This article was originally posted on

Once you have discerned your Enneagram type, what do you do with it? To turn this information into personal transformation, you need to learn spiritual practices that will move you beyond a fixed idea of your personality type. Understanding and applying the symbolic nature of the Enneagram will help you do this.

For centuries, wise men and women have observed their own and other peoples’ interactions with the Divine. Through these observations and experiences, they have formulated systems and symbols that describe patterns of human thought, emotion, and behaviour.

Symbols work at a deeper level than the conscious thought of the cerebral cortex. Using spiritual practices to unpack the wisdom in symbols such as the Enneagram allows us to bring it to the level of conscious thought, letting us know our inmost desires and allowing us choose how we act in the world.

Stress and Security Points – A Good Starting Point

A common approach to working with the Enneagram symbol is to look to your so-called stress and security points. These are the two points on the Enneagram that are connected directly by a line to your discerned personality type. The points on the inner hexagram of the Enneagram are ordered 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 and the points on the triangle are ordered 9-6-3-9. These connections are shown by arrows on the interconnecting lines.

Conventionally, if you follow the arrow from your Enneagram type, you “disintegrate to” your stress point. In other words, you take on some of the negative characteristics of that point. If you go against the arrow, you are said to “integrate to” your security point, taking on some of the positive aspects of the security point.

So, a TWO disintegrates to EIGHT in stress, perhaps acting hostile and bossy to someone who is insufficiently grateful for their help. A TWO would integrate to FOUR in security, learning to go inwards, look after their own needs, and appreciate their own unique way of being. The TWO doesn’t “become” an EIGHT or a FOUR. Their inner motivations don’t change, but they may pick up coping strategies from these other types and express them in a TWO-ish way.

This is OK, as far as it goes, but it’s an oversimplification. For one thing, the direction of disintegration is an example based on a single teaching from Oscar Ichazo that has somehow become set[1]. It is possible to go to either point connected to your type, either consciously or unconsciously and take on either the best or worst of that type – it’s your choice. Abi Robins has renamed the stress and security points refuge and vantage (derived from a concept by Frank Lloyd Wright) and has described how you can access each of these points consciously or unconsciously.

Leslie Hershberger has also pointed out on Twitter that the stress/security dynamic is not enough – that you must develop an inner practice to make use of the Enneagram.

Going Beyond Stress and Security

If you want to use the Enneagram for spiritual practice, it helps to understand the laws of the Enneagram, which take inner development further than the stress-or-security dynamic. The three components of the Enneagram – the circle, the triangle, and the irregular hexagram – each represent a principle or law that describes the way that Spirit interacts with us in the world.

The circle represents the Law of One – the union and unity of all things, the idea that our separation from God and from each other is an illusion.

The triangle represents the Law of Three, which describes how two different ideas, feelings, or actions (forces) can be held in tension. When we do this contemplatively, we invite a third force that transcends and includes the other two.

The irregular hexagram symbolizes the Law of Seven, the “processing numbers” of the Enneagram, the way that we deal with the unexpected impacts of the world on us.

The Law of Three

The triangle of the Enneagram joins the three centres of intelligence – Gut (8-9-1), Heart (2-3-4), and Head (5-6-7). Head knowledge on its own will not bring spiritual transformation, nor, on their own, will practices that open the heart or ground the physical body. Any practice that uses the Enneagram for personal and spiritual growth must address all three of these centres.

The Law of Three manifests throughout the Enneagram in all spaces, not just the 3-6-9 points of the inner triangle. Each space has its way of operating in the world described by the affirming, denying, and reconciling forces of the Enneagram domains. It is through the Law of Three that heaven and earth meet, as the affirming and denying forces hold space for Spirit to drop in via the reconciling force.

But how do you do that? You can learn to navigate the polarities of each space via the Law of Seven, which incorporates thought (FIVE and SEVEN), emotion (TWO and FOUR), and action (ONE and EIGHT) from the hexagram points of the Enneagram. This happens no matter which space on the Enneagram you identify as your personality type.

The Law of Seven

The irregular hexagram represents the Law of Seven. The construction of the hexagram derives from the sequence of numbers generated by the fraction 1/7. Try dividing 1 by 7 on a calculator. The result is a repeating decimal. The calculator displays 0.142857142857, repeating as many times as the displayed digits will allow. (There may be some rounding involved, but we can ignore this approximation.) We can write the number sequence as 0.142857…, indicating that it repeats indefinitely. Lines joining the points 1-4-2-8-5-7-1 in this order generate the hexagram figure.

The Law of Seven governs how we process a reaction to something that upsets our equilibrium. We face many impacts from the world every day. So much sensory, mental, and emotional material is coming at us that we have to pick and choose what to pay attention to. When we cannot avoid some impact – an unkind word, a frustration, a shameful thought, an injustice of some sort – the Law of Seven kicks in to deal with it.

Consciously and Unconsciously Following the Law of Seven

Reactions are meant to wake us up. However, if I approach my reaction unconsciously, I end up going “down the drain”, following the numbers of the inner hexagram one after the other.

·         ONE: I react to the impact from the world. I feel this in my body as tightness, nausea, heat, paralysis, or something else that I perceive to be negative. I feel resentful of this reaction.

·         FOUR: I reject my reaction, refuse to own it. I want an experience other than the one I am having.

·         TWO: I refuse to honour my own experience. Either I ignore it or I fixate on what I perceive to be someone else’s experience of the situation.

·         EIGHT: I respond with anger, possibly lashing out at the source of my reaction.

·         FIVE: I withdraw, refusing to engage with the world.

·         SEVEN: I brush off the experience (“I’m fine!”) and distract myself without engaging the source of my reaction.

This cycle repeats, hardening and intensifying with each round, until I become so identified with my reaction, I can’t imagine any other response.

Working through the same path consciously, I can process a reaction more productively.

·         ONE: I notice the reaction and I am grateful that it woke me up.

·         FOUR: I can enter and fully feel my reaction to my experience as an emotional response, such as sadness, anger, fear, or shame. I meet my reaction with an inner knowing and clarity.

·         TWO: I honour my reaction, relate to, and care for it.

·         EIGHT: I surrender to what-is. I let go of my desire for vengeance. I submit my will to the greater will.

·         FIVE: I seek to express my own voice. I detach from judgment and see my situation as it is without needing to change it. I engage with others to move forward.

·         SEVEN: I am fully present to my experience and open to something new in the situation. I include everything and everyone, having consciousness with heart.

This sounds very enlightened and idealized, but it can be really hard to do. Noticing and feeling my reaction does not mean I have to like it. Surrendering to what-is and detaching from judgement does not mean I have to let myself be walked over. None of this takes away the pain and difficulty of a crappy situation, but by acknowledging the suffering inherent in the situation, it is possible to avoid unnecessary suffering. I bear what is mine to bear, but no more.

An Example: Reacting in the NINE Space

During my spiritual direction training, I had an experience that illustrates how the Law of Seven can process a reaction, positively or negatively. As part of the training, each of us was paired with a colleague to practice spiritual direction with each other for a couple of short supervised sessions. I walked in thinking, “Well, how hard could this be? I’ve been seeing a spiritual director myself for a few years. It’s just from the other side.”

It turned out to be harder than it looked. I felt responsible for “making” something happen in the session rather than just listening. I kept prodding my colleague – a FIVE – for some kind of response. She responded by withdrawing. The rules of the session allowed either party to stop for a break, a clarification, or to debrief. My partner stopped the session, saying she felt very “directed” and that she was just “answering questions”. I panicked a bit. We kept going, but my confidence was shaken.

The virtue of my Enneagram space (NINE) is action, or more specifically, right action or essential action. The flip side is that action, if it is not essential, can be a way of going to sleep. I can get so caught up in “doing” something that I have no time to attend to what really matters. In this case, I had focused so much on making sure the session was going to work and hoping I would not look foolish that I fell asleep to what was actually going on in the room. It was more about me feeling (and looking) competent than offering a listening ear.

I reacted to the practice session with a sense of despair and failure (ONE). I was about ready to quit the whole program and was feeling sorry for myself, hanging out rather morosely in the FOUR space. I did not want to have the experience that I was having. At lunch, I thought everyone else had had a better practice session than I did. Then they started talking about their first silent retreats, and they’d all had better experiences than I had at that, too. And they told better stories. I did not really participate in the conversation, feeling that I had nothing to say and that their experiences mattered more than mine did (TWO). I nursed a little anger (EIGHT) toward my practice partner for being so impenetrable. I withdrew (FIVE) for the rest of the day and spent the evening in some distracting activity (SEVEN).

In the next day’s morning practice, we began with a lectio divina (sacred reading) on the parable of the Good Shepherd in the Gospel of John. I was struck by the word “voice” in the phrase, “My sheep hear my voice.” During the morning teaching session, I wrote down, “A time of contemplation leads to a change of consciousness and a change of understanding.”

I was still holding on to my reaction from the previous day (ONE), but I was ready to own it. I allowed myself to go into the depth of the experience of inadequacy and really feel how it felt not to be up to a task that I thought I should have been able to do (FOUR).

We had time in the morning to do a walking meditation. It was a windy day. Taking care of my own needs and relating in a heartfelt way to my own experience (TWO), I went outside and surrendered myself (EIGHT) to the different “voices” of the wind. I climbed the bluff overlooking the lake and just listened to the different sounds for a while. Later, I wrote in my journal,

Voice in the wind. More than one wind-voice. Deep organ-pipe roar of the wind in my ears, behind my head. Whistling wind through slats. Whooshing sound through branches and leaves. The rustling sound of trembling aspen.

Annie Dillard – Silence. The world is made from the ten thousand things – they say precisely nothing.

“This is my Father’s world…” (Hymn)

Where is the voice? [FIVE] It is here to hear, if you only will. “Hear, O Israel…As for me, I will serve the Lord.” The words are all there. How do they penetrate?

When I returned to the building and went into a second practice session, I was able to carry that experience of listening (SEVEN) and the session went much better. So, paradoxically, the busy-ness in the first session was all inessential action. In the second session, the listening (“doing nothing”) turned out to be the essential action.

Reactions in the Unawakened and Awakened States

In the unawakened, or egoic, state, I think we have some vague sense of what the awakened, or transformed, state of our souls would be, so we try to replicate it somehow. But the ego has no tools for operating in the transformed state; it must operate in a limited version of reality. Personally, my ego sees that the task of the NINE is to wait consciously, and then move forward with right action. All it sees, however, is the action part or the waiting part and ends up either in inessential action (busy-ness) or no action at all (sloth).

The polarities of the NINE space are sacred versus profane or if you prefer, the world of spirit versus the world of matter. The pole of the sacred is the listening to Spirit until you know what to do. The pole of the profane is action in the world. If you can balance these polarities, the spirit that can drop in is the Spirit of Enlightenment, leading to the virtue of right action. Each Enneagram space has its own set of polarities, which each invite the spirit of that place. The Law of Seven, followed consciously, offers a practical way to navigate these poles.

[1] Gotch, Carol Ann; Prairie Jubilee Program Day of Gathering; unpublished workshop notes; February 15, 2014