For the next weeks, my intention is to write a series of texts exploring the lives of different musicians in light of the Enneagram, a tool that can be used both as a typology system in its purest sense and as a map for growth.
These two approaches are not always seen together (and some would even say that they are irreconcilable). My own take will be to use it mostly as a typology system, while at the same time striving to honor some of its original aspects (in spite of my very limited knowledge of its applications).
That being said, because those texts will take into account a certain level of familiarity with the system, I thought it would be useful to write this first one as a sort of introduction to the whole series.
This also means that, theoretically, if you already know about the Enneagram, you may prefer to skip the next paragraphs altogether. But even if that’s your case, I believe there may be something for you as well.
An overview of the system
So, starting with the most basic questions, what is the Enneagram, and where does it come from?
The Enneagram, as the image shows, is a symbol that depicts nine points in a circle, all of them connected to two others by the inner lines (and to their neighbors by the circle itself).
These inner lines, called the arrows, form a triangle and a (open) hexagon, and none of this is arbitrary. A great deal of the importance of this symbol lies in its connection to what is called sacred geometry (a matter which is beyond the scope of this series).
As for its origins, although the symbol is said to have come from ancient times, there is no dispute that the one who brought it to the West in the first half of the 20th century was a Russian mystic called George Gurdjieff, who (after traveling the world as a seeker of truth) developed an institute, first in Russia and then in France, to teach what he called the Fourth Way.
Gurdjieff himself, however, apparently never used the Enneagram as a personality typology system. This would only start to happen somewhere between the late sixties and early seventies, when a Bolivian called Óscar Ichazo would start using it as part of the teachings of his Arica School, in Chile.
Ichazo’s most prominent student was the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, who then developed the system even further, bringing it to the United States in the early seventies. Since then, there have been distinct interpretations of the characteristics of each of the nine types, and the study of this system continues to evolve in surprising — and sometimes controversial — ways.
What to pay attention to
Because of this, more than ever it’s important to have a proper understanding of what is really essential about it. And, for this purpose, I find no better perspective than the teachings of one of my biggest references in this area: Urânio Paes, an Enneagram teacher from Brazil (like me, by the way), now based in London.
As part of a series of videos for his website Mundo Eneagrama, he talks about what he considers to be the four most important concepts in order to work with the Enneagram without getting lost in intricacies which, for the most part, only serve as distractions to what is the real work.
For him, the first concept to be understood is that of a person’s predominant instinct. As one would guess, our instincts are related to our biological drives, which are responsible for our most basic tendencies.
In the Enneagram there are three instincts that are considered of the most importance: Self-Preservation (linked to an individual’s concerns with his/her own protection); Sexual (how a person connects with a significant other); and Social (how one deals with groups of people). In each person, usually there is one instinct which is more developed than the other two.
Then, there is the passion of each of the nine types. Although different authors use different names for some of them, the basic idea is the same: the passion is the emotional driving force behind someone’s behavior (particularly when this person finds him/herself at the level of the personality).
These two concepts — a person’s passion and predominant instinct — connect to form what is called a subtype. In this way, each of the nine different types has three distinct ways of expressing a particular passion. And that’s why what we actually have are (at least) 27 distinct characters (the 3 instincts by the 9 passions).
Before we go to our third concept, another important consideration about the subtypes: as many authors point out — most notably, Bea Chestnut –, the instinct and the passion don’t simply add up in a straightforward manner. Rather, they mix together in ways that are very unique to each subtype.
In more plain terms, just because your primary instinct might be Social, this doesn’t mean that you’ll be a more social (or even sociable) person than another one from your type whose predominant instinct is either Sexual or Self-Preservation. (Sometimes, the opposite might happen.)
Now, continuing with Urânio’s perspective: after a person’s main instinct and passion are identified, the third key concept to understand is that of each type’s fixation. While the passion is a characteristic emotional response, the fixation is a limiting belief about oneself and the world. (Another way of saying it is that fixations are “habits of mind”.)
So, to give the example of type Seven: its passion is gluttony (not only about food, by the way), while its fixation is often called planning (which can be understood as a constant anticipation of what’s next, in detriment of the “here and now”).
Finally, our fourth main concept is that of the key defense mechanism of each type. Here, Urânio cites Helen Palmer, who says that the defense mechanism is a kind of “glue” that keeps the passion, the fixation and the instincts tightly together — so that they stay right where they are.
To give the example of type Six: while its passion is fear, and its fixation is worrying (sometimes called cowardice), its key defense mechanism is that of projection.
Some final words
I hope this helped to minimize some possible misunderstandings in the use of this tool. There is certainly much more to say about it, but, once again, those four concepts are more than enough to keep ourselves fully occupied with our growth — possibly, for an entire lifetime.
Next week, I intend to write about what brought me here, as well as offer a few words of cautions before we proceed with what is usually the fun part about this system: using it to better understand our own and other people’s motivations.