Personality and Essence
The Enneagram is most powerful when we use it to understand the dynamics of our personality. We do this because the Enneagram conveys the idea that we are much more than our personality. Our personalities are no more than the familiar, conditioned parts of a much wider range of potentials that we all possess. Beyond the limitations of our personalities, each of us exists as a vast, largely unrecognized quality of Being or Presence—what is called our Essence. In spiritual language, we could say that within each person is an individual spark of the Divine, but we have forgotten this fundamental truth. We have fallen asleep to our true nature. We do not experience our own Divine nature nor do we experience others as manifestations of the Divine. Instead, we have become hard, even cynical, treating others as objects to be defended against or used for our gratification.
Most of us have some notion about what personality is, but the idea of Essence is probably foreign to us. When we talk about Essence, we mean it in the literal sense of the word—what we fundamentally are, our essential self, the Ground of Being in us, is our Essence. Spirit is another appropriate word.
It is also important to distinguish Essence, or spirit, from "soul." The fundamental ground of our Being is Essence or Spirit, but it takes a form we call "the soul." Our personality is a particular aspect of our soul. Our soul is "made of" Essence or Spirit. If Spirit were water, soul would be a particular lake or river, and personality would be waves on its surface—or frozen chunks of ice in the river.
Generally, we do not experience our Essence and its many aspects because our awareness is so dominated by our personality. But as we learn to bring awareness to our personality, it becomes more transparent and we are able to experience our Essence more directly. We still function in the world, but with a growing realization of our connection with Divinity. We become aware that we are part of a Divine Presence all around us and in us that is constantly and miraculously unfolding.
The Enneagram can help us see what prevents us from remembering this deep truth about who we really are, the truth of our spiritual nature. It does this by providing highly specific insights into our psychological and spiritual makeup. The Enneagram also helps us by giving us a direction in which to work, but only as long as we remember that it is not telling us who we are, but how we have limited who we are. Remember, the Enneagram does not put us in a box, it shows us the boxes that we are already in—and the way out.
It is also important to understand that our personality is not "bad." It is an important phase in our development, and is necessary for the refinement of our Essential natures. The problem is that we become stuck in personality, and do not know how to move on to the next phase. This is not the result of any inherent flaw in ourselves; rather, this "arrested development" occurs because almost no one in our formative years was aware that any more was possible. Our parents and teachers may have had some glimmers of their true nature, but, like us, they generally did not recognize them or grasp their real significance.
The purpose of the Enneagram is not to help us get rid of our personality. Even if we could, it would not be very helpful. Indeed, it is probably impossible to eradicate our personality altogether—no matter how much psychological and spiritual work we engage in, it will still manifest itself to some degree or other. This is reassuring to those of us who fear that if we let go of our personality, we will lose our identity or become less capable or effective. Many of us are convinced that if we were to become less dependent on our personality, we would not be able to hold a conversation, much less hold down a job, or otherwise function in our day to day lives.
Exactly the opposite is true, however. When we get in touch with our Essence, we do not lose our personality, but it becomes more transparent, more flexible—something that helps us live rather than something that takes over our lives. If we think about it, we realize that moments of "flow" and "peak performance" arise when we are most present and aware—qualities of our Essence—whereas the manifestations of our personality often cause us to overlook things, make mistakes, and create problems of all kinds. In packing to go on a trip, for example, if we are too anxious about the trip, we will likely forget to bring even important articles, or will, in our anxiety, pack the wrong clothes. Learning how to stay relaxed even under everyday pressures such as this can make our lives easier. As we become aware of our personality and are less identified with it, it becomes a smaller part of the totality of who we are. The personality still exists, but there is a more active intelligence, a sensitivity, and a Presence underlying it that uses the personality as a vehicle rather than being driven by it. As we identify more with our Essence, we see that we do not lose our identity—we find it. From this broader perspective, we see that identifying with the personality is like believing that we are only our left foot.
Thus, the personality is always composed of a small fraction of the total range of our potentials. It contains imitations of the real, more expansive qualities of our Essential nature which include joy, love, peace, compassion, strength, understanding, and many other priceless qualities. Moreover, our Essence awakens us to the beauty all around us—to the gifts of nature and the miracle of other people. In every moment, there are treasures and sources of delight, if we could only open to them. In the world of personality, we are too filled with our own projects and preoccupations, worries and hopes to notice the exquisite pleasure of being alive and the astounding variety of life.
But as we expand more fully into our Essential nature, our senses are awakened—seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, intuiting. The world is more immediate and has a deeper impact on us; everything becomes more vivid and alive. We have all had moments in which a veil seems to have been removed so that the enchantment of even the smallest things touches us deeply. We experience the world once again with the innocence of a child, with all of the awe and mystery of life restored.
And yet, ironically, we fear and resist opening to that which is most real in us. When we trust in the process and give ourselves over to it, however, our authentic self comes forth. The result is real integrity, love, authenticity, creativity, understanding, guidance, joy, power, and serenity—all of the qualities we are forever demanding that personality supply.
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