Braiding the centres – using 3 centre work for Enneagram Growth
This article is based on a workshop that Heather Brown and Rosemary Cowan facilitated at the International Enneagram Association European Conference in Amsterdam in May 2018. The conference theme was “accessing the wisdom of your true self” and the theme of our workshop was how using the three centres of intelligence (head, heart and gut) together can help us more easily come to the present moment, where we can access the wisdom of our true self.
This article is therefore a summary of the thinking that underpinned the workshop, plus a record of the activities we did, which we hope will be useful to anyone embarking on a personal development journey.
The three centres of intelligence and their role in our personal development
We have three centres of intelligence within us – our head of course, but our heart and gut also have intelligence. We know that the brain has around 100 billion neurons, but the heart also has around 40,000 and the gut 0.1 billion. They communicate in very sophisticated ways with each other and need to work well together in order to promote health. (For more on the neurobiology of the head, heart and gut, go to https://drdaviddaniels.com/our-neurobiology/).
Most of us have experienced that when we get stuck in one part of ourselves on our personal development journey (psychologically, physically, spiritually), persisiting in that one area starts to have diminishing returns after a while. What works far better is to harness one of the other centres to help us break through the impasse. For example, if we have a difficult psychological problem to solve, sleeping on it or going for a walk can help. Equally, athletes who are stuck in their physical training use sports psychologists to help them see how their mental attitude is affecting their physical performance. So why not harness the wisdom of the three centres on our Enneagram journey?
The Personal Development Journey
Many authors talk about the importance of developing a strong ego in early life, so that we can handle the challenges that life presents. Understanding our Enneagram type, its gifts and pitfalls, can help us use our ego consciously to give ourselves more options at a behavioural level (creating a pause before reacting, considering other options as well as using our automatic type reaction etc).
But at some point in life, many people find their ego efforts unsatisfying. The achievements of the world and of family don’t seem so fulfilling any more. We become increasingly aware that our ego development/Enneagram type structure has created a barrier, making it hard for us to see reality as it actually is. We question our long-held beliefs about how the world is, and our consequent belief that we need to be a particular way in the world in order to survive in it.
In summary, for people with….
Type 1 – the world criticises “bad” behaviour so I need to be correct and good.
Type 2 – The world doesn’t give love freely so I need to be helpful in order to receive love
Type 3 –The world rewards achievers so I need to stand out through my successes
Type 4 – The world has something I have lost touch with, so I need to be unique and different in order to get the connection back
Type 5 – The world demands too much and drains my energy, so I need to be expert and self-sufficient
Type 6 – The world is unpredictable and may not wish me well, so I need to be secure
Type 7 – The world frustrates and limits me, so I need to be free and upbeat
Type 8 – The world is a tough, unjust place, so I need to be strong
Type 9 – The world is more important than me, so I need to blend in.
As a result of our realisation of the paradox of this view of life, we may embark on a deeper journey to find out what lies behind and beyond our Enneagram Type/ego and to consider stepping aside from our type mechanism. To operate more from out True self involves cultivating our Inner Observer so as to increase awareness and opening the heart so as to relax the type.
The barrier we have created between our everyday (type/automatic) self and our True Self prevents our energy flowing freely. Our type mechanism limits the way we flow with the universe – our belief about the world leads us to focus on a particular facet of reality. This has brought us great gifts… but it can feel as if it is the only way to respond – the only strategy we have available – creating tension, which is often physical.
The process of liberation actually consists in allowing ourselves, daring ourselves, to simply experience the emotions and fixations that we most fear, so that we can move through them; they can ebb and flow like the waves of the sea. Coming fully into the present moment is the way to become more receptive, but this is challenging because our type mechanism is not just in our head or heart – it has become anchored in our body as well. By accessing and harnessing all our centres of intelligence (head, heart and body) together we open the way forward.
Gathering resources for the journey
Allowing ourselves simply to experience what is happening each moment, without our type shield, feels scary, so we need a process to help us feel safe in taking the risk of going towards what we usually avoid; staying present as we focus on the journey we want to take. Luckily, the three centres can help us get grounded and resourceful. There are many practices which can achieve this and you may already use some on your own journey. But they all need to start with the following preparations:
- removing external distractions (music, other people etc) and ensuring that you will not be disturbed
- slow breathing
- getting the body into a stable position.
In the IEA Amsterdam workshop in May 2018 we used practices from the Chinese/Japanese tradition, where the life force is called Chi or Qi/Ki, to activate the three centres and the Qi. These are described below. We started with a kind of first aid kit to help you stay centred when your type wants to shut you down. These practices can help you stay present to your deepest and most challenging emotions and abreactions, so that you can experience receptivity. Here are the activities we used:
- Raising the Qi
– make a loose fist and gently slap the body up and down the limbs and torso, going from end to end at all angles (ie front, sides and back). For a slightly different sequence to the one we used, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7FDUmbOiYP8
– rubbing hands together, feeling Qi
2. Acupressure points for centring
- Bend your fourth (ring) finger into your palm and place the thumb of your other hand where your finger lands. Feel around gently with the tip of the thumb of the opposite hand to find the “sweet spot”: the place it feels good to stay a while. Lean (don’t prod!) into this space, gently sending your energy down through your thumb and into your palm. Notice the connection of your two hands and the circle made by your arms.
- Sit comfortably and put one hand flat on your belly between your navel and your pubic bone. Feel the Qi in your palm from the previous exercise and let that warmth spread into your belly. Now take the three middle fingers of the other hand and put their tips on your breast bone in the centre of your chest. Let them rest there, lean gently with the tips of your fingers (don’t prod!). Send your energy through your fingers to the centre of your body. Gently work your fingers down your midline, towards your navel, pausing to see which points would like you to linger a while. Take a few minutes to do this. When your travelling hand meets the hand on your belly, put it on top of the hand that’s already there.
3. Beyond Body Breathing
Sit as for meditation – breathe in, out. Now breathe out right down through your feet and into the floor (yes, that’s impossible, but imagine it!) Keep doing that and as you breathe in, breathe in through the top of your head into the space above your head (also impossible, but hey…!). Make sure that you breathe out for twice as long as you breathe in, so that you don’t get dizzy. Do 3-4 breaths like this, then come back to normal breathing.
- Body scan
Sit in a comfortable (meditation) position and ground yourself. Then, starting with your head, scan down your body looking for points where there is tension. Smile into the tension and see whether it will release…… If it won’t, simply smile at the resistance you experience: “that’s how it is today”. Be present to the resistance with compassionate curiosity. Don’t try and change it – just send it a smile. After a little time, ask that part of you whether it’s ok to move on. When it is, carry on down your body looking for the next point of tension. Take a few minutes to scan right down to your feet.
These exercises will help you to get to know your energy: what it feels like when it’s up or down – what’s normal for you. The reason this is important is that if we’re going to practise releasing our type mechanism, it can help to start by noticing what happens when we try to release physical tension. Often our type comes up even when we’re trying to relax a muscle – it’s a great place to start practising simply being present to what’s going on, without trying to change it.
In the IEA workshop we then did an exercise in pairs which you can’t really do on your own, giving and receiving gentle touch from and to another. This was followed by two heart-based practices: a poem and chanting. The reflection activity is to to notice what is happening in your body as you experience these practices, and to use the first-aid kit acupressure points if you need to reground yourself during the activity.
The poem was an extract from “Please come home” by Jane Hooper – we have printed an extract below, and you can find the full poem at: http://www.gettinhigherchoir.ca/choir_life/pdftemp/please-come-home.pdf
Please come home. Please come home.
Find the place where your feet know to walk
And follow your own trail home.
Please come home. Please come home into your own body,
Your own vessel, your own earth.
Please come home into each and every cell
And fully into the space that surrounds you.
Please come home. Please come home to trusting yourself,
and your instincts and your ways and your knowings,
And even the particular quirks of your personality.
Please come home. Please come home and once you are firmly there,
please stay home awhile and come to deep rest within.
Please treasure your home. Please love and embrace your home.
Please get a deep, deep sense of what it’s like to be truly home.
A heart-based activity you might use is chanting. See this link for a good version of Om Mani Padme Hum – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG_lNuNUVd4
As you read the poem or chant, watch how your type comes up. Can you use the acupressure points to help you come back to centre? This is what we mean by braiding the centres.
Some reflection questions you might like to consider after trying the activities:
- Did your type come up?
- Did you use the first aid kit?
- How did working on the physical stuff help you release the type stuff?
It’s not just a question of including a range of practices from each centre, in your daily routine, although that’s a great start. It’s more about using the awareness of what’s happening in the other centres to help us when we get stuck, particularly when we get stuck in our dominant centre.
We hope you find these ideas helpful!
For more articles on body-based practices, try the websites of:
Peter O’Hanrahan https://theenneagramatwork.com/
Ginger Lapid-Bogda http://theenneagraminbusiness.com/
To discuss any of these ideas further, please contact Heather or Rosemary at Heather (or Rosemary)@enneagramtraining.co.uk.