Sunday, April 27, 2008

Typing Our Pets

A mildly embarrassing little secret of the Enneagram enthusiasts I know is that we type our pets. Or more accurately, our pets display for us their Enneagram style.

“Oh come on,” you chide. “That’s taking anthropomorphism too far. Animals don’t have Enneagram types.” Certainly, we pet typers have tried to tell ourselves the same thing time and again. But that doesn’t change the fact that animals have distinct personalities that seem to mimic the nine Enneagram worldviews.

When I first typed my cat Muffin more than 15 years ago, I made a solemn vow to myself never to let anyone outside my immediate family know. That vow lasted until I happened to visit a fellow Enneagram teacher/consultant a few months later. She introduced me to her cat and warned me that her pet was a Four and likely to want my attention and admiration.

“Muffin’s a Six,” I blurted. “Hey, does everybody type their animals?” She blushed then, saying she didn’t know; that she didn’t share that information with many people. After that, it seemed that all the Enneagram teachers I knew typed their pets, but kept it under wraps. After all, who would take us (and more importantly, the Enneagram) seriously if we openly advocated typing our pets? So we kept silent.

The Enneagram is much more mainstream now than it was then. Time was when I’d get on a plane, someone would ask what I did and I’d say that I taught a personality system called the Enneagram. “Any uh what?” they’d invariably say.

Then five to ten years ago, I’d get responses like “I’ve heard of that” or “We had a training at my job in that.” Now, it’s more likely that I just say I’m an Enneagram consultant and my seatmate will volunteer his/her type and how they came to know it. My point is this. The Enneagram is well known and respected enough now that I can tell about typing our pets without endangering the reputation of this wonderful tool one darn bit. So I’m coming clean and telling our secret.

Muffin is no longer with us; old age having claimed him. We now have two cats: A Four named Princess and a phobic Six named Pomaika`i (Lucky in Hawaiian); just Po for short. Princess is beautiful, dramatic, moody, wants attention but on her own terms, alternates between intense affection and overt disdain (but always in view so she is noticed). She is extremely sensitive to our moods and very caring if we are sick or upset. She thinks we built the new addition just for her. My husband says that she has more emotions on her face (covered with fur, no less) thank most people he knows. We just love her.

Po is afraid of almost anything and anybody, except us. We found her starved, hypothermic, near death and nursed her back to health. She is sweet, and tries to charm whatever scares her. Failing that, she runs away and hides. She purrs if someone so much as looks at her. She stays out of Princess’s way. She panics if the dry food bowl isn’t piled high. We just leave the stale food and pile fresh on top for her to eat, or she gets very anxious and cries. She has two main expressions that we can decipher: I’m terrified and I love you. We love her, too.

Are we pet typers projecting? Are we assigning human feelings and traits to our beloved animals? Is this whole idea just completely silly? Possibly. But essentially, it doesn’t matter. If the process of typing causes us to pay attention to each being, human or animal, more carefully with an eye to honoring them and their view of the world, it can’t be trivial or a misuse. At any rate, the Enneagram is nothing more than a map. It is not the territory. Not for humans nor pets. It’s simply a starting place, a starting place for understanding. That’s some of the best work we can do.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Enneagram of Place

People are not the only demonstration of the nine types of the Enneagram. Countries and cultures have distinct personalities that overlay and occasionally even overshadow individual type. When we travel to another region, ideally we wish to be sensitive to the prevailing customs, mores, and worldview. Such an understanding allows us to honor the culture we are visiting. While the Enneagram in no way offers a comprehensive view of a particular place, its map provides us with a good first step to navigating our way skillfully within another culture.

Case in point:
I live on Moloka`i a small island in the Hawai`ian chain. On paper, this rural paradise`i is part of the United States. In reality and Enneagramically, it could not be farther from the prevailing culture and mindset of America.

The United States is a Three culture, through and through. Two of the most popular ad campaigns highlight our worldview: “Image is Everything” (Canon) and “Just Do It” (Nike). In the U.S., we strive, produce, and succeed. We set goals and work hard to get ahead. We are what we do and the image we present to the outside world. Even those of us who are not genuine Threes fall prey to the overlay of our culture. As a result, Americans work longer and have less leisure time than the majority of their contemporaries in other industrialized nations. We may be stressed out, but we sure can get things done.

Fifteen years ago, I immigrated to Moloka`i. I say “immigrated” because I might as well be an expatriate in a totally different country. I left a competitive Three world and found myself in a social Nine milieu. Hard work is certainly valued here, especially when it is in service to a group gathering. I’ve seen men and women labor long, prodigiously, and cooperatively to put on a lu`au or party. But the end goal is to “hang out” together and relax. Just being and enjoying life is of the highest value. No one tries to shine or outdo another. Calling attention to oneself or one’s accomplishments is frowned upon. (Which can be tough for Hawai`ian Threes, who naturally stand out from the crowd. Just as the U.S. Three culture does not highly value a Nine’s “being”, Hawai`i does not support a Three’s goal-oriented “doing”).

This contrast in styles was brought home to us in a most striking way one Christmas Day a few years back. We were invited to a Hawai`ian home for lunch, a typical gathering of a couple hundred people. Music was playing, kids were running around, and tables were loaded with food. We sat at picnic tables set up in the yard outside. After the requisite kissing and hugging (a ritual which can literally take 30 minutes to an hour) everyone filled their plates and we quietly sat together and ate. Few words are exchanged save murmurs of appreciation or offers of more food. After a couple of hours, we kissed and hugged everyone again, bidding Merry Christmas and aloha.

We were invited to another friend’s home for dinner. 12 people in all attended, most visiting from the mainland. When we arrived (still stuffed from our Hawai`ian lunch), we were greeted effusively by all our friends. “What have you been doing?” was the most frequent opening question. The energy was high and upbeat, information was being exchanged at lightspeed, laughter and chatter filled the air. After a fabulous meal and catching up on everyone’s busy lives, we took our leave. As we left, my husband remarked, “Americans are exhausting. I love our mainland friends, but they’re exhausting. Hawai`ians are relaxing.”

As we blend more into our adopted culture, we are much more aware of the “Three-ness” of the U.S. And we can’t help that we’ve become more Niney, adapting to the worldview that bathes and surrounds us. There’s no judgment here. Both cultures have much to offer, both have their strengths and weaknesses, as do we all. Still, making the “switch” requires keen observation, listening, and awareness so that we may honor the Enneagram overlay and worldview, wherever we are.

Note: I am a Seven and my husband is a Three. We joke that since moving to Moloka`i, he’s been more like a Nine and I’ve been more like a Five, as we adapt to our chosen homeland.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Losing the “I” of Personality - Enneagram as Path to Essence

The previous blog entry explored losing the “I” as a path to illuninating Essence. for Enneagram Types One Through Four. We now will examine the particular identities or “I”’s that must be relinquished for Types Five Through Nine.

The Five - “I” am a Wise Person
The Five’s thirst for knowledge drives him. Avarice or greed for knowing compels the Five to grasp for information as for a life preserver, protecting him from the reckless seas of human emotion and desire. The Five practices detachment as a protective defense, to shield him from others demands or overwhelming stimuli. This detachment is a mimic for the lost Essential quality of non-attachment, where to be connected or disconnected are equal. Detached Fives are very attached to privacy, minimization of needs, personal space, conservation of time and energy.
Reconnecting with Essence, the Five finds unlimited energy and potential. Through this Essential experience the Five awakens to omniscience, where he realizes that he has always known all that there is to know. Divine Omniscience fills him with pure safety and peace with no need to learn or grasp. His quest for knowledge ends when he discovers that the wisdom he seeks has always been an essential part of him.

The Six - “I” am a Loyal Person
Fear and doubt drive the Six to search for a person or cause in which she can place her trust. When the Six envisions the worst case (abandonment, death, etc.) and decides that it is worth risking, she will commit with a fierce, incontestable loyalty. Though doubt and fear still exist, the Six is able to mobilize herself through certainty and bravado. Yet certainty and bravado are distortions of the Six’s lost Essential qualities of Faith and Courage. Certainty masks doubt and bravado is a mustering up to “overcome” fear.
However, when the Six accesses true Faith, there is an innate ability to live comfortably with uncertainty, knowing deeply that everything turns out for the best. Everything will be all right, no matter what the outcome. Certainty is rigid and brittle, while Faith is open and peaceful. In Faith, the Six is comfortable with not-knowing. The Six can use bravado as a way to jump in to danger with both feet, to put everything on the line. When engaged in action, fear falls away. Yet, bravado can put the Six in real danger or foolhardy situations. Real Courage comes into play when the action simply must be engaged in. Fear may still exist, yet right action deems the exercise of activity fueled by Courage, where clear understanding of risks exists, and action is still appropriate. Risks and fear are simply part of the equation, and unlike bravado, Courage is quiet and purposeful. Bravado is exhilarating and exciting, placing it all on the line, letting action overwhelm fear, proving yourself bigger than the fear. When informed by Faith and Essential Courage, you KNOW that you are not fear, and have nothing to prove to yourself or anyone else. You are simply acting as you must.

The Seven - “I” am a Happy Person
The Seven’s giddy exuberance and “happiness” serve as a mimic for the lost Essential quality of Joy. Real joy is a calm, quiet experience, a fullness and gratitude for whatever life offers. The Seven senses that Joy was lost and frantically works to recapture it through sampling all that life has to offer, while avoiding what feels like Joy’s polar opposite of pain. Sadness and difficulty are circumvented whenever possible, and reframed into positives when they cannot be sidestepped.
If the Seven is lucky, she will eventually confront the darker side of life. She will come up against a pain too immense to reframe or avoid, or find ennui in chasing yet another rainbow of sensation, asking herself “Is this all there is?” Then the whole of life can begin to be accepted, and true Joy can be seen as a combination of the dark and the light of human experience. An acceptance of “what is” can allow the Seven to float in the peacefulness and completeness of essential Joy. No longer needing multiple options or escape routes, the Seven finds herself able to focus singlepointedly on Work, on dedication to completion as well as process. In this, she may find herself committing to Work that is a vocation or calling, infused with essential Joy.

The Eight - “I” am a Strong Person
To the strong, decisive, full-steam-ahead Eight, it seems to him that he knows the truth. Truth is important, and it will come out in a fight or confrontation. You’ll find out what people are really made of. The difficulty is that the black-and-white thinking Eight believes that his truth is everyone’s truth, and that everyone should see it his way. This absolute belief that he knows the truth of matters dissolves when he finds Essential Truth. Essential Truth is expansive and has room for holding all truths, including paradox. The Eight finds out that he doesn’t have the “only” truth or the “real” truth. In fact, his truth is only part of the larger Truth that holds all individual versions of truth. The Eight finds himself awed by a vast and Essential Truth, that contains and transcends all the small truths we hold so dear. He feels a direct connection to Truth and it becomes a pathway to Essence.
Eight’s insistence on having his way is a mimic of another lost quality of Essence - that of Innocence. An innocent child does not impose his way on others, yet is pure and clear in his desires. When a child pursues his wants and needs, there is no thought of win or lose. He knows what he wants and moves toward it with clarity, curiosity, and wonder. Getting what he desires does not mean someone else loses nor that he must control the situation. When in touch with Essence, the Eight can regain this lost Innocence. Rather than controlling or needing to push his agenda, he encounters the world with the appealing freshness and innocence of a youngster.

The Nine - “I” am a Peaceful Person
The Nine’s boundariless nature leads to indiscriminate merging - a type of unenlightened “Oneness” with everything. As the Nine evolves and develops a boundaried, separate self, she finds that she may choose when and when not to merge. As she connects with her individual Essence, she regains the lost quality of Essence: Love.
As the Nine regains a boundaried Love, she learns to listen to her own heart’s priorities as well as those of others. When Love includes the Nine in it’s embrace, she is able to act on her own behalf as easily as for others. She is able to differentiate and perform Right Action, rather than drown her own priorities to keep peace at any costs. Even conflict may be appropriate and lead to Right Action. True peace is found through reclaiming and remembering the qualities of Essence.

(Adapted from “The Everyday Enneagram” by Lynette Sheppard. Visit our main website at