Thanks also to Rob Fitzel for the diagrams.
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The origins of the Enneagram
The word ‘Enneagram’ comes from the Greek ennea gramma, which means ‘nine-sided figure.’
Historically, it is based on key character traits that are found in many traditions and cultures, on both the spiritual and philosophical level, such as the Buddhist wheel of life or the Christian seven deadly sins. These character traits, also called ‘passions,’ are kinds of unconscious conditioning that influence our behaviour. In the Enneagram, there are nine of them: anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth.
The Enneagram has connections back not only to the Christian, Buddhist and Sufi traditions; it also has analogies to the Hebrew Kabbalah’s Tree. Down the centuries, many great names seem to have been involved with the history of the Enneagram: Pythagoras, Evagrius Ponticus, Dante and Gurdjieff to name but a few.
In the 1970s, the transpersonal movement in the USA (particularly the group Seekers after Truth, which counted among its members Helen Palmer and David Daniels) brought the Enneagram to a wider audience. Since 1990, the Enneagram has developed quickly across the world.
The usefulness of the Enneagram
The Enneagram has two great practical uses:
- making daily life easier
- finding unity within ourselves and with our environment.
It is rich because it considers the dynamics of human nature, our evolution and the different facets of our personality. It is concrete because it helps us to understand our everyday habits, so if we combine it with good self-observation, it is immediately useful. It is credible because the types are compatible with observable data, including those that underpin modern psychology.
The psychological Enneagram
The main idea of the Enneagram is based on the principle that we all have a central character trait, like an axis around which our personality turns. This ‘fixation’ relates to a defence mechanism which is put in place very early in life – indeed some people suggest that we are born with it. This fixation – which is usually unconscious – plays out in our everyday habits. It brings us many blessings, but when we are frozen into this conditioned behaviour (our type mechanism) it limits our world view.
The journalist and writer Michael Goldberg writes:
By becoming conscious of our mode of attention, we discover how our worldview is limited, and how it differs from those of others. We see how their journeys, their personal experiences are different; we begin to understand their point of view. We also discover that others share the same perspective as us, and we then begin to understand the meaning of the word ‘compassion,’ both for ourselves and for others.
The Enneagram for Spiritual Development
On the pediment of the temple of Apollo at Delphi was written: Know yourself, and you will know the universe and the gods.
On a spiritual level, our challenge is to find the deep essence that lives inside us, beyond our personality. Like other typologies used for spiritual development, understanding our Enneagram type mechanism can be an agent for change, for transformation through which ordinary consciousness can evolve toward dimensions of higher being.
The process of self-development is the same in all the great traditions: Self-knowledge, Transformation, Fulfilment. Self-knowledge is the starting point, transformation is the way, and fulfilment is the goal. The aim is to contact our deep essence, the power of life that can energise us if we can let go of our ego and access the part of us that believers call the soul and others, our true self. The Enneagram adds value in that it helps us notice exactly what we are attached to and how it operates – our type mechanism.
Read more about this in the Journey back to the True Self.
The Enneagram diagram
The Enneagram is represented by a nine-pointed star inside a circle. It is made up of 3 elements:
– an equilateral triangle
– an irregular six-sided figure called a hexade.
The points of the triangle and of the hexade together form nine equidistant points around a circle. The nine points of contact between the circle and the nine-pointed star represent the bases of the nine personality types.
The circle symbolises the Whole, perfect unity. The circle also represents the interconnectedness of our psyche. The inner triangle helps us to notice our three centres of intelligence: head, heart and body. The hexade shows us the dynamic movement of energy between the type points; all of the type points have arrows going to and from them.
The nine points are landmarks that enable us to shed light on the darkness of the inner labyrinth of our mind. They also represent the contradictory forces that we have inside us. The aim of working with the system is to try to recognise and rebalance these forces.
For more detail on each of the nine types, please visit The Enneagram Types in Detail
Journeying with our Enneagram Type
At any given moment, the different forces that drive us are in opposition to each other. Most of us have silenced the cacophony of opposing forces by focusing, once and for all, on a single one of them. :
1 – Respecting the rules
2 – Being helpful
3 – Succeeding
4 – Experiencing emotions
5 – Reasoning
6 – Being careful
7 – Taking advantage of the moment
8 – Showing strength
9 – Seeking harmony
Focusing on a single decision criterion – whether consciously or not – actually deprives us of a major part of our inner richness.
The Enneagram enables us to:
- Pinpoint which behaviour regularly dominates the others, and thereby name our passion.
- Harmonise our internal forces and understand how they interact with each other.
- Look around ourselves more widely, in order to rediscover the whole of our potential.
Self care on the journey
As we strive to build our self-knowledge and understanding of others, there are three values which are fundamental:
- Our intuition
- Our sense of humour
- Our certainty of the inner beauty of other people, of their difference from us, and of their uniqueness.
Working with the Enneagram helps us to structure and develop each of these qualities within ourselves. Its goal is to help us widen our point of view, and each new encounter with another person is a new chance to grow.
We can make the journey easier (and more fun) if we recognise:
- Often we tend to focus on practices and therapies which are most comfortable for our type. If we really want to grow, we need to be prepared to destabilise our automatic behaviours and challenge ourselves to try something different.
- We all need help. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can outsmart the traps of the type mechanism on your own. An external perspective from someone who is not going to collude with you is essential – and it’s not a role for your life partner …..
- The path is in our everyday life. The higher dimension of our being is not hidden at the other end of the world. It is in us every moment, if we can just be present to ourselves.
- In the moments when your type mechanism is relaxed, see if you can notice where that relaxation sits – in a certain part of your body. Learn to notice how that feels different from the contraction you feel when you are in your type. In this way you will be able to come back to that relaxed place when the type tempest is raging.
- The best cure for a type attack isn’t fight or flight, suppressing it or distracting yourself; the best formula is simply to be present to the tension so that it brings a relaxation of the type contraction. See if you can keep your attention on the rise and fall of the breath, do nothing, and notice how the contraction may dissipate – or at least go into the background, because you remain neutral and present ………
World peace begins with peace inside ourselves. At any given moment, we can choose to be under the influence of our passion and thereby add to the aggressiveness in the air, or to act consciously, in a way that is appropriate to each moment, so that we can be a generator of peace.