by Becky Ford
In the 1980s, my dad’s seminary went mad for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a questionnaire-style test created in 1943 that was all the rage in helping people determine their differing psychological preferences. My family signed up to “take the inventory” and soon enough we had each other pegged. In seminary circles, it wasn’t unusual to hear, “Of course you can’t make a decision about where to go to lunch! You’re such a P [Perceiver]!” “Why do you want to leave the party so soon? I should have known better than to bring an I [Introvert]!” Anyone out of the loop of the types: Extrovert/Introvert, iNtuitive/Sensing, Thinking/Feeling and Judging/Perceiving, was unable to speak our secret language of knowing. Myers-Briggs was a boon for my family. Understanding how just how introverted my father was by nature was incredibly helpful. It turned out he genuinely needed downtime to recover from teaching, and wasn’t trying to avoid us. And, my very concrete-thinking mother finally began to understand why she always felt like the odd-one out in a clan of abstract-thinking iNtuitives. I still use Myers-Briggs to navigate life. On some very basic level, it’s a tool that can help us all understand each other more. And who wouldn’t want that?
In 2012, I attended my first Enneagram workshop. Once an ancient tool, now spruced up for our times, the Enneagram typing system blew the hinges off what I thought was possible when using a personality test. I had learned about the Enneagram years prior when an artist I represented began using its alchemical and occult looking symbol in his work. I had dismissed it as Gurdjieff’s weirdo, turn-of-the-century human potential fad until I discovered the vast, fascinating and accessible work of Riso and Hudson’s Enneagram Institute. “Oh my God,” I thought, “the Enneagram is like Myers-Briggs on steroids!” I took the Enneagram Institute’s online assessment several times and always came out the same: Number 3 – The Achiever. At the time, I was busy clawing my way up the ladder of success in the New York art world, so the answer didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already think I knew about myself. I filed it mentally in the place I keep personal trivia, like Virgo with Libra rising: novel, relatable, but not life-changing. When Ian Cron, Episcopal priest and founder of Christ Church Greenwich’s Courage & Faith Speaker Series, announced he was bringing Enneagram master Suzanne Stabile to run a workshop in 2012, I happily signed up. Always the seeker, I thought maybe the full-day workshop could open up the Enneagram more to me and make it a little more interesting.
Suzanne said a few things as she began, “Imagine you are in your teens or twenties. In that time in your life when you are just being formed and when your base personality has not been overly influenced by where life is going to take you. Listen to all the numbers without judgment. When you come to your number, it should feel like you are both flattered and appalled, like someone has just described the best and worst of you. If you feel both called out and understood, then that’s your number.” I sat and listened, sometimes relating to the numbers, sometimes not, listening for something familiar. She went through Number 3 and I sat impassive. Yeah, I’m an ambitious person, but I am much more in touch with my feelings than 3s are, and a lot less image-conscious. Suzanne’s style is folksy and story-based, so when describing 4s she began by telling us about the time she came upon a cluster of Goth kids sitting together near a fountain in a mall near her home in Dallas. She felt compelled to ask them why they dress the way they do, and what they get from it. “We like to be different,” they said, the irony of them all dressing alike was not lost on the moment. “This is our way of expressing how we feel, that life is sad and depressing.” I had been that Goth kid in high school and immediately experienced that “called out and deeply understood” feeling Suzanne had described. I became overwhelmed by the realization that all this time I had been shoehorning my sensitive 4 self into an ambitious 3. Of course I’m a 4. I’ve always been an artist, a romantic, a Goth kid inside trapped inside a grown-up achiever-lady persona. This was a life-changing moment for me, something shifted inside, something healed and corrected itself. That’s because the Enneagram isn’t about why your personality does the things it does, its about your essential self, the unchanging part of you that is motivated by an unconscious childhood message. In my case, the message was: “It’s not ok to be too functional or happy,” when what I needed to know was, “You are seen for who you are.” Ever since that workshop, I’ve been a passionate student of the Enneagram. I sincerely believe it has the power to transform lives, because it has transformed mine.
So what exactly is the Enneagram?
Enneagram means “nine-sided figure” and refers to nine distinct personality types and how they interconnect as seen in the Enneagram symbol (see image). Its origins and history are in dispute, some date it back to desert father Evagrius in the third century, others to Sufi mystics, but recent times have seen various resurgences in popularity. G.I. Gurdjieff used a version of the Enneagram early in the twentieth century as part of his method to awaken one’s consciousness through his “Fourth Way.” In the middle of the twentieth century philosopher Oscar Ichazo and psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo identified the nine ways in which a person’s ego becomes fixated within the psyche at an early age, giving the nine numbers their names. In the 1980s, Helen Palmer brought the Enneagram into popular culture with her self-help book, The Enneagram: Understanding Yourself and the Others in Your Life. In 2001 Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr, threw his cap in the ring by publishing, The Enneagram: a Christian Perspective. Used by spiritual directors as a tool for understanding the “true self,” the Enneagram gained tremendous popularity in contemplative circles within Christianity. Two years ago, Ian Cron and Susanne Stabile published, The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey of Self-Discovery, and began podcasting. Ian’s weekly podcast, Typology, has had over a million listeners and has made knowing your number de rigueur with spiritual and psychological seekers alike. Like Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram has become a huge trend in business development and team building, and a powerful tool for creating empathy and emotional growth in church communities.
I recently spoke with Ian about the wild success of his recent book and podcast:
Becky: You’ve become quite the Enneagram master in the last few years. At this point you know a remarkable amount. What makes the Enneagram such an engaging subject for you?
Ian: The Enneagram is so much fun. It’s like a huge sandbox to play in. I get to be both in front leading and standing in the back watching someone else provide experiences and ideas. I love watching people’s faces when the light goes on. Broad conversations about being human inevitably lead to other conversations about the spirit. It’s really cool—an amazing adventure. I feel really grateful.
Becky: What do you say to skeptics? People who doubt that everyone can be reduced to nine types?
Ian: The Enneagram is a remarkably subtle and nuanced tool. If you think of the nine types as colors then various hues and shades becomes possibilities. There isn’t just one kind of blue, there’s azure, cobalt, navy, periwinkle, turquoise, the list of blues goes on and on. I like to think of it as an infinite variety of sameness.
Becky: You and I became friends when you started Courage & Faith [at Christ Church Greenwich]. I kept coming to hear your speakers and having life-changing experiences, including the Enneagram workshops you hosted with Suzanne. It was like you were leaving a spiritual crumb trail I couldn’t help but follow. Is this something you’re aware that you do?
Ian: I’ve always been like that, the early adopter finding weirdo stuff and telling my friends about it. I’m like a curator out there on the leading edge of ideas and spirituality pulling together collections of cool things for other folks to engage in.
Becky: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ian: The Enneagram is a terrible stand-alone tool. It’s not a means to an end in and of itself, but it can lead to amazing places. Combine it with other work you are doing to grow spiritually, psychologically or in the work place, and it can change your life.
We are really lucky to have Ian Cron with us on Saturday, June 9th for a full-day Enneagram workshop. The cost for an individual ticket is $125 and $200 for a couple. Students and seniors are $80. Tickets are available online. If you know your number, and you’d like to go deeper, join us on Sunday, June 10th, from 2-5 p.m., for an advanced class on subtypes.
I sincerely hope you can participate in this unique opportunity to know yourself and the ones you love better.