Enneagram: Coming Home

by | Dec 14, 2022 | Christine Hall's Blog

TRAVEL HAS ME APPRECIATING HOME AGAIN. I enjoy my comfy bed, cozy wood stove, familiar foods, and I can find things in the kitchen. People here know me thoroughly, and like me anyway. Plus I can hang out in my bathrobe on a weekend morning. There’s an ease as I’ve unpacked, a relief and relaxation into an ordinary place where I belong.

“Home” is a potent image. What might it mean to you? What’s the ideal? What’s not?

This month, I’ve been reflecting on the Enneagram and spiritual growth in preparation for retreat January 13-16, 2023 (additional blog posts linked below). Today, I’m playing with the ideal of home, and how the Enneagram can help us come home to self and Spirit.

At Home Within?

The Enneagram* invites us to open inner doors to who we are and how we think, feel, and do our own lives. We can learn from the architecture of our own nature. We can celebrate the essential Goodness of who we were made to be. We can gain awareness of how God animates and dwells in intimate relationship with our uniqueness. We build confidence in Divine guidance to contribute the best of who we are to our world.

But most of our lives we’re disconnected from this home within. Responsibilities and constant connectivity leave little time for self-awareness, reflection, or prayer. Habits of personality obscure our finest possibilities. How could anything change?

Limited Sense of Self

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with our personality or the unconscious patterns that help our inner house function. This sense of self is just limited. Psychologist call it the ego. Thomas Merton labeled it the False Self. It’s bound up in our roles, exterior characteristics and relationships, and is mostly self-reinforcing. It’s shaped by our cultures, families of origin, environment, significant experiences and relationships, and the communities of which we are part.

The Enneagram offers language for tendencies and well-known pitfalls of a limited sense of self. It helps us recognize the insatiable needs that drive us: to understand, to get things right, to be needed or liked, to challenge authority, to be safe, peaceful, happy, or avoid discomfort and suffering. Working below the surface, these needs orchestrate our experience of ourselves and others. From the perspective of the False Self, there’s not much sense of the Spirit within, not much trust or deep satisfaction in life.

True Self and Essence

Thomas Merton and the Enneagram both contrast this limited sense of self with another option. I like Merton’s term: True Self. True Self is home. We may have gotten glimpses of this best version of ourselves, or what I call my self-in-God. I recognize it when my anxieties and urgency fall away; judgements ease; emotions smooth; envy and competition fade; I don’t need to be right or do it right; I welcome help and collaboration; authenticity and tenderness rise; I’m comfortable in my own skin; I trust I belong with others and the Holy One. What are your own signals for a sense of your best self?

Merton’s concept of True Self overlaps Enneagram teaching on the Essence of human nature— a pure ideal for each type. But the Enneagram thoroughly maps the bumpy landscape between the best and worst of who we are. No matter how grown up we imagine we’ve become, we all experience a dynamic range of behaviors, feelings, and thoughts. Enneagram wisdom is honest about how we slide along a continuum of unhealthy, average, and fully integrated possibilities. Sometimes all in one day! Plus in stress we seem to grab behaviors from other types to try to compensate.

In both Merton’s and Enneagram models, it’s not that we’re supposed to get rid of our personality/ego. Wise Enneagram master teachers, Don Riso and Russ Hudson, describe how the opposite happens: Our personality “becomes more transparent and flexible, something that helps us live rather than something that takes over our lives” (The wisdom of the enneagram: The complete guide to psychological and spiritual growth for the nine personality types, 1999, p29-30). What a hopeful vision of the human condition!


My own story of coming home to self and Spirit is as long and surprising as for most of us. A recent experience illustrates where I’m at these days:

It was stressful to travel to be with family after my sister’s cancer surgery this month. I needed all my self-awareness, spiritual tools, and prayer to try to stay grounded. I needed to talk with people who know my patterns and inner squirrel cages. As an Enneagram Four, I could sense the pull toward unhealthy “needing to be needed,” feeling like I didn’t belong, and wishing for others’ approval. When I begin to feel unmoored, thinking and feeling hypes up in loops. I’m now able to notice when I’m churning before it takes me over. Alleluia.

A friend pointed out one potent way my True Self shone through last week: creativity, an expression of the Essence of Enneagram Fours. Thank you, friend! That was very affirming. Creativity can be life-enhancing and redemptive. I used to joke that I can’t knit when I’m emotional, but it’s true. I make too many mistakes. So knitting has become a spiritual practice for me. It calms, centers, and literally helps me make something beautiful out of a tangle of threads, like the tangle of life’s stressors. It requires me to focus on doing something, another good integration tool for a Four. I brought my first pair of knitted socks to my sister, then started a new project.

There were other creative highlights of the week. In celebration of my brother-in-law’s 60th, I helped write birthday lyrics to Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. Can you imagine the outrageous laughter to: “You don’t need another birthday…”? This creativity brought a burst of energy and joy to the family in tough times.

The metaphor of “coming home” breaks down here. I experience Essence or True Self as more like a dance with the Spirit. It’s something I participate in more than “arrive at” once and for all. I sense I’m collaborating with a Greater Source that overflows with goodness and beauty. That of God within smooths the way toward psychological and spiritual agility, freedom, and deep satisfaction.

I have grown most in awareness of True Self and God at the center of my life through Centering Prayer. The foundation of the practice is “consent to the presence and action of God within.” It asks 20 minutes of open-ended, receptive silence and stillness. I’m noticing my own thoughts emotions, and sensations without judgment or attachment, then releasing them into the Holy. The point is not to stop thinking or feeling or doing, but to not BE our thinking/feeling/reacting selves. It’s letting go of a limited sense of self. I’ve been surprised by what’s taking up space in me! As I’ve practiced over years now, my own self-limitations and compulsive thinking/feeling patterns have lost power in my life. 

The simple poem below captures some of what it’s like when I “come home” to self and Spirit. The words always spark memories of our long-gone dog, Lilly, greeting me at the door with unfettered glee.

Home to laughter, home to rest,
Home to those we love the best,
Home to where there is none to hate,
Where no foes in anguish wait,
Where no jealous, envious mind,
Seeks with glee a fault to find.
Now the day is done and I
Turn to hear a welcoming cry.
Love is dancing at the door,
I am safe at home once more.

—Margaret Fishbeck Powers
(in Attenborough, The children’s book of poems, prayers and meditations,1998)

What’s it like for you to come home to yourself and Spirit?

Enneagram: Coming Home to Self and Spirit

Residential Retreat, January 13 – 16, 2023, Union, WA
Details and Application Here

*If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram, it’s an ancient wisdom tool describing nine ways of seeing and experiencing the world. The nine Enneagram personality types have unique strengths and challenges, so at its best the Enneagram can prompt astonishing psychological and spiritual growth. It helps us tend what we bring to relationships, work, and a life of faith and faithful service or activism. Blog posts in this series: