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Loving the Whole Self

Monday, April 25, 2016

Enneagram: Week 1

Loving the Whole Self
Monday, April 25, 2016

True love of self entails a profound acceptance of ourselves—returning to Presence and settling into ourselves as we actually are without attempting to change our experience. —Don Richard, Richard Riso and Russ Hudson [1]

I believe the purpose of mature religion or spirituality is to cultivate in us the ability to accept “the sacrament of the present moment” just as it is, including the good and the bad, and to find God in it. Our human minds are prone to dividing the field of the moment and to focusing on the parts rather than the whole, thus missing what the eyes of the Spirit see. The Enneagram’s root sins or passions can be seen as nine different ways of “missing the mark” (hamartia), nine ways of being disconnected from God’s Presence—our essence—here and now. By viewing our Enneagram compulsions as reminders to return to presence, we can become aware of the Divine Presence in us and around us and we can share that love with a hurting world.

In the Enneagram tradition, “sin” is simply that which doesn’t work, i.e. self-defeating behavior. Our root capital sins can be understood as emergency solutions that we developed in early childhood as a way of coping with our environment. At the time, these coping mechanisms were necessary for survival. But the older we grow, the more they get in the way of living freely as our True Self. The nine Enneagram types correlate with the seven “deadly sins” (pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, lack of moderation or “gluttony,” and lust) and two additional temptations, deceit and fear. These last two are perhaps the most pervasive sins, because power builds on them and uses them, and thus they are often the most hidden, as we see in the present election cycle in the United States.

The Enneagram refuses to eliminate the negative and is grounded in what Bill Wilson called “a vital spiritual experience.” We only have the courage to face our deep illusions when we are entirely loved and accepted by God or by somebody who acts as God toward us. So, with great irony, our faults are the crack that lets grace in, exactly as the Gospel teaches. We must bring our root sin to consciousness rather than deny or repress it. We can only heal our wound with kindness and compassion, not judgment and condemnation. This is how Jesus treated sinners, such as the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11).

Teresa of Ávila said that the sinner is actually one who does not love himself or herself enough. We do not see or admire the whole self; so we split and try to love the good self and reject the bad self. But Jesus told us to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest, lest we destroy the wheat by trying to pull up the weeds (see Matthew 13:24-30). The Enneagram allows us to see and embrace our shadow, the part of us that most carries our shame. Only with some degree of non-dual consciousness can we hold imperfection and beauty together in what Merton called “a hidden wholeness.”

It is no surprise to me that the Enneagram is unpopular with many. It refuses to disguise the pain, the difficult work, or the cost of enlightenment. By exposing our own darkness, it soon compels us to address that same darkness in culture, oppression, injustice, and human degradation. Sin “brings forth death” (see James 1:15), or in other words, sin is its own punishment. Our lack of moderation kills animals and forests; our aggressiveness and fear has led to gigantic arsenals. The poor pay for the envy and greed of the industrialized nations with their death.

We all have a little of each personality type in us, allowing us greater understanding and compassion for others. But for our own transformation, we must recognize that we tend to have a primary set of blinders, a primary delusion, a capital sin. There is a key dilemma, a habitual trap in each of us. We must notice how we block ourselves by our preferred style of perception. Even though this way of perceiving reality doesn’t reflect the True Self, it seems to “work” for us, giving us false energy and purpose.

This one pitfall is so prevalent in our life that we don’t recognize it, except perhaps through a surprising “aha” experience. In an instant, our lifelong false motivations and reactions become crystal clear. That’s usually both a very humiliating and wonderful experience. It’s sobering to realize that even the best things we’ve done were done for self-serving reasons. But it’s liberating to know that God knew this all along, loves us anyway, and actually used our sins for God’s purposes. As Paul puts it, “Precisely where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” (see Romans 5:20).

Our deepest sin and our greatest gift are two sides of the same coin. We spend the first part of our life creating our self-image and our ego by building on what we do well. That’s a necessary stage. By our twenties, our personality type is well-established because it works for us in some strange way. But in the middle of our life we may begin to see the other side of the coin, the dark side of our gift. When we are excessively fixated on our supposed gift it becomes a sin. Maintaining this self-image, this false self, becomes more important than anything else. This is where the Enneagram can help us to recognize this game for what it is and to disarm ourselves—to abandon the defense of the false self that we have created. We are letting go of what only seems good and discovering what in us is really good. We are returning to the Divine Presence in and around us. This leaving the garden and returning to the garden happens many, many times in a healthy life. And each time is both a self-revelation and a divine-revelation.

Gateway to Silence:
Open me to Presence.

[1] Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Bantam Books: 1999), 347.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Enneagram: The Discernment of Spirits (CAC: 2004), disc 1 (CD, DVD, MP3 download);

Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 2001), xvii, xxi, 25-26, 29, 31-32, 34, 85; and

Richard Rohr, The Enneagram as a Tool for Your Spiritual Journey (CAC: 2009), disc 4 (CD, DVDMP3 download).

Is the Enneagram new to you? Are you wondering, what is the Enneagram? How can the Enneagram help me? Which number on the Enneagram am I? Does the Enneagram work? This is just one post in a two-week series about the Enneagram. Click here for an introduction to the Enneagram and links to additional reflections and resources on the topic.

The Enneagram Diagram. CAC archives.
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