Personality, Essence, & Spirituality
"Naturally, it takes years of work on oneself to get to know anything real about ourselves; we may think we are finding out a great deal, through self-observation and by applying the other teachings and techniques of The Work [Gurdjieff's teaching]....What we think we have discovered about ourselves is very superficial at first, so that real self-knowledge only comes after years of patient effort. But such effort is immensely worth while in every particular, because it not only transforms us, it transforms our whole life for us; because as our level of being changes, so does our life change, too. We become different people inside, and this is reflected by the way life treats us outside.
"This is an esoteric law...and explains why it is only ourselves who can make anything really worthwhile of our lives. It is no good looking to external factors or agencies to do this for us. Such things cannot change our level of being, and so life remains just as it was before, despite whatever we may be doing or thinking. It is only when we begin to really work on ourselves, and change our habitual ways of thinking and feeling, that anything real or permanent can happen to us. For self- change is the basic pre-requisite for external change. And self-change can only come about as a result of self- knowledge and work on oneself." (Benjamin, Basic Self-Knowledge, 63-64)
Providing accurate knowledge of ourselves was the purpose of Personality Types, just as it is the purpose of the Enneagram itself. The lesson that had to be learned was the wastefulness of ego inflation. As valuable as this lesson was, there was much more to be said: the Enneagram can also guide us to spiritual dimensions by helping us move beyond personality. We have already alluded to the fact that genuine fulfillment (which is to be found primarily within a spiritual context) lies in the ability to discover our true essential nature.
"We must be willing and able to go beyond ego to reach out to something more, to experience the parts of ourselves that have nothing to do with the agendas of our personalities. At the same time, we must also be willing to experience the limitation and pain that our ego's habits are causing us.
"Self-transcendence is difficult and fearful because it entails going into unknown territory, feeling, thinking, and acting in ways foreign to our personality, contrary to our past habits, at odds with our old attitudes and identity, and free of the old wounds and defenses of our childhood. In a sense, self- transcendence is a rebirth, a true transformation, the coming into being of a new person who is learning to leave the old ways behind and strike out into a new world....
"In the last analysis, learning how to transcend the ego involves nothing less than learning how to be open to love. Only love has the power to save us from ourselves. Until we learn to truly love ourselves and others—and to accept the love of others—there can be no hope of lasting happiness or peace or redemption. It is because we do not love ourselves properly that we lose ourselves so easily in the many illusions ego sets before us." (Personality Types, 460-61)
Cataloguing the illusions that "ego sets before us" was the very stuff of the descriptions in Personality Types and on this website. It is now time to turn our attention to that other path—toward higher states that open out to us once we have seen through the veils and illusions of the ego, to that upward spiral by which we awaken to essence.
Describing "living in Essence" is much more difficult than describing Personality Types, for one fundamental reason. Most of the ego states described in Personality Types are unfree; they involve degrees of compulsion, of losing ourselves in illusions and mechanical responses. Since they are relatively fixed states ("fixations"), they are also relatively easy to describe, once you know what to look for. However, essence results in states that are marked by freedom, and as such they are dynamic and ever-evolving—not only as an expression of life but, in a true sense, as life-giving states themselves. If we can analyze the qualities of a truly free person, of someone living in a state of liberation, we will learn more about "living in essence."
"The unfolding of essence becomes the process of living. Life is no longer a string of disconnected experiences of pleasure and pain, but a flow, a stream of aliveness. One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another. There is a constant flow of understanding, insight, knowledge, and states of being." (Almaas,Essence, 178)
As we become healthier by overcoming our characteristic fears and by acting on our right desires, our ego becomes more flexible and transparent as we gradually move up the Levels of Development. To attain Level 1, the Level of Liberation, is to come into contact with our Essence, our essential self, our true nature in all of its magnificence.
The astonishing thing is that we actually get our Basic Desire when we move to the Level of Liberation (Level 1). We learn to do this by recognizing where what we seek can truly be found. We understand that our ego, try as it might, cannot fulfil our Basic Desire. For this, we must turn to our Essence—the ground of our being. Although most of us have had some profound experiences of the deep satisfactions of our Essential nature, it usually takes many such experiences to convince the ego of the ultimate bankruptcy of its project. Part of the problem is that, once we have identified with our ego-consciousness, it is difficult for us to imagine any alternative, even though it brings no relief and causes us to behave in ways that hurt ourselves and others.
Seeing the truth of this is and letting go of our ego agendas is not done once and for all, however, as if we could be liberated from the human condition. We move up and down on the Levels while gradually opening to the type in our Direction of Integration, to our Missing Piece, and to the potentials found there. Thus our liberation is gradual, although with the new state comes the awakening of new capacities. As Almaas says, "One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another." We do not move beyond human nature but beyond our delusions about ourselves and about reality. Living in Essence becomes a matter of seeing through our ego and, in so doing, of discovering and maturing our truest self. The search for Essence is not an escape from life but the reverse: a commitment on our most profound level of consciousness to participate in our own creation.
Still, if the idea of "living in Essence" sounds overly esoteric, the Enneagram can help take some of the obscurity out of it. For modern sensibilities, the goal of living in Essence may be strange and off-putting. But if we keep the Enneagram as our frame of reference, we will be less mystified if we think of living in Essence as the same as becoming a fully functioning, integrated person. The goal is not to strengthen our ego but to transcend its limitations and in so doing not only do we become increasingly healthy but we increasingly "live in Essence."
What capacities will we discover in ourselves if we work on ourselves and begin the process of "living in Essence"—whether we call it that or not?
The fact is, that the healthiest characteristics of our personalities become accessible to us as we work on ourselves. The more aware we are and the more we avail ourselves of presence, the more Essence supports the healthy manifestations of our personalities. As we become more integrated as human beings, more and more of these qualities become available, not just those of our own type.
Some of the most important healthy traits of each type are displayed on the following Enneagram. These are only some of the strengths we can learn from each other; they are particular to each type although universally accessible. Always keep in mind that many additional healthy traits exist that you will discover as you move in your own unique way beyond your ego identity.
The Enneagram of Healthy Personality
Nine Observations about Spiritual Work
In our own explorations of this system, we have made nine observations about the process of uncovering our true nature. These nine observations do not correspond to the nine Personality Types; they are equally applicable to each, and each type will discover the truth of these points if they pursue their journey far enough. These nine observations encapsulate many of the major points we have discussed throughout this book.
Our true nature is Essence. Essence and personality are not separate: personality exists in, and is made out of Essence. While we have a personality, it is only a part of the totality of our true Self. Most of the time we are entranced by our personality and do not remember our Essential nature, or who we really are.
Work on ourselves proceeds layer by layer, from the most external forms of personality to the inner core of our Being. The automatic pattern of our personality draws us outward, but by bringing awareness to these patterns, we reverse the course. We can start peeling away the layers and uncover our true identity. Awareness (mindfulness) plus the willingness and ability to work through our psychological issues are the keys to our Work.
We will succeed in our Work if we are willing to know the truth about what is really occurring in us. Truth allows us to live in reality. We must tell the truth to ourselves, and where appropriate, to others. Being with the truth of our condition brings an ingredient that dissolves the structures we have been trapped in. But we must be willing to name our demons, to count the bars of our prison cell.
We need to be willing to observe our resistance to reality, our attachment to our self-image, and our fear. It is not in our power to transform ourselves, but we can bring awareness to these three major barriers: we can observe them and be willing to have them removed from us. It is helpful in our transformational work to pray for healing, and to seek healing with one's heart.
Whenever we work through a particular layer, the issues of the next layer automatically present themselves. The soul has its innate wisdom and yearns to be free. Therefore listen to your heart, your higher mind, and your body. The Self will unfold organically as we bring non-judgmental awareness to it and stay with the process. There is no finish line; the process will continue as long as we live.
The deeper we go with our process, the more difficult it becomes—at least for a while, and from the perspective of the personality. Initially it becomes more difficult because we uncover deeper and more intense sources of pain. This is because the closer we come to the truth, the more our ego is threatened. Later, difficulties arise because the barriers become more subtle and elusive. However, the deeper we go, the greater the rewards. We become more alive, joyful, and peaceful, and also more determined to stay on track.
We must be willing to be uncomfortable for a while if we wish to be released from whatever has bound us. We must remain present to whatever we find—whether it brings us sorrow or ecstasy. Remember that all negative behavior is the result of unprocessed pain. In the course of our work, we uncover difficult feelings, powerful Essential states, and many qualities of emptiness. The more we can learn to tolerate these different aspects of ourselves, the more quickly and smoothly our work will progress. The personality cannot tolerate almost anything, whereas the spirit can embrace everything.
We gradually learn to disidentify with the personality and to identify with our Essence, our true self. This, of course, requires that we be able to recognize our Essence and to distinguish our personality trances from it. We cannot accomplish this by judging, disliking, or trying to get rid of the personality. In fact, those very desires and attitudes are part of personality and are not characteristic of Essence. When the personality is seen in its proper context, its true function reveals itself.
Remember that it is our birthright and our natural state to be wise and noble, to be loving and generous, to esteem ourselves and others, to be creative and constantly renewing ourselves, to be engaged in the world in awe and wonder and in depth, to have courage and to be able to rely on ourselves, to be joyous and effortlessly accomplished, to be strong and effective, to be self-possessed and enjoy an unshakable peace of mind—and above all, to be present to the unfolding mystery of our lives.
The Transformational Process
At the beginning of our transformational work, it is easy to feel frustrated and overwhelmed. It is also easy to begin to see the personality as an enemy that must be defeated since it is, after all, the repository and residue of so much "baggage" from our past, with all of its hurts, damage, and disappointments. When we are tempted to think this way, it is good to realize that the personality is not separate from us—in fact, it is an important and legitimate part of ourselves: the problem is simply that we mistake the part for the whole. Personality depends on our identifying with certain states, feelings, thoughts, and reactions even though whenever we do so, we experience ourselves as less than the totality of who and what we really are.
The spirituality of the Enneagram does not divide us into good (Essence) and bad (personality), but simply recognizes that when we are identified with our personalities, we forget that there is much more to us. The personality has the function of closing us down so that we can feel more defended against a threatening and uncertain world. At one time in our lives, in childhood, this response was adaptive and necessary. We had to identify with whatever qualities we found in ourselves in order to defend ourselves more efficiently and to find our place in the world.
But if we were able to stop identifying with our personality right now, who would we be? What would guide our actions? Who or what would be speaking in us? If, all of a sudden, the "autopilot" that directs many of our actions is no longer in charge, how would we be able to live?
There are no predetermined answers to these questions since we are not talking about finding a better formula or more rules to live by. We are talking about transformation—changing our state of Being—which requires being aware in the present moment. This inevitably leads to learning how to interfere with our habitual patterns, which in turn entails some degree of discomfort. But if we are willing to allow this discomfort, we can suddenly emerge from the tangle of reactions, plans, self-images, and tensions that constitute our regular life and realize that we are here. We exist. We are real. When we experience this recognition, it is like walking out of a fog bank.
Of course, learning to be more present is an art and takes practice—in fact, that's what spiritual practices are about. They help us cultivate awareness so that we can become more present to our lives and the miracles which are unfolding around us at every moment. Because the personality operates "in the dark: and depends on tension and identification, when we become present, it cannot operate in its usual automatic way and the deeper qualities of our heart, mind, and body—our Essential nature—manifest themselves. In this state, we see reality more clearly, and when we are in touch with reality, truth governs. In the land of truth, there are no contradictions, no conflicts, no hindrances, and no fears. But first, we must learn to be present.
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.
When we are functioning in personality, however, to varying degrees, our attention is caught up in imagination and is looking to the future or toward the past. Personality is always in some kind of reaction to the present moment. When we are functioning in Essence, we are grounded, present, and receptive to the moment. We see precisely what is necessary, and with exquisite economy, we are able to do it without unnecessary effort or resistance. We are capable, substantial, and real.
Further, because it is not what is real in us, but merely a construct in our minds, personality does not have any authority or power in itself. When we are lost in personality, it is not surprising that we often feel powerless, confused, and unsafe because we are basing our identity on an artificial construct. (If we are identified with something that is not real, then many things are going to be extremely threatening.) Our entire identity structure has been built up in our memory and imagination, whereas our true power and authority comes from our Essence, from our contact with the Divine. 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.
The part of this process that is so difficult to understand is that we do not have to do anything to experience our true nature. The almost magical part is that our old personality patterns change without effort on our part in proportion to the depth of awareness that we bring to them. All we need to do is to stop identifying with the agendas of our personality. The effort is in waking up and letting go. The rest will take care of itself.
Thus, no matter how entranced in our personality we are, the amazing thing about Inner Work is that things begin to change rapidly as we bring awareness to the compulsive aspects of our personalities. The more we allow ourselves to feel the pain of our self-abandonment, the Essential qualities that we have been longing for begin to arise in us. The unfinished business of childhood begins to resolve itself in our psyches and our hearts begin to heal. When this happens, the ego matures and becomes a suitable "vessel" for further transformation. But until some degree of personality completion has taken place regarding the losses and vicissitudes of childhood, any spiritual attainment we have will be either fleeting or illusory.
Of course, the very fact of being receptive to spirituality can vastly accelerate the process of healing the deficits in our early development, provided we not use spirituality as an evasion for going through the whole healing process. And, by the same token, using the tools of psychology to heal the gaps in our development gives us the capacity to sustain spiritual states of consciousness. These two processes—the psychological and the spiritual—are therefore connected and need not be considered separate things; they are really stages in the full development of the complete human being.
From this perspective, saying that one is interested in spirituality but not psychology (or vice versa) is like saying that you want to learn to be a writer but are not interested in spelling or grammar, or that you want to be a doctor but do not care about biology. Psychology that does not address peoples' spiritual hungers is not going to lead to any complete and satisfying result. It is like climbing only half way up a mountain, or taking a dish out of the oven when it is only half-baked. We still get some benefits, but do not achieve the final goal. Psychology without spirituality is arid and ultimately meaningless, while spirituality without grounding in psychological work leads to vanity and illusions. Either way, disappointment and deception result. To be most effective, spirituality and psychology need to go hand in hand to reinforce the best in each other.
Another challenge is the common belief that to live in Essence is to have left personality entirely behind. This is not the case since both personality and essence are integral parts of each other, two sides of the same coin—the whole self.
"In the best of all possible worlds the acquired habits of personality would be available to one's essential nature and would help one to function adequately in the social context in which he or she lived, and for a realized being this undoubtedly is the case. The ordinary person, unfortunately, lacks the ability to make use of personality to carry out essential wishes. What is essential can manifest only in the simplest instinctive behavior and in primitive emotions.
"All this is not to say that essence is always noble and beautiful while personality is an alien crust of useless cultural barnacles. According to Gurdjieff, "as a rule a man's essence is either primitive, savage and childish, or else simply stupid." The essences of many are actually dead, though they continue to live seemingly normal lives. The development of essence to maturity, when it will embody everything that is true and real in a person's being, depends on work on oneself, and work on oneself depends on a balance between a relatively healthy essence and a personality that is not crushingly heavy.... Both are necessary for self-development, for without the acquisition of personality there will be no wish to attain higher states of consciousness, no dissatisfaction with everyday existence; and without essence there will be no basis of development." (Speeth, The Gurdjieff Work, 48-49)
As one becomes liberated from the negative aspects of personality, Essence becomes developed. Or, more aptly, the balance between Essence and personality shifts from personality to Essence until more of the self is living out of its Essence (that is, authentically, from the depths of its being). The personality remains ready to be employed as a useful and necessary tool, but only as an extension and expression of the deeper, essential self—a self that, because it is an expression of Essence, remains unfathomable to the ego mind. Without some degree of personality to express the self in ordinary daily life, we could not communicate with each other and, ultimately, our Essence would be unrecognized and remain undeveloped.
The full development and expression of the true self is what we seek, and this cannot be done in a vacuum. Because we cannot live without form, our human Essence must express itself through the forms of our personality type, just as talents must be expressed in action if talent is to be developed. A dancing master does not become so perfect a dancer that the master no longer dances. Dancing is not forsworn as evidence of having achieved perfection: on the contrary, mastery is expressed by losing the self in the dance.
If we are fortunate, we are nurtured and guided in our development toward a stable, well-integrated ego, one that is therefore "ripe" for transformation. The idea is not to return to the infantile state, but to mature as adults so that we can move ahead with the process of transformation. In the famous phrase of Jack Engler, "You have to be somebody before you can be nobody," and we must develop a whole, well-integrated personality before we can really "give it up" in the transformational process. The healthy, well-functioning human ego plays a crucial role in the process of self-realization, and so our developmental deficiencies must be healed if our transformative experiences are to have any lasting effect.
Thus, personality is as necessary to the development of the soul as Essence, and it is to be used for living in the world and for contributing to it. The aspects of personality that are more congruent with our Essence are the healthy personality states we find at Levels 1 to 3 for each type. Moreover, those personality states themselves develop to become finer expressions of our essential self as we continue to evolve. Once we have begun to integrate and to live in Essence more habitually, we become the master of our ego and are increasingly able to express ourselves freely and appropriately. Ego no longer controls us: Essence speaks through personality.
The danger is that many students begin to identify with essential states—in effect, creating a "new, improved" ego identity. For example, we can have an extraordinary spiritual experience and feel liberated from our usual sense of ourselves only to have identification cause our usual sense of self to claim the experience and make it part of our self-image. One moment we feel an abiding serenity and oneness with the universe, and the next, identification with the ego subtly slips in and we are telling ourselves how spiritually "advanced" we are. We may even start anticipating how impressed our teacher (or therapist or spouse) is going to be with our new state or new insights. Of course, by this time the experience of immediate awareness and real oneness has been lost.
"What needs to happen is to free this aspect of essence for it to become a station, to become permanently available, so that it is there when its mode of operation is needed. Therefore, all of the issues around identity and selfhood must be seen and understood, including the need for or attachments to identity. The true self exposes all misunderstanding and conflicts around identity and selfhood. Resolving the issues around the essential self eliminates all identification; or rather, identification becomes a free, conscious movement." (Almaas, Essence, 170)
Every experience of presence, of true nature, helps us see reality more objectively. It prepares us for the next movement toward liberation, so that we can move yet again in self-transcendence toward more freedom and abide more deeply in our essential self. Looked at one way, this movement is from state of consciousness to state of consciousness, yet looked at another way, the movement becomes increasingly free of all attachments to those very forms.
"Life continues to be a process of creative discovery. The process of learning, unfolding, and expansion never stops. Essence continues to unfold, new dimensions arise, new modes of experience and insight emerge, new capacities manifest....The shift of identity from personality to essence is nothing but the realization of the true self, the high self of essence.... Practical action becomes the action of the true being. There is efficiency, economy, simplicity, directness. One fully lives in the world but is constantly connected to the Beyond, the Supreme Reality." (Almaas, Essence, 179.)
The move to Essence is not an escape from ourselves but the growth of freedom from those aspects of ourselves that have made us unfree and subject to suffering. The move to Essence is a supremely positive thing—not a negation of our individuality, but the occasion in which we become deeply alive and in possession of ourselves. We hinted at some of this in Personality Types:
"Attaining the goal of a full, happy life, ripe with experiences well used, means that each of us will become a paradox—free, yet constrained by necessity; shrewd, yet innocent; open to others, yet self-reliant; strong, yet able to yield; centered on the highest values, yet able to accept imperfection; realistic about the suffering existence imposes on us, yet full of gratitude for life as it is.
"The testimony of the greatest humans who have ever lived is that the way to make the most of ourselves is by transcending ourselves. We must learn to move beyond self-centeredness to make room within ourselves for others. When you transcend yourself, the fact will be confirmed by the quality of your life. You will attain—even if only momentarily—a transparency and a radiance of being which result from living both within and beyond yourself. This is the promise and the excitement of self-understanding." (45-6)
The quality of your life is confirmation that, in the moment of presence, you have attained Essence—your deepest, truest self. The transparency and radiance that result from living in Essence is the sign that Essence is not only desirable but attainable. The state of "transparency"—of openness and unselfconsciousness—makes the essential self accessible to others. And the "radiance" that results from self-transcendence—self-possession and profound happiness—emanates the many particular qualities of love.
"Enlightenment cannot be according to any system. It has to resolve and clarify your own situation. The realization must satisfy and fulfill your heart, not the standards of some system. The liberation must be of you, you personally....The quest does not bring about improvement or perfection. It brings about a maturity, a humanity, and a wisdom." (Almaas, Essence, 181-182.)
We have seen much the same about the limitations of any system, including the limitations of the Enneagram. While Almaas says that "the quest does not bring about improvement or perfection," he means that the process is one of self-discovery—not of self-improvement. We are correcting a case of mistaken identity, not trying to "fix up" our false identity. In fact, when we discover our true nature, and recognize that we are Essence, we see that all of the noble qualities we have been seeking are already here—part of us. Just as we saw in Chapter 2, our personalities are a response to the obscuration of the Virtues and Holy Ideas. When we correct our misperceptions, these qualities are rediscovered, and manifest freely again.
Our Essence is always available because at our deepest level, it is what we are. The Enneagram reminds us again and again, that if we are on a spiritual path, we must begin to question our basic assumptions about ourselves and our identity. As awareness grows, we will open up to an expanded sense of self that includes more than the preoccupations of our personality; indeed, more than the personality can even imagine.
The Centers and the Paths of Transformation
Each Center has a defining set of personality issues as well as dominant Essential qualities. We can also delineate nine distinct Paths of Transformation that unlock the issues of the Centers and restore access to our Essential nature. These Paths represent internal attitudes that help to liberate us from some of the limited views of our type, but they are also markers of our progress. As we are able to experience and sustain these inner orientations, we can be reassured that we are "making progress."
The key issues of the Instinctive Center involve resisting reality by maintaining imaginary boundaries to define the self. We create these imaginary boundaries because, once we have become estranged from our Essential nature, we lose our feeling of substantiality—of being a real, palpable presence in the world. Because we do not occupy a real space, we must construct an imaginary one and then protect it. Much of the work with this Center involves the recognition of these imaginary boundaries and their artificial nature. When we are able to do this, we being to re-experience ourselves as Presence, as something real and as spaciousness. Thus, there is no need to maintain false boundaries.
The three paths connected with the Instinctive Center are Self-Remembering (at point Nine), Self-Surrender (at point Eight), and Acceptance (at point One). We see that when we are actually occupying our instinctive functions, we know that we are here directly—we remember that we exist right now (self-remembering). We fully experience our "is-ness," and it is not based on stories or pictures of ourselves held in the mind. We are engaged with reality, with a complete immediacy.
Supporting this are the Paths of Transformation for types Eight and One. From Eight, we experience Self-Surrender which entails a dissolving of the imaginary ego-boundaries such that we no longer experience ourselves as one object in a universe of objects. Instead, we know that our presence, the very ground of our being, is also the ground of everything else that we can perceive. Because we are at one with the universe, we no longer need to defend ourselves from it or to continue our personal struggle against it. We know that our Essential nature cannot be overcome or destroyed, and find deep purpose and confidence in being the instrument of a Higher Will.
From type One, we experience Acceptance. We accept our own inner condition, exactly as it is, without reacting to it or defending against it. We stop the inner war between the parts of ourselves that are driven by frustrated desires and the parts of ourselves that would banish or condemn those desires. We know that neither side reflects the truth of our Essential being, although they both reflect a partial truth. As we become more accepting of ourselves, we find that we are also in a more direct relationship with reality. Like type Eight, we see that the presence from which our being springs is the same presence that underlies everything around us, and that there is no need to judge or separate ourselves from any of it. This does not reduce our capacity to discern or to choose wise actions, rather, it increases that capacity infinitely.
The Feeling Center is concerned with issues around the maintenance of a false or assumed self as a defense against the loss of our Essential identity and sense of value. At the Center of this Center, Authenticity, connected with type Three, is the Path of Transformation that dissolves the false self-image and reveals the narcissistic nature of most of our projects and agendas. At the same time, authenticity opens the door to our true identity such that we fully experience the preciousness of who and what we are and that our identity is a "given"—we do not need to create it.
From Two, we experience proper Self-Nurturing, which certainly does not mean self-indulgence or acting out infantile cravings. Rather, self-nurturance is the ability to realistically assess our genuine needs and then to take action to address them without waiting for others to do so. Self-nurturing also entails self-regulation in the sense that we are able to soothe our own needs and states by staying in contact with our hearts. This keeps us sensitive to our authentic needs and keeps us sensitive to the needs and boundaries of others. Proper self-nurturing also prevents us from becoming dependent on the good will, positive opinions, or affection of others.
From Four, we experience Forgiveness, which is most simply the ability to let go of the events of the past and to move on with one's life. We stop clinging to old hurts and resentments, thereby opening up space in our hearts to be affected by people and events freshly, without the dense filters of emotional reactions leftover from our childhood. Rather than holding the world responsible for our frustrations, we begin to understand the forces in ourselves that perpetuate them. When we do this, we experience our lives and our identities as they truly are—that is, as a process, a flow.
The Thinking Center is concerned with the strategies we develop to move forward in life, to protect ourselves from dangers, and to acquire the things that we need for our well being. We engage in these strategies because our egos have separated from our Essential capacity to know. At the Center of this Center is the Path of Transformation for point Six, Courage. This is a quality that does not come from ignoring fears, rather, it arises naturally from the Essential quality of knowing—what we have been referring to as "the quiet mind." When we are receptive to the Essential quality of the quiet mind, our ego's strategies for survival and gratification are revealed as superfluous or even counterproductive. We perceive things simply and directly, without the fearful interpretations of the imagination, and we are able to act from the sense of spaciousness and possibility which the support of the quiet mind affords. We do not have to devote all of our energies to figuring out how to support and protect ourselves and our loved ones, but become attuned to a more subtle form of direction that arises from the quiet of our own awareness.
At point Five, we experience true Understanding, which should not be confused with intellectual understanding, although that can be part of the picture. Rather, understanding entails a gestalt, an immediate and complete apprehension of truth that is felt in all of the parts of oneself. Understanding in this sense is direct knowing, in which we know something through intimate contact with our experience, not through distancing ourselves as "outside observers". This kind of understanding allows us to make wise choices and supports our courage to move forward in life.
At point Seven, we experience the Gratitude that occurs when the mind is open and fully receptive to the impressions of the moment. When this takes place, we are deeply satisfied and nourished by all the contents of our immediate experience. We understand that there is no need for the mind to wander elsewhere seeking "greener pastures" because what is here and now completely supports us and fills us. We become exquisitely sensitive to every subtle sense impression so that the many hidden treasures and delights of each moment reveal themselves to us. To fully allow a color or a quality of light or a sensation to register in our consciousness is to allow ourselves to feel the ecstasy of existence. We can entertain any experience, thought, or impression without desiring more of it or feeling the need to seek something else to take its place. Further, we are aware that the supply of rich impressions is inexhaustible. Gratitude is the antithesis of "scarcity thinking"—we are secure in the knowledge that we will have whatever we need, and more. Our capacity for true spontaneity and a deep sense of joy arise to heal the ego's impulsiveness and feelings of frustration. Instead of scrambling after whatever we believe will make us feel better, gratitude enables us to savor each moment of our lives.
The Paths of Transformation
The Nine Types & Their Essential Qualities
As we have seen, contacting our Essence is always a matter of recognizing our identifications, fears, and resistances, and bringing our attention to our experience in the here and now. As we do so, we become increasingly aware of a vast number of Essential qualities that arise perfectly to support whatever issues we are facing. Indeed, the more we move up the Levels of Development and are less encumbered by our ego identities, the more we have access to all of the Essential qualities.
Our Essential nature, however, is vast and subtle, and manifests in a multitude of ways and at a variety of levels. Here we are most concerned with the qualities of Essence that are "closer" to the surface—that is, more generally accessible to our daily awareness. These aspects arise to support our inner Work any time we remember ourselves and come back to some contact with Presence. The Enneagram delineates some of the most important of these qualities, and by describing them, we may be able to see how they constantly support our transformation. Each of the nine points can be thought of as contributing an important ingredient for our development. We may also begin to see how the personality attempts to fill in the gaps in our development by imitating them. Over time, we can develop an increased sensitivity to these states, which gradually enables us to identify with our True Nature instead of our personality.
Of course, reading about the Essential qualities or having an intellectual understanding of them is not the same as having a direct experience of them. For that, consistent practice is needed, preferably with the support of others as we have previously mentioned. Also note that the Essential aspects described here are only a departure point and are by no means complete or definitive.
Please note that our understanding of the Essential Qualities most specifically related to the types has deepened over time. The following are from our understanding as of 2000. Some have changed since then. You can read our current correlations of the Essential Qualities with the nine types in this article.
From point Eight, we experience Essential Strength. Strength is an expansive energy, and when it is manifesting we feel large, solid, capable, and alive. Not surprisingly, essential strength arises in defense of our souls—it protects our process and its integrity. It provides a foundation and ground that gives us the ability to discriminate present, real experience from projections and reactions from the past, as well as to tolerate more painful, subtle, or empty states. Without this quality, we may have profound experiences, but we will not be able to embody or sustain them in any meaningful way.
From point Nine, we experience a sense of Unity or Wholeness. We know that we are not only connected with everything else, but that we are not a "separate object." We directly experience the oneness of reality, and our essential union with all creation. Further, we understand that this unity is dynamic, alive, and ever-changing. We know love as the force that breaks through all false boundaries and identities to restore this experience of wholeness. The realization of this state brings a deep satisfaction and contentment—a profound sense of well-being. We feel at peace with reality and with our place in it. We are able to function effectively in the world while knowing that what we are is "beyond" the world.
From point One, we experience Wisdom. This quality is related to the Buddhist concept of right action. Wisdom manifests as brilliant intelligence, an ability to see exactly what is needed in the moment and to act accordingly. This intelligence is not based on any set of principles, guidelines, or rules, but rather arises spontaneously whenever it is needed. It gives us the ability to respond to situations effectively, with an economy of energy—neither too much nor too little. Further, when we are manifesting this quality, we are able to communicate our insights clearly and authoritatively. We are patient, steady, capable, and radiant.
From point Two, we experience Unconditional Love. This quality gives us a tremendous freedom from the inherent neediness of the ego. Knowing that we are connected to the very source of love, and that we cannot lose it, allows us to interact with other human beings in whatever way the moment dictates, without any concern that we will be disliked or rejected. Further, when we are truly and authentically experiencing love as part of our Essential nature, we see that love does not belong to anyone, including ourselves, and recognize that everyone around us is also a manifestation of love. We know that it is not our duty to go around "loving" everyone, but to live in the presence of love such that others may also remember that they too are in the presence of love. Further, love is a tremendously powerful force for dissolving all that is false in us. Few of our illusions about ourselves or others can stand long in the presence of real love. In this respect, we see how love represents the active or dynamic part of truth, and that they are intimately related.
From point Three, we experience Essential Value. When we are manifesting this quality of Essence, we do not need to do anything to feel valuable or worthwhile. We do not need to work at developing our self-esteem because we fully experience our intrinsic value as Being. We feel the profound pleasure and satisfaction of existing—a sense of enjoyment pervades our entire presence. This aspect predisposes us to behave benevolently toward others: experiencing our own essential value, we do not need to manipulate others or our environment in order to see ourselves in any particular light. We experience ourselves as a shining, star-like presence—a source of radiance in the world.
From point Four, we experience Equanimity. Once we open to the riches of the heart and to the inexhaustible wonder of living in truth, we are filled from moment to moment with a kaleidoscope of powerful impressions, sensations, and feelings. Equanimity gives us the capacity to contain all of these ever-changing qualities without being swept into emotional reactions about them. Because the nature of spirit is ever changing, our experience of ourselves and of life is also constantly changing. Equanimity allows the identity of the Essential self to participate in the cornucopia of experiences and inner qualities without clinging to or fearing any of them, and without regretting their passing. In this way, the sense of oneself continually deepens so that powerful experiences are fully felt but do not overwhelm the Essential identity. We are able to feel both the heights of ecstasy and the full intensity of suffering without becoming lost in either.
From point Five, we experience the Essential quality of "Direct Knowing." This quality is quite distinct from the ego's form of thinking, which is generally characterized by inner talk or inner visualization, often accompanied by a process of sorting information and "data retrieval." In direct knowing, however, the mind is silent, and open, and we are supported by the awareness that we will know whatever we need to know as we need to know it. Even the acquisition of new information, skills, or experiences will be guided by an inner knowing that does not arise from the ego's feelings of insufficiency. Direct knowing arises out of a direct experience of the pristine empty space of mind, thus, it allows us to be free of attachment to any particular perspective. We know that in different moments and situations, different perspectives may be more useful, and that our Essence will guide us to whichever perspective is most suitable. This inner clarity also allows us to be unattached to the phenomenal world, because when we are functioning in this capacity, we see all objects and events as arising and disappearing within a vast and unfathomable mystery. We see the world as a dance of exquisite gestures and movements within the shining void.
From point Six, we experience Essential Will. This quality manifests as a sense of being "imbedded" in reality—solidly supported by the ground of Being. It gives us a capacity for endurance and persistence in our Work, and an ability to confront situations without anxiety. We feel as if we are "held up" by a solid ocean of Presence that supports and guides us. Further, we do not need to fill our minds with plans and strategies, because we are directed by a silent wellspring of inner guidance that functions harmoniously with our circumstances and with our environment. It brings a sense of unshakable confidence and a clear sense of direction. The more we open to this quality, the more actively it manifests in our world, leading us exactly to the experiences we most need for our development.
From point Seven, we experience Essential Joy. When this quality manifests, we are filled with an expansive, sunny presence that lets us know that we are moving in the right direction. We feel grateful for the wonderful and mysterious gift of our lives, and experience a profound wonder and curiosity about our journey. We deeply feel the presence of our true spiritual home, and feel it calling us back. As Essential joy arises in us, we know where true value lies, and are fortified to do whatever is necessary to return to what our heart truly desires. We know what we love, and joyfully open to deeper aspects of our True nature.
The Enneagram of Essential Qualities
The Enneagram guides us toward nothing less than learning how to consciously surrender the ego-self of personality to the greater Self so that we can become conscious participants in the sacred mystery of life. In reality, it entails the surrender of nothing—our personality—in order to receive the gift of everything—the life of the Spirit. But the first step on that path involves being willing to observe ourselves so that we can stop playing out the unconscious dictates of our personality.
The process of growth by whatever name it is called—living in Essence, the growth of virtue, or the movement toward integration—is evolutionary, an upward spiral that has no final state of completion since to become completely possessed of all virtues would be to become God—an impossibility. (Our call, in a religious frame of reference, is to become "like God"—to attain some degree of the virtues that God alone possesses to an absolute degree.) If some see this never-ending quest for increasing virtue (or personal strengths) as a frustrating chase after an unreachable goal, it is because they have not experienced the deep fulfillment that results from self-realization. If integration is thought of as merely collecting a set of impractical virtues as if they were merit badges being added to a collection, then of course the enterprise will be unsatisfying.
But the true situation is far from this. Acquiring the strengths of virtue brings about the enlargement of the person. By acting virtuously and by "living in Essence," the person becomes capable of living more deeply and consciously as master of the self. New depths are being opened in the integrating person. The creation of inner resources, the experience of oneself as enlarged, more potent, and creative is tremendously fulfilling. In this sense, the saying that "virtue is its own reward" has new meaning: the reward of virtue is the happiness that comes from the realization that we are living out of our essential self and that in doing so we are bringing more of ourselves into being.
Yet it will always remain true that realizing the value of self-transcendence can be found only in the individual's innermost heart. In the moment of self-transcendence, we discover that over and above liberation from the ego, self-transcendence gives us another, deeper reward by creating both the capacity and the desire for more of itself.
By integrating, we are constantly moving in the direction of increasing life. And nothing in life is more fulfilling than cooperating in the process of creation. Integrating persons become co-creators of that most vast yet intimate mystery, the human spirit. From only a psychological point of view, the capacity to be a co-creator bestows on human nature enormous dignity. But from a spiritual point of view, this capacity has a more profound meaning because to move in the direction of increasing life is to move toward Being itself. With each step we take toward Being, we also find that Being supports our quest. In the end, the quest for the self and its deepest Essence culminates in meeting the Divine.
Chapter 11, from Understanding the Enneagram, Riso & Hudson, 2000
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