The Purpose of the Enneagram

enneagrem_numbersI have always been fascinated by personality tests. From Tim LaHaye’s Spirit-Controlled Temperament in my early years to the Enneagram in my professional years, I have never ceased to be amazed how these contrived tests seem to pin me down so well. Being a Type 1 (with elements of Type 4) on the Enneagram, I am well aware of my strengths and weaknesses and, as is the usual use, have used these results to pigeonhole my character and fine-tune my strengths.

But this may not be a good purpose for the Enneagram, as Richard Rohr explains:

The purpose of the Enneagram is not self-improvement, which would be our ego’s goal. Rather, it is the transformation of consciousness so that we can realize our essence, our True Self. Personality development and character building will happen on the side as a corollary, but this is not its primary goal. The primary goal of any spiritual tool is union with God/Truth, and then we get united with ourselves in the process!

The Enneagram reveals that we are often destroyed by our gift! We overidentify with our strengths and they become their own set of blinders. This allows real misperception, and allows our own “root sin” to remain mostly hidden from us. We cannot see the air we are breathing all the time. Our “sins” are the other side of our gift. They are, in fact, the way we get our energy. They “work” for us (at least we think they do). The Enneagram uncovers this false energy source for us and enables us to look our real dilemma in the eye. It confronts us with the compulsions and laws under which we live—usually without awareness—and it invites us to go beyond them and take steps into a real domain of freedom—freedom from our foundational addiction to our self.

enneaw-namescolorPeople who know the Enneagram in a superficial way, or who are just beginning to work with it, may think it puts people into boxes. But in fact, one of the great graces is that they find themselves coming out of their own self-created box because they recognize their box is far too limiting. Also, as they continue to work with the Enneagram, they will see its brilliance and that there is always another level of discovery—and then another level that comes as a surprise and usually a humiliation too. That tells them they are in the realm of soul and mystery, if mystery means something that is eternally knowable and soul is their very connection to God.

The Enneagram, like the Spirit of Truth itself, will always set us free, but first it will make us miserable! Working with the Enneagram is intentionally humiliating. We need to feel, acknowledge, and see how exaggerated, excessive, and absurd our false energy source really is. If we own and take responsibility for our darkness, if we feel how it has wounded us and others, how it has allowed us not to love and not to be loved—if we do that, I promise that we will become alert to the other side, to our greater gifts, and even the actual depth of our gift. Our gift is amazingly our sin sublimated and transformed by grace. What a surprise this is for most people!

Adapted from The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, pp. 4-5, 25-27

Slamming Doors: A Reflection on a Reflection by Richard Rohr

doorknobI’m not a religious person. I do religious activities like going to church, praying, reading my Bible, taking the Eucharist. But I shy away from labeling myself as religious.

The problem with identifying myself as “religious” is that it sets my identity in my own idea of what spirituality is and puts me into a box, further defined by which religion I choose, then by which sect of that religion I claim. This identity assured, I can go on living my life secure in the comfort I have from knowing “it is well with my soul.”

The problem with this is that I still slam doors. Otherwise stated, I am still angry, noisy, overtaken by my emotion–which is really a manifestation of my ego, which no amount of religionising can overcome. My normative functioning is driven by my ego.

This, I believe lies within the same category as that which Jesus addressed when he told his disciples that, if they had anything against their brother, to go and reconcile with him before coming to offer their gift on the altar. I cannot expect to connect with the God who says “Be still and know” when all around me is the disturbance of my own false-self, my ego.

Even in my own worship of God, my ego seems to delight in its glorious spiritual identity.

Richard Rohr makes this point (quoting Thomas Merton quoting Thich Nhat Hanh):

We don’t teach meditation to the young monks. They are not ready for it until they stop slamming doors. Thich Nhat Hanh to Thomas Merton in 1966

The piercing truth of this statement struck me as a perfect way to communicate the endless disguises and devices of the false self. There is no more clever way for the false self to hide than behind the mask of spirituality. The human ego will always try to name, categorize, fix, control, and insure all its experiences. For the ego everything is a commodity. It lives inside of self-manufactured boundaries instead of inside the boundaries of the God-self. It lives out of its own self image instead of mirroring the image of God. It is that superior self-image which must die.

The ego is constantly searching for any solid and superior identity. A spiritual self-image gives us status, stability, and security. There is no better way to remain unconscious than to baptize and bless the forms of religion, even prayer itself. As long as I am going to church, it is really meaningless whether I close the door quietly or slam the door. A spiritual master would say, “first stop slamming doors, and then you can begin in the kindergarten of spirituality.” Too many priests, bishops, and ministers are still slamming doors, so how can we expect the laity to be any better?

In the name of seeking God, the ego pads and protects itself from self-discovery, which is an almost perfect cover for its inherent narcissism. I know this because I have done it all myself.

Adapted from Contemplation in Action, pp. 79-80

So, taking the lead from St Paul, “I die daily” to my own religion, to my own sense of spirituality, to my own prideful door-slamming and noise, to my false self. And I rest in the “new self”–or as Rohr calls it, “the God-self”–as God renews me, recreates me in God’s own image and imparts to me a new identity.

Your Image of God Creates You

I came across this short piece from Richard Rohr today which I though well worth sharing:

Your image of God, your de facto, operative image of God, lives in a symbiotic relationship with your soul and creates what you become. Loving people, forgiving people have always encountered a loving and forgiving God. Cynical people are cynical about the very possibility of a coherent loving center to the universe. So why wouldn’t they become cynical themselves? Of course they do.

When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it says? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that make you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of the Sacred is to expand you. I know they are the first ones that come to our mind because that is where we live, inside of our ego, and these are the questions we were also trained to ask (unfortunately!).

I would, however, offer you and invite you to ponder another question. Simply having read the text, ask: What is God doing here? Then ask yourself: What does this say about who God is? Then, what does it say about how I can also meet this same God?

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(Added 22/2/12): What is God doing in the Scripture reading? With that question in mind, I want to give you an operative principle that, I believe, had it been used the last 500 years, would have given us a much more exciting and positive Christian history. If you are meditating on a Bible text, Hebrew or Christian, and if you see God operating at a lesser level than the best person you know, then that text is not authentic revelation. “God is love” (1 John 4:16) and no person you meet could possibly be more loving than the Source of all love itself. It is as simple as that.

Haven’t you read texts like this, and not known what to think? Yahweh presumably tells the Israelites to kill every Canaanite in sight—men, women and children—and then has them impose a ban on every pagan town, telling the Israelites to enter, burn, and destroy everything (e.g., Joshua 6-7). Do you really think that is God talking? I don’t think so.

Well, you say, it is in the Bible and that makes it right, right? That is why we have to use a whole different lens for interpreting any authoritative text. How we deal with sacred texts is how we deal with reality in general. And how we deal with reality in general is how we deal with sacred texts. And both reality and all sacred texts are also fragmented and “imperfect” (1 Corinthians 13:12). It takes a certain level of human and spiritual maturity to interpret a Scripture. Vengeful and petty people find vengeful and hateful texts (and they are there), but even when they are not there! Loving and peaceful people will hold out until a text resounds deep within them (and there are plenty there!). In short, ONLY LOVE CAN HANDLE BIG TRUTH.

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(Added 23/2/12): The sacred texts of the Bible are filled with absolute breakthroughs, epiphanies, and manifestations of the highest level of encounter, conversion, transformation, and Spirit. The Bible also contains texts which are punitive, petty, tribal, and idiotic. A person can prove anything he or she wants from a single line of the Bible. To tell you the truth, the Bible says just about everything you might want to hear—somewhere! Maybe this sad and humiliating recognition can be your ashes today. Like a phoenix you can rise and rebuild your knowledge of Scripture in a prayerful, calm, skillful, and mature way. Then you can read with head and heart and Spirit working as one, and not just a search for quick answers.

Maybe one of the biggest mistakes in the history of Christianity is that we have separated spirituality from theology and scripture study. In other words, we put the Scriptures in the hands of very immature and unconverted people, even clergy. We put the Scriptures in the hands of people at entirely egocentric levels, who still think “It’s all about me,” and who use the Bible in a very willful way. It is all dualistic win or lose. The egocentric will still dominates: the need to be right, the need to be first, the need to think I am saved and other people are not. This is the lowest level of human consciousness, and God cannot be heard from that heady place. Perhaps it is not accidental that we place the ashes of Ash Wednesday precisely on the forehead.