The Enneagram

Enneagram my colorsAnother important area of my life is studying the Enneagram, a set of understandings that enables us to know ourselves better and have compassion and appreciation for others. I discovered this system when I was going through a rough patch in 2005-2006, and it put me on a fast track to releasing judgment, both of myself and of the person I felt had “wronged” me. For the past six years I have been hosting a monthly meeting of people from various religious, spiritual, and even agnostic backgrounds who are using the Enneagram to support their personal growth.

The prefix ennea- comes from the Greek word for ‘nine’. The system, which dates back to ancient times, considers that people behave according to nine different patterns, based on their relative reliance on the gut, the heart, and the mind. Ideally, all three should be in balance and we should be able to release our fixation to our dominant pattern, but that only happens in fairy tales.

While the Enneagram has religious roots, it has morphed over the centuries. Today it is used not only by spiritual counselors but also by therapists, teachers, anthropologists, business managers, lawyers, politicians, and those of any faith or belief system who are interested in self-knowledge.

One of the first approximations to today’s Enneagram is found in the writings of the fourth century Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus, who described “eight terrible temptations, from which all sinful behavior springs.” [1] This summary description of eight ways of being in the world, a compilation of centuries of research by the Desert Fathers in Egypt, was intended to help devotees understand and deal with the process of temptation by being aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. His list  later became the basis for the Seven Deadly Sins (in which two of the types are conflated) and also the Enneagram (with a ninth type added) as it made its way through history and developed into its present form, now used for a variety of purposes.

Over and over again, I see that the descriptions of the types, even in the words of Evagrius,  are uncannily accurate.They draw their  accuracy from centuries of observation by both religious and lay researchers. The system  has great predictive power.  In other words, if a person’s type is known, it is often possible to predict how he or she will respond to a problem or challenge. Each type has characteristic mannerisms, sayings, and forms of expression. We go through life trying to figure out the people we meet– and usually failing. The Enneagram teaches us to recognize nine universal types and understand what leads the people of these types to do what they do. This knowledge opens us up to accepting people just as they are without the need to impose our own perspective. We become free to value them without criticism or unrealistic expectations. Better yet, it wakes us up to our own shortcomings. We have to recognize what we do (not as easy as it sounds) before we can change it, and sometimes simply being aware of the pattern allows the change to happen.

Our group meets every second Tuesday of the month. This coming Tuesday, the program is geared to beginners. We offer a basic program every third month. The core process group meets twice in between, and  members take turns proposing topics and facilitating the discussion.


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