Still in Amsterdam after the 2018 International Enneagram Association (IEA) European conference and overflooding with new ideas, people and inspiration I decided to put some thoughts on paper while they are still fresh. Many of them are reminders for myself as well, for, as an Enneagram trainer and coach, I am also facing the numerous challenges, as well as the opportunities, that this marvelous system brings into our lives.
“You can’t be a 7 because…”
A colleague stopped me after the first day of conference and wanted to talk. He mentioned hearing me speaking during a workshop and wanted to check some things. Reduced to its essence, his questions and our conversation turned around the fact why I though my personality type was a 7 and not a 4. “I saw you getting very emotional during Russ’s key note. To me you are too articulate and way too emotional for a 7. It simply doesn’t sit well with me,” he confessed.
We caught up later and I rested my case; yet, somehow, I couldn’t stop feeling defensive, as opposed to actually filled with joy that someone was interested in my inner landscape. So I wondered: was it me or was it that his definition of type was so firm, maybe rigid and mechanic that it would make it quite tough for a human being to fit in?
I left our discussion with a question: how would our lives change if we approached the others with curiosity instead of filled with our own understanding of type? How would our understanding of type transform if we managed to use more curiosity and humility, as opposed to our own need for certitudes?
Caricatural type descriptions
We all have Ennea-types that we like more and some that we like less. Many of our preferences are related to our past experiences; some have to deal with our parents and their types, some with a former partner or close relationship that somehow managed to get under our skin and cement our understanding of type. Therefore it’s quite easy, when we teach the Enneagram, to slide unconsciously into a somehow caricatural description of the types that we don’t like.
The antidote, in my view, is the same as always: a thorough understanding of ourselves, of our own vulnerabilities and reactivity triggers. As for course participants, it may be quite helpful for us to be fully honest about our biases and to ask our students to mirror us back when they sense we may slide into an unbalanced presentation of type.
Cultural unconscious biases
Besides our personal experience with types, our inner onion peels get enriched by community and culture.
Biases are nothing but automatic (and unconscious) filters helping us to make decisions faster. For example, our understanding of gender and its role manifestation is simply different across various cultures (we don’t have to go to the Middle East or Asia to test that hypothesis). There are cultures that are more nurturing of certain types (a 3 man in the US) than of others (a 2 man in Mexico) for example. I also guess one could get away quite easily with being a dissociative 5 professional in a Silicon Valley-type environment and less so when leading a company in Italy, Romania or anywhere else for the matter.
Therefore we, as teachers, have even more work to do to understand our own biases that speak in the background of our personality on behalf of the larger systems that we represent. Then we could also use some courage to translate them to our students, so they can get access to wisdom that is as neat and depleted of bias as possible.
Who heals the (top) healer?
Another movement that I observe on various markets is what I call the Solitude of the King. Same like in any type of leadership, becoming the leading personality on a market comes with a price: people stop daring to get close to you and to give you honest, heartfelt feedback. At the end of the day it’s a self-preservation movement: it’s better to leave Gods on their pedestal so we can keep believing in them than to look closer and risk seeing that maybe they have spinach between their teeth or any other flaw that would make them anything but Gods and merely humans. For the leading teachers the danger lurking in the background is disconnection from holy work; humility keeps us grounded; a feeling of having become the best less so.
So, the question is: how can we stay open even when becoming as good as possible and to encourage honest feedback regardless of what we’ve achieved so far? How can we still serve with humility and not lose our minds despite having spent years in the solitude of pole position?
We are already good enough
The Enneagram is a map indeed. Yet, even when you have a map, it’s not meaningless to put it on a shelf from time to time, to let it rest and to return to the essence of the matter: you are where you are for a reason AND regardless of where you are on your journey, you are already good enough.
You already are good enough.
During the conference I heard various people being frustrated about “working at themselves” for years and still “feeling stuck,” “not getting anywhere.” As my systemic dynamics teacher Jan Bily says: “If you feel so tired, why don’t you give yourself some holidays?” Surely, the Enneagram is an endless call to discovery. You can look at your Self from a myriad of perspectives: type, subtype, wings, arrows, polarities, triads and God knows what else was created to enhance the power of the system. Yet it doesn’t change anything to the fact that it is us who is on a journey (where you sometimes also rest) and that what we can really influence is simply the place from where we travel. Are we conducting our observations / explorations from a point of joyful, curious acceptance and love for ourselves and the mysteries to be revealed to us? Or are we doing so from a point of inner criticism and frustration, hoping that maybe, finally, THIS perspective, THIS next step will be the one to fix everything, including our flawed human nature?
As one of my teachers said: “All points in the journey are sacred.” Or, as my grannie would say: stop giving God work and start doing his work.
Whom do we serve?
Our world is confronted with a massive number of challenges – from climate change to obesity, burnout, massive migration, water depletion, species disappearance and more. Our inner work is certainly meaningful and leading to a deeper humanity, as Russ puts it. Yet I wonder: if we turn this quest for the next level of humanity into the sole purpose, aren’t we missing on something more important? (Do I still need to make my case that I am a 7? :-)
While the Enneagram gives us a tremendous tool for mapping our inner worlds, our inner landscape and its possibilities, I can’t stop wondering whom we serve in the process. Are we really only and purely individualities disconnected from our ecosystems whose sole job should be to react less, be more and transcend type? Or should we also remember that we are already parts of larger systems, of larger ecosystems that constantly invite us to serve – and thus to be(long)? When looking to the pile of challenges our world is facing, I can’t stop thinking that doing the holy work of self-discovery WHILE keeping our feet firmly on the ground is simply a much more attractive and meaningful proposal, for ourselves and our world.
Together – in peace
We don’t need to look too far beyond the demographic trends on our planet to understand that soon there will be more of us (and a few robots looking pretty much like us), we will live closer to each other in smaller spaces and we will look and be very different from each other. It is enough to come from Prague to Amsterdam to understand that living together beyond origin, culture, religion, race and so forth is becoming the norm. And we can choose: to experience what’s coming towards us, the emerging force of the unknown future, in fear or to open up with curiosity and respect.
Fortunately, we have something that might give us a change to prepare for the future: the Enneagram, a system mapping humanity beyond all gained aspects mentioned above. Learn to use it with curiosity and respect for ourselves and others and we might gain a change to transform not only the quality of our lives, but also the quality of social interactions in our small and larger communities. We have the tool. Now what are we going to do with it?
I am leaving it here certain that more insights will come as time goes by. And, of course, loyal to my own inner highways of mental habit, I am already looking forward: to the IEA conference in Portugal in May 2019, when I am hopeful that we can pick and chat some more on some of these topics. Looking forward. God bless every single step of courage done by everyone of us to make this world a better place.
PS: We, 7, should cry more. It’s liberating and, hey – it helps others to see our personality pattern in its full, rich multitude of possibilities. Right?! :-)