We have some important decisions to make. Decisions on how to encounter and love one another well. Decisions on how to reenter social spaces. Decisions on how to engage and weigh in on the critical issues of our time. So. Many. Decisions.

I don’t believe we can make these decisions in the same ways we’ve always made them. And sadly, we’ve learned that more information doesn’t necessarily make us any wiser. Our current information age too often feels like more of a hindrance than a help.

The decisions facing us all require DISCERNMENT, an often used but rarely specified concept. I define discernment simply as “applied identity,” the gift and practice of living from a more authentic and holistic place. When we apply identity, not merely personality, we cultivate the wisdom we need to discern our lives well. We’re able to honestly, authentically, and wisely engage the many complex, challenging, and difficult decisions of life.

Here the enneagram is immensely helpful. Through our understanding of the enneagram’s framework, and our dominant type within, we’re provided a map that helps us discern life. Now, as my friend Annie Dimond reminds us, any map requires us to learn to hold it and make sense of it. Only then can we begin the journey from the trailhead of our type to embark on what I refer to as “The Way of Discernment.”

The enneagram’s Way of Discernment is a map of applied identity composed of three “triads”:

  • Triad 1—Vocation: the call of identity, purpose, and direction.
  • Triad 2—Wisdom: the holistic intelligence that guides us to engage our lives with integrity and authenticity.
  • Triad 3—Practice: our intentional work in the fullness of time.

Each triad contains 3 questions to aid our discernment. Together they form the nine key questions of discernment:

The Vocation Triad

  • Who am I? (Identity)
  • Why am I here? (Purpose)
  • Where am I going? (Direction)

In the Vocation Triad, your identity, purpose, and direction are employed to discern whether or not a decision is aligned with the fullness of your vocation (a sense of calling upon your life). Tending to these three questions set important trajectories for decision-making.

The Wisdom Triad

  • What am I thinking? (Head Center Intelligence)
  • What am I feeling? (Heart Center Intelligence)
  • What am I doing? (Gut Center Intelligence)

In the Wisdom Triad, your holistic intelligence is cultivated to discern if a decision is aligned with the fullness of your wisdom. When we align our heads, our hearts, and our guts, we employ a fuller range of intelligence.

The Practice Triad

  • What am I remembering? (Learning from the past)
  • What am I experiencing? (Observing the present)
  • What am I anticipating? (Envisioning the future)

In the Practice Triad, your experience with the triadic range of time (past, present, future) are considered to discern something in the fullness of time. The past, the present, and the future all can be powerful teachers to give us needed perspective on any present conundrum. Engage each of them provides important insight.

When we overlay this Way of Discernment with the Enneagram of Personality, we can begin to see how each type can cultivate wisdom to practice discernment more effectively. To be clear, each type has its own discernment journey through these triads and questions. If you’ve been working with the enneagram for a while, you’ll be able to spot particular questions that will be more challenging for certain types.  For example, the set of questions a Type 3 tends to consider on in decision-making are not necessarily the same questions a Type 9. In both cases, each type’s limited set of discerning questions overlook key insights. If we don’t broaden the questions we ask, we tend apply our personality instead of our identity.

When we discern, we have the ability to see beneath and through any particular decision, to what Henri Nouwen called “the interconnectedness of all things.” Perhaps this is our greatest present need; the ability for each of us to apply our identities with the wisdom to discern our individual lives in such a way that we tend with care to our connectedness.

[Adapted from The Enneagram of Discernment: The Way of Vocation, Wisdom, & Practice by Drew Moser, Ph.D. Published by Falls City Press, 2020. Now available where you buy books online.]