Enneagram: Not a Test
THE ENNEAGRAM IS NOT A PERSONALITY TEST, even though there are dozens of tests out there. Enneagram teachers I respect claim most online tests are wrong anyway, or at best misleading. What am I suggesting with my prickly title? Why does it matter?
When other kinds of tests come to mind, we might want to just “get it over with.” But the Enneagram is not a one time thing, completed and barely relevant in the rearview mirror. In modern times, it’s been stereotyped as nine caricatures of personality types. Most people stop at a label they learn… from a test: “I’m a helper, a challenger, or a romantic,” etc. That’s good fodder for party banter, but doesn’t make much difference in people’s lives.
Unlike most tests, the Enneagram is not a static measure of success or failure. It’s a dynamic framework for self-awareness and growth. Trendy modern approaches barely scratch the surface of its implications. When explored closely, there’s no other tool I’ve found as continually engaging or nuanced as Enneagram wisdom.
Are you of an age to remember the old radio tests of the Emergency Broadcast System (now the Emergency Alert System on our mobile devices)? A harsh series of signals blared, followed by a recorded voice saying, “This is a test. This is only a test.” Once or twice I heard the voice warn, “This is not a test,” and it got my attention! The Enneagram may be “not a test” like that.
A Wake Up Call
The Enneagram calls us to wake up to ourselves and our mostly unconscious, self-cycling patterns. It’s about how we encounter each moment based on habits of personality. Like an emergency alert, the Enneagram can suggest healthier options. It keeps inviting change and the best possibilities of our nature.
The Enneagram is not a lot of things. At its best, it is a powerful tool for self-understanding and soul growth.
I came to the Enneagram through ministry in spiritual companioning and retreat facilitation. My most spectacular “fails” over the years—while thankfully not outwardly disastrous—had a sense of disconnect from others’ experience. Surprise! People were different than me. My first Enneagram seminar at a Spiritual Directors International conference changed everything. Of course we are different, but the Enneagram honors those differences. No personality Type is better or worse than another. No gold stars for the winners or red marks for those other folks.
Words for Our Variety
The Enneagram offers words for the varieties of human experience, what drives us, how we act when stressed, and what helps diverse temperaments thrive. It’s like a distillation of centuries (maybe millennia) of psychological and spiritual guidance, with language for what we barely understand about ourselves and our differences.
You’d think there’d be something limiting in exploring only nine Enneagram personality Types. The brilliance of the model is that it really does not put people in boxes. As teachers far wiser than I have said, “it shows us the box we’re already in—and the way out” (Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. The Wisdom of the Enneagram…1999, 28). Beyond the memes and quick online assessments, the Enneagram can help guide a life-long journey toward integration of mind, body, and emotions.
A Spiritual Tool
It’s actually a spiritual tool, meaningful if you’re part of an organized faith community or not, no matter what you believe. This is what matters to me: The Enneagram reveals the relationship between our personality, with its unhealthy coping mechanisms, and our soul. It offers glimpses of what brings wholeness, or fullness of Life, purpose, or a sense of direction. As a spiritual tool, it can be combined with other spiritual tools: prayer practices, books, therapy, spiritual direction/companioning, and supportive community.
Yes, the Enneagram begins with an inward journey—honest self observation and reflection. Only you can truly identify your Type. But the applications in daily life are many. Its wisdom can help us recognize and tend what we bring to the table in relationships, work, and the life of faith and faithful service or activism. In our spiritual lives, it suggests uniquely beneficial approaches to prayer or spiritual practice.
Back to the marvel of just how different we are… Our contemporary cultural divides have been disturbing and discouraging. The Enneagram offers perspectives like bridges over that abyss. Learning from each other is more than half the wonder of an Enneagram retreat. We hear and learn from our differences as I encourage people to explore and share their stories.
So, can you tell I’m really jazzed about the Enneagram these days? An in-person retreat in January 2023 will be the first time Way of the Spirit has featured the Enneagram. No experience needed either. The tradition has been oral for ages, without written assessments or books. So it helps to be together on residential retreat, listening, sharing, and growing.
There will be no test!
Enneagram: Coming Home to Self and Spirit
Residential Retreat, January 13 – 16, 2023, Union, WA
Application Deadline January 4, 2023
Details and Application Here