I walked into a dark room and turned on the light, and found I was naked in a room full of mirrors.  Welcome to the Enneagram. Over the last few months we have been hearing more and more about the Enneagram from some of the folks that we listen to on podcasts or whose books we have been reading. The Enneagram is an outline of 9 (ennea is the Greek for “nine”) personality types, patterns, or archetypes that can be traced back through almost two thousand years of oral tradition. It illuminates a person’s main strength and primary weakness and shows how those are linked to our dominant underlying motivations. It describes the patterns of behaviour and ways of relating that are common to these 9 types of people. Quick example: I (Ryan) am a type 9 or “the peacemaker.” This means that one of my primary motivations in life is to find comfort and not have conflict. When this takes an unhealthy expression, it means that I will avoid conflict either by suppressing my own opinions and needs or by taking a chameleon approach where I take on the attitudes and beliefs of those around me (go with the flow or path of least resistance). The goal here is to not cause tension. It takes on a healthier expression in that I am able to see the value in both sides of an argument, and desire to see people live at peace with each other and can work well as a mediator of facilitator of that peace process.  I have long appreciated the idea that a person’s greatest strength can also be their greatest weakness. Of myself, I have often said that my greatest strength is my easy going nature and my greatest weakness is when that easygoingness becomes apathy. As I read the description of a type-9, it was as though my inner thoughts, motives and ways of seeing the world were being projected onto the page. And while I felt exposed, I did not feel judged. So what does the Enneagram do beyond tell you some things about yourself? Labels and categories, diagnoses, can be helpful to a certain point, but do not often lead to change, merely to a level of understanding. With the Enneagram, the point is that by understanding your own motivations and drives more clearly, you can become conscious of unconscious patterns and automatic responses and default positions. When you are aware, then you can begin to be changed. The goal is to be able to evaluate and choose your responses and behaviours and to aim to incorporate the strengths or abilities of the other types into your own way of being. Instead of strengthening your number, and diving headlong into more of the same, the aim is for balance. Realizing that your way of seeing and being is not the way but a way. While this tool is not exclusively religious or specifically Christian, it can be traced to the early Christian Mystics known as the desert fathers and mothers. It has also been used in Judaism and by the Sufis. While there are content and values in the Enneagram that jump out at me as very Christian in nature, it does have a much broader application than just those who would identify as Christian. I am sure that people of all backgrounds from Buddhists to psychologists, would see elements of their field or tradition revealed in the Enneagram. While we have found the Enneagram to have enormous merit when applied internally, there is also a lot of value in applying it externally; to others… Family members, coworkers, friends, clients, etc. The goal in applying it to others must be to foster compassion and understanding for their experience, strengths and limitations, rather than for judging or manipulation. As a follower of Jesus, I am interested in peace and healing and wholeness (shalom) and in becoming who we were created to be. As a psych and detox nurse, I am interested the things that keep us from that shalom. I am always curious about personality and soul and what makes us who we are.  We have been reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s explanation of the Enneagram in his book “Enneagram: A Christian Perspective.” It is well layed out, has both introspective and therapeutic application, and gives a real “big picture” approach, outlining the history, mathematics, application, and thorough descriptions of the 9 types. When I have looked at other sources, it can come across as almost ‘horoscopy,’ which isn’t really my cup of tea (but might be yours). Rohr’s edition is much more theological and psychological and has a real sense of substance and gravitas.  As we gain a firmer hold on the concepts, both specifically to ourselves as well as generally, we will likely make further posts on this subject. For now, take this introduction as a wholehearted and enthusiastic recommendation to look in to the Enneagram if you are at all interested in self reflection, if you are experiencing difficulty in any important relationships, or if you are in a helping profession.  Remember, the Enneagram is about understanding yourself and others, and fostering compassion for all. If you like podcasts, check out “The Road Back to You; Looking at Life Through the Lens of the Enneagram,” which is a series of podcasts devoted to understanding the Enneagram. Or, for a really, really good one-episode intro, check out The Liturgists’ Episode 37 “Enneagram.” Other authors who have written extensively on the Ennegram are Helen Palmer and Don Riso.

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