withdrawing stance

I’m still reading The Sacred Enneagram. (You think, “Of course you are; you just picked it up a few days ago.” Au contraire, mon frère; if I hadn’t been behind in Hebrew and felt my History midterm loom, I’d’ve finished it the day I got it. So GOOD.)

Yesterday I was reading/not-reading it while preparing for today’s History midterm. I use “preparing” a bit loosely here. The way I prepare to be examined is by reading All The Things assigned, attending all the classes and taking notes (for the extra neural pathway the muscle engagement provides), doing all the assigned activities, and adding a last bit of squinting at the material if I’m confused. Except that by all reports, including his own, in this case my History exam would be Dates And Names (people, councils, places, battles…). That’s not something my brain natively retains, and drill (flash cards, sheer repetition) makes me itchy even when it’s effective.

(One of my favorite instructors stood before his Calculus class and declared, “I’ve been a P.E. (n.b. Professional Engineer, it’s a certification) for /mumblety/ years. If one of my employees made a structural calculation while saying, “I’m sure I remember this equation! No problem!” I’d fire him. Who wants a bridge built on “I think I remember?” So yes, your tests will be open book.” They were not easy tests. Still, we could look up what we needed, assuming we had a clue what we’d need.)

So anyway, when I was “preparing for” (thinking about) the History midterm, I was grumbling. Mostly, however, my brain was sheering off in all directions. I read; I talked to A; I played Solitaire on my phone.

I thought about how I was sheering off. I thought about how, over the weekend, I chose to do things that let me pull into myself… that also were not Hebrew. I thought about the nightmare, and skipping Spiritual Direction, and the thinking I was doing.

This, I blush to admit, is a stereotypically Enneagram Five kind of thing. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Blushing while realizing I was hauling myself back from engagement as hard as my mind’s arms could pull. The anxiety overload of memorization-prep can get as bad as the tough-race jitters that would lock my arms and legs on the swimmer’s block in high school. No no no no no. Disengage!

“Fives who can’t figure out an answer, find a solution, or get to the bottom of an intellectual problem simply give up and let themselves go. Frustrated with their inability, they turn to coping techniques such as overconsumption of alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, overactivity, or other unhealthy and addictive patterns that help them numb their pain and dull the sharpest edges of their minds.” (emphasis mine)
—on Fives moving to Seven in disintegration, The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Huertz, p127-8

I could see that was happening for History. What I couldn’t figure out — have yet to figure out — is what lands on the other side. What does rest looks like when social interaction isn’t necessarily rejuvenating, and withdrawal is the basic stress-response move?

What of the things I did over the weekend was restorative, and what was blunting the sharp edge of my Hebrew concerns?

I’ve never felt I had a handle on this, and now I have better insight, one that has heft. I’ve always suspected my ‘rest’ swings were more than a Protestant-work-ethic hangover I haven’t been able to shake for thirty years… what of anything that I’ve set my mind to has remained unchanged for thirty years?!

Luckily, with midterms now over, withdrawing totally gets to be rest. And good news: Spiritual Direction is the first thing on my schedule when I return to school. “Tell me about rest…”

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