My first exposure to the Enneagram came in 1994 when I was invited by a classmate at the Candler School of Theology to attend a workshop about personality types offered by a professor in the Master of Divinity program. Enthusiastic about this tool called the Enneagram, my friend encouraged me and a few others to immerse ourselves in this new wisdom. Little did I know that this chance encounter with the Enneagram would change my personal and vocational trajectory.
As I sat in that workshop, I was mesmerized by how well someone who didn’t know me at all could describe the deeper stirrings of my heart and mind. I felt seen, exposed and vulnerable as the professor shared some shadow aspects of my Type 4 pattern. Simultaneously, I glimpsed a new sense of freedom as I experienced a lack of judgment and a growing awareness that I was not simply a captive of my impulses. Instead, the power of the Enneagram as a tool for self-knowledge, spiritual growth and transformation had captured my interest.
Over the next 20 years, I read numerous books, had playful conversations with friends and colleagues, and attended a few workshops about the Enneagram. I found this personality system to be an increasingly helpful lens through which to better understand and appreciate myself and others. I shared it with all who had the patience to endure my evangelical spirit. As a spiritual director and pastor, I began sharing the wisdom of the Enneagram to support the personal and spiritual growth of my directees and parishioners.
A few years ago, I was invited to teach a class session on the Enneagram at Wake Forest University School of Divinity to help students grow in self-awareness and support their leadership development. Uncertain if these Master of Divinity students would find the material engaging, I was delighted to experience the energy in the room intensify as I started teaching about the patterns of the nine Enneagram types. “How do you know this about me?” some voices in the room seemed to say in their questions about the types. These questions were followed by outbursts of laughter, shaking and nodding heads, and contemplative expressions, all of which pointed to a deep knowing of truth that was being shared. By the end of the class, I could sense the intensity of mixed feelings in the room – surprise, delight, uncertainty, freedom – and I knew that the students had begun to experience the same transformational power of the Enneagram that had grabbed me two decades earlier.
After class, Tamica approached me and asked to meet privately. She shared that in life – family, church, relationships – she had always been told that she was “too much” and that she needed to tone it down. She had carried a sense of shame about who she was for many years, wondering why God had created her to be what she heard others describe as loud, aggressive and controlling. When she heard me teach about the Type 8 – both its tremendous gifts and challenges – she described to me the freedom she felt in knowing that who she was is a gift from God. “My strength, power and ability to get things done – these are all gifts to myself and others,” she said, sharing with me that she was finally finding a place at home in herself because of this new revelation and understanding.
After class I was aware not only of the increased energy in the classroom, but also noticed how alive and energized I felt. Offering a context in which students could experience personal and spiritual transformation – long a deep expression of my vocation – made me want to do more. This experience was so profound for me that I became a Certified Enneagram Teacher in the Narrative Tradition, completed my Doctor of Ministry degree with a dissertation focusing on the intersection of the Enneagram and spiritual practices, and began teaching a regular course on the spirituality of the Enneagram at Wake Forest.
Out of gratitude for the impact of the Enneagram on my life and vocation, I made a commitment to contribute monthly to Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition. I invite you to join me by making a financial gift to ESNT, to share the transformative power of the Enneagram with people like Tamica who are seeking to find freedom and home in themselves, and who desire to work together to create a more compassionate world.