Enneagram – For Integration
Integration: “…a state or the act of combining or being combined into a cohesive whole.” (merriam-webster.com)
INTEGRATION IS A FAIRLY POPULAR IDEAL for personal growth in contemporary Western culture. It sounds “holistic” and “balanced,” and pretty good all around. But how do we do integration? And what might integration mean for our spiritual lives?
Today, I’ll focus on the inside job—an invitation to integrate disparate facets of our sense of self into a cohesive whole. I’m not talking about reconciling our inner child and parent, or orchestrating the roles we take in society: a worker-self, parent-self, or religious-self. With the Enneagram, we can zoom in on core capacities for integration— how we think, feel, and do our lives.
No blame if you don’t know much about this for yourself. We may recognize when someone is prone to extremes—over-doing, emotional drama, or heady intellectualization. But we’re not taught to notice the subtle functioning of what the Enneagram* calls our “centers of intelligence.” It might surprise you how differently people engage these capacities.
The nine Enneagram personality types each have distinctive patterns of thinking, feeling and doing. Mostly they are unconscious, and make for varied strengths and weaknesses. With Enneagram wisdom and vocabulary, we can map equally varied journeys toward healthy integration.
It’s quite hopeful, though it can take a lot of effort and prayer, not to mention a supportive circle!
An illustration may help. Not that your story will be like mine, but I offer it in hopes that you’ll wonder about your own personality patterns and hopes for integration.
I identify with Enneagram Type Four, one of three personality types whose first take on a situation will be something like, “What do I feel?” Feelings are up front, my strongest “center of intelligence.” When I’m “off kilter” there’s predictable emotional turmoil. Intentional integration with thinking and doing will help!
Recently, on the final day facilitating a five day workshop, I awoke in a glum, discouraged mood. It was weird. Things had gone very well so far, and I was satisfied with my part. The morning was supposed to be a joyful wrap up. Often my feelings are unpredictable and variable. They just are. It’s how I’m wired.
Reflecting with a good friend before facilitating the final session, I recognized an inner mess. In head and heart, I was rehashing a mostly unrelated interaction the day before. I had compared myself unfavorably to someone else’s expertise. I thought she disapproved of my efforts, and it was eating at me. Fours are prone to a kind of envy that leaves us feeling “less than.” My feeling and thinking ….and more feeling and thinking about it… were amplifying the inner disturbance. And part of me also felt sad about the end of the workshop I was facilitating. I wanted to keep going with this good group! It was a spiral into melancholy and self-doubt. Not a pretty picture.
Lest I sound like a complete wreck, I’ll try to reassure you that I’m also a competent, practiced facilitator, and was thoroughly prepared for the upcoming session. No one would have known of my inner angst but me.
Now I know how to recognize my least healthy cues and interrupt the emotional potholes of my personality/ego. I need to stop. I need to think and do something different. I know how to choose to integrate my feelings more fully with healthy doing and thinking.
Interrupting Ingrained Patterns
Speaking the “stories in my head” aloud to someone I trust helps. That’s a concrete action that shifts my thinking. That weird morning, my friend listened, then asked in a gentle, kind voice, “What do you need right now?” May you have a friend who knows and loves you so well!
First, I took a couple moments of quiet. Second, I simply acknowledged the reality of my discouragement. Rather than telling myself “not to feel that way,” I said an inner, “Hello. I see you.” This practice wedges a little perspective into a situation: I have my feelings; my feelings don’t have me.
Third, I asked myself a key question, “Is the story I’m telling myself about this situation true? ….Is it really?” Nope. There was the trouble—me wishing to be like someone else, imagining there’s something wrong with just being me. The narrative about the other’s expertise or disapproval was not true. I try to remember not to believe everything I think. It’s a gift when the Holy reminds me that I, no less than anyone else, am beloved as I am. A few tears may have fallen.
And finally, I was ready to pivot, to turn toward the Divine with all of who I am for the last workshop session. With renewed energy and focus, I actually shared aloud with the group my sadness about our closing. Others spoke up, with hopes for continuing opportunities to support each other’s growth. It was remarkable. My openness invited others’ authentic expression.
That’s a glimpse of how the Enneagram works as a kind of road map of resilient responses through something of my worst, unconscious, repeating patterns. It invites self-awareness and points toward healthy options for psychological and spiritual development.
The Enneagram offers tools that encourages the best possible uses of our thinking, feeling, and doing. We can learn to celebrate the healthy and let go of the unhealthy expressions of those capacities: Strong feelers can learn to tend any over active emotionality; big thinkers can learn to manage their least productive thinking; and powerful do-ers can learn to regulate their over-doing.
The dream is for all of our doing, thinking and feeling to dance in graceful collaboration with the Spirit. The vision is fullness of Life, wholeness, the best version of who we could be, or our True Self. Enneagram wisdom calls it “Essence.”
For those of us who follow Jesus’ Way, the ideal of integration could sound like Jesus’ urging to, “… love the Most High God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 IB). “Heart” points toward our emotions; “strength” suggests our physical actions or doing; “mind” recalls our thinking or intellect; and “soul” suggests something of our inborn connection to the Divine, essential and accessible in each of us. Jesus’ proclaims this the “greatest commandment,” echoing the core of his Jewish faith from Deuteronomy 6:5. To my reading, the fullness of integration probably makes the next line possible: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
If this kind of integration intrigues you, consider diving into the Enneagram with a Way of the Spirit residential retreat, October 19-22, in Mt. Angel, Oregon. No experience needed! Apply by October 1st.
An Approach to the Enneagram
*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 can help us tend what we bring to relationships, work, and a life of faith and faithful service or activism.
This essay is part of a series exploring my approach to the Enneagram. If you’re considering attending an Enneagram retreat or workshop through the Way of the Spirit program, these posts can help orient you:
- Enneagram: Not a Test — Recognizing nuanced and practical Enneagram wisdom
- Enneagram: Helpful Quaker Baggage, Pt 1 — Tending the inner life and community
- Enneagram: Helpful Quaker Baggage Pt 2 —Valuing process over outcome, integration of the inner with outer life, and the sacred with the ordinary
- Enneagram: Coming Home — Charting paths of growth toward True self or Enneagram Essence