Anne expressed a mixture of hope and resignation. She had wanted to build her own business for years but found that she often got distracted by other responsibilities or interests. “I’m so tired of getting excited but then floundering again. I’ve tried so many times. What’s wrong?”
Upbeat Joshua is known as an optimistic guy who pays attention to other people. His friends, coworkers, and family know that he can be counted on to get things done, and generally he does so with a smile. But in a private conversation, he shared, “For as long as I can remember, I have felt hurt when others don’t respond to me with the same concern I have for them. So, I just try harder to please them. Why do I feel that there is something inside that I want to avoid?”
Since her early forties, Emma frequently attended spiritual retreats. Her bookshelves are overflowing with self-help books. At age fifty-three, she wondered if she would ever truly feel more at ease in her life. Dealing with bouts of mild depression and big doses of self-criticism, she confided, “Maybe I can’t expect anymore than this. Is this all there is?”
Cecile had a list of accomplishments that included multiple master’s degrees, a doctorate, and several advanced professional certifications. She held an executive position in the workplace, which afforded her and her family an elegant lifestyle. But behind the public image, she had long experienced a nagging sense that something was missing. She hated slowing down because her sense of inner emptiness increased, yet she knew she must. “I feel the urge to make a change. I just don’t know what it is, and I’m scared to death.”
Expressions of the Human Experience
From even these brief glimpses into four individuals’ lives, we recognize a few of the familiar dilemmas, puzzles, emotions, and questions about the unknown that are part of being human.
For a society that offers daily technological advances, the escalation in the doubling of knowledge, hundreds of new products to choose from in the marketplace every week, and the launch of civilians into outer space, we know very little about being human. While the majority of our collective attention has gone into feeding the desire to discover, understand, create, build, and control the external world, the internal world has been left famished.
With this imbalance, life comes to feel automatic, mechanical, and overwhelmed. There’s a sense of running from something. But from what? The fluidity and joy of our inner aliveness thickens and coagulates. We feel denser, heavier, contracted, and fatigued. When the lack of attention to and awareness of the inner world continues, we harden and grow even more fearful of what we might find within.
This distortion has consequences in every part of life, in every part of the human family. People hurt and do not understand why.
The good news is that this continued imbalance of life is not inevitable. It need not be prolonged.
The Call to Being an Awakened Human
I talk to people all the time who want to feel good about what they are doing with their precious time on earth, and make a positive contribution. They are asking big questions about their lives and are trying to find resolutions to pressing and sometimes stubborn dilemmas that seem to elude any sense of real satisfaction. With or without using these specific words, they want to feel at home inside themselves.
While some have discovered how to live with a great sense of ease, most, like the individuals above, feel that their lives are not working as well as they would like. There is something about who they are that feels off or missing. Others reveal that they feel lost, and that the inside and outside of their lives don’t match. And others intuitively know that there is more to life than having more of the same. They are looking to experience a deeper fulfillment.
Most people feel the tug of two opposing energies within. On one hand, they are drawn to authentically express their soul’s higher qualities, such as inner strength, compassion, joy, gratitude, courage, or inner peace. On the other hand, they find themselves repeating familiar experiences that seem to pull them downward in the opposite direction. They act in ways that sometimes disappoint or embarrass them. How is it possible that we can experience such inner polarities?
One of the many paradoxes is that at some crucial turning point in life, everyone feels alone and as though they’re trying to shield a secret sense of self that they think few others would understand or accept…yet everyone else feels the same way!
One of the many paradoxes is that at some crucial turning point in life, everyone feels alone and as though they’re trying to shield a secret sense of self that they think few others would understand or accept…yet everyone else feels the same way! Like new lovers wanting to show to each other only what they consider their best side, we create an inner division between what we believe is acceptable and not acceptable. And because the true experience of inner life is not customarily discussed in public, it is easy to think that others do not or have not had similar experiences. It is easy to think that you are on your own.
But you are not.
Historical and contemporary spiritual teachings, along with psychological understanding, speak to the inevitable sense of pain and estrangement that result from turning away from unwanted aspects of ourselves. This inner division between what we perceive to be either acceptable or unacceptable in our own nature leads to a deeply embedded and universal experience of being disconnected from something essential within. Paradoxically, it is this very experience of disconnect—that we have tried with all our might to avoid—that puts us directly on a path to healing and wholeness.
As personal as it feels, setting foot on this healing path is not simply an individual journey, but is embedded in the shared evolutionary unfolding of the human community. The continued development of human consciousness is reflected in every dimension of life—in new mathematics, physics, biological and neuro research and technology, to name just a few areas that affirm the ancient spiritual teachings that speak to the deep interconnections that exist among us all. And frankly, people who experience the compelling urge to discover their truer nature, and are curious about what lies below the surface of their lives, need each other and benefit from one another’s honest questioning and ongoing learning.
Not recognizing and accepting the full range of the human experience that exists within us severely hampers the realization of the deeper qualities that most of us seek. Coming to accept that we have the full range of light and dark dimensions within ourselves is at the crux of becoming a whole and fully human being.
Where You Focus Your Attention Matters
So where do you start? What is the next step on your own quest?
Some of my clients have asked, “Even when I look inside, exactly what do I look for and just where do I look?” These questions often are coupled with doubts and fears that when looking within for this indescribable “it,” absolutely nothing will be found. The great fear is that there will be nothing there.
I have long loved this old teaching story, as it so exemplifies this common human dilemma.
A man was walking home late one night when he saw Nasrudin searching under a streetlight on hands and knees for something on the ground. “Mulla, what have you lost?” the man asked.
“The key to my house,” Nasrudin said.
“I’ll help you look,” the man said.
Soon, both men were down on their knees, looking for the key.
After a number of minutes, the man asked, “Where exactly did you drop it?”
Nasrudin waved his arm back toward the darkness. “Over there, in my house.”
The first man jumped up. “Then why are you looking for it here?”
“Because there is more light here than inside my house.”
Much like Nasrudin, most people don’t find what they are looking for because they put their attention on areas that do not lead to desired states. This results in feeling alone and vulnerable.
Learning to focus your attention on what yields real contact with your inner self is what this book is about. Using the profound system of awareness known as the Enneagram, we will travel together into territory that allows you to feel safe about knowing yourself, and yields new understandings and revelations.
As a condition of being born into the human community, each of us has a particular way we unconsciously move away from our deepest nature, away from that which is rich and precious beyond measure. It is in this movement away from our true nature where the inner polarity gets entrenched.
One reason I love working with the Enneagram is that it brilliantly illuminates this movement. Through gaining more understanding and awareness of the reasons behind what many consider to be the fundamental inner dilemma, you will learn more about the way you have historically turned away from your most exalted nature. This helps you grow your capacity for having a more intimate relationship with yourself, and here you’ll discover more of your own innate and wondrous capacities.
Developing a Presence-Based Orientation
We live in such an exciting and challenging time because we are all called to be more consciously aware. We are supported now more than ever before in rising to a new level of awareness and of psychological and spiritual maturity through access to a repertoire of strategies, tools, attitudes, and an orientation that can be applied and integrated into daily living.
This is why the Enneagram is such a gift. It offers a body of wisdom that, when used wisely, reveals a rare way to see yourself. It helps you understand yourself through a surprisingly precise and wise lens, and it allows you to know that you are not alone. By seeing where you have habitually placed the majority of your energy, the unseen internal dynamics that have shaped your orientation to life will become clearer. This will help you make sense of much of your life up to now. Going forward, new and more effective choices become available.
I find that it works best to meet the sacred knowledge of the Enneagram with three intentional behaviors that create an attitude toward learning and development.
One behavior is that of grounding. This includes becoming aware of your breathing, and giving your breath the space to find its own natural rhythm. This simple but deliberate action can lead to feeling more settled within. Grounding also involves making felt the contact between your body and whatever it is in physical contact with. For example, paying attention to the contact of your feet on the floor, and your hips and back physically held by a chair can further lead to being where you are at the moment. Grounding is a process that enables us to gradually take up residence in our physical nature, offering us a source of vital intelligence.
A second behavior brings our attention to our heart. With a kind attitude oriented toward your heart, you may feel a slight softening and opening here. Putting a hand, or even a finger, on your heart center in the middle of your chest can provide a sense of comforting safety. The heart responds at a different rhythm and pace than does the head, so taking sufficient time to simply be with whatever you are experiencing in your heart supports the development of a new relationship with yourself. In essence, this practice invites you to be kinder and more receptive to yourself.
A third behavior is that of being curious. It’s useful to bring a willingness to question your ideas about who you are, and how life works. We humans carry so many stories about life and we have believed those stories to be true. Learning about ourselves through the Enneagram is filled with surprises, including those where we discover that a particular story we’ve long held as unquestionable simply isn’t true. The qualities of curiosity and open-mindedness help us to use those surprises for our growth.
Together, these three behaviors increase your capacity to be present. When you orient yourself to being present with this material, you may discover that you are moved, and something within begins to change. Approaching this material with presence, you and I are actually communicating at a more intimate level than just writing and reading the words on the page. This engages your soul, which naturally leads to having more contact with your deeper self.
This call to being human, then, is an invitation to the truth and experience of our real nature.
This call to being human, then, is an invitation to the truth and experience of our real nature. Deep Living offers an orientation, tools, and practices for applying the insights that you develop.
The Enneagram: A Map of the Human Experience
Let’s start with a few basics about the Enneagram. While no system takes every aspect of human nature into account, nor is it a panacea to address all of life’s challenges and opportunities, the Enneagram is a profound field of knowledge and guidance that supports remarkable life-shifts and transformation.
The questions asked by seekers over the eons regarding the nature of the human experience and its relationship to the spiritual realm—or, in religious terms, to knowing God—are as relevant today as ever. The Enneagram integrates knowledge about human behavior and motivation with the quest for psychological and spiritual redemption that has come to us from the ancient wisdoms that are nearly universally shared. We find the basic tenets of awakening are common to the major spiritual traditions—including Christianity, mystical Judaism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Hinduism.
The Enneagram symbol was originally introduced to the West before World War I by Georges Gurdjieff as a system for awakening—for waking up to the trouble that we humans experience when we are asleep to our true nature. Although many people think of the Enneagram as a personality-typing system, originally, it was not taught from that perspective.1
In the mid-1900s, Oscar Ichazo recognized that there were specific correspondences between the nine points that we find on the Enneagram symbol and the nine specific psychological and spiritual themes or questions found in the human experience. Today, contemporary psychological understanding, spiritual wisdom, and research in the field of neuroscience continue to converge and be reflected in the Enneagram. Many who have worked with this body of wisdom for years, and even decades, find that the Enneagram continues to teach and deepen our awareness.
As we will explore in this book, identifying your dominant personality type is simply a first step in the process of becoming more aware, of getting to know yourself at a deeper level, and of having real experiences that reflect your truer, more expansive nature.
This ancient system illuminates the polarity of our human condition, which we discussed earlier. Between the two polar ends of life, we have experiences that range from healthy and effective to that which are ineffective and troublesome, or even to behavior that, for some, is a violation of themselves and/or others. The Enneagram also gives guidance on the important questions often asked by those who are seeking freedom from their suffering, such as, “How is it possible to have such high ideals about how I want to live my life (as more loving or courageous, for example, or with more integrity or gratitude) and to know that I often fall completely short of my ideals?”
The Patterns of Life
Through the Enneagram, we learn that there are nine major dimensions, or archetypes, or spheres of consciousness that exist in the world. On a human scale, this translates to the existence of nine dramatically different orientations to life.
Each of us specializes in one of these dimensions. In the Enneagram, these are called personality types and are identified as Types Ones through Nine.
Each of these nine orientations has specific and repeating patterns of thought, emotion, attention, and behavior. Repeating patterns are a part of nature and all of life. While many naturally occurring patterns are beautiful, unfortunately, when we humans unconsciously repeat behaviors, thoughts, or emotional experiences, they often lead to a degree of dissatisfaction without us being able to point to the source of our discomfort.
A Repeating Pattern in Nature
The Enneagram shines the light of awareness on the specific thought, emotional, and behavioral patterns associated with each of the types. Most of us have a story about who we are, how we behave, or how we imagine others see us. But our self-concept is likely clouded. As we learn about ourselves through the Enneagram, it is not unusual to discover a discrepancy between how we want to be seen and how we actually function in life. One of the hardest things for most people to do is to peer through the clouds and see themselves accurately.
You will then have the remarkable ability to see yourself clearly, perhaps for the first time.
Underneath our repeating patterns, there are important psychological and spiritual themes that run through our life experiences. If you have ever wondered why you experience recurring difficulties that have some similarities, but that occur under different circumstances and with different people, you can look to these underlying dynamics to gain important understandings. Many of those who have studied this system say that they start connecting the dots among their various life experiences, and that their life makes more sense.
It is these underlying dynamics that most precisely distinguish each type from the others. Learning about yourself at this deeper level can offer remarkable insights about where you tend to overdo and what you avoid in life-—often to your own detriment.
Here’s a great example of this. An executive arrived for her coaching session with me and was obviously quite relieved as she shared a shift in a pattern.
“I stopped taking on so much responsibility for my staff’s projects. I can see how I have been overdoing my ‘helper instinct’ and how I have believed that I need to take care of my staff at my own expense. Ouch! Rather than trying to provide all the solutions as I always have, I instead practiced asking team leaders clear questions and giving some guidance so that they could focus on completing the projects themselves. It is working! I’m less stressed, and I think they feel better too. I know I will be practicing this for a long time, but I definitely recognize that I’m on the right track.”
You, too, can recognize when you have historically relied on a narrow range of automatic responses, which led to overdoing one particular strategy and feeling dissatisfied. These habitual behaviors have put a very precious part of you on the back burner of your life.
Recognizing the predominant patterns in your life gives you a window into the nature of your personality structure. You will then have the remarkable ability to see yourself clearly, perhaps for the first time.
Why Awareness Matters
Why is awareness so important?
Because it is a key that unlocks the door to your hidden self. Without that awareness, most people stay stuck. With awareness, however, comes a sense of melting the places that have felt frozen. Fluidity is accompanied by natural, healthy change.
Awareness of the patterns of personality leads to another profound outcome. We begin to identify the false stories that we have carried internally and that create great struggles and suffering. The release of these stories results in inner healing and more expansive energy we can instead put into the service of that which we most love.
And awareness points to the specific and unique gifts of your Enneagram type. It reveals a map with a unique path to those gifts that is completely counterintuitive to our ordinary way of thinking. Many people have found that by being more present and embracing the authentic gifts shown to them through the Enneagram, they were able to more deeply accept themselves and find joy in expressing these innate gifts, and thus experience their real purpose.
This lights up the soul.
One Size Does Not Fit All
You may have read books that offered a specific set of strategies for getting more satisfaction or success in life, and yet were disappointed, frustrated, or even hopeless that the suggestions did not work effectively for you. Over the decades, I have collected a library of these books. I used to try to follow the author’s suggestions for an authentic life but ended up feeling even worse when the suggestions didn’t work for me.
Well, no wonder. One size does not fit all.
In this book, you’ll find nine different sizes, nine different pathways. Each offers specific suggestions for individuals who most relate to a particular way of experiencing life, of treading that particular pathway. As you identify your own orientation on the Enneagram, I encourage you to focus on the suggestions associated with it. What will best support you might be very different than what would support a good friend or your significant other, because you and your brain are designed differently than most of the people around you.
It may completely surprise you that the ideas, actions, feelings, and reactions that are familiar to you are actually reflective of a particular Enneagram personality type.
It may completely surprise you that the ideas, actions, feelings, and reactions that are familiar to you are actually reflective of a particular Enneagram personality type. With just this awareness, and when you accompany it with a non-judgmental attitude, change begins to occur. With ongoing and committed practice, your innate qualities will be stirred awake, and you will move toward inner peace. Over time, you’ll increase your psychological, emotional, and spiritual liberation, and gain more effectiveness in life.
But the Enneagram is much more than a system for understanding personality types—its roots are deeper and more profound than that. Instead, it is an ancient tool of sacred psychology that supports our transformation so that each of us may live from our specific facet of essential, true nature.
Understanding Personality and What It Means for You
The term personality has many usages and connotations in daily life. Because our desire in this book is to explore, understand, and illuminate the dynamics that lead to feeling more whole, integrated, and fully human, we also need to understand what causes the inner split we discussed earlier. The Enneagram offers a riveting and profoundly different explanation of the personality and its relationship to our true nature than you may have been introduced to previously.
We all have a particular personality, and will have it until our last breath. But that personality is a part of—not all of—who we are.
Before reading further, take a moment to jot down your answer to the following question: How would you describe yourself? Write whatever comes to mind and not what you think you are supposed to write.
Many of us are tempted to describe ourselves in certain ways, often by our:
* physical characteristics
* roles in life (our marital or occupational status, for example,
or relationship to another person, such as a spouse, parent,
sibling, or child)
* preferences, interests, or activities
* qualities we think we display, such as being creative, bold, fun, emotionally sensitive, stoic, responsible, quiet, caring, calm, or smart, to name a few
Look at your responses to my earlier question regarding your self-description. See if any of your descriptions fall into one or more of the categories in the above list.
All of these are ways that we might describe our personality—that dimension of ourselves that is most apparent to us. It feels completely natural to think of ourselves as this personality, that is, to be identified with it. We may not realize that there is an alternative.
The experience of “being identified with” means that your self-concepts, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, qualities, reactions, discomforts—any experiences that you might have—are so intricately tied into your day-to-day experience, that they are unquestioned. These make up the stories of your life, and you believe them. They feel like who you really are, as if they’re a reflection of the authentic self.
Have you ever heard yourself say something like this: “Of course, I worry (or get mad, or look for a new adventure, or demand perfection of myself, or want total control, for example). That’s just who I am. I can’t help it.”
This is a common way of relating to the personality. You might think that there’s not much that can be done about it, but you’ll see later that there is. Meanwhile, let’s examine what happens when we think about personality in this way.
Roots of the Internal Split
Being identified with the personality—mistaking your personality for who you are—is where the internal split has its roots. To the degree that you are identified with the personality, the experience takes center stage, and there is no “I” outside of that experience. The less often that the nature of these experiences and why they occur are examined, the stronger the identification becomes.
Being identified with the personality—mistaking your personality for who you are—is where the internal split has its roots.
Further, it seems that only certain personal characteristics are acceptable while many are not. Thus the inner split widens.
Being identified becomes quite tricky in daily living because having a certain kind of identifiable personality is considered an admirable trait in different environments. For example, being visionary is a respected leadership trait, while being caring is a desirable characteristic for capable health professionals. Children who are shy sometimes discover that outgoing children receive more favorable feedback. Motivational speakers are expected to be energetic, upbeat, and, well, motivating. In some religious communities, expressing humility and piety is a prized social norm. In most cultures, it is the personality that receives attention and even adulation, so this is further reinforcement of the idea that personality is the basis for who we think we are.
At different times in your life, your own personality characteristics have been encouraged, critiqued, and commented on by family members, friends, and co-workers, which has given even more credence to the idea that you are your personality.
So, who are you, if you are not your personality?
It can be shocking to consider the notion that we are not primarily a personality.
Yet it is that identification with the personality that creates so many of life’s struggles and challenges. Developing a more expansive understanding of what it means to be human creates a welcome shift in how you relate to yourself, those you interact with, and your whole environment.
It can be shocking to consider the notion that we are not primarily a personality.
Considering the vast array of possibilities that exist within the human experience, our typical self-descriptions are inherently limiting. Whatever you take yourself to be results in cutting off other parts of yourself. Your personality becomes troublesome when you live inside its narrow walls.
The Key to Real Choice
At the heart of healing the inner split is the recognition that you have choice—real choice that comes from an inner knowing. The faulty sense that “there’s nothing I can do about my personality” limits the experience of this choice.
One of the fundamental teachings of the Enneagram is that the personality itself is not one solid, static entity that coalesces around just a few characteristics that do not change. Instead, the personality has the potential to be fluid, which means we can respond in new, fresh, and creative ways to the circumstances and opportunities in our lives.
For example, sometimes we realize we need to try out a completely new attitude or behavior toward a recurring and troubling situation in life because our usual approach isn’t working. While that new approach may feel foreign and scary, your inner guidance tells you that it is necessary for your own peace of mind, and perhaps it will lead to an improved outcome. Experimenting with that new approach is an example of moving beyond the repetitious nature of the personality’s patterns and entering new territory.
The key to this fluidity is consciousness. The more we bring compassion and awareness to the design of our personality and where and why we get stuck, new approaches begin appearing as interesting and possible choices. Research in neuroscience, or brain plasticity, has shown that the brain never stops changing, so your whole body contains the wiring to grow, develop, and evolve. On a practical level, you fundamentally have the capacity to create and enjoy a more fulfilled and purposeful life at home and work.
The Enneagram provides a remarkable framework for understanding what the personality actually is and how it acts, thereby opening a whole new world to us.
Three Perspectives on the Personality
Below are three particular perspectives on the personality. Each one provides insights into why the personality has developed, a purpose it is fulfilling, and how it operates. I hope it will also invite compassion as you recognize how completely natural it is to think of yourself as your personality, and the challenge of building the capacity to recognize it as simply a part of the wholeness that is you.
I want to emphasize that the personality is not bad. It has and continues to serve important purposes, including bringing you to this exploration. It is just not all of who you are.
The Personality as a Structure of Identity
Your personality comes equipped with an internal blueprint that serves as the foundation for how you express yourself. Just as a building’s architectural blueprint comprises many different elements of that structure—including dimensions, relationships between rooms, and points of egress that provide the foundation for the form and function of the building—the blueprint of the personality provides the hidden structure for the functioning of the personality. This blueprint comprises various elements, such as your preferences, behaviors, attitudes, desires, fears, defense mechanisms, primary Focus of Attention, and other factors, many of which typically are hidden to awareness.
Each of the nine Enneagram types has its own characteristic version of the architectural blueprint. Our experience of ourselves is based on this internal structure, which shapes our inner story—our self-perception, how we perceive others, and our relationship to the larger world. In effect, the specific personality structure gives rise to a person’s sense of identity and leads to his or her experience of this is just who I am.
Each of the nine blueprints (which will be examined individually in upcoming chapters) forms a unique agenda and context that have a pervasive influence on an individual’s entire life experience—at least, until the system is exposed and new options become visible.
The Enneagram Iceberg Model™, described in detail in Chapter 5, provides a template for illustrating the architecture of the personality. Briefly, the Iceberg Model captures the behavioral (i.e., observable) characteristics of the Enneagram type in the section extending above the waterline in the illustration below. By contrast, the type-specific motivational factors, which give shape to the behavior, are shown below the waterline.
In the early 2000s, Enneagram colleague Wendy Appel and I selected the analogy of an iceberg to make the concept of personality more transparent and, thus, less mysterious and more accessible.2 As I continue to use newer iterations of the original Iceberg Model (see figure 1-2), I think of it as a way to take ourselves out of our psychic fishbowl so we can see how we have habitually oriented toward life and to gain a more expansive and healthful perspective.
The Personality as an Energetic System
The personality is also an energetic system that, like any unexamined or uninterrupted system, continues to build on itself.
The experience of an uninterrupted system, for example, is felt when you realize that you have been repeating—over and over again—a troublesome or ineffective behavior or approach to different situations in your life. You feel like you are going around in a circle or that you are in a rut, and you have no idea what else you could do. When a system, including the familiar activity of the personality, remains uninterrupted, that system allows in only selected information that reinforces its existing patterns.
For example, humans have a certain filter that allows in selective information that confirms how we already think of ourselves. This filter, or screen, is amazingly talented at allowing only certain data to penetrate our consciousness, and at preventing us from seeing and receiving all the other information that is available at the same time. It is as if that other information doesn’t exist; you simply don’t see it, so the many colors of the rainbow of your life are obscured. Like the air you breathe, these resulting assumptions and beliefs you carry are so invisible that they go unquestioned. They lead to a fixed orientation to the world and unchanging inner stories about ourselves, about others, and about how life works.
Remember, that which is not questioned assumes a powerful role by leveraging your life force to turn you away from your highest nature.
Let’s look at a streamlined account of how the energetic system of the personality actually works.
For starters, each of the nine personality types has a specific core belief.
— The core belief can be thought of as a central operating principle that helps shape the developing personality.
— The core belief actively filters and selects data that reinforces itself from the vast field of information that bombards an individual each moment. Data which does not fit into the core belief patterns are unconsciously dismissed.
— Therefore, data that could provide another perspective are ignored. The individual likely doesn’t realize that other information is present. When a person looks at his or her own recurring experiences over time, it’s easy to become convinced that this experience is the truth.
— When responses are predictable, they are actually automatic reactions. Since a person’s reaction/behavior is based on a belief, it generates feedback that reinforces the original belief. Thus, the feedback mirrors the message of the internal voice. The core belief is again affirmed.
— The seeming truth of this core belief often leads to re-experiencing such early emotional reactions as anger, frustration, fear, emotional dependency, shame, or a sense of being rejected. Most often this emotional response is not fully in the consciousness, and the experience again feels like ”who I am,” or is attributed to early-life situations.
— These patterns feel so real that we come to think of ourselves as actually being these habitual patterns. But we need to remember that patterns are not bad; they are just limiting. They are like the air we breathe—so natural that it never occurs to us to question them. We don’t suspect that a belief even exists—it is just—what is.
Let’s examine a real-life example of an inner story that is an outgrowth of a belief system in which the core belief is “I am flawed.”
* This powerful core belief acts as a filter and finds or perceives data that reinforces the belief from the vast field of information available.
* The individual’s experience becomes: “I think of myself as always messing up. In fact, I see how I make a multitude of errors. I am either constantly apologizing to others or cutting off communication because, underneath it all, I am embarrassed.”
* This person’s internal critic says, “See, I told you that you are messed up. You just can’t get your act together. Face it, you’re flawed. And, of course, that just isn’t okay. You’re more flawed than anyone else.”
* Now, the person acts as if she is exceptionally flawed. She may find herself in constant trouble or conflict with others.
* The consequences are damaging. The individual is likely very hard on herself. She feels both victimized and ashamed. And her relationships may be in tatters.
* The personality hardens. The person falls into the trap of feeling stuck in this sense of who she thinks she is. All of the evidence supports the “I am flawed” belief.
The uninterrupted personality is a closed system with little active awareness or curiosity operating. Information incongruent with existing beliefs are filtered out, and it is easy to fall prey to the automatic reactions that are familiar—sometimes painfully familiar. In effect, this is when we lose ourselves to the hypnotic effects of both the personality’s patterns and the cultural conditioning. Both the personality and our cultural experiences habitually reinforce placing attention toward the past or the future, or toward other people—anything but to the present.
Yet, it is in the present that you have more access to your lighter, more expansive nature, to your inner strength and inner authority.
The great news is that these personality systems can be interrupted and opened to receive new input. But this only happens with awareness and with the quality of presence.
The Personality as a Coping Mechanism and Protection
(“I guard…/I protect…”)
There are important and valid reasons that you identified with certain personality qualities throughout life. Some of these reasons may now feel outdated or less relevant as you focus on your growth, yet they’re still contributing to unsatisfying behavior or inner discomfort. That’s why we explore the personality as a coping or protective mechanism: so we recognize and bring more attention to healing the emotional pain that lies under the surface of the human experience.
It is through a kind, compassionate attitude toward ourselves that healing can occur and that new forms of inner freedom and choice can exist.
For most, our unique and sensitive perspectives, especially as young children, resulted in interpreting the actions or attitudes of others as meaning something that was not actually intended.
Let’s go back to the beginning: Everyone on the planet experienced pain when they came into the world. Every one of us was an intrinsically sensitive little being who picked up the spoken and unspoken, the seen and unseen elements of our environments. For some, there were objective forms of abuse in early years. For most, our unique and sensitive perspectives, especially as young children, resulted in interpreting the actions or attitudes of others as meaning something that was not actually intended. Either way, we learned how to cover our fears, anger, shame, disappointments, sense of being rejected, and feelings of being lost and all alone.
You learned to cope and how to hide a lot of those hurts. The accumulation of your hurts resulted in emotional energy that you neither had the words for (many of these experiences took place before you could talk) nor the neurological or biological capacity to tolerate. You needed to suppress and mask these early experiences to survive as an intact person.
That was the role that your personality took on. It protected you from experiences which were unacceptable or simply too much for you at that moment.
Over time, your coping mechanism crystallized. Growing into adolescence, then adulthood, those coping strategies predominated, so your inherent capacity to handle those old hurts didn’t have a chance to develop.
But now, having arrived at a new phase in life, your capacity as a psychological and spiritual being is maturing and you are outdistancing your need for all that protection. Now you might ask, “What is more important to me than relying on my familiar coping strategies?”
So why do you have the personality that you do? From what we know at this time, you came into life with a particular spiritual template, as it’s called, that results in you being attuned to a particular grouping of higher spiritual qualities. Very early in life, perhaps even before you were born, you felt the great loss of connection with those spiritual qualities. Your particular personality feels so real to you because, in some ways, it is trying to mimic those qualities, yet at the same time, still trying to protect you from the experience of your early wounds.
In Part II’s description of each personality type, we’ll explore this loss, the resulting ways in which a person dominant in the particular type coped, a path to healing, and the inherent spiritual qualities associated with the type.
The personality structure is designed to keep repeating a particular version of life, but it is not the real thing. It’s a padded version, a faux replica of what you really want.
However, if that which is essential and real, and that which is the personality, were both visible entities, then we might see that they actually live side by side. In effect, when we are fully embedded in the personality, we live parallel to our true nature, not in it.3 Naturally, when you continuously experience your personality’s version of life, it is easy to feel a sense of inevitability—“this is just how I am”—and, at the same time, powerless to change.
When you were younger, you really could not have tolerated dealing with life in any other way than how you did. It worked at the time, and it’s important to respect and honor that.
But in the midst of vast changes just about everywhere we look, you might also notice that you, too, are changing. I’m guessing that you feel ready for a more vibrant, alive, real, and full-hearted experience. If you feel that something has been missing, perhaps you can approach that sense of something missing as a gift, because it has already brought you to a new awareness.
The truth, however, is that there is nothing missing in you. What is lacking is a direct, unfiltered, real experience of inhabiting your own life.
Years ago, I moved to an area of Northern California that was very smoggy at the time. I was working on my master’s degree and had to drive back and forth from home to the university on a large, ten-lane freeway. During my first semester, I remember seeing only various shades of gray in the sky, and the vague shapes of distant hills. Then, one rare and clear evening, I looked to the east and gasped. The smog had lifted and I saw the hills in the background clearly for the first time! I was stunned. They had been so filtered from sight by the smog that I hadn’t realized they were so close.
Our inner journey parallels this revelation! The smog created by an individual’s personality also obscures reality. Our view can be so filtered that we don’t experience what or who is here. We only have an idea of it, and that idea is often distorted or even wrong. When the personality has an exaggerated role and is running the show, it filters out contact with your own realness.
The Personality as It
Rather than perceive the personality as exactly who you are, it is helpful to see the personality as an it or as that. It is not right or wrong, good or bad. It has its uses, and you need some degree of it to function in the world.
However, your personality is not you. When you believe that it has the answer or when you allow it to completely define you, then it will continue to cause you suffering—and it will suffocate the deepest yearnings of your soul.
A Few Principles to Apply
* The Enneagram provides a system for you to see the characteristics and qualities you have historically identified with and how you have coped with life. Based on your particular Enneagram orientation, you’ll gain insight into how you make decisions, handle stress, and interact with others.
* Seeing how your particular Enneagram structure, or type, is expressed through you can be an astonishing experience.
* As you learn more about yourself, you may experience a range of emotions that might include embarrassment or even substantial relief.
* Be kind to yourself during this exploration! It is not unusual for that inner voice, often called the inner critic, to make itself heard, bringing with it all of its reasons for why this undertaking of increasing self-knowledge is completely wrong. So it is vital to bring as much tenderness and compassion to your journey as possible.
* Be curious. I have found that one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to approach this self-study from a perspective of being less certain about ourselves. This is not the same as doubting ourselves, but more of an orientation toward, “Hmmm…I wonder what this is about and what it could offer me?” With this perspective, you will discover that this curiosity is actually more connected to a sense of wonder!
* The Enneagram sheds light on the hidden motivations underlying the choices you’ve made in the past. With kind awareness into these insights, you may naturally notice that something in you begins to shift. It can be quite a relief to realize that those habits which no longer serve you can be relaxed over time and that other creative responses will be more available to you.
* You’ll have to take this one on faith: There is nothing in you that needs fixing! This is one of the most challenging of all the principles, because most of us live in cultures that focus on fixing or doing something to make us better.
* But it is that very act of trying to do something to ourselves that works against the real you being able to emerge. And there is nothing wrong with what is real in you. There is no fixing our way through this. But there are ways to work with what you discover.
A primary benefit of using the Enneagram is that it helps you see that you are so much more than you have taken yourself to be. As you continue to work with this body of wisdom, you will recognize that the Enneagram is a powerful orientation that helps you become present and to recognize that you are more precious, real, lovable, and courageous than you know.
A Map of Love
That’s why I call the Enneagram a Map of Love.
It speaks to the river that runs deep in the shared human experience with truth that is seldom spoken. It lets us know that we are not alone. It illuminates the places where we hurt and the exalted qualities where we shine. It explains and normalizes the inner polarities and allows us to knit our lives back together with real meaning.
It shows that every human being, regardless of their outward image, is on his or her own unique, but similar journey.
It invites us to awaken to a greater reality. And love is the nature of this reality.