How to Live: The Wisdom of the Enneagram in a Nutshell


How to Live:

“Improve yourself and become the best possible version of who you are. Care for others and be responsive to their needs. Show initiative, enterprise and style.  Be imaginative and creative; appreciate the power of  beauty and the gift of the arts. Think deeply and broadly about many things. Be loyal, reliable and trustworthy. Enjoy life; celebrate moments of natural ecstasy and spiritual epiphany. Take charge and influence others as a servant leader. Cultivate inner peace and make peace in the world.”

Commentary: It’s customary for the nine points of the Enneagram to be treated as nine different personality styles, and I have no objection to this approach as long as individuals are not narrowly “scripted” and “type-cast” for life, or even “from all eternity.” I agree with Walt Whitman that “we contain multitudes” and that while “nature” certainly plays in important part in personality development, as does the culture in which we come of age, there surely remains at least some small but important element of free will and existential choice about which potentialities we develop and which we allow to remain dormant and undiscovered. Some people develop in such a way that only one or two narrow sides of their personalities are developed, while other persons with more heterodox dispositions and radically open orientations dare to develop many different sides of their character, intelligence and temperament. When such persons have grown into full maturity we sometimes refer to them as “polymaths”, “polyhistors” or simply “renaissance men.” Any narrow fixation within one of the nine personality points of the Enneagram, and any dogma that rationalized that fixation, is detrimental to the full development of the full spectrum of human potentialities within a single individual. When asked on occasion by friends and acquaintances which of the nine points of the Enneagram most describes me I’m tempted to say, “Well I value thinking deeply and living creatively, so I guess that makes me a Five and Four. But at the same time I value improving myself and caring for others, so I guess that makes me a One and Two. But actually I also appreciate the need to show initiative from time to time, and even to take charge when there’s a leadership vacuum. So I guess this makes me a Three and Eight. OK, I also appreciate loyalty, reliability and trustworthiness from my friends, and I try to exemplify these values as well, so I guess this makes me a Six. But I’m not done. I would say that I know how enjoy life, to have a good time, to savor the sensuality, beauty and enchantment of life, to experience passionate intensity and ecstatic joy from to time, so I guess this makes me an Eight. Finally, I must confess that I highly value times of solitude and serenity, of be and peace with myself and seeking to be a peacemaker among others, so I suppose that makes me a Nine.”

Different people know us in different contexts and tend to project upon us those temperamental qualities that fit that particular context. But if we are honest with ourselves we will probably have to admit that there is always more to us than meets the eye, more than others see of us in a variety of different but limited social contexts. What matters is that we learn how to live life fully and freely within many different adaptive contexts and through all the changing stages and circumstances of life, that we become many-turned individuals, in other words, “men and women for all seasons.”


3 thoughts on “How to Live: The Wisdom of the Enneagram in a Nutshell”

  1. Rich, I respect your perspective on the Enneagram and I’m sure you are not alone in your concerns of compartmentalization it can foster. For many of us it is a tool that can be used to understand how we function in the world and hopefully get more in touch with reality. People using it to categorize others often to simplify their life’s perspective or gain advantages over others is an unfortunate byproduct. Naranjo felt it should be kept secret for use by only those qualified and well trained in its use but modern technology and word of mouth had released it and so he gave in to dissemination in hopes of keeping it pure. Indeed most of us who have found it to be a great path to self understanding are unable to figure out the ‘type’ of those closest to us because we all are capable of exhibiting all the characteristics described at some time or another. I have found that it is a tool best understood by interpersonal contact. Helen Palmer’s narrative tradition was developed for that reason. It was meant to help people better understand themselves and others. Dig into the details and you can find understanding of your ego’s predisposition especially when put in stressful situations. While the basic structure of the tool focuses on nine types, it also includes direct relationships with other types under integration and disintegration, different levels of awareness and instinctual subtypes that can be even more revealing than the types themselves. As with most paradigms this tool works for some and not others. It has been invaluable to me to work through and understand myself and my wife beyond anything I had encountered before. It can be a supplements other methods and writings of discovery such as the Waking Down movement, A Course in Miracles, The Miracle of Trust, the Four Fold Way and even the writings of Firestone and his theory of The Fantasy Bond. As humans we all strive to understand each other and this tool when used to remove the objectivity of human interaction has helped me to better understand points of view far different from mine and see how truly connected we all are. If you have delved into it and found it not useful to you I respect that and trust you have other practices to keep you moving forward. If not, don’t let the knuckleheads sour you on it’s ability to forward your integration with the universe.

    Blessings, Mike

    1. Thank you, Michael. Your words are extremely well spoken. I too have found the Enneagram to be an extremely helpful and powerful tool, even if I find myself widely distributed among many types, whether relaxed or under stress. And I think it is wise to use it in conjunctions with other tools that map various psychological types. There is a tendency for us to reify words, concepts, paradigms and types as if they were Plato’s unchanging transcendent Eternal Forms, whereas our experience is more polymorphic, polymorphic, adaptive and fluid. Insofar as we aspire to evolve toward becoming “universal souls” rather parochial stereotypes, we learn, especially during the second half of life, to integrate an ever wider and more encompassing vision of reality and of our own creative potential into emerging gestalt. It would be interesting to look at the Enneagram through the template of life stage analysis, and also how we seek to integrate the transcendental, humanistic, naturalistic and technological horizons of knowledge and experience. Again, thanks for your excellent comments. I hope others who find my blog on the Enneagram will read what you have to say.

      1. Your points are well taken and I do believe that existence is far more diverse than any one or multiple tenets can explain. In my modest studies and observances I am always amazed though at how basic principals of being run true through so many of the paradigms. Joseph Campbell brought this to life for me early on. I suppose as we age we tend to ponder more and do less, or perhaps we just have been pelted with enough similar experiences that we are finally open to exploration of what we perceive to be real. It is tough to seek our inner being when we are trying to survive in the world. In my case I see parallels between things that help my cynical mind to believe their validity. I think it is interesting that cultures tend to exhibit tendencies toward specific types on the Enneagram or horizons in the wisdom model. I can see the relation between the three basic parts of the Enneagram circle we fall into, heart, head and body relating to the three horizons in the wisdom model. For me, this is another correlation that there are basic truths, if you will, to existence that defy simple explanation. I have often wondered through my life why certain literature had such an affect on my thinking. I suppose things were churning below to lead me where I am today. I savor your thoughts as the stimulate me to understand myself more.

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