Spiritual Practice, Finding Your Authentic Self During Quarantine

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This pandemic is stripping away many things. For some, it’s revealing the natural color of their hair, nails, and skin. For others, without sports into which to pour their adrenalin, it is revealing anger and restlessness that might otherwise be masked. For parents, it’s adding homeschooling to already full lives. For people living together, it’s adding strain to relationships. This is a hard time—no doubt about that.

But, could it be that in time of isolation from all the things that comfort and numb us, our authentic selves are starting to emerge? I was speaking to a young, single mom who has been trapped in a house for six weeks with her children while she was working, going to graduate school, and trying to home school her kids. I was expecting her to complain, but her comment surprised me, “I’ve actually enjoyed my time with the girls,” she said. “I’ve felt my heart grow three sizes bigger.”

We all have our inborn authentic selves that get covered by the adaptive selves, which develop as we face later hard circumstances. Those adaptive selves mask who we were created to be and come out in full force during times of stress. As we face the ugliness of our impatience, anxiety, and fear, perhaps we will also begin to see our true selves, and our hearts will start to expand toward ourselves and others.

Loretta Brady, in her book “Beginning Your Enneagram Journey,” said,

“We need to find a way to shed our cover, to let go of our ego, to retrieve our original God-gifted selves, to discover the lost treasure of our true persons.”

Perhaps this virus is putting us on a fast track to uncovering the treasure of our true, authentic selves. But, how do we deal with our false, adapted selves to get to the real us? Ruth Haley Barton, in her book “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership suggests,

“Some of us will wear ourselves out trying to change ourselves before we realize it is not about fixing; it is about letting go – letting go of old patterns that no longer serve us… All we stand to lose is the false self – the adaptive behaviors that are ultimately in opposition to the life of love and trust and being led by God that our hearts long for.”

Right now, we are in a forge of pressure, which is unprecedented in our lifetime. It is the perfect time to let things go, to try on new ways of being, to unmask ourselves and find healing. But we might need help in the unveiling of our authentic selves. In light of that, I offer these ideas for catalysts toward change:

If your authentic self is hidden under layers of pain and trauma from your life experiences, I recommend counseling. Yep, therapists are still working right now online, and some in offices. Maybe you’ve thought about seeing a counselor for a long time but keep putting it off. This might be the perfect time to give It a try.

Spiritual directors are also wonderful folks who will walk you through spiritual growth. You can find one near you on the spiritual directors international website.

The Enneagram is a fantastic tool for helping understand your authentic self and your adapted self. I’ve spoken a lot about this tool, and you can see the books I’ve read on the topic here. I’m currently reading, “Self to Lose, Self to Find,” by Marilyn Vancil, but find a book that works for you.

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You know I’m all about silence for discovering clarity. What a perfect time this might be to give it a try. Sit for five minutes (or more) a day with no agenda. Just let your mind wander. It’s amazing what will bubble up. Or use one of the many apps to do a guided meditation. I use Insight Timer. Others use Calm or Headspace. Give it a try.

Many folks have COVID-19 dreams. It might be a good time to start a dream journal. Keeping track, even if you only remember a dream fragment, write it down. This will prime the pump for more dream memories to stay with you. Writing them down and over time, they will reveal themes of things you can ponder.

Many of us shelter in place with loved ones, but I have many friends who are sheltering alone. Most of them find solace in their contemplative practices. This blog is full of easy onramp spiritual practices to try. Try on different ones until you find some you like.

black and white siberian husky besides man wearing blue jacket

And pets! Several friends have found adopting an animal is really helping them survive this time well. They’ve told me that having a pet has reconnected them to “play,” which is something important that we often forget how to do — especially in serious times like this. There is something so calming about having a pet right now. And if it is a dog, it will get you out of the house for walks and sunshine. That is a huge benefit.

If your relationship with your partner is strained, it’s time to get help. I saw a meme that said, “You can’t spell Divorce without COVID.” Watch this thirty-minute Red Table Talk for some practical help with your partner during quarantine.

Whatever you decide, go easy on yourself right now—lower the bar. Try to be a good parent instead of a great one. Allow yourself to be a mediocre worker instead of a star. One of my friend’s children are in a school that is putting massive pressure on the parents to keep up all the kids’ work. She is spending nine hours a day on schoolwork between her three kids. She is afraid their grades will go down. You know, if your kid’s grades drop a bit in a PANDEMIC, I think that’s gonna be okay. This is not a time to shame yourself about anything. But, if you have it in you, try to uncover a bit of your true selves from your adapted selves. I promise it will be worth the effort.

I’d love to know how you are handling this pandemic. Feel free to drop me a note about the adaptive or authentic parts of yourselves that you are uncovering. There will be no judgment here.  I’m also leaving you with a bedtime story. It is my prayer for all of us and my hope for the future of our planet.

 

Top Photo by Ichad Windhiagiri on Pexels.com
Lower Photo by Marek Mucha on Pexels.com

Spiritual Practice: The Enneagram

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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 too 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:

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  1. Finding your number
  2. 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.
  3. Each number has a number to either side. For instance, number 9 is bracketed by number 8 and number 1. Most of us lean into the attributes of one of those side numbers or “wings.” But both wings are important to understand.
  4. 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.
  5. The numbers are in a 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!

Check it Out!

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 it 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 an 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, 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, 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, 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 the 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