Thursday, February 15, 2024

We Can Be Our Many Selves

After more than thirty years as an Enneagram author and coach, my awareness of the Enneagram's meaning and purpose has shifted substantially, triggered by my own and by clients' transformational experiences.

I'm concerned that we've all contributed to identifying exclusively with a "number" or "point," with countless enthusiasts losing sight of the Enneagram's intended spiritual purpose. In Cynthia Bourgeault's The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three she writes: 

"The enneagram of personality has captured the popular imagination, that’s for sure. And you have to admit that there is something brilliant and even damnably strategic in its design. Using that classic ego bait—“let me learn my type, some interesting new thing about me”—it draws people in, only to put in their hands basic tools for self-observation and nonidentification. . . Progressing enneagram students rapidly develop the capacity to see that they are in fact not their type; it is simply an impersonal, mechanical pattern that plays out within them" (p 58).

Russ Hudson has said, "The Enneagram doesn't put us in a box. It shows us the box we're in and how to get out of it " His conversation with A.H. Almaas in the video "The Transformational Power of the Enneagram" speaks to this, as does Vivianna Trucco's interview with Michael Goldberg, "The Lines are the Basic Building Blocks of the Enneagram, Not the Points."

An Enneagram line is an archetype, a collection of themes . . . meant to be engaged, participated in, wrestled with . . . the enneagram number . . . remains part of a line, part of an ongoing story . . . We have choices. We can be our many selves. Our lives have meaning because we are consciously living a dynamic story . . . When someone becomes fixated, stuck, the storytelling stops. We pretend that the line does not exist for us, only our "point." there is no living story, just a stagnant point of view. Only one end of the archetype is heard from, only one part of the discussion is allowed a voice. This is the fixation.

The work of the enneagram is to bring the story back to life . . .Working to "evolve" your fixation is, in an American idiom, like putting make-up on a corpse . . . Evolving within your point is the fantasy of the Ego. This is why they are called "ego fixations . . ."  The real work with the enneagram is undermining/deconstructing the fixation, not building it up, not "evolving" it. And the way that you do that is flesh out the forgotten story, so as to avoid being stuck on automatic.

Among the initial influences that far too few people are aware of, William Patrick Patterson studied with Lord John Pentland, appointed by Gurdjieff to head his Work in America. In the Prologue to his spiritual autobiography Eating the "I," Patterson writes:

"What I have tried to depict here is what it is like to voluntarily and intentionally undergo the unorthodox and uncompromising spiritual discipline of The Fourth Way. It is written as narrative because that is how I view it--as story. The account necessarily is personal, the perspective is not. The story is the outer trapping. Deeper is an introduction to an ancient teaching of self-transformation bridled and supported within its nine-chapter architecture."

Surely everyone learning about the Enneagram has at least heard the name "Gurdjieff," but I suspect very few are familiar with his works in detail, and may find it easier--as I did--to learn about it through Patterson's experiences and growing understanding:

"The idea that really grabbed me was that each person has no real individual I but is made up of many 'I's . . . Gurdjieff said everything was not to be believed but to be verified by one's own observed experience. To verify one had to first self-remember . . . dividing the attention between body and mind, inner and outer. One part of the attention experiences the body, while the other is aware of the mind and its impressions. This creates a kind of 'double attention.' (p. 17, Eating the "I")

In Patterson's book, Taking with the Left Hand (p. 10) he says Gurdjieff knew that counter currents could deflect from the sacred teaching's original impulse, and details the "anticipated deflections and distortions" of "the Enneagram craze," in which Ennea-typers "have stripped the enneagram, a principal symbol of the Fourth Way, from Gurdjieff's teaching and used it as a secular personality tool."

My point in quoting the above sources is not to discredit any Enneagram authors or teachers but to share that I'm not alone in my concerns about overemphasizing the nine personality "types" and losing the Enneagram's spiritual wholeness, and many others are now offering suggestions for a more wholistic focus. In "Praise for Keys to the Enneagram" Jessica Dibb describes the "growing realization among some of us who teach the Enneagram for awakening that the transformational power of working with all nine fixations and journeying on all nine paths of essential qualities is paramount."

In Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type), A.H. Almaas writes:-

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves   using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." 

To open your thinking about this, I encourage experimenting with different ways to think of patterns or propensities instead of types. In the 11-month experiential approach to Keys to the Enneagram 2022-2023, Russ Hudson and Sandra Maitri modelled this. During the weekend on point Six, for example, instead of denoting someone as "a 6," Russ referred to "the Six part of us" and Sandra spoke of "the Six sector of our own personality." Remember that the Enneagram's purpose is to show us ways to become more present (nine "gateways" to presence, as described by Russ in this Sounds True interview).

As I continue to absorb the teachings and experience revelations from having participated in the Keys to the Enneagram course, I am also rethinking stories from my own life and those of my clients over the years, reflecting on--in Michael Goldberg's words--"undermining and deconstructing" all nine fixations in ourselves. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Om

To a yogi, no symbol is more powerful than the syllable OM, as witnessed by these words from the Mandukya Upanishad:
OM: this eternal word is all what was,
what is and what shall be.
In the Sanskrit letter the long lower curve represents the dream state, the upper curve stands for the waking state and the curve issuing from the center symbolizes deep, dreamless sleep. 

The crescent shape stands for Maya, the veil of illusion, and the dot for the transcendental state. When our individual spirit passes through the veil and rests in the transcendental, we are liberated from the three states and their qualities.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Tick-Tock

Having learned about the Enneagram soon after I started my consulting business in 1988, I was entranced by how much light it shed on my own personality, and with the best intentions, taught it to my business clients for ten years, shifting over in the following two decades to an Enneagram coaching practice, often mentoring other coaches who were using the Enneagram with their clients. 

The nine points on the Enneagram are so intuitively known, such familiar habits of human nature that my clients saw themselves and others immediately, just as I had. I taught business teams to interact more intelligently and compassionately without initially referring to anything formal--gradually building the visual Enneagram on a blackboard, drawing only from their experiences of themselves and others,

  • asking each to think of someone they'd strongly disliked and someone they'd especially liked, then to write down as many behaviors for each as they could remember;
  • drawing a circle on the board, going around the room asking each person to describe the qualities they'd listed and write down key words at the nine points of the circle;
  • after all had spoken, adding the word "Enneagram" above and noting a reasonably accurate description of points 1 through 9, participants feeling immediately at home with their own common sense of a personality model they'd never heard of and might otherwise have thought too foreign or complex or un-businesslike.

It's also natural that I and my clients wanted to organize and categorize further, including a desire to pick a number for ourselves, even though we'd seen ourselves at various times showing many of both positive and negative characteristics of all nine.

From that point on, however, because I and others had been so rigorously trained in mechanistic thinking, we focused on answering "What exactly is MY number?" "How exactly does this work?" "How does my number interact with your number and how does that affect our working together?" "What behaviors do we need to change to be a more effective team/marriage/ partnership?" "If we move along the lines, exactly how do we do that? In what direction, exactly? How exactly does that show up? How exactly can we make that happen?"

In particular, I added my training in MRI therapeutic techniques and co-authored a how-to book, Out of the Box Coaching with the Enneagram. At that time, "out of the box" meant out of the box of your number's worst traits, although through the years I moved away from business settings, working privately with individuals and other coaches, focusing more and more on meditation, present-centeredness, and the transformative aspects of the Enneagram,

However, as have most of us since Isaac Newton imagined our universe as a hermetically sealed clock, I was trained to look for specific causes and specific effects, leading me to create endless concrete descriptions and how-to steps for knowing one's number and transforming within that number, releasing that number's fixation, and even seeing how the connecting lines showed changes in points related to ours.

What I didn't fully realize until the past few years was how I was encouraging too fixed a view of Enneagram styles, by sifting observations for evidence of a particular number, my clients and I feeling a bit uneasy if more than one point on the Enneagram felt like a fit, looking for steps to overcome the negative aspects of a number, and (tick-tock, tick-tock) quickly losing the original, underlying spiritual intent of this beautiful model:

To observe and release ourselves when stuck (fixated) at any of the nine points that separate us from Essence, perhaps observing one of them more of the time, though (if open to seeing) all of them some of the time.

 

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Key is in Your Hand

The devil and a friend were walking down the street, when they saw a man stoop to pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket.

    The friend said to the devil, "What did that man pick up?"
    "He picked up a piece of the truth," said the devil.
    "That's a very bad business for you, then," said his friend.
    "Not at all," the devil replied, "I'm going to help him organize it."

This was a favorite story of Jiddu Krishnamurti, fondly remembered as "K" by community members of the Krishnamurti Centre in England, where I worked and studied for two weeks in May, 2012.

K maintained that "Truth, being limitless . . . unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized, nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path."

Imagine the paradox Krishnamurti then faced: trying to teach the unteachable. He came to this pathless path years after being "discovered" in adolescence by leaders of the Theosophical Society and groomed to be the World Leader of what later became the Order of the Star.

After experiencing his own process, a state of clarity I would call presence, he realized he could only embody the teaching by not being a leader. His proclamation met with dismay within the Order, but to me is the ultimate example of walking the talk:

"I do not know how many thousands throughout the world--members of the Order--have been preparing for me for eighteen years, and yet now they are not willing to listen unconditionally, wholly, to what I say . . . You use a typewriter to write letters, but you do not put it on an altar and worship it." (K was proclaimed leader in 1912 and disbanded the Order in 1929).

Krishnamurti frequently claimed that the great religious teachers had come not to found religions but to destroy them, and throughout his life he asked questions of his audience to lead them toward discovering the path within themselves:

"In oneself lies the whole world and if you know how to look and learn, the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give either the key or the door to open, except yourself." 

So, of course I've recalled this story about Krishnamurti in the context of getting to know your many selves. With all the best intentions, we have taken a spiritual system--the Enneagram--and filled it with rules and discrete definitions that separate the parts from the whole. Its transformational power cannot be found along rigidly defined paths. 

Instead, I ask you to gently step back from your "number" as separate from the others. Open to the possibility that even theories about directionality of the arrows, while they may hold some partial truth, are limiting in a system that holds "the whole world." Step back from being in one place only. Begin to search for yourself within the whole. 

". . . greater spiritual development and openness requires accessing all nine keys since ego is composed of all the fixations and their delusions, even though one of them predominates." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram, p. 10 

 

Monday, September 12, 2022

Enneagram Point One Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type

The driving force at point One is anger; typically over-controlled until it erupts as resentment when someone has failed expectations; moral tirades; yet also a "running amok" side that allows escape from one's own high standards.

When boxed in at point One, we are perfectionists, with an internal judging voice that chastises self or others for falling short of perfection (preaching).

When still at point One but more self-observing, we can be wise, tolerant, balanced, focused on standards of excellence in ways that provide an exemplary vision for others.

Typical Comments

"I know I'm right, why should I have to compromise?" "I'm my own worst critic." "My whole career, I've been brought in to fix things." "My message as a kid was always, 'You can do better."  

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the One Fixation: 

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point One include:
  • allowing ourselves to be wrong by staying present when criticized, learning how to respond non-defensively,
  • noticing when angry toward others and owning/channeling anger more effectively, 
  • observing instances of black-and-white thinking and looking for nuance, shifting to positive reframing and creative problem-solving, 
  • listening for "preaching" of our opinions and instead sharing them in a more interactive mode,
  • approaching circumstances that don't conform to our ideals by finding ways to be more flexible,
  • allowing ourselves to let go of crossing every "t" and dotting every "i," 
  • celebrating evidence of patience and what Almaas calls brilliancy--"powerful for gaining synthesizing insights from many dimensions because it brings us a capacity for synthesis" (p. 78).
 

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Enneagram Point Two Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Two is pride, which is attached to a self-image as helperWhen boxed in at point Two, we need to be in the middle of things, giving help and advice whether others want it or not. There is a sense of entitlement and use of manipulation to influence others. If feeling betrayed at Two, one may even become vindictive. 

When more self-observing at this point, we are aware of personal needs, providing balance, allowing us to give freely, without expectation of return. We are interpersonally oriented, unconditionally caring, deriving deep satisfaction from seeing and encouraging others' development. 

Typical Comments: 

"I think it's important to always focus on what we need to be doing to serve others." "Was that helpful?" "Of all the people in the organization the President could have called, he called me."  "Both of my parents were alcoholics, and I took care of them from a very early age."

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Two Fixation: 

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Two:
  • notice when focusing over-much on the other and acknowledge our own needs,
  • observe ways we contribute to our own workload and say no,
  • set clear boundaries with everything that might be asked of us instead of automatically trying to please another,
  • observe subtle and/or manipulative methods to get what we want and, instead, ask for what we want more openly, 
  • look for evidence of pride, stay with and learn from it without acting with pride as our base,
  • notice when "strings" are attached to our affection and releasing the strings,
  • rejoicing in true feelings of compassion (which has no expectation),
  • celebrating evidence of humility.

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Enneagram Point Three Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Three is vanity, which shows up as self-deception (e.g., convincing ourselves that not involving or crediting others is unimportant because of the results we achieve).

When boxed in at point Three, we personify image-making, self-promoting and showcasing ourselves even at the expense of others. Looking outward for our reflection in others' eyes can diminish our inner life. 

When still at point Three but more self-observing, we can be expansive go-getters, efficient and goal-oriented, ensuring high productivity, rising to the top in sports, organizations, or any other focused endeavor.

Typical Comments:

"I like seeing success breed upon success." "I've always been successful." "I have a shelf full of empty trophies." "I got pats on the back for doing well in school, and my parents made it clear what would be approved of." 

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Three Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Three include:
  • noticing even subtle competitiveness in ourselves, 
  • learning how to collaborate,
  • when aware of seeking external validation, clarify our own values/develop internal criteria,
  • allow/learn from failure, 
  • access feelings
  • speak from the essential self without calculating how others will respond, 
  • engage the whole team or community, 
  • celebrate evidence of authenticity.
 

Friday, September 9, 2022

Enneagram Point Four Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Four is envy, which shows up in dissatisfaction, a perception that "the grass is always greener somewhere else."

More in touch with feelings at point Four, in general, when boxed in we are in danger of sinking into moodiness if met with resistance to our ideas. While it's characteristic here to "look outside the box," seeing things others can't see may also leave us wondering why we're different, and even to question if we're flawed.

When more self-observing at point Four, we're able to view things from a new slant and aren't bound by tradition or outdated assumptions. 
 
Typical Comments:

"People call me because they know I'll come at things from a totally different angle." "I buy into the 'vale of tears' theory of life." "I seem to feel things more deeply than others." "I always felt like an outsider as a child."

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Four Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away. 

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Four include:
  • noticing when focused on tragedy and shifting focus to strengths and resources, 
  • learning to develop the possibilities of our current work, 
  • shifting our mood through physical exercise or creative outlets, 
  • reframing self-criticism in more positive ways, 
  • championing a program or process we believe in and appreciating every sign of effectiveness in the external world, 
  • living fully in the present moment, 
  • celebrating evidence of equanimity.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Enneagram Point Five Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Five is hoarding, which shows up particularly as a detachment from emotions, a "stinginess" of feelings. 

When boxed in at point Five, we may sound as if we're giving a dissertation or seem disdainful of emotions, even if profound and passionate in debate. We're very independent here, preferring to be surrounded by highly capable people who need no direction or external reinforcement. 

When still at point Five but more self-observing, we are able to take in the whole picture and integrate its components in creative ways, strategizing, envisioning possibilities, and influencing others through our knowledge. 

Typical Comments:

"I have a really deep knowledge of this industry." "I hate having group meetings because they're generally a waste of time." "I have a good mind and I'm pretty perceptive." "I was a loner as a kid--I read a lot." 
 
Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Five Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Five include:
  • noticing when debating--then probing/listening more, 
  • seeking mutually satisfying solutions, 
  • being active in our role as coach or mentor or parent
  • giving attention to group process (meetings, teamwork, family gatherings), 
  • affirming others' positive efforts, 
  • acting on our thoughts/willingly sharing our knowledge, 
  • being more generous with our energy, allowing it to flow outward toward others, 
  • celebrating evidence of caring without feeling confined (nonattachment),

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Enneagram Point Six Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type

When boxed in at point Six, the driving force of fear can manifest in accusing others (particularly those in authority), looking for hidden agendas, and self-doubt. We may procrastinate and/or blurt out feelings with a kind of reckless courage (driven by anxiety), and then worry we've shot ourselves in the foot ̶ as may be the case. 

When still at point Six but more self-observing, we're highly family-oriented in personal life and team-oriented at work, energetic, attending to interdependent needs, using group-oriented language, challenging in ways that hold others accountable, bringing out the best in everyone.

Typical Comments:

"I've been loyal to this group for 25 years." "I don't think we have very competent senior management." "I wish we could work better as a team." "All my life, I've questioned my own ability." 

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Six Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Six include:
  • observing our fears and getting a reality check, 
  • noticing when blaming others and finding ways to empower ourselves, 
  • shifting to possibilities when aware of feeling worried, 
  • noticing scattered thoughts and centering to clarify a central idea and key points, 
  • admitting how we contribute to situations instead of looking for blame elsewhere, 
  • celebrating evidence of courage to act on our own convictions even when we're hesitant or afraid.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Enneagram Point Seven Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations-their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Seven is gluttony, a seeking of pleasure to avoid pain; consequently, we can be over-focused on enthusiasm and engaged in uneasy activity, refusing to consider anything but "good news."

When boxed in at point Seven, we can seem egotistical, telling anecdotes and forgetting to invite others to talk. With only a positive focus we can be perceived as lacking analytical ability, oversimplifying or skating over the surface. 

When still at point Seven but more self-observing, we can be charming and easy to talk to, optimistic, a cheerleader of others, optimistic, focused on long-term perspective and possibilities, seeking equality and able to work around situational constraints. 

Typical Comments:

"I always see the bright side of things." "I've found that if you understand a few basic principles, you can run just about anything." "I'm always the one to figure out what we'll do for fun." 

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Seven Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Seven include:
  • honoring our vision while also countering excessive optimism with possible downsides,
  • exploring and planning for potential problems and well as possibilities, 
  • eliciting and accepting balanced feedback about ourselves (the whole picture, not just the positives), 
  • disciplining ourselves to follow through with what we perceive as hard work (including our own development), 
  • celebrating signs of realistic enthusiasm.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Enneagram Point Eight Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Eight is lust/excess: feeling a responsibility to intervene in and direct situations, pursuing power and control aggressively. There's a value for justice--as self-defined--and we can take a bull-in-the-china-shop approach, speaking in imperatives, pushing our own way forward. 

When boxed in at point Eight, we can be power mongers or tyrants because it's difficult to acknowledge any vulnerability. 

When still at point Eight but more self-observing, we're able to shoulder huge responsibility without having to control everything. Right beneath the surface is a soft heart. When this is tempered with point Eight's self-confidence, one can truly move mountains. 

Typical Comments:

"I've always been very responsible."  "I have a hard time asking for help -- I'll just charge ahead and do it myself." "I can't think of a time when I was afraid." "I had to grow up fast." 

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Eight Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Eight include:

  • enhancing our ability to ourselves in others' shoes, 
  • collaborative negotiation and active listening skills, 
  • respecting and mentoring others
  • becoming more compassionate and just, 
  • shifting to more altruistic and benign modes of operating, 
  • focusing on service to the world, we are compassionate and just

Saturday, September 3, 2022

Enneagram Point Nine Patterns

"Even though one type will dominate as we begin studying ourselves using the tool of the Enneagram, all the fixations are present in every ego. . . if we are genuinely interested in spiritual learning and liberation though the Enneagram, we need to study all the fixations--their cores and their shells--as they manifest in our lives." A.H. Almaas, Keys to the Enneagram: How to Unlock the Highest Potential of Every Personality Type
 
The driving force at point Nine is indolence--not laziness in the usual sense (we can be very hard workers) but out of touch with our own wishes, self-forgetting. Though typically hesitant to speak, once started we may tell epic tales (holding so many alternative views it's hard to focus). 

When boxed in at point Nine, we tend to merge with others' preferences and forget our own. Operating from a non-aggressive stance and seeing all sides of an issue makes it difficult to come to a conclusion or take a strong position.

When still at point Nine but more self-observing, we are serene and centered, bringing cooperation to any relationship or group, highly capable of dealing with others' problems and building consensus, with a natural tendency to honor diversity and get along with almost anyone. 

Typical Comments:

"I'm pretty easy-going. My career just kind of fell together, and in a very nice way." "I have CRS disease -- Can't Remember Shit!" "I try to pick the right moment to speak up in a meeting." "I didn't cause much trouble for my parents." 

Engaging the Observing Self and Releasing the Nine Fixation:

It's important that we learn to see our patterns as they emerge, without judgment, to notice and accept as they come and go without shame or denial or trying to shut them down, to see how the fixed personality reactions show up and choose different behaviors. From this Observing Self we'll begin to see the patterns loosening and dropping away.

Within that context, some actions that my clients and I have found helpful at point Nine include:
  • recognizing passive-aggressive behavior and becoming more assertive, 
  • setting priorities/sticking to them, 
  • initiating change, 
  • learning to speak up/confront others
  • we become actively engaged--more focused, initiating, inclusive, yet staying focused on our own purpose -- without distraction, embracing the conflict that is a necessary part of human interaction. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Living Ourselves Into New Ways of Thinking

We stand in the middle, living and fully accepting our reality, neither taking this new awareness on from the power position nor denying it for fear of the pain it will bring. We do not think ourselves into new ways of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.  Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

We've all had peak experiences, times when we were washed with a sense of clarity, of deep appreciation, of being at one with the universe. Perhaps you were watching the sunset from a sailboat, or feeling unconditional love from someone who matters to you, or being present at the birth of a child, or hearing a piece of music that touched you deeply. 

This awareness need not be serendipitous. You can invite it.

Fr. Rohr suggests that when trapped in "the ways things are" we have to allow ourselves to be drawn into sacred space, to remain on a threshold where the old world is left behind but we're not sure of the new one yet. In this realm, where we hold a naïve awareness, everything belongs: darkness and light coexist, paradox is revealed.

In our everyday world, what we think we know is a world we've made up. In what Rohr calls the "second naïveté," that everyday world falls apart and a new one is revealed. In this return to simple consciousness (beginner's mind), "we are finally at home in the only world that ever existed." 

Many years ago, I was entranced by the film Little Buddha, about a boy who might be the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan teacher. The acting was reserved and there wasn't much action or character development. Why it so appealing to me? Probably because it spoke to my attraction to Buddhism. 

While there's certainly merit to the peaceful aspects of my nature, it has also contained a fixated aspect--the tendency to avoid conflict. It took me many years to learn to face into problems, the only path to real relationship. When we remember to be present with naïve awareness, with beginner's mind, we can live ourselves into new ways of thinking.

 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

I believe that the story of fixation, the story of ego identity, is actually true – on the level of fixation . . . Most of us spend our whole life either trying to get rid of the story, and/or striving to live our story in the best possible way. No matter what we do we are looking through the lens of our fixation, trying to fix the fixation with the fixation. Lissa Friedman, “From Fixation to Freedom,” Enneagram Monthly, May 2009.

I just love my ego, don’t you? We get along so well together. And what a relationship! It’s been life-long, predictable, we’re safe—more or less. OK, fine, we get angry, we feel hurt, we challenge our constraints but, oh, the seduction of familiarity. As helpful as the Enneagram can be, we’ve all experienced personally and with our clients the tenacity of those familiar patterns. And typical of any long-standing relationship, breaking up is difficult — no matter how strong the desire to end it. As Lissa wrote, 

There seems to be a point we all get to when we have done enough spiritual and/or psychological work; where we realize the work we have done has failed. We are still living within the story of our ego. It may have loosened, become less painful, but it is still doing its dance.

Clarence Thomson and I emphasized for years the importance of going beyond first-order change (e.g., coaching someone fixated at point Nine to be more assertive doesn’t address an underlying pattern of avoiding conflict); worse, that coaches can unwittingly reinforce a pattern (e.g., responding to a request for structure by outlining exactly what to do simply reinforces the pattern of following someone else’s agenda). 

I’ve coached many clients to observe how their patterns operate and to loosen those patterns, but I must admit that for them (and for me) the ego has still seemed to be doing its dance. As someone described in Lissa’s article cited above, I can now attest that there is a way to free yourself at a deep level, by uncovering your fundamental story and accessing the belief that the story is true: 

. . . we stop and look it directly in the face, and acknowledge its truth, its reality . . . When the core of the ego story dissolves, the central theme of being is gone. It is like the center of identity has been removed. There is nothing for the fixation or ego to form around. There is no sense of resolution, of the issues, or the painful experience. It is just that the issues no longer exist. The basic core question no longer makes sense. 

The workshop Lissa described in her article was born when she despaired one day of ever having her needs met, then realized that was her story — she would never get her needs met and any effort to meet her needs would still be within the story. When she surrendered “completely into the heart of the pattern,” she wrote, “I couldn’t find the issues that had been so devastatingly disturbing; the story was gone. It seemed to have never been true.” As she described to me later in conversation, Lissa began to experience that sometimes her needs were met, sometimes not, but whether or not they were met was no longer an issue.

So, for weeks before her workshop, I held the intention to experience what’s purported to be a fundamental belief at point Nine: 

I am inferior, and being nice will not make me good or deserve to exist. I cannot avoid the reality of this awful feeling by not engaging life. 

Though I’d never consciously felt inferior, I was willing to give it a go, and for the first week or so began to notice how that story kept me from engaging fully. As a small example, I became aware of how fast I tended to read, even when reading fiction or poetry for pleasure. I heard, as if magically radioed in from my past, Mary is such a good girl. She does exactly what she’s told and she does it quickly. I remembered being praised for how many books I could read in a week. That expanded to memories of being praised at work for how quickly I completed projects. I had the insight that this was designed to feed my story: If I do things quickly, people will praise me, I’ll feel worthwhile, and this proves I have to keep doing things quickly so I’ll know I’m worthwhile.

But I didn’t experience the belief, it was still an idea. This continued up through and past being interviewed and taped during the workshop—interesting insights, a deeper level of awareness, less defensiveness, a new perspective on coaching clients by looking for their fundamental stories, and an exchange with Carolyn Bartlett about Coherence Therapy (or Brief Deep Therapy):

How, in this person’s world of meaning, is the presenting problem cogently and compellingly necessary to have, even with the suffering or trouble it brings? The therapist keeps prompting the client to zero in on the emotional truth of the symptom—specific, unconscious personal themes, knowings and purposes that, in one way or another, powerfully and passionately require having the presenting symptom, even though consciously the client wants so much not to have it.

I had the sense that Lissa was onto something more, not refuting the story (a “disconfirming juxtaposition” in Coherence Therapy terminology), but fully surrendering into the story, believing it. Still, I hadn’t yet experienced the truth of my story.

Several weeks after the workshop, I received the DVD of Lissa interviewing me, eagerly turned it on, and BOOM! I saw myself as fat, old, and BLAND. 

Those of you settled to any degree among the gut types will know what I mean when I say it was a body blow. I was completely crushed. I could not identify with that woman on the screen. For a full day my ego danced around looking for ways to accept the external evidence that contradicted my self-image: “Surely there’s something I can do to prove I have value.” I read about strategies for embracing growing old. I considered following the path of aging boomer artists Alice and Richard Matzkin (The Art of Aging: Celebrating the Authentic Aging Self) and painting a self-portrait, warts and all — still feeding the story by trying to refute it: “I am worthwhile! I am worthwhile!”

Then, on the second day, I experienced the fundamental story. I am worthless. I fully believed this, felt it down to my bones, my heart full of deep shame, and I knew it to be true. It was real and it was horrible.

On the third day, I fell through. The phrase fell through is inadequate to capture the experience, but as Lissa acknowledged in her article:

Ultimately what I am trying to describe cannot be described in words, and cannot be understood by our minds.

What I can tell you is that when I subsequently viewed the DVD of my interview, I felt compassion and even delight, a feeling akin to “Oh, so that’s the body and those are the mannerisms my soul is riding in at the moment.” 

I’m not saying I’m transformed. In the immortal words of Michael in Stranger in a Strange Land, “I am just an egg.” But I am seeing a significant difference in how momentary defensiveness dissolves quickly — and in a way that’s very different from tamping down my feelings — a sensation of lightness, of each molecule breathing.

Lissa’s DVDs show a full hour interview of each Enneagram point in a workshop format, including responses to audience questions. Lissa chose people to interview who are older and have worked on themselves for many years, her questions designed to guide them through their lives. When they talk about their earlier lives, you’ll hear a more fixated expression of their patterns. As they review their life paths, you’ll see the evolution of their patterns and the unique journey of each toward freedom.

And you’ll see me looking kind of chubby, no longer young, and — yes — kind of mild in my self-presentation.

One Day at a Time

In AA the concept “one day at a time” means much more than “I won’t take a drink for the next 24 hours.” Gradually the intention to live one day at a time evolves into the intention to live as if you only have this one day. Behind all our attempts to change lies one fundamental truth—if we live one day at a time, if we are fully present, our habitual reactions to the world can no longer play out automatically.

The following example shows how greater self-awareness can move us from hearing only what we’re used to hearing within our fixation:

Jane, a widow, is in love with Bob, who’s sweet to her and helpful with her son and daughter. He supports Jane’s parenting approach and also engages her two teenagers in activities that take the burden of full responsibility from her shoulders. 

Bob has been single for some time and his sisters in a large family have come to depend on him for help with repairs and other problems. One weekend, Jane and Bob carve out two hours alone together. Just as they’re starting out on a long walk, Bob’s cell phone rings with a desperate call from his sister Maggie that her heat is off and she’s freezing.  

  1. Although Jane agrees to go with Bob to help Maggie, she thinks, This was supposed to be our time together. He has all these other demands on him. There will never be enough time for me
  2. Her Observer notes the habitual thought and she stays open, asking Bob for more details. He describes Maggie’s desperate financial straits and says he’d like to check in quickly, have Jane meet Maggie, and then he and Jane can continue their walk. 
  3. They reach his sister’s small house and, while Bob checks on the heating problem, Jane talks with Maggie, still aware of What about me? thoughts but continuing to stay open. She notices how affectionately Bob and his sister treat each other, finds herself empathizing with both of them, and realizes Bob’s behavior with Maggie comes from the same fountain of compassion he shows Jane and her children.
  4. She shifts to a different sense of identity–I am not my pattern–and its hold on her is released.

Mindfulness in everyday life strengthens the Observer and continues to build our awareness of habitual thoughts. One approach to staying open (and gradually releasing a fixation) is explained in Otto Scharmer’s Theory U, which differentiates among four levels of listening:  

Listening 1 (from habits)—habits of judgment that lead to reconfirming old opinions and judgments;  
Listening 2 (from outside)—factual listening and noticing differences that lead to new data;
Listening 3 (from within)—empathic listening that leads to seeing through another’s eyes and emotional connection;  
Listening 4 (from Source)—generative listening that connects us with an emerging future and shifts our identity/self.

Jane wasn’t thinking of theory in her interaction with Bob and Maggie; she was simply observing without judgment where her habitual thoughts were leading her and stayed open:

  1. Listening from habit: “This was supposed to be our time together. He has all these other demands on him. There will never be enough time for me.” 
  2. Listening from outside (her Observer): She sees the habitual thought and stays open, asking Bob for more details. (He describes Maggie’s desperate financial straits and says he’d like to check in quickly, have Jane meet Maggie, and then he and Jane can continue their walk.) 
  3. Listening from within: Jane continues to stay open. She experiences Bob’s affection with his sister as the same quality of compassion he shows her and her children. 
  4. Listening from Source: Jane sees that her initial, habitual reaction came from a patterned belief, "There will never be enough for me." Its hold on her is released for this moment.

When we practice mindfulness this way, there will be many repetitions because our habits of thinking are deeply rooted. As with meditation, each time we become aware that our focus has shifted back to a little “I”, we release judgment (Ah, still there. . . hello. . . goodbye again. . .) and stay open.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Breathe In, Breathe Out

In the 1984 film, The Karate Kid, a teen-aged boy who came to his teacher's home to learn karate was at first given only menial tasks:

Wax these cars—wax on with right hand, off with left hand, breathe in, breathe out. Sand this deck—right hand in circle, left hand in circle, breathe in, breathe out. Paint fence—wrist up, wrist down, right hand, left hand. Paint house—side to side, right hand, left hand.

Finally, the boy exploded: "You're supposed to be teaching me, but for four days I've been busting my ass and I haven't learned a goddam thing!"       

"You learn plenty," said the teacher, and as the boy started to storm off, commanded him to return. "Look into my eyes. Show me 'sand floor,' he commanded, and as the boy reluctantly made the circles with his right and then left hand, the teacher threw punches that were blocked by the boy's sweeping hands.   

"Show me 'wax on, wax off,' show me 'paint the fence,' show me 'paint the house.'" As the boy made these deeply practiced and now spontaneous movements, the teacher demonstrated how each had its place in karate. When the lesson was completed, without a word of explanation, the teacher bowed.

Like the Karate Kid, I didn't "get" it during the first few days of an Enneagram workshop with Claudio Naranjo thirty years ago. I’d come with the expectation that I’d be taught the steps to transformation, have my questions answered, and overcome the faults of my personality style. 

Why is he spending so much time on these meditation and relationship exercises, these visualizations, I ranted to myself. These have nothing to do with the Enneagram! When is he going to start teaching?

"Close your eyes," said Naranjo, "breathe in, breathe out. Imagine a holy light shining down through the top of your head and filling your whole body with love. Now, open your eyes and look at your partner. Do not speak. Breathe in, breathe out, and let this light shine through you to your partner. Do not respond when it is your partner's turn to speak, do not judge, simply be present with this person and with the light."

And thus, the workshop continued. These simple exercises deepened our understanding of how our habitual responses become engaged, the nature of our unconscious pay-offs for maintaining the status quo, how we stop ourselves from disclosing private thoughts because we have an image to maintain or because we fear the discomfort such disclosure might bring, how we project our shortcomings onto others (especially in close relationships). 

In those days, it was so easy for me to criticize events structured by others and so difficult for me to find myself. I saw how I’d been captive to several key patterns--difficulty knowing what I wanted, looking for others to provide a structure and through that structure discovering what I didn't want. I expected to be told how to remember myself. I didn't yet know I was remembering myself, that these experiences would reflect my self to me.

Everywhere All of the Time

 During my years of Enneagram coaching, new clients whose habits of attention landed mostly at point 4 were typically surprised when I said how lucky they were to see things that others couldn't see, to be in touch with their deepest emotions, to have a unique appreciation for beauty.

In addition to simply reframing, I was noting that the up-sides of point 4 are typically paid less attention than feelings. Emotional pain quite literally hurts, and makes it difficult to broaden our focus to what else is going on our world. In this way, point 4 shows us how all habits of attention tend to limit our perspective--we only see what we're used to seeing. 

So it's a good practice to to notice any "one note" that's ringing in our heads and ask "What else?" Whatever your typical point of fixation, identify what type of music your thoughts would be if they were musical? Then imagine yourself at each of the other eight points and listen for the music there. Is it a somber tone? A happy tune? A strong chord? A simple melody? Playful notes? Forget what you've learned about any given point, just listen to what themes are playing for you when you imagine yourself there.

Now imagine placing yourself physically at each point and allow in the sensations. Are you standing at attention with a bit of rigidity in your spine? Relaxed in an easy chair? Dancing? Chained to the Gates of Hell?

Now bring in the emotional aspect of all points. Notice the emotions at your most typical point of fixation--deeply breathe, allowing in. Breathe it in slowly and deeply, breathe it out slowly, allowing yourself to experience it fully. Now move around the Enneagram, slowly breathing in your emotions that arise at each point.

Over time, you will develop ease with being anywhere on the Enneagram, any time. When your Observer notes you've been obsessing over something, or your emotions are welling up, or you're physically overwhelmed, step back into that completely nonjudgmental place, see  how it's connected to one of the nine points, even if not the place you typically identify with, let it in. Feel it. Sense it. Know it.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Intuition: Paying Attention to Your Inner Voice

Even when we're not at a fork in the road, wondering what to do and trying to hear that inner voice, our intuition is always there, always reading the situation, always trying to steer us the right way. But can we hear it? Are we paying attention? Arianna Huffington, in her book Thrive. 

Years ago, in a conference on Dreamwork, I learned a stress-reduction technique that both relies on and enhances intuition, and can be used anytime, to see what your unconscious has picked up and is ready to offer you. This technique is especially calming when you want to influence others in some way and find you're anxious about the outcome.

As with any visualization technique, this practice will work more readily if you're in somewhat of a meditative state: close your eyes, take a deep breath, gradually let your muscles relax: loosen neck and shoulders, chest and stomach, legs.

Trust your intuition.

Now imagine yourself in a room with others in a semi-circle facing you--their forms may be true to their living presence, or vague and dreamlike, or even surprising (once when engaged in this practice I "saw" the others as fairy tale figures and incorporated that into my intuitive understanding of each).

Now, ask each of them, one-by-one, to give you a symbolic gift. In some cases, this is enough. You have imagined the others showing good will toward you by giving you a gift, and your unconscious will carry this positive expectation into the actual gathering. If you want more information, you can frame the request to match your intended purpose. From here on, I'll use one of my own experiences to show how this practice works.

I was preparing a presentation to members of a board I was consulting with, who knew nothing yet about my experience; yet I'd been asked to convince them to accept a major change in organizational structure. I'd observed the group in action, so had an impression of each person, but the more I thought about it, the more anxious I became. I knew if they respected my knowledge and experience, they'd be more likely to agree with the plan I'd be presenting. But I also expected the usual resistance to change and that handing out my bio or citing my successes with other organizations would not gain me any credibility. 

Then I remembered the Dreamwork technique and, in my imagination, I asked each of them, "Please give me a gift that symbolizes your esteem," meaning "What would you see in me that would give you confidence in my suggestions?"

One by one, I pictured each stepping forward with a gift. If I wasn't quite clear about the gift's meaning, I asked for more information to help me understand:

  • One of them gave me a kaleidoscope, explaining further, "I appreciate your ability to hold multiple views."
  • Another gave me a fancy high-heeled shoe, similar to Cinderella's but with shiny jewels all over it, saying "The shoe fits." When I asked for more: "I see by your questions that you have the credentials for this."
  • One gave me a megaphone, speaking through it to say, "I hear you."
  • Another said, "Here's the shirt off my back," adding, "There are things I want to get off my back but I'm reluctant to say them in this group."
  • The easiest gift to interpret was a silky red throw pillow, shaped like a heart.
  • A person with strong opinions handed me a velvet glove, saying "I see your iron fist behind the velvet glove."
  • Someone with a strong personality gave me a silver bullet, saying "You're able to take down opponents without killing them."
  • Another put an Army Sargent's cap on my head: "You now have the authority to do this."
  • With a hand wipe across the forehead, another said, "I give you the sweat off my brow." When I asked for more understanding: "I see you're a worker."
  • The most puzzling gift was a Halloween pumpkin with a smiling face and a light inside, until I asked for more: "I envision you with a happy face, having succeeded."
  • The last one gave me a handmade doll, a little man made of straw. "A straw man?" I asked. "Yes, I may bring up something that seems totally unrelated, but I want you to listen to my objections anyway." 

The answers I imagined gave me so much more than I had expected. In addition to anticipating a positive reception, the symbolic gifts also showed me how to present my ideas in a way that would elicit respect: speaking clearly, with the strength of my convictions, confident of success, and dedication to the project; but also with an open heart, smiling, inviting input, watching non-verbals and encouraging anyone to speak who seemed hesitant, being open to multiple viewpoints, and handling disagreements without shooting anyone down.

Without conscious realization, my intuition had picked up what was important to everyone on the board  and helped guide me to be present to their individual priorities during the conversation that led to the suggested change. 

Who knows exactly what this loosened in my own Enneagram journey, or where--exactly--it took me. Rather than trying to analyze exact steps, simply try the Dreamwork practice to shift from any anxiety or to open new possibilities when you're feeling stumped, and trust that the structure of your programmed personality patterns is loosening.