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As adapted from Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation
The Enneagram is a dynamic system for self-knowledge and spiritual transformation. It is a wonderful tool that can help us see and let go of the false self—which masks the image of God within us—and allow us to live from our True Self—the unique manifestation of Love that God intends us to be. It seems we are most defended against that which we most deeply know to be true, our original blessing. This ontological belovedness and okayness is hard to trust because this true mirroring has invariably been distorted, denied, or even betrayed. The Enneagram serves as a very helpful mirror to reveal our egoic habits that keep our authentic self from thriving.
Although the Enneagram is an ancient tool, with roots in the Desert Fathers and Mothers, it was neglected for centuries. I first learned about the Enneagram from the Jesuits who brought it to America during the early 1970s. The Jesuits discovered this tool for their gift of spiritual direction. It is used in “the reading of souls” to help people rediscover who they are in God. When used in conjunction with a regular practice of contemplative prayer, the Enneagram can be powerfully transformative. It can open us to deeper and deeper levels of understanding and insight, love and grace. In the next two weeks of Daily Meditations, I will barely scratch the surface of the Enneagram’s potential to help us live to our fullest God-given identity.  But you will see that it very much continues our theme for this year, which is love.
The Enneagram describes nine different personalities, each of which covers a broad spectrum from “immature” to “mature,” or “compulsive” to “redeemed.” It is more about recognizing “energies” than it is about describing precise traits. People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but its real goal is to let people out of their self-created boxes. It makes us aware of our root sin, our passion, our particular trap or blindness that prevents us from experiencing reality holistically and honestly. These passions were called the seven “capital sins” by Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century, although predictably he missed the most common ones in Western civilization, which are fear and deceit. You can’t see as sin what you have idealized as virtue.
Freedom from our habitual trap comes through some in-depth experience of Love, be it a sudden overflowing, hitting the bottom and being lifted up, or the gradual opening through contemplative practice. At some point many people wake up and begin to realize, however tenuously, their own True Self, a one-of-a-kind reflection of God’s love in the world. There’s a part of us that has always been in union with God. Gradually we learn more and more to trust our deepest soul and draw our life from that Source. We learn how to live more consistently from this true identity of original blessing, who we are in God and who we will be through eternity. Then we know that any notion of heaven is not just later, but has begun here and now.
A (Very) Short History
The Enneagram is old. It has roots in several wisdom traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Seven of the nine Enneagram types are associated with the “capital” or “deadly” sins which originated with the Desert Fathers. But it was not until the late 1960s that Oscar Ichazo began teaching the Enneagram as we know it today. From Ichazo’s school in South America, a group of Jesuits learned the system and brought it back with them to the United States. Richard Rohr learned about the Enneagram from this group and was one of the first people to publish a book about it in English.
The Enneagram gained popularity as a tool within spiritual direction. Today it is widely taught as a way of understanding personality, addiction, relationships, and vocation.
What It Is and What It Isn’t
The Enneagram is a dynamic system. It was developed primarily in an oral tradition, in the context of relationships between students and teachers. A “dynamic system” is one that recognizes that humans are far too complex and nuanced to fit easily into simple categories; it supports the evolving, maturing human journey.
The Enneagram is not a strict law or code. Its categories are not meant to bind or restrict you to a certain way of being and living. People who know the Enneagram in a superficial way think it’s about putting people into boxes, but it actually works to free people from their self-created boxes.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool for self-discovery and spiritual transformation. But it shouldn’t be your only tool. The Enneagram is most helpful when used in conjunction with other practices like study, meditation, spiritual direction, and life in community with others.
The Enneagram is not just a personality typing system. Yes, there are tests and quizzes that help you identify your primary Enneagram type, but that is often just the first step. This tool is meant to help you over a life-long journey.
While self-discovery is important, it is not the Enneagram’s final objective. The Enneagram’s purpose is to help us uncover the traps that keep us from living fully and freely as our True Self so that we will use our unique, authentic gifts for the good of others and the world.
The Enneagram: The Nine Types >
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