This abbreviated life story from my forthcoming book with C.J. Fitzsimons is condensed from an interview with an Enneagram Seven. In the book there will be eighteen life stories, two for each Enneagram style.
“My transformation has been in ideas about what is, learning something that all of a sudden convinced me, I thought I knew and I really didn’t and there’s a way to learn it. I’m an intellectual in both the good and bad senses of that term. I haven’t studied physics or chemistry or biology. I’ve studied ideas. My father was a Five and I have a strong connection to Five. I really live in my head.
“When I was nineteen I went to dinner with the local priest and his artist friend. At one point his friend said, “God that’s an ugly door.” I looked at the door and thought to myself, I didn’t know doors could be ugly or beautiful! The whole meal they talked about things I didn’t know existed. The next week I entered college because I wanted to know what they knew. Then in college I got my first D writing about Huckleberry Finn, which I’d read as a kid ten years before and figured I don’t have to read that because I’ve already read it. There were only four kids in my high school graduating class, only nineteen in the whole school, and most of them were farm boys who had to work as soon as they got home. They never read anything, even their assignments. I was really a rube, didn’t know you had to study to get A’s.
“And then one morning, at 11:30 on a Tuesday in front of the post office, I entered an altered state. I’d been struggling, and all of a sudden I knew, with an unshakable confidence that stays with me today, I was going to be a good philosopher and theologian. Whatever that took, I was going to do it. And after that experience I was on the honor roll and graduated in the top four percent of my class.
“I’ve had a number of those altered states. I was sixteen the first time it happened, the day school was to start for my senior year in high school. It was early September and already getting chilly. We were so poor I had only one new piece of clothing for school and I was wearing my new red sweatshirt. I was on the East side of the house, out of the cool wind and in the warm sun, and all of a sudden went into an altered state, an experience of being absolutely confident and calm and integrated. I knew everything was going to be all right.
“At about age forty I got a call from my sister that she wanted me to come see her in Phoenix. And my best friend Bill called, a big-time Eight who used to give me hell for saying what I thought regardless of who was listening – always ‘one toke over the line.’ At the same time, I was being told I was going to be fired from my teaching job because I was too liberal. My wife and I flew there, though we barely had enough money.
“So I flew to see my sister and my best friend, arrived at 10 pm and asked my brother-in-law, who’s a really good guy, ‘Will you take me over to see Bill tonight?’ He said, ‘Sure!’ When I got there, Bill was standing underneath the street light, I gave him a big hug, and he said, ‘Look, we can talk later but John wants to see you. I’ve been building you up to him for a possible job.’ So I walked in at 10:30 and half an hour later agreed to take the job. The conflation of my best friend as my advocate, my sister calling me down there, and John being there – all at once – that’s career planning Seven style!
“That was transformative because it fit with my earlier decision to be a philosopher and theologian. And here I had a job in which I was the perfect person for the job and the job was perfect for me. It was a complete, total fit, and I flourished for twenty-five years. I’d work twelve hours a day if I needed to and come home refreshed. It was new ideas, it was theology, it was liberal, and it was a little bit antiauthoritarian because we were blowing the whistle on the stupid bishops all the time. Just perfect for me!
“These altered states I’ve described have a spiritual component, but I don’t use religious language, which is usually pretentious and pompous. But the altered state is religious. For example, when I was in the eighth grade I had a primitive faith. I didn’t live in a parish, I didn’t know any priests except those who were missionaries from forty miles away, and all but two of them spoke only German or Russian. So I grew up without any formal religious training, but I was very pious in the sense that I prayed a lot. And I thought about religious things. I pray without words. I get up in the morning, have a cup of coffee before I eat, and just sit, try not to have words.
“Probably my most spiritual practice is a cultivation of gratitude. I have a connection to One and the way I stop myself from being judgmental is to tell myself how lucky I am. Then I don’t see the problems of others as being because they’re ‘bad.’ Theologians would call it grace.
“My main resistance to change has been my avoidance of hard work. I’ve never been able to take a job that would pay good money if I didn’t like to do it. I didn’t need to hear ‘Do what you love.’ That’s all I’ve ever done. I write easily and I write well – but it’s too much work, so I don’t do it much. I was involved in a project with a Nine who complained about having to do all the details and asked me to do more of them. That was a really powerful experience, and here’s what happened. An Enneagram teacher said, ‘Sevens often vilify a difficult task’ and I thought, Wow! I wonder if I’m doing that? So I did something I recommend to other Sevens: start a difficult task and then after 15 minutes ask yourself, Is this really as painful as I had envisioned it? I learned as I was doing that, Hey, I really like to do this! This told me how much I dread something when I think it’s difficult, and then when I actually do it, it’s not that bad at all.
“It’s difficult for me to maintain a consistent frame over a period of time, so the way I phrase something today I might phrase as a very different reality tomorrow. This is one reason I don’t want to write it down, because I don’t want to be held to ‘That’s my opinion.’ The greater awareness is how I’m polarized between discipline and spontaneity. I’ve tended to shy away from whatever was going to require a great deal of discipline, and I’ve had to learn that spontaneity follows after discipline. I feared discipline because (a) it would be too hard, and (b) it would prove I’m not smart. Now when I see that pattern I think, Oh yes, there it is.
“I do spiritual reading. I’ve listened to all of Eckhart Tolle’s tapes and he keeps saying, ‘Don’t identify with thought forms.’ Thought forms are your Enneagram style. It felt so good for me to be able to integrate that with my knowledge of the Enneagram. I just listened to forty-eight lectures on classical music, and what I loved most was the relationship between music and spirituality and cultural patterns. For example, Bach was a Lutheran. The Catholic tradition up to that time required that music be integrated with the words because it had to be instructive. Luther said ‘You’re saved by faith.’ It was the 1600s, Bach was a contemporary of Luther’s and that whole Protestant reformation, so his music was his spirituality; he wrote music as a spiritual expression without words. The notion that you can reach God without words is a big part of Protestant spirituality, a big part of German mysticism, and a big part of the Protestant Reformation. And it’s important to me.
“Thomas Aquinas defines chastity as not pretending to know when you don’t know. The chaste mind is so important. If you’re pure in your intelligence, you don’t pretend to know what you don’t know. Lying, duplicity, pretense – those are the start of seduction. Admitting I don’t know and poking fun at myself when I pretend to know; that’s been very helpful; admitting the limits of my knowledge.”
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.