The Non-Dual Perspective of the Enneagram
From Radical Grace Vol. 21, No. 3, July/August/September 2008, the quarterly publication of The Center for Action and Contemplation.
One of the most important statements about mercy is Shakespeare's inspiring plea to Shylock made by Portia in The Merchant of Venice (1600). Perhaps it is more than a little obvious to begin this article about "practicing mercy" with this quotation, yet Shakespeare’s genius, with its profound insight into human nature, raises some of the most important issues about mercy and the paradoxical nature of this virtue. The passage in Act IV, Scene I, goes as follows—
- The quality of mercy is not strained.
- It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
- Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
- It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
- Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
- The throned monarch better than his crown.
- His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
- The attribute to awe and majesty,
- Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings.
- But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
- It is enthroned in the hearts of kings;
- It is an attribute of God himself;
- And earthly power doth then show like God's
- When mercy seasons justice.
We have noticed that mercy seems to be a virtue that is directed primarily at the guilty: the innocent do not need mercy, whereas the guilty have no hope except to be treated mercifully. The need for mercy assumes the fact of guilt and justifiable punishment—even the punishment that justice itself demands. We could even say that forgiveness and mercy go together: forgiveness repairs the past by letting go of it, whereas mercy makes possible a better future by not seeking the consequences of applying strict justice.
We have also noticed that mercy frequently appears when it is least expected, much less justified. Mercy has a "superabundant" quality about it, and is an expression of the soul’s largess and the heart’s magnanimity. Mercy is often surprising especially to the merciful themselves since it usually arises unexpectedly, and is acted on by persons who, even a moment before, were not predisposed to showing anyone mercy. There is, in fact, a touch of the miraculous to it—so contradictory is mercy to our ego self, to our ordinary sense of justice, and to our past conditioning.
Yet, rather than be an expression of some sort of "giving in" or of weakness of will, true mercy is among the most muscular of virtues, an activity of the soul operating at a very high state. It takes enormous inner strength for anyone to be merciful—an inner strength necessary to go against common sense, the obvious guilt at hand, and the rush to see justice applied. However, for those who can be merciful, the act not only is a blessing to those to whom it is given, but it enobles the one who has the magnanimity of heart to practice it. As Shakespeare says at the end of the above passage,
- It is an attribute of God himself;
- And earthly power doth then show like God's
- When mercy seasons justice.
Indeed, mercy goes against the grain of human nature itself: we usually feel more than a little pleasure in seeing the guilty punished, the wrongdoer paying for his actions, the liar, the thief, the murderer getting their just desserts. Mercy seems to be a foolish, even softheaded, option—an option that is usually never even considered until one is living at a high Level of functioning. (Perhaps this is why we do not see true mercy being practiced very often….) The ego is only too ready to distort this virtue into some self-satisfied nourishment for itself—the impulse to act mercifully easily can become a condescending gesture that is yet another way to show off and feel superior, as in the condescending mercy and "forgiveness" of the Commandant in Schindler's List. As the Commandant's character shows us, this kind of ego-based "mercy" can quickly turn into its opposite since it does not come from a true seeing of the other and is only a temporary posture of the ego condescension can quickly turn into contempt, and contempt into hatred and the desire to destroy the very person who moments before was the object of the ego’s "mercy."
But, the miracle of mercy can and does arise when we move beyond our ego and its traps. At the highest Levels of Development, all of the virtues are a web of grace and are mutually supportive of each other, and each can be acted on as it is needed in the moment. The Enneagram itself points to this profound lesson: all of the types of the Enneagram are interconnected, which is the deeper meaning of the internal lines of the diagram itself. No type exists in isolation, just as no person and no thing exist by itself: everything in the universe is interconnected. In short, the Enneagram points to this fundamental truth, the Oneness of reality.
Thus, mercy in the Eight (the type that this virtue is usually associated with at a high Level) can deteriorate into ego-inflated condescension and invulnerability unless they are balanced by the healthy Two’s (the Helper’s) true empathy and generosity toward others. However, the healthy Two's empathy and generosity toward others can deteriorate into a false humility and self- congratulation unless they are balanced by the healthy Four's (the Individualist’s) self-awareness and honesty about their own motives and feelings. The healthy Four's self-awareness and honesty about their own motives and feelings can deteriorate into self-absorption and hypersensitivity unless they are balanced by the healthy One's (the Reformer’s) sense of proportion and desire to align with objective reality. The healthy One’s sense of proportion can deteriorate into rigidly held positions and compulsive perfectionism unless they are balanced by the healthy Seven's (the Enthusiast’s) openness to new experience and the dynamism of reality. The healthy Seven's openness to new experience and dynamism can deteriorate into superficiality and a manic running after immediate gratification unless they are balanced by the healthy Five’s (the Investigator’s) orientation to objective truth and perceptive focus. The healthy Five's perceptive focus and truth-seeking can deteriorate into bizarre distortions in thinking and perceiving, unless these are balanced by the healthy Eight's robust grounding in the physical world and in the practical exercise of their instinctive drives.
Likewise, the healthy Nine's receptivity and serenity can deteriorate into passivity and neglectful disengagement unless they are balanced by the healthy Three's (the Achiever’s) energetic enthusiasm for growth and genuine self- development. The healthy Three’s enthusiasm for growth and genuine self- development can deteriorate into a narcissism and self-satisfaction, unless they are balanced by the healthy Six’s (the Loyalist’s) faithfulness and commitment to values outside themselves. The healthy Six's faithfulness and commitment can deteriorate into a suspiciousness and belligerent reactiveness unless it is balanced by the healthy Nine's receptivity and serenity, as we have seen. Thus, all nine types need the type in their Direction of Integration (or growth) if they are to become—and stay—balanced and able to practice virtue.
But how does each type become balanced and open to the virtues, including mercy? The answer to this might very well be somewhat involved and fairly subtle although the core of the matter is actually simple. Each type becomes healthy (and in a position to be virtuous) to the degree that the person is disidentified with their ego self in each and every moment. The ability to disidentify with the ego self in the moment requires the ability to maintain presence in the moment, which, of course, means being present to everything including our own conditioning, our failures and our fraudulence, our guilt, shame, and fear—and whatever else we are running away from or defending ourselves against and do not wish to see in ourselves. But, being present this way entails not judging, rejecting, criticizing, or reacting to our unconscious patterns. The ability to do this allows the arising of all virtues arising, including true mercy.
As we become more used to disidentifying with our ego self, we begin to see a much deeper truth—that we are not an isolated, individual ego self, but are connected to everything and everyone on a profound and mysterious level of reality. We see that the perennial and universal spiritual teaching that, fundamentally, All Is One is literally true, whether we understand the ground of this reality to be God, or the depths of consciousness of which we are individual expressions. We see that the profoundest truth is that there is no one to whom we are not connected.
Moreover, we also begin to understand that there is no one separate from ourselves for the ego to love, or to fear, or to envy—or to have mercy on. We understand that as with the other virtues such as love, forgiveness, authenticity, joy, peace, and so forth that these qualities arise in the moment whenever the ego gets out of the way.
Then, a deeper question arises: Who is being merciful to whom when we are "practicing mercy"? While we understand that the average ego self needs to "practice mercy" so that "mercy seasons justice" (as Shakespeare reminds us), once we have seen through the illusions of the ego self, the need to "practice" mercy diminishes. Mercy is a grace that arises spontaneously in the act of really seeing the other—and seeing that "the other" is not a separate other but another reflection of the One Self that we have lost contact with and forgotten. When we see the suffering and guilt in others, mercy arises for them — just as seeing our own suffering and guilt allows mercy to arise for ourselves. No effort is required to receive this grace—"the quality of mercy is not strained," as Shakespeare says.
In the end, mercy arises spontaneously from the egoless Self, which is why only God can be truly merciful. Everything else can only be "practiced at" — but can never be permanently attained unless it comes from the depths of Being itself. — Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
First published in Radical Grace, Vol. 21, No. 3, July-August-September 2008. Used with permission of the Center for Action and Contemplation.
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