When learning the intuitive enneagram, one of the most important bits of advice is keep it open. What does that mean?
The first level of this advice is about what we say. While watching a video clip, talking to a real person, or discussing a person who is not present, it is better to ask questions than to make judgments.
Instead of stating, “I think he is a six,” or even saying “hmmm… looks like a six,” it is much better to ask, very simply, “Is he a six?” Please notice that you can say this without knowing the answer, and immediately you can also say “Is he a seven?” without causing any conflicts. Leave it open.
This does not mean that we shouldn’t make statements. Some statements are indisputable, such as, “He is wearing a baseball cap.” It is immediately apparent that the statement is true. Another clearly true (or false) statement might be, “He is furrowing his brow and his voice is getting kind of squeaky.” These are excellent direct observations, and can play a critical role in seeing people more clearly.
The second level of this advice is what you are thinking while watching, conversing, or discussing. It is not enough just to ask a question if you already believe you know the answer. You have to be open in the mind as well as the words.
This practice is called suspension of belief. We deliberately let go of any previous idea we might have had about this person’s type. A skillful observer can do this even with their best friends. We want to see them as if for the first time.
The third level of this advice is what is happening even deeper. It is the emotional equivalent of suspension of belief. It is called suspension of reaction. When we look at someone, there is a part of our being that may have a deep, almost gut-level reaction. Mastering suspension of reaction means that no matter what (good or bad) feelings you may have about “people like this” (whatever that means to you) you can still see past any reactions your conditioning might be generating.
It happens before thought, coming up from deep within. It is different for each of us. What triggers these deep, semi-emotional reactions in me is likely different from what triggers them within you. These reactions are shaped by our lifetime of interactions with all kinds of people, by traumas and joys we may have experienced, and by preconceived ideas and judgments we may have learned from others, or even created through our own thoughts.
It can be incredibly difficult to see past such deeply held reactivities, or even to see them in operation. The key is to find a kind of emotional detachment. It is possible to learn how to identify and “discard” the reactions by consciously acknowledging them and placing them “aside.” Note: The quotes in the previous sentence say that this is how it feels to me. Your experience might be different.
There is even a fourth level of meaning to “Keep it open.” That level is about your own type. I will acknowledge that after more than 30 years studying the enneagram, I feel pretty darn sure I know what type I am. Yet even today, and in fact now more than ever, I love to let go as much as possible of my own beliefs and reactions about myself, and try again to see myself not only as if I were someone else, but as if I were someone I have never even met before today.
As you might imagine, this exercise can be somewhat challenging. But it is a valuable and powerful way to deepen our experience of the enneagram.
Try these techniques for yourself. See if you can start reading people more easily. What new things do you notice when you ask questions, suspend belief, suspend reactions, and look at your own self as if for the first time?
I am deeply curious how it might be for you. Please reply in the comments with your own observations, ideas, and questions, or send me a private message.