Coloring Outside the Lines

April 4, 2019

 

In childhood, the ability to draw inside the lines was prized. Wanting to do things very well, I got good at coloring inside lines. No doubt, the ability to perceive and respect boundaries is a valuable skill for living. Yet, if our boundaries aren't flexible, if they aren't permitted to expand, our growth will be limited or painful, squeezing us inside a shape that's become too small.

About 50 years ago the Enneagram of Personality emerged as a sacred geometry that makes visible fundamental "fixations" or "passions" (shadows) of personality—its roots in both psychological and mystical traditions. In the decades since, it has become a tool used by coaches, therapists, spiritual directors, organizational consultants, and others because it offers insight into our styles of relating, playing, and working.

When I discovered the Enneagram of Personality nearly two decades ago it helped me see my own patterns (behavioral boundaries I'd drawn for myself) in new ways. I found it comforting to realize that "unflattering" aspects of myself were not unique to me!

Yet there was something confining about this Enneagram perspective too. I often heard that if you have trouble discerning your "type" you should consider how you were in your early twenties. Indeed, this helped me to identify with a type, yet it also pointed to a limitation in the traditional Enneagram of Personality. It's a perspective that might be unwittingly encouraging us to (unconsciously) attach ourselves to a limited view of self.

Of course, no framework can account for the complex diversity of our human experience. And it's true that nearly all teachers and promoters of the Enneagram do make distinctions between "healthy" and "unhealthy" expressions of each type, in addition to considering things like a "wing" type and "instinct," all of which give greater nuance. Still, it began to dawn on me that the limited movement expressed in the traditional Enneagram framework might reflect the modest evolutionary potential available to most people at the time it emerged. Much has changed in the last 50 years. From my perspective, the traditional form is not an accurate reflection of the kind of radical transformation that is now possible in our world. 

Globally speaking, we are experiencing an unprecedented evolution of consciousness. Countless artifacts of patriarchal, colonial, and binary perspectives do not serve the greater whole, and more of us are now aware of this. All manner of outdated paradigms are getting upended or decomposing. While the beloved Enneagram has served us exceedingly well for many decades, it too is ripe for change.

Life constantly adapts, and new wisdom is revealed for new times.

Last Fall, I began to I imagine a new way of engaging with the Enneagram; a means that would help people to actually feel personality patterns in their bodies, rather than mentally identify themselves through a list of characteristics or assessments. This approach, I imagined, also would account for evolution that is palpable in my own experience and observable in others. 

When the vision came to me, I was at first incredulous at the departure from the 9-pointed geometry. But its power was soon evident....

This 9+3 Enneagram brings the asymmetrical arms of the traditional 9-pointed form into equilateral triangles—expressing a quality of balance found in emergent consciousness. It also adds a fourth triangle, representing aspects of human consciousness needed to create a 'wheel of wisdom' within us.

This evolving framework is not about "typing" ourselves, it's about seeing human personality from the broader perspective of Soul. It's about recognizing and embodying our wholeness. It's an invitation to own the shadow and express the brilliance of our full spectrum of personality, honoring where we come from without being limited by it, so we're free to live into the future.

If you'd like to hear more, you can listen to my interview on a recent podcast at the very bottom of this page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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