The first central principle has to do with the difference between the journey and the map. The Enneagram is not just a description of your type. It is a map that shows where to start undoing the spell type has cast. It leads to a gate, usually dark and cluttered with twisted thorny vines, called one’s point of avoidance. Mircea Eliade (1959) reminds us that in most myths the hero’s journey begins with an encounter with something astonishing—an ugly toad or mushroom, a slippery stairwell found in the fissure of a rock.
Often the hero refuses the first invitation to enter. He would rather continue studying the map, hoping his destiny is to become a cartographer rather than an explorer. The astonishing occurrence has to visit him again and perhaps again. Remember this when great tragedy strikes your life. Remember it when you have to keep on living with an irritating boss or co-worker or family member. These are your ugly toads and mushrooms.
What makes one finally enter? Suffering, usually. It simply gets too painful to stay where you are. And if indeed you enter, you are then required to begin the solitary journey through the dark forest. In the forest tower are the trees of your passions – anger, pride, vanity, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth. Something strong is required to keep you going in such terrifying places.
The energy necessary to keep going is still and unmoving rather than boisterous and reactive. The ego has an automatic reaction to pain, physical or psychological. You stop breathing for a moment, tense up the muscles, and prepare to either fight or flee. This is how type (the ego) takes over, trying to protect you from the experience. It believes it is all alone in the cage, except maybe for that tiger waiting to devour it! However, when the ego tenses up, the free flow of energy stops. The energy behind whatever painful emotion you are experiencing does not flow in, around, then out of the body. Instead it stops and becomes lodged in some organ or set of muscles. It gets “stuck” and eventually congeals into part of the system of your type’s particular passion.
In spiritual work, when your passion is awakened, you do better to simply go still. Take a deep breath, become the observer, and watch without acting on it. I am not sure that you can really “relax” when in the grip of your passion, but it is possible to be still. When something painful grabs your attention, take a deep breath . . . and remember to smile! Try to let the smile drop down from your mouth to your heart and from there to your belly. Pay attention to your body and its sensations rather than to your mind and its story. Get curious. You have just slipped down the stairwell into the magical cave. Smile! Like Zhou, you are in that transition from sleep to awake. You are now ready to enter the Pivot of Dao, the place from which you can begin the transformation of the ten thousand things.
This requires practice, however, and so the training for spiritual transformation begins with self-quieting. The first stage of self-quieting is some daily practice of meditation. It can be done sitting or moving, from a Christian, Buddhist, Daoist or whatever perspective. But it has to be done. You can’t find the path through the dark forest if you are forever chattering, texting or twittering. Chapter 14 of the Inward Training (Nei-yeh), an early Daoist text on meditation asks what it means to be liberated by Dao. It states:
The answer resides in the calmness of the mind.
When your mind is well ordered, your senses are well ordered.
When your mind is calm, your senses are calmed.
What makes them well ordered is the mind;
What makes them calm is the mind.
By means of the mind you store the mind:
Within the mind there is yet another mind.
That mind within the mind:
it is an awareness that precedes words.
The text implies a sequence of steps. First, use the mind to order one’s life and calm one’s senses. Next use the mind to “store” the mind. It does not say “silence” the mind, but “store” the mind. This suggests a process of creating space for storage rather than gutting a structure with the intent to knock it down. And indeed, chapter 13 of the same text describes how the mind within the mind will come of its own accord:
There is a numinous mind [shen] naturally residing within;
One moment it goes, the next it comes,
And no one is able to conceive of it.
If you lose it you are inevitably disordered;
If you attain it, you are inevitably well ordered.
Diligently clean out its lodging place
And its vital essence [jing] will naturally arrive.
Still your attempts to imagine and conceive of it.
Relax your efforts to reflect on and control it.
The suggestion is that the stillness one seeks, the “mind within the mind,” cannot be attained once and for all, for it comes and goes. It “wants” to arrive, however, for that is its nature. Our only task is to keep its lodging place clean. It will show up all by itself. When it shows up, it will unite the spiritual energy [shen] of the upper dan tian with physical energy [jing] of the lower one. When both higher and lower dan tian act in consort, not only do a person’s emotional responses change but even one’s physical perceptions are transformed. Energy begins to move freely in, around, and through the body. This is what will create the capacity to act effortlessly and without the use of force. And why does this unification take place all by itself? Because it is already there albeit unrecognized. Several lines later, at the beginning of chapter 14, the Nei-yeh continues:
The Way (Dao) fills the entire world,
it is everywhere that people are,
but people are unable to understand this.
How can the Way be everywhere and yet remain hidden? This is really the central problem of any meditation practice. How can what I am looking for be said to be “already within me” when I keep failing to find it day after day? The most common answer people give is, “There is something wrong with my practice; I am not doing it right.” The next most common one is, “The whole thing is a hoax; there is nothing to be found.” The Daoist sage would reply: “Both answers are right – and both wrong.”
Daoism’s basic credo is that Dao cannot be found existing by itself. It is always hidden within the particular, so when you seek the Absolute all by itself, you are looking in the wrong place. There is no such thing. And when you complain that there is nothing to be found, you are in one sense quite correct. There is no-thing to be found, for all that really exists is the inseparable continuity of Dao to de. The freedom promised by Way-making, or the practice of Dao, is the realization that you can find the universal presence (Dao) only when you directly apprehend one particular (de) because they are inseparable.
From the Daoist point of view, the bottom line is that there is only one reality comprised of Dao and detogether. There is no Presence outside of and independent from the ten thousand things. In other words, there was no time in which Dao carried on prior to the begetting of de. Dao and de implicate one another and always have.
In your practice of the Enneagram, there is no “tenth type” you should be striving for. Nor can you find a state of mind that forever does away with your type. There is only you, always and forever self-so-ing as you were meant to do. Similarly, there is no separate and independently existing “I” to search for in your meditations. Remember the Nei-yeh’s advice about the numinous mind: “Still your attempts to imagine and conceive of it. Relax your efforts to reflect on and control it.” You cannot ever catch hold of it, even though it is always present, even in your failure to locate it. From a Daoist perspective, there is no Supreme Being or God or Buddha-nature to be grasped as a separate graspable entity; there is only unspeakable infinite goodness hiding within every event. Presence is but remains truly hidden within the world. The process of discovering it is what Zhuangzi, in a monumental understatement, called “looking for the obvious.”
I began this book with the suggestion that the human infant arrives in Presence. Before subjective self has been clearly divided from objective other, Presence is experienced as shared awareness, or the intuition that all awareness is the same. It just happens that due to the way the human mind develops, single-pointed awareness gradually begins to experience reality through a prism that breaks reality into two parts – subject and object. Your adult spiritual task is to put this prism back together, to begin seeing with eyes that not only perceive the object but your own act of seeing at the same time. Awareness of your own seeing is the doorway into a type of consciousness that is pure presence. When you reach that, you realize that you cannot be alone.
This is the third and probably most important central principle of spiritual work: you are not alone. You are not alone because you participate in the one-pointed singularity of awareness, Presence itself. This Presence is not an abstraction. It is not a mechanical energy or force. It is mindful and loving. I myself do not think of it is a “person,” for to me the notion of personhood suggests something like us, an individual that has a point of view and a certain way it wants the universe and all the beings in it to evolve.
I do not think Presence is a person in this all-too-human sense. Nonetheless, I believe it to be intelligent and above all loving. Not loving in the selfish sense of “wanting to make you mine” but loving in the larger sense of wanting each being to “self-so.” I believe that if you want to grow spiritually deeper, you must seek an encounter with the loving nature of this Presence. You must call upon it. There are many forms of prayer. Many of them are actually quite selfish. But there is one form every spiritual seeker, without exception, must learn. However worded, it is always the same:
You be the Master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
Finally, even though infants may not recognize the lines of Rilke just quoted, they still have much to teach us about the spiritual life. They teach us that it is possible to be present, to be joyful and to share in one awareness. They teach us that we are naturally born to seek one another. The only permanently debilitating trauma a child can suffer is to be alone. Not alone as in a room all by yourself, but alone as is no one sees, understands, or cares about what you experience.
My years of working with children have taught me that they can come through almost any traumatic incident without great lasting damage—so long as they do not go through it all alone. The same holds true for each of us as we walk through the dark forest. You must find your own unique path, but you do not walk it alone. It does not matter how you conceive this Presence. Call it the Higher Power or the Christ; call it Holy Spirit, Buddha or Dao. It is of no importance what you call it. It is utterly important however that you address it, and faithfully wait for it to appear.
The fourth and last central principle is, as the Nei-yeh warns, that our human awareness of Presence will continue to appear and disappear. One of the great joys of spiritual work is that the path through the forest is not always dark. The more deeply one walks into it, the more frequently it seems an enchanted place. And then, sometimes quite suddenly, the moonlit glade dappled by fireflies disappears and one encounters a briar patch infested by ghoulish insects. Quite naturally one wants to cut short the marches through tangles inhabited by demons and to hang out in meadows lit by glow-worms. But in this world, one cannot remain anywhere forever, for it is the nature of light to create shadows, and it is the nature of darkness to birth the dawn. Dao is said to be changeless, but it is forever moving.
Ancient Daoists knew this and developed a spiritual methodology that emphasized process and change over states and stages. They placed the key to the transformation of things in “not choosing one thing rather than another.” And that involves the heart. One can meditate forever. One can even reach the Void. But without the heart, even the Way becomes a seductive sterility. In order to fully appropriate it, one must encounter Dao as the cosmic Smile, a welcoming and loving presence hiding the world within the world. The spiritual life then begins to take on the character of a great game of hide and seek, and one can truly say with Tagore: “With the tune of thee and me all the air is vibrant, and all ages pass with the hiding and seeking of thee and me” (Gitanjali, No. 71).
The great, no, the magnificent paradox of human life is that we are living vessels of consciousness sailing inexorably through time and space toward physical death. We are fragments of the Formless Living One, yet we know we shall die. This fusion of eternal and time-limited does not easily co-exist. Nevertheless, we are meant to be this way. It is our destiny. It is not a mistake; it is not a condition waiting to be rectified. It is how the primal energy or absolute power or divine being or highest good takes form as de.
Personal liberation, release or enlightenment does not require that we leave the body behind and ascend to the absolute. Nor does it require that divinity obliterate or traverse a space of ontological separation between itself and us in order to “save” us. It only requires that we recognize and embrace our situation exactly as it is. And what is our situation? Listen one last time to the poet:
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous. On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances.
They build their houses with sand and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby’s cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships get wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.
R. Tagore, Gitanjali, No 60.
The poem is one of such great compassion. It perceives the incongruity of our situation with utter clarity, yet it does so with complete acceptance and love. It tells us that we live between an infinite motionless consciousness and a restless, boisterous ocean of physicality. On that shore, our adult egos build kingdoms and societies, start companies, go bankrupt, attend seminars and write books. They set out on adventures and journeys, trying to live like heroes on the vast deep even though they are sailing in boats made of leaves looking for castles made of sand. They dive for treasure and cast endless, endless tangles of nets. But our souls, like children, care not for swimming or finding treasure. They are more interested in the pebbles right in front of our noses. They do not fear the powerful forces that surround us, rock us to and fro, and at times devastate us. The sea plays with us, and the sea beach, this tiny isle on which we play, can only smile palely. On this endless shore of presence, beneath the infinite sky and the trackless sea, we have met. In the face of certain death, we greet one another with shouts and dances. Presence is our great meeting place. Presence is the mother who rocks us with such compassion.
You can be free this very moment. Smile! You are already here, exactly as you are, dancing in the arms of the endlessly moving Dao, the Field of Presence.