published in The Enneagram Monthly, May 2006
Illustrated. 240 pages.
Do you have a favorite place for peace and renewal? A quiet place, perhaps, where you love to relax? It might be a den, or a library. A forest copse or the ocean shore. Maybe the kitchen or living room of a beloved friend. In that place, you know you will find serenity, acceptance, perhaps good conversation. There you may contact the joys and comforts that allow you to heal, to renew, and to emerge refreshed to engage life anew. Sometimes a wise friend comes together with us to create such a space. And what a wonderful thing it is when that happens!
Enter Elizabeth Wagele. Shall we call her “the happy introvert”? That is, after all, the title of the latest offering from this delightful teacher and whimsical explorer of human nature and our personal worlds, both inner and outer. Displaying once again her trademark combination of clear prose and clever cartoons, Wagele takes on, in this work, that most private and retiring of subjects: the human introvert in its natural habitat—much misunderstood, sometimes mysterious, often maligned.
Wagele adds form, depth, and dimension to popular notions of the introvert. Perhaps, she suggests, there is more to this person than meets the eye. Perhaps “happiness” and “introversion” are not mutually exclusive.
A loving presentation of introversion is not only the content of this book, it is also characteristic of the style and the voice of the book. Take this book with you to your favorite quiet place, and you will not be disappointed. You will be pleasantly surprised to encounter within its pages a wise friend and a humorous advisor. She will show you how to create a place of acceptance. And, even more, she will introduce you to those people for whom peace, quiet, and contemplation are truly a way of life—the introverts.
Introversion is a turning within. It is a pilgrimage to one’s own mind and being; a journey that all people must take at various times throughout our lives. We turn within for greater clarity, for new perspectives, for creative inspiration, for the joys and solace of solitude itself. Every person will have some such moments in life of turning within. For some, the terrain of contemplative, reflective attention is like an exotic, faraway burg to be visited only once in a long while for a short vacation. For others, the world of the inner life is like a nearby town through whose domain they travel regularly as they go about the business of their lives. For still others, those whom we call introverts, the inner world of the mind and the self is nothing short of ‘Home Sweet Home’.
But what sort of home is it? Lonely? Threatening? Brooding? According to Liz Wagele, it need be none of these things.
Introverts reflect on
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At its heart, introversion is about a way of handling one’s experiences in the world. Introversion is another name for a temperamental/physiological predisposition to process stimuli more deeply and completely before one responds to it. As Wagele discusses in one chapter, this may simply be an expression of the sheer diversity of human neurophysiological development. Just as individual human beings need more or less of particular vitamins and minerals in order to function well and feel good, so do we also require different degrees and amounts of neural and mental processing in order to be and feel competent to respond in different situations.
The ‘pearl divers’ of the mental kingdom, introverts process deeply and they process long. Thus, in a novel situation, introverts may come across as cautious and slow to react. Sooner or later, however, the introvert is going to surface with a treasure that others may not have taken the time to discover.
In an ideal society, all human variation would be expertly managed, optimally balanced, and equally esteemed. Of course, a quick look through history and around the world reveals that this is rarely the case. It is through great effort, thoughtful enquiry, and through much trial and error, that we have acquired those insights and enlightened approaches to interaction and social life that we do enjoy today. And the effort continues. Throughout the book, Wagele looks at how introversion is handled across the lifespan and offers observations and gentle suggestions on how things might be improved.
During the most vulnerable and formative stage of human development—infancy and early childhood—a little information (or misinformation) can go a very long way. Parents who learn that there is even such a thing as legitimate differences in mental processing styles will be much less likely to try to force their children into ill-fitting (and potentially damaging) molds.
And if one has been well-cared for, it is then that much easier to continue taking good care of oneself.
For those who choose to embrace it, the potential rewards of the world within are great. In this world, we can contact an abiding sense of newness, wonder, and constant fascination. The experience of happiness, once established, becomes truly portable. When we maintain contact and consistently return to a relationship or an activity in open and interested contemplation, its quality deepens. New perspectives and ever subtler nuances become possible. The introvert has a natural potential to develop this kind of greater intimacy within all aspects of experience.
As one reads Wagele’s depictions of the joys of the inner life, and of the many great contributions of people throughout history who were arguably introverts, one cannot help but wonder if the negative connotations sometimes attached to introversion might not stem from a cultural fear of the act of turning within itself. Indeed, as Wagele writes, “We introverts, with our tendencies to be quiet, thoughtful, and nonconforming, represent our culture’s shadow and are almost expected to engage in deviant behavior. I doubt the fact that we’re not as unhappy as they think we are will make it to the font page, but I think people will change their minds about us. . . in time.”
Perhaps, some of us fear what we may find lurking in the silence. If so, then it may be up to the intrepid explorers of the inner world to journey within the silence and to return unscathed, sharing the treasures they have found and preparing the way for others to follow.
Throughout the book’s chapters, Wagele examines introversion from a variety of perspectives; vis-à-vis psychological archetypes, interpersonal relationships, the Myers-Briggs and enneagram personality typology systems, childhood and adolescent development, art and creativity, neurology, and more. There are interesting and informative facts, personal quotes and anecdotes which provide a human feel to the discussion, as well as the surprising cartoons for which Wagele is so well known. What makes the greatest impression on this writer, however, is the narrative voice of the book. This I can only describe with the words calm friendliness. Reading this work gave the sensation of having a quiet, comfortable, and friendly conversation with someone who had a great deal of valuable information to share on the topic.
Thus, the feeling of the book demonstrates its title. It not only describes The Happy Introvert, it also clearly seems to have been the creation of one.