Personality Feng Shui: How the Enneagram Helped Harmonize My Inner Life

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I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. There’s always so much to get done. Why don’t others help? Why don’t you help? My life feels so heavy and hard.
These are the words I remember saying often to my partner, Jay, all those years ago in the house on Cedar Hill Road. And he listened to me, troubled that I should feel this so deeply, and always trying to get me to lighten up.

The setting was beautiful—we were renting a home in a clearing in the woods. A long curving driveway led in from the dirt road, rock ledges made for natural woodland gardening, and a meadow opened up behind the house. The house had many windows, and I filled it with growing things: green plants, beautifully colored fabrics, creative projects, and nourishing foods.
And yet, with all this beauty, all this nourishment for the senses and the soul, I felt perpetually burdened, weighed down, responsible, unable to enjoy my life.
It didn’t help, so I thought, that Jay didn’t share my burden. He flitted around following his interest of the moment, playing with his musician's gear, writing new songs, surfing the Internet. He was always in movement—in fact, I could trace his steps in the house very clearly. Shoes discarded by the door, a jacket dropped along the way, cupboards thrown open in the kitchen, food or containers forgotten on the counter, various belongings strewn on the floor. He had very little attention for these minor details that make up an ordered life. They got in the way of his desire for more fun, more entertainment, more interesting things.
And that, of course, left me to restore a sense of order, a sense of nourishing presence, to the space we called home. If I could only establish this ground, this sense of things in their rightful place, perhaps then I could relax and not feel so stressed all the time. I see how, unconsciously, I was yearning for the qualities of the sacred feminine in this outer striving to create home. 
One summer, I joined Jay at dance camp, where a fellow camper introduced me to a map of the human soul called the Enneagram. In it, I found a description of my particular suffering and of Jay’s more hidden style. I learned that there are nine Enneagram personality types, all of which are aspects of our most essential human nature. The one that most of my gifts and habitual structures were patterned around was Type One: The Reformer. Jay’s, on the other hand, was Type Seven: The Enthusiast. We were polar opposites, with our attention being habitually focused in very different places—mine always on what wasn't right, and his on what could be fun or fulfilling.

This new perspective opened up the path to conscious understanding of what was driving my experience of such a serious and responsibility-laden life. And it shed light on why Jay felt almost exactly the opposite, so focused on the world as his playground of pleasure. All of a sudden our individual lives and our relationship made a lot more sense. This awareness became the ground of my spiritual practice going forth.

Courtesy of the Enneagram InstituteSo, what is the Enneagram anyway? It is a psycho-spiritual map of the human soul. Each type, at its core, represents an essential aspect of what it is to be human and whole. It also describes what happens when we feel cut off from this wholeness—identifying key elements of the underground terrain of fears, desires, and motivations that drive our habitual attitudes and behaviors, which come to circumscribe our lives. We have all nine types within us, but one is dominant and runs the show, pretty much on autopilot. Our type feels natural and normal to us. Before we wake up to this patterning, we think everybody is, or should be, like us.

The Enneagram is rooted in ancient wisdom teachings and further understood and developed by many teachers, including my own, Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The deeper teachings of the Enneagram shed a lot of light on the path of wholeness if we are willing to use it as more than a way to label ourselves. It can be a source of deep understanding about our motivations and behaviors, providing a growth process with type-specific practices designed to wake us up to our habitual, restrictive patterning and help us return to our original wholeness. 

In my journey, this has meant learning to recognize all the ways my type structure keeps me rigid, controlled, focused on what is wrong, and feeling obligated to fix myself, others, and the world. Awareness, however, is only the first step. Then I need to take on practices to undo this patterning. For me, as a Type One, I have needed to come back to my body as a source of wisdom, to cultivate and listen to the voice of my heart, to slow down and become aware of my own needs, and to savor and find pleasure in all that is good about life. I find that listening to this sacred feminine invitation to come home to my body-soul is a moment-by-moment practice of noticing when these long-held, habitual patterns are taking over and choosing instead what will nourish more wholeness and more life. 

Check out this quiz if you'd like to learn more about your own Enneagram type. 

Photography by Charlie Foster and Sonja Langford on Unsplash

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