Personality meets Spirituality in “The Wisdom of the Enneagram” by Riso & Hudson (Book Summary)

Jul 24 · 13 min read

“May this book which comes from our hearts, speak to the hearts of all who read it.” — Riso & Hudson

First, how in the world do you pronounce Enneagram? Turns out it’s pronounced “ANY-a-gram.”

Whew, glad that’s resolved!

This post is a summary of the book The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

It would be quite an undertaking to do a full summary of the 400-page book, the symbols, and all nine personality types. Since a lot of info already exists online about the symbols and types, what I’ve decided to do here is summarize the main portion of the book itself. Most summaries only focus on the types, but the actual book is filled with a wealth of wisdom.

In a separate post, I will dive deeper into summaries of the three Enneagram types I’m stuck between (Type 3, Type 5, and Type 1).

Quick Housekeeping: All quotes are from the authors unless otherwise stated. I’ve added emphasis to some quotes throughout this post in bold.

Summary Contents:

  • What is the Enneagram?
  • The Origin of the Enneagram
  • A Deeper Look into the Enneagram
  • Myth Busting Historical Approaches to Growth
  • What are we really looking for in life?
  • Self-Knowledge
  • The Importance of Personality Types
  • Our Essence & Soul beyond Personality
  • Basic Fears & Basic Desires
  • Wings, Instinctual Variants, Levels of Development, & More
  • Transformational Work & 7 Tools for Transformation
  • Spiritual Practice & How to Know When you are Awake
  • 30 Enneagram Quotes

What is the Enneagram?

  • “The word Enneagram comes from the Greek for ‘nine’ — ennea — and ‘figure’ — grammos; thus, it is a ‘nine-pointed figure.’”
  • “The heart of the Enneagram is the universal insight that human beings are spiritual presences incarnated in the material world and yet mysteriously embodying the same life and Spirit as the Creator.”
  • “…if they search beneath the surface differences that separate them, they will find an entirely new level of common humanity.”
  • “The modern Enneagram of personality type has been synthesized from many different spiritual and religious traditions. Much of it is a condensation of universal wisdom, the perennial philosophy accumulated by Christians, Buddhists, Muslims (especially the Sufis), and Jews (in the Kabbalah) for thousands of years.”

The Origin of the Enneagram

  • “Many early authors, for example, attributed the entire system to Sufi masters, which we now know is not the case.”
  • “It is true that the Enneagram symbol is ancient, dating back some 2,500 years or more. Likewise, the roots of the ideas that eventually led to the development of the psychology of the nine types go back at least as far as the fourth century A.D. and perhaps further. It was not until the last few decades, however, that these two sources of insight came together.
  • “The person responsible for bringing the Enneagram symbol to the modern world was George Ivanovich Gurdjieff.”
  • “The system that Gurdjieff taught was a vast and complex study of psychology, spirituality, and cosmology that aimed at helping students understand their place in the universe and their objective purpose in life.”
  • “Take the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West — and then seek.” — Gurdjieff

A Deeper Look into the Enneagram

  • “The Enneagram can help us only if we are honest with ourselves. Thus, the elements of the system — and this book — are best used as a guide to self-observation and self-inquiry.”
  • “The Enneagram invites us to look deeply into the mystery of our true identity. It is meant to initiate a process of inquiry that can lead us to a more profound truth about ourselves and our place in the world.”
  • “The Enneagram does not put us in a box, it shows us the box we are already in — and the way out.”
  • “The Enneagram is ‘the bridge between psychology and spirituality.’
  • “It may be that the Enneagram has been given to mankind in our era as a tool for accelerating the transformation of the individual ego self.”

Strengths of the Enneagram:

  • more insight into ourselves and others
  • discern our filters more clearly
  • show us our core psychological issues and interpersonal strengths/weaknesses
  • based on personality patterns
  • directs us toward the depths of our souls

Myth Busting Historical Approaches to Growth

  • “We believe that most self-help books are not necessarily wrong, but merely incomplete.”
  • “Historically, many psychological and spiritual systems have attempted to address this key insight: astrology, numerology, the four classic temperaments (phlegmatic, choleric, melancholic, and sanguine), Jung’s system of psychological types (extrovert and introvert orientations times sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking functions), and many others.”
  • “Any approach to growth must therefore take into account the fact that there are different kinds of people — different personality types.”
  • “The whole of our culture and education constantly reminds us of how we can be more successful, desirable, secure, or spiritual if we were only to change in some way or other. In short, we have learned that we need to be different from how we actually are according to some formula the mind has received. The idea that we simply need to discover and accept who we actually are is contrary to almost everything we have been taught.”
  • “Always remember that it is your birthright and natural state to be wise and noble, loving and generous, to esteem yourself and others, to be creative and constantly renewing yourself, to be engaged in the world in awe and in depth, to have courage and to rely on yourself, to be joyous and effortlessly accomplished, to be strong and effective, to enjoy peace of mind and to be present to the unfolding myself of your life.”

What are we really looking for in life?

  • “We are all driven by a deep inner restlessness. We may feel this restlessness as a sense that something is missing in us, although it is usually difficult to define exactly what it is.”
  • “If we reflect for a moment, we may realize that what our hearts yearn for is to know who we are and why we are here. But little in our culture encourages us to look for answers to these important questions.”


  • “It concerns itself with one element that is fundamental to all spiritual paths: self-knowledge.”
  • “Without self-knowledge, we will not get very far on our spiritual journey, nor will we be able to sustain whatever progress we have made.”
  • “Your story will become richer and more meaningful as you understand yourself more deeply.”

The Importance of Personality Types

  • “In understanding ourselves, our relationships, our spiritual growth, and many other important issues, we will see that type — not gender, not culture, and not generational differences — is the crucial factor.”
  • “While our restless yearnings may be universal, how they are expressed is much more particular and is, in fact, a function of the ‘filter’ with which we approach all of life. The main filter that we use to understand ourselves and the world around us, to express ourselves, to defend ourselves, to deal with our past and anticipate our future, to learn with, to rejoice with, and to fall in love with, is our personality type.”
  • “Once we understand the nature of our personality’s mechanisms, we begin to have a choice about identifying with them or not. If we are not aware of them, clearly no choice is possible.
  • “Type does tell us a great deal about how we view the world, the kinds of choices we are likely to make, the values we hold, what motivates us, how we react to people, how we respond to stress, and many other important things.”
  • “We believe that awareness of personality types is needed in many areas…above all, in spirituality and transformational work.”
  • “Remember that self-discovery is a process, and that the process does not end with discovering your type — in fact, that is only the beginning.”

Our Essence & Soul beyond Personality

  • “The core truth that the Enneagram conveys to us is that we are much more than our personality. Our personalities are no more than the familiar, conditioned parts of a much wider range of potentials that we all possess. Beyond the limitations of our personalities, each of us exists as a vast, largely unrecognized quality of Being or Presence — what is called our Essence. In spiritual language we could say that within each person is an individual spark of the Divine, although we have forgotten this fundamental truth because we have fallen asleep to our true nature.”
  • “As spiritual teachers through the ages have pointed out, we have fallen asleep to ourselves and to our own lives.”
  • “When we talk about Essence, we mean it in the literal sense of the word — what we fundamentally are, our Essential self, the ground of Being in us. (Spirit is another appropriate word.)”
  • “As we learn to bring awareness to our personality, it becomes more transparent, and we are able to experience our Essence more directly. We still function in the world but with a growing realization of our connection with Divinity.
  • “Loss of contact with our Essence causes deep anxiety, taking the form of one of the nine Passions.”
  • “When we begin to understand that we are not our personality, we also begin to realize that we are spiritual beings who have a personality and who are manifesting themselves through that personality. When we stop identifying with our personality and stop defending it, a miracle happens: our Essential nature spontaneously arises and transforms us.
  • “If human beings were able to stay centered in their Essential unity, there would be no need for the Enneagram. But without working on ourselves, we cannot become centered.”
  • “The fundamental ground of our Being is Essence or Spirit, but it takes a dynamic form we call ‘the soul.’ Our personality is a particular aspect of our soul. Our soul is ‘made of’ Essence or Spirit. If Spirit were water, soul would be a particular lake or river, and personality would be waves on its surface.”

Basic Fears & Basic Desires

  • “Each Basic Fear is a reaction to the universal fear of death and annihilation — our personality’s fear of nothingness.”
  • “Our own type’s Basic Fear motivates our behavior much more than the others.”
  • “To compensate for the Basic Fear, a Basic Desire arises.”
  • “We might also call the Basic Desire the ego agenda, because it tells us what the ego self is always striving after.”
  • “Understanding the Basic Fear and Basic Desire gives particular insight into the ancient and universal teaching that human nature is driven by fear and desire. Thus, we might say that the whole of our personality structure is composed of our flight from our Basic Fear and our single-minded pursuit of our Basic Desire.”

Wings, Instinctual Variants, Levels of Development, & Directions of Integration/Disintegration

  • “The Enneagram is not vague…Each type has two Wings and three Instinctual Variants. These two ‘lenses’ help us zero in on our personality traits with greater accuracy and specificity.”
  • “The Instinctual Variants indicate which of our three basic instincts have been most distorted in childhood, resulting in characteristic preoccupations and behaviors throughout the entire range of the personality type.”
  • “The Levels of Development offer a way of observing and measuring our degree of identification with our personality structures. Further, they make crucial distinctions between the types possible, and within each type, they add the ‘vertical’ dimension to an otherwise ‘horizontal’ categorical system.”
  • “The Directions of Integration and Disintegration help us recognize whether we are progressing or regressing in our development. Integration gives us objective markers of our growth. Disintegration shows us how we act our under stress, what our unconscious motivations and behaviors are, and, paradoxically, what qualities we most need to integrate.”

Transformational Work & 7 Tools for Transformation

  • “Life is our greatest teacher.”
  • “In a very real way, when we work on ourselves we are taking part in the evolution of human consciousness.”
  • “Only by bringing insight and clarity to the mechanisms of personality can we awaken.”
  • “If we observe ourselves truthfully and non-judgmentally, seeing the mechanisms of our personality in action, we can wake up, and our lives can be a miraculous unfolding of beauty and joy.
  • “Presence (awareness, mindfulness), the practice of self-observation (gained from self-knowledge), and understanding what one’s experiences mean (an accurate interpretation provided by a larger context such as a community or spiritual system) are the three basic elements needed for transformational work. Being supplies the first, you supply the second, and the Enneagram supplies the third.”
  • “Transformation happens when our ordinary perspective shifts and we attain a new understanding of who we really are. We must remember, however that awareness of who we really are happens — as do all moments of grace — only always now. When all is said and done, this is the wisdom of the Enneagram.”

Seven Tools for Transformation:

  • 1. Seeking truth
  • 2. ‘Not doing’
  • 3. Willing to be open
  • 4. Getting proper support
  • 5. Learning from everything
  • 6. Cultivating a real love of self
  • 7. Having a practice

Spiritual Practice & How to Know When you are Awake

Combining knowledge of the Enneagram with spiritual practice consists of:

  1. Becoming present and aware as much as possible throughout the day
  2. Seeing your personality in action
  3. Not acting our your impulses

To help us know when we are awake, there are three characteristics we can look for:

  1. We fully experience our Presence as a living being, here and now.
  2. We take in the impressions of our internal and external environments completely and without judgment or emotional reaction.
  3. We are fully participating in the moment, allowing ourselves to be touched by the impressions around us and to fully taste and experience the richness and subtlety of our life.

30 Enneagram Quotes

As a nice bonus, the book is packed with incredible, inspirational quotes. Here are my favorites:

  1. “There’s a part of every living thing that wants to become itself, the tadpole into the frog, the chrysalis into the butterfly, a damaged human being into a whole one. That is spirituality.” — Ellen Bass
  2. “Spiritually speaking, everything that one wants, aspires to, and needs is ever-present, accessible here and now — for those with eyes to see.” — Surya Das
  3. “Spirit is an invisible force made visible in all life.” — Maya Angelou
  4. “The great metaphors from all spiritual traditions — grace, liberation, being born again, awakening from illusion — testify that it is possible to transcend the conditioning of my past and do a new thing.” — Sam Keen
  5. “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves?” — Thomas Merton
  6. “Learn what you are and be such.” — Pindar
  7. “All ambitions are lawful except those which climb upward on the miseries or credulities of mankind.” — Joseph Conrad
  8. “Be content to seem what you really are.” — Martial
  9. “At the back of our brains, so to speak, there (is) a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life (is) to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder.” — G. K. Chesterton
  10. “The Bible says that a deep sleep fell upon Adam, and nowhere is there a reference to his waking up.” — A Course in Miracles
  11. “In the final analysis, we count for something only because of the essential we embody, and if we do not embody that, life is wasted.” — Jung
  12. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that’s waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
  13. “We have to become somebody before we can become nobody.” — Jack Engler
  14. “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein
  15. “To love a thing means wanting it to live.” — Confucius
  16. “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” — Colette
  17. “Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything.” — Pascal
  18. “There is nothing easy about becoming conscious. My own life was much easier before I knew about the deeper meaning of choice, the power of choice that accompanies taking responsibility. Abdicating responsibility to an outside source can seem, at least for the moment, so much easier. Once you know better, however, you can’t get away with kidding yourself for long.” — Caroline Myss
  19. “How could there be any question of acquiring or possessing, when the one thing needful for a man is to become — to be at least, and to die in the fullness of his being.” — Saint-Exupery
  20. “It is nothing to die; it is frightful not to live.” — Victor Hugo
  21. “One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour.” — Joseph Campbell
  22. “At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.” — George Leonard
  23. “Only when the mind is tranquil — through self-knowledge and not though imposed self-discipline — only then, in that tranquility, in that silence, can reality come into being. It is only then that there can be bliss, that there can be creative action.” — Krishnamurti
  24. “You mind cannot possibly understand God. Your heart already knows. Minds were designed for carrying out the orders of the heart.” — Emmanuel
  25. “Self-knowledge has no end — you don’t come to an achievement, you don’t come to a conclusion. It is an endless river.” — Krishnamurti
  26. “The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self.” — Albert Einstein
  27. “Your resistance to change is likely to reach its peak when significant change is imminent.” — George Leonard
  28. “The most radical re-mapping or shifting of the (self-)boundary line occurs in experiences of the supreme identity, for here the person expands his self-identity boundary to include the entire universe.” — Ken Wilber
  29. “The ultimate gift of conscious life is a sense of the mystery that encompasses it.” — Lewis Mumford
  30. “The unfolding of Essence becomes the process of living. Life is no longer a string of disconnected experiences of pleasure and pain but a flow, a stream of aliveness.” — A. H. Almaas

Continue Reading:

The Stages of the Work from “The Wisdom of the Enneagram” (Short Story)

All Book Summaries


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Deeper Art of Living for Holistic Humans & Well Beings → • Lighter Living • Higher Purpose • Centeredness • Simplicity • Consciousness • #slowliving

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