Enneagram Monthly Interview
Part 1 - July/August 2002
Jack Labanauskas: Most of our readers are familiar with your excellent articles on Sub-Types and the somatic correlations between body type and personality. I have received many requests asking for more of your writing and your name consistently popped up whenever interview candidates were mentioned. So here we are.
Peter O'Hanrahan: Where do we begin, there is so much we could talk about?
JL: How about with the beginning. You have been working with the Enneagram long before the first book appeared, and you have participated in changing, refining and influencing the current views.
But before going into history, can you give us a short description of what the essence of the Enneagram is for you today, what is the best of it and what is the worst of it? Just a preview that replaces an introduction of what you distilled from twenty plus years of active and intense work with this subject.
PO: I think Gurdjieff probably said it best - it's a diagram which expresses the natural laws of the universe and how they operate together in a system of perpetual motion. Apparently long ago people of great wisdom, realizing the insufficiency of language to communicate these concepts, discovered and began using this model to pass on knowledge to further generations.
OK, so far we have another spiritual or quasi-spiritual system among many. But what's so astonishing to me is how this mysterious symbol, in its modern incarnation, describes so well the lives and inner world of people in very non-mysterious ways. As EM readers well know, it speaks to us about our own lives in specific and personal ways. How can this be? It's got this strange name, it's not scientifically validated, and yet it works. Try explaining that to a beginning Enneagram class, or a group of business professionals. It's challenging enough to say "Here's a set of nine very specific personality types, one of which fits your life," and even harder to say "Yes, the lines on the diagram mean something, there is some kind of intelligence in the diagram itself." Theories are all well and good but this system has tremendous practical value. I know this in my body from decades of personal and professional experience. Now I feel an urge to climb on my soapbox.
JL: Please do. That's the kind of experience that goes beyond mere intellectual theorizing.
PO: What we can see, or sense, about the Enneagram is that there is something that really works about this set of nine. Something about the different yet complementary energies of nine archetypes - and these are human archetypes now, not just esoteric qualities or doorways of Divine Energy. I don't know why nine, other than it all starts with the great trinity or set of three and then continues in multiples of three. For people this means three major character structures based on three centers, nine basic personality types, and twenty-seven paths through which we express ourselves in life (the subtypes). It's all frighteningly symmetrical.
JL: And yet, it doesn't seem contrived. Gurdjieff did not first come up with an idea and then worked the numbers to make them fit.
PO: I also think that Gurdjieff hit the nail on the head with his description of the Enneagram as "unity in diversity." At the level of our human community there is great potential here. When we can use this system to enter into the experience of another person, particularly someone with whom we might have very little in common, someone who may offend us or irritate us or worse, we have the possibility of building bridges rather than walls. So I would say that the essence of the Enneagram is found in how it is being used. On one hand it's the best road map to psychological and spiritual growth that I have found. As both a seeker and a therapist that's impressive to me, and I've tried a lot of things. And on the other hand it can be a tremendous agent of peace and cooperation in the world as people both work on themselves and come to understand others.
As an Eight, I grew up experiencing the world as a place of conflict. Learning to manage this conflict and turn it in the direction of evolution and the greater good has been very important to me. Personally the Enneagram helps me re-direct what could be very destructive Eight energy toward building better relationships and a better world. Maybe the simplest way to say it is that it helps me not get so mad at other people and myself.
JL: These are the good sides of the Enneagram, do you see a downside?
PO: You asked about the best of it and the worst of it. I think that the best of the Enneagram is that it fits with and empowers people in most, maybe all, spiritual traditions, and I include things like secular humanism and social justice here as well. I believe that when we use it properly it helps us appreciate and hold compassion for each person, to see each of us as more than a personality and more than a set of habitual reactions.
Gurdjieff said that we have to let go of "unnecessary suffering" so we can get to the real suffering in life. We can perhaps get beyond our own neurosis, which is in itself a necessary step in human evolution, to the more existential, and essential, issues of life. These would surely include our connections to the people around us, to the planet as a whole, and to some kind of larger and universal spirit, however we define that.
JL: And the worst of it?
PO: The worst of the Enneagram movement is the appropriation of this powerful technology for our own selfish purposes. Whether that's me using it to get back at my wife, or using it to inflate my own prestige and self regard. Or having the most elaborate theory or the most successful public event. It's true that the Enneagram gets misused, and people get hurt. However there's a saying that sometimes the devil doesn't know for whom he works. Even ignoble intentions or ill-considered applications can spread seeds of the real work and open a door for those who are interested. I hardly ever see a use of the Enneagram that doesn't involve more good than harm, despite what The Guardians of the Inner Work have to say.
The Via Negativa
JL: Did you start out with these directions?
PO: When I started with the Enneagram, it was definitely in the tradition of the "via negativa," or the Negative Path. My teacher explained it to me as a kind of scrubbing operation - you scrub away at everything that is false and neurotic and eventually what is real and essential shines through. You don't go directly to the positive stuff because it's so easy to aggrandize, to pretend, to try to leap over the problem areas and only focus on the good. This had a lot of appeal for me at a time when I was surrounded by the worst excesses of the "via positiva" here in the Bay Area in terms of the New Age and all the hype and deceit involved. Of course it meant that the Enneagram was a hard sell. Why do all this hard work on your personality when you could just meditate on white light, or take psychedelics, or dance yourself into a transcendental state? Or do one of a hundred things that guaranteed enlightenment. In the rush for consumer dollars the claims had become more and more exaggerated. And it seemed for a while that every neighborhood had its wannabe guru and spiritual teacher with an obnoxious personality and dangerous dark side.
JL: Nobody likes to bite the bullet before all other options and shortcuts have been exhausted.
PO: So our early Enneagram work was tough stuff indeed. We were all fallen from a state of essence (this part of us was good) into personality (this part of us was bad). This was like combining the Christian notion of original sin, plus the dark view of psychoanalysis and the even darker view of the Gurdjieffians that we are all terminally asleep. According to the Enneagram, people were really screwed up and we were all going to hell or something. You can see this dark view still in Claudio Naranjo's books. He writes great stuff, but it's way over on the dark side. I imagine it'sa combination of his psychoanalytic training and his Fiveness. By the way it's wonderful that Claudio is still teaching, and he deserves tremendous recognition as the "mother" of the Enneagram, even if the rest of us are taking it in different directions. For those who are interested, the early Enneagram work that Claudio presented can be found in Sandra Maitri's book "The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram." This is the traditionally severe view of the types, lots of what's wrong with us plus a few rays of hope for spiritual development. There's great stuff for those who can handle it. But it's not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for beginners. Rohr and Ebert have taken a more balanced approach with their book "The Enneagram - a Christian Perspective." I like the tone of their book a lot. There is a lot of compassion there.
JL: So you think there should be a more positive or encouraging approach?
PO: All that via negativa work was useful for me. Certainly as an Eight I could benefit from having my ego shrunk and my habits of everything challenged. But I was also tough enough to resist it at times and laugh it off when I needed to. Looking back I can see that some people got too many negative messages and were hurt by it. At this point I'm clear that we need (or at least I want) to use a balanced approach, a combination of via negativa and via positiva. It's the right thing to do to appreciate and even celebrate people as well as criticize. Especially in my work with the subtypes I'm finding a way to open up a better understanding and appreciation of people on their path in life - their great projects, their stories, their dramas. And I think we will see more of the kind of thing that Judith Searle has achieved so brilliantly in her book "The Literary Enneagram." The system opens up the great human stories and human tragedies. Every life has meaning. Every life counts.
JL: Judith did a superb job of gathering descriptions of all types by the world's greatest literary minds, very powerful.
PO: Of course the Enneagram has a life of its own and we don't have a whole lot of control about its development. We can see that as it moved beyond its early audience of dedicated spiritual seekers to a much wider population, it has necessarily been mediated and brought into balance so that it can be received and learned by people at all stages of development. The old guard would say we are watering it down, using it superficially, etc. Actually, I'm a great believer in using the Enneagram superficially. I'm willing to talk to all kinds of people - even those with very short attention spans like teenagers and business managers - about this fascinating system that can help us communicate better with one another, help us get along and reduce unnecessary conflict. Just the idea that people are different makes a contribution. People can learn something important even if it's superficial. And there are always a few people who will be interested in going much further.
JL: Besides every journey starts where we happen to be at. It's a mark of a good teacher who talks to students at their level.
PO: One of the basic elements of effective communication is that you have to speak, or write, in ways that people can hear. So there's nothing wrong with adapting the Enneagram to different audiences. When my friend Susan Forster and I started teaching the system to business audiences in the early 90's, we quickly discovered, as many others have, that the emphasis had to be shifted from personal growth to professional development and effectiveness. The language itself had to change, which is why we wrote our simple handbook for the workplace, "Transformational Leadership," which has been absolutely essential for me in presenting to business groups over the years.
If we cover the basics of the nine types in a couple hours we can move more quickly to the applications. I like having a short list of practical suggestions for business people; "If you are this type, then here is a list of things to do to improve your effectiveness in key areas such as communication, decision making, etc." There are different levels of learning possible. With more time we can do more. Another example of this kind of specialized training tool is the excellent video produced by David Daniels and Helen Palmer for PBS TV. Some people, dedicated to deep work with the Enneagram, will see that show and think it's superficial. But hey, it's the quick view of the Enneagram in one hour, and it will be seen by many, many people, some of whom will be attracted to the deeper work.
Eights and Fairness Issues
JL: So tell us how you got started with the Enneagram.
PO: My Enneagram studies started in 1978 in Berkeley after having spent five years already in what was then the holistic health movement. I was very involved in body therapies, particularly Reichian based, bioenergetic therapies. (That's from Wilhelm Reich, not Reiki). As a young Eight I gravitated towards the body therapies because that's what I needed. I was a very angry young man with a lot of tension and body armor. Talk style counseling and psychology only went so far for me.
Today I get feedback from people that I don't seem angry enough to be an Eight, which of course makes me mad at them. But I think I have made big changes in how I express my Eightness. For one thing, I'm not nearly so angry as I used to be. But really the deeper understanding of Eight is not about anger; it's about something else, a combination of seeking justice and having enthusiasm for life. Ichazo got it right when he titled Point Eight the "Over Justice-maker." Justice is surely important, yet as Eights we tend to get stuck on justice, or our sense of fairness, in our relationships with people and the world: making it happen, obsessing about it, feeling hurt or withdrawn if it's not the way we want it, and perhaps getting cynical, hard hearted, or revengeful. The most common form of revenge is to stop caring. I love that Phil Collins song: "I don't care anymore...."
One of the things we need to be aware of is getting past the stereotypes of the nine types and getting to more of the real essence of each of them. I used to think all Eights were forged in a traumatic and embattled childhood, and then I met a couple Eights who had happy childhoods! Now I think we're born with it and our early environment forms the personal details.
JL: Are you saying that you had a mid-life switch, the kind that Jungians say will make someone who was an extrovert the first part of life, become more introverted the second part of life? Was it that kind of transformation?
PO: I'm not aware of any dramatic mid-life transformation but I certainly had transformations earlier in life.
JL: Maybe you're just one of those afflicted with longevity who have not yet reached the mid-life point yet.
PO: Ha, ha. My major transformation began was when I was young when I immersed myself first in mental health and then in body based therapy.
JL: How did you get into that?
PO: During college I needed a job and found one running a mental health center that was funded by the State of Maryland. It was one of the early crisis intervention, peer counseling centers. I was familiar with support groups, with political organizations, but here was something different. Now I became immersed in support groups in the cause of mental health and community. In 1975 I came out to California with my partner at the time to study in the Bay Area which was then, and is still now, the world capital of the body therapies and the Holistic Health movement.
JL: Was your involvement a form of protest against the shenanigans perpetrated by the medical and mental health industry?
PO: It was both a personal quest and a new direction for my idealism. I thought this is how we're going to save the world. You know, if we can get everyone to open up to their breath, their feelings, and heal their head, heart, and body then the world will be a better place. Of course it's a bit more complicated than that.
JL: For you to believe this, something in your life must have opened you up to this.
PO: I had a radical transformation from a state of being enraged, chronically tense, and walled off emotionally to a state of greater health and a more open heart. What worked for me was being able to immerse myself in psychology and body therapy in support groups - practicing healing work almost every day. And I was fortunate enough to have people who loved me all along the way.
JL: Was your need for a lot of healing fueled by the feeling of being wound tight, or of a more philosophical nature?
PO: It was very personal for me. I knew I was in trouble, physically and emotionally. I was wound tight with anger and tension and not much good at being intimate. And I wanted health and intimacy. Coming to Berkeley in 1975 provided many opportunities. It was a good time to arrive here. We found good teachers and we were able to set up shop leading support groups. We were a good team, an Eight and a Two. Within a few years we had opened a healing arts center. Looking back I can see that I was moving to my heart point of Two, developing my emotional center, releasing a lot of pent up pain and rage, learning to be vulnerable. Of course I was a very naive Two and had a lot to learn about reintegrating that part with my Eight part. But whatever the problems, I did experience profound healing. And without this opening up I would never have been able to receive the Enneagram work.
Wilhelm Reich's Somatic Approach
JL: So it worked out for you?
PO: What was essential for me was the Reichian based, bioenergetic therapy, which provided a way to work directly with the feelings and the body. As you know I have a lot to say about somatics (body and emotions) and personality type.
Wilhelm Reich M.D. was a fascinating character, a counter phobic Six and an eccentric genius who blazed a trail of new discoveries in psychology before finally succumbing to his own paranoia late in life. He was a student of Freud's and was considered an up and comer in psychoanalysis until his ideas clashed with the old man's. He was the first psychiatrist to emphasize treating the whole person rather than simply their neurotic symptoms, which he wrote about in his book Character Analysis. He also noticed that people's psychological problems were mirrored by disturbances in their breathing and chronic patterns of tension in the body, which he called body armor. So he began touching his clients while having them do deep breathing exercises, working directly on the body armor.
Naturally this got him in a lot of hot water. He was thrown out of the Psychoanalytic Society for being too political, thrown out of the Communist Party for being to concerned with sex and sexual health, chased out of Germany by the Nazis, chased out of Denmark by the professional establishment there, and found asylum in the US. After a decade of teaching here he ran afoul of the FDA which burned his "orgone boxes" which he thought could help cure cancer and for good measure burned his books as well. Quite a remarkable achievement! In the US we don't like to think of ourselves as book burners. Reich was imprisoned for "contempt of court" and died in prison in 1957 at the age of 60.
His life is a great study in how the paranoid personality tends to create personal opposition and threat in life. On the other hand, people were really out to get him. As a political activist, scientific researcher, and radical therapist he rocked the boat in a big way. Although mostly forgotten by now, he is a seminal figure in psychology. His ideas on character structure, life energy in the body (what he called orgone we are more familiar with as prana or chi), body armor, and somatics in general underlie many of our current schools of practice.
Reichian style work is powerful but can be invasive and poorly attuned to the client. Combining it with the Enneagram, as well as more recent, advanced body therapies, makes it an extremely valuable way to work on opening up the emotional and instinctual centers. Part of my mission is to bring this somatic work to the Enneagram community, but now I feel myself getting on the soapbox again. One thing that was so exciting for me about the Enneagram was seeing it as a holistic system, one that articulated three centers or three vital aspects of people and character structure.
Meeting the Enneagram in 1978
JL: When did you begin your Enneagram work?
PO: I first met the Enneagram in 1978. My partner and I got a phone call from Helen Palmer who said, "Go check out this class that's happening." Like many of our peers in Berkeley, we valued Helen as a counselor, a teacher of meditation, and a generally wise person and we had been participating in her classes in developing intuition. So when Helen called with her recommendation we said "of course," not having a clue what it was about. This was the first Enneagram class available to the public, taught by Kathleen Riordan Speeth Ph.D. At first I thought this was very interesting stuff, people studying psychology and talking about themselves on panels. I stood around in the back of the room with my buddies and then we got to Eight night and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here were people talking about my experience in life and now all of a sudden I had a place in the human community. I went from feeling alienated, in spite of being in a leadership role, to feel that I was understood and for the most part accepted. From that moment on I was sold on the Enneagram.
JL: How did that change things for you?
PO: Actually, at the time my first marriage was breaking up and I began an intensive period of therapy and Enneagram study with Kathleen Speeth, which lasted for the next eight years. The Enneagram gave my wife and I insight into what was going on, what wasn't working, and helped to depersonalize things. It removed a lot of the blame. Not everyone is aware of Dr. Speeth's contribution to the Enneagram work, but she was one of the main people who developed the Enneagram as a modern psychological system. She was Claudio Naranjo's partner for a period of time and was instrumental in helping him organize his SAT (Seekers After Truth) program back in the early 70's. Not only did she have a brilliant intellect and a Ph.D. from Columbia, she also had a very developed emotional center with which she could profoundly affect and evoke a large roomful of people.
For many years we hosted her classes and workshops at our Center for Human Growth in Berkeley and were immersed in deep psychological work with the Enneagram as a road map. There was a class every week and workshops on many of the weekends. Ironically perhaps, Dr. Speeth has long since disavowed the Enneagram and considers it a distraction from the real work of human development.
JL: Were the basic theories pretty well developed then?
PO: Yes, it had been developed as a modern psychological system by Naranjo and Speeth. They were talking about it in terms of psychological types and the DSM, object relations theory, Freud and Jung, the Gurdjieff work and other spiritual traditions. Most of the audience at that time were therapists or people with long practices in meditation or spiritual work, a very sophisticated group of students. We were applying the system in our personal lives, our relationships, and our work with clients. It was quite a laboratory of sorts.
JL: Did you have any contact with the Aricans at the time?
PO: There were no Aricans in those classes, but we had conversations with people who had been involved in Arica work.
JL: Were they giving you a hard time?
PO: They weren't, no. It wasn't until a few years down the road that I got a threatening letter from Ichazo's lawyer in NYC asking us to justify ourselves: "How could we be teaching this system, didn't we know Ichazo had it copyrighted," and so on. It was a letter sent to anyone who was publicly teaching it. That was in 1981 or 1982, I had a study group at the time. It was a few years later that Helen Palmer faced down the Arica lawyers in Federal Court in New York and by winning the copyright suit against her Enneagram book opened the door for all of us subsequent authors and teachers.
JL: Were you aware of how many Catholics were using the Enneagram?
PO: Not at all during those early years. We figured this was the Enneagram world, here in Berkeley. People were studying at my center, at the YWCA with Helen, and in a few local graduate schools. We had no idea it was moving around the world via the Catholic community; there were no channels of communication there. I did meet Bob Ochs one time. He is like the St. Paul figure who took what he learned from Claudio to Loyola University in Chicago and from there it went all around the Catholic world. But it wasn't until years later that we met up with the Catholic Enneagram people and it was quite a surprise.
JL: Were they learning the same kind of Enneagram?
PO: Not at first. The first Enneagram book was put out by Nogosek, Beesing and O'Leary. That little book showed up in 1984 and it was interesting, but it wasn't the same Enneagram we were learning at the time.
JL: As far as you were concerned, was that book outdated or did it just have different information?
PO: It had the basic understanding of the types, but the way that it was presented in so much of a Christian context, it was clearly a different approach. The basic outline was there and the basic terms as they have been ever since Ichazo came up with them in the late 60's. (And let's give Ichazo credit for starting the whole thing, even if he's unhappy with how it's progressed). We all were familiar with his basic terms; in fact our early terminology for the types included the Flats [ego flattery=2], the Go's (ego go=3), the Venges [ego vengeance=8], the Melans [ego melancholy=4], the Resents [ego resentment=1], the Stinges [ego stinginess=5], etc.
JL: I liked Cow [ego cowardice=6].
PO: When we hit that short label "Cow" we learned we had to switch off of that and started to call them Sixes. Referring to Sixes as cows or cowards was too mean-spirited, too lop-sided and too negative. We started to evolve a new language and are continuing to evolve it, I'm happy to say. While it was clear that it was Ichazo's brilliant matrix that started the whole thing, it seemed to us that the Aricans were using the Enneagram in a way that didn't fit with what we knew about the personality type. For example, the way you originally learned your type was sending a photo to Ichazo who would be able to determine it by facial diagnosis. While there are indeed correlations between facial characteristics and type, we preferred then, and still do now, to find type through psychological data. Preferably with individuals themselves making the ultimate decision about their type. Also the Aricans used the system in a spiritual or cosmic context of Ichazo's, not a psychological context.
JL: Yes, the Aricans use the system differently.
PO: Anyway, what was important in those beginning years was the development of the panel method. It was Claudio Naranjo who first started interviewing people. He was teaching the Enneagram at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley and started asking questions of the audience and then conducting short interviews with people who identified with a particular type. That method was picked up and continued by both Kathleen Speeth and Helen Palmer.
JL: I guess most readers are familiar with this method. Were you using the same?
PO: I think the panel method is still the best way to teach the system, although I use many different kinds of formats depending on the audience. As you know, it's a very complex thing and deserves more time and attention than any class can provide. It has to be discussed, debated, thought about, felt about, used in daily life. Probably most of the learning happens outside of class. What was invaluable for me was being part of a community of Enneagram enthusiasts, actually I still am, with constant conversation and practice. It has also been a tool I have used with my counseling and bodywork clients for 24 years, so I have seen how it works through real people time and time again. This gives me a good perspective and a good sense of what parts of the theory are useful, accurate and what parts need to be more loosely held or loosely applied.
Moving to the Heart Point
JL: Does anything in particular come to mind?
PO: Well, I think we're mostly on the same page. As you were saying earlier, before the tape was running, the things that tend to work will survive, those which don't work will gradually fall by the wayside. That's what happens when people are doing deep inner work on themselves. I have worked with every type, and every one of the 27 subtypes, so I can bring to mind experiences with real people and the stories of their lives, their struggles to express themselves and to overcome their suffering.
Certain aspects of the theory have been borne out time and time again. For example, I know that when people are engaged in deep work they tend to move to their heart point or security point. Now this was originally called the decompensation point. In regular psychology decompensation is a negative word. You don't want people to decompensate, it's a bad thing. But according to the Enneagram there is a kind of falling apart, a letting go of defenses which has a big positive value. I have come to appreciate and to anticipate this movement to the heart point which I consider to be a very important part of the healing journey for most of us.
JL: How would you define conditions of safety and security?
PO: It varies for different people; some people seem to have quicker access to their heart point than others. It is really different depending on the person in front of you. But often when people are engaged in deep inner work they will move to their heart/security point.
JL: In other words, when a person's life situation is safe, they automatically move to their heart point?
PO: Well, certain kinds of safety, not just safe because they have enough food in the refrigerator.
JL: OK, I meant an all-round sense of safety including emotional sustenance and being in tune with a deeper purpose.
PO: Yes, what's good about calling it the heart point is it implies that there is an emotional passage involved. People have to pass through their important feeling states in order to get to their heart point.
JL: So you say that every type's heart point is the access door to their heart or emotions?
PO: It may be the door to their emotions, or the door to their deeper emotions, or the door to the "heart of the matter."
JL: Regardless if you already happen to be a Heart Type, say a Three, who would move to Six, the mental center to find heart...?
PO: Right, since Threes pass through a layer of grief related to their loss of self and they get to fear and anxiety at Six. Why is this good for Threes? Because they can develop interiority, they can think about the big issues in life, they can make informed choices instead of running off to do the bidding of whoever will give them the most money or the most prestige. It's very helpful to understand this and be able to support the Threes in this transition, otherwise it can be too weird and scary for them. But when the clarity and perception of Six is integrated back at Point Three, then we have something new, something much less compulsive and fixated. Someone is home inside that personality structure directing the show in the service of an authentic life.
This is similar to Sevens moving to Five in their heart point. To get there they have to face their primary emotional issue of fear. They also find a center inside themselves, they get to the heart of things at Five even though we don't consider Five a "feeling type" per se. So there's a difference between feeling types and the heart point. When it comes to Eights and Nines, these types do indeed move to a heart point which is also a feeling type. These are psychodynamic shifts, meaning a big change in personal experience and character structure. Using Eights and Nines as an example, all of a sudden these obsessive body types become more full of feeling, more "hysterical." But it's good for us obsessives to be a bit more hysterical and let our feelings spill out, as long as it'snot about controlling things. On the other hand, Fives and Sixes move to a more embodied and grounded state at their heart points.
JL: For years there have been mixed opinions about the arrows, the direction of integration and disintegration. Claudio himself said that he was merely playing with possibilities when he drew arrows indicating a direction, and he was surprised what was made of it years later. Currently, the most common point of view seems to be that "integration or disintegration can occur in either direction of the lines, it depends what you make of it."
PO: We can experience both the positive and negative qualities of the security and stress points, but there are differences between the two directions, probably related to the movement of energy around the diagram. We seem to "move forward" to the stress point and "fall back" to the security point. I now think of the stress point as a resource point. We can get pushed there under certain kinds of stress, but we can also go there to access a particular resource. Just think of Sixes moving to Three and you will see the advantages. There is definitely a positive side to it, or at least there can be. However, being at this resource point is stressful, and we probably shouldn't stay there too long. In contrast, moving to the security/heart point has a very different flavor, one that seems to involve relaxation of some kind. And though we can certainly get into trouble with the negative side of this point, it almost always opens up possibilities for growth that are not as easy at our home point.
JL: In your experience when people do move to the heart point is it usually to the higher side?
PO: No doubt people move to their heart point in many different ways. But when it occurs in the context of inner work, therapy, or spiritual development I would say that in my experience we are more likely to access the high side. I know for myself that spending a lot of time in Two was extremely valuable for me, yet I had some of the usual problems of Two as well - being too helpful, too nice, emotionally intrusive, etc. So there was plenty of work there for me. But it's a small price to pay in the big picture. What is important for Eights, and the people around us, is to understand this shift when it occurs. There is something of a setup here. For example, when Eights move to Two and open up emotional communication they are likely to get a lot of stored up resentment from others. Or people just aren't used to treating the Eights more gently in this new, vulnerable space. Then the Eights say, "Well I opened up my heart and I got my feelings hurt." Like duh! Welcome to the land of feelings. What is needed is a different kind of communication. The story is a bit different for each personality type, but you get the idea.
JL: No pain no gain?
Moving to the Stress Point
JL: How does it work for you as an Eight moving to your stress point?
PO: Well if there is too much conflict, too much going on it means I have created too many conflicts and I'm going to move to point Five. My demeanor changes, my behavior changes, my inner emotional state changes and I become more like a Five. I want more privacy, more space to myself, I want to withdraw from contact and conflict, I go up into my head, I want to reduce the amount of emotional and instinctual energy that is running around inside my body and I become more withdrawn and more cerebral. Now, there is potentially some advantage for me, there are resources for me there, because maybe I can think more strategically. I can pick up some of the perception or discernment of a Five as long as I am not taken over by the paranoia and schizoid withdrawal. But it is somewhat uncomfortable, or stressful, and it has a very different feel to it than going to the heart point.
JL: So, it is outer circumstances that push you, not an inner decision that pulls you?
PO: Not always.
JL: So you can consciously choose to go to Five?
PO: Yea, I go to Five a little bit everyday. For example, I try spend at least an hour walking in the park by myself.
JL: That is a conscious decision that you made, but you may or may not be in Five, you could be stomping along and fuming as a red-blooded Eight and yet walking alone in the park.
PO: Well, it is a combination but certainly there is enough Five in it. Let's put it this way, the only other people I see walking out there on the path are usually Fives. They certainly don't want to talk to me, but that's OK since I'm being an Eight in Five.
There is also the idea that we oscillate back and forth all the time on these lines. Not only can we see big dynamic shifts when we move to our resource point or our heart point; we also move back and forth on these lines from one moment to the next. Gurdjieff said the Enneagram is a system in motion, perpetual motion. What's most important is that we tie the theory to people's actual experience.
JL: So it always boils down to what really works for you.
PO: Right, it's the most useful tool for understanding what is going on with ourselves and with other people. For me the Enneagram is an expression of my social and political values. Like many of the EM readers, I believe it can be a powerful force in the world for reducing conflict and promoting cooperation and tolerance.
Enneagram Styles in the Culture
JL: But it would always have to be on the individual level.
PO: I think it can happen in groups and communities too. It does imply that people have to take responsibility for their own personality, their style of communication, their style of behaving towards others. And here is a very accurate lens to focus all this, to keep it right in our attention.
JL: It is easier to look at a single individual and say he or she is acting because of such and such a fixation. It is harder to have a collective view of a group or even a nation, such as "Americans act mostly as Threes, the Japanese like Sixes."
PO: Well I think there is truth in that too. For example, I have a relationship with the Seven culture of the Bay Area. It's more than just being with individuals. Sevens collectively have a very strong presence in California and here in the Bay Area. Other types are pulled in to their value system and point of view. I have been attracted to and repelled by this Seven cultural force for years. I like the positive attitude and the expansive outlook toward life. Why shouldn't we make the most of our potential and think in new ways? However, I have big trouble with the ungrounded quality and the just plain foolishness about "create your own reality" and the over reliance on the imagination. People may be suggestible, but the physical laws of the universe are not amenable to positive thinking - things like gravity, death, etc. Still, I respect the Sevens and their abilities to enjoy life and capitalize on the new possibilities of the information age.
JL: Yeah, that's right, according to you historically we live in the era of Sevens.
PO: After 9/11, it seems that the Sixes are in the ascendancy. But the whole dot com phenomenon is a good example of a Seven-style boom and bust cycle that was so inflated. It's not just the computer industry; we see a big Seven influence in many aspects of our culture - the information age with huge amounts of visual and oral stimulation and the promise of the good life with limitless options for fun and personal choice. Other character structures are having big difficulties with this and are resisting in their own way. The Ones are definitely putting up a big fight for their own style and values. But the dot com explosion was certainly led by Sevens.
JL: Now you tell me, after my high-tech stock nest egg is worth pennies and still in free-fall.
PO: I'm sorry. At least you did not go around to all your friends and family convincing them to also invest. Or did you?
JL: Well, thank God my friends had enough self preservation sense to not listen to me too much, but those that did listen to me are doing what I do - they dread looking at how the market is doing and pray it will turn.
PO: Well that's the problem with Seven style hype - over-inflated expectations and promises without any kind of grounded follow through.
JL: Arrgh, now that my crest just fell with a thud, let's change subjects, away from the pain called dot com.
The Three Centers
PO: I would like to talk about the three centers, somatic work, and some of the current stuff I am doing.
JL: OK, bless you, let's go.
PO: I'm very committed to talking about the Enneagram as a holistic system. EM readers may be familiar with some of my previous articles and I hope that more are on the way. My main point is that along with personality, or what we see as the social persona, the Enneagram offers us a deep view of character structure based on the three centers. There are mental types, feeling types, and body types, and we are all put together on that basis. Even though we have all three centers, one is predominant for our type and our internal structure.
By the way, it's interesting to see how the new brain research identifies three parts of the brain: instincts are governed by the brain stem, emotions by the limbic system, and mental functioning by the neo-cortex. It looks like Gurdjieff's description of three "brains" was more than some kind of esoteric lore.
When talking about the three centers I like to use Gurdjieff's metaphor of the carriage being pulled by a team of horses to illustrate this. The carriage represents our body, and it has to be in good shape to get us where we want to go. If the wheels are falling off, or the suspension is flat, we've got a problem. We need to keep the carriage in good condition. The team of horses represents the emotions. They can run away in the wrong direction, get out of control, or they can be reined in too severely and not move with their natural vitality. It makes sense to befriend the horses and feed them well, to trust in their good spirit rather than use a whip. The coachman represents the mental center. If he or she is awake and paying attention, working well with the horses, the journey will stay on track. We travel in the right direction. And then there's a passenger inside the carriage that Gurdjieff called our inner essence.
I think it's important to remember that most of the world runs on emotion and instinct. Psychologies in general, perhaps many forms of spiritual work also, have a lot to say about working with the mind but tend to come up short in terms of methodologies or techniques for working with feelings and instincts. We need to include all three centers not only in our analysis and conversation but also in our practice. Helen Palmer refers to this kind of approach when she talks about centers practices, or addressing each of the three centers in a program of inner work and spiritual development. Certainly we start with self awareness, a function of the mental center, but that's just the beginning. Let's include working with the body/instincts and the emotions as well as the mind. There are really good techniques available to us now, much more effective than what people had in the past, for opening and developing the body and the feelings. However most of the best techniques have been developed by specialists who tend to go overboard in championing their own system. It's up to us to put together a holistic approach based on our particular needs. I can use some yoga, but I can't or don't want to keep up with the really dedicated practitioners. I can use some meditation, but I don't have time to go on long retreats. For most of us, it's all got to fit together what Gurdjieff called a "householder" lifestyle.
One of the biggest difficulties people have is dealing with the so-called "negative emotions." For example, most people don't know how to express their anger in ways that are safe, or even friendly. Sometimes anger is a diversion, or a distortion of some other kind of feeling. But anger or aggression is part of all of us, although in different amounts to be sure. We need to deal with it directly. Another example is grief. In our culture, although it's changing, most people simply don't let themselves cry enough. Our Enneagram work will be much more effective if we are working well with our feelings and particularly the passion, or emotional habit of our type. I have lots to say about all this, but more later.
EM Interview, Part 2 - September 2002
PO: So we have been talking about the Enneagram as a holistic system with its view of three centers, or head, heart, and gut. My point is that to fully understand each of the nine personality types we need to appreciate the importance of the emotions and the instincts. Gurdjieff himself emphasized that real development has to involve the emotional center and of course he also had people working with their bodies through dance and physical labor. His "Fourth Way" system was about working with all three centers, or all three "brains."
Speaking of brains, there's a great book out - "A General Theory of Love" by three neuropsychiatrists at UCSF, Drs. Lewis, Amini, and Lannon (Random House 2000), - which talks about Dr. Paul MacClean's theory of the triune brain and the centrality of the "emotional brain" or the limbic system in human relationships. To put it briefly, the "reptilian" brain is located in the brain stem/spinal cord; it governs basic instinct, movement, etc. The "mammalian" brain is located in the limbic area; it governs our emotions and our attachments to other people. The conceptual brain is located in the neocortex, which governs all of our thinking, visualizing, and language. It would probably be too simplistic to equate the triune brain with Gurdjieff's three "brains" but it's certainly an interesting parallel.
We can see how in Western culture the mental intelligence of the neocortex has been prioritized to the "nth" degree, although since books like Daniel Goleman's "Emotional Intelligence" (Bantam 1995) have become popular, the tide may be turning. Most of us get it by now that emotional bonding is not only essential to survival of the human infant, it plays an important role throughout our lives. The capacity to form good relationships within the family and the tribe is a successful evolutionary strategy. Goleman, who by the way is quite familiar with both the Gurdjieff work and the Enneagram, extended this concept into the workplace and actually did the research to show how emotional intelligence is the key component of successful teamwork.
The Limbic System
To get back to the "General Theory" book for a moment, I find their description of "limbic attractor patterns" very congruent with our Enneagram work. It speaks directly to this business of how we affect the world around us with our feelings and our emotional attitudes and signals - yes, even the types we don't think of as being obviously emotional. Not only do we narrow our attention according to our point bias and interpret the world in a particular way, but over time we tend to actually shape the world to confirm our basic point of view, mostly unconsciously. We do this via our affect on other people. Gurdjieff talked about suggestibility being the number one "disease" of the human race. I don't know about calling it a disease, but I do know that people are indeed both suggestible and reactive most of the time.
Whether we know it or not, our personality type is constantly suggesting things to other people, shaping their responses toward us. This is hard to see since it is mostly non-rational and embedded in our character structure, the "who we are." With the Enneagram we can see how we are affecting other people as well as how they are affecting us via the personality type and all the "suggestions" that come along with it. (Tom Condon might talk about this in terms of trance states and how these states influence others).
Here's how the "General Theory" authors put it: "Limbic Attractors thus exert a distorting force not only within the brain that produces them, but also on the limbic networks of others - calling forth compatible memories, emotional states, and styles of relatedness in them. Through the limbic transmission of an Attractor's influence, one person can lure others into his emotional virtuality." I like that line - we "lure" others into our emotional world and vice versa. There's nothing new about this except that it is becoming more and more scientifically validated. This is what we called the "vibes" back when we were hippies. People's emotional vibrations, communicated through voice and body language as well as verbally, have a powerful affect on others. The Enneagram lays all this out by type.
JL: Our good friend Alan Wise says that most of our decisions are made from the limbic system. It had something to with observations he did during countless operations he performed while he was a busy surgeon. Apparently a body wide open on the table in front of him has an added dose of basic honesty.
PO: Well good for Alan, who is a Five, getting the importance of the "emotional brain." Sometimes we come to terms with what is not inherently in our makeup or professional training. It would be great if more physicians understood the importance of limbic relating, although in managed care systems they hardly have time to develop much empathic contact with their patients. One pioneer in this area is Dr. Dean Ornish, whose book "Love & Survival" (Harper/Collins 1998) breaks new ground in scientifically validating what many of us have known for years - people live longer, healthier, and happier lives if they have good supplies of intimacy, interconnectedness, and belonging.
It seems that the field of medicine, as well as psychology, has been moving in the direction of a more holistic or at least inclusive view of the power of emotions to affect our health. For example, I was happy to see that the AMA not long ago "approved" the value of crying as a contributing factor to physical health if only as a release of tension. This is a "far cry" from the "don't cry" messages that many of us received in our youth. (The AMA is only a couple of decades behind the times on this one).
The Lead Center
JL: We sometimes tend to forget that all three centers are operational in us even if we prefer using one over the others. Which brings me to think how it appears to be easier to introduce people to the notion of three centers before talking about nine types.
PO: I think it's a great way to open up the study of the enneagram, starting with the three basic types of personality and the three basic strategies for survival and success. We don't choose these strategies consciously, but rather they emerge from a somatic, pre-verbal sense of identity and patterning. All of this results from our innate temperament and personal destiny as well as our early environment. Mental types want to figure things out, to navigate in the world through knowledge, agreement, or positive planning. Where mental types tend to believe "I think therefore I am," feeling types say "I relate, therefore I am." They are organized around succeeding (or not) in relationship by earning the approval of others through authenticity, productivity, or personal connection. And the body types use, and over use, the energy of the instinctual center to organize their experience and try to control their environment. I'll include myself here. We just know how things are supposed to be, and we'll get angry if it's not right! Of course there are three different versions of right.
It's true that each of the nine personality types has its own particular style and ruling archetype, but at the deeper level of character structure there are basic similarities within the three groups. For example, our defense mechanisms are based on the lead center. Sixes use projection to avoid and reduce their own feelings and impulses and instead "see" them in other people. Their feelings end up channeled and controlled by the intellect. In contrast, the introjection defense mechanism of the Fours appropriates their emotional receptivity to bring in messages from other people or the environment and install them inside. Emotional energy is intensified. And to include a body type, Nines harness the rhythmic energy of the instinctual center to "fall asleep" in repeating patterns of thinking and doing. Anyone can narcotize themselves, but the Nines are the experts in this department.
JL: Do you think that people who are first learning the Enneagram can identify their lead center?
PO: Well it doesn't always work. For example, we know that Nines are body types but they can out of touch with their bodies. They may think they are feeling types or thinking types depending on their personal style. And often people who are mental types will identify themselves as coming from their emotional center because to them, their feelings are very strong and important. But usually it all works out with a little more study. There's another interesting aspect of starting with the triangle points that is related to Gurdjieff's Law of Three.
The Law of Three
JL: You mean type Three, Six and Nine?
PO: Well it begins with these points on the diagram. Gurdjieff was talking about qualities of energy, not human beings per se, but there's a very useful concept here that most people intuitively understand. It has to do with the three primary forces that are involved in every activity or event. Whenever we set something in motion - it could be changing an old habit, starting a new practice or activity, or beginning a new project at work - things don't just move forward in a smooth way. We quickly run into obstacles of some kind. It could be our own internal resistance or it could be conflict with others or limitations in the environment. From the perspective of the Law of Three, these obstacles are not only predictable, they are necessary for the further development or refinement of the project. We need to accept and manage these opposing forces in order to create a good dialogue or a good dialectic so that we can get to a higher level result. With the right attention, a "third force" comes into action to provide resolution. One way to explain this is in terms of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis.
This is true for all types, this three part process, although some personalities are more comfortable with one of the forces or would like to avoid one of them. What's fascinating is that we can see the influence of these forces in the human archetypes and personalities that appear at the triangle points. Threes are full of that go forward, initiating energy that is associated with Gurdjieff's "Holy Affirming" force. We also know that Threes have a blind spot around seeing potential problems or other people's resistance to their agenda. Sixes on the other hand have plenty of "Holy Denying" energy which is so useful in deepening and developing projects. They say to the Threes, "Wait a minute; we have to think about the problems, create a strategy, etc." Their issue is they find it easier to react and resist instead of initiating themselves.
And our beloved Nines somehow embody the quality of "Holy Reconciling" with their harmonizing, mediating energy. Their issue is that they tend to move toward resolution prematurely, not allowing a good dialectic or struggle between the initating and opposing forces because they are so uncomfortable with conflict. This is especially true when it comes to their own inner conflicts. Things get resolved too quickly or are forgotten about. So here on the great triangle we have the go getters, the skeptics, and the mediators, the people of "Holy Yes," "Holy No," and "Holy Maybe."
Personality Type and Body Therapy
JL: Let's talk about how you use the Enneagram in your practice as a counselor and body therapist.
PO: Well, as many practitioners who are drawn to the Enneagram understand, one of the great benefits of the system is realizing how we can tailor our approach to the individual.
JL: Regardless if it's a somatic or psychological approach?
PO: Yes, perhaps it's even more important when we talk about a somatic approach because there is immediate contact through physical contact. The way that I touch people has to be guided by an appreciation of their personality type and their character structure. I have to touch people differently. Any good practitioner knows that already, they don't need the Enneagram per se, but the Enneagram does give us a wonderful tool for discerning type.
JL: Elaborate a bit on that. Here you have a person on the table in front of you. How do you make type enter into what you do?
PO: Well, my own experience as a Eight was that I was over-bounded, I had too much muscular armor and needed a lot of deep massage and very strong encouragement to express my feelings. Although it's something of a generalization, Eights usually need a high level of intervention; subtlety may escape us. I'm not saying we can't become more subtle, but when an Eight is in their fixation and closed down, they need to be confronted, they need to be contacted in a very direct way. You have to be able to go up against them and challenge them on their rigid positions and attitudes, not just intellectually, but also how they hold them in their body. (This of course shifts entirely when the Eight suddenly goes to Two).
With Fives, it's almost the opposite, you can't go charging in as you might with an Eight. If you do that the Five will retreat and simply go up into their heads, vacating the premises so to speak. You have to proceed very carefully and very gently (at least until they go to Eight in their heart point). What often works best is to invite them to come forward and meet you at the point of contact. This reminds me of Marion Rosen's work. She's the founder of a new school of bodywork here in Berkeley called Rosenwork which is a very non-invasive, gentle technique. Reportedly, she's a Five herself. This style works well for many people who have experienced trauma, but it also works very well for Fives in general because it's very non-intrusive and you only touch the person in so far as they can be present and integrate the contact. I had a session of Rosenwork once with very mixed results. It was good, it was nurturing, but it just drove me nuts. I need to be touched and worked with much more firmly, much more strongly.
JL: How about some other examples?
PO: With a Six it helps to create a clear context and procedures. I remember working with several Sixes early in my career where I made the mistake of being much too vague. I overestimated their willingness to sense their bodies. So here they were lying down on the table, breathing, getting more and more alarmed and anxious at the lack of structure. They'd ask me "what I am supposed to do, what is supposed to happen?" and I'd just say "well let's see what emerges." I wasn't creating enough structure or security for them early in the process. (One of them actually jumped up off the table and ran out of the room, never to return!)
On the other side of Six, the counterphobics, which includes Reich, the founders of bioenergetics, and probably Janov the primal scream guy, there's also difficulty with allowing things to happen. They want to push it all out. There's lots of great methodology here, and it's sometimes absolutely appropriate to push oneself or push the client toward emotional release. People are experts at avoiding things they don't want to feel. They can benefit from being challenged directly, which the CP Sixes excel at. But there are also times when pushing doesn't work, or is re-traumatizing. We still see Sixes, although not as much today, who go immediately into expressive patterns (like primal screaming) and avoid any kind of receptivity or simply being in their bodies and tolerating the sensations and feelings that are there.
I probably said this already, but we have to be aware of the movement on the lines to wing points, the stress point, and especially to the heart point. When conditions are right, when the work is going well, people tend to shift dramatically as they go to their heart point and we suddenly have a different emotional structure in front of us. Like when the Ones relax into the flow of life energy and start talking rapidly and somewhat fearfully (at Seven), or the Nines shift from holding it all deep in the belly and start to breath into the chest where there are lots of uncomfortable feelings and sensations (going to Three). Or when the Fives hit their lust and aggression at Eight, or the Fours get angry and critical at One, well then as a practitioner you have to switch gears.
It's not just practitioners who see the movement to the heart point. Anybody in a long term intimate relationship understands this implicitly. We have to be able to notice and adapt to these kind of dynamic shifts in our partner. Suddenly we're in a different ballgame. Sometimes both people shift to the heart point. That can make for some interesting challenges. In my marriage, I sometimes find myself as a compliant Two being bossed around by my wife Pat when she is in her heart point of One. She is being critical and throwing her weight around from her belly. I'm trying to be nice and helpful, at least until I reach my limit and snap back to Eight! But I do enjoy her being down in her body center and the wonderful integration of Point Four and Point One that is possible there.
EM Interview, Part 3 - October 2002
PO: So we were talking about the way people move on the lines of the Enneagram and how relationships are affected by this.
JL: This is a good point, that people change their style when they are in relationships - it leads us to discourage the practice of typing someone and then expecting them to behave always in an expected pattern. Even if correctly typed, we need to allow a person to move in various direction, with or against the arrows, maybe leaning on the wings, whatever.
PO: It's less dramatic with the wings since they are like the house next door and we can visit without a huge shift in structure. Kathy Speeth once gave a brilliant talk describing each of the types as a combination of the two types on either side. No one can do it was well as she could.
JL: That's straight from Oscar Ichazo.
PO: Yes, that's from Ichazo, but Speeth could do it with the psychological language and bring it to life with all her experience as a clinical psychologist.
JL: So do you have any idea what happened to her. Did she just suddenly stopped believing in it? Did she get burned out or what?
PO: She was never enamoured with the Enneagram itself but for a period of time her feeling was that it was the outer edge of something, that some people actually would come to the real work via the Enneagram. Then in the late 1980's she decided to stop teaching the Enneagram and she eventually came to the position that it was not helpful to people. I respect her position although I certainly don't agree. I'm just grateful that I was able to learn the Enneagram with her along with so much good psychology. I credit my work with her for keeping me on the path during a very difficult time - the end of my first marriage - when I could have run off to become an embittered and cynical Eight, or maybe a very stinged out Five. In fact, I was able to keep my heart open and before long was ready to marry my current wife Pat. We've been together for 23 years now and have three great kids. Pat is a Four, and we are very clear that as a Four/Eight couple from not very functional families we wouldn't have made it without the Enneagram. It's powerful, practical stuff that helps us take responsibility for our own material while being able to see the other more clearly.
JL: I guess it's a case of digging up the old saying that there are no perfect teachers unless the student is perfect. Apparently a student can choose which teachings to assimilate. This could explain why so many gurus may have lousy reputations around sex, money and power and yet can have students progressing in leaps and bounds. It reminds me vaguely of the story of seeds falling on fertile or barren ground. Talking about seeds, three kids must have added a further incentive to use the Enneagram to your Four/Eight couple.
PO: As other parents know, it's a big help with raising kids. We can accept them for who they are, appreciate their differences, and yet still intervene when their type gets the better of them. This is particularly valuable when the kids show up as different types than the parents. So much unnecessary conflict can be avoided, saving our energy for the real issues. There are a lot of kids now who are growing up with the Enneagram, and more power to them. I suppose that some of them will rebel and leave the system at the door when they leave home. But it might also be seen as a vital part of their education, as basic psychological training. Many of the kids pick it up very quickly. They are acutely aware of the similarities and differences in their peer group. I hope someday we will have an Enneagram conference focused on families and kids. It should be interesting to hear what the kids have to say.
JL: We hear so little about Kathy Speeth lately. How would you describe her, just a nutshell sketch for those who occasionally run into references about her and have no clue who she is.
PO: She was a brilliant teacher and a very powerful presence on the transpersonal psychology scene. Her parents had been very involved in the Gurdjieff work and she had met him as a child. For those who are interested, her little book, "The Gurdjieff Work" (Tarcher 1989), is absolutely the best, clearest introduction to this material. Kathy had studied with many of the leading teachers in the 1960's and 70's and was a great synthesizer. When I met her in 1978 she was separated from her partnership with Claudio Naranjo and was teaching the Enneagram at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology as well as public classes. She had a formidable intellect combined with a strong feminine presence. In terms of the Enneagram, she was a Type Three (she would of course hate to be labeled a type). She was always very busy and productive and led many groups, taught numerous classes, and saw a large number of patients in her practice as a clinical psychologist. My understanding is that she has retired from her work and has moved out of the Bay Area. I'm sure she wants to be a very private person and would not welcome the attentions of the Enneagram community.
JL: There was that talk she gave at the 1994 Stanford Enneagram Conference where she repudiated the Enneagram.
PO: Yes, that took some guts. Here were 1300 enthusiastic Enneagram students coming to hear one of the major developers of the system and she was in effect telling us that it was no good. An interesting moment in our history. In a way I was not completely surprised. She was always oriented toward spiritual teachers, or "those who know," and she had found a teacher whose work did not include the Enneagram.
Choosing an Egalitarian Approach
As you know, many of the spiritual traditions have a hierarchical approach rather than an egalitarian one. With the Gurdjieff movement and other esoteric groups concerned with spiritual development, there is the sense that real information, the trade secrets so to speak, should only be given to those few people who have demonstrated their commitment and seriousness of purpose, preferably over many years of dedicated practice. The idea is that if you give true knowledge to the "masses" you water it down and make it useless. I don't want to get too wound up about this politically, but I have a very different view. I've been focused on equality and equal access to information all my adult life, which is why I continue to be allied with Helen Palmer and the Narrative Tradition.
Helen is very democratic in her commitment to spread the "technology" of inner work and personal development to as wide an audience as possible. She took some major risks, and took on some major battles with the traditionalists, in writing her Enneagram books and training teachers who would take the Enneagram work around the world. Of course she is not the only writer or trainer of Enneagram teachers at this point. But I'm glad to be part of a school that brings spiritual work to people at all levels of learning, including the vast group of what Gurdjieff called "householders," people who are workers, family members, parents, etc. who by temperament or circumstance need to find their spiritual practice in the midst of "ordinary" life.
So we could say that the goal is to put tools of consciousness in the hands of everybody who wants them, even as a select few take things as deeply as possible into advanced practice and study. Whether it's the Enneagram, martial arts, Zen Buddhism, health technology, or computers, there are tools and concepts and practices that are of vital importance for people who are committed to self awareness, social justice, and spiritual growth. It's our job to alleviate human suffering whenever possible, to promote peace and compassion, to reduce war and environmental degradation, and to leave the world in better shape for our children and the generations to come. We need all the help we can get. I expect that most, if not all, of the EM readers would agree.
JL: Yes, why should access be denied to some? Who would decide? These are important questions to me since I spent a good part of my youth in post-Nazi Germany listening to my parents complain about Soviet Communist domination of our native Lithuania. I remember what it's like when information is censored and doled out by the elite. Alas, we see a similar trend called political correctness infecting the free exchange of ideas in this country. Sure, we can't get shot for the wrong parlance, but we are already being sued, fined and socially ostracized for things we could say a decade or two ago.
Holding back information for fear of trivialization is only applicable in rare situations; those akin to shouting "fire!" in a crowded theater. Information that is primarily used to concoct poisons, drugs, weapons or other things designed to harm, yes, I can see the point. But information on practices for growth, patterns in nature, social opinions, no. There is no limit to what can harm us. A dehydrated person can die from drinking too much water too fast. Brown rice can be lethal to some, broccoli to others. Who's to judge where we're at in our development and what our next step should be?
JL: Aside from that, I can't think of a worthy pursuit I started in the past that still today I feel positive about, without remembering how quirky, shallow or inflated the original reasons were that turned me on. Why, even doing the Monthly, I find that some of the most cherished and useful insights are triggered by seemingly irrelevant bits of information.
PO: I remember my reaction when "The Enneagram Made Easy" came out.
JL: Liz Wagele's and Renee Baron's book?
PO: Yes. Many people were disturbed by that book. I too was thinking that you can't make it easy like that, that's not really the Enneagram. I was quickly won over by the reports of people reaching for that book, opening it and learning about the Enneagram when they were not going to read one of the other books. They needed the Enneagram made simple. They appreciated the cartoon characters and the humor. I think that book has been very helpful. Anyone who wanted to go further with the Enneagram work was able to do so. It introduced a lot of people to the Enneagram who would otherwise not have known about it. So Liz and Renee's book turned out to have made a real contribution although it did not fit the expectations of the more serious seekers.
JL: Neither did the Monthly.
PO: Ah, I consider the Monthly much more sophisticated, but maybe people would criticize the Monthly from another point of view.
JL: Yes, but we need to be mindful not to become too sophisticated so that only hard-core readers would have been with us a long time are able to follow. We need to slow down here and there and let new folks get on board.
PO: I agree and I totally support that. I like that there's a variety of styles in the Monthly. I also like those simple little personal articles.
JL: Some people are against them. They think it's not only a trivialization but maybe even glorification of the fixation. Which at times they are, but even so, we can talk about it and be aware of those tendencies too. Oftentimes we get comments like, "Oh yeah, finally someone else understands how I feel, I don't feel so alone and misunderstood anymore."
PO: What's interesting is how the Enneagram grabs people so strongly that they become attached to doing it "right." I see that as a positive sign, that people care so much about the integrity of the Enneagram, even though the way they can express their caring may seem arrogant. The fact that they care and it grabbed them so strongly is a great thing. In many different contexts, the Enneagram continues to spread around the world. Back in Berkeley in the 70's we had no idea that this would ever happen, that the Enneagram would become a world-wide phenomenon. We just figured it would be another one of those esoteric Berkeley things. And look at it now.
JL: The sixties gave us not only drugs, sex and rock and roll, but also a slew of systems for growth. Like a spring-time of nature where everything wants to grow like mad, vegetables and weeds, both. Maybe we're entering a form of autumn or winter in which everything slows down. But what has grown, has grown up, and is ready for the next stage, maybe one of introspection.
PO: I thought that perhaps the Enneagram had peaked, but now it seems there is a whole new wave. Some people suggest that this is just the beginning, that in 40 or 50 years we'll look back, those of us who are still here, and be amazed. Myers/Briggs took 50 years to become as popular as it is now.
JL: Yes, and now there is a lot of linkage being made between the two systems, for example, Pat Wyman's book "Three Keys to Self Understanding."
PO: By the way I applaud her efforts and I totally disagree that the Enneagram type is the defense system and the MBTI type is the core self.
JL: Doesn't matter.
PO: Doesn't matter, right.
JL: Her idea is fine. It's correct in the sense that every system is designed to do a special function better than another system.
PO: Yes, it's all good. But for me personally, the Enneagram has much more power in helping me understand my ruling archetype, my deepest issues and identity, and my path in life. It goes way beyond my external persona which has changed dramatically since I began with the system. Plus the diagram itself contains a certain wisdom about the laws of the universe.
JL: Yes, but there are also other symbols of similar prestige and impact. For example the yin/yang and the cross which are based on two, and other symbols based on three, four, seven, nine, 10, 12, 22, 108 etc.
PO: It's all interesting but I'm stuck on this Enneagram stuff. It seems to have the most practical use in my daily life. It's just so damned specific that people sometimes get weirded out by it. We can predict with disturbing accuracy what people will encounter at key points in relationships, in therapy, and in spiritual development.
JL: I agree that the Enneagram is an exquisite system, in case you wondered why I do the Monthly.
PO: Yes, ha ha. It's good to hear you say so. I guess I figured that was true.
JL: Ha, but you don't want to assume anything!
PO: Yes, it could be that you're just in it for the money.
JL: (laughter) Yes, I'm trying to work my way up to a minimum wage.
PO: That's good.
JL: But returning to MBTI and other systems and comparing the Enneagram, I find that each system has a limited number of functions, but not unlimited functions. The old comparison of measuring distance with a yard stick and weight with a scale comes to mind.
PO: That's a good way of looking at it. I can see why you're the editor of the Monthly.
JL: If we find the best possible application of the Enneagram and the best possible interpretation/definition of the Enneagram, how it works, how it manifests in the personality, it's to our advantage. Eventually the Enneagram will have to take its rightful position next to other discoveries and schools of thought regarding human nature. Eventually it could become a commonplace course wherever psychology or philosophy are taught. Yes, you can use a pair of pliers to bang a nail into a wall, but a hammer does it better. Our job is to know the difference.
One of the problems with the Enneagram is that it's so damned rich. That's its strength and also its pitfall. You can apply it here and there but if in the process of doing so you lose sight of its core value, it will soon be forgotten. Whenever a system is stretched to include peripheral applications, its application begins to bleed into the territory of other systems which were designed to address that exact aspect. And it is at these areas of overlap that scholars begin to compare systems. The danger here is that a system can get a bad rap because it will not measure up against another system. I would prefer that if and when comparisons are drawn between the Enneagram and another system, that they be based on the deepest core of the Enneagram rather than the thinner periphery.
PO: Yes, I guess I have seen it sometimes, where people use the Enneagram in ways which are inappropriate and run the system into the ground.
JL: I guess that can happen when there is too much diversifying and it becomes a horizontal exploration; a mea culpa here because the Monthly did its fair share of that.
PO: As long as you're willing to cop to being a Seven I feel much better about your wide ranging, inclusive, and possibly dispersed style.
JL: I'll keep acknowledging my Sevenness if you're willing to own up to your Eightness.
PO: It's a deal.
© Peter O'Hanrahan 2002
Enneagram Monthly Interview - November 2009
Peter O'Hanrahan is a seasoned veteran and has been involved since the early days of the enneagram movement. His writings have frequently appeared in the Enneagram Monthly on a range of subjects including instincts, subtypes and correlations with body types.
Jack Labanauskas: Let's start at the beginning, it may be of interest to readers how this organic system we call the Enneagram of Personality caught the attention of the public during the decades of turbulence in one of the most perturbed places, Berkeley, if you don't mind me ribbing you about your early stomping ground.
Peter O'Hanrahan: Well Jack, as you know, a lot of great ideas come out of Berkeley! Some of them even take root in other places. I first began my study in 1978; to my knowledge that was the first time a public class was offered about the enneagram. This class was taught by Kathleen Speeth PhD. who had been working closely with Claudio Naranjo in his SAT (Seekers After Truth) program for quite a few years. Claudio had been using the enneagram in his SAT group; he also taught some classes at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) which is a collection of Christian seminaries that collaborate on degree programs here in Berkeley.
JL: Was he still in Berkeley in ‘78?
PO: He was at least part-time in Berkeley at that time. But my peer group missed the era of SAT, we arrived a bit later in the mid 70's. This was a turbulent time, the Vietnam War was finally ending which freed up a lot of attention for more personal issues. Spiritual movements were on the rise. This was a transition time, chaotic, but with a lot of new opportunities for seekers - if you could keep your center and not end up in a cult.
JL: So Kathy Speeth was the first one to teach openly?
PO: Yes, I believe this was first time it was available to the public. We knew nothing about the enneagram, but Helen Palmer had suggested that we go. We arrived in a Berkeley neighborhood, and saw this long line of people coming out of a yard and onto the sidewalk, part way down the block. We were the last to get in, there wasn't room for everyone. By the next week the class was moved to a rented classroom at the Baptist Seminary of the West. This was my introduction to the basic format of nine classes with a panel for each type.
JL: So each week you'd get a panel of a different type?
JL: Looks like you had a regular mini-Woodstock there.
PO: Well, it was certainly an exciting time - both learning the material and meeting other people who were “on the path” so to speak. Those nine weeks made a great impact on us. Kathy continued to teach three panel series per year and a number of weekend workshops. It seemed like we were doing enneagram all the time for a couple of years.
JL: What was the expectation at the time?
PO: I think that people found it offered a deep path of growth, focused on reducing the personality or false self. Also it was being studied by psychologists as a particular lens to understand character structure.
JL: What were you doing at the time?
PO: I was directing and teaching at the Center for Human Growth in Berkeley, where we had a program of support groups, body work and holistic counseling, dance and martial arts classes, in a large dance studio. We began hosting Kathy's Friday night classes, just before our Dance Jam program. The transpersonal seekers would be leaving as the dancers arrived. It was a lot of fun.
JL: Helen Palmer was also teaching during this time.
PO: Yes, Helen began teaching using the panel method as well. Her classes drew up to 200 people at the YWCA on Sunday nights, so that plus 100 at our place on Friday meant that almost 300 people a week were taking enneagram classes. There was a real buzz in the air. Kathy Speeth was also teaching it at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) in Menlo Park. So between Palo Alto and Berkeley, the student community was based in the transpersonal psychology group plus friends and family. Kathy Speeth drew on her large practice, and Helen had a huge network of people that she had worked with over the years. That was the beginning. We did not realize at the time that it had already started moving in the Catholic community, and was going around the Catholic world.
JL: That would be through the Chicago connection with Loyola, the Jesuits.
PO: Yes, Robert Ochs S.J. was at those early GTU classes that Claudio taught. He returned to Chicago and passed the material on to his colleagues there. It was all based on a very loose framework of notes, and of course, the interviews.
JL: How many notes did you have at the time? Was it not just a dozen pages or so?
PO: We had a page per type, a rudimentary basic outline. Over the years people started adding to those.
JL: Did you notice any major changes in the description of the types, other than elaboration into detail, over the past 30 years?
PO: That's an interesting question. I think it's remarkable how much we are all still on the same page. I don't think there are any huge disagreements over type in the major enneagram schools and communities. It's really more about how types are presented, and of course types are presented in different ways depending on the context. People who believe that personality is the false self that needs to be gotten rid of, would probably disagree with people who are using it in the workplace to help people be better leaders and communicators.
JL: It seems that the first rift is between those who want to use type in a spiritual context and those who wanted to use it for more practical purposes. For some people, it was useful to have a perception of personality as something that needed to be defeated, overcome or gotten rid of. But the business people would want it to use the enneagram for other purposes.
PO: Well, in a certain way we were the same people. It's just that when we went to take it into a business context, we realized that we had to adapt this material in a way that was useful to the people we were talking to. It's not unlike if you were teaching to a beginning audience rather than the die-hard seekers. We had to learn to mediate the language so it wasn't all about how false, sinful or neurotic people are. That was a big challenge in the early 90's. Since that time many people in the business community have begun using it without the same kind of weight or burden of its early history.
JL: That in part must have forced the issue of positive versus negative definitions of type to the surface.
PO: Yes, as you know the question became, “Are there positive aspects to having a personality type or is it all just a false self?”
JL: A couple of things jump out. It's quite amazing to see that in spite of the fact that there were no books on the subject at the time (just the handouts you described earlier), the descriptions of type survived and maintained integrity for 30 years and after 100+ books. Only a good dose of truth is able to cement the descriptions of the types over such a long period and after an explosion of written material where each author wanted to be original and different from the others — and that includes considerations of not infringing others' intellectual property. Through it all, like a magnet, the core energy of each type is still there as if it maintained a gravitational field that was able to resist dissipation. This can be seen a proof of validity of the system, since wrong-headed ideas are less prone to survive over time unless they are supported by a revered code, scripture or quasi-religious canon.
PO: Yes, in any enneagram book I read, the type is readily recognizable. I might get worked up over certain interpretations, but that's more the narcissism over small differences.
JL: Another idea that has persisted is that a child is born as a blank slate, a tabula rasa, and the significant grownups in the child's life paint upon that blank slate whatever the conditioning will be. So the child is totally formed by the early experiences in the first days, weeks, months and years of its life based on environmental input.
PO: Right, according to the neo-Freudians and Object Relations writers it's about the instinctual drives placed in the context of relationships. The psychoanalytic view explains the development of personality mostly as a set of psychic and emotional defenses. We are who we are largely on the basis of how our parents and teachers raised us.
JL: Yes, but more recent research shows that the child actually exerts a surprising amount of influence on its environment. The child pops as it were into the world and the parents have to change their way of being completely in order to adapt. It works both ways, the child is influencing the parents and parents influence the child.
PO: Which is more of a systems theory.
JL: So looking at this from the enneagram perspective, why did personality or the ego get such a bad rap? I believe that in the freedom-rush of the 60's and 70's the young generation felt it had to overthrow crusty old institutions, confining social codes and authoritative figures in general. And along with unduly oppressive structures that had outlived their usefulness, many perfectly valid traditions were torn down as well.
PO: People wanted out, including out of the old character structures that were part of the older generations. It was all about political, cultural, and personal liberation.
JL: Yes, fueled by new-found freedoms and sex, drugs and rock' n' roll, all sorts of New Age systems and philosophies began to thrive. Like a feeding frenzy, the rush for instant growth was on. After all, the age of Aquarius is here and it's time had come to get our own — what a good time for narcissism to flourish! There was a range of new systems available, from venerable time-tested traditional philosophies all the way to hair-brained lunacies. The lucky and sane individuals gravitated to the former and the more unstable characters embraced the latter. Among fans of the latter the notion of finding bliss, lickety-split, by simply dumping this fixated ego/personality got a foothold...Of course this meant that since ego/personality was not only negative but we had high hopes of discarding it soon, there was no good reason to look at it kindly. Just imagine going through a messy divorce, how hard is it to look at your soon to be ex and remember the passionate feelings you had in the beginning?
No wonder in much of the enneagram literature type is described overwhelmingly negative as if it were disposable.
PO: Yes, that's a good metaphor, getting a divorce from your ego! But we saw then, and still see now, the problem known as "spiritual bypass." Where people had legitimate and sustained spiritual experiences but they didn't develop psychologically and emotionally. And in fact they intensified some of their characterological problems and this showed up commonly in relationships.
JL: Do you mean that people lost the incentive to work on a relationship? Maybe they lost the incentive to work on themselves too. Why would I want to work on my 'self' given that this self is disposable anyway...
PO: Right, it's an attractive possibility that I can simply dis-identify from my ego. Ken Wilber, who knows this stuff well, describes how even for dedicated meditators it's tempting to detach themselves from their negative emotions, say anger, rather working it through. And then it becomes something that's put into one's personal shadow and from there projected onto others. "I am beyond my anger, it's you who have the problem." This creates a dangerous split in the structure when people are not acknowledging and managing their negative emotions.
JL: You put it into shadow or you accept it as a given that you can't get rid of. How often do we hear things like, “Hey, I'm a One, of course I'm angry” or “Don't be offended, I'm just being an Eight.” It's like being on spiritual welfare and get my monthly free-from-responsibility check from the enneagram.
PO: The question of discernment is a big one. When am I truly accepting myself with the knowledge that I'm a flawed person, and when does it verge over to “Well, that's just the way I am because of my type”? I know there's a difference there, but it's hard to pin down.
JL: Let's try pin it down anyway.
PO: Accepting ourselves does not abrogate our responsibility to work on the problems of our type structure. The important work of integration means that we hold ourselves with positive regard and compassion even as we stay conscious of the negative aspects of our type. The enneagram is a great reminder of how we fall asleep or go off track. Fortunately, the people who love us also provide lots of reminders!
JL: Must we then use a certain set of standards on ourselves, and if so, what are they and where do they come from? If we want to better ourselves, we have to embrace certain standards that we try to emulate. For example you're an Eight, so chivalry may be a standard that's near and dear to you.
PO: Chivalry in the sense of fairness and justice, which is an important ideal for me. I don't want to get rid of this quality, but the enneagram does show me how I can overdo this, creating big problems for myself and the people around me if I don't stay aware. There's a mysterious question in all this. Why are people motivated to better themselves? One common answer is that we want to alleviate our suffering. A second reason is that many people are intrinsically interested in growth; it's part of the hierarchy of needs, moving towards self-actualization. Still it's hard to explain, why do some people have this motivation and others don't? We don't really know.
JL: Let's assume that it's suffering; the instinctive reaction to touching fire is to pull back. Who or what controls this reaction? Is it instinct, sense of self preservation or a lofty/practical consideration of an individual who somehow has transcended ego and personality? To assume that our personality somehow can be gotten rid of is like getting rid of the instinct that makes us pull away from fire. It's fire that's the problem, not the natural impulse that makes us pull away.
PO: Right, as opposed to understanding that it's the wrong use of personality or the rigidity of personality that causes much of our suffering.
JL: In that sense, suffering is independent of personality.
PO: Yes, Gurdjieff had a good piece on this, it's not unique to him, but he made the point that there are two kinds of suffering. There's unnecessary suffering and there is necessary suffering. I think what he was talking about is that there is a lot on unnecessary suffering that is neurotically based and we could dispense with it if we knew how. We can use the enneagram to reduce this kind of suffering based on our neurotic patterns and structures.
JL: I heard this also described as pain and suffering. The pain is natural and largely unavoidable, but suffering is optional...
PO: I know that some people make a distinction between pain and suffering. "Pain may be unavoidable, but it's our attachments which keep us in suffering." There's truth in this, but I'll continue to use the term suffering, at least in productive sense of what we need to pass through, deal with, as we work on self-development. Gurdjieff would say this is the "necessary" kind. Perhaps when we get to be enlightened, or to the degree that we access this non-egoic space, we are able to transcend suffering. But there are too many people who have not dropped their ego, or worked through their issues, but go around acting as though they have. And as we know, people will often "export" their suffering by not being present to it.
JL: Maybe some of the work with the enneagram could benefit from re-defining what a type is. Aside from the possibility that this is a pet peeve of mine because I'm a Seven who's not too keen on suffering, I always thought it was a needlessly negative choice to define type by calling it a fixation, neurosis, deadly sin or some other choice term. I prefer a term like “motivation” because it's inherently value-neutral and still is specific enough to allow for sharp distinctions. In fairness, going into the positive extreme of emphasizing the “gift” or virtue of each type would be equally skewed. Certainly, when describing the up and down range of a type we can use all the positive and negative attributes, but the essential name of a type should be as value-neutral as the word “personality.” But I digress, you were saying about suffering...
PO: I would agree with you that we can err on both the negative and positive sides of the matter. We know that type plays a role in this too. Just look at the difference in outlook between the Sixes and Sevens, the Threes and the Fours. I, along with others, think there are basic biological, temperamental differences. For example, some types seem to have more access to their emotions, they feel things more deeply. Will they suffer more? Others seem to have less activity in their limbic systems, fewer neural connections here. Will they suffer less?
JL: Keeping in mind that no matter how many surprising discoveries or correlations between the physical and the other realms we find, individuality seems to have a lock on every manifestation. Even every snowflake among trillions is said to have its own unique shape.
PO: Certainly each human being has a unique self and as such can't be categorized, but at the level of adaptive social personality we can see these nine great archetypes, nine patterns of consciousness.
JL: Let's go back to how these archetypes are viewed and if you noticed changes in attitudes between 30 years ago and now.
PO: I think the main thing, and we have certainly been reading about this in the pages of the EM, is a new articulation of the positive aspects of type, a view that personality is not all bad. Yes we can criticize the personality structure, but we can also celebrate the diversity of human beings and come to understand our strengths and potentials.
JL: Do you notice a shift towards more a positive view in how the enneagram is being taught?
PO: Yes, I think this is happening. I certainly try to bring in the positive side whenever I'm teaching. Personality is the vehicle through which we express our life force in the world. For this reason alone it should be appreciated. And if we are committed to working on our personalities and all our failings, self acceptance and appreciation supports us in doing so. Without self- acceptance, self awareness starts to shut down.
JL: Having taught so many people for so many years, did you notice a general pattern of how people first react to learning about the enneagram and if there are similarities over the years as their interest deepens or fades?
PO: The enneagram has always been criticized as being much too negative in its view of people. Lots of people get turned off right away, although this is starting to change as we have discussed. For those who have been attracted to the system, there seem to be certain phases. When first learning their type, most people have a wonderful opening to greater awareness. It brings understanding of themselves and of the people in their lives. I think this generally leads to greater compassion and mediates both our inner conflicts and our conflicts with others. Just this first level of knowledge is very helpful; then there is a plateau. After this we're talking about deeper layers of work. Not everyone wants to go there. Some people have already been working at deep levels, with psychological and/or spiritual methods, and now the enneagram has become available as a guide and road map. This was how the enneagram began, arriving in communities of people who were interested in inner work. What we are seeing now is that as the enneagram becomes more successful around the world, it goes more to people who have no background or experience with either psychotherapy or spirituality.
JL: This is interesting, what did you find in China and other countries that have so far avoided being “therapized”?
PO: Actually, some therapy is beginning to get into China. For example, our colleague Monita Choi in Hong Kong has been bringing Virgina Satir family therapy into the cities of China and she is quite well known and well received. The Chinese seem very interested in family therapy and psychology at this time and eager to learn more about it. Now the Palmer/Daniels enneagram training program is also being well received.
JL: What were they using up till now?
PO: With the exception of Monita's students, neither psychology or spirituality seem to be familiar to people I have met in China; they are mainly coming from the business community. They are well educated and have been successful in the last 20 years of China's economic expansion. Now many of them are interested in personal growth, as well as professional success, and the enneagram is part of that. There have not been many such resources available to them. The enneagram training may be the first time they have gone inside to explore the inner space of “Who am I?” and develop their inner observer.
JL: What about taoism, yin and yang and their traditional wisdom?
PO: The people that I meet and work with, the new generation, they don't seem to know much about that.
JL: I've seen a similar trend with modern Indians, for example members of the Hindu association at Stanford University we meet every Sunday morning for a few hours of Bhagavad Gita study with Swami Vedananda of the Ramakrishna order. These are young and bright Ph. D. students in scientific fields; most are from affluent families, but have largely avoided contact with spiritual traditions until coming to Stanford. Yet, the culture they came from is so deeply imbued with Hindu values that their ethical attitudes are almost indistinguishable from their less secular brethren. Did any of these older values survive in China?
PO: Yes, there is a presence of traditional family values plus echoes of a more balanced lifestyle. But the Chinese have had to work so hard on their material success, overcoming a history of famine and poverty, and the culture has gone through so many changes in the last 60 years. Now people are hungry for more personal development.
JL: I'm curious what human nature resorts to without traditions that allow it to connect to a larger sense of being. How does that manifest, do they know that something is missing and what causes craving?
PO: As we've seen in other cultures, when a large group of people moves up in the hierarchy of needs, when there is enough food and material security, then other needs come to the foreground; like having good relationships with their families, being able form loving relationships, achieving one's full potential as a human being.
JL: So it's like Maslow's pyramid.
PO: Yes, I think it's built in to human nature that we ultimately get to the whole question of the meaning of life and our role in it. I think that many Chinese now have the opportunity to address these questions, now that they have paid the price for it.
JL: What is the price?
PO: In addition to severe environmental problems, they tend to be quite exhausted. They've been working so hard that they have not had the opportunity for much self care or nurture.
JL: Do we have an analogous class of people in our culture you could compare them with?
PO: [Long pause....] Well, I'm not sure what I can say. It's their own unique culture. First of all, because there's so many of them, they have a different experience of group membership. They're coming out of a history of being very much identified with family, work groups, and community. This is about both duty and survival. It's not been a culture of individualism as we know it in the US. Now the younger generation is starting to say: “I want to be seen for myself, I want to be my own person."
JL: I see, so they have more of a familial sense of self rather than an individual one.
PO: Yes, and there's predictable conflict between the expectations of families and the desire to be an individual. With the Narrative Tradition Enneagram, they have the opportunity to share their personal story on type panels and be recognized. I don't find much hesitation around this. They really want to be known and also hear from others. What is more challenging is to introduce the notion of the essential self, the part underneath personality.
JL: Apparently the pendulum swings like a historical clockwork. Individuality in its extreme craves connection and a sense of belonging. And once belongingness is achieved, the craving is back towards freedom and independence. Never a dull moment. I suppose Berkeley is a Petri dish brewing in the opposite direction from your Chinese friends...
PO: Yes, there seems to be a swing back towards community, not in the old way but with some integration of individual and group - room for both, instead of either/or. Berkeley was a prime example of the tremendous de-structuring of social institutions and families - post modern, green meme to excess. Lots of the younger people suffered greatly as this trend reached its peak in the 70's and 80's. It's still a problem, but there is greater awareness now of the need for stability in community. For example, I see this in school communities, more people returning to their social duties, more volunteering and taking on leadership roles to make things happen, to create educational opportunities for the kids. Back in the 70's any time you'd have a group or meeting it would always end up in disruption. There would always be people who made mountains out of molehills, who indulged their personal feelings at the expense of the group, and nothing would get done. So eventually people withdrew from this chaotic and de-structured community process. I know I did.
JL: So at some point it fell apart, but now it’s beginning to bounce back?
PO: Yes, there is some kind of bouncing back I can sense. I'm sure there is much more to work on, to try to resolve the conflict between people following a path of individuality and a path of relationship in community.
JL: I assume a parallel trend in the enneagram community is that of looking at the positive aspects of type rather than condemning type as predominantly negative.
PO: Right, I don't even know how many people would agree completely with one side or the other. To me it seems pretty obvious that we simply can't condemn type, that's where we live.
JL: That's especially true for young people, they want to achieve something and have their whole life ahead of them. They want tools that help them be effective in life. Give them the potential of their type, don't tell them how they're shackled by their type. Older people are more interested in the shackles to cast off, what with that the approaching grim reaper and a new-found incentive to cram for finals. They want tools to repair old damage.
PO: People have different goals at different stages of their life. You've hit on one of the great issues. Is this going to die out with the older generation or does it have value and relevance to younger people? I think that our teaching is changing to be more accepting and more inclusive. I hope we can pursue a more balanced approach so that the enneagram actually connects with people of all ages.
JL: To folks like those standing in line to get into Kathy Speeth's class.
PO: Yes, we were young then, while today's young people may seem to be less interested and have less dedication to transformational work at an early age. Yet they still can benefit from knowing and using the system. Maybe they will come to the transpersonal work later; it will be there for them if they want it. But if we really want to affect the world, and I think that we can with the enneagram, we have to get it out to different populations and all age groups. My experience in China with younger people, in their 20's to early 40's, is very encouraging. People say they get a lot of value from both the understanding of type and the inner practices that are part of our training programs.