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The Dark Side of the Temperaments

Hulyo 5, 2010

I’ve been reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert — a long awaited, destined encounter! Saw Liz in Oprah when her book was chosen for Oprah’s Book Club, was curious about her book then. Saw her speaking in a TED video, and she spoke about her book there too. Was more than curious, but didn’t get to do anything about it, still. Then recently, been seeing Julia Roberts all over the place (she’s my favorite actress, of course) with the Eat, Pray, Love movie advertisement…and I realized that I HAVE TO READ THAT BOOK! (and watch the movie after) Of course, the Universe responds ever so quickly, and just the other day, my friend shows up with a copy of the book she had just finished reading that same day! Anyway, so I am currently in the process of reading it, getting inspired to write as well, all my plays and manuscripts for books that have been sitting in the backburner. I’m almost finished with the first part, her Eat and Italy segment and it got me to thinking about temperaments. She is obviously a Melancholic, the side of me that I am the least of, or the temperament that I rarely experience myself. She’s really unraveling and revealing a lot about the inner life of melancholics, the light and dark side of things. Of course, a majority of what she’s been sharing is around the darkness that “eats” melancholics. So, this got me to thinking about what it’s like for me as a choleric, or even what it’s like for sanguine and phlegmatic people.

For those of you who are not familiar with the temperaments, here’s a few descriptions, based from what I know, and since it got me excited, let’s also add some information from Rudolf Steiner, and whatever we can find to complete the picture.

Temperament, according to Steiner, is that “fundamental coloring of the human personality, that plays a role in all manifestations of individuality that are of concern to practical life. It stands between the things that connect the human being to an ancestral line, and those the human being brings out of earlier incarnations. Temperament strikes a balance between the eternal and the ephemeral.” There are 4 temperaments: Choleric, Melancholic, Sanguine, and Phlegmatic:

(clockwise from top right) (Wikipedia)

The premise is that our moods, emotions, behaviors were caused or influenced by fluids in our body: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. We all have the 4 temperaments, but we have a “default”, one that dominates over all the others. This default also manifests in our body shape and constitution. Let’s go over the 4 temperaments, what I remember or experience and what we can pull out of Wikipedia and Steiner books, for now.

1. Choleric – short (in proportion to overall form), stocky, walks fast, moves fast, heavy and precise in their movement. There’s a drive to their actions, speech, and even their thoughts and emotions.

Steiner: “In the choleric, the ego and the blood system predominates. Cholerics come across as people who must always have their own way. Their aggressiveness, everything concerned with their forcefulness of will, derives from their blood circulation. People in whom the ego predominates seek to triumph over all obstacles, to make their presence known. Accordingly their ego stunts the growth of the other members; it withholds from the astral and etheric bodies their due portion. This reveals outwardly in a very clear fashion. Of course, one cannot generalize that all cholerics are short and all sanguines tall.

The inwardness of the ego, the choleric’s self-contained inwardness, expresses itself in eyes that are dark and smoldering.”

Wiki: “A person who is choleric is a doer. They have a lot of ambition, energy, and passion, and try to instill it in others. They can dominate people of other temperaments, especially phlegmatic types. Many great charismatic military and political figures were cholerics. They like to be leaders and in charge of everything.”

2. Melancholic – relatively tall, thin or bony, slow in movement, meticulous and detail-oriented. They are mostly in their bodies, and they experience the world literally through their bodies, pain and pleasure.

Steiner: “In melancholics we have seen that the physical body, the coarsest member of the human organization (accordingly there are 4 members: ego body, astral body, etheric body and the physical body, which we won’t be discussing in detail but can be found in Steiner books or articles online), becomes master over others. As a result, melancholics feel they are not master over their body, that they cannot bend it to their will. The physical body, which is intended to be an instrument of the higher members, is in itself in control, and frustrates the others. Melancholics experience this as pain, as a feeling of despondency. Pain continually wells up within them because the physical body resists the etheric body’s inner sense of well-being, the astral body’s liveliness, and the ego’s purposeful striving.

The melancholic is distinguished by a hanging head, as if the strength necessary to straighten the neck was lacking. The eyes are dull, not shining like the choleric’s; the gait is firm but in a leaden rather than a resolute sort of way.”

Wiki: “A person who is a thoughtful ponderer has a melancholic disposition. Often very considerate, melancholics can be highly creative in activities such as poetry and art – and can become occupied with the tragedy and cruelty in the world. A melancholic is also often a perfectionist. They are often self-reliant and independent.”

3. Sanguine – mostly tall or long (and have long necks), slender, seems to have light and airy bodies. Can have short attention span, moving from one topic to the next, easily distracted and can have numerous ideas. Of course, they often would start with an idea and end up doing another, or starting but not finishing anything.

Steiner: “Sanguines surrender themselves in a certain sense to the constant and varied flow of images, sensations, and ideas since in them the astral body and nervous system predominate. They are incapable of lingering over an impression. They cannot fix attention on a particular image nor sustain their interest in an impression. Instead, they rush from experience to experience, from percept to percept. The astral body’s inner liveliness animates the other members, and makes the external form as mobile as possible. In contrast to the choleric’s solid gait, the sanguine has a light, springy step.

The sanguine, whose ego has not taken such a deep root, who is filled with the liveliness of his astral body, tends by contrast to have blue eyes.”

Wiki: “The Sanguine temperament personality is fairly extroverted. People of a sanguine temperament tend to enjoy social gatherings and making new friends. They tend to be creative and often daydream. However, some alone time is crucial for those of this temperament. Sanguine can also mean very sensitive, compassionate and thoughtful. Sanguine personalities generally struggle with following tasks all the way through, are chronically late, and tend to be forgetful and sometimes a little sarcastic. Often, when pursuing a new hobby, interest is lost quickly when it ceases to be engaging or fun. They are very much people persons. They are talkative and not shy.”

4. Phlegmatic – can be tall or or medium-height, noticeably round or plump. Slow in movement, but not heavy as the melancholic’s.

Steiner: “We observed that this temperament develops when the etheric or life body, as we call it, which regulates the growth and metabolism is predominant. The result is a sense of inner well-being. The more human beings live in their etheric body, the more they are preoccupied with their own internal processes. They let external events run their course while their attention is directed inward.

The phlegmatic temperament manifests itself in a static, indifferent physiognomy, as well as in plumpness, for fat is due largely to the activity of the etheric body. In all this the phelgmatic’s inner sense of comfort is expressed. The gait is loose-jointed and shambling, and the manner timid. Phlegmatics seem somehow to be not entirely in touch with their surroundings.”

Wiki: “Phlegmatics tend to be self-content and kind. They can be very accepting and affectionate. They may be very receptive and shy and often prefer stability to uncertainty and change. They are very consistent, relaxed, rational, curious, and observant, making them good administrators and diplomats.”

Ok, that was fun! Had a great time reviewing and understanding more the temperaments, and basically getting a clearer picture of “what is happening” to us, to myself and others. Of course this is only one perspective, one way of seeing, but it offers an opportunity to unravel the mystery that is the human being, you and me.

Now, going back to what I got to think about while reading Eat, Pray, Love (which I would really love to continue after this), it’s also very important to be aware of the extremes of our personality, of our temperaments. Cholerics can be angry people, their rage and frustration with the world can destroy others, and destroy themselves. Melancholics, like Liz (the author), can spiral down into the depths of loneliness and depression, disconnecting themselves from the world, their loved ones, and their true selves. Sanguines can be flighty and even manic, too lost in the images, impressions and sensations that they experience, not connecting or losing touch with the world, their loved ones, and themselves. And the Phlegmatics can withdraw too much into their own worlds, numb and apathetic to others, and disengaged even to themselves, turning into empty shells.

Steiner offers practical ways for “self-improvement”, or ways to address the imbalance of our temperaments:

“Sanguines, for example, can take their sanguinity into account, abandoning self-exhortation as fruitless. The important thing is to display sanguinity under the right circumstances. Experiences suited to a short attention span can be brought about through thoughtful planning. Using thought in this way, even on the smallest scale, will produce the requisite effect. Persons of choleric temperament should purposely put themselves in situations where rage is of no use, but rather only makes them ridiculous. Melancholic’s should not close their eyes to life’s pain, but rather seek it out; through compassion they redirect their suffering outward toward appropriate objects and events. If we are phlegmatics, having no particular interests, then we should occupy ourselves as much as possible with uninteresting things, surround ourselves with numerous sources of tedium, so that we become thoroughly bored. We will then be thoroughly cured of our “phlegm”; we will have gotten it out of our system. Thus does one reckon with what one has, and not with what one does not have.”

A healthy life is always about balance, and in the same way that we wish to strike a balance between our masculine and feminine energies, material and spiritual life, intellectual and emotional, serving the self and serving others, we must also find the middle path, the “right mix” of our temperaments. The first step is awareness and acceptance, of where we are right here, right now. And the second is exercising our power, our birthright — Choice. We know, accept and embrace who we are, then we choose how to make the most of our lives, and how we are being in each moment, what personality or temperament are we showing in each situation so that the highest good prevails.

I leave you with Steiner’s words:

By filling ourselves with practical wisdom such as this, we learn to solve that basic riddle of life, the other person. Instead of arbitrarily theorizing, we should seek an immediate understanding of every individual human being. We can do this, however, only by knowing what lies in the depths of the soul. Spiritual science (*or for me: Mind, Body and Spirit), makes it possible that when two souls meet and one demands love, the other offers it. If something else is demanded, that other thing is given. Through such true, loving wisdom do we create the basis for society. This is what we mean when we say we must solve a riddle every moment.”

2 mga puna leave one →
  1. Hulyo 6, 2010 8:05 umaga

    Informative read. 🙂

    Got me thinking which group I fall into.

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