This fourth life story, from the forthcoming book co-authored by C.J. Fitzsimons, is condensed from an interview with an Enneagram Four. In the book there will be eighteen life stories, two for each Enneagram style.
“Transformation is a word we use in the West because we want to get someplace. I think of an evolution of consciousness that’s endless, and in the process we have things that block us. Leonard Laskow speaks of treasured wounds. So for me the exploration is seeing how I’ve held things that kept me from moving forward.
“In graduate school I got to where I couldn’t move off my couch. I finally saw a therapist, started to confront some childhood relationships, and realized my whole life I’d hit walls where I couldn’t contain the emotions. Now the pain doesn’t hit me so severely. I understand many of the core issues and it doesn’t have the same hold it used to have on me. I get bouts of depression, but I haven’t been clinically depressed in a long time.
“One of my core issues has been feeling I’m not good enough. The other theme is denying myself, either in wanting others’ approval or in taking on the energy of other people in a way that affects my own. At some level in my mind, I didn’t exist. And one of my main coping mechanisms was to go away in my head. So, many of my struggles have been in learning to get past the going away, to stay in real time, in the midst of whatever was scaring me, which was usually some threat, and often the threat was around not knowing.
“Part of the Four pattern is proving to yourself that there’s something terribly wrong with you. I’ve done a lot of work on It’s OK not to know, I really am OK. And there’s so much out there like the Enneagram – if you want help, it’s out there, from body work to energetic work; you name it. I got really good at using therapy for specific issues. With some therapists, I just needed to stay out of my own way.
“There’s no manual – it comes a paragraph at a time, and not necessarily through therapy. Yoga classes helped me in ways I didn’t understand at the time. In graduate school I’d be so outside myself, I’d walk into doorjambs. Yoga helped me get in touch with my body. And dance helped – I never formally danced, but I was really attracted to it. There were many times when people just cared. When you’re coming from that place of feeling like shit, it’s grace to have people who care.
“As a kid I had a strong religious connection, but the church wasn’t doing it for me. I read The Autobiography of a Yoga and started working with some of those teachings and meditation practices. When my job took me to the West Coast I drove up to a lake near a temple of the Self-Realization Fellowship, and went to a service there based on the teachings of Yogananda. It was so clear that I got a shot of love. It lasted only about five seconds – I couldn’t hold it – but I never forgot it. A Yogananda disciple has a retreat center in northern Michigan, The Ranch, and I always get help when I go there.
“There have been times when I had clear choices as to whether I was going to go on or not. Not that I was suicidal, but I thought I’d go crazy. There were times when I’d lie in bed and feel there was a battle between light and darkness inside, and consciously choose God and light. The first few years of my marriage were so hard. Any number of times I felt like walking. But I knew I needed to stay with it, to learn to love, even though there were problems way over my head. And I’m glad I stayed with it.
“Our earlier problem was allowing myself to be talked out of my view of reality. Often my husband’s reaction was, “You’re making this a problem; our situation is not that bad.” What changed in me was not blaming myself as much. And now I think we’re really good at pulling back and each working on our own pieces. I’ve gotten better at saying, This is my reality and it may not be right, but I’m going to hang in there with it. During the transition phase I was hardening myself to hold my position. Now I can do it more gently. I went from It’s all my problem, to It’s not at all my problem and digging in, to now becoming an observer of all that. There’s a process of change for all of us from (1) you’re in it but you don’t know you’re in it, to (2) you know you’re in it but you don’t know what to do about it, to (3) you know you’re in it and you know what to do about it.
“To keep myself conscious I do meditation at least once a day – being with myself, having a structure in place that reinforces things I’m learning, a course correction, to stay conscious. I have a New Year’s Reflection Day. And I journal. If something’s bothering me I draw a line down the middle of the page – on one side is Self; on the other side is anything from a body part to an emotion to an event, and I talk to it. Or I use mind mapping – the issue goes in the center with everything connected to it radiating out from the center. I allow myself to stay with what’s bothering me. Pilates helps to keep energy moving when I’m under a lot of pressure. I think what you put in your head the last thing at night is important, and I try to read something inspirational before I go to bed.
“When I had breast cancer several years ago, I learned to go inside, listen, and trust myself. No matter how it might come out, I felt compelled to listen to myself and to work holistically with the cancer, going to therapy, creating emotional support in my life. It wasn’t until three years later that an image came out of that breast that made me realize there were still unfinished issues with my Mom.
“In Enneagram terms, serenity or equanimity is my virtue and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. I’m lighter, more present. Even though there’s a lot happening in my life, it’s comparatively OK. I still get caught, but I get uncaught more quickly.
“Recently a friend and teacher suggested I was too caught up in the drama of a family situation. My involuntary reaction was to guffaw. I was clear I’d worked hard to stay out of the drama. But I knew better than to ignore my friend’s observation, and started listening to myself with a new consciousness. I was amazed at how often I would respond to “How are you?” with a litany of what was going on in the lives of those around me. Was I really using others’ dramas to define my own life? It seemed ridiculous. Yet, I began to see that focusing on others used up time and energy I needed to focus on my own life. It was a diversion that let me off the hook. Who would blame me for not doing more when my plate was full? Clearly, this pattern was not serving me well.
“Then I started listening to how I talked about my own life. That, too, had a dramatic flair. Where did I learn that everything had to be bigger than life, full of problems to overcome, mountains to climb? There’s a clear connection between being hooked on drama and the journey I’m on. Drama was and is a diversion, a way for me to feel important, to fill time with ‘meaningful’ activity. I could sense a panic deep inside as I considered giving up the melodrama. All this pulling back was creating a huge void. Without drama I’d feel naked and vulnerable. No excuses, nothing to make me special. It was scary.
“There are a number of lessons for me here. One is to trust that what and where I am right now, without any exaggeration or drama, is enough. Another is that life without drama isn’t mediocre or bland; it’s living from the center. The events or people in my life weren’t the problem, it was the emotional energy I gave to them – I would lose my sense of self, and stop listening to my inner guidance.
“Drama pulled me away from my heart. Today is a good day to let go of the baggage getting in the way of my being in my heart. For this, I will gladly leave the drama behind.”
Mary Bast, PhD, coach and coach mentor, is co-author of the first Enneagram coaching book – Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram – and author of several coaching workbooks. More information at www.breakoutofthebox.com.