Q. Is the Enneagram a religion?
A. No. We have no hard evidence that the Enneagram originated within any one religious tradition, nor that it was ever used as a stand-alone spiritual practice. One of the selling points of the Enneagram, as a map and tool for the integration of psychology and spirituality and the development of higher states of consciousness, is that it can be usefully combined with established and elaborated traditions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism.
Q. Where then did the Enneagram come from?
A. The truth is we just don’t know, but many Enneagram teachers think that it originally was “revealed” from on high, so to speak. We have no archaeological evidence for the sacred diagram, as we would expect if it were known and used by the Egyptians or ancient Indians for example, or the later Greco-Roman mystery schools. There is some useful speculative information in Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous, where he quotes Gurdieff‘s opinions on the matter. If the student continues to be interested in origins there are several good articles online, published by respected teachers such as Riso & Hudson. What is important for the beginning student to know is that there is no evidence that the ancient world used the diagram as we do now--to map the integration of our deepest psychological insights with our most profound spiritual understandings.
Q. Do I need any special preparation to begin studying the Enneagram?
A. No. A relatively open mind, loving heart and relaxed body are all that is required. People are attracted to Enneagram studies when they are ready and willing to take a hard look at themselves, warts and all. In our experience, many come to the system in midlife, somewhere between 35 and 55 yrs. of age, when old patterns are becoming frustrating and neuroses (what we call fixations) are crying for transformation. In addition, we find people who have been on their spiritual paths for awhile and are beginning to wonder why they are not experiencing more embodied realization--in other words, why they find it difficult to actually live the spiritual teachings that they have been studying and practicing, perhaps on their own, perhaps with a teacher and/or in community.
Q. Is it better to be one Enneatype than another?
A. No. Although the diagram is usually depicted in the vertical position, with Point 9 up at the top and Points 4 and 5 down at the bottom, there is actually no numerical hierarchy of value and function. It might help to visualize the diagram in the horizontal position, and imagine King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, where everybody has their unique place and function in the realm. The world needs leaders, healers and educators. The world needs both visionaries and hard-headed realists. Likewise, it seems that the world needs all nine types of personality or character type in order to function smoothly and effectively. Each type has its own gifts and challenges. Each type has its own “problem set” as well as its particular role in the larger psychic and material economy of the planet.
Q. Is it possible to change types?
A. Just as it is not really possible to change how we are sexed (male or female), nor body-type (tall or short, light or dark skinned, etc.) we believe that it is not possible to change personal type in a given lifetime. Recent empirical and anecdotal research is demonstrating pretty convincingly that people are either born with a type in place, or strongly predisposed to develop into a specific type by the time they have separated and individuated from the mother-figure at about three years of age. What we can do is become a more evolved version of ourselves. For example, one could speak of becoming an evolved, redeemed or conscious Enneatype Three or Seven or Nine.
Q. Do I change my Enneatype each lifetime?
A. The Enneagram as a self-enclosed system of wisdom and spiritual development does not have anything to say about the phenomenon of reincarnation or transmigration. But those of us who hold that the Soul returns to Earth many times to learn lessons and grow, generally believe that during the course of our planetary evolution we must eventually experience living in and through all nine Enneatypes, perhaps multiple times.
Q. How do I know that I have typed myself correctly?
A. The type that we actually are (or more properly from a spiritual perspective “have”) is the one that is the most explanatory and useful in terms of helping us understand and transform our patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors. We can be helped to “come to type” by loving and knowledgeable others, but at the end of the day we have to recognize and validate our own type for the attribution to really hit home and effect our daily reality in any sort of deep and long lasting way. We find that many beginners would rather be an evolved exemplar of a type they are not, than an average or less evolved exemplar of the type they actually are. As a general rule of thumb, if the person initially has only or mostly positive thoughts and feelings about their type, then s/he is probably off track. This is because type recognition and validation is usually accompanied by the realization that one has been overly identified with all or part of the character type in question, and that one has not been leading as deep and authentic (2,3,4), intelligent and directed (5,6,7) and individuated and personal (8,9,1) a life as possible, that to a large extent one has been living out one’s ruling Passion and Chief Feature or Fixation rather than one‘s Virtue and Holy Idea. On the positive side, one often experience feelings of elation during the typing process because one has learned more about oneself, both in terms of what is unconsciously running the show, and the nature of the body-mind that one inhabits as a home base for this lifetime.
Q. Should I learn about the other eight Enneatypes?
A. Yes, absolutely. Most students begin by finding and learning all about their own place on the diagram. Down the road it is most appropriate to understand the phenomenology, psychodynamics and spiritual gifts of the remaining eight Enneatypes, if for no other reason than that we have these other kinds of people in our intimate relationships, families, and circles of friends and co-workers. Knowledge of another’s type bias can aid us in understanding and accounting for differing points of view, communicating more effectively and compassionately, and ultimately healing the divisions between people and nations that contribute to conditions of fear, anger and violence. Attending workshops, retreats and presentations (rather than just reading books and articles) is a very good way to become exposed to various type exemplars, especially to those who have become knowledgeable and helpful self-observers.
Q. How does one use knowledge of the Enneagram and one’s particular type to grow psychologically and spiritually?
A. At first one learns about the system as a whole and then discovers one’s place on the diagram. But that is just the beginning. In the early 1900s Gurdieff used to talk about the need for self-study, self-observation and self-work and we find that this is still the case in the 21st century. First we learn about the phenomenology, psychodynamics and spiritual gifts of our own type structure. Then we engage in Attention Training Practices (ATP), otherwise known as cultivating the art of self-observation. The goal being to observe moment by moment our habits of mind, heart and behavior, and then to be able to drop non-useful habits and behaviors “on the spot.” That way we reduce our own reactivity and can respond more appropriately to internal and external situations, rather than simply “going on automatic” one more time. Self-observation can be later supplemented with conscious work on self by having a teacher or group suggest type-related exercises custom tailored to the needs of the student. For example, an Enneagram teacher, either in a group setting or a private counseling session, might suggest that an Enneatype Two not offer help to anyone (unless asked first) for at least three months, in order to make conscious and work through the Passion of Pride and Fixation of Flattery that lies at the core of the type structure. An Enneatype Three might be asked if they are willing to not work more than thirty hours per week, bring absolutely no work home, and spend at least one day each week in an unstructured, goalless way. An Enneatype Five might be asked if they are willing to give up book reading for a short or long period of time, etc. In addition, a teacher or group can assist in providing short-term “interrupts,” for those times when type-related patterns surface.
Q. Why is it important to integrate spiritual tradition and modern psychology?
A. Because without so doing, even if we have genuine and profound spiritual awakenings and experiences we will not be able to hang on to and integrate them deeply and properly. Spiritual growth is like a triangle that can only goes as high as the foundation is wide and strong. Otherwise, we will eventually suffer some measure of grandiosity and hubris and topple over. At best we will oscillate between spiritual openings and limited and painful psychological states, and not make much growth on either front. A.H. Almaas, founder of the Ridhwan School and the Diamond Approach speaks to this point in several of his books, including The Inner Journey Home: Soul’s Realization of the Unity of Reality. In his recent book Toward a Psychology of Awakening: Buddhism, Psychotherapy and the Path of Personal and Spiritual Transformation, psychologist and author John Welwood discusses a term that he invented in 1984, “spiritual bypassing.” In Chapter 1 he notes that starting in the 1970s he “began to perceive a disturbing tendency among many members of spiritual communities. Although many spiritual practitioners were doing good work on themselves, [he] noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual practices to bypass or avoid dealing with certain personal or emotional ’unfinished business.’ This desire to find release from the earthly structures that seem to entrap us--the structures of karma, conditioning, body, form, matter, personality--has been a central motive in the spiritual search for thousands of years…” He calls this tendency to avoid or prematurely transcend basic human needs, feelings, and developmental tasks spiritual bypassing. He goes on to say that “involvement in spiritual teachings and practices can become a way to rationalize and reinforce old defenses.” The Enneagram is the very best system and tool that I have come across to help antidote these all-too-common tendencies. Some have even called the diagram “God’s Wisdom Mirror,” because once encountered it accurately mirrors back both our greatest faults and failings, as well as our greatest spiritual gifts and potentials. It keeps us honest in our personal and collective journeys to greater wholeness and wisdom.