‘This,’ in the above, being the Enneagram.
Mmmhh, I sense some of you saying
An appreciative mmmhh maybe ?
An mmmhh that means – what on earth is the enneagram ?
An mmmhh that means – you’re on the slippery slope buddy, this is dodgy stuff, so watch out !
Back in 2018, just before we retired, we went on a three day course to discover what the Enneagram was all about. Basically, it’s a tool for self awareness and transformation, and my wife and I thought that as we were starting on a new phase of life, it might be good to take a step back and look at ourselves.
The Enneagram describes 9 personality types, and characteristics that go with each one. The historical roots of the Enneagram are hazy, but one theory is that part of the origin is to be found in the work of the desert fathers and mothers, christian women and men of the fourth century. As the Christian Church became more a part of the Roman Empire, and the purity of the faith was under attack, these women and men lived lives of solitude in the desert, the were essentially the ‘spiritual directors’ of their day, available to christians seeking to grow in their faith.
As they considered the life of faith, they saw nine aspects of human behaviour that they described as passions – anger, pride, deceit, self-doubt, greed, fear, gluttony, lust, sloth. (The Catholic Church later reduced these to seven – the deadly sins).
The other side of the passions, were nine gifts – goodness, love, effectiveness, creativity, wisdom, faithfulness, joy, power, and peace.
The basis of the enneagram is that our basic character is formed when we get to early adulthood, and that one of the above gifts / passions looms larger than the others in our person.
Here’s an example:
People in the One space are gifted with goodness. They do things well, very well. They are conscientious and ethical, striving for excellence. But on the journey of life, they discover that things are not always good, that they themselves are not always good. The false self convinces them that they are responsible for making life not only good but perfect. When things are not as perfect as they think they should be, Ones experience anger, toward themselves, situations, and others. God invites Ones to receive serenity, which is the ability to accept things as they are and to become less reactive when things are not perfect.
The above quote from Alice Fryling – What is the Enneagram
So a type 1 on the enneagram could be described as a perfectionist.
I thought for a time that I was a type 1, but I think I was wrong.
I’ve also had periods when I was convinced I was a 9, and a 3. I really wanted to be a 7 – The adventurer, or the 4, the Romantic !
I found the three day course fascinating, but frustrating. I could see the value of this kind of self awareness, and its potential for transformation, but I could find myself in it. There were aspects of most of the types that I could see clearly in me.
What I think I was missing, was the importance of thinking back to when I was a young adult – that’s where I would find my enneagram type.
It seems that what happens is that as we grow into later adult hood, we find ways to develop other gifts, which is good. It means that we are maturing, and not stuck within one type. For example, over the years, I have worked on my difficulty with dealing with conflict, so have developed (not as much as I would like) my ability in that regard.
The problem is, I don’t have a very good memory, so trying to find what my type was in my 20’s is tricky.
So I asked my wife – In my 20’s, was I particularly a perfectionist. Answer: No.
Was I someone who especially needed my work to be praised by others. Answer: No
So, probably not a 1 or a 3.
But as I thought more about my life then, I have come to the conclusion that I am in fact a 4. A Romantic.
I know some people will think this is all a load of baloney, or pointless navel gazing, but I can see the enneagram not only as a tool to cultivate self awareness, but also for the christian, something that can help us in our dicipleship.
The Enneagram is not about putting us in a box, but helping us see which box we might be in, and enabling us to get out of that box, and discover more fully the gifts that God gives.
This is still a work in progress.
Maybe more another time