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THE DYNAMIC ENNEAGRAM eBook Serial excerpts

The Dilemma

Spiritual goals

From "Fours"

  The Dilemma

    The dilemma the Enneagram spotlights is this: we are in a trance, living out a story. The plot was formed early in childhood; it is now 20, 40 or 60 years old. Major chunks of this script are based on who we used to be and early conclusions we formed about life. Some of our present responses are obsolete or driven by motives we don’t understand. To varying degrees, we do what used to work.
    Evidence of this is everywhere. There may be persistent conflicts that we struggle with, ways that we make the present uncomfortably like the past. We impose old themes on new relationships, transform neutral incidents into familiar dramas and cast our friends into related roles.
    Sometimes there’s an “inevitable” feeling, like a sense of déjà vu, as if a secret plot line is determining how events in our life must proceed. There could be big omissions in our story, options that are routinely excluded from our self-description. Or maybe our inner narrator always says the same old things, only repeating the clichés from the story of our life.
  Not everyone had a tormented, unhappy childhood that they pathologically repeat in the present. On the other hand, no one had an ideal childhood and even very healthy people who study the Enneagram see how they are caught in an overall pattern that can include repeating themes, blind spots and habitual defenses. The expression of this can be obvious and outright, for instance, when we “marry our mother” or “marry our father;” or subtle and implicit, as when we marry someone we’re sure is nothing like our mother or father but who later turns out to be.
    In Enneagram literature this drive to recreate past premises is called a “compulsion.” What’s crucial to discover about your Enneagram script is the extent to which it preoccupies you, the degree to which you are living the story of your life instead of your actual life. When you allow your self-created script to overrun reality, then you will experience it as something happening to you, without your choice, driving you automatically – a compulsion.
    Many versions of the Enneagram portray your personality style as a “false self” as opposed to the “true self” of your essential nature.  As we shall see, this belief can set you up to fight with your own defenses, which actually makes real change more difficult.
    It’s more accurate to say that your ego is a one-dimensional self, a small department of your total being. It’s definitely part of you, as integral as your left arm, but when you overfavor its version of events, the natural gifts of your Enneagram style become a kind of curse. When solving problems or coping with challenges, we naturally turn to what we do best, trying to play from strength. But the Enneagram shows us that when we overuse a strength it becomes a weakness, a rigid, preprogrammed response. Like a Shakespeare character, blessed and cursed by the same quality, we have the “defects of our virtues.”
    Caught in our ego’s story, our world becomes overcontained, our choices artificially simple. We make life too predictable, seeing and hearing what “should” exist instead of what does. No longer allowing things to happen, we make them happen – the one way they’re supposed to. Our story creates our behavior while our behavior creates our story. 
    Deep in our ego’s trance, we approach life with a miniature set of responses. Secure in the familiar and known, we think we’re coping well but actually we have few options. We lock ourselves into inflexible positions, grow out of control about being in control and, especially under stress, do more of what got us stuck in the first place.
    At our most compulsive, we may do things in a faulty way simply because we always have, almost as a form of personal tradition. We “go wrong with confidence,” sticking to our limited strategy despite the cost, embracing a distorted certainty like a fundamentalist who insists that the same absolute principle should apply to everything.
    Our sense of identity gets warped, too. In our ego’s trance, we overidentify with our self-image and play roles that are less than who we truly are, reacting as though we have no more options than a character in a play or novel. Attached to one way of seeing ourselves, we defend our image from the world’s feedback and contradiction. “That’s just the way I am,” we say, and then work hard to prove the statement true, acting like someone who has climbed a tree, kicked away the ladder and now insists they were born in a tree.


    Spiritual goals

    The world’s religious literature is full of instructions and techniques for transcending ego and detaching from our limited identities. The purpose of many such practices is to help us waken from the trance-like dream of our lives and open to realms beyond our personality and worldview. But getting to such realms and staying in them are two different tasks, because we keep putting our defenses in the way.
    One paradox of seeking spiritual revelation is that it never comes when you expect it. You can’t force yourself to have a vision anymore than you can point a gun at a flower and order it to grow. Grace comes unbidden; it demands hard work, yet unfolds effortlessly, in its own time and season.
     Since you can’t force revelation, you are limited to two general approaches: 1) opening yourself to higher realms through practices like meditation, fasting, dancing, chanting, silence, singing, praying; and 2) clearing out any “lower” defensive obstacles that you put in your own way.
    Many spiritual practices unwittingly ignore secondary gains, overlooking the unconscious will and symbolic benefits that drive lower behavior. They recommend a disciplined opposition towards “sinful” tendencies, either by dissociating from them or by trying to go against the temptation.
    But if you focus exclusively on opening to higher realms without working on your psychological defenses, you’ll tend to have spiritual experiences that aren’t integrated or sustainable in daily life. Meditating your defenses away without an understanding of their function, will tend to bring them back. Historical dilemmas that you disregard in favor of getting spiritually high will stay disregarded. When you come back down to daily life, your issues will still be waiting. It’s possible to be a world-class meditator and still have emotionally immature relationships; to achieve peaceful, balanced inner states and yet be prone to road rage.
    On the other hand, if you work solely on resolving your “lower” personality issues, with no sense of anything beyond, you can get stuck in a psychological paradigm, overfocusing on autobiography, reliving your history in a way that reinforces your defenses. As we shall see, some people do this with the Enneagram, using the system’s diagnostic depth to give themselves problems and excuses that they didn’t previously have.  As Aldous Huxley put it, “Where personality is developed for its own sake, and not in order that it may be transcended, there tends to be a raising of the barriers of separateness.”
    Instead of aiming too low or too high, the main way out is through. Generally this means facing what you’d rather avoid, making peace with your ego so that you can let it go, while maintaining a spiritual practice that deepens the sense that you are more than your ego.
    A cartoon once showed two Buddhist monks sitting together meditating. One turns to the other and says, “Nothing happens next: this is it.” Spiritual awakenings that endure tend to be matter-of-fact rather than dramatic; something in you opens to grace in a way the rest of you can live with. Earth shaking, visionary revelations aren’t common, even for full-time seekers.
    If you use the Enneagram as part of a spiritual practice, generally good goals to work towards might be: becoming wide awake and fully present; seeking the spiritual in little things; recovering a deeper sense of your own integrity; becoming more up-to-date in your responses; loosening your psychological defenses; resolving stuck points in your history; making room in your life for the aesthetic, creative and soulful; cultivating an inner quiet; trying to better understand any people you hate or vilify; and surrendering to a broader sense of relatedness into which your defensive, wholly separate self-image dissolves.

From "Fours"
    Four is one of what I jokingly call “nature’s Enneagram styles.” In extreme old age people often slow down, grow laconic and mellow; turning Nine-like, no matter what their true personality style. In their early twenties, many young adults pass through a natural Sevenish phase when they first venture into the world to sample life’s variety and delights.
    In a similar way, nature temporarily turns all teenagers into Fours, in that the universal teenage experience contains many of the elements of Four psychology: a sense of alienation; a conscious search for identity; a preoccupation with who you are as unique from others; a tendency to romanticize death; the conviction that no one has ever felt what you feel and a keen awareness of both the elation and pain of love. The famous poetry teacher John Ciardi was once asked whether people have to suffer to become poets. “No,” he replied, “Having been a teenager is quite enough.”
    Like Ones, Fours compare reality with what could be. While Ones look for imperfection in the world around them and want to correct what’s wrong, Fours turn away from reality to live in their imagination, feelings and moods. While this leads Fours to a creative, idiosyncratic point of view, they can also get mired in their own subjectivity.
    Healthy Fours are idealistic, have good taste and are great appreciators of beauty. They filter their outer reality through a rich, subtle subjectivity and are often good at metaphorical thinking – the ability to link unrelated facts and events; to understand and experience one kind of thing in terms of another; seeing what anthropologist-philosopher Gregory Bateson called “the pattern which connects.”
    Fours naturally practice a mild form of synesthesia – a chronic blending of the senses that can produce rich complex reactions to ordinary events. A Four entering a new situation could see something that triggers a mental image, which in turn evokes a feeling, which then reminds the Four of a song. The song could evoke more images which in turn evoke more smells, tastes and feelings. The Four’s senses can run together like a watercolor in the rain; they can see sounds, hear feelings, smell images – a kaleidoscopic rinse of impressions. Asked what he likes best about his personality style, a Four says, “I don’t know if a lot of other people can appreciate things and places and events with as much detail and richness and largeness. Even when I’m bored it’s intense boredom.”
    This sensory richness is like the raw material of creativity and healthy Fours give themselves ways to express their intense inner life. A Four songwriter says, “When I write a song it reminds me that I have an identity. It’s like I get all my feelings out on paper. Then I can look down and really see them. They become manageable.” “From the beginning,” a Four actor comments, “acting seemed like therapy, since I could transform my pain into something creative.” In Enneagram books, Fours are often described as artistic and many famous artists have had this Enneagram style. Otherwise, Fours have all kinds of occupations, although they try whenever possible to make their work creatively interesting.
    Like Ones, healthy Fours can be morally courageous, idealistic and work hard for what they believe in. They are contributors rather than complainers, often committed to improving an imperfect world. Some have a distinct need to realize an inner vision in the outer world, perhaps by initiating innovative projects that have humanistic or artistic aims. To this end, they can be daring, determined and practical. “When I’m on my deathbed,” says one Four, “I hope I can look back on my life and be proud. I don’t want to waste my life on the frivolous.”
    Fours are sensitive to the suffering of others and want to minister to it. “I feel like I am in a position where I can affect other people,” a successful Four explains. “I enjoy giving back. I have to have something that fills me with drive and purpose and passion. Service to others does that more than anything.” Another Four adds, “Having experienced pain and loss has made me more understanding of other people’s suffering. And more generous.” Fours can be empathetic, foul-weather friends, able to understand the distress of others, especially willing to attend to a friend’s pain when others might turn away.
    At their best, Fours express the universals of human experience for all of us, articulating and affirming the reality of the inner life; insisting that dreams and feelings are as real as tables and chairs. Fours can be fine teachers and therapists in this regard. As one Four says, “The ability to describe internal experience as a result of having gone through it myself, and to work with other people therapeutically because I have devised ways to work with myself – I relate to that very well.” Fours can also be open advocates of the passionate life. “Avidity, curiosity, passion and anger are my conscious constructs,” a Four says, “They keep me from being too sad, from giving up.” Learning about themselves and applying the knowledge are strong tendencies for healthy people with this style.


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