Many Enneagram teachers, authors, and students mention the term Fourth Way in their conversations and writings. However, rarely is this term actually defined, except for brief references to the teachings of G. I. Gurdieff and P. D. Ouspensky. People have had various ideas regarding the nature of the Fourth Way, and with this theorizing they try to come up with the “core idea” of the Fourth Way—some philosophy or practice that presumably lies at the heart of the matter. For example, some Enneagram practitioners (e.g. Hurley and Dobson) emphasize the importance of “balancing the three centers of intelligence”—intellectual, emotional and somatic, in order for the practitioner to: 1) Achieve greater levels of psychological and spiritual balance. 2) Awaken higher powers. 3) Increase awareness in general. Then they assimilate this practice with their own notion of the “core idea” of the Fourth Way. Other Enneagram practitioners have had other related ideas in this regard, such as “balancing the wings,” “integrating the Heart or Security Point,” etc. This short article will be my own attempt to inject something useful into the ongoing and often speculative process of trying to define the nature and purposes of the Fourth Way. It is meant to be neither authoritative nor conclusive, but rather is offered more as an intellectual contemplation on this topic.
I would like to begin by stating emphatically that it is my belief that, in its original transmission, the Enneagram was already and always an integral part of Fourth Way tradition. Many of the misinterpretations and misapplications of this sacred symbol, system and practice may in fact be due to the rather unfortunate recent separation of the Enneagram from her original source. So then, what exactly is the defining characteristic or “core idea” of the Fourth Way? First, two primary and closely interrelated factors come to mind. In truth they are two sides of the same coin. First, on this path one lives “in the world but not of the world.” In other words, one does not engage in his/her practices in an isolated setting such as a monastery, ashram or retreat center but rather remains in normal daily life, usually with a profession and family, where s/he learns to integrate the worldly and spiritual dimensions of reality in various settings and practical ways Note that this should not be construed to mean that the seeker cannot go on spiritual retreats, only that they are relatively brief and s/he returns soon to daily life, refreshed and inspired. Secondly, on this path one lives “in the body-mind but not of the body-mind” (the term “body-mind” is meant to include the personality with its ego-structure, one’s personal Enneatype and the physical frame)..” In other words, as one engages in spiritual studies and practices in the world one does not throw away, ignore or immolate the self-reflective ego-structure with all its useful functions, personal Enneatype and physical frame. Instead one builds, purifies and actively utilizes the body-mind in the process of psychological healing and growth, self-realisation and spiritual evolution.
By way of brief review, in the Gurdieff literature we see reference to the three well-known paths or ways of spiritual life—those of the monk, yogi and fakir. It seems to me that this is still, in the 21st cen., a perfectly acceptable way of looking at this subject. In simple terms, the fakir is concerned primarily with bodily practices, the monk with emotional/devotional practices, and the advanced yogi with mental and purely spiritual practices. The problem is that each of these ways or paths over-emphasizes one of the three Centers of Intelligence, and a key point is that we cannot reach an integrated place with a limited or partial approach. Gurdieff gave many names to the person who followed and practiced what he called the Fourth Way–the Way of the Sly Man, etc. Basically, we can say that the Fourth Way practitioner is following the path of the Practical Mystic or Spiritual Householder. What does the Fourth Way entail in terms of practice? In the Fourth Way the practitioner learns eventually to dis-identify with the contents and products of his/her consciousness, whether experienced as external or internal objects of attention, in order to reconnect and re-identify with the nature of his/her Essence. This can be accomplished in various ways, and each individual spiritual seeker must find the techniques most suitable for his/her temperament and constitution. Later s/he can reconnect to, work with, and play in the entire phenomenal world, but this time from a place of Self-knowledge. This paradoxical way of being could be defined as the Way of the Practical Mystic. The Indian saint Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86) called this path the “process of negation and affirmation”, and he termed the successful practitioner a vijnani— someone who eventually comes to accept both the nitya (the Eternal and permanent) and the anitya (the temporal and impermanent). One can then live fully in the world, bounded by the horizon of history, and at the same time experience all phenomena, internal and external, as the Cosmic Lila, the Divine play of form and formlessness dancing with each other in Creative Union.
I believe that we can make a useful generalization and say that most householders affirm the world without dis-identifying with it to any great extent, and thus rarely reach and maintain significantly higher levels of consciousness. The monk, fakir and yogi negate the world in various ways, but often don’t ever re-affirm it consistently enough to constructively participate in history, thus making a tangible difference in the lives of others and the world as a whole. The process of negation and affirmation is not a strictly linear one, for some people would rather affirm first and then negate. It is, rather, a “dialectical dance” one which hopefully ends in a fair measure of psycho-spiritual integration, and the hard-won ability to live a fully spiritual life, fully in the world.
What does this mean in practical terms? We could start by stating that in the Fourth Way, the people encountered and events experienced in daily life become our spiritual teachers, and one learns to live an extra-ordinary life in the ordinary world—seeing them finally as one (the Tibetans call this awareness Ro Chig or One Taste). To put it in terms previously used, relative reality increasingly becomes transparent to Absolute Reality. The divine/numinous/sacred begins to shine through the mundane/phenomenal/profane. It is quite important to emphasize this point, not to inflate the ego of the practitioner but to highlight the conjunction of the sacred and the profane that eventually takes place. For by my admittedly partial definition, one which I have used in another essay: “Fourth Way traditions are religious philosophies and practices that strive to integrate consciously the noumenal and phenomenal dimensions of existence. They are diverse systems of belief and praxis that honor and validate human personality and the world in which we live, while somewhat paradoxically and sometimes simultaneously acknowledging, invoking and integrating higher spiritual realms.” The academic and spiritual teacher Angeles Arrien liked to call this way of being, “walking the mystical path with practical feet.” Some of the traditions that at least potentially embody this philosophy and praxis include: Esoteric Christianity, Spiritual Alchemy, Sufism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Jungian Psychology, Mystical Taoism, Jewish Kabbalah, and of course—the Enneagram.
To continue, I opened this article by mentioning what I believe to be the two major criteria of Fourth Way traditions. I have elaborated on the first, now I would like to say a few words about the second, for I believe that the nature, position and utilization of the ego-structure vis-à-vis Essence to be a crucial factor in psycho-spiritual development in all genuine Fourth Way practices. In this regard, my point is the following: Whereas in many spiritual traditions the ego is seen as the enemy, as an unwelcome intruder, as an unfortunate accident in the evolution of the psyche, in Fourth Way traditions the ego is seen as a useful, even glorious product of tens of thousands of years of evolution. Z’ev ben Shimon Halevi, in his book titled Psychology and Kabbalah, remarks that: “In Kabbalah, the ego is regarded as a talented steward who serves the master of the Self. With its vast array of skills, it can perform and protect, provided it does not seek to steal the Self’s role. One of the first lessons in inner development is to perceive the. . . ego as an entity within the psyche and not, as most people consider it, one’s identity. The ego is the instrument by which we can see the interior and exterior world. Its capacity, as go-between, is not to be underestimated, but nor should it be given credit beyond its scope. In some spiritual disciplines, the ego is denigrated, because it is considered to be inferior and gross. In Kabbalah, it is seen as indeed the Foundation of the psyche and as such it should be encouraged to perform well (120-1).” And: “The power, structure, complexity and subtlety of the ego. . . should not be underestimated. It is the crucial clearing house between psyche and body. Its development and education, especially during the early years will determine its capability in processing all the. . . impressions and drives of the id, and the dreams, projections and inspirations of the unconscious. A weak or narrowly focused ego is like a poor valve that controls very powerful forces that ebb and flow at many levels and in great variety (131).”
In Kabbalah, the ego is known as the “non-luminous mirror”, something that we use to align body and psyche, and then orient ourselves in the external and internal worlds. By way of contrast, the Self is known as the “luminous mirror.” Its function is to channel and refract the light of Spirit into the body-mind. Both are necessary for healthy maturation, individuation and spiritualisation. Again, in the Kabbalistic tradition: “. . . the ego is not regarded as evil, but trained to be a good servant” (78).” I believe that the same attitude holds true in the tradition of the Enneagram, and all genuine Fourth Way philosophies and practices. This does not mean that the ego needs to be reverenced and glorified. On the contrary, it needs to be eventually dis-identified with and consciously utilized in the process of psycho-spiritual healing and growth. This is what I term, “living in the body-mind, but not of the body-mind. When this practice is simultaneously conjoined with “living in the world, but not of the world”, it becomes the philosophy, practice and realisation that I believe to ultimately be at the core of the Opus, the Great Work, using the Enneagram of Personality—which then becomes a Fourth Way tradition.
It may seem that I am harping on a rather insignificant point of philosophical and phenomenological contention, but I do feel it is quite important to understand and promulgate the fact that the “core idea” of the Fourth Way is not so much the “balancing of the three centers of intelligence” or any other psycho-spiritual technique per se, but the desire, readiness and courage to live one’s spiritual values in normal daily life. In so doing, the numinous begins to shine through the phenomenal and life begins to be experienced as a glorious dance of divine energies. In Enneagram terms, we could say this means to “live out of Essence and not false personality.” In the words of this article this means to “live in the world but not of the world, and “in the body-mind but not of the body-mind.” To put the “balancing of the three centers of intelligence” or any other psycho-spiritual technique at the core of one’s Fourth Way practice seems to me to be an attitude fraught with potential pitfalls. For example, most of us will never have all three centers fully opened and perfectly balanced all of the time, although that may be a very admirable goal. Personally, I cannot support the over-emphasis sometimes found in various schools of the Enneagram on the “balancing of the three centers of intelligence” any more than I can support the attitude whereby one makes the “balancing of the Wings” or the “integration of the Arrow Points” or the “activation of all three Instinctual Variants” the main takeaway from one’s encounter with the Enneagram.
One of the reasons that I felt drawn to write this article is that whereas more advanced students know better than to take a secondary or tertiary aspect of The Work and centralize it, beginners may be led to believe that one preferred and recommended theory or practice is the most effective for all concerned—and worse yet, should become the “core idea” of their Enneagram studies. This simply is not the case. More to the point—we all need to be careful not to confuse the means with the ends, the tools and techniques with the spiritual visions and goals. As I conclude, let me say that I sincerely hope that this article stimulates others to reflect upon the nature of the Fourth Way, and then to inject their own voices into the ongoing discussion. For however it is defined, it just may be the most appropriate path for many of us in the Aquarian Age.