Wednesday, September 14, 2022


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.