By Claudine Prune
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who had studied the Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition for a while. She surprised me when she declared that the Narrative Tradition was lacking regarding data on the types, so she had decided to turn toward another Enneagram school.
Naturally, all Enneagram schools have their own way of teaching, and diversity is both legitimate and a good thing. The truth was that I had never been thinking in those terms. I always had taken the Narrative Tradition for granted, probably because I was happy with it and it appeared to me as organic as organic can be. Nonetheless, I started to look more closely at the way I had been taught the Enneagram and became aware of something I hadn’t noticed before.
It is correct that the Narrative Tradition does not overburden students with literature on the types. Instead, it provides a method for students to discover the Enneagram for themselves. We are invited to learn directly from type representatives sharing their stories and experiences. I realized that this method is not only a way of teaching that encourages people to go to the source, it is also a way to look at things, at people, at ideas with curiosity and openness, giving up the pretension to know it all one day. The Narrative Tradition is a state of mind and, above all, a way to live.
The Narrative Tradition and the Enneagram
The teaching of the Enneagram benefits widely from the Narrative Tradition because it gives students a foundation that includes the “basic proposition” of each type, arrows, subtypes and defense mechanisms. It plants seeds and initiates a quest through panels, typing interviews and one-to-one conversations. It offers the adventure of developing a personal style of inquiry, always respecting the individual rather than the type. The Narrative Tradition, as a revival of the “Socratic” approach, prevents its followers from forming certainties and taking things at face value. Rather, it favors an open state of mind, an insatiable curiosity of the heart to draw near some vibrant truth with a capital T. Yet this Truth is unreachable because we are never done … seeking forever.
Sometimes I am amazed when I get the impression that someone on a panel is trying to comply with what they have learned about their type. And, as judicious as the questions are, that is unavoidable. We probably all do that at one stage. After all, people speak from where they are, and the inner work is a lifetime endeavor. The Narrative Tradition embarks us on a trip that may surprise us as we listen to the answers to the questions we pose. It is a guarantee against boredom.
There is a question that comes up often in the Enneagram community: How to avoid wrong self-typing? In the Narrative Tradition, this issue is irrelevant. The teacher only guides self-exploration, and respects the individual coming to a different conclusion regarding his or her own type. This problem became redundant to me the day I learned the Taoists consider we all have three selves that coexist: “the one we think we are,” “the one we pretend we are,” and “the one we really are.” So, since one has to start somewhere, who are we to tell people who they are and where they are? This is the gift of the Narrative Tradition, to leave room for the evolution of answers to a single question. It is true of self-discovery; it is true of teaching the Enneagram; it is true of just anything.
The Narrative Tradition as a way to live
I am grateful to have received the Narrative Tradition as a legacy, because without my paying attention, it has interpenetrated all the domains of my life: self-discovery, personal and professional relationships, communication with the rest of the world, with nature, on a spiritual level. It has prevented me from believing I know everything once and for all. It has pushed me to question the evidence, to observe, to accept, to be surprised or even contradicted by life rather than having some fixed theories about it. The Narrative Tradition has made my life more interesting, fuller, richer, in a word more alive.
Another advantage of the Narrative Tradition state of mind is that it favors dialogue, because a “true oral tradition adept” cannot start a conversation thinking he or she is right and possesses the truth. This method is a reminder that what we think we know can be modified by the minute as life unfolds. It also allows us to develop receptivity, a quality that is often discredited, forgetting that the pertinence of action comes from the receptivity to what is. The Narrative Tradition is a method to dig deeper, below and beyond.
Regarding the Enneagram, I often had the impression that I was on top of it, that I UNDERSTOOD IT fully. It did not last long. The Enneagram has shocked me and still does regularly while listening to people, to life, showing that something else is opening—bigger, larger, stronger, but not necessarily more comfortable! Proof that the Narrative Tradition offers a perspective that allows evolving understandings, truths and viewpoints. Together the Enneagram and the Narrative Tradition open the mind, the heart, and renew the experience every single day.
I am fond of the Enneagram, but today I wonder how it would have been without the Narrative Tradition, which has influenced all the other fields of my life. I am biased, I confess— my perception is probably type-based, too—but, for heaven’s sake, it is my experience!
These few lines are intended as a tribute to my teachers of the Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition. From the bottom of my heart, I thank them; they have given me more than they realize.
Claudine Prune lives in Paris. She learned the Enneagram through the Narrative Tradition and other school and is still learning.