Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Midlife sensory banquet

On our recent trip to see relatives in Arizona, I was frequently reminded of the different ways people take in information. According to the MBTI, people tend to be Sensors or Intuitives. Sensors gather information through their five senses. They are alert, observant, curious, often detail oriented. They are not likely to trip and fall over the coffee table simply because their housemate rearranged the living room—they go through life with their eyes open, living in the moment.

Intuitives, by contrast, seem to spend more time in the romantic past or imagined future than in the present. The visible world is, for them, a launching pad for theories, inventions, schemes, interpretations, ideas, brainstorms, patterns, theologies, impressions, connotations, imagination, dreams, possibilities . . . and with all of that buzzing in their brains, no wonder they occasionally forget to come in out of the rain.

If the human person is a combination of earth and spirit, the Sensor is likely to pay more attention to earth, the Intuitive to spirit. My husband and I and both our daughters lean toward spirit, while most of our relatives are solidly earth-based. We listened in awe last week as they talked extremely knowledgeably about minerals, gems, fossils, photovoltaic cells, cacti, reservoirs, beer making, jewelry design, energy conservation, rare birds, rock polishers, and on and on. These people see what’s in front of them, understand it, and know what to do with it.

As one relative, recently married into the tribe, said (referring to several cousins who are artisans and inventors): “Creativity runs in the family.” Then, turning to David, she asked, “Are you creative?”

I was startled. As a person with Intuitive leanings, I tend to think of creativity as relating to ethereal pursuits. A novelist is creative, as is an artist. David, a journalist and a musician, is creative in several areas. But unlike his creative cousins, he doesn’t often make things that can be seen, held, and manipulated, so a Sensor may not immediately see his creativity. Similarly, an Intuitive may not immediately see the creativity of the person who enjoys finding rocks, splitting them, and polishing their inner surfaces to reveal layers of sparkling color.

Sensors and Intuitives open up and enrich each other’s experience. This is especially true after age 40 or so, when Sensors get more interested in possibilities and Intuitives begin noticing the physical world. My metamorphosis began when, 20 years ago, an interior designer pointed out the flame stitch on a chair’s upholstery. Before then, I noticed whether a chair was red or blue, and I could tell the difference between leather and cloth or solid and floral. The flame stitch, however, was a revelation. Suddenly I began seeing it everywhere. I fell in love with it. I even started noticing other differences in texture and design.

The sensory banquet soon expanded to include food as well as upholstery. The girl who hated to cook started turning into the woman who enjoyed experimenting with taste and color combinations at the table. Every time my aged mother would come to dinner, she would look at her plate and say, “I can’t believe it. I never thought you’d be able to do this.”

Eventually I started noticing things my Sensor friends had known all their lives: for instance, that a dog is a much better companion if you train it and bathe it, or that a house can look really good if you put things away when you’re done using them.

Being an Intuitive, I’m not really sure what Sensors start discovering at midlife. I’m sure they have every bit as much fun as we Intuitives do. Maybe even more, since we keep can’t help thinking about the Next Big Thing, whereas they know how to savor the moment. All of us, though, can find joy in the improbable recipe for the human person. We are earth, and we are spirit, each ingredient equally vital to our humanity.

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