Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Enneagram and the Dance of Atonement

Have you heard of the Enneagram? If you're into personality psychology at all, you may know of it as a rival/alternative to the Myers-Briggs personality typology system. The Enneagram is a kind of nine-pointed star inside a circle, and it looks like this:

What you may not know is that the Enneagram came from the trickster-ish spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff, whom I talked about in the previous post. In the book that post discusses, Gurdjieff is quoted as saying this about the Enneagram:

Speaking in general it must be understood that the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted ... For the man who is able to make use of it, the ennegaram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. A man may be quite alone in the desert and he can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time he can learn something new, something he did not know before.
Some claim, eh? But the more I reflect on the Enneagram and Gurdjieff's teachings in that book, the more I understand what he means. To explain these thoughts of mine, it's necessary to point out that the Enneagram wasn't originally intended as a system for personality "types." The Enneagram definitely deals with personality dynamics, but in all reality, I'm not just a "9," a "6," or a "5" but perhaps all at once! This goes with Gurdjieff's teaching that each one of us is actually a multitude of "I's," from which one dominates at one moment and another at the next. But given this caveat, and knowing that the Enneagram deals with dynamics among these "I's," we can learn a lot about the nature of psychology, personality, and even spiritual growth.

The Godhead's Dance

The first thing I'll point out is that the Enneagram helped me understand the nature of Mormon doctrine. If we keep in mind that what's important in the Enneagram isn't the positions along the side of the circle but the lines that connect them (i.e. how one type develops into another type), the inner triangle you can see in the Enneagram between "9," "3," and "6" has a lot to say about that doctrine. You can think of those three numbers along these lines:

  • 9: Peace, stability
  • 3: Achievement
  • 6: Finitude
This is just a provisional definition, obviously. But if we keep it for the moment, we can relate it to another of Gurdjieff's teachings; the "law of three." He explains it like this:

The teaching of three forces is at the root of all ancient systems. The first force may be called the active or positive; the second, positive or negative; the thrid, neutralizing. But these are merely names, for in reality all three forces are equally active and appear as active, passive, or neutralizing, only at their meeting points, that is to say, only in relation to one another at a given moment.
Gurdjieff never explains things with too much clarity (which is his genius), so I'll make some leaps when making my argument here. Notice that the each point in the Enneagram has two lines leading away from it to other points.  In my mind, those lines connect that point to two other points with which they form those three forces. For instance with number 5 (which we can think of as "heady intellectualism"), the active force would be number 8 (basically "embodiment" and "power") and the passive force would be 7 ("stimulation" or the aimless search for it), whereas the neutralizing force would be 5 itself. In other words, 7's aimlessness becomes 8's force through the "medium" or "context," of 5. When you're a "5," then (or are "acting from" an "I" that's a 5), you can think of your life in that state as a drive or will to go from aimlessness to power, something which your regular state of being embodies latently. In other words, what 5 is in potential, the movement from 7 to 8 is in actuality.

Going back to 9, 3, and 6, it relates to the Mormon doctrine in much the same way. 9's peacefulness becomes fully expressed in the movement from 6's finitude to 3's achievement, whereas 3's ambition becomes expressed in a movement from 9's peacefulness to 6's finitude, etc. Treating these three legs individually, the "movement" from 9 to 3, from peacefulness to achievement, is the one of creation, while 3 to 6 is one of emptying or "the Fall," and the one from 6 to 9 is the one of atonement. Those familiar with obscure conference talks will recognize McConkie's "three pillars of creation" here. Going from 9 to 3, the primordial perfection of deity actualizes itself by creating a world to glorify itself. Going from 3 to 6, that world and its inhabitants abandons the sin of pride by humbling itself into a realization of its finitude, either voluntarily or by being "compelled to do so."  And going from 6 to 9, the finite being emptied-out by humility becomes filled again by the atonement of Christ.

This has interesting consequences. First of all, if the ideas I had about the movement of the two "legs" expressing a movement from passive to active, it means that each point of the triangle, when regarded from its position at the "tail end" of a line, is insufficient. That is, 9 is insufficient because a peaceful, perfect God needs a finite world of creation to come forth. Likewise, a self-seeking creation (3) needs to realize its finitude (6) to progress, whereas a consciousness of finitude needs to accept grace and the atonement (9) to progress. Likewise, that means that to go in a "reverse" direction would be harmful. If a self-seeking 3 thought itself primordially perfect like a 9, that would be a problem. It needs to become a finite "6" in order to go there. Likewise, a finite 6 misses the point by trying harder and harder to overcome that finitude through achievement. In order to achieve, 6 needs to go to 9 by accepting the atonement (the solution to the problems of grace and works). And someone who has become "perfected in Christ" in 9 through the atonement certainly shouldn't wallow in their insufficiency like a 6 but instead go out and do like a 3.

Moreover, if we keep in mind that 8, 9, and 1  correspond to the instincts or the "body," 2, 3, and 4 to emotions or the "heart," and 5, 6, and 7 to thoughts or the "mind,"we can draw some more conclusions. The movement from a self-seeking 3 to a humble 6 is an intellectual one, or one toward the intellect; you realize your insufficiency as an insight or an epiphany, in your head. Likewise, the movement from a self-hating, guilty-feeling 6 to a peaceful 9 is one of embodiment or moving toward the body. As Adam S. Miller alludes to in an essay on the atonement, the atonement the guarantor of resurrection helps one feel embodied and here in the present moment. With the atonement, you can accept anything that comes your way with peace, equanimity, and presence, since you know that your life is in the hands of God. And likewise, in that "9 state," the progression to 3 (doing works) is one of emotion or toward the heart: you are moved by the plight of others in suffering and you long to do something about it. Works come from love, as they should.

Likewise, the members of the Godhead correspond to these three legs. The Father is the "loving" movement from primordial perfection toward creation or from 9 to 3. The Son is movement of self-emptying or "kenosis" from 3 to 6 that, as "the Word," is an intellectual process. Finally, the Holy Ghost is a movement of embodiment that goes from finitude to fullness as, through Him, God enters the embodied lives of you and me.

Other Applications

You may have noticed that I've ignored 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and 8. This is true, but they work in the same way. Each number is the locus of a movement from a "lower" state and to a "higher" state. I use quotation marks because the process is cyclical - notice that the complex shape between those six numbers actually loops around if you follow the lines. So I'd provisionally point out the following processes as a cycle of "healthy movement" in everyday life:

  • 5 goes to 8: An overly intellectual mindset  of 8 completes itself by becoming embodied or "out of one's head" in 8.
  • 8 goes to 2: The over-the-top roughness and toughness of 8 is softened by going to the altruism of 2.
  • 2 goes to 4: The altruistic-to-a-fault 2 becomes more of an individual by remembering their own needs in 4.
  • 4 goes to 1: The 4, convinced of their uniqueness but therefore somewhat narcissistic, becomes more realistic by accepting the objectivity of 1.
  • 1 goes to 7: The overly serious 1 "loosens up" by entering the spontaneity of 7.
  • 7 goes to 5: The impulsive and somewhat manic 7 slows down and gets more focused by going into 5's intellectual focus.
These are the healthy movements. So, if you find yourself in an overly mental, obsessive state (5), the right choice would be to go to 8 and become more embodied, gutsy, and forceful. In other words, get over your hesitation; don't keep researching; get out and be in the world.  The wrong movement would be to go to 7 and become more impulsive and pleasure-seeking. The problem is that the "right" movement goes against the grain; you need to push yourself to go there. But what a reward when you do! As someone who spends a lot of time in "5," I can attest to the pure, visceral ecstasy of being gutsy, powerful, and in-the-world. By comparison, it trumps my impulse to give up my obsessive research by disintegrating into impulsive spontaneity and mania. Et cetera, et cetera.


I could talk a lot more about this, but I think that's enough for one post. I trust that you see the Enneagram's potential. It is a representation of the world in miniature, and the forces and movements in the world are there for everyone to see in it. So I'd encourage you to meditate on it and come up with conclusions of your own. As Gurjieff implied, its potential is inexhaustible.

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