how to study the enneagram


The enneagram’s roots are deep and its basic principles affect almost every process in the universe.  But the perceptions involved in deeply understanding it are subtle, and most people have to work at understanding.  People sometimes become impatient (and discount the system) when their first attempts to make sense of it result in confusion.  Is it some kind of magic bullet?  Can it be reduced to a set of easily learned formulas?

It doesn’t work that way.  Personality is not something that can be written down.  It must be learned through experience.  It is not possible to understand the enneagram by only reading a book.  Just reading and thinking is not enough.  Put it into practice.  Make the enneagram a part of yourself.  Look around.  Be awake!

attend workshops
It helps to interact with real people in a safe, intimate environment where everyone can describe their own experience.  It is important to find a group led by someone who knows how to use the system intuitively, someone who has direct enneagram perception.  Most of the enneagram’s power is unavailable until it begins to operate without conscious effort.

Don’t believe claims that you’ll know your type after one workshop.  It’s not always that easy, and people often mistype themselves.


don’t believe anything
To learn the enneagram as a directly perceived medium, we need a certain kind of questioning attitude.  Am I satisfied with what someone else says?  Constantly pry beneath the surface of everything, looking for deeper and deeper questions.  When you begin to understand a feature of the system, start to probe into the reasons for that feature.  With the right kind of inquiring attitude, the enneagram can open up into a deep understanding filled with subtlety and beauty.  Always try to find the direct experience of each aspect of the system.  What state of mind is best suited for tasting almost imperceptibly subtle flavors?

Does anybody really understand the whole system?  Each enneagram student has his or her own special talents and areas of confusion.  Some of the explanations I offer might be wrong.  Look and study, and see for yourself what is true.  Don’t believe anything!  Instead, experience it directly.

contemplate other people
Who are the people in your life?  Have their histories shaped their appearances?  Do the tensions and wrinkles, smoothnesses and roughnesses, reflect each person’s life?  What is it like to be this person?  Feel the emotions in their faces, as you interact with everyone you meet.


Don’t just look at other people; contemplate them.  Dive into them.  Merge with the human race, inside your own soul.  From the heart of love, constantly taste the experiences of yourself, your friends, and your family.  Avoid making people into mental cartoons.  Learn how to deeply perceive human nature, how people feel inside.  Reach for the distinct flavor of everyone you meet or see on television or in the movies, read about in magazines or newspapers, anyone anywhere.  Ask, “What is it like to be you?”

enneagram etiquette
You won’t find pictures of real people labeled by type in these pages, although the placement of the pictures might give you a good idea of what type I think they might be. It is never a good idea to tell someone directly what type they are. Even experts sometimes get types wrong.

Each person deserves a chance to discover his or her own type, through self-examination.  Let’s not take that powerful and potentially transforming experience away from ourselves by spilling the beans too soon.  Don’t tell people what type they are!

be curious and patient
Use your inquiring attitude to teach yourself how to read subtle signs.  Feel and compare the emotional flavors of everyone you know, everyone you see on TV or in movies or videos.  Read the pages of this site. Look at the pictures. If you understand the principles, then taste the real people around you, you will begin to recognize the different types.  But don’t be too quick to reach a conclusion. The process of uncovering your own inevitable misperceptions is important, and it doesn’t work if you already know what to see.


Don’t let someone else tell you what to see.  Don’t accept someone else’s reading until you can see it for yourself.  Look, listen, and taste as you interact with everyone.  What do you feel?  Who are these people?  Instead of saying “she’s a four,” say “is she a four?”

Take the time to study the living, moving human family.  Look in at your own center.  Connect all the parts, so that they form a harmonious whole.

work on yourself
The enneagram is worse than useless for anyone who is not actively inquiring into his or her own experience.  Its value is in its way of illuminating our most carefully hidden feelings, beliefs, and habits, so that we can experience them directly.  Then, after they have been clearly tasted, we have a chance of getting out of their robotic grips.

What does it mean to be free of the controlling influence of compulsive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors?  Is it possible to do everything by choice, instead of feeling constrained by the universe to act in some particular way?  Is it possible to decide consciously how to act in every moment?  Am I capable of being completely aware of everything I do?


I want to fly
I want freedom from the snares of illusion.  I want to recognize the subtle traps as they act on my psyche, so I can become less entangled.  I want to use my talents when they are appropriate, instead of all the time.  I want to discover alternate ways of dealing with each situation, so that I have greater freedom to respond to life creatively instead of habitually.

As I become more and more free of psychological traps, I want to find fulfillment through doing and being what I intended, before I became hypnotized by the world.  Will I find my True Calling?



Next in Enneagram 101: some common questions

Previous in Enneagram 101: the Law Of Three

…or return to contents.


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