Enneagram: Pinpointing your Compulsions

Everybody’s compensating for something.

Maybe back in the playground days, the kid you really wanted to be best friends with shot you down in rejection. Maybe you had a tumultuous home life that molded you into a peacemaker who would never cause trouble for others. Maybe you could never measure up to your dad’s standards, or maybe you always felt endangered.

When you are young, you put your trust in life and people and at some point, something fails you. You unconsciously build up a protective guard so this will not happen again. Thus, most people spend life developing an entire personality defending themselves against these fears. This is your ego: a set of defense mechanisms and insecurities locked into satisfying the desire not to be hurt. The ego is your individuality and your self-image. It’s the part of you with wants and needs, that rages when these aren’t met.

Enter: the Enneagram, a psycho-spiritual personality typing system rooted in mysticism, like Sufi thought and the Kabbalah. Unlike other personality systems, it hits the root of you. The heart of your motivations. The core of your behavior. And once you pinpoint your type, Enneagram doesn’t box you into some category. It identifies your own automatic ego tendencies so you can free yourself from them.

Enneagram views your personality as a constant cycle of wants and needs which will ultimately never satisfy you on a deeper level. Most importantly, who you are is not limited to these tendencies. You can find liberation from the constant clinging and worrying by letting go of yourself. A long but infinitely rewarding process.

Some philosophies speak of annihilating the ego, but I personally believe that we are not to destroy it (you will be an individual as long as you are alive, like it or not.) but that we must learn to see through its tricks so that they no longer control our actions.

Enneagram has helped me immensely. Since I discovered it in a workshop over four years ago, I have a pretty firm idea of what I’ve spent my life hiding from…mostly fears of unacceptance and rejection from elementary and middle school days. Frought with the notion that I was inadequately different, therefore rejectable, I tried to prove my worth to others and myself by strengthening my individuality and uniqueness and living in an inner world of emotions. The incessant effort I spent maintaining this image and dealing with turbulent emotions was NOT worth the few moments of triumph I felt when my vision was satisfied. I’ve learned to see myself as a continuous process rather than a fixed entity, and I no longer have to define my worth to anyone. I’m still trekking the road to liberation (will be for a while), but so far the process of letting go has been infinitely rewarding.

There are nine different Enneagream types: one (the perfectionist), two (the giver), three (the achiever), four (the romantic), five (the observer), six (the loyalist), seven (the enthusiast), eight (the challenger), and nine (the peacemaker).

Notice the interconnected design. All types are connected. Each one displays tendencies of other types when stressed and secure. I’m a type four, and when I’m productive and generally secure with myself, I become discerning and perfectionistic, like type one (my security type). When I’m insecure and feel inadequate, I go to people, telling them about my problems. This contains shades of type two, the giver (my stress type). You’ll see bits and pieces of yourself within the entire Enneagram, but pay attention to how well you identify with the root dilemma of each type rather than the traits. What’s causing the turmoil?

The best way to discover your Enneagram type is to talk with someone who knows a lot about Enneagram. I’ve helped a LOT of people find their types, and I have a pretty solid grasp of the system. If you need any input, I’d be glad to offer my intuitions. Just let me know, or leave a comment. The second best way is to read about the different type descriptions. Taking a test is probably one of the least effective ways to discover your type (Tests measure traits while Enneagram measures root impulses) but it can point you in the right direction. Here’s a¬†free test you can use.

Oh, and chances are, you won’t like your type at first because no one likes to face up to their shadow side. Pay attention to that. Once, I typed another type four and when I talked about the underlying sense of shame felt by most fours, he exclaimed (while turning red), “We don’t talk about those!”

The Enneagram has a lot of depth…subtypes, variants, levels. If you are all interested in knowing more, I can totally continue to write about Enneagram in the future.

Here’s some reading: Enneagram and Spirituality, and some good sites: Enneagram Institute and Enneagram Explorations and Enneagram Book.

Happy typing! ūüôā

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Heavy Emotions

Emotions can weigh down like a heavy shroud.

This is something I’ve struggled with this summer, which has been a bit of a wake-up call. Normally, I don’t let my emotions control me for long. In fact, I sort of pride myself on my ability to keep my attitude in check.

But sometimes it’s not that simple. I’m not going to lie, my emotions have driven me to the point of physical exhaustion at points in the last few weeks. Dramatic though it sounds, a few days ago a pit of despair (such as I’ve rarely experienced) hit me over my head like a ton of bricks, dragging me to the point of physical immobility. Only lots of willpower got me through daily routine. I’d let stress and anxiety build up within me, then the smallest catalyst threw me into the deep end.

(Please note: I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself. I’m truly fine now. Just using this as an opportunity to explore.)

I did a CD meditation on managing emotions, which helped. The focus was accepting, not resisting, negativity. Letting it “solidify.” I heard an applicable saying, that resisting duhkha (suffering) is still duhkha.¬†Repressing those gnawing feelings is like too many strong antibiotics. It ultimately creates a stronger and more uncontrollable strain. If you’ve ever tried ignoring your emotions, then you know to expect an eventual break down (that will¬†probably hurt someone in the process).

I find that vexing emotions -impatience, irritation, discontent, stress –¬†evaporate when I allow them to flow through me. Honestly embracing the negativity, with no underlying intention of driving it away, can instantly dissipate the tension. Emotions are not what hurts you. Only your reaction to them does.

Looking negativity straight in the eyes is essential. Sometimes emotions are bright flashing arrows to turn around and look within. Maybe there’s a deeper root to that jealous or angry instinct inside yourself. It could point to old fears or a need for self-love. (Negative emotions usually stem from fear, I believe.) And remember that emotions are physical, not just mental…try to notice where the feeling is located in your body and to describe the sensation. Is it in your chest? Your back? Your throat? Stomach?

This is a tricky process. Perspective helps. During my downswing, the more I dwelt on the feeling as something hopelessly consuming me, the deeper I dug myself into a hole. On the contrary, the more I thought of myself as a person with temporary problems, the more manageable things seemed.

This particular doozy disappeared when I came face to face with the root cause of the conflict, but other things helped in the meantime: attention to other people, exercise, artistic release, meditation. Meditation helped me to regain touch with myself as pure consciousness, rather than overwhelming sadness.

Here’s a beautiful article on managing emotions, from a spiritual perspective.

In the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”

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The Seduction of Pride

An old Buddhist story:

A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”

“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?”

“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.

———————————————————————————————–

A few days ago, as I attempted to do my homework, my mom was watching Oprah in the same room. The subject matter, spirituality, was too intriguing for me to ignore.

Oprah had brought three spiritual teachers onto the episode: two ran spirituality centers and authored books, and one was an Episcopal priest.

One caller into the show was a tearful woman who had invested her entire life savings into her bakery business, now failing. Her life, house, and her family’s welfare were all at stake.

During the commercial break, my mom mentioned that she liked the Episcopal priest more than the other two teachers. When I asked why, she pointed out that the priest was the only one of the three teachers who gave this desperate woman helpful, relevent tips instead of spouting rhetoric at her, such as, “You will grow from this experience in the end.” The priest talked with the woman while the other two seemed to talk at her.

These teachers had wonderful insights throughout the show, and while I don’t want to focus on the shortcomings of other people, (before I take the log out of my own eye…) I thought this demonstrated a paradox for a lot of spiritual people. A fine line separates humble spirituality from ego-driven dogmatism.¬†Pure spirituality penetrates through the self-serving entrapments of the ego, such as pride, and shouldn’t feed them. While defenses are completely natural, they are still glaring signs that we still have a lot of work to do. Flaws are opportunities to grow.

I am far from perfect and occasionally become a wind-up toy, automatically hurling my ideas at people. But I try to watch myself and to maintain an engaged discussion, listening to the other party instead of judging them. I must always ask myself: am I trying to benefit myself with this, or to truly be of service?

If I ever stop talking with you and start talking at you, please stop me. That’s pride speaking, not me, and clearly it’s counterproductive to helping anyone, including myself. Pride only traps and encloses. I find the satisfaction it gives is illusory, gaseous, fleeting, and ironically, a sign that I need to address some insecurity within myself. There’s no need to compensate for the parts of ourselves that we are comfortable with.

Humility, on the contrary, is the epitome of spirituality, for it gives birth to pure love. You can’t force love or goodwill. Remove your own barriers, and you will allow love to expand and become you.

“The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none of them.”
-from Tao Te Ching verse 8

On a side note: I think I’ll start a facebook group soon for those of you who are reading regularly and would like updates. Keep an eye out.

Apathy: The American Hell

I don’t believe in hell, in the traditional sense.

We don’t need one. I think we condemn ourselves to something infinitely worse: apathy. The underlying anti-force that propels us toward meaninglessness, when we stop living and start merely existing.

I hate the words, “I don’t care.” I hate joking about how much you/we/I don’t care because this deadens us to the fact that we don’t care.¬†

I’m a big believer that humans are, by nature, creatures of meaning. I subscribe to Viktor Frankl‘s belief in a Will to Meaning…humankind lives for purpose. Otherwise he/she loses the will to live.

Frankl observed throughout his imprisonment in four WWII Nazi concentration camps that those most apt to survive weren’t necessarily the strongest and fittest but those with a reason¬†to live.¬†

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl speaks repeatedly of the “existential vacuum” of modern society. This means that ever more people in our society see life as empty and meaningless, so they fill it with “stuff.” Possessions, pleasure, work, television, food, sex. Anything. These behaviors provide temporary distraction and some degree of satisfaction.

But isn’t there a difference between complacent, distracted satisfaction and true, long-term satisfaction? We can try to substitute “stuff” for meaning until the end of time, but nothing will stick. We will just have to fill it again. This is, I believe, why stats say that one in ten Americans ¬†has a mood disorder. That one in four of our students fails to graduate four-year high school. That we eat to the point of obesity.

But where there is a hole, there is a way to fill it. I think everyone’s individual challenge is to discover how. Nothing external can cure apathy. The fire must light from within.

My cures lie in artistic creation, the search for truth, and, in an everyday sense, to stop concerning myself with me but rather to ask myself what others need to be happy. Chasing after one’s own happiness is a ¬†spiritual paradox.

Complacency can only hurt you if it doesn’t bother you. If you’re cool with apathy, it has consumed you. If apathy bothers you, you can find a way home.

Viktor Frankl says this: “… (B)eing human is being responsible — existentially responsible, responsible for one’s own existence.”

On Accepting People

Hatred is a function of the ego. The ironic thing about it is that it hurts only oneself.

 

I’ve found so¬†much truth in this concept recently. In a nutshell, I’ve had some emotional clashes with someone lately. I become a basketcase when we fight.

 

But today I looked at myself and realized what kind of energy I was putting into our arguments…after¬†they happened. How I went over in my head again and again the unjust nature of the accusations, the insensitivity of the other party…circles upon circles of thought.

 

Clinging, all clinging. Clinging, perhaps, to the idea of myself as a purely innocent victim. To my “perfect” self-concept the other person is “threatening” with their accusations. Feeding my ego won’t solve my problem.

 

I’ve come to the conclusion that we must accept other people the way they are…flaws and all…and recognize that they will NOT act the way we want them to all the time. People don’t make sense. They are self-interested. They will do what they think is best, even if it’s really not. And that’s okay. Just deal with the situation as lovingly as possible. It might hurt your pride, but pride is the enemy in the first place.

 

Accepting is infinitely easier. Lifts the cloud of anxiety and replaces  it with a light glow of contentment.

 

When you don’t chase your own happiness, it rains down.¬†

Concern for oneself is tight, constricted, and doesn’t let anyone else in unless convenience allows. Concern for others leaves it all behind and replaces the stresses of Self with something light and pure.

 

On presence in relationships with others.

EDIT: I don’t think I made this clear…I’m especially referring to myself as self-interested, in the wrong, irrational. The irony lies in the fact that while I am filled with vehemence toward the other party, I am blinded to my own faults. (I think this is universal.) Acceptance clears this away.

To be okay with myself, I have to be okay with this world that we are part of. I know in the seat of my soul that I cannot be okay with my world unless I am okay with you because you are a part of me and I am a part of you. Ignoring that means to let a part of our world, and therefore a part of ourselves, wither and die.