Among spiritual seekers, there’s an idea that many see as a good reason for not using the Enneagram in their practice. That is that we each have a “story,” or narrative, that continuously tells us who we are, what the world is and how we should be in it. It’s like we all walk around with a narrator in our heads telling the story of “me.” This story is nothing other than Ego’s running commentary. We’re entranced with it and it keeps us from fully engaging with life. The Enneagram of personality is often seen as adding to this story, giving us more content to support our opinions, pre-conceived notions and limiting beliefs about ourselves and others.
This is entirely valid and points to a real trap in Enneagram work. We can get caught up in believing that our personality type is a good or bad thing and we can distract ourselves endlessly with figuring it all out, finding new patterns and picking ourselves and others apart.
However, the Enneagram is a very precise framework that helps us to drill down, in very specific detail, how our egos are structured. This gives us a wealth of insight and tells us what to look for in ourselves, how to catch Ego’s machinations as they manifest. Without the Enneagram, an awful lot of this would potentially remain invisible because it is the nature of Ego to be hidden so it can masquerade as our true nature.
The problem with neglecting to face Ego in all its shapes and forms has to do with a different trap on the path: spiritual bypassing. This is where we choose to hang out in the upper dimensions of our being where we may have many fulfilling experiences but avoid our humanity. We in a sense say, “I want union with God but I don’t want to deal with why I hate my father.”
Sometimes we just naturally fall into spiritual bypassing because we’re more comfortable in the upper dimension of our being, and sometimes it’s more deliberate. Confronting our psychology can feel like moving away from the light and into a dark abyss. Sometimes we’re even encouraged to do this by teachers and others on the path. We’re told the story is unimportant, to ignore it, to let it go and focus on our practice. But in doing so, we can end up blissing out while bleeding our psychological issues like stuck pigs.
The specific content of the story is unimportant, yes. But what it signals can provide “grist for the mill” of our inner work.
“You can not rest in the beauty and transcendence of yourself while suppressing the story of yourself.” —Gangaji
For example, over my years with the Enneagram, I’ve learned to pay attention to some of my conditioned, knee-jerk personality reactions that, in the end, keep me cut off from the world. Once, while walking to a meeting with co-workers, I noticed it was my habit to walk a little bit faster in order to avoid being a faceless member of this mass of people.
The practice for working with this sort of thing is to just notice it and become the space that holds the reaction without judgment and without changing it. Holding my reaction that day, I noticed I felt like an 8 year-old kid, crossing my arms and stamping my foot, saying, “but I don’t WANNA get lost in that group, I just wanna be ME!” My mind rattled through all the reasons why I didn’t fit in. They were all nonsense, but my mind certainly thought they were important, distinguishing characteristics that somehow warranted not walking beside my workmates whose company I enjoy. Without knowledge of the Enneagram, and without a practice of using my reactivity as the juicy energy that it is, these habits of mind would continue to work behind-the-scenes, controlling my behavior invisibly and making me miss out on my own life.
I do wholeheartedly agree with the admonition to drop the story. By all means, that is necessary, but only at a specific point. Doing so before we’re ready is putting the cart before the horse. The way we’re often told to do this is to ignore our own histories, treat them as if they’re meaningless in comparison to “enlightenment.” While this is in a sense quite true, the method we’re often taught is flawed. We’re pushed to turn our back on what we see as our “self” in favor of chasing after peak experiences which are treated like some sort of evidence we’re on the right track.
I find this to be pretty backward. First, we shouldn’t drop the story until we’ve brought it into the light and learned what it has to teach us. It contains our habitual beliefs about ourselves and the world which must be confronted. Once we do this, the beliefs and the story fall away of their own accord because they can not survive in the light of our awareness. So, really, we don’t have to drop anything. It drops itself. Second, peak experiences are no indication we’re doing something right. They’re granted to us through Grace and there’s no deserving them. We can have them and continue living our lives unchanged, or we can become quite evolved without ever having had a peak experience. Pema Chödrön claims to have never had one, yet the palpable quality of her realization is undeniable.
I am not condoning remaining entranced by the story by any means. I’m also not saying that we should not drop the story for the time it takes to do our practice (prayer, meditation, yoga, etc.). What I am saying is that our story, utilized in the right way, can fuel our inner work. Therefore, throwing the story out without examination is a waste of an abundant opportunity.
The more we can bring these habits of thinking into the light of awareness, the less likely they are to control our behavior behind the scenes. We don’t have to do anything about them, just notice them as non-judgmentally as possible. If we can hold them gently in our awareness, it will allow certain realizations to land that help us better embody the wisdom we’ve gleaned from our work.