Enneagram: Helpful Quaker Baggage
HEAVY BAGGAGE WEIGHS US DOWN. Who wants to lug a giant suitcase to the airport, or hike with an 80 pound backpack? Then there’s the emotional, historical baggage we bring into new situations and relationships. Part of spiritual growth is healing and letting go of what burdens us. But a well-packed suitcase or knapsack prepares us and can ease a journey into the unknown. Quaker spirituality brings really useful baggage 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 also helps us tend what we bring to relationships, work, and a life of faith and faithful service or activism.
So, whether or not you’re a Quaker like me, I’ll share my most helpful Quaker baggage in two blog posts. For today:
Your inner life matters.
Quakers aren’t the only people or faith community to recognize this, but we do take the inner life very seriously. We celebrate that there is something essentially Good within, something of God. And we continue to learn how to sort inward influences and motivations: What is of the Spirit? What is…not? What hinders our awareness of the Divine and its fullest expression through each of us? We learn to trust an Inner Teacher to guide us both individually and in groups.
The Enneagram is first about you; it invites and develops capacities for self-reflection. It complements all the other ways you already know yourself—from past experiences, personality tests, therapy, 12-Step recovery work, journaling, faith traditions, and more. Only you can identify your “type” because Enneagram types are built around core motivations invisible to anyone else. The Enneagram provides a nuanced framework for recognizing healthy growth, hindrances and resistance. It can reveal the relationship between our personality—with both our strengths and unhealthy coping mechanisms—and our soul.
Many Quakers honor “community” as a vibrant expression of their experience of the Spirit. The Divine is present and active between or among us as well as within us. What may begin as individual insight, inner peace, wonder, joy, or freedom, also weaves us in relationship to others. Or turn it around: Maybe you first recognized the Holy as active in relationships—in belonging, group worship, mutual care, or service to others. Then you recognized the echo of that Grace within yourself.
Quakers lean into our connections to each other and those around us. We build trust through authentic sharing and acceptance of others. Personal self-awareness and spirituality are complemented by communal experiences of worship, support, and group discernment. Because we trust that our lives are not “all about me,” we’re more apt to keep reaching across divides, working toward reconciliation and solidarity with others.
Popular approaches to the Enneagram can become self-absorbed. Quakers’ emphasis on community invites a healthy course correction. The Enneagram can reveal how our temperaments affect each other—our communication styles and clashes, emotional intelligence, capacities for doing, the strengths or weaknesses of our thinking, our assertiveness or tendencies to withdraw, even our relationship to time. All that doesn’t fit into an Enneagram intro session; it’s a long unfolding of insight and implication for our lives. And it’s worth it.
Each of us experiences the dynamic between our inner lives and relationships with others differently. But there are patterns recognized by modern psychology and the Enneagram. The perspective below is mine alone, offered as an example of how both Quaker spirituality and the Enneagram have boosted my awareness and capacity for growth. As you read, you may notice what echoes your experience or what seems very different.
I identify with Enneagram Type Four, labeled the Individualist, the Romantic, or the Artist. It’s one of three “heart-centered” types whose emotions shape their experience of new situations and information. In Enneagram-speak, I’m in the “Feeling Triad”. Like most Fours, I get “all the feels, all the time.” Fours are introspective by nature, complicated, and often misunderstood. I’m also a high introvert. I used to arrive in a new group feeling uneasy, different, and wondering if I belonged, or whether others liked or approved me. Yeah, it wasn’t fun.
The Quaker ideal of community changed my life. Parker Palmer, well-known Quaker author of Hidden Wholeness… (2004), offers this insight:
We have much to learn from within, but it is easy to get lost in the labyrinth of the inner life. We have much to learn from others, but it is easy to get lost in the confusion of the crowd. So we need solitude and community simultaneously; what we learn in one mode can check and balance what we learn in the other. Together, they make us whole, like breathing in and breathing out. (p 55).
At my worst, I can get lost in my inner life, disconnected from others, and sink deep into the melancholy of Four-ness. With Quaker spirituality and Enneagram teachings, it’s been a healthy stretch to share my inner reality with others and shift my focus outward. Yes, there are Fours who share more easily than I do. We could natter on about sub-types for a while here, but no…
Quaker small group sharing has offered the most accepting, caring, open-ended formats for inner exploration that I’ve ever known. Processes have looked like Palmer’s “circles of trust,” worship sharing, clearness committees, spiritual nurture groups, and one-to-one Spirit-led “eldering” accompaniment. On retreats I facilitate, participants engage processes like these conscientiously. They are often the most transformative element.
For decades now, compassionate Quaker listeners have heard and honored my real experiences. They helped me tend my emotional life in ways I couldn’t manage on my own. With the overlay of Enneagram teaching, I’m learning how to interrupt the feeling-thinking amplification cycle that can hook me too quickly. Sometimes merely saying what I’m feeling aloud to a trusted friend makes obvious the absurdity of “the story in my head.” Then I am able to listen and be more present to others, relying on stronger thinkers and do-ers in groups, and step forward to contribute in more life-giving ways.
Pack your bags!
If this individual and community approach appeals to you, consider diving in to the Enneagram with Way of the Spirit at an in-person retreat January 13-16, 2023 in Union, WA near Tacoma. No experience needed with Quaker spirituality or the Enneagram. Next week, I’ll unpack more helpful Quaker baggage for Enneagram exploration—process over outcome, and integration of both sacred and secular, and the inner life with outward actions.
Enneagram: Coming Home to Self and Spirit
Residential Retreat, January 13 – 16, 2023, Union, WA
Application Deadline January 4, 2023
Details and Application Here