I was jogging on the mesa behind our house and my thoughts went to the upcoming holidays and my cycles of introversion and extroversion. For me, social gatherings inevitably spur a yearning to be alone or look at my phone or eat. As I gazed at the peaks and valleys of the mountain range in front of me, I realized that this pattern is an expression of the cycling of yin and yang that’s present everywhere in the universe. I’d like to share my thoughts with you in the hope that it will make for a more balanced holiday season.
In social behavior, this cycle moved from an outward orientation (yang) to an inward orientation (yin) and back. Texting, talking, dancing with others, partying, and co-working are all relatively outward activities. Reading the news, playing a video game (alone), taking a bath, eating, and meditating are all relatively inward activities. After some outward activity, most people feel a desire to go inward. After some inward activity, most people feel a desire to go outward.
We see this cycle from inward to outward to inward to outward, or from expansion to contraction to expansion to contraction, throughout the human body (breathing and the beating of the heart), human behavior, and the natural world. This undulating pattern is seen in the waves of our oceans, in waves of sound and light, in the movement of sexual intercourse, in waking and sleeping, and so much more.
When our inward-outward social patterns are relatively balanced, it works. But if there’s a compulsion to go inward and stay there, to always be gazing at a screen, to be in our bubble, or to eat on autopilot, it’s worth looking at. The same is true for someone who is always socially-engaged and feels uncomfortable going inward or being alone. People can become stagnant in one phase or the other. So I propose we use the holidays as an opportunity for a social experiment and personal growth. I believe both inward and outward activities can be either shallow or deep, and going deep gets us out of stagnation by fulfilling us and moving the cycle along.
Here’s a graphical representation of the inward-outward cycle. I labeled something like 70% of the range of both inward and outward activities as “shallow.” This doesn’t mean they’re frivolous, just that they aren’t soul-nourishing in a way that moves the cycle forward. If we make small talk with our coworkers, then play Candy Crush, then send some emails, then eat lunch while browsing a magazine, and so on throughout the day, this curve would look much flatter – we’re moving from shallow external activity to shallow internal activity and never approaching the “peaks.”
It’s hard to be black-and-white in defining what’s shallow and what’s deep, and what’s outward versus what’s inward – but it’s something we can feel. I called eating an inward activity, but of course there could simultaneously be an outward element of social interaction. Coworking could be very outward or somewhat inward, depending on whether it’s very collaborative and verbal or just a bunch of people introverting near each other. Reading about celebrities is what I’d call a “shallow inward” activity. Talking about celebrities is what I’d call a “shallow outward” activity. Meditation is usually a “deep inward” activity. And having sex – or more specifically, connected love-making – is usually a “deep outward” activity.
Thus, in both inward and outward activities, there’s an opportunity to go to a certain depth where the orientation becomes both internal and external. So, while meditation is an inward activity, when you really go deep with it, there can be an expansiveness, a transcendence of your small self, a sense of connection with everything – and therefore an outward orientation. Similarly, while traveling is mostly an outward activity, when we witness the vastness of nature or the beauty of other cultures or the oneness we all share, the profundity of such an expansive moment can turn us inward. We come into our hearts and are silenced and grateful.
I created a more descriptive diagram of what’s going on. This sphere with a hole through the center, kind of a donut shape, is known as a torus. When dealing with energy, it’s called a toroidal field. Humans have toroidal fields of energy that move in both directions. That is, the energy can move up from the center, then outward, down, and up through the bottom. And it can also move down through the center, then outward, up, and down through the top. What I mean to depict here is that when we go deep, we go through whatever state we’re in and move toward the opposing state. When we go outward and deep, this fulfills our urge to extrovert and takes us inward. When we go inward and deep, this fulfills our urge to introvert and takes us outward. Yin becomes Yang and Yang becomes Yin.
What does this all mean in practical terms? There’s nothing wrong with being introverted or extroverted, and nothing wrong with shallower activities, but if you find yourself getting stuck in either phase, or having difficulty with either phase, try going deeper. As a general guide, bringing your full presence to whatever you’re doing will take you deeper.
In an outward-oriented setting, like a Thanksgiving social gathering, how can you get more real? Can you ask what challenges your friends are facing and be totally present for them? Can you connect more deeply than a conversation about turkey or the weather? Can you share what’s alive for you right now? Can you finally be who you really are around your family? When you’re with people can you be 100% with them? If you find yourself in a game of touch football, can you lose yourself in the spirit of play?
How can you make your introverted periods really count? If you sneak off to the bathroom to play on your phone, can you put it down for a minute and really go inward? Can you feel and acknowledge and accept what’s coming up for you? Can you invite the feelings and take the time and presence to see where they lead you? Can you hear your inner child, meet it with your mature inner adult, and give it what it needs to be at ease – so you can return to the party in a lighthearted way? Can you remember to prioritize meditation and other forms of deliberate stillness throughout the busyness of the holidays?
What happens to your phases of introversion and extroversion when you intentionally go deep in both directions? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments section below.