Not a Chameleon


In my articles Baptism of Fire and The Labyrinth I describe the importance of forging character, which requires psychological striving and acceptance of the complexities and difficulties of life. Character can be seen as the underpinning of personality. We all need stable personalities through which we relate to the world, and the world relates to us. Personality is our interface with the world.

Although a Bodhisattva has great fluidity underlying his or her personality, which provides the flexibility to benefit others in a myriad of different ways, I believe that the Bodhisattva’s personality itself is stable, providing a consistent interface. In other words, people “know where they stand” with the Bodhisattva, who is able to develop rapport with a wide variety of people, but is not a chameleon.

Chameleon-like behavior –- trying to be all things to all people -– often comes from weakness of character. The chameleon personality is not underpinned by a consistent set of core values. The chameleon does not know who he is, which is why he does not project a consistent personality to others. He may appear very clever, but his cleverness is undermined by his unreliability. Character development is required in order to ground or root our personality and make it effective.

The personality is constructed then stabilized by character development. Then we can compare peoples’ personalities using all the wonderful categories we are so fond of: Republican / Democrat; right / left; conservative / liberal; Christian / Muslim / Buddhist; orthodox / unorthodox; cleric / shaman etc. If we like we can plot everyone along a spectrum of personality types, and then we can argue amongst ourselves about which is best. But the most important thing is that each individual has a personality which functions well for them and those around them, is a healthy interface with the world, and enables the development and expression of the core human values of love, compassion, generosity, wisdom, insight etc.

Our social, economic, political and religious worlds are inhabited by our personalities, and their health and our health are intertwined. But there is a deeper level of existence, a deeper level of who we are, the realm of being. Our personalities are like the tips of icebergs, but most of who we are is under the surface, and actually we are all floating in the same ocean, regardless of how different the ‘bergs look up top. Many great teachers have tried to describe the realm of being, but all categories break down because it is “beyond words, thoughts and expressions”.

Once we have a healthy personality we should try to explore the realm of being. We should not wait until we have the perfect personality, because the spiritual path is not to be found in endlessly tweaking and refining of personality. In ‘Toward a Psychology of Awakening’ John Welwood writes:

‘The subtle spiritual pitfall of psychological work is that it can reinforce certain tendencies inherent in the conditioned personality: to see ourselves as a doer, to always look for the meaning in experience, or to continually strive for “something better”. Although psychological reflection can certainly help people move forward in important ways, at some point even the slightest desire for change or improvement can interfere with the deeper letting go and relaxation that are necessary for moving from the realm of personality into the realm of being, which is only discoverable in and through nowness –- in moments when all conceptualizing and striving cease.” (p116)

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Posted on July 7, 2008, in Buddhism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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