The Enneagram as Practice

The enneagram of personality is a powerful means to self-discovery and self-acceptance.  The practice takes time and discipline to bear fruit, but is worth the effort it takes to learn.

I first became acquainted with the enneagram about three years ago at a seminar on spiral dynamics.  I asked the presenter whether focusing on the various memes wouldn’t lead to making comparisons of oneself with others, and hence to psychological dissonance.  She replied that such might indeed be the case with me, and that I would do well to be aware of it.

Her reply really pissed me off.  And try as I might, I couldn’t seem to shake this feeling of anger.  I tried breathing through it.  I tried to focus all my attention on what she was saying.  But still I was positively glowing with anger.

At the lunch break she was sitting at a table with an open seat, so I sat down across from her and told her of my reaction.  She asked me a few questions about myself, and then told me she thought I was a “4” on the enneagram.  Turns out fours are driven by envy, or rather a sense of inadequacy.  They focus on what is missing from their lives.

In spite of being aware of my jealousy since college, and thinking I’d overcome it, I immediately sensed the truth of what she was saying.  The anger went out of me like water from a flushed toilet.

I began to learn about the enneagram, and something called shadow work, coming to terms with the least desirable aspects of myself.

There’s a saying in psychology that goes something like this, “Whatever gets repressed gets expressed,” or “if you don’t express it, you project it.”

Shadow work begins with being aware of what’s going on in your body.  What emotion are you feeling and where is it in your body?  As you become aware of this you can move into it and accept it, “Oh yeah, I’m feeling jealous,” or “I’m feeling inadequate.”  And somehow that recognition and acknowledgement allows me to exhale.

That’s my ego’s defense mechanism engaging.  But that’s not me.  I am in that ineffable witness beyond labels that experiences these thoughts and feelings, and yet transcends them.

Blessed Are the Ordinary

Blessed are the ordinary, for they are accepted and complete in Jesus.

Does that raise your hackles?  Sounds like heresy doesn’t it?  “Good enough isn’t good enough!  Don’t settle for anything less than excellence!”  After all, this blog is supposed to be about practice right?  About getting better?

The work of the enneagram is embracing the shadow, the part of ourselves we wish to deny; the part we hide from the light, from the gaze of the other, from the eye of God.  The grace of God has redeemed the shadow, as well as the False Self, the mask we forge to face the world.  By grace we are saved through faith into a single whole, our genuine self, an ordinary person.

Accepting who I am, the “bad” with the “good,” has been the most blessed and powerful experience God has ever given to me – the blessing of being ordinary.

The greatest gift God has given me is the gift of self-acceptance.  If everything I do has to be extraordinary, then nothing I do is good enough.  If nothing I do is good enough, then I must be a bad person; a fig tree that bears no fruit, fit only to be cast into the fire.

It’s hard to practice when I’m plagued by those kinds of thoughts.

We don’t despise a bouquet of roses because they look like every other.  We accept them gratefully as beautiful.

The odd thing is that being ordinary allows me to write, allows me to meditate, and allows me to practice.  If I am accepted and complete in Jesus, then I can gratefully bear the fruit God has given me knowing it is enough.

Shaming children who fall short of the 10,000 hour rule may be the road to greatness, but it is not the road to blessedness.  Enjoy the work of your hands, and with it bless the world, even when it’s only ordinary.

The Problem of Envy

For most of my life, I’ve had a negative affect.  I’m not sure how I got there, but by the time I went to college my world was painted black.

Ironically, I knew I was blessed.  But I felt like my own inadequacies outweighed any number of blessings in my life.  I was so focused on what was missing that I couldn’t see what was present.

Then maybe five years ago, a friend of mine and I went to a weekend workshop on Spiral Dynamics.  During the course of the presentation, I made a comment on the dangers of comparing ourselves with others, and how Spiral Dynamics invited such comparisons.  The presenter said something like, ‘That may be a problem for you, and it’s good that you are aware of it.’

For some reason her comment really pissed me off.  I tried focusing on my breath, tried to listen to what she was saying, but I could not shake my feeling of anger.

I sat by her during lunch, and explained to her what I was feeling and why.  She told me I was a four, and was motivated by envy which was the source of my anger.  Huh?

She went on to explain a little about the enneagram, which is a model of human personality types.  The enneagram is a nine pointed star, and each point represents a type, the fourth point or type having the vice or passion of envy.

Now the Enneagram of Personality is beyond the scope of this post.  The point here is that I knew she was right.

Jealousy was a passion I had struggled with in my youth that I thought I had overcome as an adult.  But what I didn’t realize was that those feelings of inadequacy were another manifestation of envy, or the fixation I had of comparing me with others.

That epiphany led to what has been a sea change for me which I will explain in the next post.