Tag Archives: Enneagram

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.”


Brain Hemispheres & Temperament Types: From Dualistic Polarization to Dialectical Synthesis

I am Left Brain; I am Right Brain




The above four charts will be familiar to all those who have explored brain hemisphere theory, Jungian (Meyers-Briggs & David Keirsey) temperament types, and the nine-pointed Enneagram. They all have one thing in common. They are all attempting to provide us with models of brain-mind functioning while giving an account of our irreducible differences in how we process experience and perceive the world.

In his book The Master and his Emissary, Iain McGilchrist postulates an asymmetry between the two brain hemispheres, with the right brain being the more primal side of the brain, the side that sees reality more holistically and organically, that is, closer to the way it really is. In his paradigm experience arises in its immediate “presentation” in the right-brain and then is transferred to the left-brain where it is virtually “re-presented” before returning again to the right-brain in a receptive and generative “reverberating” relationship. The movement is from unity to differentiation to unification, but like Hegel’s idea of thesis, anthesis, and synthesis.

If we correlate this process with the various domains of knowledge we begin to see a division not only between the “what” of knowing but also the “ways” of knowing. The Left Brain versus Right Brain divide includes such dualities as either-or and both-and, logic and paradox expressed in the different casts of mind represented by  the Sciences & Humanities.

But fundamental difference in “casts of mind” can be modeled in quadrants as easily as in dualities between right brain and left brain. The Jungian model does precisely that. It may not be entirely self-evident to everyone how the polarities of introversion and extraversion, intuition and sensation, feeling and thinking, perception and judgment correlate with the right-brain and left- brain preferences. I would propose that the Oceanic Idealist (Intuitive Feeling Type) and the Volcanic Artisan (Sensing Feeling Type) belong to the right-brain preference, while the Ethereal Rational (Intuitive Thinking Types) and the Territorial Guardian (Sensing Thinking Type) belong to the left-brain preference. Poets, Novelists, Musician and Artists have a right-brain family resemblance while Philosophers, Scientists, Mathematicians and Technologists also have a family resemblance. They belong, if you will, to different “tribes” that process experience and perceive the world in different ways.

The Enneagram is based on a triadic model of Feeling, Thinking, and Willing, or Action. The “nine points” are generated by the fact that people tend to either fixate upon, neglect or become avoidant toward one of these three centers of energy and consciousness. The original aim of the Enneagram was therapeutic in the sense of identifying nine different psychopathologies that prevent us from transcending the ego and moving into the universal essence of Being. However, some people today have completely lost sight of its original purposes and using it much like astrologers use the star constellations to proudly declare which of the twelve signs of the zodiac describe them. If our goal is not to become more idiosyncratic and frozen in a limited and parochial conceptions of our self-identity and belonging than we already are, then we need to be willing to give up our over-attachment to any of the nine points and begin to see ourselves as having the expansive potential to “live in all worlds” but without being bound and tethered by any of them. In terms using the Enneagram to move “from Ego to Essence” this means that while we recognize our natural predisposition to identify exclusively with one primary point (and its two wings) that we dare to reach out toward the fullness of humanity in its irreducible diversity. This means that we begin to recognize and honor the archetypal Reformer, Caregiver, Entrepreneur, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Leader, and Contemplative (by whatever words we choose to use) that potentially and latently if not actively dwell within me and within all persons. We will still have our own native temperament preferences and predispositions, but we begin to appreciate how it is that others can and do process experience and perceive the world differently. This does not mean that “anything goes,” or that we no longer make discerning value judgments about the relative healthy or dysfunctional expression of each psychological predisposition. In finding others with whom we can share common ground, one advantage of identifying with both brain hemispheres, with all four quadrants, and with all nine Enneagram points (at least to some degree) is that we learn to live in a bigger and more diverse web of relationships within the ecology of Being.

It is tempting to define our identity and relationships dualistically. The world has been doing this for a very long time, and it does seem that the preferred “either-or” method of the left-brain will continue to do so. At the same time, an excess of “both-and” right-brain thinking at the expense of the may tend to reduce us to non-dual bliss-ninnies who are incapable of critical thinking and empirical judgment. Neither left-brain objectivism (with its vulnerability toward autism spectrum and even schizophrenia) nor right-brain subjectivism (with its loss of capacity for detached critical distance) produces a healthy and fully functional human being. We need a pluralistic, dialectical and integrative approach to thinking and living that values the right-brain contributions of imagination, myth, poetry, literature, music,  arts, empathy and ecology, and the left-brain contributions of information, history, prose, philosophy, mathematics, science, detachment and technology. It is essential to the wholeness of our humanity that we learn to live “between” the dualities of our experience in such a way as to synthesize our horizons into an ever greater and growing Gestalt.



The Enneagram: Integrating Values for Living


Countless books have been written about the Enneagram that explore the hidden dynamics between nine personality styles and approaches to life. At one time I collected a small library of such books, though I see that now in the process of “downsizing” for retirement only two remain: The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, and The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles. Though her book has slipped from my library, I really like the pioneering work of Helen Palmer.

I’m not going to try to give a lesson on the Enneagram in this blog. There are many good sources for learning about it, including the WWW. What I want to say is simply this, that the Enneagram offers integral values for living.

I’ll have more to say about this in a minute. But first I want to make an important point. None of the nine points of the Enneagram is meant to stand along in contrast to all others. As we grow in complexity toward wholeness and maturity we expand our human repertoire. We learn to cultivate more of the nine points rather than remain singularly “stuck” or obsessively “fixated” in just one. Those who teach “Enneagram Determinism” think they are freeing others from expectations by telling them to “just be who you are.” There is a truth in this, but there is also something limiting in the notion that your “soul” was born, must live, and will die in one and only one of the nine Enneagram points or personality styles.

Each point represents not only a personality style but also an epistemological perspective, that is, a way of seeing and knowing.  It also represents a metaphysical orientation, that is, what we believe to be most real and important in the nature of things. To change and grow toward the wholeness of  maturity is to expand both our metaphysical and epistemological horizons. This idea is implicit in the Enneagram teaching that we have “wing” whereby we are able to encompass other adjacent points.

The Enneagram offers us nine integral values for living. These are commitments we make to ourselves and that are expressed in our relationships with others:

1. A Commitment to Excellence

2. A Commitment to Caring

3. A Commitment to Enterprise

4. A Commitment to Creativity

5. A Commitment to Knowledge

6. A Commitment to Fidelity

7. A Commitment to Joy

8. A Commitment to Courage

9. A Commitment to Contemplation

I would add a tenth commitment which integrates all of the nine points of the Enneagram:

10. A Commitment to Wholeness

Implicit in our psychological preferences are core values that shape our lives. To grow in maturity toward unity and wholeness of being is to combine multiple perspectives. It is to cultivate what Karl Jaspers calls the Encompassing and comprehensive. This approach transcends polarizing dichotomies between various life-enhancing values. The integration of values for living is, quite simply, the way to wisdom.