Welcome to my first entry as part of the rotating contributors of Sacred Sundays. I intend to use these slots to explore Sandra Maitri's book The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram.
If you're new to the Enneagram personality type system, I wrote an overview on this site. If you're curious as to the connection between the Enneagram and spirituality, here's Sandra Maitri's answer:
"The work of spiritual development, as I see it, is to reconnect with the spiritual depths of our soul - our essential nature. Essence is not one static state or experience, but may arise in our consciousness as different qualities such as compassion, peacefulness, clarity, acceptance, impeccability, spaciousness, and intelligence, to name just a few, each with a characteristic feeling tone and quality of presence - even with its own unique taste and smell. These various manifestations or features of our Essence or True Nature are called the Essential Aspects."
Many see the Enneagram as simply a typology. I'm this type, you're that type. This is type is such and such, that type is so and so. Implicit in this view is the notion that that's as far as our explorations need to go, that our personalities are our who we really are. Not so. They're coping strategies, developed early in life. As Maitri says:
"For most of us, our lives are lived within the narrow confines of what we take ourselves and the world around us to be, which, from the perspective of those not so imprisoned, is a tiny part of what is truly available to us. Particular thought patterns, feelings, and most overtly, situations repeat themselves over and over in our lives, giving our inner experience a sense of sameness. Beneath these repetitive patterns, we find fixed convictions about who we are and what the world we inhabit is like. These beliefs were formed during the first few years of life as our self-definition developed in response to our encounters with the environment and those within it, in combination with our innate predispositions. They came to shape our thought patterns and selves. The world that most of us inhabit, inner and outer, then, is large a product of our past - difficult as that may be to acknowledge. The outer trappings may be more sophisticated and current than those of early childhood, but the inner core of who we take ourselves to be bears the uncanny outlines of ourselves at two or three years of age. The cast of characters may change, but how we relate to and interact with them, how we feel about and even experience them, remains more or less constant and has the state taste of familiarity."
This is a central idea of Gabor Mate's as well. In his books he describes how for the first three years of life, our brains develop at the same rate they did in the womb. We're extremely malleable. And sensitive. The emotional atmosphere of our environment imprints itself on our synapses, forming our lasting impression of who we are and what the world is like.
But we can free ourselves. As Maitri says: "The enneagram's deeper function is to point the way to who we are beyond the level of personality, a dimension of ourselves that is infinitely more profound, more interesting, more rewarding, and more real."