By Joyce Plaza
President, Board of Directors, The Narrative Enneagram
I attended the 25th IEA Global Conference on July 26-28 in Oakland, CA. Although I couldn’t attend all of the sessions, and it was hard to choose among them, I’d like to share some key experiences and reflections.
There was a felt-sense of the growing Enneagram movement as more than 450 attendees from around the world came together to connect, learn and share. The Narrative Enneagram (TNE) was the gold sponsor for the three-day, session-packed event. Overall, I was struck by the number of presenters who are Certified Narrative Enneagram Teachers or Practitioners, or have trained with Helen Palmer and David Daniels, co-founders of both TNE and IEA.
The list is impressive. In addition to TNE Core Faculty members Helen Palmer, Peter O’Hanrahan and Terry Saracino, other Narrative-trained presenters included TNE Adjunct Faculty member Marion Gilbert, Abi Robin (newly certified) on Queering of the Enneagram, Ginger Lapid-Bogda, founder of the Enneagram in Business Network, Susan Olesek, founder of the Enneagram Prison Project, Beatrice Chestnut, Anne Geary, Tracy Baker-Lawrence, Debra Ooten, Katherine Chernick Fauvre, Margaret Loftus, Ingrid Stabb, Andrea Isaacs, Tracy Tressider, Nhien Vuong, and Nancy Markow, among others. (Many of these featured presenters also have completed other trainings, certifications and programs.)
The main conference started with an inspiring keynote address on Reflecting on the Future of the Enneagram by Chris Heuertz, author of The Sacred Enneagram. There was lots of positive buzz about Chris’s presentation, in which he challenged the Enneagram community to nurture unity, embrace diversity, and help bring transformation to the world.
Friday evening, a panel featuring Hameed Ali, Jessica Dibb, Russ Hudson and Helen Palmer discussed The Roots of Inner Work: How the Original Spiritual Context of the Enneagram Can Serve Humanity’s 21st Century Challenges. Helen talked about the Enneagram as a way of witnessing consciousness. Jessica described the Enneagram as “a brilliant map,” and Russ explained that the study of the Enneagram creates a valuable and different “field” of learning to connect with others, a way to be in a field of “mutual connection.” He described it as “learning how to be human beings with other human beings.” Hameed believes that when the Enneagram community grows larger and more of us “get” it, the Enneagram can be one force for systemic change.
Terry Saracino presented a powerful session on the Dynamics of Flourishing Relationships: The Role of Instinctual Energies to well over 100 attendees. Because we engage our time and attention through these inborn instinctual energies, we need to use them wisely and bring them into our consciousness, Terry explained. These three major instincts – self-preservation, one-to-one and social – have a powerful impact on our style of relating because they reflect our fundamental values. Understanding these instincts, and our differences, can immediately improve our relationships. It is important to notice the energy, pause, then use the energy in service of the freely flowing life force.
At the session we broke into groups to discuss how our instinctual subtypes impacted our primary relationships. Even though my husband and I are both self-preservation subtypes, we lead with different centers. My husband leads with the head center and I lead with the body center. Lately, I seem to be sensitive and reactive to the energy between us, frustrated by how differently he and I communicate, and how we differ in our perception of how we are communicating. In our breakout group, I complained (of course) about my husband “being in his head.” Someone in my group suggested when I am with my husband, I should try putting my hand on him, to connect with his body. I thought that was an interesting recommendation and great advice.
Helen Palmer and Marion Gilbert’s Type and its Inner Witness: Our Intuitive Faculty of Perception is a must experience for everyone. Helen illustrated the practice of the going “in and down” to access the inner witness and observe your patterns of thoughts, behaviors and somatic sensations. Marion described felt-sense awareness as the conscious sensing of physical sensations in the body as they arise. We can learn to relax our conditioned somatic structure instead of reacting automatically.
I have personally experienced amazing transforming experiences with this practice, and have learned to recognize and process my somatic experiences. I have witnessed my body sensations driving my impulses to do and say things without knowing I was doing this, without being grounded in presence. This session reminded me of how critical it is for each of us to learn to witness and process our own conditioned, somatic responses.
Deborah Ooten and Cathryn Siegel Hudson presented a session titled Children are our Future: Typing Children. They encouraged us to be careful about typing children, as they come into the world with a temperament, not a personality type. What determines type is the interaction between the children’s energy and experiences with parents or caregivers. Debra believes that you can type children as young as the age of 10, but warned against telling children their type. “Allow them to unfold themselves. Never try to craft your children.”
I took this advice to heart as I thought about my three grandchildren. I know that I typically try to get my 7-year-old grandson to “eat better,” even as I pretend not to be critical of his eating habits. I also try to get my 2-year-old granddaughter to think “rationally,” and try to get my 4-year-old granddaughter to cooperate with what I want her to do. I already knew, at a superficial level, what Deborah and Cathryn were recommending, but somehow listening to them at this session was what I needed to honestly see myself more realistically. They reminded us of the Gurdjieff quote, “If you wish your children well, you must first wish yourself well.”
A group working with Deborah Ooten, espousing that children learn visually, founded N1 Games for children to learn about their types by creating “positive games to influence change.” Using a patented technology incorporating positive games for transforming consciousness, they created a game with nine main heroes based on the nine Enneagram types. Each of these avatars personifies key attributes of the nine distinct personality types, and visually communicates key concepts so players can learn to see the world through others’ perspectives.
In The Inner Turn session, Russ Hudson described the process of working with the Enneagram at deeper levels and the evolving experience of using the Enneagram from a first turn, to going to a “deeper heart” that requires finer and finer dimensions of attention. Russ described three stages in our Enneagram development: 1) the rush of joy in the beginning, or the “Enneagram Honeymoon”; 2) realizing you are not your patterns, figuring out who you are when you are not running these patterns, trying to orient a quality of presence; and 3) the Deeper Heart, a “big turn” in which you notice you are not reacting in the same patterned way. I appreciated the discernment represented in his great description of the ever-evolving Enneagram experience, which goes beyond our type numbers.
I regret that I was not able to experience Peter O’Hanrahan’s session on Love and Relationships in Three Centers – Body, Heart & Mind; Anne Geary’s session on Using the Twelve Steps and Three Instincts in Recovery; and Beatrice Chestnut’s and Amy Ream’s Personality as a Path to Better Relationships, among many others presented at the conference.
The conference’s endnote address featured a video tribute to Claudio Naranjo, who passed away on July 12. Much of the video, created by Jessica Dibb, included past interviews and discussions with Claudio from the Shift Network, and covered his experience with the Gurdjieff school, his participation with Oscar Ichazo, his teaching near Arica, Chile, and his SAT (Seekers After Truth) groups. Naranjo is considered a pioneer in integrating psychotherapy and the spiritual traditions. After reflecting on the more than 20 years of my involvement with the Enneagram, it was encouraging to learn of these exciting contributions in the study of the Enneagram in the last 25 years.