Swami Shankarananda with Devi Ma
As we mature and live with some degree of awareness and sensitivity, we become aware that people are different. We may even become aware that people fall into broad categories or types. This paper considers a typology based on three types: thinking, feeling and doing. In my experience, this is the simplest and most elegant of all the typologies I have encountered.
In the early decades of the century, the spiritual teacher, G. I. Gurdjieff, described three basic types. He called them, “Man #1, Man #2 and Man #3″—doer, feeler and thinker. He considered all three to be on the same level. Each could evolve to a higher level through conscious, spiritual work.
The contemporary teacher, Da Avabhasa, follows Gurdjieff, but calls the physically-oriented person a Vital, the emotional person a Peculiar, and the intellectual person a Solid. These terms are suggestive, humorous and also somewhat charged. Da Avabhasa gives the Gurdjieffian system a negative spin by regarding these types as avoidance strategies. I favour using them as a tool for self-study and understanding to help us recognise our own type and to understand and appreciate others. With this difference in emphasis, I am adopting Da Avabhasa’s terminology.
The Three Types
The Vital’s focus is in the navel, the vital or moving centre; the Peculiar is focused in the heart, the emotional centre; and the Solid is focused in the brow or third eye, the thinking centre. In nature we find few pure types. Most of us are a blend of all three tendencies, with one or two predominating.
Each type has its own relationship with time. The Peculiar is often caught up in the past—nostalgia, regret or hurt. The Solid is future-oriented, seeking to be ready for the dangers of the unknown. And the Vital lives for the moment, seeking to maximize experience in the present.
For balance, each type has recourse to a form of yoga, or a particular path of spirituality. The Vital might resonate with karma yoga, the path of action. The Peculiar might resonate with Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. The Solid might resonate with Jñana yoga, the path of wisdom.
“I experience. I build. I seek pleasure. I do. I explore. I dominate.”
Some famous Vitals
Zorba the Greek, Greg Norman, Madonna, Paul Hogan, Steve McQueen, Mike Tyson, Shaquille O’Neil, John Wayne, Evel Knievel, Demi Moore, Arnold Schwartzenegger, Pablo Picasso and Hercules.
Vitals are driven by will, desire and action. They are centred in the navel area. Vitals look at the universe as a vast pleasure garden filled with possibilities for enjoyment. With their domain in the physical life, they extend their will into the world, seeking ever-new experiences. They love to see their actions bear fruit in achievement.
Vitals are at home and effective in the physical world. They are the captains of industry, great athletes, powerful performers, empire builders and politicians. Fearlessly extending the boundaries of their experience, they explore, discover, conquer and seek wealth and power. Charismatic, they live with passion and enthusiasm.
Vitals tend to overindulge in physical pleasure and substance abuse, often neglecting the more subtle aspects of life. Archetypal ‘party animals’, they have the urge to engulf others in their lifestyle and passions. Sometimes, they lack the ability to discriminate what is good for them. They seek to maximise intensity of experience in the present moment.
Physically powerful, Vitals do not always know how to use their power and are sometimes not sensitive to others. When they don’t get what they want, they become frustrated and can become chronically angry. They also have a tendency to blame and may exert force, which shows up as a tension in the navel.
Vitals need to develop discrimination and would benefit from self-inquiry and introspection. Their tendency towards overindulgence can show up as impatience and intolerance. Vitals should observe this danger signal as soon as possible. A good exercise is to sit down and focus on the feeling, to discover the source of the tension, then bring the thought, “I let go, I relax” into the navel area, until relaxation occurs.
Vitals and the yoga of service
Most Vitals would rather go to the gym than meditate. Vitals need to feel they are accomplishing something and are most suited to karma yoga, the yoga of service. When Vitals turn their enormous energy within, they can have powerful spiritual awakenings. Typically they feel this physically and want to share their meditation experiences. They want to feel passionate about what they do.
Vitals can get lost in worldly pleasure and the search for power and satisfaction. Usually, their pain is caused by the need for recognition. They need to come to understand the powerful force of desire and how to use it to attain peace within.
Spiritually, it is important for them to recognise and value their own Self, and to honour their Shakti, or spiritual energy.
When Vitals become attached to objects their desire for them increases, which can generate anger. Enthusiasm for life can dwindle and they become controlling. Vitals also can get attached to the outcomes of their efforts, which can cause frustration with others.
Vitals need to become less attached to the fruits of their actions. This frees them from worrying about outcomes. They learn to delegate and encourage others’ creative expressions. They can rise to the top of their profession with confidence and the spirit of generosity.
Enjoyment of life becomes their yoga. They no longer see the world as objects of desire, but as the play of Consciousness. They revel in the power of the Self.
- The strong points of Vitals are vigour, energy and the ability to do and accomplish things in the world.
- The weak points are a tendency to overindulge in pleasure-seeking, and to get caught up in anger when their desires are frustrated.
- Vitals can be insensitive to others and sometimes lack discriminative intellect.
- Vitals seek to maximise their experience in the present moment.
- Self-esteem issues focus on a perceived lack of intelligence and understanding.
- Vitals need to focus on their inner life and pay attention to their thoughts and feelings.
- They would benefit from the wise counsel of others, to help them to tap their own inner wisdom.
“I feel. I express myself. I yearn for love. I transcend. I accept.”
Some famous Peculiars
Marilyn Monroe, Salvadore Dali, Michael Jackson, Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts, Prince, Garry McDonald, Elton John, Dame Edna and Albert Einstein.
Peculiars are inspirational, creative and emotional. They are centred in the heart. Experiencing the world of practical reality as boring and dreary, Peculiars seek a transcending experience that dissolves all feelings of separation. Aware of a higher possibility, they fantasise and daydream, creating scenes in their mind. They can be devastated when reality does not live up to these expectations.
Peculiars yearn to fall in love and be swept up on the wings of romance. They are attracted to dazzling careers filled with fame and glamour. They like to share their feelings. When possibilities shrink, they may turn to drugs and alcohol to escape or to numb the feeling of disappointment. Spiritual Peculiars may look for meditative ecstasies and transcendent spiritual experiences as a way of avoiding the mundane. They might become addicted to occult adventurism, psychics, channels and past-life readings.
Peculiars try to give concrete expression to their feelings, which can take the form of works of art or of a utopian vision of life. They are the artists, poets, actors, psychics and comedians—intensely creative performers who love to have centre stage. They often have an element of genius. They can be unusual in their attitudes and bohemian in their lifestyle.
Peculiars have a tendency to leap from love affair to love affair, as soon as the first bloom of romance is gone. They can be filled with regret and pine for a romanticised past. The love that once was, is gone, or the love that could be, is not. The worst fate is to feel nothing, and be left with the boredom of daily life.
Peculiars are sensitive and compassionate, but sometimes physically weak and sickly. They can be given to self-pity, neediness and hypochondria. The chronic problem for Peculiars is sorrow and despair, born of loss and disappointment and a tendency to brood, especially about the past.
Where Vitals might be excessively involved in sense pleasure, power and money, Peculiars can be excessively involved in their creative, emotional and relationship issues. They can become toxic with depression and sentimentality and ineffective in the physical world, so their dreams are never fulfilled.
A healthy antidote for this condition is the practical discipline of daily life. An austere practice like Zen Buddhism, in which the student is told to “chop wood and carry water” and not philosophise or seek ecstasies, is perfect for Peculiars. They need to learn to detach themselves from their emotional life.
Peculiars must learn to be content with what they have. They have to become aware when sadness wells up in the heart area. They should strongly determine not to indulge it by giving voice to despair and self-pity. They must learn to pour their love into their life as it is, not as it could be or should be. Sitting with the feeling in their heart, they could say, “I accept myself as I am. I accept my life as it is. I love myself.”
Peculiars who resist their tendency to despair can discover a rich energy in ordinary life. They can inspire and uplift others with their very being. They become filled with spiritual energy.
Peculiars and the path of Devotion
Peculiars have an overwhelming desire to merge in oneness. Their natural yoga is Bhakti yoga, the path of devotion. When Peculiars turn to yoga they use their feeling of love to merge with the Self. This focus purifies and strengthens their emotions. Their spiritual attitude is surrender and devotion. They want to serve and give to their beloved, but can become too attached, which creates emotional tension, jealousy and resentment. The spiritual practice of the bhakta is to focus on loving everyone and not to seek the love of one person only.
Peculiars tend to idealise every emotional situation they face. Placing huge demands on those they love, they may feel disappointed when their expectations are not met and can become resentful. Because they can be readily influenced, it is important for them to keep good company, especially with fellow seekers.
A spiritual pathway for Peculiars is to meditate on the heart, until desire and negative emotion are transformed into divine love. When they offer all of their activities to God, they no longer grieve, hate or crave. Their attachment turns to wisdom. When they love impersonally they manifest compassion for all humankind. They take delight in their own Self.
- The strong points of Peculiars are compassion, empathy and charisma. Peculiars have a charm that can inspire others.
- The weak points are a tendency to self-pity, complaining, hypochondria and despair.
- Peculiars often get caught in the past, in nostalgia, regret or hurt.
- They feel that things are never good enough or as good as they once were, or as they should be.
- They can be impractical and out of touch with physical reality.
- Self-esteem issues centre on a perceived lack of effectiveness in their outer life.
- They feel unworthy and lacking in vitality.
- Peculiars need to focus on their outer life, and not be so involved in their feelings that they become dysfunctional.
“I analyse. I philosophise. I illuminate. I am still. I understand. I control.”
Some famous Solids
Mr. Spock, Henry Kissinger, Bill Gates, Richard Nixon, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth and Jodie Foster.
Solids seek stillness and perfect solitude, knowledge and wisdom. They are centred in the mind, which physically, is in the brow: the point between the eyes called the ‘third eye’. Solids use their intellect to understand the world. They love new understandings and insights. But they also can feel threatened by an unknown, and possibly dangerous, future and they worry. Through understanding and analysis, Solids try to make the world a safe and rational place. Forces of chaos constantly threaten to explode and stir up their peace and stability. Solids control feeling with their intellect, thus their chronic problem is fear, and its near relative, worry.
Since Solids seek rationality and security, they tend to suppress life, dynamism and change. They approach life through the mind, not the intuition. They analyse first, and feel and experience later. Solids are academics, journalists, engineers, philosophers, scientists and doctors. An entrepreneur is likely to be a Vital, expanding into new markets and new profits, whereas the Solid might become a lawyer, or an accountant, professions that offer counsel in caution and restraint.
Solids can be pessimistic and sceptical in their approach to life. Fear of the future blocks their visionary capabilities. New ideas, new experiences and new feelings are treated with suspicion. When they understand new things, they relax and become more accepting and less fearful of change. Understanding is the key to the Solid’s sense of security.
Solids focus, study, limit, control and analyse. Where Vitals expand their boundaries and Peculiars transcend boundaries, Solids create boundaries. They seek to create the perfect structure within which they can feel safe.
Through their tendency to over-analyse, they can block the life force, become paralysed with fear and disempower themselves. Their analysis can become self-protective or ego-protective, rather than leading to wisdom or insight. Lacking spontaneity, imagination and sensuality, Solids keep themselves busy with lists and details and are always time-challenged. They have an overwhelming sense of responsibility. They tend to be arrogant or judgmental, especially of people who seem irresponsible or lacking in discipline.
Vitals put their own desires ahead of rules and concepts. Peculiars put human values ahead of rules and concepts. Solids tend to place rules, concepts and ideas of duty and morality ahead of desires and human values. They are the last to know when they fall in love. The French dramas of Racine and Corneille, typically centring on the themes of love versus duty, or passion versus honour, are examples of the clash between the Vital or Peculiar values and Solid values.
Solids need to open to the life force and trust the emotional and intuitive realms. They need to understand that they are safe and protected, even when there is a movement of life and feeling. When they feel their brows knit, they should be aware that they are worrying. A good exercise for a Solid is to bring to mind thoughts like, “There is nothing to fear. This is my own feeling. These are my own thoughts. I expand my understanding in this situation. All is well”. When they allow their life force to flow, Solids create clarity and peace, even out of chaos.
Solids and the path of wisdom
Solids naturally gravitate toward jñana yoga, the path of wisdom. The main practice of jñana yoga is Self-inquiry. The meditator asks empowering questions like, “Who am I?” or “What’s going on here?” Awareness is used to focus on the deepest level of reality. In meditation, jñanis discard all thoughts that seem untrue, or that lead away from the experience of the Self. They go beyond such identifications as, “I am a man. I am a woman. I am a doctor” until only pure awareness pulsates in their mind. An unevolved Solid can get lost in identifications, treatises or analysis. But they have the power to turn their intellect towards the inner Self.
Spiritually awakened Solids have an intense desire to know the deepest reality. They have an intuition of the truth, and will not stop until they have discovered it. They probe the nature of reality until they achieve a breakthrough in understanding. When this happens, their minds merge with the Self, and they experience a profound insight into their own divinity. Solids then want to serve the Truth.
Highly evolved Solids have a strong sense of Self and a positive approach to life. They feel secure in that knowledge, and express it by taking an expansive view of the world and others. Although sceptical at first, Solids will change when knowledge and understanding dawn. Solids learn to discern the Truth and express their understanding.
- The strength of Solids is the ability to analyse, understand and be dispassionate.
- The Achilles heel of a Solid is to block the flow of expansion, creativity and feeling, because of unconscious fear. This can lead to a sense of lifelessness and rigidity.
- Solids are ever-alert for possible future dangers.
- Self-esteem issues centre on a feeling of not living life passionately, or of life passing them by.
- They feel themselves lacking in creativity and judge themselves boring.
- A Solid must open to the emotional and imaginative life, and learn to take risks and deviate from the safe structure of their mind.
Each type has a strong, a weak and a middling centre. For example, Peculiars who are strong in feeling, (heart), tend to be weakest at doing, (navel), while adequate at thinking (third eye). This is set forth in the following table.
Type Strong Centre Middling Centre Weak Centre
Vital navel (doing) heart (feeling) third eye (thinking)
Peculiar heart third eye navel
Solid third eye navel heart
Spiritual medicine can work like traditional, physical medicine. Here, ignorance is the disease, and yogic practices and techniques are the medicine. Inner balance is the return to health. Spiritual medicine can work allopathically or homeopathically. Allopathic medicine goes against the nature of the disease, (if the patient is over-heated, apply a cold compress), and homeopathic medicine flows with the nature of the disease, sometimes counter-intuitively, (e.g. to treat insomnia, take minute doses of caffeine).
A Vital can be allopathically urged to develop discrimination. This will be difficult and uncomfortable, but rewarding. Eventually, the Vital will naturally follow the yoga of action, karma yoga. This is homeopathic because Vitals are predisposed to action.
Peculiars can be urged to do physical exercise and be grounded (allopathically against their nature). Eventually they will gravitate toward the yoga of devotion, Bhakti yoga.
Solids can be urged to cultivate devotion and feeling (allopathy). They will naturally follow the yoga of wisdom, Jñana yoga.
Nine combinations of the three types
Every person has a Solid, Vital and Peculiar within them. Few people are a ‘pure type’; most of us are blends. One type will usually predominate and a second type will be next in importance. In the following table, the first named type is dominant. By taking the three types and combining them in pairs, we refine our typology and create useful distinctions.
Vital dominant Peculiar dominant Solid dominant
- Vital-Vital 4. Peculiar-Peculiar 7. Solid-Solid
- Vital-Peculiar 5. Peculiar-Solid 8. Solid-Vital
- Vital-Solid 6. Peculiar-Vital 9. Solid-Peculiar
Each of these nine sub-types has their own characteristics. A future study will elaborate them. To find which sub-type you are, simply decide which of the three types is the best description of you and then which of the other two ‘flavours’ your main type.
Types 1, 4 and 7 above are ‘pure types’ – that means that you are a clear exemplar of one type primarily.
The types are relative to situations
Another way to understand the Vital, Peculiar and Solid archetypes is as tendencies within yourself. Every person has all three capacities, but different situations, people and events bring out our Vital, Peculiar or Solid response.
In the late sixties, I was teaching at a university and living in a bohemian part of New York City. The environment of the university was so solid, I felt like a Peculiar. The peculiar world of my friends, who were poets, filmmakers and artists, made me feel solid. I balanced my life by moving between these two worlds.
Thus in different contexts the same person will express himself differently. A football team is generally a collection of Vitals, but within the world of the football team there will be Solids, Vitals and Peculiars relative to each other.
This typology is a simple but extremely powerful tool of understanding. Use it to understand yourself more clearly. Contemplate, for example, in which areas of your life you are your most vital, peculiar or solid. Are you more comfortable in one type than the others? Which is your least comfortable or natural type?
Gurdjieff said that the first step in spiritual life is to balance the centres. Then Man #1, #2, or #3 becomes Man #4, balanced man. To begin to balance yourself you will probably have to work on your neglected or underdeveloped centres. This will likely be uncomfortable, but it will also be rewarding in terms of spiritual growth.
Even though these types manifest as expressions of your personality, always remember that at the deepest level you are the Self, the blissful, dynamic presence of divine Consciousness.
Some familiar typologies: Astrology divides people into twelve types, based on the position of the sun in the zodiac at birth. The astrological typology is made more complex by factoring in the positions of the planets, as well as the position of the moon and the rising sign, that is, the eastern horizon at the time of birth.
The Jungian typology, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, defines personality types based on contrasting tendencies: introversion/extroversion, intuitive/sensing, thinking/feeling and judging/perceiving.
Yoga uses a typology described in the Bhagavad Gita called the gunas, which categorises food, people and activities. This system defines three types: tamas, or dullness, rajas or activity, and sattva or purity and harmony.
Also popular in the last thirty years is the Enneagram, which enumerates nine types. Based on the teachings of Gurdjieff, this was developed by Oscar Ichazo and has been extensively studied in some New Age and Christian circles.