The Enneagram is such a rich and complex map of personality that we could spend a lifetime studying its every nuance. And therein lies the rub. The wealth of discoveries and ahas offered by delving into its heart can be oh so seductive. Insights and knowledge are fine, but if we don’t find a way to apply the Enneagram in our daily lives, it serves no purpose. As my teacher Helen Palmer used to say “At some point, we just have to do the Work.”
Self observation is the primary key to stepping back from our habitual ways of perceiving, feeling, and acting in the world. Easy enough to do when we are meditating or when things are going well. But how to interrupt old patterns when events or people trigger us in unexpected or uncomfortable ways?
My favorite technique or best practice for breaking my personality’s habit is what I call the “PAUSE”. It’s an intentional slowdown and noticing of layers of attention. For all of us, the initial reaction or top layer at any given time will most likely result directly from the personality’s default setting. We react quickly from the One position, the Five stance, the Eight habit; whatever is our type specific home base.
Yet, so long as no actual emergency exists or life-threatening situation, we have nothing to lose by stopping for a moment or three.
The next time an instant reaction or response rises, stop, Pause and wait to see if something more deeply true might be residing beneath your initial feeling, thought, or desire to act. If you are with another person or persons, simply say “I’m trying to see how I feel about that” or “I’m trying to figure out how to respond here.” That will buy you time and won’t make you feel like you can’t answer a simple question. (Cultural conditioning sets us up to answer or act quickly in every situation; often to our detriment, so this will likely seem awkward at first.)
Allow a few moments to pass and look for what more might arise from inside you. A quick hint: unlike the initial reaction there is usually very little “juice” or “energy” to this new layer. It simply is. Voice this new revelation as it comes and notice how a situation might unfold differently than in the past. Communication may open into a new expansiveness; indeed you may feel expanded as well. Continue observing yourself and the interaction(s). I think you’ll be surprised and gratified by what unfolds.
Here’s a simple everyday example of the Pause working for me. I was walking in a Hawaiian rainforest with a group of people who were filming a TV segment with my photographer husband, Dewitt, and a supermodel. (Why is not important – it’s a long story.) The husband of the supermodel (we’ll call him Greg) was walking behind me and my spouse in front of me on a steep, slippery trail. Keeping my head down, I never noticed the branch at head level spanning the path. Bam! I banged right into it with my forehead, nearly knocking myself out. I stopped, waved away the daytime stars swirling around my brain, and rubbed my forehead gingerly. “Are you okay?” yelled Dewitt. “Yes, I’m deeply embarrassed and I’m going to have a good-sized goose egg, but I’m fine,” I confessed.
“Wow,” breathed Greg. “You handled that really well for a woman.” Personality jumped up with several retorts and a fair amount of energy, ready for a comeback. I PAUSED for a few moments, found a quiet truth underneath my first reaction, and replied, “I have no idea how to respond to what you just said, Greg.”
“Well, it has always been my experience that whenever I’ve gone camping or hiking with a woman, everything that goes wrong is my fault. Insect bites, turned ankles, rain, you name it. But you didn’t blame anybody and that was so amazing to me.”
We went on to have a long discussion about personal responsibility and woundings in his past relationships (present marriage excepted, he affirmed.) We connected and communicated in a more open, spacious way – thanks to a small Pause.
Give it a try. There’s nothing to lose except the constraints of personality. I promise you that this simple (not always easy) technique really can create Pausative Change.
Lynette Sheppard has taught the Enneagram for over 20 years. Author of “The Everyday Enneagram”, she also hosts The Everyday Enneagram Blog at everydayenneagramblog.blogspot.com