By Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson

From Radical Grace Vol. 19, No. 4, October/November/December 2006, the quarterly publication of The Center for Action and Contemplation.


Learning to be "in the world, but not of it" is a goal of many ancient wisdom traditions. It implies that humans are spiritual beings incarnated in the material world and must learn to navigate this essentially and fundamentally foreign territory without getting lost or losing themselves in the process. It also implies a very great nobility of purpose for us human beings—to be actively engaged in the life of the world, to throw our hearts and souls into it and to enrich the world without ever forgetting who we are and what our true home is. "To be in the world, but not of it" is a difficult and constantly challenging invitation to "hold the tension" between forgetting ourselves in our worldly affairs versus imagining that we are somehow beyond the world in some kind of transcendent way that leaves the world and others behind. The tension of "being in the world, but not of it" is only resolved by learning to be present in the moment.


However, if we learn to be present, we inevitably run into the primary barrier to our ability to do so—our personality, with all of its illusions, defenses, and hidden features. In fact, our personality is the primary barrier to our waking up because one of the main features of the personality is to make its features invisible. In simple terms, we do not see ourselves as we really are. We see our selves as an idealized version of our actual self. We need help to really see ourselves—usually from an authentic teacher or a source of objective knowledge and wisdom about ourselves. This is where the Enneagram comes in as one of the greatest resources for our Inner Work and the journey of the soul to find its way back to its true home.


Our understanding of the Enneagram personality system—which is actually far more than a personality typology—is that there are nine fundamental types of human nature—nine ways of being in the world. Each type is an archetype of an aspect of human consciousness with a full range of positive and negative qualities. We have all nine types in each of us, but one type has formed in response to the primal catastrophe of our childhoods—forgetting our connection to the living Divine in us. In Christian terms, the primal catastrophe is the "original sin" of separate consciousness that we were born into—and with it, a forgetting of our true selves and our birthright as children of God.


The result of forgetting ourselves led to a shutting down of our perception of the light of divine love in our own consciousness—and, as a result, our plunging into the darkness of apparent separateness, defectiveness, lack of love, feeling that we have no realness in ourselves, that we do not know who we are—and more. In fact, these reactions are what, in our interpretation of the Enneagram, we call the "Basic Fear" which unconsciously deeply affects each type. (The nine Basic Fears are related to the traditional "passions" given to us both by Christian tradition dating to the fourth century as the "Seven Capital Sins" and by Oscar Ichazo, the father of the modern Enneagram.)

If our primal sense of union and orientation with reality has been disrupted, we need a time of healing and re-orientation before we can feel whole and well enough to allow ourselves to surrender back into Being, to let go consciously of the individual sense of self that has arisen. We need to get back to being aware of the Oneness, and time to yield ourselves to the Oneness. The development of a healthy ego-self buys us time and experience to do that. But, in the end, we need to learn how to surrender ourselves to grace and to allow ourselves to be worked on by higher forces.


If, however, we continue to "forget the Oneness," we will continue to identify with the ego-self and the sense of separateness and alienation that it creates. To counter the terror of this fear, the mind creates a "Basic Desire" which is the mistaken conviction that the ego-self can be fixed by something it can do in the world, or what it can get from other people, or by its own efforts.

As a result of the Basic Desire, we take a "wrong turn" by identifying with what seems to be the main strength that will help us achieve our ego-ideal and unconscious goal: rationality and order (type One), love and intimacy (type Two), affirmation of value and desirability (type Three), identity and self-definition (type Four), knowledge and mastery (type Five) vigilance and safety (type Six), happiness and freedom (type Seven), self-defense and strength (type Eight), and effortlessness and unselfconsciousness (type Nine).

But, by going after these limited goods, our personality starts to create a more limited ego-identity and inevitably creates increasing inner conflict, dislocation from the real self, pain and suffering.

Inevitably, at various points in everyone’s life, more painful, threatening, disruptive things happen—to our selves, to our loved ones, and in the world at large, creating a "crisis of faith" in each of us. Do we continue to live in the moment and in connection with consciousness, presence, and awareness, or do we turn to our ego-self and identify more completely with that? If we succumb to this temptation, we move into the average Levels of personality type—and into the imbalance of our personality "fixation."

In the average Levels, the imbalance is marked by a shift that results in a more direct and all-encompassing identification with the ego-self, and a rapid forgetting of (and disconnection from) Being, truth, and our divine essence. The weight and energy of the psyche now starts going into the identification with the ego-self—and with maintaining and intensifying our identification with our ego-self against all reason, conscience, or wisdom. Rather than having a flexible identity and ego-structure (as in the healthy Levels), we start to have a more fixed and rigid ego-structure—with many devastating, negative consequences for ourselves and others.

At the beginning of this process, there is usually enough self-awareness to become aware of the "Wake-Up Call"—the signal that we have, in fact, already moved into the average Levels and are possibly in danger of moving further down the Levels into deeper identification with the ego. The Wake-Up Call is not an automatic ticket back to the healthy Levels, but if we are awake enough to remember the Wake-Up Call and see it operating in our self, we are also probably awake enough to dis-identify with our fixation and in so doing, move back up to the healthy Levels.


The Enneagram is helpful for our Inner Work because it not only specifies our personality type, but what to look for from moment to moment, as we move from greater or lesser degrees of presence and awareness—along what we call the "Levels of Development." The Levels are nine internal states within each type, from the most present, free, and open (at Level 1, the Level of Liberation) to the most un-free, compulsive, and out of control (at Level 9, the Level of Pathological Destructiveness). See our books such as The Wisdom of the Enneagram (Bantam, 1999) and Personality Types (Houghton Mifflin, 1996) for more. For example, when type Four is aware that they are having conversations in their imaginations, or are holding onto feelings from the past in their fantasies, they have moved into the average Levels of their type, and are in danger of becoming yet more identified with their personality’s defensive structures and locked in their fixation in numerous ways. In other words, "holding onto and intensifying feelings through the imagination" is the Wake-Up Call of type Four—and could serve as a mental alarm clock to wake them up to their state.

The following characteristic "Wake-Up Calls" for each of the nine personality types happen at the beginning of the average Levels for each type:

For Type One, The Reformer: Feeling a sense of personal obligation to fix everything themselves

For Type Two, The Helper: Believing that they must do more for others to win them over

For Type Three, The Achiever: Driving themselves constantly for status and attention

For Type Four, The Individualist: Holding onto and intensifying feelings through the imagination

For Type Five, The Investigator: Withdrawing from reality into concepts and mental worlds

For Type Six, The Loyalist: Depending on something outside the self for guidance

For Type Seven, The Enthusiast: Thinking that something better is available somewhere else

For Type Eight, The Challenger: Feeling that they must push and struggle to make things happen

For Type Nine, The Peacemaker: Outwardly accommodating themselves to others

Working with the Enneagram

In the process of waking up and becoming more present, nothing is automatic. Nevertheless, the Enneagram can help us in the following ways.

We need to see our type correctly and to understand its mechanisms deeply and thoroughly.

We need to be clear, especially about our Passion and Fixation and how they operate and manifest in ourselves.

We need to experience and thoroughly investigate our degree of entrapment in our own Passion and Fixation—that is to say, at what Levels we operate. This is difficult due to our tendency to see ourselves at Level 2—as our ego-ideal—as well as because the defense mechanisms of the ego try to keep us in the dark and ignorant.

We need to find a way to stay present when a contradiction, lie, or threatening truth about ourselves has been seen or uncovered. The mechanism of the personality is to go on the attack, to "change the topic," or to dissociate—among other reactions. How to stay with the inquiry once something valuable has been uncovered?—how to "hold the tension"?


We need to learn to observe ourselves, although self-observation alone can be a slow process and can stop altogether. Still, we can use books to prepare our awareness for "catching ourselves in the act," so that when something arises, we recognize our personality mechanisms in action. In short, knowing what to look for will help us see things.

However, the tendency is for the process of self-observation and self-remembering to stop unless there is a "higher force" or another good influence constantly at work. Everything so easily and so quickly becomes mechanical, habitual, and unconscious unless presence and consciousness are constantly brought to everything we do. In the last analysis, the challenge always comes down to learning how to remain present and in contact with self during our self-observation from moment to moment.


Copyright The Enneagram Institute 1998-2014.