Some of us long for variety in our lives.
We like reading new books, trying new kinds of skills, going to new places. We can’t stand the idea of being pigeonholed. We’re the kind of people psychologists would pin down as being high in the trait of “openness”, or openness to new experience.
But there’s something we’re missing about the nature of new experiences.
Sure, we can get some of the excitement by bouncing around between new things, skills, people, and places.
But say we wanted to experience something new in our souls? New experiences – especially of the spiritual or “depth” kind – require openness, to be sure. But openness isn’t enough.
Spiritual experiences happen in areas of extremes: extreme discomfort, extreme challenge, and extreme growth. And you know the only thing that can get you there? Probably the mirror opposite trait of openness: what psychologists call “conscientiousness,” but which I will call fidelity.
Some of my own most significant turning points of inner or spiritual growth have come about because I have had fidelity to a principle of truthfulness, or integrity. I risked losing reputation, relationships, and comfort – and so I sort of transcended them a bit.
By lashing myself to the mast (not a very “open” thing to do) of a principle, I was able to sail into waters into which I might never have been able to venture. Of course, if I hadn’t also been open to begin with, I might not then have looked up to see that I was in a time of spiritual experience.
This is just another way that life creates paradoxes for us. It takes both the principled fidelity (to truth or to another other good principle) of conscientiousness and the passionate “infidelity” and curiosity of openness to find the really great experiences of life.