The Enneagram: How An Ancient Sufi Symbol Cracked Open My Heart
Updated: Jul 19
October 2016 I spent my days seething with inexplicable resentment.
It was a strange time in my life. I had given birth in October 2015 to the most spectacular human being I have ever met. Life before her was pleasant and satisfying; life with her it was full of new meaning. Life with her also meant more waking hours than sleeping, more bills and less money, and more things to do and less time.
Back in September 2005, I was a part of creating something distinct and exhilarating. Not the same as my sweet baby, but good for the world nonetheless. What started as a church had evolved to become Awakenings, Inc.: a non-profit organization that merges arts, entrepreneurial wellness, and sacred truth to help people live their dreams.
So here I am in October 2016:
I had a life full of adventure and thousands helped, while simultaneously tired, and developing a boiling rage. Since 2010, the work of our organization had shifted toward incubating purpose directly and away from a traditional religious agenda. The people we came to know as family and the organizational resources changed too. Left, really.
The organization survives from year to year, thanks to the gifts and offerings of the present community, small grants and because the co-founder, Marlon Hall, and I agreed only to take what we needed and not require “market value" salaries, working on private client projects and sacrificially giving to the organization from our pockets.
I was depleted, heartbroken, but still hopeful that somehow those pains would be redeemed. We kept working. And the work WORKED. We curated these vocational incubators that gave folks a beautiful journey and curriculum to work on the plan of their dreams.
The Outliers Leadership Lab incubated dreams of folks like Travis McPhail of Google. The Eat Gallery equipped culinary artists like Ella Russell to live their dreams. Folklore Films told the good news of incredible stories has resounded through the country, changing people’s views and creating fertile ground for new, generative relationships to form. Houston Innovators, a incubator underwritten in part by the H. E. Butt Foundation, equipped 29 innovators in the city to start new projects in the city.
There are more projects I could mention to belabor the point, but you get it. People are today living more meaningfully and more generatively than ever before, and credit these incubators as a part of their transformation.
The Turning Point
As a result of that work, a contemplative practice teacher-my first one, actually-named Jack Willome came to visit Awakenings, on the strength of his relationship with Marlon Hall and admiration of the organization. He was in Houston for a short stint while his son was experiencing cancer treatment. While in Houston, Jack became remarkably integrated into our community, playing his saxophone with the artists in residence, and even mentoring us on how to renovate our organizational mission and vision.
I was like, ok fine. Let’s go.
In my journal, I can remember writing about feeling this pent up steam, this aggressive resentment. I hated people; in general and some in particular. I couldn’t figure out how to let it go. I know what the scriptures say not to do. I just didn’t know how NOT to do it.
The Grounding Retreat lived up to its name. I got to experience Contemplative Prayer again, this time all day, with relaxing Yoga Nidra classes tucked in, in a monastery with an orchard. SERENITY NOW! I felt myself softening, and could see a hazy figure of the real me returning.
Chris Heuertz offered a session on The Enneagram of Personality Types, and I almost went back out to the orchard to cry out to God some more. Something told me just to listen. I learned that the Enneagram is a tool used to explore nine personality types. The tool has been used by Ancient Sufi Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Mystic Christianity and those who have no religious affiliation at all. This sacred map bridges the gap between the goals of perennial wisdom traditions and the psychological work of changing behavior. It dates back at least 6,000 years.
“..One of the most transformational insights that the Enneagram can provide is the realization that we are not our personality…we are spiritual being who have a personality and who are manifesting themselves through that personality.”
The Wisdom of The Enneagram
I was challenged to consider that personality isn’t really who we are, but a behavioral strategy we developed in early childhood to cope with trauma, stress and pain. The Enneagram organizes how we respond with those strategies into nine dominant strategies, or Personality Types.
When I took the test, I learned that I exhibited the behavior of Type One, The Reformer.
This got my goat: Type Ones harbor resentment and rage as their go-to emotion in times of stress.
DING GOTDAMN DING.
The pages of my journal came fluttering back to my mind. “I feel so much anger and resentment,” I had written, days before. “I don’t know how to let it go.”
I learned that the Type One is a reformer, highly principled, striving to be good. Check.
Walks into a room and wants to fix everything and tell everyone how to live better. Ok, check.
Learns the rules and tries to work within them to create change. Oh, check baby check.
Perfectionist. Check. Check! CHECK.
Ones get mad about what people aren't doing and get even angrier when they get a sense that what they have done is not enough.
That’s my button. Stuck in the pressed position. I constantly endeavored to DO things for people and with people to be seen as good and to make their lives better. From my perspective, people were enjoying the benefits of my work and the work of Awakenings and rarely giving anything back. I was a forgotten pot, boiling on the back burner. About to boil over.
Reading The Wisdom of the Enneagram, I took time every day to do what is called “Inner Work.” I explored my childhood memories and revisited where I learned my go-to behavior. I sat with my impulse to do the right thing and make sacrifices for it. I examined my feelings toward others and myself. I brought to light my feelings of judgment and admitted my unattainable standards for myself.
A New Awareness & Ability
Then, the Wisdom of The Enneagram led me on a journey to consider things I have never tried before. Becoming aware of my tendencies in times of stress and growth. Acknowledging other people may be right. Getting acquainted with my inner judge. Trusting my intuition instead of relying on this rigid, black and white sense of rightness. Then, to be able to observe and LET GO.
Next, I explored the gifts of my personality. What gets done in the world because of people like me? What happens when I am healthy and thriving in my purpose?
Then I discovered this:
“When we stop identifying with our personality and stop defending it, a miracle happens: our Essential nature spontaneously arises and transforms us.” The Wisdom of the Enneagram
According to the Enneagram, my Essential Nature is to be serene, wise and discerning. No matter how deep my pain, my essence is never lost. I have an invitation to do what I have always known I could: to live according to a higher purpose.
Every day that I do my inner work, I feel the resentment melting away. In its place, a divine itch to make the world a better place, and a compassionate space to let myself (and others) off the hook.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Enneagram is not a religion. It is a sacred map that helps me see where I am and work out the practice of the abundant life many sacred wisdom traditions promise.
I have been studying the Enneagram for over a year now on my own. Unexpectedly, Jack gifted us with another scholarship. Because of his generosity, I was able to develop my own curriculum and was blessed to study the Enneagram with Chris Heuertz! I'm now consulting with private clients, using a curriculum called "Confusion to Clarity," that includes working with The Enneagram and tools that I've developed along the way.
I am so grateful for the journey that led me here and for the adventure that lies ahead. I will enjoy it with more presence and integrity, and less anger and anxiety.
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