Thursday, November 6, 2014

creative gatherings: a guide for introverts

it took a bit of courage, borne of sheer desperation to be in the company of artists, for me to attend my first art retreat in 2009 (i went to learn from this beautiful soul specifically, and ended up connecting with and learning from so many more).

i am an introvert.  and i hadn't been in a large group setting such as this since the notorious girl scout camping incident of 1975 which ended with introverted and depleted me, hiding, completely zipped up in my sleeping bag, being "danced" on by fifteen vivacious, (probably) extraverted 11-year-old girls.

large groups are not the preferred social setting for introverts.  but creative retreats, those days-long immersions into art, fun, friendship and relaxation in amazing locales, tempt and toy with our solitary inclinations.  i know well the challenges of going and being there.  i know that some miss out on the experience to avoid these challenges.  with a little awareness and planning and a heap of self-care, introverts can and should flourish at creative retreats.  i hope this guide is helpful for you.  i hope to meet you soon, in person, with your camera or your words or up to your elbows in a rainbow of paints, glowing the glow only you can bring to creative community.

part one:  understanding introversion

i imagine that if you are reading this, you are an introvert.  i hope that a few of you are extraverts; a future section of the guide will include tips for our extraverted kindred and how they can create and play together with introverts at gatherings.

the definitions of introversion and extraversion i use in the guide are based on the myers-briggs type indicator (mbti), which is grounded in carl jung's classic and brilliant work on human personality (and why i spell "extraversion" with an a, instead of an o).  the mbti, when processed mindfully, is such an amazing template for self-awareness.

you may also define yourself as an introvert or an extravert based on our popular cultural understanding of the terms and that may or may not fit into the jungian definitions.  so that we all start on the same page, let's begin with some foundational descriptions of introversion and extraversion.

in the jungian paradigm, the dichotomy of introversion--extraversion describes how we glean and direct our energy and attention.  it's not about being shy or outgoing; a loner or a party girl (although these attributes may be present with both introverts and extraverts).  humans can and do behave in both introverted and extraverted ways, just not with equal levels of comfort.  in the same way we are capable of using both our right and left hands, we have a natural-born preference for one or the other.

jung believed that we are born with and do not change our preference over time.  as we develop throughout our lifetimes, our awareness of who we are increases, we can become more adept at using the opposite preference in our lives, flowing and flourishing outside of our comfort zones.

people are often surprised to learn that i am an introvert because i publicly behave in extraverted ways.  for the most part, i am confident and relaxed in social situations.  public speaking is a primary responsibility of my job. introversion and extraversion are about how we navigate groups of people, company, conversations, relationships, human interactions, but even more about how we recover from those interactions.  extraverts are energetically fed by outward interaction; introverts are energetically depleted by those same interactions and must recover with quiet, solitary space and time for reflection.  after a week of teaching, i have to hibernate.  an extravert with the same job might happily continue socializing through the weekend.

here are a few more general distinctions:

introverts are naturally focused on the inner world of ideas and images.
extraverts are naturally focused on the outer world of people and things.

introverts need space and silence to re-energize their bodies and minds.
extraverts need human interaction to re-energize their bodies and minds.

introverts prefer to interact with people they know.
extraverts prefer to interact with all people, strangers included.

introverts prefer fewer, more intense/intimate relationships.
extraverts prefer many, less intense/intimate relationships.

introverts tend to dislike and avoid small-talk.
extraverts adeptly use the art of brief conversation in an effort to connect with as many people as possible.

introverts like meaningful and intimate one-on-one conversations; depth of relationship.
extraverts like to (and can) work a crowd; breadth of relationship.

introverts need time to gather their thoughts before speaking and prefer to know you before self-disclosing.  they can be hard to know.
extraverts are naturally friendly and often verbally skilled; talking is a way they process their thoughts.  they are easy to get to know.

in the absence of understanding, introverts can seem boring, secretive or snobbish to extraverts.
in the absence of understanding, extraverts can seem shallow, intrusive or attention-seeking to introverts.

still an introvert?  excellent.  introverts are so awesome.

to thrive creatively and in community with other creatives, we start here:

  • we must develop an understanding of our true types.  do you really prefer introversion?  is there a possibility that you may truly be an extravert who was "mislabeled" due to shyness or social discomfort?  
  • understanding that introversion--extraversion is just one dimension of our unique personalities. there are other jungian/mbti factors to consider that impact how we express our introversion. we'll touch on this a bit in later posts.
  • no type is better or worse than the other.
  • we have to understand and embrace our type.  we can't become another type.  we can (and must) move outside of our comfort zones and practice other type expressions to be a fully expressed human and operate harmoniously with the rest of humanity.
  • introverts have to know and apply their own individual needed level of self-care.
  • introverts must become adept at creating their own emotional and energetic boundaries.  we live in an extraverted world and no one is able to do this but ourselves.

in the next post in the series we'll take a look at different types of creative retreats and learn how doing some research and planning before we retreat can set the scene for an amazing retreat experience.  look for part two in a week or so.

if you are interested in knowing your full myers-briggs personality type, i recommend you work with a trained and certified guide.  the free internet quizes don't provide the level of understanding required to find your true type or explore the complexities of human personality, or guarantee you are taking the actual and full instrument.  there is an official online option here; just remember it is ideal to work with a facilitator in order to discover your true type.  sometimes, the only option we have is to do the mbti in our "day job" setting.  the corporate energy/setting may pose some nuanced complications for you.  this is why i am creating myers-briggs for artists.

my friend and extraordinary coach meg worden has an amazing offering that may be just the thing your introverted self needs to softly float through the upcoming weeks:  surviving the holidays with gravy and grace:  for introverts, martyrs + nerds.  

(image captured at 2013 creative joy retreat.)