Gurdjieff and the Enneagram — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Gurdjieff and the Enneagram

Enneagram Part Two: Heart Center

Gurdjieff and the Enneagram
Monday, March 2, 2020 

My friend Russ Hudson and his writing partner, the late Don Richard Riso, give some of the history of the Enneagram in their book The Wisdom of the Enneagram:

The person responsible for bringing the Enneagram symbol to the modern world was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866–1949). . . . The system that Gurdjieff taught was a vast and complex study of psychology, spirituality, and cosmology that aimed at helping students understand their place in the universe and their objective purpose in life. . . . [1]

Gurdjieff taught the Enneagram through a series of sacred dances, explaining that it should be thought of as a living symbol that was moving and dynamic, not as static. [His teaching is called “The Work,” meaning working on oneself.] However, nowhere in the published writings of Gurdjieff and his students did he teach the Enneagram of personality types. The origins of that Enneagram are more recent and are based on two principal modern sources [Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo]. [2]

Russ Hudson spent several years studying Gurdjieff’s “Work,” as did my colleague Cynthia Bourgeault. In her book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three, which draws on the teachings of Gurdjieff to more deeply explore the Trinity, Cynthia writes:

The enneagram of personality has captured the popular imagination, that’s for sure. And you have to admit that there is something brilliant and even damnably strategic in its design. Using that classic ego bait—“let me learn my type, some interesting new thing about me”—it draws people in, only to put in their hands basic tools for self-observation and nonidentification. . . . Progressing enneagram students rapidly develop the capacity to see that they are in fact not their type; it is simply an impersonal, mechanical pattern that plays out within them. [3]

Richard again: The Enneagram helps us realize we are not our personalities; we do not have to act out our habitual patterns. [4] We can more easily say, “That’s not me” and let it go. We created our personalities to help us cope with the suffering we experienced when we lost our connection with our Essence and believed we were separated from our Source, namely God. Cynthia continues to describe the power of an “inner witness”:

A shift in the sense of selfhood begins to occur, so that they reside less and less in their outer personality manifestations and more and more in their inner witnessing presence. Fixation upon the personality begins to wane as the deeper roots of identity emerge. Thus, the teaching has the possibility of moving people to a new level of interior freedom and encourages them to develop precisely those spiritual skills that Gurdjieff himself identified as essential to conscious transformation. . . . Something is clearly working here, and the enneagram of personality movement seems to be manifesting the fruits of conscious inner work in ways that are both personally authentic and statistically significant. [5]

[1] Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson, The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types (Bantam Books: 1999), 20.

[2] Ibid., 22.

[3] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2013), 58.

[4] For more on healing addiction, join the online course Breathing Under Water: A Spiritual Study of the Twelve Steps, March 25–May 19, 2020.

[5] Bourgeault, Holy Trinity, 58.

Image credit: Study for the Visitation (detail), Jacopo Pontormo, circa 1528, Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: What does the heart bring us if we actually do abide in the heart, if we just let ourselves be still, be here? We feel this exquisite sensitivity and delicacy. It’s like the Body establishes “I am. I am here. I exist.” It brings me to the sacred now moment. The Heart then tastes what’s actually here, with exquisite awareness. The Heart knows the taste, the fabric, the texture of this moment. —Russ Hudson
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