Lately, I find myself thinking about the many ways we teach the Enneagram: to different audiences, at different levels, and for many different applications. What does it takes to prepare for each event and each new group? Fortunately, the Enneagram lends itself well to adaptability, and teachers develop new material and creative formats all the time. One purpose of our membership organization is to encourage communication about what everyone is doing out in the field, so it would be great to hear more about these types of innovations.
What I find exciting in our NT community is the combination of both the horizontal use of the Enneagram – helping us work and relate better in daily life, reducing unnecessary conflict and building bridges – and the vertical use – offering a deep path of spiritual development and psychological transformation.
I am a big fan of the practical, horizontal use. It’s helpful to people right out of the gate, showing how the nine types are different and how every point of view is valid! Even in the shortest talks and workshops, people are able to understand themselves and others much better. I am sure you know the exciting moment of realization that dawns when people discover their type (and that of their spouse, child, or boss).
Then, when we have the opportunity to teach at a deeper level – in continuing workshops, study groups, and the Narrative Enneagram Curriculum – we see people developing their interiority and coming to grips with the major obstacles to both psychological and spiritual development (which Helen reminds us are the same thing). Here we focus more on the inner observer, the work of integrating the three centers, and discovering inner essence, which opens the door to the higher qualities.
We start by describing the Enneagram as a system of nine personality types, which is correct as far as it goes, yet the Enneagram is about much more than personality, and this is also part of our knowledge base.
1) As taught by Gurdjieff, the Enneagram describes a system of universal laws. From the Egyptian deities to the Greek muses, nine (or thrice three) has been a number that represents and evokes the threshold and the transition between the finite and the infinite. There is a deep exploration of the meaning and movement of the lines and laws of the diagram. For more on this I recommend the audio recordings of the wonderful presentation by Cynthia Bourgeault at our Asheville conference on the use of the diagram in the Gurdjieff work.
2) The Enneagram illustrates nine archetypes (meta-patterns) of human consciousness or the nine doorways through which Divine Spirit enters the world. (We can speak from either a religious or secular context.) These archetypes take shape in people as personality types; they can also be seen as non-personal forces, fields or territories in the realms of human activity. In addition, the diagram points to the higher qualities, or essence qualities, which are not located in personality per se but which do offer antidotes to the fixations and passions of the nine personality types. Many NT teachers from different religious traditions emphasize this aspect of the system in their work.
3) The term “persona” comes from the masks that actors used on stage in ancient Greece, and the word personality suggests the way we present ourselves to others: the “vehicle” for our participation in the world. The Enneagram goes far beyond persona/personality to describe nine character structures – our inner orientation and identity, and the deep patterns of our soma and psyche rooted in neurobiology formed by nature and nurture. In my experience there is no better system in the field of psychology to organize and articulate our knowledge about character structure including defenses, three centers of intelligence, and how to tailor therapeutic methods to the individual. I hope we’ll see more acceptance and adoption by psychologists and therapists in the years to come.
Since the first EPTP at Helen’s house in Berkeley in 1988, the program has migrated to many countries: Brazil, Mexico, China, Australia, The Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, Finland, Czech Republic, Ireland and the UK. And there are NT teachers in many more countries in the world (and more on the way). Pretty amazing! In whatever way you use or teach the Enneagram, I wish you all the best!