The Enneagram and Helen Palmer [76]

In Spirituality & Personal Growth by Dr. Keith Witt

magnet_heartThis past New Year’s weekend I had the privilege of presenting a talk called We are all Integral Psychotherapists at the Integral What’s Next conference near Boulder, Co. It was so much fun! The crowd of four hundred was wonderful and I got to talk about some material I’ve been dying to share with the community of extraordinary people who follow Ken Wilber and the Integral way of being. That was Saturday night, and the following Monday Helen Palmer enchanted us for a half day as she explained about the history and nature of the enneagram, a nine-type personality system based in the phases of the moon, Christian mysticism, and spiritual practices from the dawn of human history. Integral theory teaches that all perspectives have some truth to offer, and we find incredible accumulated wisdom in the myths, magics, and attunements with mystical expanded fields of consciousness that permeate past, present, and future. As in the Enneagram, much of this wisdom endures to today, expanded by science and modern thought. The enneagram is a fascinating personality system that categorizes you by where your attention goes and how you typically respond to events and people as you move through the world (to find out more about your enneatype, click HERE). Almost everyone has one type that in their deepest nature they most resonate with, and your type isn’t necessarily reflected by what you do or how you appear. Enneatype has much more to do with where your attention goes under joy, love, stress, yearning, crazy, Kosmic, etc. At the conference on Sunday night, Becky and I found ourselves standing next to Helen Palmer in the dinner line. I said, “You’re Helen Palmer! I love your tapes. I’m Keith Witt and I’m a counterphobic six, and this is my wife Becky, a fellow six (sixes are the loyalists, or devil’s advocates of the enneagram).” Personality type cautionary sidebar: How wrong I was! The next day I found I was a three–the achiever–but that’s another story. Helen’s about 5’4″ and a self-admitted six herself. Her face radiates intelligence, warmth, and humor. She looked into my eyes and began teaching, “It’s not behavior and appearances that determines type, it’s who you most deeply are.” Bam! I got it! I’ve studied her work, other people’s books, and the enneagram itself for years, but this was the first time this message had resonated so deeply. Look to where attention goes. Type is not necessarily behavior and appearances. Her presentation mesmerized all four hundred of us throughout the following morning. Helen’s voice carries calm weight, simultaneously soothing and charged with power. Her stories of wise Shamen studying the stars, discovering patterns, culminated in the account of Evagrius, a contemplative leader of a monastic order in the Egyptian desert four hundred years after Christ’s death. As Evagrius helped his fellow monks clarify and expand their prayer lives, he observed patterns of how they blocked unity and created suffering. He guided them to work through their blocks to deeper unity by observing their own types and how they influenced spiritual development. This work led him to gradually distinguish different types–personalities–that kept reoccurring. Evagrius passed this wisdom on, and the teachings have endured and expanded, largely through Catholic mystics (though it was the Catholic hierarchy that destroyed Evagrius’ community after his death), until psychologists and spiritual visionaries like Oscar Ochazio, Claudio Naranjo, and Helen Palmer, have expanded them and applied them to personal growth and spiritual transformation in the last sixty years. More recently, the enneagram has been cross-validated with other systems including affective neuroscience, personality research, and interpersonal neurobiology to make it even more robust and fascinating. It’s fun to know your personality types–yes we are lots of types! We are more masculine or feminine, introverted or extroverted, angry or anxious, pessimistic or optimistic. The enneagram organizes nine types that interact in natural ways that are incredibly valid. I left the ballroom feeling like I had received an enneagram transmission from the fourth century through Helen Palmer right into my heart and brain. Becky loved it so much! She turned to me as we walked out and burst out, “Now that’s my idea of a good time!” We’ll be revisiting the enneagram in future blogs. Along with masculine and feminine, it’s one of the best typology systems around.