In July I attended and presented at the International Enneagram Association Global Conference in Cincinnati. I’ve been coming to the IEA conferences on and off for the past ten years, and have noticed a marked change in the last few. The early Enneagram conferences I attended focused heavily on individual growth, experiential practices (such as shamanic journeying and breathwork), and theory. Recently, there has been an increased emphasis on interrelationship and community building, with panels, discussions, and highly interactive talks. The theme for this year’s conference articulated this sentiment explicitly: Building Bridges: Collaborating in Community.  

The keynote address, by local author and consultant Peter Block, stands out as one of my favorite parts of the conference. His talk, “Community: The Structure of Belonging,” reached beyond the spiritual “icebreakers” I’ve experienced at many IEA sessions to facilitate small-group discussions that drew out people’s feelings around participation and reached beyond social niceties to a point of truth. He discussed ways to physically and socially restructure a room so that people are engaged with each other rather than in unquestioned power dynamics, and drew attention to the dangers of like-mindedness: how will we learn and grow if everyone in the room is thinking the same sorts of things?    

My friend Chloé Keric-Eli and I made our own strides toward collaboration beyond our comfort zones. We are each certified with one of the two leading Enneagram schools, The Enneagram Institute in my case and The Narrative Tradition in Chloé’s, and she noted to me last year that these two schools seldom have crossover. Chloé teaches in French while I teach in English, although we each speak both languages. We are both under 40, making us “young” teachers in the Enneagram field, which skews older than most professional realms. (I was pleased to see that the number of younger conference participants is growing; when I first began coming to these conferences, I was one of about four people under 30, and was actually told by one participant that the field was “dying out” because “we’re all fossils”!)

Another factor we had in common was growing up and living in different countries, leading to our presentation topic of “Where Culture Meets Type.” I learned a great deal from working with Chloé, a committed, enthusiastic facilitator whose style differs dramatically from my own. As an Enneagram Type Seven, she generates wide-ranging ideas; in contrast, I could witness and appreciate the critical, structured aspects of my own mind. We both gained valuable insights from our session participants. I was struck by their discussions about how they fit or didn’t fit within the cultures of their countries and families, and how these intersections had affected their lives.   

Another session I found particularly thought-provoking was Jessica Dibb and Deborah Ooten’s “Building Enneagram Communities That Last.” Both facilitators have succeeded at their session’s goal, with Jessica’s Inspiration Community in Baltimore and Deb’s Conscious Living Center in Cincinnati reaching many students and sustaining networks over the years. A cornerstone of this success is the acceptance and non-judgment they modeled from the front of the room. They encouraged facilitators not to “type” anyone for the next 30 days – an invitation toward this non-judgment – and led us in exercises that brought love and support to the forefront and had us reflect on our own challenges and engagement with communities, ending in an action step.

I appreciate that the IEA is thinking about questions of community. The Social Instinct has long been a blind spot in American culture. Contrived events and networking opportunities are created for “socializing” without reshaping the fundamental structures that might address true interpersonal needs, such as creating (or even acknowledging the importance of) social safety nets or genuine support networks. Many of us are isolated, with inner work movements such as the Enneagram often mirroring the individualistic focus we are accustomed to.

The challenge in moving an inner work sphere toward greater community engagement is to ensure it grows beyond the surface, reaching toward inclusivity without leaving other needs behind. In the spirit of Peter Block’s emphasis on asking “uncomfortable questions,” here are a few I am left with in the wake of the conference. How can future conferences address the needs of all three Enneagram Instincts, providing comfort, stimulation, and interrelatedness in concert? How can the Enneagram reach demographics its teaching structures aren’t traditionally set up to reach, without changing their fundamental wisdom – or is fundamental change called for?

How can the Enneagram community be big enough to hold contradictory views and approaches, and do these contradictions point to a common aim? How can people work constructively with their types within their preexisting relationships, outside of conference or workshop settings? Who gets left out of the Enneagram, and how can this movement ensure that no one needs to be left out – that anyone who wants to participate, no matter how different from other participants, is included and worked with?   

I don’t have the answers. What I do have is a sense that these questions are important ones to grapple with. Perhaps, in searching for their answers, this work will have wider and truer impact.


This reflection was originally published on the Inspire Envisioning blog, August 6, 2018.