I when I hear someone cramming every behavior into an Enneagram box. It feels dehumanizing at best and aggressive at worst. As a teacher, I feel protective of the Enneagram and this habit turns people off.
The Enneagram isn’t the first thing.
Your type is a response and an adaptation to help you feel safe, secure, in control and connected.
Here’s a way you can work with the Enneagram this year that’s focuses on your inner development.
- Observe your emotions and where they house themselves in your body.
- Get to know them and some of their most common stepchildren (frustration, resentment, irritation, longing, impatience, suspicion). Don’t act on them.
- Now observe the STORY you tell about your emotions. It has a pattern. The brain likes patterns especially when it wants to protect you and keep you safe!
OBSERVING MY PATTERNS: FEELING TRAPPED IN PAIN
I am a Social 7. When possible pain and limitations arise in the world around me, I feel an instant sting and usually feel anger or anxiety. My head spins and I can a lump in my heart. I am ungrounded and can barely feel my feet.
The story pattern begins: Scenarios of future children, grandchildren and the “world out there” being trapped in a world of pain fill my view screen. If they’re in pain, I will be trapped in pain. It’s almost as if I can feel the apocalypse closing in. (It happens that fast).
Almost in the next breath, the escape hatch opens: I imagine a better world and I will be part of making that happen. In my head, I start planning classes, workshops, articles I will write. I go down the internet research rabbit hole. I call my kids with offers to help. I reach out to friends.
Whatever I’m working on, goes to the background. I get scattered and unfocused. I miss deadlines and don’t finish projects. If I get pushback, I feel a moral self-righteousness:
Aren’t I a “good person?” And dammit, you need to recognize that I’m a good person and was trying my best.
OUTSIDE BEHAVIORS: It seems so altruistic on the outside. If you didn’t know my type and all you see are behaviors, you see the moral righteousness of a One and the sacrificing martyr of a Two. You also see the scattered attention of a Seven. A deeper look reveals the entire motivation is an existential fear of pain, deprivation and limitation.
INSIDE EXPERIENCE: When I do some digging underneath my emotions and challenge the story, it gets to the basic, primal stuff of my type: feeling deprived, feeling trapped in a sea of sadness or limitations, feeling I haven’t been able to bring a plan to fruition and berate myself.
This strategy is an AVOIDANCE of my own feelings of heartbreak. I project it out in the world around me. I’ve not digested my own pain. I also have a squirrelly technique that caught me by surprise: I get attracted to pain on the outside as a way of avoiding feeling my own terror.
I’ve worked this pattern for a long time and it still strikes me at how fast it arises when I’m not paying attention.
As a Social subtype I’ve an instinctual response when I feel the familiar, inflated story that the world rests on my shoulders and I have to do all the work. I over promise and under deliver when I get into this place because world improvement is all up to me.
A simple “No, I don’t have time for this” doesn’t even come up on my view screen when I’m on automatic.
This all has the effect of disconnecting from the flow of living. I lose connection to myself and others.
THE PAUSE PRACTICE
THIS is the real Enneagram work. My Pause Practice is not to fast forward to Oneness and all will be well! This is a common mental bypass and minimally useful.
My work is to actually to shift my attention to my somatic sensations: feel my breath and my body’s response to the fear and disconnection. It’s counter-instinctive, but I welcome the somatic experience of my fear with a spirit kindness for myself.
From this more relaxed state, I surrender and TRUST what’s unfolding rather than to figure it out in order to control. My trap is trying to ensure that I and the people I love are okay and free from future deprivation/pain.
When you insert the Pause Practice, there’s a freeing, spacious, clear feeling that comes after you’ve gone into the belly of the whale of your feelings and have gotten to the core of the needs underneath. It relaxes your fight/flight/freeze response.
THE FIRST THING
The Enneagram isn’t the first thing. The first thing is that we are complex people who live in this complex world. We have bodies and neurological, physical hardwiring that we are only beginning to understand. To navigate an increasingly stressful exterior world takes a lifetime. It’s humbling for those of us who try.
One of my favorite books that steps into this realm is The Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson. It is helps you give yourself and others a break. You learn how your neurological hardwiring is set up for your fight/flight/freeze response to kick into gear.
THE SECOND THING
The Enneagram is the second thing: it is an instinctive, immediate, adaptive response. It’s dynamic and powerful which is why we’re so drawn to it. There are other second things: shadow work, couples work, family constellation work, mindfulness, Integral stages, yoga, qigong and host of other second things help us understand ourselves.
THE PAUSE PRACTICE is cultivating the capacity to self-observe and choose your response.
In the Pause, the Enneagram gives us a map into what David Daniels MD calls “the basic proposition.” In other word, what’s happening inside you when the FIRST THING activates? What’s the story you begin to tell yourself?
To use the Enneagram effectively requires we also know its limits and ours limits. Even the most enlightened and aware have physical, automatic responses to the world around them. Those who deny this reality and fast forward to “Oneness” are swimming in a sea of denial and repression because these bodies and brains of ours are designed to protect.
KINDNESS AND MERCY
We also can’t deny the complexity of the socio-economic political world in which we live. There’s a certain privilege that comes from being able to do this work. We are surrounded by people and events beyond our control. This takes a toll on our systems.
With this in mind, be kind and give others a break. I’m not suggesting we put up with abuse and dysfunction! Yet I’ve seen people on this path get a little too precious in their self care and refuse to extend the grace and mercy to others that they extend to themselves. Grace and mercy don’t flow one way. We’re in this together.
Behaviors and the stories we tell ourselves are the second thing. Drop in deeper into your body and discover what lies beneath.