Today, I want to talk to you about something that on the surface may seem unrelated to spiritual practice—the Enneagram.
When I mention the Enneagram to people and describe it as a system of personality typing on steroids, they give me one of three responses:
1. Not for me. Don’t care.
2. Poor you. I had no idea you were so new age-ily dependent on a system that explains how people work. Me, I don’t need such things. And I can’t be categorized.
3. Tell. Me. Everything. You. Know.
If you are in the first group, cool! No problem. Some people simply don’t resonate with what I call “symbolic languages,” systems like astrology, archetypes, Myers Briggs and so on that use various icons to represent the human condition. If you are one of them, go, meditate! Listen no further! I totally respect your point of view.
Second group people, give me a chance!
If you are in the third group, the Enneagram will be a dream come true.
Yes, the Enneagram is a system of personality typing, but saying so, as I mentioned in a recent newsletter, is like saying John Coltrane was a sax player. Einstein was a scientist. Marilyn Monroe was a hottie. It just goes way beyond that.
“Ennea” is the Greek prefix for nine and the Enneagram defines nine basic personality types. Yes, you are one of them. I am one of them. We each are one of them and no, it doesn’t change over time.
I began studying the Enneagram about 15 years ago and since that time, I can honestly say I use it every single day. It has been an incredible gift. The Enneagram has helped me understand myself and become sensitive to those moments when I am about to be trapped, snagged, caught by what Pema Chodron calls “Shenpa,” a Tibetan word that means those moments when we get hooked and close down into fear, aggression, or numbness. Having precise signals about such moments is very illuminating.
As important, the Enneagram has helped me to understand how best to relate with other people—to understand their style and what is important to them, to know what will get their attention and what will repel it, and what little tweaks I can make to my language so that they will hear me.
For example, some time ago I had a boss who seemed repelled by my efforts to make conversation with him. When I was working on a project and ran into problems, I would try to get his attention by saying something like, “I’ve run into problems with that project we’ve been working on,” whereupon he would glaze over and make excuses to avoid me. This made me so mad!! Plus, it really hurt my feelings. I felt really, really bad about the job I was doing and I thought he was a jerk for avoiding me.
Then I realized that he was a 7 on the Enneagram. 7s are the visionaries of the Enneagram. Their minds are constantly turning toward possibilities, options, ideas. To them, problems are stupid distractions. They have to pull their gaze from the horizon to focus on them. What to do? The next time I had a problem, I said to him, “You know that project I’m working on? Well, I have an idea and I’d like your feedback.” I was able to get him to pay attention to me and, more important, open his mind to what I had to say. Then I would tell him my problem, but with a focus on the possibilities it offered, not the history of how it got that way, who was at fault, and so on.
Cutting out a whole layer of drama in your communications and relationships? Priceless.
So how does this tie into spiritual practice, especially the ancient practice of Buddhism?
The intention in practice is to wake up, realize our interconnectedness with all beings and open our hearts to create a more peaceful world. Anything that enables you to do so is called an “Upaya” or skillful means. For me, the Enneagram is an Upaya, among the most profound (and useful, pragmatic, applicable, fascinating) I’ve ever learned.
Our meditation practice helps us soften our storylines about all things—ourselves, others, and the way the world should/shouldn’t work. With such softening, we are capable of making genuine heart connections. Nothing is more important than this and the Buddhadharma explains exactly how to do it. Then what? As we take our soft hearts and willingness to connect out into the world of work, friends, and family we will inevitably encounter obstacles. More practice helps, absolutely. And for me, the Enneagram gives additional on-the-spot guidance in how to connect more fully with my fellow humans.
If you’d like to learn the Enneagram, sign up for my upcoming Webinar. June 20, 7:30p ET – 9p ET. $20. A recording will be made available to participants.