An Encounter with the Enneagram: Part 2

An Encounter with the Enneagram: Part 2
Words by Evan Barbee
Illustration by Chris Koelle
Human beings have three brains. This sounds odd—more like a riddle than a reality. George Gurdjieff, an early developer of the Enneagram system, taught that we understand life through the intelligence of the heart, mind, and body. In the next three issues we’ll explore this triad. Individually, we tend to rely more heavily on one of these “brains,” which colors our perception of the world, influences our relationships with each other, determines how we process information, and indicates how we express ourselves.

There is a tendency to use the Enneagram to label ourselves or others, suspending any further work and discounting the true value of the Enneagram—a path for self-development. The deeper aspects of this tradition extend an invitation into something far more valuable. Every person is a living, breathing archetype whose story expresses a particular theme of human experience familiar to us all. Human beings are social creatures, and it is no coincidence of nature that in learning something from others, we learn a great deal more of ourselves.

Enneagram types 8, 9, and 1 indicate individuals oriented more strongly to the kinesthetic intelligence of the body. The body is home to our survival instincts, thus these individuals make decisions based on sharp reflexes, physical sensation, and gut instincts. The focus of attention is fixed on securing and defending their place in the world. Concerned with maintaining their autonomy, the body types will strongly assert themselves in order to overcome obstacles to their goals. They tend to communicate directly, and should a threat develop or needs go unmet, anger is employed in an attempt to regain control and initiate a change in their circumstance.

Type 8, called the Protector, represents individuals who cope with injustice or threat by becoming strong and shielding their vulnerable side. Confident leaders, capable and commanding, the 8s channel their personal power into balancing the scales of justice. With an emphasis on strength, their more subtle, gentle nature recedes into the background of their awareness. Emotional scar tissue hampers their ability to sense their effect on the environment, and they may unknowingly use more force than is necessary. Others, feeling controlled by the 8, may push them away. Rejection wounds the 8, but the resulting sorrow is difficult to express and often moves them more deeply into a defensive posture. Though the 8 prepares to go to battle, for—or even against—those they love, it is not fury, but the unacknowledged grief of an innocent child that storms beneath their armored exterior.

The path of development for the 8s calls them back to vulnerability—difficult territory for them to traverse, as the landscape of inner experience is the only place they feel ill-equipped. As in the saying often attributed to mythologist Joseph Campbell, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek,” so does vulnerability act as the crucible wherein the 8s are not destroyed but find a greater capacity to live. The 8s recover their receptive, finely-tuned, and sensate relationship with the world, remembering what they forgot while busy in the process of surviving. Mature strength is multi-faceted and moves as easily and more skillfully through compassion and mercy than it does through sheer force.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
-Ernest Hemingway

Type 9, the Mediator, represents individuals who find a sense of belonging by forefronting the lives of others before their own. Expansive and steadfast with a natural capacity to see the world from many points of view, the 9s use their receptive nature to mediate among individuals and encourage harmony in their environment. In the preoccupation with other people’s agendas and preferences, the 9s lose the thread to their own. Frustrated and fearful of jeopardizing their connection to others, the 9s find it difficult to bring strong feelings to the table. They resort to stifling their anger, numbing their desire, and adopting an unbothered posture that is both untrue and unsatisfying.

The path of development for the 9s is simply to engage in the moment and lean into true participation. They must reverse-engineer a strategy that once substituted their vital life for a disembodied existence. Just as space has been made for the feelings and agendas of others, so the 9s must allow their own feelings, however volatile, to come forward. In so doing, the looming myth that they are unimportant and unwanted disperses as fog, revealing that the 9’s presence is not only welcomed but greatly valued by others.
“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.”
-Joseph Campbell

Type 1, the Perfectionist, represents individuals who earn their worthiness by “being good” and avoiding mistakes. Diligent, focused, and self-disciplined, 1s channel their considerable energy and drive into bettering the world. Difficulty arises when the 1’s focus is narrowed to include only their personal convictions and opinions of what is best, causing them to lose sight of what the moment may actually be calling for. The strong pursuit of an illusory and self-defined “goodness” draws the 1s further from their goal and closer to the feeling that even they do not measure up to their own exacting standards. Along this misguided—though well-intentioned—crusade, inner despair, outer resentment, and utter burnout are inevitable.

The path of development for the 1s is to cultivate the patience and humility required to set aside their habitual judgment. Receptive listening rather than the doling out of strong directives develops true leadership. In the valuing of others’ experiences and perspectives, 1s are freed from the limitations of their own, and their natural gift of discernment is reignited. The 1s recognize that only in the context of true community can the inherent goodness in all things be witnessed, and the greater and more meaningful potential be realized.

“I have learnt through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power which can move the world.”
-Mohandas K. Gandhi

Interested in learning more? Join Evan in Nashville, Tennessee March 2-3, 2019 for DEEPER INTO THE ENNEAGRAM: A Path of Integration with Terry Saracino and Renée Rosario. Register at