Enneagram & Spirituality & Why, Oh My!
I'm Megan J. Robinson, and this is Creative\\Proofing, a space to think, feel, and design out loud. Every Thursday I'll send you a newsletter exploring the intersection of creativity, spirituality, and productivity, and what that looks like for each of us. In each issue of Creative\\Proofing, I’ll dig into various questions, ideas, and topics by sharing what other thinkers, feelers, and doers have said, followed by my take, and then, what it do and what it mean for us going forward. I’ll also try to throw in reader feedback, recommendations, and maybe something I’m enjoying that week. Stick around to find out more, hmmm?
Hoo, boy. Ok.
First of all, Ennea4 here and a former seminarian, so a conversation that doesn't take a dive into the deep end of complex topics is a wasted conversation. I can talk for daaaayyyys about the Enneagram, spirituality and religion, and the intricacies and minutiae of both, but I recognize that these are not always comfortable or easy topics to navigate. That said, I imagine many of us are interested in self-awareness and transformational growth, so maybe we can reframe it that way? Cool? Cool.
What Others Say
Let's start with the Enneagram, because it's entirely likely that you've encountered this somewhere in the last couple of years: whether a meme, a Buzzfeed article, or someone in your life who, ahem, like me, finds a way to work it into every conversation.
The beginnings of the Enneagram are obscure, but the concept has appeared across time and geography, showing up in fourth century desert Christian spirituality, Sufism, Judaism, and the tradition of sacred geometry stretching back to ancient Greece. The Enneagram as we currently know it began to emerge in the early 1900s with George Gurdjieff, who developed his philosophy of the Fourth Way. Gurdjieff's philosophy proposes that we exist in a kind of waking sleep, living as unconscious, imbalanced automatons susceptible to external control and lacking access to or integration with our full being. While other schools, religions, or philosophies could help people "awaken," Gurdjieff observed that they usually emphasized one dimension or faculty of human being over another (a rational academic versus an emotional aesthete versus a martial artist, for example) - hence his philosophy of the Fourth Way integrating all three centers of human faculties. (Remember this concept of centers - we'll come back to this in the future.)
In the 1970s, Chilean philosopher Oscar Ichazo discovered and further developed Gurdjieff's work, teaching others, including psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, who integrated concepts from modern psychology into his teaching. Naranjo shared his work with students in the U.S., one of whom was a Catholic Jesuit priest who took the Enneagram into the world of Christian spiritual direction and formation. From there, the Enneagram has continued to evolve, grow, and resonate with folks in their individual and collective journeys of self-awareness and growth. Contemporary psychotherapist and Enneagram teacher Beatrice Chestnut observes that, though we like to believe that we possess significant agency and relatively unlimited freedom, the fact is that we are terrifically predictable creatures: we respond to stimuli and triggers in repetitive, patterned ways, much like programmed, specialized machines. That experience of pushing someone's buttons (or having yours pushed)? If you know your Enneagram, you can see it play out before it ever happens.
Authors Doug and Adele Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughridge describe the Enneagram as a means of helping each of us recognize "our unique melody" as well as the spots in which we go "off-key internally and externally." Further, the Enneagram reveals our "dedication to [our specific] playlists." We all have the experience of knowing someone intimately for years, yet still finding ourselves stunned by the mystery of their behavior (or ours, when it comes to that). Author Suzanne Stabile notes that, for all our mystery and differences, we hold in common a couple of very basic things: we all carry within us the desire to belong, and the desire to find meaning in our lives. At its core, the Enneagram describes nine different patterns of perceiving, experiencing, and framing the world, and how we answer questions of identity, meaning, growth, and purpose.
What I Say
I kinda feel like meaning and purpose have become overused words these days, but they're good words, and helpful - we need both in order to design and live the kind of life we long for, whatever that looks like. I truly think that humans do share the desire to belong to something outside of ourselves, and we want to find meaning for our lives. In seeking meaning, we look backward, review past events and circumstances, and make sense of them by telling stories that connect the past to what we value most. In seeking purpose, we look to our present and our future, drawing on the past to help us determine our trajectory in life and the kind of impact we hope to have, the kind of life we long for.
In a sense, the spiritual dimension of our lives provides a way to acknowledge that we long for more: confidence, impact, wellness, wholeness. It gives us the space to vocalize the sense that...this world, the one we've got?...it's not the way it's supposed to be. And sacred stories can give us a vision for a world in which all things can be made new, even ourselves. I believe that everything connects and intertwines; that there exist no parts independent of the whole. Even as we are distinct and unique beings, we also exist within the ecosystem of the universe, and as such, we understand ourselves by how we relate to, and learn from, each other. I believe that, but it's really difficult to remember and live that all the time. The Enneagram, with its nine archetypes, reminds me to get out of my perspective once in a while (or at least recognize that there exist eight other ways of seeing the world). It also gives me the vocabulary to identify and articulate how all these patterns interact with and complement one another.
I tend to think that the process of self and other-awareness could, and can, integrate with the spiritual or religious dimension of human life. But even if it doesn't, that's why I find the Enneagram so helpful. When we ask ourselves who am I? what happened, and what does that mean? where am I going? how do I want to get there? what do I want to contribute to the world? why do I things the way I do? what difference do I make?, we find in the Enneagram a road-map, a vocabulary, a lens, and a path to discovering who we've been, who we are, and who we want to become. And if that's not a key facet of living a good life, I don't know what is.
By now you're probably like, eh? Where are we? What are we talking about here? No worries: I got you, babe.
If you've ever felt stuck in a kind of Groundhog Day loop, endlessly watching yourself do the same shit every single time, here's what I want you to know: it's not enough to want to stop doing that. (What did you think I was going to say?)
Here's the rest of it: you also have to want something else more.
If you say to yourself, I don't want to keep losing my temper, that's great. But you can't live in a negative mode. If you finish that thought with, I want the people in my life to feel safe and enjoy being around me, now you have a goal to work toward.
In their book Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath observe that willpower (what you draw on to control your behavior) is a finite resource - meaning, you'll drain it to the dregs before you ever reach your goal. If you say, I will not lose my temper today, it's pretty much guaranteed that you will, in fact, lose your temper, and your willpower and self-esteem may very well roll over and go back to bed. So now you're frustrated, cranky, and discouraged, and no better off than when you started.
Multiply this scenario across the rest of your life, and the idea of changing anything you think, feel, or do may seem impossible. It's not, but it does take attention, time, and a willingness to take one small step after another. The beautiful thing about the Enneagram is that, while it describes where you are in the present, it also describes avenues to who you could be in the future. You still have to do the work, but at least you have a road-map to get there.
So, I'll just end with this: what's one thing in your life that you can look at and say: I don't want this anymore. Instead, I really want that.
- The Enneagram Institute: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com
- The Complete Enneagram, by Beatrice Chestnut
- The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
- The Path Between Us, by Suzanne Stabile
- The smell of woodsmoke in the air, especially at night as the sun goes down and the weather cools off.