[ 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.
Being a nine involves movement between inner sleep and awakeness, a struggle that is often hidden from the lower self. If I am a nine then it is likely that I value and want to preserve the pleasant simplicity of my daily life. Having an uncomplicated, comfortable lifestyle helps me because it allows me to remain calm and undisturbed, preserving an inner state of peaceful quiet. This is both a powerful talent and possibly the most dangerous trap I may face in my personal journey.
At my best, I can completely let go of my lower self, making possible a kind of merging with others that can heal emotional rifts and create deep, loving connections. The ability to become “one with” other people combines with an intuitive sense of how to help them grow into the best they can be, and everyone benefits as we lovingly dance together. When I am operating from my real Essence, I become a powerful catalyst for spiritual renewal, showing people to themselves in a nonjudgmental, caring way so that they can heal themselves.
At my worst, I can become overly attached to inner calm, possibly causing me to avoid anything that might upset me or create disturbance. This can lead me deeper and deeper into a sort of trance, as I unconsciously remove from my awareness all of the influences that might threaten the peace. When my real Essence is clouded by attachment to undisturbed inner silence, I might sometimes lose awareness altogether, becoming effectively dead, utterly unable to function because I am completely ignoring the outer world and myself in order to stay free of inner disturbance.
building a self
Part of my nature as a nine is that I am able to dissolve my own sense of self. This ability is valuable because if I do it with full wakefulness and awareness, it can enable me to merge with others, helping them to find a peacefulness and calm that is similar to my own. I can help others find this centered, relaxed state because a part of my own essence becomes available to them when I merge into their experience.
But the special talent of dissolving the self has a dark side, which is a tendency to fall away from the world into a sort of unconscious fog. As odd as it may sound, I probably have a strong tendency to let myself simply drop out of existence. The body is there, but I have gone away into some fuzzy fantasy.
As a nine, my most important task in self-development is to build a firm internal foundation for my personality. Before I can successfully use my powerful talent of dissolving the self, I need to have a solid self to dissolve. Otherwise, there is a directionless, formless quality to the experience, making it useless for helping myself or others.
I am asleep until there is a “me” to awaken. I need to create an internal image of myself that is not just an idealized reflection of someone else, but a unique, self-empowering, self-generating ego, with its own desires and goals. Until there is an internal foundation for the personality, the whole system rests in a sort of preconscious torpor, waiting for the self to emerge so that it can be awakened.
Do I have goals and projects of my own that are not the result of someone else’s ideas about what I should be doing with my life?
Do I have clear, distinct opinions about the world that do not change depending on who I am with?
When I am with someone else, am I really there?
Why does it matter whether I am present within myself? Because unless I can focus on what is going on right now, right here, I am not really alive at all. Why is it important for me to stay awake and centered in the here-and-now? The Sufis say: “Be in the world but not of it.” My problem may be that I am not in the world often enough.
If I can remind myself to be sharply awake in the present moment, then it is likely that I will begin to discover a new vitality within myself. I may find that new, practical ideas occur to me — ideas that can help me live my life more efficiently, effectively, and powerfully. I might become an actualized person, able to grab the reins of my life and make myself into somebody brand new. I might become real at last.
Do I ever find that time has passed but I have no idea what I have been thinking about during that time?
Does life often seem to pass me by, as days and maybe weeks seem to slip into obscure memories?
Do I have habits that put me to sleep, like watching TV or playing solitaire?
Is my routine the same every day?
When was the last time I voluntarily did something really different from my usual activities?
Do I go out of my way to pursue new friendships, new activities, to learn and grow in ways that wake me up?
There are distinct chemical and physiological changes that happen when a human body gets into the habit of exercising frequently. The circulatory system toughens up, reflexes become faster, the nervous system rebalances on a higher level of activation. The sharpness of thoughts improves and emotions are more clearly and distinctly felt.
By exercising my body I can help to focus my awareness in the present moment. Because of the changes that happen when I exercise regularly, I will be helping myself to create the solid inner foundation of awareness that I need to deal with difficulties successfully. My attention will be enhanced, helping me to focus on what is happening right now.
Do I exercise at least once a day?
When I exercise, do I work up a good sweat for at least fifteen minutes?
After exercising, is there a generalized “glow” suffusing my whole body?
If I don’t get the exercise to which I have become accustomed, does my body begin to feel like it wants to get up and work out?
Do I put off my exercise sessions if I feel tired, or do I work out anyway, knowing that the tired feeling will probably disappear once I get started?
expressing my aggressions
Like all human beings, I have aggressive feelings that need to be released. When I feel annoyed or upset, aggressive feelings are often generated, as a natural reaction to the stressful stimulus. There is also a natural level of aggressiveness that is always present.
If I respond to my aggressive tendencies by going to sleep, passively forgetting the felt need to do something about them, then they are likely to be expressed in some way that is actually harmful to me. They might take the form of physical symptoms like backaches, headaches, ulcers, or even cancer. They might come out in the form of passive-aggressive behavior, where I act against the interests of others by “forgetting” or negligently avoiding doing things I have promised to do.
I can avoid these hurtful redirected aggressions by consciously giving myself a chance to work out my aggressions. Physical exercise can help a great deal. When I feel angry or upset, it can be enormously helpful to immediately do something physical. I can take a walk (or even a run). I can pound a large ball of clay with my fist. I can do some jumping-jacks or pushups. I can go out in the garden and turn the compost. It doesn’t really matter what I do, as long as I do something physical.
I can also help myself by learning to respond to others with a sure, powerful response, rather than passively going along with them. I need to let them know when something is not to my liking. I need to stand up for my own beliefs, even if it means accepting the fact that others disagree with me.
I might be surprised to find that other people respond to my forcefully stated feelings with a new consideration of my own interests, helping me to stabilize my inner foundation rather than eroding it by dissolving it in favor of other people’s agendas. Other people will respect me more if I have my own set of carefully considered beliefs and opinions, and if I stick to them in the face of opposition from others.
When was the last time I strongly defended my own point of view?
When was the last time I let someone else win a dispute even though I felt they were wrong?
After I have been involved in a difficult interaction, do I deliberately do something physical to let out my aggressions?
desiring truth over peace
If I am to become an awake, actively self-interested person, it is crucial that I be prepared to discover the truth about myself. Sometimes the discoveries will be good, and sometimes they will be uncomfortable. If I respond to uncomfortable truths by letting myself drop away into a forgetful space, then I am defeating myself.
The more I can consciously accept discomforting knowledge, knowledge which perhaps stirs up emotions I would rather not have, the more likely it is that I will find answers that eventually will restore my inner peace. Why? Because conscious acceptance of the truth is the only way to move through it into a solution. If I ignore problems, in many cases they will get worse. If I pay attention and try to find workable, real-world answers, then my life will steadily become more and more comfortable and I will gain greater self-actualization and confidence.
Am I willing to accept temporary discomfort in the interest of eventual greater awakeness?
Do I take an active role in discovering the truth about the difficult areas in my life, or do I wait for problems to disappear through the passage of time?
becoming other people
When I am with other people, I probably have a tendency to let my own desires and needs drop away in favor of theirs. It is true that by doing so I open the way for the use of my great talents at merging with others, but if I do not stay awake the whole time then I will inevitably short-change myself and drastically reduce my own value to the other people. I will be rendered ineffective because I am not helping myself enough.
I need to pay just as much attention to serving my own needs as the needs of others. If I can treat myself as if I were someone else, looking carefully for needs to fulfill, then I am on the right path.
When I am with someone else, whose needs are more important, mine or theirs?
If someone needs help, do I stop to think before I take on some of their burden?
Do my feelings change to fit those of the person I am with?
being able to confront
Every time I react to difficulty by shutting down, I put myself further to sleep. A little bit of me stops functioning. My whole system slows down a little bit more. I drop further into the void of non-being.
If I can find it in myself to confront those who have wronged me, I will be empowered by the act, and others will come to respect me as well. I will take action when something happens that bothers me. I will stand up for myself, and say what needs to be said. I will find that powerful Self inside of me and wake it up!
How do I respond when someone has done something that annoys me or makes my life more difficult?
Do I pull away from them, hoping that the whole issue will just die down and go away?
Do I let things go, feeling like it doesn’t matter anyway?
Am I able to stand up for what I believe in even if it means that someone else might disagree with me?
becoming an active participant
Having a genuine self means taking an active role in life rather than letting others determine what is right for me. It means truly desiring to be the star of my own life. It means wanting to polish my awareness so that I become a shining light of conscious attention.
If I am to be in charge of my own life, I must put the greatest effort I can into always being focused in the here-and-now. Every second of the day I must be present to myself, always watching to see what is happening right in front of me. I must not let myself drift off into fantasies or daydreams. Dreams are for the night time. When I am awake, I must be really, truly awake.
Consciousness is our birthright as human beings. If I give up my consciousness in order to stay peaceful, then I am letting go of my most precious possession. If I strengthen my ability to pay attention to the moment, watching my own thoughts and feelings with deep interest, then I will find myself growing steadily more capable of determining my own life path. I will actualize myself as a solidly self-determined independent being. I will find true freedom and inner peace.
passing it on
Once I have begun to wake up my inner self, I can begin to use the greatest talent of all. I can begin to pass on to others what I have discovered inside of myself. By merging into the experiences of other people without forgetting who I have become, I can show them how to find the same kind of self-actualizing energy. I can magically bring them to wakefulness just as I have done for myself.
To do this, I must not be afraid to show them disturbing things about themselves, just as I have had to show myself disturbing things in order to wake myself up. Because I have become so clear and internally unified, I will be able to transmit to them a trusting acceptance of themselves, so that they can see themselves truthfully and forgivingly.
I will find deep, lasting fulfillment and an indescribable conscious peace that transcends all of the shallow peacefulness of sleepy self-ignorance. All I need to do is stay AWAKE!
at their best
Healthy nines are life-affirming and vigorous. Because they do not compulsively fall into empty, spaced-out states, they are able to consciously move from a state of cosmic union into complete individuality and back. Their ability to intuitively dip into deeper levels of unselfed oneness gives them a special kind of ancient innocence, a self-creating childlike sparkle that infects others with its youthful energy. They bring a distinctive, clear, simple joy to the lives of everyone they meet.
Healthy nines are some of the most dynamically alive people. They are real people, who stand out like beacons of genuineness. Others want to emulate them because they seem so natural and complete. They are truly human beings. Healthy nines are the essence of Being.
When healthy nines misuse or misunderstand their innate talent of unselfing, they might begin to use it to escape from the unpleasant task of interacting with the real world. They may begin to use their talent compulsively, at times when it is inappropriate. The merged state is pleasant and peaceful, so it is a tremendously seductive way to ignore worldly difficulties. The more they space out to avoid problems, the more the problems accumulate and deepen. If they continue to withdraw into nothingness, they will inevitably run head-on into real trouble.
Most average nines look and feel normal. They have a sense of what their society considers the most unthreatening, average, everyday kind of person, and they (usually unthinkingly) adopt that as their own personal style. Most nines want to be invisible, so they can peacefully rest. They effortlessly become unremarkable and uninteresting, which is one of their instinctive defenses against attention from other people.
The more compulsively they disembody, the harder it becomes for nines to find the peace they so ardently desire. Their constant attempts to space out become more and more difficult because the world is demanding more and more of them. Blaming others and becoming anxious, like unhealthy sixes, they attempt to secure peace by forcing others to deal with their problems. The more they try to pull away from the world, the more it seems to pull on them. This invisible struggle, if it continues, leads to the ultimate withdrawal from the world and its demands: complete catatonic paralysis.
Unbalance leads nines ever further into nobodyland. One by one, systems shut down. Social life becomes virtually nonexistent, and nine sleeps more and more, both with eyes closed, and also increasingly with them wide open. Personal grooming suffers and home could be a dangerously cluttered rat’s nest. In the end, nine simply winks out of existence. There is nothing left but an empty, catatonic shell, with dull eyes and a pasty complexion. Unbalanced nines are the essence of sleep.
more questions for nines
Do I value peace beyond understanding, the simple pleasure of belonging to the universe, direct being and effortless participation in life?
Do I see the world?
Does empty nothingness distract me?
Do idle fantasies distract me?
How do I measure the value of my life?
Are there times when peace is an excuse?
Are there times when inaction is dangerous?
Am I an unconscious robot?
Do I notice other people?
Do other people notice me?
Do I make other people into fairy-tale characters?
Is it possible to love someone who disturbs me?
Do my role models accomplish great things?
Do I find magnificence through genuine being?
Do I find myself through motivated accomplishment?
Does my own negligence lead me into being suspicious of others?
Does anxiety put me to sleep?
Do I deserve to exist?
Am I ready to be born?
Do I spread glue to fill in all the gaps?
Do I put up with everything, even if it means losing myself?
Do I pretend to be here when I am really nowhere at all?
Am I here to forget myself?
Am I here to become invisible?
Am I here to teach Self-realization?
Do I want anything from life?
Is life passing me by?
Do I care about myself?
Am I somebody?
Do I have realistic, honest plans for my life?
Am I carrying them out?
Am I able to say disturbing things to other people, when it becomes necessary?
Do I idealize other people?
Whom do I like more, animals or people?
Does the world contain invisible spirits, fairies, elementals, gods, or other beings?
Many average 8/9s are socially unpolished and physically powerful. When eightish dominance combines with nineish passivity, but the eight is stronger, the personality is quiet but aggressive, usually slow-moving but capable of sudden violence. 8/9 is more likely to ignore a challenge than 8/7, but also more likely to erupt into overt anger than the more passive 9/8. While 8/9 would prefer to sit back and relax, it is important that the situation be under control first. There is a heavy, slow quality to most 8/9s.
Balanced 8/9 uses gentle strength with kindness. As 8/9 becomes more in touch with the inner self, the drive to dominate becomes less compulsive, and the seemingly contradictory desire to withdraw and be settled is also less overwhelming. This frees the will, allowing 8/9 to see the value of choosing carefully when to be powerful and when to pull back, rather than being enslaved by alternating sleepiness and angry outbursts. Others benefit from the well-timed use of personal power.
In extreme integration we have someone whose healthy, unselfconscious ambition is augmented by a wonderful, powerful benevolence. Here are some of the greatest leaders and mystical teachers, who sometimes gather enormous followings of devoted seekers. Advanced 8/9 teachers are able to be tough when toughness is needed, and gentle and loving at other times.
Average to unhealthy 8/9 carries within a deep conflict between self-forgetting and combativeness. As these contradictory urges intensify, 8/9 becomes less predictable and more dangerous. Times of quiet are deceptive, because there is anger simmering beneath the surface. Sudden explosions of rage become more intense and frequent.
In extreme imbalance the influences of nine stressing to six and eight stressing to five add two different flavors of paranoid anxiety, which combines with the withdrawal of the nine to bring 8/9 into a state of self-protective isolation. Those who intrude into the inner sanctum may be violently attacked or even killed. Psychotic 8/9 is the archetypical antisocial personality, totally lacking conscience and compassion.
Although there are some notable exceptions, for the most part 8/9 simply doesn’t care about looking good. With rough, usually large features and a slow, simple way of being, these are people whose lifestyle is practical and unpresumptuous.
Most 8/9s are more interested in relaxing than going out to some social or cultural event, and their wardrobe and appearance usually reflect this preference. If an 8/9 is attractive and charismatic, it is usually because of an inborn talent at natural leadership more than any particular appearance element.
Some 8/9s find work that lets them run their own show without being bothered much by other people. Sanitary engineers, night guards, factory workers, construction workers, truck drivers, heavy equipment operators. Others are more exposed to the public as diplomats, politicians, actors, or military leaders. There are 8/9 airline pilots, ranchers, country music stars, and bodyguards. Of course, 8/9s can also be found doing many other kinds of work.
Here’s the roughest, toughest personality in the enneagram. Average 8/7 is full of pushy, powerful energy. The eight’s desire to dominate overpowers the seven’s desire to entertain, so being in charge is more important than being the life of the party. Eights in general do not bother much with appearances, but 8/7’s seven-wing brings in some desire to look good, or at least interesting, unlike 8/9, who is often oblivious to appearance.
Balanced 8/7 softens up and gains charm and tact. With increased awareness, 8/7 loses some of the compulsive combativeness and the tendency to go to extremes is moderated. Real personal power, from essence, becomes more available in place of artificial bravado. 8/7 realizes that sometimes the most powerful thing to do is to wait, rather than charging in blindly.
Highly integrated 8/7 finds that when dominance is a choice (and eight integrates to two), one can choose to be kind and gentle, using power constructively instead of combatively. Seven integrates to five, and impulsive action is replaced by considered, perceptive understanding, making rash actions unnecessary. A person who may have been unpolished, rude, and rough becomes a sophisticated judge of situations, intuitively in touch with the flow of human interaction. This new perception makes options available that were previously inconceivable.
Unhealthy 8/7 can become physically dangerous. With little or no concern for the rules, almost no emotional sensitivity, and an unsociable, highly belligerent nature, this person can become a rough character. Here is the schoolyard bully, the street thug, and the uncultured slob. (If you don’t like it, tough. Why bother to be careful when I can get what I want through brute force?)
With further stress, 8/7 becomes violent, rude, and deadly, lashing out at whatever gets in the way. But as the violence increases, so does the need to defend against counterattacks. Eight pulls in the worst of five, creating the need for walls and protection, while seven’s stress to one brings increasingly intolerant, judgmental thoughts. The world becomes a crazy battlefield, where one must kill or be killed, and every moment requires constant defensive and offensive maneuvering.
When it comes to appearance, 8/7 can be slick and sharply well-dressed, or remarkably careless. It all depends on mood and circumstances. When things are good, and 8/7 feels empowered, the hair might be well-styled, the clothes neat and classy, and the manner dapper and maybe even elegant. But if trouble comes, appearances may suffer. It’s hard to look good when you are fighting. Many 8/7s have large features and a thick, rough complexion. Some are physically enormous, and much of that mass may be muscle.
Some 8/7s find work that puts them in charge of something they can really get their teeth into. Construction foremen, dictators, explorers, army generals, organized crime bosses, boxers, corporate CEOs. Others have smaller territories as middle managers, sports coaches, drill sergeants, or simply the head of their own family. There are 8/7 long-haul truck drivers, factory workers, small business owners, and muggers. Of course, 8/7s can also be found doing many other kinds of work.
Being an eight means having a no-nonsense, take-charge attitude to life. If I am an eight it is likely that I have always been willing and able to courageously get what I want from the world. Lead, follow, or get out of the way. If you don’t like it, go somewhere else, because I know what I want and I aim to get it. This is both a powerful talent and possibly the most dangerous trap I may face in my personal journey.
At my best, I can be a generous and magnanimous leader, powerfully acting for the benefit of my friends and myself. I am able to generate tremendous loyalty and devotion from others, helping them by generously sharing my own personal power. When I am operating from my real Essence, I can be a benevolent and much-loved benefactor of humanity, standing boldly at the helm of my life, leading others by setting an inspiring and charismatic example.
At my worst, I can become overly attached to power and control over others, possibly causing me to become increasingly dominant, aggressive, and contentious. I may deliberately create conflict as a way of eliminating possible challengers to my position of power. When my real Essence is clouded by attachment to being invulnerable and powerful, I might cause great harm to others in order to “get them out of the way,” eventually leading to more and more desperate attempts to protect myself as my enemies become more and more abundant and angry. Then I might retreat into an overprotected shell of defenses against a world that is perceived as increasingly hostile.
trying to be invulnerable
My strength is likely to be one of my greatest assets. But if I become too attached to being strong all the time, I can get myself in trouble. Like all humans, I have weak spots.
If I believe that I must not let others see the places where I am weak, then I must protect them from view. By doing so, I hide essential parts of my own personality. Other people do not get to interact with my essential being, because it is shielded behind layers of ego-toughness. I put on a hard shell that turns others away.
When I am hidden in this way, I can’t experience the best aspects of human relationship: kindness, warmth, and love. It is impossible to be genuinely loving if I can’t let others see the real me. If my essence is hidden behind a tough outer hide, then my own view is limited too: I can’t see through it into the hearts of others.
Being vulnerable does not mean being a loser. When I begin to let down my guard, perhaps other people will do the same. Instead of always facing opposition from others (who are, after all, simply responding to my own tough, insensitive shell), I might find that other people will treat me kindly and warmly.
Do I sometimes forget that I am just another human being, with human weaknesses?
Is my desire to show invulnerability getting in the way of real human relationships?
What does it mean to be weak?
Can I find ways that I am not as strong as some people, and acknowledge them?
Can I remember always that I have vulnerabilities and frailties?
What is my reaction to knowing that I am vulnerable?
Can I accept kindness and warmth from other people?
Can I learn to love gently?
burlap and sandpaper
If I am an eight, most people are likely to see me as somewhat “rough around the edges.” My simple, direct ways are a talent that is of great use in many situations. It is as if my personality were constructed of burlap and sandpaper. When people rub up against me, they could easily get scratched raw. If I choose to, I can use my sandpaper personality to help other people by showing them the ways that they are overly sensitive.
Of course, having a rough, unpolished nature can often be a trap as well. If I am truly interested in helping others, I must be extremely sensitive myself or I will probably turn away the very people who need my help the most. I must always remember that most other people are more easily injured than I am. I must learn tact and diplomacy. This is often a difficult challenge for eights because sensitivity seems to imply vulnerability, which is one of their greatest fears.
Am I sensitive to the feelings and desires of other people?
How do I respond when someone seems overly sensitive?
Can I see the ways that my own personality is sensitive and delicate?
Does sensitivity always imply vulnerability?
If I react to my own vulnerability by trying to “shore up the walls” that protect my power, then I am very likely making a serious mistake. That’s the wrong answer because it leads inevitably to a mentality that is focused on anticipating the next dangerous assault from the world. I might begin to contemplate “offensive strikes” against the world as a way to prevent possible incursions. This battlefield model is not appropriate in today’s world.
Although there may be many times when confrontation is useful and even necessary, such head-butting exchanges must always be the last option; otherwise I risk falling into the worst traps of my personality type.
Am I sensitive enough to realize that the correct model for today’s world involves cooperation, rather than direct confrontation?
When someone else confronts me in an aggressive way, do I have the inner strength to respond with gentleness rather than escalating the conflict?
In a confrontation, have I ever tried the tactic of forthrightly admitting my own weaknesses right at the beginning?
When I see a weakness in someone else’s position, do I immediately pounce?
What happens if I withhold my attack, leaving the other party exposed but unharmed?
What happens if I (gently!) point out the weakness in the other side’s position and then (gently!) offer suggestions to improve their situation?
As strange as it may seem, by not using what seems to be my greatest talent, I uncover another talent that is even more powerful. Because I am confident of my own ability to deal with any form of opposition, perhaps I don’t need to confront unless it is absolutely necessary.
If I can find a way to solve difficulties without confrontation, then not only will my quiet strength be conserved for times of real difficulty, but others will begin to have greater and greater confidence in me. I may find that I begin to develop a following of people who respect my confident, patient, serene power.
What happens when I hold myself in check rather than quickly lashing out at foes?
Can I be strong enough to endure patiently what might cause other people to violently resist?
What would happen if, every time I felt like attacking someone else, I were to ask them for advice instead?
letting go of power
Part of strength is personal power. Being powerful means having influence over other people. It means being known as someone you “don’t mess around with.” Certainly, personal power can be a great talent, if it is used skillfully. But if my power is not properly wielded, then I might begin to use it selfishly, which can result in serious consequences.
Paradoxically, the most powerful people are the ones who know when to give up their power to others. These are the people who not only delegate wisely, but also are able to step down from the seat of power if necessary. By stepping aside at the right moment, great leaders often end up creating far greater benefits for themselves and others. People respect them because they can see that their own interests are being put first.
If I am to be truly powerful, then I must be able to sense when it is in the best interests of those over whom I have power to let them make their own decisions for a while. I must be willing to turn over some (or all) of my power when they are ready to receive it.
What is the secret to the correct use of power?
How can I be powerful in such a way that I do not hurt myself or others?
Was there ever a time when I voluntarily relinquished my power in order to help someone else at my expense?
What is the most effective way to cause other people to want to voluntarily lend me the respect and authority that lead to real power?
Am I using my power correctly?
replacing bluntness with diplomacy
If I am an eight, then one of my talents is an ability to get right to the point. I don’t pussyfoot around. I say what needs to be said, and I do it simply and clearly. No hidden meanings, no wishy-washy sentimentality. I can get a lot of communicating done in a short time this way, but there is a risk involved with such direct bluntness.
Not everyone responds well to the direct approach. While some people appreciate the no-minced-words style, others are deeply intimidated when someone is so direct and blunt. Many people are sensitive, taking things personally that might just bounce off an eight.
If I can remember that other people do not necessarily have my own tough hide, I might begin to appreciate the need to sometimes soften my tone. Sometimes it is necessary to talk around an issue for a bit, just until the other person is ready to hear the real message.
Sometimes, the other person is just not ready at all. Maybe there are times when it might be better for me to wait, rather than needlessly antagonizing someone.
Do I take into account other people’s differing levels of sensitivity?
When I am faced with the need to deliver a message to someone else, what is my first tendency?
Do I come on strong, with a no-nonsense, right-to-the-point approach?
Do I stand firmly and bluntly state my case?
Am I able to sense when someone is being bulldozed by the force with which I state my position?
Can I hold back when necessary, perhaps talking around the issue for a little while until the other person can accept what I am trying to say?
Can I tell when someone else is not going to be able to receive my message no matter what I do? Do I dive in anyway, or do I wait until a better time?
love (and all that sensitive, mushy stuff)
There is a wonderful benefit of standing back from conflict: the less I do battle, the more I am able to love. Now my inner strength and resolve begin to be available to do good works in the world, because they are no longer being used to build walls between myself and the world.
When I open myself to the world, fearlessly showing my real self and letting others see that I am a vulnerable human being just like them, then perhaps they will protect me just as I protect them. I might develop a new appreciation for the wondrous interdependence and mutual trust among healthy humans. I might learn to love myself and others, instead of feeling like I need to defend myself against them.
Once real love begins to shine forth from me, my personal power will expand more and more. The less need I have to protect my own weaknesses, the more available my mysterious inner essence will be to myself and others. As my essence emerges from its protective shell, my genuine love for the world and its inhabitants can fill all of me, overflowing into the world.
at their best
Healthy eights are masterful and benevolent. Because they do not dominate compulsively, when they do take charge their command is firm but gentle. Their ability to intuitively use just the right amount of force to get the job done means that they never injure unnecessarily. They act from a position of loving kindness, out of a true desire to help others grow. They are willing to lead or follow, depending on what is appropriate. When they lead, they sometimes develop huge, passionately loyal groups of followers.
Balanced eights usually develop real poise and sophistication. They care more about what other people think of them, and the stance becomes more relaxed. Healthy eights can be quite sexy, maybe developing a little twoish seductiveness. Their tremendous personal power is evident, but not the least bit threatening. They radiate solidity, sheer physical presence, and stamina. Healthy eights are the essence of power and forbearance.
When healthy eights misuse or misunderstand their innate talent of personal power, they can begin to fear that some kind of retaliation might occur. They may begin to use their talent compulsively, at times when it is inappropriate. They may try to anticipate offense from others, at first bracing themselves for it and then increasingly making attacks of their own as a way of heading off potential trouble. Their belligerence and forcefulness cause others to become increasingly antagonistic, which is perceived as additional evidence for the need to aggressively anticipate further battles.
Average eights are usually rough, unrefined people, who might curse with ease and push their way through life. Clothing is seldom elegant, unless they are quite healthy (or there is a strong seven wing). They may have thick, uneven skin and short hair. The manner is direct and plain. Even female eights often like playing with things that are big and strong, like trucks, big dogs, or boats. Eights might like sports that involve sex and fighting, like mud-wresting or cat-fighting. They are earthy people who might take big bites and talk with their mouths full.
The more compulsively they confront, the harder it becomes for eights to avoid escalation in their battles. Their opponents begin to feel more and more anger, which makes them even more difficult to deal with, adding fuel to the fire. The more violent they become in their preemptive strikes, the more violent is the world’s response. Eventually, they must begin to withdraw into ever-deepening circles of defenses against a world that seems to be conspiring to attack from all directions. When at last every single interaction with another human involves a confrontation, there is nothing left but complete retreat into paranoid isolation, much like an unhealthy five.
As eight begins to retreat into the center of the fortress, clothing and grooming can become sloppy, ugly, and messy. Dirty, unkempt, violent eights are dangerous, unpredictable monsters. Some unbalanced eights still dress up, but it’s hard to look good when you’re fighting all the time. Unbalanced eights are the essence of ugliness and menace.
more questions for eights
Do I value magnanimous, empowering leadership, compassionate use of necessary force, fearless justice, and benevolent strength?
Do I see the world as winning and losing, advance and retreat?
Do challenges distract me?
Does anger distract me?
How do I measure the value of strength?
Are there times when victory is defeat?
Are there times when vulnerability is an advantage?
Am I a combat robot?
Do I control other people?
Do other people control me?
Do I make other people into worthy opponents and weaklings?
Is it possible to love someone who is a coward?
Do my role models hide their weaknesses?
Do I find love through benevolent leadership?
Do I find enduring power through compassionate concern?
Do overwhelming odds send me into tactical analysis?
Does strategic withdrawal give the enemy more power?
Do I deserve real power?
Am I ready to surrender?
Do I build stone walls of insensitivity?
Do I keep fighting even if it means killing my opponent?
Do I pretend to have the advantage even when I am about to be smeared into the dirt?
Am I here to be the boss?
Am I here to become an impenetrable fortress?
Am I here to teach magnanimous restraint?
Do other people confront me as often as I confront them?
Average 7/8s can be aggressive and flamboyant. Seven’s talkativeness and charisma combine with eight’s outgoing power to create a personality that is often well-suited for starting big projects, but ill-suited for continuing them. Unlike the gentler 7/6, 7/8s are not afraid to make themselves unpopular. In fact, sometimes they seem to delight in generating shocked reactions. 7/8 is not as careless of image as the rougher 8/7. 7/8 usually wants to be fun to look at, sometimes to colorful, elaborate extremes.
With balance, 7/8 settles down. Becoming aware of the compulsive nature of the desire for excess and learning how to moderate the constant power-trip, healthy 7/8 finds that other people are much easier to get along with when they are not being pushed or receiving a hard-sell on some wild idea. Love and appreciation for subtlety become important aspects of a life that includes increasing amounts of silent, peaceful contemplation.
Highly integrated 7/8 discovers that by letting the mind’s chatter come to its own end, a new level of perception emerges, with a much greater understanding of how the world fits together. Instead of exploding outward into wildly impulsive activity, 7/8 harnesses enthusiasm for practical uses. Life becomes a joyful, loving celebration. (Look how much we have been given! Jump into the beautiful universe with both feet! Find your power and become what you were meant to be!)
Under stress, 7/8 gets ever-wilder. When others fail to respond with enough enthusiasm to the high-pressure sales tactics, and the high of the latest exciting trip begins to wear off, it’s time for the next wild ride. Maybe just a little bigger dose will do it. New ideas seem to erase old problems, and each one is bigger and better than the last one. If it doesn’t work, forget it and move to the next grand scheme. (You’ve got to try this, it’s totally fantastic!)
As the highs get higher, the lows scrape lower. But the miserable mornings are soon forgotten, because there’s an even better high coming. (What a fabulous idea I’ve got! All I need is a thousand bucks and you’ll get it all back next week! But first, lets have an all-night party to celebrate!) Very unbalanced 7/8 heads into ever-deeper entrapments, promising ever-greater rewards to those who will finance (or otherwise support) rapidly exploding levels of excessive indulgence. It all leads inevitably to the great crash, and utter dissipation. Fearfully, psychotic 7/8 withdraws into a shell of total escapist fantasy, depressed and lost in exhaustion. Possibly, the law is hot on the trail by now, and jail is not far away.
Average to unhealthy 7/8s definitely like to dress on the wild side. With little apparent sense of taste or aesthetics, they boldly combine colors and patterns in an effort to be as showy as possible. Could anyone else feel comfortable dressing like this? Other 7/8s are more eightish, and might dress rather sloppily. Physically, 7/8 is usually either fat or thin, and seldom anywhere in between. Either they eat so much that their metabolism can’t possibly keep up, or their metabolism is so high they couldn’t possibly get fat.
Some 7/8s find work that combines excitement and aggression. Wrestlers, high-tech entrepeneurs, lion tamers, drug dealers, con artists, loud and wild rock stars, screaming DJs. Others are more moderate, becoming TV weather forecasters, comedians, clowns, actors, or dancers. There are 7/8 physicists, doctors, tax advisors, race car drivers, and sex therapists. Of course, 7/8s can also be found doing many other kinds of work.