On Sunday, March 17th, Helen Palmer joined me for a marvelous and illuminating dialog entitled “Waking Up From the Partial Truths We Cling To”. Helen presented a very precise and penetrating background of observations drawing from intuitive perception, psychology, and consciousness studies that frame her work with the Enneagram. I recommend it! This was a high level, substantive and penetrating discussion.
Our exploration of Helen’s work ranged widely but returned often to the notion that it represents a fulcrum between the psychological and the spiritual. Helen defined a spiritual experience as a shift from conditioned consciousness to the ability to be with unknown of the present moment, such that it is received prior to analysis and projection. Thus, what stands between yourself and a received spiritual experience is, well, yourself; perceiving and responding to experience via your conditioning, patterns and natural tendencies — that is, your Enneagram type.
Helen’s way of using the Enneagram typology focuses on the power of the witness, or Inner Observer. Helen noted that just being present for any extended period of time brings these psychological issues to the foreground.
Simple names for the 9 Enneagram types are as follows:
6-The Loyal Skeptic
Helen emphasized that the intention should not be to change our Enneagram types, which she declared is not possible, no matter how much we may grow or awaken. In fact, the constructive orientation of our Enneagram type, she says, is a critical tool in how we interface with and are effective in the world. A healthy intention is to awaken into freedom from the characteristic pattern of suffering of your Enneatype, caused by the contraction (or “vise”) created when the reptilian brain warns us that we are under threat. This “emotional passion” resists the Mystery of the unknown (and the present moment) and blocks our life flow and our experience of love. And it does so in one of nine characteristic ways, which Helen says are depicted via the Enneagram with brilliant illuminating clarity.
As I reflected on the depth of this process and the time such work can take to effect real change on an individual, much less a cultural or global level, I wondered if the Enneagram could have the necessary timely impact we need to respond to our global crises.
Helen responded that the Enneagram is probably the best public education on the planet for the ordinary matter of how people relate to themselves and other people. Working with one’s own suffering and recognizing one’s character type using the witnessing part of the brain provokes a subtle, often unnoticed, but very powerful shift of consciousness and it prepares the ground for greater cultural change.
And it is not about changing others. It is about recognizing the type of person you are, in a simple, self-witnessing process and creating understanding and tolerance where it once seemed impossible. So for instance, the paranoid 6 no longer sees a threatening world and the obsessive 9 doesn’t see a morass of confusing agendas. When this happens, a huge uprising of compassion comes up for ourselves and other people. We become able to understand the vast differences between ourselves and others.
Helen says that the radical change called for here is analogous to the “truth and reconciliation” process instituted by Desmond Tutu in South Africa. It involves a simple exchange: “listen to my story and I’ll listen to yours.”
It can go further. It can be, “I know your story because you spoke from an understanding of your patterns, and not just opinions and positions.” Looked at in this way, the Enneagram is a revolutionary, transformative instrument that builds trust between people of all types and typologies.
Helen also facilitated a live exercise where she walked us through the categories of mind taking us out of the ordinary level of consciousness, into the present moment, illustrating the profound transformative power of deliberate recession from categories of consciousness.
I invite you to listen to the full dialog here.