Although there are a myriad of approaches to the intelligences of the centers, three overarching principles – Self-Observation, Compassion, and Practice – can serve as guides to the cultivation of presence in each center.
Self-Observation (the Thinking Center)
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ― C.G. Jung
Self-Observation is about building the attentional capacity to notice what is happening inside you. Without this ability to nonjudgmentally witness yourself, you are prone to being dragged around by the unconscious ways in which your attention is captured. This can lead to a narrowing of possibilities through judgment; a constant mental churning or busy-ness that crowds out what really matters; or a dulling of your capacity to take in and respond to all of the information that’s available to you.
Self-observation is a way of reconnecting to the “beginner’s mind” of the child – the place where everything is new and fresh (as it truly is if you’re consciously attending to each moment). If you’ve ever watched a toddler or small child navigate the world, you know that human beings are born with a natural drive to explore ourselves, others, and the world around us. From this place of curiosity, children are constantly asking “What’s that?” and “Why?” They’re unabashed about making all kinds of inquiries and connections, and willing to change their minds when new information comes in.
Adults often get invested in thinking that they already “know” what’s happening in and around them. When you’ve decided that you “know,” you’re rarely available to see anything outside your conditioned patterns of beliefs. That’s how people can find themselves stuck in a particular stage of development, blind to what may be glaringly obvious to those around them.
Practice observing yourself by cultivating the mindset of a young child, with all of your senses alive. What are you up to during the day, where is your attention focused? Imagine that you’re a scientist of yourself and be super-curious about what you see. As best you can, try to release any judgment about what you observe, and don’t try to change anything. Experiment with a “catch and release” quality of knowing — don’t strive for a particular answer, just keep inquiring and see what emerges. You may want to write down what you notice during the day to continue to open up a dialogue of observation with yourself.
Compassion (the Feeling Center)
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” — Sharon Salzberg “
If you’re willing to be curious about yourself, you will discover aspects of yourself that excite you, and parts that feel uncomfortable or difficult to reconcile with the person that you thought you were. That’s where compassion comes in. Each of us has unconsciously built layers of structures that we needed to survive our childhoods. As an adult, you have the opportunity to see and be curious about whether these structures still serve you or not.
Bringing compassion to yourself enables you to soften around the parts of you that are the most defended and feel the most unloved. This is counterintuitive to the dominant self-help narrative of identifying “problematic” behaviors, feelings, and thoughts so that you can “fix” or get rid of them. The truth is that if you reject anything about your experience by pushing it away or beating yourself up, the underlying structures stay in place and may even harden. If you’re willing to be with these structures with love and compassion, they will begin to loosen their grip on you.
Practice cultivating compassion for yourself by relaxing when you notice a behavior, emotion, attitude, or sensation that feels constricted or distorted. Take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to soften around what’s uncomfortable, including any judgment, criticism, or harshness that may be arising. Don’t push anything away, just breathe with it. Allow yourself to be tender, accepting, and loving with what you find. Stay right with your experience, like a kind friend or a nurturing and supportive parent.
Practice (the Body Center)
“Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.” ― B.K.S. Iyengar
The intelligence of your body moves at lightning speed to receive and respond to millions of sensory inputs a day, largely without your conscious awareness or participation. The ground for many of these responses was created in your earliest days as a human being, and is fundamentally oriented toward a particular way of ensuring your safety and survival. Your body has been consistently practicing these movements over your many years on this planet. As a result, you have sets of neural pathways that are ready to move in deeply patterned ways, and other neural pathways that are underdeveloped or unexplored.
Learning to move with intelligence starts with consciously experiencing the sensations of your body. A basic practice to cultivate this awareness is to notice the sensations that arise when you’re in a familiar posture or movement, like sitting. As you sit, notice the sensation of contact with your feet on the floor or your seat in the chair, whichever one feels most present for you. You may sense a heaviness, or a lightness; tingling or numbness; what seems like a lot of movement through a broad area of contact, or a single point of sensation or stillness. There is no right or wrong sensation; be curious and nonjudgmental about whatever you experience.
As you become more aware of the life of your body, you will begin to notice habitual sensations that arise in response to certain situations or people in your life. Then you’re in a position to determine how you might want to consciously expand and cultivate the intelligence of your body. Setting down new grooves in your muscles and nervous system requires practice, like a musician who plays her daily scales or a marathon runner who follows a weekly training schedule. Once you have reliable access to new ways of moving, your ability to process and act on sensory input will manifest more powerfully in intelligent action.
Present in All Three Centers
You’ve probably noticed that although this discussion has separated the three centers, the described approaches often make use of more than one center of intelligence. Self-observation and curiosity are aided by the senses. Compassion can arise when you use your breath to make space and soften towards yourself. Your mind helps you to stay alert and intentional about your bodily sensations. As with all things Enneagram, you can cultivate greater flow, greater creativity, and greater freedom when all three centers are online.
You can find this post and others like it on the New York Enneagram blog: https://newyorkenneagram.com/blog/