Spiritual Practice: The Enneagram
When first exposed to the Enneagram, many think it is just another personality test, like the Myers Briggs Personality Indicator. They might find an online test and take it, looking at the nine Enneagram numbers and trying to decide which one they are.
But the Enneagram is much deeper than that. It is an ancient tool for helping you distinguish your true self from your false self, or your “shadow side.” I’ve been learning from the Enneagram for the last ten years and I still feel like a novice. So, full disclosure: you will not be finding your Enneagram number by reading this blog. But, I hope to give you a slight overview and point you in the direction of how to do so and I want to encourage you to investigate the Enneagram for yourself. It is worth the work because the Enneagram is a truly life-changing tool of personal and spiritual growth.
The Overview: The diagram of the Enneagram can be the first thing that turns people away, especially Christians. For us, it looks to similar to a pentagram. But, it’s good to know that the spiritual mothers and fathers of our faith have been using this tool for centuries and that the diagram is made of interlocking triangles is NOT a satanic symbol.
There are many levels to understanding the Enneagram, but here are a few:
- Finding your number
- Understanding that that number is not prescriptive but descriptive; it is a starting point from which to grow. Your Enneagram number has a light side (grace) and a shadow side. Often when you have a hard time finding your number, it is the shadow side that is the tell. We DO NOT like to be confronted with our own shadow. But, as we acknowledge this side of who we are, we can bring it into the light, ask God to heal us and become more self-aware when we are operating from our shadow. The goal is not condemnation; the goal is healing, health, and love.
- Each number has a number to either side. For instance, a #9 is bracketed by the number 8 and the number 1. Most of us lean into the attributes of one of those side numbers or “wings.” But both wings are important to understand.
- There are also numbers we “go to” when we are stressed or when we are happy. These are important to know and to either cultivate or avoid.
- The numbers are in set of three that have some commonalities 1,9,8 are called the “gut” triad. 2,3,4 are called the “heart triad,” and 5,6 and 7 are called the “head triad.” These triads have some common strengths and pitfalls.
Obviously, there is a lot to know about the Enneagram, and this overview won’t leave you feeling like you understand what it’s all about. So, lest you feel overwhelmed, let me tell you one story about how understanding the enneagram helped change my life.
When I first learned that my Enneagram number was Two, the “helper,” I was so distraught about seeing my shadow side that I spent a week on the floor crying in despair. I didn’t want to believe that I had a bossy side. My husband, however, lovingly pointed out instances when my desire to be “helpful,” became overbearing, when I was helping others who weren’t asking for help. Once, when we were on a stressful trip, and I started ordering everyone’s food for them. This was not helpful. Seeing this tendency in myself has helped me to grow; now I catch myself more often or feel it coming on and can stop myself by repeating, “They haven’t asked for help,” or “This is not my responsibility.”
On the other side, when a two is happy, we go to the high side of the number four, which is creative and romantic. When I realized this, I understood that I had not made any room in my life for creatively. I used to be involved in theater, but found that it took too many hours out of my life. That is when I decided to set aside one day a week to create, to write. And ten years later, I’ve published nine books, with two other manuscripts awaiting a publishing home. That’s eleven books in ten years, all because I realized I needed to give room for creativity in my life. Thank you Enneagram wisdom!
So, what is the best way to begin this great work? The simplest and most straightforward book I’ve read on the subject is called: The Essential Enneagram
What’s great about this little book is that is really helps you get through steps 1-5 listed above. That being said, it is helpful to do this with a friend. My husband and I read this book together and we tried to come up with a archetype of someone we knew who exemplified each number. That helped us get a handle on each number, which helped us find our own. Think of this book as “dating the enneagram;” try on different numbers and see what fits.
Now, if you’re ready to go deeper, here are some other helpful book to take you there.
Hot off the press:
Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram, Paperback – August 15, 2017 by Alice Fryling (Author)
I just finished Alice’s book. She is a Christian mentor from my youth and this is an excellent guide with good stories and Bible Study reflections for each number.
The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, Paperback – September 5, 2017 by Christopher L. Heuertz (Author), Richard Rohr (Foreword)
I pre-ordered this one as Chris is someone who, along with his wife Phileena, leads the Gravity Center for contemplative activism. Time with them inspired my most recent book: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening, which touches briefly on the Enneagram. I can’t wait to read this book as I respect Chris and his spirituality a great deal.
And, for those who are ready to go in greater depth, these authors have several books to help:
Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery Oct 29, 1996 by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
Another way to learn about the Enneagram is through a retreat or seminar, which is how I got my first taste. You can google “Enneagram training near me,” and see what you can find.
I hope you join me in this grand adventure as we bring our shadows into light and find grace there to heal us. Let me know about your journey with the Enneagram.
Photo Credit: Colored Enneagram
Black and White Enneagram