Having spent twenty years searching for that elusive “more” to life, I can see that I was in fact digging myself deeper by constantly reiterating and reinforcing my negative thoughts and feelings.

In the Abraham Hicks system negativity is presented under a positive aspect as “contrast”.

Contrast refers to anything unwanted that sparks within us a desire for more. Big contrast or persistent focus on unwanted experience gives us a proportionately strong desire for something better.

So even if we have suffered, the good news is that the suffering translates into “treasure in heaven”, drawing us to an even greater happiness.

Hence my “mistake” of prolonged and obsessive focus on my own misery, anxiety and depression sparked within me an extremely powerful desire for real enjoyment.

With this is mind we can let go of regrets or dismay about the past. While I could have turned to happiness much earlier in life, it would not have been such an epic contrast to the unhappiness that I’ve endured and self-inflicted.

What do you enjoy?

It turns out the “more” I was looking for was really just more enjoyment of life.

It’s up to us as individuals to find out what form that takes. In fact for myself I would say I have a very strong, yet-unfulfilled desire to find out what my enjoyment looks like.

Though life rolled on for those twenty years, I felt as though I had deferred the question of enjoyment until after I had found the answers to my questions.

I wanted to know the meaning of life before I committed myself to really living it.

And now it turns out that the answer is just to enjoy it, and the way to enjoy it is by feeling better about life as it is right now.

Overcoming ‘ordinary’

I used to have a strong repugnance toward anything that felt mundane or ‘ordinary’.

But lately I’ve come to recognise that this is really about my own unhappy formative years, and the fear of reliving that experience for the rest of my life.

It’s the sense of having grown up in an ordinary middle-class home that was actually dysfunctional, and equating dysfunction with everything mainstream and ordinary.

But it’s also about the yearning for “more” and quickly rejecting anything that felt like “same old”.

Yet if we bear in mind the Abraham teaching that we get more of what we are focused on, then my insistence on avoiding my past experience only guarantees I will find more of it.

We can’t remove things from our experience by pushing against them, only by choosing something else to focus on.

Finding a new normal

It doesn’t really matter if my life is ordinary or not, because the only reason I feared the ordinary was that I equated it with feeling bad.

But everything in my life can be viewed in either a wanted or an unwanted aspect. There is always a path to appreciation and immediate relief no matter where I am.

Who cares if your life looks ordinary to you or others? All that matters is you enjoy it. And who decides what is ordinary? What is your comparison point and scope? A middle-class Australian gen-Y perspective of ordinary is actually incredibly narrow and specific!

Rather than being hampered by a need to overcome the ordinary, I can come at all of life with the aim of enjoying it as it is, and as it will be, confident that my focus on enjoyment will lead me further down that happy path.

And freed from an obsession with the ordinary, who knows where the path of enjoying life will take me?

The promise of feeling good

A key concept from the Abraham Hicks material is “the vortex”. The vortex is a spiritual reality that is the fulfilment of all our desires, and is arrived at through alignment with our inner being.

The Abraham perspective is that we are all extensions of God and have come into this physical reality for the purpose of expansion.

Expansion occurs when we meet an unwanted condition. In that moment, we automatically launch a desire for the opposite of that unwanted condition, and our inner being – the part of us that is an extension of God – expands to match that desire.

Our physical self serves to orient us and let us sift through the experience of contrast, the opportunity for desires to be launched, and enjoyment of the expansion that follows.

This process of expansion happens in all of life, but the internet has made it all the more obvious as peoples’ desires for all manner of product, service, information, and interpersonal connection have been met.

We can see it in technology, hobbies and interests, political and community groups, and many other areas.

As a child I used to love knights and castles but there was nothing around to foster my interest besides a couple of books and the occasional documentary on TV.

But in just the last decade interest in all forms of historical recreationism has exploded. YouTube channels and online forums are dedicated to Historical European Martial Arts, with swordsmiths and armourers springing up all over the world to meet the demand for historically accurate or wildly fanciful gear.

It’s amazing and exciting, and it’s only a single tiny branch of all the available subject areas and interests and hobbies a person might want to pursue.

And it was driven by people like me who wanted to play with swords as a kid, and who kept up to speed with their desire long enough to become experts in a new field and share their discoveries and insights with others.

I get so excited when I think about all these fields expanding further and further, and our increased ability as individuals to pick and choose and work out what we want and where we want to be.

It feels as if the gap between desire and manifestation of that desire in reality is getting smaller and smaller. Not so many years ago we were learning about unmanned drones in use by the US military, and now drones are so cheap and easily available for anyone to fly just for the fun of it.

I got one for my son last Christmas, and while it was fun to play with for a bit, I got more satisfaction at lining up with the desire than playing with it.

And almost immediately I started to think of all the improvements in technology I want for it: better battery technology would be amazing. AI and programmable flight for the drones would be even more fun. Imagine a drone that can self-correct against the wind and hold itself stationary. It probably already exists, I just haven’t gone looking for it yet.

I’ve seen videos of cutting edge drone technology, and it’s wonderful to know that these things will quickly enter the market and spawn a host of variations and cheaper models and other innovations.

Manifestations like these are best viewed as reflections of our inner expansion. If we keep up with our desires, we will see the changes.

Most of us instead make the mistake of clinging to the desired changes and feeling bad that they have not yet materialised. We could choose to look critically at recreationists, or at consumer technology and see how they fall short of our desires.

The negative emotion we experience when we focus on lack is the very feeling of discord or friction between ourselves and our inner being.

In the Abraham Hicks material we are encouraged to begin viewing our feelings not as reactions to our circumstances, but as direct feedback on our degree of alignment with our own inner being and desires.

If we are keeping up with our desires and the expansion of our inner being, then we will feel joy, appreciation, satisfaction, ease, eagerness, and enthusiasm.

If we don’t keep up we will experience anything from boredom and pessimism, all the way down to powerlessness and fear.

It is within our power to choose what we will focus on, in order to simply feel better. I’ve been working at just feeling “better” for over a year as I got my head around these teachings.

Recently I’ve been able to feel genuinely good, as if everything unwanted or negative in my experience had ceased to be, or had never been there in the first place.

My aligned, positive, good-feeling thoughts have gained more momentum, and I’ve let go of many points of resistance and struggle that had me divided and out of alignment.

So I feel that the promise of the Abraham Hicks material has been vindicated for me. I’ve worked at changing my focus in better-feeling directions, and finally arrived at a place where I can, in Abraham terminology, get into the vortex easily on at least one or two subjects.

In other words, I can now choose to feel genuine feelings of joy, ease, relief, appreciation, satisfaction, eagerness, and enthusiasm, without waiting for changes in my external conditions.

That’s by no means the end of it. I can see myself getting addicted to feeling good, and there are many more subjects, both old and new, where I am eager to get myself into alignment.

The things I learned on my spiritual quest

I started my spiritual quest 20 years ago. That quest is pretty much at an end, so what did I learn along the way? What would I now consider worth sharing with others?

In the beginning I thought it was simply a matter of reading the right books and following their instructions. I set out to compare and contrast the different religious traditions’ essential spiritual teachings and try to glean from them the essence of a unified spiritual path.

But the most important lesson is entirely the opposite:

a spiritual path must illuminate our individual circumstances, qualities, and experiences.

While I sought the one single universal path, instead I discovered over and over again that what worked for others didn’t work for me.

It’s a lot like learning a martial art or Yoga: I thought that if I just did the training I would eventually master it. But while the training theoretically works the same for everyone, in practice we aren’t all at the same starting point.

With old injuries, underlying weaknesses, bad habits, varying degrees of talent and insight… training can actually do more harm than good for some people.

After many years of training I eventually went to see a sports physio who immediately identified some aspects of movement that were preventing me from fully benefiting from the training.

I’ve learned that the spiritual path is even more like this, to the point that good spiritual teaching assumes none of us is at the ideal starting point.

Individual differences: temperament

Temperament is the first and most significant domain of individual difference.

What works best for a melancholic will not suit a choleric and vice versa. What appeals to sanguines won’t appeal to phlegmatics.

Recently I’ve revisited the spiritual texts I read early in my search, only to discover that those formative guides were predominantly written by cholerics.

I took to heart the overly intellectual and comparatively unfeeling approach of choleric spiritual writers, equating spiritual growth with arcane musings and a disagreeable view of the world.

But a melancholic should instead listen to their feeling first and foremost. Cholerics who elevate understanding or insight over feeling probably don’t have strong feeling to begin with.

In fact, for some cholerics their personal journey is one of learning to embrace the thinking function and not rely on their inferior or tertiary feeling function. The very opposite of my journey as a melancholic-phlegmatic.

Upbringing

The second domain of individual difference is upbringing.

The combination of temperament and upbringing set the trajectory for how we live our lives. In hindsight the story I’ve lived thus far is so heavily influenced by my parents and grandparents…I live out the influences of my early life, both the positive and the negative.

For the first five years of my spiritual quest I had no idea that family relationships and an unhappy childhood played a role in my depression and anxiety let alone my spiritual path.

Now when I look at the writings of spiritual teachers, I take in not only their temperament but their early life. My own circumstances were unusual and so were theirs, but in radically different ways.

It doesn’t matter how good or genuine a spiritual teacher is, they are still an individual in their own circumstances with their own temperament and formative experiences. Their teachings speak first and foremost to their own reality.

It’s up to us as individuals to find what works, and while we may stumble upon a suitable path with ease, it helps to know our own temperament and circumstances from the beginning.

A melancholic with a domineering parent will have a very different path from a melancholic suffering abandonment and neglect, let alone any of the other temperaments under the same conditions.

Life circumstances

The third domain of difference is our station in life.

In the beginning I took for granted that spiritual teachers were naturally inspired to share their insights and wisdom with the world.

Later I went through a cynical stage of assuming anyone with a publishing contract and lecture circuit was financially motivated and not to be trusted.

But more significant than those extremes of credulity and cynicism is the simple reality of a person’s circumstances in life, most importantly my own circumstances.

Who I am, the way I live, what I do day-in and day-out, these are all peculiar to me. I have friends who live very different lives, let alone the spiritual teachers whose works I used to read.

I’m not saying we should disregard people who don’t live like we do; rather that we benefit from appreciating the differences between our worlds and our daily lives.

Esther Hicks is a 70 year old American with an international following who currently gives regular workshops in various American cities and on several cruises each year.

Anthony De Mello was an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist who gave retreats internationally.

Jiddu Krishnamurti was the one-time scion of the Theosophical Society, groomed and educated to be the next “World Teacher”. He gave public talks, published books and lived with friends in California.

St John of the Cross was a 16th Century Spanish monk who was imprisoned in a tiny cell by his fellow monks and given weekly lashings, during which time he composed his most famous poem!

The Dalai Lama was never my cup of tea, but again it’s important to recognise the profound differences in his daily life relative to the millions of people who read his books and look to him as a source of wisdom.

I’m not trying to invalidate the wisdom and experiences of these various people, but what they teach invariably cannot be separated or removed from who they are and how they live.

We can benefit from the wisdom of others, but not by imposing their teachings onto our own lives. In fact we can often understand their teachings much better if we understand the teacher’s perspective as well.

The only caveat I’d offer is that there are some people who by temperament would be perfectly content to follow a straightforward spiritual path, but might have been pushed by their upbringing to be innovative, unique, or to try to stand out. (I’m looking at you, phlegmatics!). For such people, it could be a welcome relief to just adhere to a routine they like and not worry about the details or the origins of their method.

What your own life can teach you

The Abraham Hicks material often reiterates that words don’t teach, only experience teaches. 

I can vouch for this in my own life, given the vast quantity and array of words I’ve read from many and varied teachers. It is only through my experience that I have come to learn what does and does not help me to feel better.

Indeed, it is only through my experience of feeling profoundly miserable for twenty years that I decided “feeling better” should be my goal.

While I’ve found the Abraham Hicks material to be tremendously helpful, it’s also because I was ready for it. Just like the sports physio’s advice, it’s only after the prolonged experience of struggle that I’ve decided I just want to feel better, and that would be enough for me.

So that constitutes the end of my 20 year spiritual quest, as I have come to accept and welcome feeling good in my own unique circumstances without trying to justify or reconcile myself to the myriad spiritual teachings and methods that I once turned to for answers.

Temperament theory: does 5 = 4+1?

This is mainly for commenter Josh, who thinks that the addition of a fifth temperament is a positive innovation over the traditional four temperaments.

I’ve written previously about the “fifth temperament”, which is the invention of a husband and wife team of Christian counsellors, Drs Richard and Phyllis Arno.

My objection to the creation of a fifth temperament is that it’s essentially an entirely new system that nonetheless uses terminology from the traditional four temperaments system.

This isn’t unusual. There are potentially infinite ways to slice up personalities and categorise them and many people have interpreted and used the traditional temperament theory in their own ways over the centuries.

But it’s simply not the case here that five is the original four plus one. You can’t cut a cake into four pieces and then “discover” a fifth piece. All you can do is cut the same cake into five instead, but now all the pieces will be different.

But is five better than four?

In China they have five elements. The Big Five factors of modern psychology have five factors. Even Ancient Greek cosmology actually has five elements if you include ether. So isn’t five a more appropriate number than four for a personality theory?

If you feel that five is a better number than four, then by all means use five. But that doesn’t change the historical fact that the traditional temperament system has always had four.

Why assume that the Greek system should match the Chinese one? Why not the other way around? Perhaps the Chinese five elements hampered their interpretation of temperament? Maybe they should embrace the more parsimonious four elements with regard to human temperament?

As for the Big Five – it’s not a temperament theory, merely a measure of personality traits. It doesn’t mean there are five types of personality. I’d love to see research into different personality types based on various permutations of the Big Five, since that would more closely approximate the purpose of the Four Temperaments theory. What I have found so far are people attempting to match the Big Five factors to MBTI functions: intuition seems to correspond to Openness, for example.

Regarding the Greek fifth element: according to wikipedia

“[in] ancient and medieval science, aether (Ancient Greek: αἰθήρ, aither), also spelled æther or ether and also called quintessence, is the material that fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere.”

Aether was not part of the terrestrial sphere, perhaps why it was not included in the makeup of human temperament or biology.

Four is better than five

Four is better than five because it can be reduced to a two-factor analysis. Occam’s Razor inclines us to accept the more parsimonious solution.

The thousands of years of temperament observations continued into the modern era with various attempts at identifying the underlying biological basis of temperament and the high point of this research came with Jakob Henle’s proposal that temperament was reducible to inherent qualities of the individual nervous system: the relative ease of nervous excitability versus the duration of this activity.

Excitability and duration of impression provide a parsimonious two-factor biological basis for the four extremes of temperament:

Choleric – excitable with enduring impressions

Sanguine – excitable with fleeting impressions

Phlegmatic – unexcitable with fleeting impressions

Melancholic – unexcitable with enduring impressions

By contrast, the Arnos’ five temperaments theory evolved from the FIRO tool developed by William Schutz

based on the belief that when people get together in a group, there are three main interpersonal needs they are looking to obtain – affection/openness, control and inclusion

I have no strong opinion on the FIRO tool, but it should be obvious that it’s attempting to measure complex behavioural traits in interpersonal contexts. According to wikipedia, Schutz himself did not think the FIRO should be used to determine personality type:

Schutz believed that FIRO scores in themselves were not terminal, and can and do change, and did not encourage typology; however, the four temperaments were eventually mapped to the scales of the scoring system, which led to the creation of a theory of five temperaments.

The Arnos are the ones who mapped the four temperaments onto the FIRO tool, and subsequently decided a fifth temperament was necessary.

It’s a personal choice

People who like Arno’s theory might well argue that the creation of a “supine” temperament better or more usefully describes a group of people who were perhaps previously included as a subset of melancholic or phlegmatic.

But it could equally be due to a weakness in the original FIRO tool, or the fact that the FIRO was a much broader attempt to explain or quantify all human interaction, not to simply describe temperament.

Regardless, the so-called “Five Temperaments” is an amalgamation of the FIRO tool and the four temperaments concept, but should be considered a deviation from the traditional four temperaments framework.

Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to subscribe to a particular theory of personality or temperament. But it’s also good to know what you are actually subscribing to.

I’ve found the four temperaments theory to be extremely powerful in categorising and understanding people. But at the same time, there are many superficial and inadequate renditions of the four temperaments out there. I can understand why some people might think the four need amending or supporting with other theories or tools.

I wouldn’t go so far as to innovate a new temperament, but I’ve found great benefit from Keirsey’s bridging of the four temperaments with the MBTI functions. Even so, there are aspects of Keirsey’s work that I don’t use. I use the MBTI to flesh out or add more detail to the four temperaments’ foundation. I don’t try to alter the four temperaments on the basis of the MBTI.

If anyone wants to argue that the “fifth temperament” is a legitimate and organic development of the traditional four temperaments theory, I would challenge them to present a case.

Stop doing that thing you keep doing

Our favorite analogy is the cork that bobs on the surface of the water. And when you hold it under the water, it is unnatural. It is natural for you to let go of it, and it is natural for it to bob. But when you take hold of a thought that does not feel good, and the negative emotion sweeps over you, you remain in an unnatural state for as long as you hold your attention upon it. – Abraham Hicks

I’ve been keeping a journal or notebook for a number of years now, where I write down the problems I’m dealing with and try to analyse them, look for solutions, or just get some perspective on them.

I’ve been doing this for a while but I wasn’t sure how long until today, when I found an old notebook from my Honours year in philosophy back in 2003, full of the kinds of personal musings and reflections that have since filled many notebooks and scraps of paper.

I opened it by chance to 19/03/2003 the exact day that I realised I was actually depressed, and had been for a long time. Up to that point I’d assumed everyone felt kinda the same way, and my personal struggles were just part of a bigger spiritual reality we all face.

The notes are so familiar. I wish I could say that they weren’t; yet the style and content barely changed in the 16 years that followed: analysing fears, worries, tension, hypervigilance, and trying to reconcile it all with the spiritual ideas that captivated me.

16 years of trying to work it all out, the frustration showing again and again but always returning to square one, as if I could make sense of it all…if only I could find the right question!

I get the feeling my life improved over those 16 years despite rather than because of my obsessive attempts to find an answer.

Because although every line of my past writing strives toward a satisfying conclusion that is never final, the truly lasting impression is in the tone.

It’s negative. Negatively framed, because I’m always trying to escape from misery and suffering; negatively directed because I’m unflinchingly self-critical lest I make the mistake of going easy on myself and shrinking from “hard truths”; and negatively realised because it never ever ended.

16 years of self-analysis and reflection didn’t arrive at an answer, but they did lend my negative thoughts powerful momentum.

Don’t go digging

One of the challenging messages of the Abraham Hicks material was that we aren’t well served by going digging for answers, focusing on our problems, or revisiting painful subjects.

This makes sense if you consider that our goal is to come into alignment with our inner being, the presence of God within us, and God doesn’t focus on unwanted conditions past, present, or future, real or only worried about.

Further, whatever we focus on becomes active in the filtering and creating of our reality. The more I focused on my suffering and misery, the more my suffering and misery persisted.

In the past year and a half I’ve been reading the Abraham Hicks material and using it to become less of a pessimist, and to actually enjoy my life. Yet my desire to “dig in” and analyse obstacles and problems persisted.

It’s slowly grown weaker, and finding this 16 year old notebook has given me the opportunity to see how little the analysis and “problem-solving” really contributed, other than to perpetuate itself.

The irony is that I don’t have better answers to the questions my past self was asking. I never did find the answers I was looking for. But I’ve quickly realised it wasn’t about the questions or the answers, but the awful and depressing thoughts I was so intently focused on.

Stop doing that thing you do

Abraham uses the analogy of a cork floating in the water to describe our emotional state. We would be bobbing happily at the surface, if only we didn’t focus on things that hold our cork under water.

If we aren’t finding alignment and appreciation in our lives, then we are doing something, maybe a couple of somethings, that keeps us from feeling better.

I’d often wondered what I was doing. I probably even wrote it down in hopes of finding the answer. I think I know now what it was!

So I’m going to set an intention to no longer repeat, rehearse, or reiterate problems and negative points of view, especially not to write them out and give them so much attention.

That in itself is a very encouraging and hopeful thought: that I have learned something after all. Not simply another run through the cycle of analysis and flawed conclusions, but a substantial change that brings relief and helps me feel better.