Category Archives: Enneagram

Neuroscience, Buddhism, and the Enneagram

Current neuroscience research supports the Buddhist belief that we are sleepwalking through life (“budhi” means to wake up), as well as the theory behind the Enneagram that we are all on autopilot most of the time. Although we have the impression that our behavior is consciously chosen, consciousness comprises only a small part of our brain’s activity—and consciousness is both limited and a huge energy hog. The vast majority of our thoughts, feelings, and actions are the result of brain activity we aren’t even aware of.

It can be hard to come to terms with the idea that we’re not consciously choosing every single thing we do. Even if we don’t always like what we’ve done—or at least the results—we want to believe we have freely chosen to do those things. Choice and freedom go hand-in-hand for us, and free choice means we have the ability or power to decide and to act of our own free will. But the reality is that our unconscious rules us to a considerable extent; and there is no way for us to directly access the unconscious.

We evolved this way in order to increase our chances of surviving. If we were forced to consciously think about everything we do, starting when we get out of bed in the morning, we would quickly deplete our brain’s reserves of conscious attention. Then, when a situation arose that required conscious attention, we wouldn’t have any left to devote to it. The expression “brain dead” aptly describes this state.

When we’re “brain dead,” our brain hasn’t really stopped functioning. We probably can’t solve a tricky problem or plan a complex project or learn and retain new information. But our unconscious is still operating just fine. It can get us home while looking out for any potential danger, take us through the operation of familiar kitchen appliances or drive-through restaurants to get us fed, and make sure we complete our regular bedtime routines.

Those are the kinds of things our unconscious does best. It’s always looking out for us, which is a very good thing. However, it has much more influence over us than we’re aware of, and it’s been influencing us our entire lives. After decades of believing we’re running the show, it can be tough—and initially alarming—to recognize how little control we actually have.

Yet, waking up to this state of affairs and figuring out where to find the autopilot switch is the only chance we have of actually gaining some control. Neuroscience is now giving us an opportunity to take a peek under the hood, so to speak. It’s fascinating to me. The research supports what I’ve been aware of ever since I was introduced to the Enneagram nearly 20 years ago–and what Buddhism has been telling us for centuries.

Type 6: Suspicious Minds

number_6This video clip on Type 6 from suggests that life, for 6s, is akin to being trapped in an endless Halloween scene–or a scary fairy tale with no happy ending in sight.

It’s hard to feel safe when the witches and goblins are always after you. The deer-in-the-headlights expression on this 6‘s face below says it all.

The comments definitely have a theme. Here are three statements from three different participants:

…a constant checking for what’s going on
…you’re always watching your back
…it’s all about staying safe

Maybe 6s should come equipped with eyes in the backs of their heads.

No ToE (Theory of Everything)

No person

I have enjoyed learning about and working with the Enneagram for the past couple of decades because it explains—amazingly accurately—so much about how we humans actually function. I’ve gotten to know myself much better as a result and have learned to curb some tendencies and to live with some shortcomings. Best of all, I’ve learned to laugh at myself, at least a little. I’ve also gotten to know others on a deeper level as a result of using the Enneagram.

But sometimes I think we ask too much—or expect too much—of the Enneagram. As comprehensive a tool as it is, the Enneagram can’t and doesn’t explain everything there is to know about us. It is not the personality equivalent of a Theory of Everything.

One aspect of the Enneagram that has become increasingly popular over the past 10 years is identifying the so-called Instinctual Variants, and more recently Instinctual Variant Stacking. The concept seems to have originated with Oscar Ichazo, but it has been considerably expanded and given greater significance than it once had. The purpose of the Instinctual Variants, and the stacking thereof, appears to be to try to explain the differences within types. (This is what I’ve read, not just my interpretation.)

Well, of course there are differences within types. And there are all kinds of things that could explain them, most of which have nothing at all to do with the Enneagram. More than 10 years ago, my partner in crime Elizabeth Libbey and I devoted a great deal of time and effort reviewing a large portion of Enneagram literature and looking at how the Enneagram maps onto or corresponds with other psychological, sociological, and neurological research. We found a solid basis for the Stances (Aggressive, Compliant, and Withdrawing), but nothing comparable in regard to the Instinctual Variants. In fact, I came across research results that flatly contradict that what the Enneagram community considers “Instincts” have anything whatsoever to do with actual biological instincts. That’s why I don’t write about that particular topic here.

Trying to fit all the disjointed, fractured, and misshapen pieces of us inside the Enneagram doesn’t seem realistic or useful to me. And I wonder if that isn’t what turns some people off about personality typing systems. I think that who we are is much more complex and mysterious—and ultimately unknowable. I also think that’s a good thing!

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Type 4: Wheeee!

4The folks in the Type 4 video from do seem to be  very dramatic. Being second best might not be ideal, but does it really stack up as a tragedy? This clip makes me wonder what type the interviewer is.


Mediocre or ordinary is like a swear word. Like that’s the last thing you would want to be.

Type 3: Well, I’m Great, You Know

3Here’s the video clip for type 3 from One thing I really like about this series is the humor the interviewer brings to it.

3s are performers, and being charming is a big part of their performance.

I like how these folks are up front about what they do.

I can put up a mask so I can seduce you, you know. I know what you expect of me, so I perform that. So then you like me.

Mindful Movement

Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh (Photo credit: Geoff Livingston)

As a Doing type, I would rather have several challenging or difficult things to accomplish than attempt to try to do nothing–and by doing nothing, I mean meditating. I have meditated off and on over the decades, but it’s always an uphill battle.

I wrote about different meditation practices for the Doing, Thinking, and Feeling center types a while back. I’ve since come across Thich Nhat Hanh‘s 10 Mindful Movements exercises, and they have been very effective for me. It’s so much easier for me to be mindful when I’m performing these slow movements than when I’m trying to sit still.

For one thing, the movements give me something to focus my attention on. For another, when I’m moving–even this slowly–I don’t get as squirmy as I do when I’m sitting. The movements are very relaxing and refreshing, so they’re also good stress-relievers. You can do all of them, just a few, or even one to calm down or switch gears in the middle of the day.

This video goes through the entire sequence of 10 movements. It’s excerpted from a longer video available from Sounds True. There’s also a book, for those who like hard copy.

New Year’s Counter-Resolutions

Illustration Friday - Resolution

Resolution (Photo credit: The hills are alive)

Sometimes it’s best to be LESS than we can be, especially when it comes to the all-too-entrenched compulsions of our personality.

So here are some resolutions for the new year that run counter to our natural inclinations. If your past resolutions have worked as well as mine, you might be up for giving one or two of these a try.

Type 1:

  • Create a schedule for goofing off.
  • Make at least one mistake per day.
  • Let sleeping dogs lie.

Type 2:

  • Pamper myself, whether I feel like it or not.
  • Let them figure it out by themselves once in a while.
  • Start an argument just for the heck of it.

Type 3:

  • Make an anonymous charitable donation (and don’t tell anyone about it).
  • Leave the house without combing my hair.
  • Start having goal-less Wednesdays.

Type 4:

  • Lighten up!
  • Try doing one thing a week the way everyone else does it.
  • Take something at face value instead of searching for its deeper meaning.

Type 5:

  • Set up a meet and greet with the neighbors.
  • Next time, don’t read the instructions first.
  • At least once a month, throw something out.

Type 6:

  • Do whatever they least expect me to do.
  • Take a day off in the middle of the week for no reason.
  • Lower shields.

Type 7:

  • Just say “no.”
  • Finish one thing before starting something else.
  • Spend some quiet time alone without distractions.

Type 8:

  • Leave the office at quitting time—or before.
  • Find lower gear and occasionally shift into it.
  • Let the right one in.

Type 9:

  • Do whatever I feel like doing no matter how much chaos ensues as a result.
  • Give up being passive-aggressive for being outright aggressive.
  • Create a longer to-do list.

Happy New Year!

~ ~ ~

NOTE: As of January 2013, new Nine Paths posts will be published every Monday and Friday instead of every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The Type 3 Culture of est (Part 2)

In which I am apparently recognized as an 8, even though none of us has heard of the Enneagram yet.

Volunteer Appreciation

Volunteer Appreciation [not actual est assisants] (Photo credit: Ranken Jordan)

Note: Lots of people who never experienced est consider it a cult or an example of brainwashing. It was neither. No doubt it wasn’t for everyone. But what was behind it was a powerful concept for empowering people to go out into the world and make a difference.

Participation was one of the est keywords. (It’s difficult to make a difference while standing on the sidelines.) After graduation, est trainees were invited to begin participating in two things: the seminar program and the assisting program. Est couldn’t have operated without it’s cadres of unpaid assistants. I recently came across a statistic that at one point there were upwards of 10,000 est assistants worldwide. They were most visible in the training as the people who ran microphones up and down the aisles, handed out name tags, and greeted people or stood at the doors.

I’ve often said that although I hated the experience of the training itself, I would have paid to participate in the assisting program. When you agreed to assist you made a commitment to show up at a certain place and time and to remain on the job “till completion” (during a training that was long after the trainees had gone home). Once you arrived, you parked all of your day-to-day concerns on the doorstep. You were there to do whatever needed to be done and to do it impeccably. You were on purpose. You knew what you were responsible for and who to report to.

People generally worked their way up the hierarchy of assisting positions to get to be supervisors, but I didn’t know that when I was enrolled as a sort of co-supervisor of trainer support for an upcoming training. Before I even had a chance to meet her, the actual supervisor of my team dropped out, leaving me in charge. Probably most other Enneagram types—the smart ones—would have bailed at that point. Or wiser heads would have replaced me, since I had no assisting experience whatsoever. But as an 8, I just kept moving forward. My first weekend, during which I also came down with a cold, wasn’t exactly a disaster, but it wasn’t pretty.

I saw the whole thing as a challenge. The existing protocol for running trainer support seemed out of date and not particularly effective, so I just figured out what worked and then did that. I was given the room to change things, to try something new. The second weekend of that training went much smoother.


The primary purpose of trainer support was to support the trainer. Those people worked incredibly hard, often flew in to a particular location just for the weekend of the training, and most were also employed full-time in some professional capacity (doctor, architect, etc.). There were a variety of things our team did, but dinner was always the main event. Of the several breaks during a training day, only one was a meal break. The breaks weren’t determined by clock time, but by where participants were (as a group) in terms of getting the material that was being covered. So you always had a window of a couple of hours to aim for, but you had to stay alert and on your toes because the meal break could be called earlier than expected or it could be delayed—and delayed—and then delayed again.

Nevertheless, we were supposed to have the meal the trainer had requested on the table and at the appropriate temperature when the trainer entered his or her room. It wasn’t sufficient to bring the meal into the room after the trainer had arrived.

Given the variables and the sometimes difficult conditions we operated under (trainings in hotels were much easier than trainings in schools), this often seemed plain impossible. And it probably sounds as if we were being put through a pointless exercise or forced to cater to raving narcissists. But I was truly in my element, maybe more so than ever before or ever since. I assisted for two straight years in various capacities but always doing trainer support, too. After that first weekend of my first assisting experience, my teams and I never, ever, ever missed getting the meals handled perfectly and on time. In est jargon, it worked, and we became semi-legendary (seriously).


In order to be effective, we had to be present. I’ve engaged in all kinds of mindfulness exercises and practices, but I have never been more consistently present than when I was doing trainer support. I remember one particular instance at a weekend workshop at the Oakland Airport Hyatt where the majority of trainings, workshops, and seminars were held. It was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day—outdoors. I was indoors, standing in the lobby outside a meeting room, “on hold,” waiting for some word or other from the training supervisor. There was nothing for me to do but be there. As I stood there I realized that the moment was utterly perfect. I was completely content and there was nowhere else I wanted to be. Looking back on it now, I think assisting may have been the perfect mindfulness practice for a Doing type.

I was employed full-time as the administrator of an accounting firm during most of my assisting. When I’d go back to work on Monday after 15 to 18 hours total sleep over the previous three nights, I’d laugh at my co-workers who had played all weekend as they complained about being tired. I was never tired. Assisting enlivened me. It empowered me. Being present for hours on end has that effect.

In the long run, what real difference did it make if Neil or Arlene or Michael got fed on time? That was hardly an achievement for the ages. But if you could put aside your considerations and get Neil his meal—still hot, still fresh—two and a half hours after the original estimate for the meal break—or if, as actually once happened, you could pull together meals for nine trainers, which involved locating sushi at 3:00 on a Sunday afternoon, getting Buffalo Wings from across town, and preparing eight very individualized dinner salads (in a location with no running water) on less than an hour’s notice after someone (Werner, I’m talking to you) suddenly switched the bathroom break with the meal break—what else might you be able to do in your own life that seems impossible?

As an aside, all those trainers thought it was impossible, too. They filed into the dining area a little grumpy, figuring there was no way the food would be ready. That was one of the best times I ever had assisting.

Coming soon: Part 3, in which I finally get to the point.

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The Type 3 Culture of est (Part 1)

In which the universe hoodwinks me into being trained by Werner Erhard himself.

English: Face portion of a casual photo at a m...

Werner Erhard. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took est (officially Erhard Seminars Training, but known to us graduates simply as “the training”) in the early 80s. I’m surprised I didn’t encounter it much earlier, since I moved to San Francisco in 1974 in an experimental frame of mind and San Francisco was home base for est. I bumped into the Scientology crew downtown one night and signed up for their beginners’ class just to find out what it was all about. I enjoyed the class, but that organization had so many layers of bureaucracy, it made the IRS look streamlined. I also spent some time at one of the Synanon enclaves in the East Bay, since the first friend I made in the City was an ex-junkie. (Synanon was an alternative drug rehab community founded by Chuck Dederich, a former alcoholic.) But I don’t recall ever running into anyone around that time who was involved in est.

A friend in Michigan had taken the training, however, and would not shut up about how amazing it was and how I should take it, too. I was tired of hearing about it, so on one of my visits, I agreed to go with him to a guest seminar if he agreed that regardless of whether I decided to take the training or not he would stop talking to me about it. We had a two-hour drive to Detroit where the seminar was being held. On the way, I had to listen to a series of cassette tapes of talks given by Werner Erhard. I hated the sound of Werner’s voice so much that my mind was made up: there was no way I was going to take the training.

As it turned out, the man who led the guest seminar (Les?) had a very low key and matter-of-fact demeanor. He was the anti-Werner Erhard, if you will. What he said made sense and sounded like something I could benefit from. Est was supposed to “transform one’s ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with clear up just in the process of life itself.” Sign me up. But wait a sec. It turned out that although Werner had not been involved in leading trainings for a while, rumor had it he was going to lead the next scheduled training in San Francisco. So no, do not sign me up for that one. What else do you have? The next available training in my neck of the woods was in the East Bay.


So, yes, I enrolled in a training in Berkeley, which involved a considerably longer commute, just so I could avoid Werner Erhard—the founder of the training I was enrolling in. Absurd as they were, my efforts turned out to be for naught.

The est training consisted of two weekends (all day Saturday and all day Sunday) and three Wednesday evening sessions in between the two weekends. The Wednesday evening before the first training weekend, my partner and I, along with a couple hundred other trainees, trooped into the ballroom where the training would be held. I glanced at the staff in the back of the room, and although I had never seen a picture of the man, I said to my partner—and these were my exact words— “Fuck. That’s Werner.” Which it was.

I got over my resistance to Werner. The man is very charming and disarming, as well as relentless. He’s generally typed as a 3, which seems right on. Although I hated the training itself, that didn’t have anything to do with Werner (other than the fact that he created it). What I didn’t like was having to sit in a chair hour after hour listening to other people talk. You could say I resisted that. And I resisted being confronted with my own stuff, which you’re pretty much forced to confront while you’re sitting in a chair hour after hour unable to escape or even converse with the person seated next to you.

It’s true that you were not allowed to go to the restroom except during the very infrequent official breaks. On the first day of the training, I got into a conversation with someone during the first break and failed to make use of the restroom before we were ushered back into the training room. Five hours till the next opportunity. Herb Caen, who was a long-time columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, once included an anecdote about a woman who asked a clerk in a downtown San Francisco department store to direct her to the ladies room. The clerk said there were no restrooms on the premises. The customer asked what the clerk did when she needed to use the restroom. The clerk said, “I took est. I don’t have to use the restroom.” My friends today will tell you that I can go longer than anyone else they know without needing to stop for a bathroom break. That has been so valuable I think it was worth the price of the training.

But that’s not all I got.

Next time: Part 2, in which I am apparently recognized as an 8, even though none of us has heard of the Enneagram yet.

Typing Abraham Lincoln

English: Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth Presid...

Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth President of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abe Lincoln is all the rage these days, and I’ve been going with the flow. I recently finished reading Rise to Greatness: Abraham Lincoln and America’s Most Perilous Year. This extremely well-researched and well-written book by David Von Drehle covers the year 1862, Lincoln’s first full year in the office of President. On the first day of 1863, he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

Shortly after finishing the book, I saw the movie, Lincoln, which takes place in 1865, the year the 13th Amendment was passed by the House of Representatives.

Just about everyone in the Enneagram world seems convinced that Abraham Lincoln was a 9w1. Typing famous people, dead or alive, is common among Enneagram experts and amateurs alike. It serves a purpose in offering examples of types. But it runs counter to most teachers’ recommendations that people come to their own conclusion about which type they are. Many of the people who are held up as examples of type never heard of the Enneagram, let alone filled out a questionnaire or tried to identify themselves. And we can’t get inside their heads to understand where they were coming from or what motivated them. In a lot of cases, all we see is what’s on the outside. So we should take all of this typing of dead people with a grain of salt—or at least a caveat or two.

As far as Abe Lincoln goes, I will agree from what I’ve read that he was most likely a 9. Had he not had such a grasp of the big picture—keeping the Union together—our world would be inconceivably different today. But I’m not sure why everyone believes he had a 1 wing. Is it because of his nickname, “Honest Abe”? Or is it because only someone with a 1 wing (an Idealist) could possibly have been responsible for the Emancipation Proclamation and for bringing an end to slavery? If so, that’s the kind of stereotyping that should make us Enneagram experts squirm.

More 8 than 1

Lincoln was an ambitious man who wanted to make his mark, to have an impact on his world, to be remembered. He was also notoriously thick-skinned. Those are not signs of either 9s or 1s. Those are characteristics of 8s. 8s, too, are greatly concerned with justice, fairness, and equality and with defending and protecting the underdog, whoever they perceive the underdog to be. When 8s take up causes they will do whatever they feel is necessary to achieve their goals. If that includes making under-the-table deals with the “enemy”—as Lincoln did in order to get the votes he needed for the 13th Amendment—so be it. If that includes shading the truth—as he did about the existence of peace talks with the Confederacy in order to assure the House vote took place before the war ended—so be it. The ends very often justify the means for 8s.

As I was reading Von Drehle’s book, I came across many descriptions of Lincoln’s behavior, attitudes, and personal characteristics like these:

  • He had always been proud of his physique, and enjoyed challenging other men to contests of strength, which he inevitably won. He used his size subtly to intimidate, even as he used his humor to put people off guard.
  • …[F]or now Lincoln was still the virile figure of his campaign propaganda, the rail-splitter whose blend of brains and brawn reflected America’s favored image of itself: strong, bright, and independent.
  • Lincoln had a shambling animal force about him, which some found appealing and others found unsettling.

Which type does that remind you of?

When I brought up this typing issue with a friend who is a 1w9—and a history buff—he said he had never thought of Lincoln as an idealist. After seeing Lincoln, I suggested to him that Thaddeus Stevens might have been a 1. At least as portrayed in the movie, he was greatly pained when he reluctantly agreed to deny what he believed to be moral and true in order to achieve the short-term gain of passage of the 13th Amendment. Lincoln, on the other hand, did not seem to have those sorts of compunctions about the wheeling and dealing he undertook for what he saw as the greater good.

Lincoln was a politician. He never denied that. I think being a 9w8 made it possible for him to see what needed to be done in the broadest of terms and then to be able to do it, no matter how he had to bend either rules or people.

From time to time, even “Honest Abe” himself exaggerated or dissembled in pursuit of a great cause.

— Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer

I highly recommend both the book and the movie and plan to write about General George McClellan, who fairly jumps from the pages of Von Drehle’s book as a perfect example of a 5. Of course, McClellan is dead and I never met the man, but strictly as portrayed in Von Drehle’s book–my caveat–he’s a classic type 5.