This entry describes a two-fold project in which students (1) seek to identity their Enneagram personality type, and then (2) design a spiritual practice to let go and purify this preferred way of being in the world. In this way, students begin to practice a potentially lifelong dynamic of simultaneously finding and letting go of the self.
“If psychological work helps us find ourselves, spiritual work takes a step further, helping us let go of ourselves.”
– John Welwood, Toward a Psychology of Awakening, 97.
“In the past, I have made no secret my disdain for the concept of spirituality…Never have I experienced a more profound…regression of my mentality. To think spiritually is to think beyond yourself. It is to think multi-dimensionally, and to consider possibilities beyond the horizontal. Service, Society, and the Sacred has taught me to consider the people around me, as well as the prodigious organism, the universe that we are all apart of.”
-Milton Tang, Class of 2017
“Before I was born, I had an older sister who passed away due to heart failure three weeks before she was born . . .. I believe my sister sacrificed her life for me to live out my purpose. . .. This class has helped me to understand that I have a purpose in this world . . .. If I try to live a “whole self’ by learning to become a healthier [person], doing spiritual practices, and keeping the mindset of being a positive influence in someone’s life, I see a happy and fulfilled self who is living out a purpose.”
-Nicky Yang, Class of 2017
This semester in “Service, Society, and the Sacred“* I want you to explore yourself at a level of depth and specificity that I assume you have never done before. Ideally, this self-exploration will give you some clue about your life purpose. That may sound over-the-top grand, but I don’t believe it’s too early for you to understand something about your soul’s purpose in your experience as a high school junior or senior.
So far I have offered a method by which to search for wisdom, which is teaching about and training of the three intelligence centers of the body, mind, and heart. All of us are to some degree “asleep” because not all of the three centers are functioning in a healthy way; the goal is to “wake up” all parts of yourself. Since the mind is typically overdeveloped at HKIS, we have focused on the other two centers, implementing a 10-day project on nutrition that has sensitized you to your body, and exploring your heart intelligence through emotional triggering exercises, non-reactivity, insight therapy, and spiritual practices.
Now with this general introduction to the body-mind-heart framework in place, the next stage in our journey will be to go into greater depth in two ways: (1) more concentration on your personal needs and (2) consideration of the interrelationship between the horizontal and vertical dimensions of life. This means that you will go deeper within, while at the same time exploring the big picture of the cosmos: a micro-macro investigation.
Before getting into the specifics, I want to better define what I mean by these two dimensions:
(1) The horizontal dimension focuses on your personality, your identity, your personal growth, the work you choose to do, acting in your social world, making a difference in the ‘real world’ of space and time. It generally requires a great deal of concentration and discipline. This is the inner world of PSYCHOLOGY.
(2) By contrast, the vertical dimension is about letting go, it’s about being rather than doing, it’s about emptiness more than fullness, opening to a spiritual self which, according to all the religious traditions, can experience what might be called Being or Presence. It is about spaciousness, gathering of attention, and raising energy to a higher state. This involves the invisible world of SPIRITUALITY.
How do these two dimensions relate? John Welwood explains succinctly: “If psychological work helps us find ourselves, spiritual work takes a step further, helping us let go of ourselves.” We have entered into the world of paradox in which truly living means grasping and letting go, finding and losing, working and relaxing, speaking and being silent. I hope to put these two dynamics into practice TOGETHER so that you experience both the searching and the letting go, the psychological growth and the spiritual purification at the same time.
I. Finding Yourself Through the Enneagram
To learn about yourself, I would like to introduce a psychological tool called the Enneagram that provides nine different ways to make sense of the world. While all of us have all nine types inside of ourselves, each of us also has our own particular approach to the world that is seen predominantly through one of these types.The premise is that all of us grow up with some body-mind-heart imbalance based on our particular enneagram type, and that this imbalance becomes the chief feature of our horizontal, ego-based life. In other words, your most prominent personal strength could at the same time become the most significant limitation or handicap to your full flowering as a human being. The solution for each of the nine types is to recognize and let go of this strength/limitation, and open up to the vertical world of Presence.
What we will try to accomplish in this activity is figure out what is your main type. This may give you some incredible insights about your identity, which psychologists say is the main goal of adolescence.** This is truly exciting, as it may help you figure out what is your most valuable gift to the world!
Following an introduction of each type in class, you will use the Enneagram Institute’s website to better identify your personality type. Read through the types, try to identify yours, and listen to the 4-5 minute type description by Don Riso. Feel free to interpret the statements to fit your own experience. Following your thorough investigation of information on your Enneagram type, include these aspects in this general order in your presentation:
- Explain your basic type and give examples from your own life.
- Identify your basic desire (or virtue)
- Identify your basic fear (or passion)
- If you feel comfortable with this, share your self-evaluation of how healthy or unhealthy is your type.
- Think through whether you see yourself as your types, suggests as a body (8,9 1), heart (2,3,4) or head (5,6,7) type (see the helpful chart at the bottom of the entry comparing the body, heart, and mind in terms of sleep and waking up.)
- Using the Riso-Hudson Personality Types book (copies are available in class), try to identify your wing (e.g, a two with a one-wing is “the servant” (90), while a two with a three-wing is “the host/hostess” (p. 92), the descriptions of which are found near the end of each chapter).
- Share some recommendations from the website or your own reflections that will help you becoming a higher functioning version of your personality type.To learn more background about the Riso-Hudson approach to the Enneagram, hit here.
- Type 8 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 9 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 1 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 2 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 3 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 4 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 5 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 6 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
- Type 7 video intro and lecture transcript description by Russ Hudson
After you have familiarized yourself with the 9 types, talk to me and tell me what your best guess is for your type. After that conversation, you can take an online Enneagram test to give you another input about your type. However, it is possible that the test may not be accurate for you, so use the books and online materials in conversation with the test to help you to better understand your personality type.
Learning more about your personality is crucial in this process of opening to wisdom. But the goal of the enneagram is not to create a high functioning ego, for that is insufficient to carry us to the higher goal of self-realization. This is where the vertical dimension comes into play. Don Riso and Russ Hudson comment on this dual horizontal-vertical dynamic in the Wisdom of the Enneagram: “We must remember that the personality [horizontal dimension] cannot solve the problem of the personality, and until our Essence [vertical dimension] is deeply felt and is guiding our activities, the personality can do little except to “not do” its old tricks. The process of integration is not about what we “should” do- it is a process of consciously letting go of aspects of our type that block us. When we stop holding on to defenses, attitudes, and fears, we experience an organic unfolding and balancing as natural as the blossoming of a flower. A tree does not have to do anything to go from a bud to a flower to a fruit: it is an organic, natural process, and the soul want to unfold in the same way” (93). This leads us into the second part of this project.
II. Letting Go of Yourself Through Spiritual Practices
At the same time, the Enneagram teaches that if you use this great ability to boost your own ego, to emphasize your superiority in contrast to others, then your particular strength can actually cut you off from your true self, other people, and your potential for impacting the world for good. Identifying your Enneagram type, then, also offers warnings about the potential downsides of your personality structure.
Then there’s the issue of finding fulfillment. No matter how much success we have on the horizontal plane, all spiritual traditions say it will never be enough. We are never successful enough, popular enough, or secure enough to truly be at rest. Spiritual traditions are in agreement that this dissatisfaction is by design, so that we search for our wholeness in that vertical, infinite dimension.
So, how do we keep the gift of your personality but purify its self-importance? How do we search for fulfillment beyond the horizontal dimension? Spiritual traditions suggest that we all need to do spiritual practices that will train us to consciously let go of our horizontal selves and rest in the vertical dimension.
Go to this blog link to see examples of the various spiritual practices that students have done in my religion classes. Here’s also a Tree of Contemplative Practices that can give you some general categories of practices.
One of my senior students determined that she was a 3, the Achiever. She is charming, articulate, energetic, artsy, and persuasive. For all her strengths, however, she realized when she read about her type that she had several areas to work on: impatience, fear of failure, and endless competition with herself. She chose, then, to use to do the the Tibetan Buddhist practice of mandala making. Making a mandala takes time and persistence, which aimed to help her with her impatience. However, this Buddhist practice requires that mandalas are to be destroyed at the end of the process, graphically symbolizing that all gifts need to be purified of their egoic flavor if they are to reach their full potential. Initially, she didn’t want to destroy her beautiful artwork. But she realized that such a drastic action would put her fear of failure and internal competitive spirit to the test. Despite protests from her mother, she tore up her art. At the end she realized that beauty could be relinquished because it will return again next time, allowing her achiever self to relax. Her goal was to generalize this relaxed posture to the other achievements in her life.
Constructing a mandala is a beautiful way to create a symbol of wholeness, and in so doing often demonstrates the artistic gifts of its creator. This creation-destruction dynamic is totally countercultural to the message given to you at HKIS where your achievements are always saved for some future advantage. In order for you to realize your soul’s true purpose, this practice teaches that you need to let go of your desire to bring self-serving attention to your talents and abilities.
In Don Riso and Russ Hudson’s Wisdom of the Enneagram, they give some practical advice about combining the Enneagram with spiritual practices. Three elements underlie all the specific practices:
- “Becoming present and aware as much as possible throughout the day
- Seeing your personality in action
- Not acting out your impulses” (343).
Here is some more helpful advice about practices: “The withdrawn types (4’s, 5’s, and 9’s), which are out of touch with their bodies, can benefit greatly from walking meditation, yoga, stretching, and even jogging . . . For 3’s, 7’s, and 8’s – the assertive types – getting in touch with their hearts through loving kindness meditation and acts of charity” may be useful. “1’s, 2’s and 6’s – the compliant types – might not consider going to a silent retreat or getting a massage to be spiritual. To these conscience-driven types, sitting in contemplation seems like the opposite of being dutifully concerned with the welfare of others. And yet anything done with attention can become the basis for a spiritual practice if it grounds us in our body, quiets our mind, and open our heart” (345). “The important thing is to set aside some time each day to reestablish a deeper connection with our true nature” (347).
Here are some suggestions for spiritual practices by Enneagram type:
Type 8: The Leader
- 8’s oftentimes are unaware or unable to process their emotional desire and issues as related to vulnerability, grief, and intimacy.
- See this link how to process the tremendous energy of the 8.
Type 9: The Peacemaker
- Since 9’s want inner peace, many 9’s are attracted to meditation.
- This may seem paradoxical, but many 9’s have hidden anger issues. Since 9’s want to keep the peace, they often suppress their anger. Using what we have discussed about emotional reactivity, 9’s need to learn how to recognize and process their anger.
- 9’s tend to like nature experiences, so conscious walking and other nature-based practices may be helpful.
- See this link to practice a breathing meditation to help 9’s value themselves more.
Type 1: The Reformer
- The main practice for 1’s, according to Don Riso and Russ Hudson’s Wisdom of the Enneagram book, is to recognize their inner critic that is always passing judgment about everything. “Pay attention to the ways in which it affects your sense of well-being and your connectedness to your environment” (118).
- One of my 1’s wrote down her daily irritations and frustrations on pieces of paper and ripped them up. In this way she reminded herself to let go of issues that concern her rather than ruminating on them.
- A gratitude journal may be very useful to the 1’s who have a strong perfectionist streak.
- 1’s carry a lot of bodily tension, so yoga or stretching exercises can help with this energy. “You can also become aware of ways that you unconsciously hold your body in certain postures, or how you may use more tension than necessary when performing even simple tasks. Anything from a letter to driving a car can be done with relaxation and attention or with tightness and resistance” (119).
- This link describes how 1’s can breathe into their belly center to process the anger that they often carry.
Type 2: The Helper
- Doing a Loving Kindness Meditation that starts with the caring for the self to practice getting your needs met before taking care of the needs of others.
- This breathing meditation helps 2’s to conserve their own energy – taking care of their own needs – instead of always focusing on others.
Type 3: The Achiever
- As described above, making and destroying mandalas/art work is a strong practice to deal with the fear of failure.
Type 4: The Individualist
- Since some 4’s feels superior to others, one student decided to do a meditation followed up by a gratitude journal. She found it very helpful.
- Another 4 decided to imagine times when he displayed arrogance in his words, deeds, and even postures to help him observe the process of embodying superiority. The goal was to heighten his sensitivity to this tendency in hopes that seeing it will help him avoid this attitude and behavior in the future.
Type 5: The Researcher
- Since 5’s live so much in their heads, any type of practice that gets them into the body – mindful eating, paying attention to diet, body scan meditation, yoga – is welcome.
Type 6: The Loyalist
- With anxiety being a key feature of this type, one student who was a 6 wrote down her worries and then threw them away as a practice to let go of her stress. She found it very helpful.
Type 7: The Enthusiast
- Since 7’s feel oftentimes disconnected from their hearts, a meditation that asks them to open their hearts may be just what is needed.
- One student who is a 7 used this heart meditation practice to help her become more in touch with herself.
- Here are transcripts of people as they are led through an insight method which allowed them to go deeper into their hearts.
In your presentation, include these elements:
- Remind us of your Enneagram type (and if you know, your wing), including the desire and fear.
- Explain what you think is the shadow side of your personality type that you need to purify (observe, forget about, let go, etc).
- Share the spiritual practice that you have designed, and how it is going so far.
The goal of “Service, Society, and the Sacred” is to help you get a better understanding of your fit in the world – how your gifts and talents can make a real contribution to society. Our starting point this semester is learning about your identity, and we will use this powerful psychospiritual tool called the Enneagram to begin the journey. As Welwood explains at the beginning of this entry, we will be using psychological lenses to identity your strengths, while at the same time employing spiritual tools as a means by which to lose yourself – letting go of your need for achievement, positive self-regard, and recognition – in search of an even horizontal-vertical hybrid we call the Larger Self.
- Here is an excellent article, “Confessions of a Bad Mediator,” in which researcher Christian Carter explains how meditation helps her overcome her fear that she is not “good enough.”
* Course description for “Service, Society, and the Sacred”
This junior-senior religion elective aims to enable students to gain a better sense of life direction through a holistic exploration of their bodies, minds, and hearts. The starting point of this journey is the assumption that each aspect of the self – body, mind, and heart – has its own unique intelligence that it brings to bear in answering the question of purpose in life. The class, then, consists in teaching about and training of each intelligence to bring it into greater sympathetic resonance with other aspects of the self. The training of the body asks students to find ways to improve their physical health; the training of the mind challenges students to develop non-reactivity beyond their immediate impulses of like and dislike; and training of the heart uses various spiritual practices to attune students to a sense of calling in their lives. It is hoped that this intensive self-exploration will enable students to be more at ease with themselves and to better understand how they can lead a life of purpose and service to society.
** Erik Erikson on Adolescent Identity Formation in this Wikipedia entry
Erikson’s belief is that throughout each person’s lifetime, they experience different crises or conflicts. Each of the conflicts arises at a certain point in life and must be successfully resolved for progression to the next of the eight stages. The particular stage relevant to identity formation takes place during adolescence, called “Identity versus Role Confusion.”
The “Identity versus Role Confusion” stage consists of adolescents trying to figure out who they are in order to form a basic identity that they will build on throughout their life, especially concerning social and occupational identities. They face the complexities of determining one’s own identity. Erikson said this crisis is resolved with identity achievement, the point at which an individual has extensively considered various goals and values, accepting some and rejecting others, and understands who they are as a unique person. Once an adolescent has attained identity achievement, they are ready to enter the next stage of Erikson’s theory “Intimacy versus Isolation” where they will form strong friendships and a sense of companionship with others. If the “Identity versus Role Confusion” crisis is not solved, an adolescent will face confusion about future plans, particularly their roles in adulthood. Failure to form one’s own identity leads to failure to form a shared identity with others, which could lead to instability in many areas as an adult. The identity formation stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is a crucial stage in life.
- This interview of Russ Hudson by Robert Holden, both of whom I took a class from in London last summer on the Enneagram, is a fine overview to this powerful system of thought.
- Helen Palmer explains how types reveal themselves in our focus of attention as well as what triggers us emotionally in this 8-minute video interview.
- This is a beautiful and pretty compelling placing of Paul’s inspired hymn to love in I Corinthians 13, a frequent wedding text, on the Enneagram.