When we cross the threshold into our thirties, something happens to our strident march into the future: we start looking around at the expensive car, the fancy house, the busy kids, and the gym membership, and asking, "Is this it?" Even for those who have none of these, after thirty, we start to realize that we need a more adult-like way of dealing with stress besides alcohol and late nights because whether or not we've checked off any of the Big Four Milestones yet-- marriage, career, family and home-ownership-- we've crossed a lifechanging mountain range that ends in a vague and lingering itch that's very hard to scratch. At thirty, we've reached a horizon with very few big landmark, life-defining moments left in the long stretch before us, and we ask ourselves, "This is everything I've been working towards?"
Not that life after thirty is a drag- I personally love it- but however you've appraised your progress, the daily routine of the nine to five-- couched on either side by groceries, traffic, line-ups, meal prep and alarm bells-- is the hallmark of the adult life. The endless string of expensive birthday presents, mortgage payments and bills can be overwhelming, and a lonely slog if we're single or in a relationship that isn't working. Whether we're raising children, working nine to five, or trying to get a book published, most of us after thirty would very dearly like a break: some rest, a sick day, a week at a retreat centre, a hug, a spa day, or a month-long Sabbatical to work on a side-project. If we stop and reflect on the pain after such a break is over, we start to understand the Buddhist principle of impermanence: any comfort and pleasure in life is too short.
In describing modern life, Buddhist monk Chogyam Trungpa could easily have been describing any adult's pre-internet days (which he was), but even moreso now that we have computers and smartphones.
Everything is suffering because the experience of our life becomes a nuisance. We are not just saying, "Our baby is a nuisance; therefore we should send him or her to the babysitter". In this case, nuisance is not ordinary nuisance, but fundamental nuisance. Whenever you try to do something, it is always a nuisance....
Technology is supposed to integrate our day-to-day activities to create more of a flow, but when they don't work, the constant stop and go of the flow exposes the irritation in the gaps separating our happy moments. We can be forgiven for trying to satisfy our cravings and aversions in our twenties- unless we were raised by enlightened parents, we tend not to know any better. But when we have to become responsible adults and start saving for retirement, we need to develop a more mature way of handling ourselves in those irritating fissures. Otherwise, we'll start to justify an over-reliance upon our unique ego distractions, things we do to make us feel a certain way, to help amplify the good feelings on either side of the cracks. Trungpa uses a mundane example to illustrate how satifying our cravings leads to a feeling of emptiness:
For instance, you have a good cup of coffee in your hand. You put cream and sugar in it, and you stir it with satisfaction. You inhale the aroma, you drink, and you have a great sense of satisfaction. At last! A good cup of coffee. You have been looking forward to it for a long time. But now you have drunk it- it is gone, and your appreciation has become pain. You feel as though you never drank that cup of coffee at all. It is all gone, which is quite disheartening. You could fill the gap by drinking a second cup, but the second cup dissappears as well, and you end up drinking so much coffee that you feel sick. (The Path of Individual Liberation, pg. 14-15).
Married people are blessed with the stability of a long-term relationship while at the same time, cursed with having someone specially suited to point out how they're being assholes much of the time. Single people just have their own internal critic to worry about, the voice chiding us to change. One of the biggest causes of insanity in the West is that we don't know how to change. As in, what are the core fundamentals to changing? Our society is no longer connected to its mystical heritage that tells us how, and in fact, we've disavowed it in favor of science. We know if we want to lose weight, we have to go to the gym and eat less, but what happens when we can't control our overeating and can't make it to the gym enough times to make a dent? Science is doing its best to give us the answers, and science is wonderful, but are we losing weight as much as we want? Is there a more fundamental level where change starts? This is what this article is about- the nine different ways that people with different personality types need to understand about themselves first before they can change. It has to do with how we deal with the gaps between the happy moments. Surprisingly or not, there are not two, not five, not eight, but nine ways our ego selves handle the gaps.
If the feelings of nuisance -or being a nuisance- prod us into painful enough territory like rejection, failure or loss, after more than enough false leads that bring home the painful reality that we're the ones causing our own problems, we'll start our journey inwards, looking for true Reality behind our egoic delusions. This is a difficult journey, but the most rewarding one, and invitations are only extended towards select individuals. Actually, getting an invitation feels more like getting hit on the head with a brick, or slapped across the face every morning for 18 years, or having the carpet ripped out from underneath your feet after years of building up stability. So if you've "received" a ticket, lucky you. But you need to be outfitted with the right gear before you get too far into the journey.
One of the most useful tools you'll want to take with you to help you understand your your ego's thesis statement is the Enneagram, a personality typing system, kind of like Myers-Briggs, but much more profound and helpful if you actually want to change anything. You can imagine the Enneagram like a healing labyrinth, inviting us into its geometry to become more and more aware of our unconscious emotional, mental, and instinctual patterns and how we relate to those of others. Of course, there is no actual labyrinth traced out on the ground somewhere; it's just a symbol, but a dynamic one nonetheless, and its function, paradoxically, is to liberate us from our patterns, to unfold us from our self-contradictory internal logic to one that serves us so we're not always shooting ourselves in the foot. You might say the Enneagram is for soothing the irritations in the cracks between our happy moments for an integrated experience of our true nature, who we were really meant to be when we're in flow.
Embedded within the name of the Enneagram are a couple hints about what it's about. The first part of the word, "Ennea", is the Greek word for the number nine, and the suffix, "-gram" hints that there's some kind of systemic philosophical scaffolding behind the number. Indeed, the Enneagram is a way of understanding types in nature that reflect nine qualities what to means to be in integrity with yourself, complete, and well, holy, if you will.
Let's say you have nine friends, one of each type. Your type One friend is the Perfectionist who shows us what it means to be a moral, serious, and upstanding person. They want to do good and they hardly ever get angry. If they do, they'll suppress it unconsciously and become really nice instead, because feeling angry isn't a "good" feeling. While they want to be in complete integrity with themselves, they end up splitting themselves off from their bad parts, ironically creating a dualism within themselves.
Your Type Two friend is the Helper who shows us how to be a sweet, loving person. They're always complimenting you and giving you banana bread and casseroles. They want to be helpful because love is what makes the world go around, but they suppress their own needs because having needs is selfish, let alone stating them. So they have to get their needs met a round-about way... like kind of tricking you into giving it to them. For example, eventually after enough compliments and banana bread, you'll start feeling either grateful or guilty and you'll wrap the Type Two in the same brand of love and affection they've been lavishing on you.
Your Type Three friend is the Achiever, the cheerleader, the type who shows us how to be winners. They're the perky friend who always surprises you with how competent they are. They get a lot of things right- they can be quite efficient and productive- because they study successful people to learn their secrets. Their inner contradiction is that their drive to be seen as successful is "a tad" stronger than the need to actually do the things necessary to be successful. So the image takes precedence over the actual homework needed to look as dazzling as they want to look, and oh how loathe they are to be found out for the corners they've cut.
Type Four is the moody, creative friend who has the same drive for a positive image like the Three, but whose melancholic moods and their feelings of deficiency hold them back from starting things, finishing things, marketing their things, or saying anything positive about themselves in general. Like the Three, Fours are ashamed of their deficiencies, but unlike the Three, don't do anything about it; in fact, they hide their true self behind their inadequacies. They retreat into their emotional lives to create a fantasy self that they'll probably never actualize unless they become aware how their moods are controlling them and preventing them from getting any significant work done on their goals.
Type Five is one of the "head types." Now ask 50 people if they're "head, heart, or gut types", and all 50 people will tell you they're "head types", even though the nine types are evenly distributed between the three. It's just that we all hear ourselves think too much these days due to all the distractions around us. But few types demonstrate more clearly the thrill of linking new concepts together and the hell of having no place to go but the head. This is nerd culture archetype, the one who you ask how they are and they tell you about something in the news or about computers, as if information is supposed to be the answer to a subjective question like how their day was. GIving you information is their way of connecting with you.
Type Six is also a head type, but, as Russ Hudson explains, while Fives try to know everything as a defense against the uncertainty of the world, Sixes are constantly looking for those people outside themselves who know the answers. Masters of projection, Sixes look for anything that looks secure, true, honest, reliable like an organization, a boss with a good reputation, or a confident and reliable spouse. A Six can finally relax when they've found them, and holds on to them, denying that they might be a source of knowledge themselves.
Your type Seven friend is the Enthusiast that is always busy moving from one fun activity to the next and you can barely keep up with them. One day they're learning how to fly a plane; the next day they're getting their realtor's liscence and planning a trip around the world. The Seven's internal contradiction is they want to experience everything life has to offer, but as Russ Hudson explains, never allow "anything to touch [them] deeply, and only in allowing things to touch [them] deeply is there any possibility of transformation."
Eight and Nine are body types, but they're complete opposites to each other. Both of them have an intelligence around the instinctual centre- the gut. They use their gut energy primarily to stop things in their tracks before they affect their way of doing things. Unlike the Twos, Threes or Fours who press their faces up against the window of someone's soul to see how they need to act in order to gain approval, the gut types just act how they want to act and it's up to you to make a berth around them. You can think of them as having issues around their first chakras- where issues of boundaries and "hereness"-- how you take up your space on the earth-- are of primary importance. Body types enforce their boundaries without having to spend a lot of time thinking about them.
The Eights are the Challengers. They're the friend who goes after what they want, whether loudly or quietly, but very directly, and aren't ashamed or ambiguous about their desires or drives. They do what they need to do to survive- it's a tough world out there, and Eights know it. They can be brusque and use too much energy, volume, or sneaky underhanded tactics to get control of their environment, but it comes from a fear of someone getting control of them, whether financially, physically or otherwise. Their irony is the most obvious of the nine types- if you're grabby and pushy about getting what you want in life, you'll inevitably push people away.
Finally, your sweet Nine friend - the peace-loving, gentle Nine is the laid-back friend who will never impose on you. They'll invite you over to their house or to the gym with them to relax or do push-ups together. They just want everyone to get along, but they think they'll cause conflict by asserting themselves, so ironically, under stress, the self-effacing Nine unwittingly causes conflict by receding into into a stone wall of stubborn - yet deceptively peaceful-looking- silence as a way of asserting their autonomy.
If we've reached a certain age and we're smart, we'll start to notice how our internal contradictions are working against us and we'll start to do some inquiry around some of our most obvious self-destructive habits.
We can take some advice from Plotinus, the neo-Platonist who urged us to forgo things that promise immediate gratification for things further down the line with a bigger payoff. In the language of the ancient Greeks, we're forgoing "The Many" for something that looks more like "The One".
In Plotinus' way of seeing things, the One is the Source of all creation; it is uncreated and eternal. Contemplation of the One is where we lose our ego self. Think how truly satisfying it would be to not only not be an asshole anymore, but to lose the identity on behalf of whom the asshole acted so that you see that you're One with everyone else.
We can understand our essential nature by contemplating how we are a manifestation of one of nine divine forms, we have the essence of The One within us.
In other words, our very own personality type can lead us toward the source of those pure essence qualities we're trying to cultivate in our lives- vibrancy, success, attentiveness, calm and peace. Each of us represents a facet of The One, or The Truth, or a legitimate viewpoint on true reality.
So why nine and which one are you? Let's first look at why the number nine is so important.
The ancient Egyptians had a base 10 numerical system -- most likely because of our ten fingers-- and the first nine numbers, to them, each reflected a core spiritual principle that applied to natural life. The number one stood for perfect unity, two stood for connection, three stood for a finished process, and so on.
The Egyptians also had developped a complex mythology around the original family of nine gods. Today we call it the Egyptian Ennead. They were the nine primary deities who created each other, the heavens, the earth, and everything else in the manifest world.
The fact that nine gods arose from the One (Atum) speaks to how Egyptians understood the number nine to represent completion.
With the genesis of the nine gods from the One, the creation theology of Heliopolis is completed. The number nine is, numerologically speaking, a limit that cannot be surpassed without returning once again to the beginning."
Horus was the last god to emerge from this incestual family of gods. He's not pictured, but he represents the number 10, which is a mirror image of Atum. So we see the return to one.
As their mathematical and geometrical principles were just as useful in the manifest world as in the inner world, we can appreciate how Egyptians viewed "humanity [as] a complete process within a complete universe" (Schneider, 1994)
As in the Egyptian tradition, the Greeks approached the study of truth through mathematics and geometry. In fact, you couldn't study philosophy until you'd learnt the essentials- how a circle represented one, wholeness, and perfection; two represented division, polarity and inevitably, the search for connection back to the One; three represented a finished product arising from the tension of the two opposing polarities.
Commensurate with their love of geometry, when the Greeks conquered the Egyptians, they absorbed a lot of ancient mathematical principles of the pyramid builders into their own culture, but then added dimension to it. In an ancient Greek math class, young students would learn the shape and volume associations with each number between 1 and 9. One was represented by a circle, the picture of unity and perfection; two was represented by the dyad, the two-sided shape that results from two half circles joined together. Three is the triangle, and so on. Each shape had very important qualities that helped you understand the spiritual and philosophical significance of each form. Mathematics educator Michael Schaffer points out that the phrase "sacred mathematics" gets thrown around a lot without people really understanding it, but it really means that mathematics is sacred when it helps you discover the hidden spark of the divine within yourself.
The Greek philosopher Pythagoras-- who was probably educated in Egypt-- "considered the first ten numbers to be seed patterns for all the principles of the cosmos", says Schneider.
Nine is the final number having a specific identify. It represents the highest attainment to be achieved in any endeavor. Nine is the unsurpassable limit, the utmost bound, the ultimate extension to which the archetypal principles of number can reach and manifest themselves in the world. The ancient Greeks called nine 'the horizon', as it lies at the edge of the shore before the boundless ocean of numbers that repeat in endless cycles the principles of the first nine digits. Nothing lies beyond the principles of nine, which the Greeks called the Ennead.
Throughout history and across religions, we see repetitions of this principle. In the mystical sect of Judaism, Kabbalah, there are nine sephirot (the circles connecting the lines) in the Tree of Life, with the number 10 assigned to God himself. The nine sephirot denote the nine manifestations of God in the natural world.
The Tree of Life was actually instrumental in clarifying the connection between spiritual qualities and emotional health in the early 1940's. It was a chance insight while studying the placement of the sephirot that led Bolivian mystic Oscar Ichazo to try to not only match up the nine qualities with the nine points on the Enneagram, thereby assembling the first dynamic model for how the nine personality types ebb and flow into each others' territory depending on mental and emotional resilience, but he placed them in the correct order. For example, on the Enneagram at least- not on the Tree of Life- Type Fives are connected by a line between 8 and 7. When a Type Five person is stressed, they will deteriorate to the negative qualities of the number 7 like being frazzled and hyper, but when they're at their best, they're embodied and secure not needing to know everything, while putting their ideas into action.
Healing The Enneagram Types with Geometry
So now that we've established why the number nine is such an important number, how does knowing ancient Greek geometry help us become integrated, healthy, and whole people today? We could call this the sacred part of geometry right here. understanding the geometric representation (The One) behind our type helps us uncover our gifts and heal from our inner contradiction.
In the Enneagram, Type One is the perfectionist. People of this type want everything to be "just right". They are bothered by disorder, messes, spelling mistakes, and they abhor people who take shortcuts. Their eyes scan for disorder so they can put it in order.
To the Greeks, the number One was represented by a perfect circle. Circles represented the mother that gives birth to all of the shapes via the vescies pisces. The world was frequently depicted in European paintings as enclosed in a circle containing all creation. Because the Type One longs to be in integrity with itself, it vehemently denies (represses) everything in it that it feels to be bad, predominantly its anger. So irony of ironies, the Type One, who wants the most to be in integry with itself ends up the most split apart from itself than any of the other types. Type Ones can heal by identifying with the all-encompassing circle that accepts the good and the bad in them instead of denying the bad. Knowing their tendency toward repressing the parts of themselves they don't like, and knowing that they're represented by an all-enclosing circle can help them become aware of their tendency to judge themselves so harshly.
Again, the number four is represented by the Tetrad, the first of the geometrical shapes to have 3-D depth to them (think of the pyramid shape) whose flat surface gives it maximum stability. Conversely, people who are Enneagram type Fours are always trying to attain greater and greater depths by mimicing their true Essence nature represented by the Tetrad, but tend to get seduced and entranced by their ego that persuades them that reality is only in the shadows and depth, and end up- ironically- the most depressed and unstable of the types. By returning to their Essence nature through self-awareness practices like meditation, Fours can become more healthy and stable like their representative shape. Also, he might pair up with Cynthia Bourgeault or Russ Hudson who have one of the most fine-tuned understandings of the Law of Three, a critical ancient Egyptian principle that serves as a lynchpin for the entire lot of numbers 1 to 9.
One important figure in Enneagram history who didn't get mentioned in this article is the Chilean psychiatrist who studied the Enneagram under Oscar Ichazo. He brought it up to California in the early 1970's. Claudio Naranjo was a psychiatrist-in-residence at Esalen at Big Sur, and started fleshing out the type descriptions, using material gathered from his work with his own patients. To introduce the topic of the Enneagram, he quotes Dr. Oliver P. John, author of the Big Five Inventory, and professor at University of California, speaking about the need for an objective personality typing inventory.
Like any field of scientific study, personality psychology needs a descriptive model or taxonomy of its subject matter... a taxonomy would permit researchers to study specific domains of personality characteristics.... Moreover, a generally accepted taxonomy would greatly facilitate the accumulation and communication of empirical findings by offering a standard vocabulary or nomenclature.... Most every researcher in the field hopes, at one level or another, to be the one who devises the structure that will transform the present Babel into a community that speaks a common language (Naranjo, 1994).
Wouldn't it be remarkable if the structure psychologists were looking for was beneath our noses this entire time?