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.
This web site is about the learnable skill of the intuitive enneagram. There are many excellent teachers out there who take a very analytical approach, which is important and powerful… and, there is another way to absorb the system that takes it to the next level.
Using the enneagram intuitively is direct, (often) instantaneous, wordless, and sometimes amazingly accurate. It is exactly like having a whole new sensory organ, one that operates through sight and sound, and maybe even smell and touch. Together these channels form a new sense, kind of like tasting the flavor of someone’s inner being. It’s a wonderful way to better know our brothers and sisters, and ourselves as well.
When the enneagram becomes an integral part of us, so that its intuitive perceptions operate all the time, the human race takes on a much deeper quality. We see more clearly who everyone is, and we can interact with our fellow humans in a more compassionate, understanding, loving way. It is impossible not to love someone when you can see who they really are, no matter who they are.
That’s not the end of it. There is great joy and pleasure in this new sensing, and that joyful pleasure goes out into the world, touches those we are seeing, and reflects back to us. By using the enneagram intuitively in our daily lives we are literally making the world a happier place.
Learning the intuitive enneagram is difficult if you don’t understand the analytical side. One way to get started is Enneagram 101 — see the contents.
With the basics under your hat, the next step is to observe people, lots of them, with great attention, all the time. There is a special way of observing that opens us to receiving intuitive information. It comes with practice.
In future posts we’ll explore the direct experience of intuitive perception, the various sensory channels involved, and the inner shifts needed to open the new “enneagram channel” right alongside sight, smell, and touch.
I have been interviewed about “Change and The Enneagram” by my associate and colleague, Carol McClelland Fields, PhD. Carol works with amazing people we call “Change Catalysts,” who work with their own clients to help them through times of change in their lives, careers, and families.
I also work with Carol and her clients, bringing in the perspective of the enneagram, not only as a system of personality types but also as a tool for understanding processes and evolution.
Carol has developed a powerful model of change that she uses with her clients, called the Seasons of Change, which has several interesting features in common with the enneagram. We discuss some of the parallels between the two systems, and go into some depth about how the enneagram can help people deal with change more effectively.
You can listen to this fascinating 50-minute interview from the show’s page at Inspired News Radio. It’s a good listen!
With the completion of the text part of enneagram 101 we have reached a milestone. Now there is a complete introductory course on this site! Next for the site will be to add a few (no, a LOT) more pictures and start some new features. All in good time. Life is full, and we balance many projects.
Follow this blog (the widget is at the bottom) and watch your email for updates. They tend to come in bursts, at irregular intervals.
[ This piece was written when I was still living in Menlo Park, CA. I don’t live there any more, but the experiences I had at Cafe Borrone in Menlo Plaza were some of the most formative in my enneagram education. This is how it went… ]
At 7:14 AM the express northbound from Palo Alto roars through Menlo Park. I stand at the crossing, savoring the tremendous clattering and rushing as tons of metal and flesh hurtle by six feet in front of my naked face. I am swept up in the sheer power of the experience, overwhelmed by its raw intensity.
Then, suddenly, the crossing is empty, except for a storm of blowing leaves and dust. I step into space that was filled only moments ago by a howling, deadly machine. The gates rise, the bells stop, and cars move across the tracks. By the time I reach the plaza, the train has vanished into the bright morning.
The rushing train has awakened something that was sleeping since last night. All at once, someone is here, right now, actually present in the world. A vast, empty immediacy grips me. I tremble on the knife-edge between the past and the future, poised in this eternal instant of moving time.
Bright sunlight glitters on wet jasmine leaves. A purple daisy screams with intense passion as a skipper lands for a drink. A blue and white jet floats across the sky, its engines full of good, clean fire. Behind the dumpster, under three layers of ratty blankets, an old woman snores loudly.
Through it all, this body moves, carrying along with it a curious, fresh presence. Who looks through these eyes today? A cool breeze blows through the mind.
Tony is still putting out the chairs and tables. “Hey, Nick.” He waves cheerfully. I wave back. I walk into the cafe, past aromatic boxes of bananas and strawberries. A man in overalls pushes a dolly with four crates of milk. Tina holds a clipboard and checks things off. She signs it and hands it to the man. The empty dolly rattles across the square.
“Coffee?” Rita smiles and reaches for a clean mug. “Yeah, and one of those.” My usual, a ham and cheese croissant. Too much sugar puts this body out of commission by noon.
Carrying the mug and plate, the body knows what to do next. Sit. Sip, bite, chew. Sip. The exquisite familiarity of this ritual draws the mind, heart, and body into an easy meditation. Sip. Pause. Breathe. Is that fresh immediacy still renewing itself in every moment? Am I centered in the present? Does the flow of experience move through freely, unobstructed?
Sip, swallow. Warm coffee fills the mind.
I have become transparent, empty and clear. Around and within, the day continues, but I am no longer an active agent. The body breathes, sips, chews, all on its own. The body and the cafe are filled with emptiness. Sarah’s beautiful, curly hair is no more than a pattern of light on the surface of an infinitely deep ocean of perfectly empty void. Gradually, I sink further into invisibility.
By 7:45, I can no longer feel the edges of the body. There is a pair of hands on the table, holding an empty mug. The mug is as much me as the hands and the table. In one sense, I fill the whole cafe. In another, I am nowhere.
From a place of calm and silence, there is a moment-to-moment witnessing. Two men with colorful ties walk in and inspect the pastry. A blackbird hops onto a table, and pecks at a muffin. Someone waves it away and sits down. Linda puts out little bowls of sugar packets. She flashes a tired smile. Was she up late last night? My friend Jim sits down across from me and nods congenially. He unfolds the paper, adjusts his hearing aid, and sips his coffee. We exchange comfortable ritual greetings.
Every subtle event is witnessed, experienced, and released in an instant. How else to make room for the next moment? Each moment lives for only a moment, as an infinitesimal, infinitely deep expression of eternal Being. Is this a paradox?
Laverne works a big silver machine. Cachunk-a-chunk-a. Hissssssss. “Harold?” She calls out the name, and a tall, thin man with a needle nose and aviator glasses gets up and walks to the counter.
With infinite delicacy, the witness spontaneously expands across the space and touches Harold’s being. Suddenly, the emptiness fills with a new flavor. The experience is so subtle, so light, that only in the deep silence can it be clearly felt. How can there be room in this heart for Harold unless it is empty of me?
Harold’s presence tastes like paper and pencils, and narrow lines of numbers. There is a sharp, hard rigidity, but also an easy-going kind of relaxed peace. He smiles shyly as he picks up his order, and the witness experiences in that moment a fragile brittleness and a careful discipline. This flavor is unique, because it is Harold’s own distinctive being, and yet it is familiar. I’ve never seen this man before, but I feel like I know him.
Touching another in this way, how does my experience of him change? What does it mean to taste the flavor of another human? Does any part of Harold’s being notice the subtle contact? Does he respond in some way, at some level?
There is a deep, tender affection in this tasting. Harold’s personal flavor carries with it traces of past pains and joys. Is it possible to sense the subtle flavor of another person without also discovering compassion? How can I not love this brother, this other me?
The witness reaches out again into empty space, and touches another. She is a large woman with a bubbling laugh and a carefully painted face. She tastes like big bowls of chicken soup, engulfing hugs, and lots of little children running happily in the yard. She tastes like possessive love, and maybe just a touch of anger. Her body carries a feeling of self-assertive pride, but the witness also tastes a deep longing for genuine relationship. It’s a complex mixture with a fine, subtle bouquet. Her tensions and self-congratulations add a peppery note to the musky, motherly mixture that she radiates. What an interesting, bittersweet flavor!
Is it real? Is it magic? Is it a spiritual experience? Are these subtle flavors really flowing into an empty heart? How can I know whether I am projecting my own biases? Is there real, essential contact?
Am I living in the moment, touching each instant for an instant and instantly letting it go? Am I completely open and silent? Is there total acceptance of whatever comes through? Is there a feeling of deep respect and value in the experience of this “other” person? Do I compare the experience to something from another time and place, or is it completely now?
Is there love in this tasting?
The morning flows on, smoothly passing through the emptiness of the moment. People come and go, each one radiating a different flavor. Many are constricted, cluttered with thoughts, emotions, and inner conflict. A few seem to shine with glorious light. The witness in the void watches and tastes, loves and learns, opens to each moment with new freshness.
Is this just another Tuesday morning?
What is the taste of the fruit of the tree of life?
Average 9/1 has a sort of cloudlike softness. The one-wing adds a flavor of intellectuality, but nine is more powerful, so the 9/1’s thoughts are not likely to receive much reality-testing. As a result, 9/1 often has a set of beliefs about the world that may seem superstitious or magical to others. For 9/1, this is no problem, because, strange as it may seem, these magical beliefs often seem to actually work for them. Unlike 9/8, 9/1 has a kind of refinement and poise, because of the one-wing’s desire to be perfect. But 9/1 is more likely to lie down and take a nap than the more workaholic 1/9.
Balanced 9/1 somehow becomes more present. Now there is really somebody home, a genuine being with actual goals and self-interest who happily starts creating results in the world. Nine begins to show some threeish ambition and the one-wing begins to loosen up its perfectionism. While such a person is still probably involved in activities that are non-threatening and might not be particularly visible in the world at large, the results often affect others in ways that are surprisingly useful and subtle.
Advanced 9/1 finds deep sevenish joy in the accomplishment of personal goals. Usually the goals involve teaching or otherwise empowering others. Oneish intellectual rigor finally assumes real importance when the desire for withdrawal diminishes, allowing 9/1 to risk genuine involvement. Thoughts and internal images finally correspond to actual reality and 9/1 is able to transmit to others a special and powerful kind of integrated self-actualization.
Under stress, nineish emotional withdrawal increases, accompanied by oneish judgment of self and others. 9/1 retreats into a fantasy world inhabited by comfortably fuzzy generalities and stereotyped images of other people. These are the people 9/1 wishes could inhabit the real world, wishful, perfect images of real people. Unfortunately, because 9/1 is convinced of the reality of these internally generated images, real-life interactions suffer when people do not live up to their idealized images. But the 9/1 tries very hard not to notice.
In the extreme, it becomes nearly impossible not to notice the discrepancies between the perfect inner images and the outward reality. Total isolation becomes the only way to avoid seeing that the world is populated by disturbingly imperfect, unpredictable, demanding, untrustworthy beings. Life falls apart at the seams and psychotic 9/1 eventually may reach a state of catatonic pseudo-coma. Even eating and drinking can become too much work. No one is home in the body, and the body itself is allowed to fall into ruins.
Because they usually do not want to be noticed, average 9/1s almost always dress as inconspicuously as possible. They wear the most normal, culturally unremarkable clothing they can find. They really want to be as invisible as possible. Physically, the 9/1s with the strongest one-wings tend to be thin, while those with less one energy can sometimes become soft and pudgy. Most 9/1s are of an intermediate build.
Some 9/1s find work that lets them use their mind, but in a soft, fuzzy sort of way. Astrologers, palm-readers, crystal healers, puppeteers, storytellers, dressmakers. Others want more intellectual rigor, becoming accountants, naturalists, politicians, librarians, animators, artists, or technical writers. There are 9/1 postal workers (scads of them), literature professors, actors, painters, and a million jobs that nobody ever notices. Of course, 9/1s can also be found doing many other kinds of work.
Average 9/8s are gentle, simple, unsophisticated people. They tend to be a bit impulsive because of their lusty eight-wing, and they have the ability to push hard enough to get their way, but they back down easily in most cases if others resist their impulses. 9/8 is more likely to ignore a challenge than the more power-oriented 8/9. Unlike the more refined 9/1, 9/8 feels rough around the edges. There is often almost a clumsy feel to their childlike ways. They are like puppies, eager to be happy and eager to forget unpleasantness.
When they begin to wake up, 9/8s almost always use their lusty, powerful eight-wing to pull themselves out of the dream. For them, the expansiveness and energy of eight is a direct antidote to nineish apathy and resignation. When eight begins to pull in the benevolence of two and nine finds the ambition of three, there is no stopping these powerful, generous people.
Highly integrated 9/8 carries both the goodness and generosity of two and the deep self-actualization of three, without any trace of pride or vanity. People feel positively uplifted in the presence of such completely humble, giving, magnificent, fully self-created beings. Somehow just being in the presence of such a person can generate tremendous confidence and healthy self-regard. It is not what they do, it’s how they are. They simply are — without trying to be anything in particular. The utter naturalness is astounding.
Stressed 9/8 tends to fall into an unselfed dream state. If the dream deepens, apathy gives rise to sixish suspicion while eightish defensiveness leads to fiveish paranoia. Nine’s primary defense of withdrawal is enhanced by both tendencies, and 9/8 becomes a reclusive, lazy, mistrustful, hermit.
In the worst cases, the tendency to escape by going to sleep leads to total avoidance of any kind of real interaction. Bills go unpaid, the phone rings without being answered, and the lawn goes unmowed. Somnolence leads 9/8 deeper and deeper into self-negation, resulting in a paranoid sort of comatose sloth. No one is home in the body, and the body is powered down. There cannot be said to be any life at all in such a dead state.
9/8 has a tendency to be physically big. Many 9/8s have long, solid bones, and they are often remarkably strong. If they are healthy, they move with a powerful, fluid grace. If unhealthy, they can be quite clumsy and uncoordinated. Because they would rather not be the subject of much attention, and they feel no need to be different, they usually dress in traditional, acceptable clothing, seldom flashy or odd. Like 9/1s, 1/9s, and 6/5s, their particular brand of utter normality might be one of their most distinguishing features.
Some 9/8s find work that combines quiet time and occasional aggressive outwardness. Middle managers, airline pilots, grant writers, behavioral therapists, talent scouts, casting directors. Others stay well out of the front lines, becoming postmasters, gardeners, bookkeepers, beekeepers, housekeepers. There are 9/8 newscasters, actors, singers, recruiters, executive secretaries, and many unremarkable jobs out of the public eye. Of course, 9/8s can also be found doing many other kinds of work.