When I look back on my life, over the passing years and decades, I sometimes reflect on the things I’ve encountered that have helped transform me, to greater or lesser degrees. Movies. Plays. Books. Pieces of music. Art and poetry. Oh, I could certainly name a number of favorites (we all have them), but for me, the greatest tool I’ve ever encountered, when it comes to personal growth and transformation, is the Enneagram.
I was first introduced to the Enneagram a number of years ago one summer, courtesy of my mother. At the time, she was 71 years old, and in the mail one day came a copy of “The Big Blue Book” (as it is known and lovingly referred to): The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Don Riso and Russ Hudson.
I still have her note tucked inside my copy, and it starts off with these observations:
“This is an unusual book to give to someone (books like a textbook), but it is a book I wished I had had access to in my younger years. Although the theories presented here were developed a few thousand years ago, they are making a startling comeback. The seminar I attended a few months ago has made a profound difference in my life, from the inside — a place where few people see and where I (as well as others) attempt to hide and cover up.”
She goes on to describe herself (a Type 2 “Helper”) and my dad (a Type 5 “Investigator”), and talks about how the Enneagram opened her eyes to her “false self” — i.e., the persona that we all create as a survival mechanism growing up. She goes on to say, “Up to this point this shell or false self does not just melt away,” adding, “I have work to do, so I can become mature for myself and for others. I am excited about the possibilities for my future, but saddened for some of my behavior in the past.”
She then goes on to apologize for her own personal shortcomings while she was raising me, and my two older brothers, saying, “I am fully aware that this ‘doesn’t make everything alright.’ It’s just that I want to own up and work at what I need to become.”
And… at this point, I wished I could say that I dove right into the Big Blue Book that mom gave me, absorbed all of its content for the betterment of myself, and moved boldly forward into my newly discovered “authentic self.” But I didn’t. I thumbed through its pages, found some of the information fascinating and compelling, but over the passing months and years, it sat by my chair where I had morning coffee, gathering dust.
As we shall see in an upcoming series of video lectures delivered by renowned author Richard Rohr, as it turns out, the Enneagram is an ancient oral tradition, and in that regard, it’s typically best learned by hearing about it first — from someone else — just as my mother had done by attending a seminar.
It wasn’t until a decade later, visiting mom one summer on Bainbridge Island, that she had the idea to borrow Richard Rohr’s series of lectures from her church library. An entertaining and engaging speaker, I was quickly engrossed, taking extensive notes, which are tucked into the book next to my mom’s letter.
Not long after, my own personal copy of Richard Rohr’s lectures arrived one Christmas — again, courtesy of my mother. Since I know that she (as a ‘Helper’) would want me to share them with others, they’ve been on loan to one friend or another, pretty much continually (with occasional breaks for me to go over the material again as a refresher course).
As my mom discovered, learning about the Enneagram can be an eye-opening experience (“This book is wonderful but hard!” she exclaims halfway through her letter), and as I’ve often joked to others, the Enneagram can also be a short-cut to years and years of therapy. Simply because it has the power to cut through layers and layers of bullcrap that the false self has used to hide itself, expose our ego for what it is, and lay bare our inner motivations that have become our methods of coping and adapting as full-grown adults.
There is more to the Enneagram than just finding out what makes us tick, however. For those who attend the upcoming series of classes at CSL this summer, you’ll also find that the Enneagram is about growth and transformation — and how, by a nifty trick of grace — our greatest weakness flipped on its head, and rotated 180 degrees, becomes our greatest strength.
One of the most profound gifts my mom ever gave me was the power of the Enneagram, and the inherent wisdom it contains. By the time she died, in the fall of 2014, my mom had become that wise soul she wrote about in her letter — overcoming the core issue of her “false self” (pride), and fully integrating into her greatest gift — humility. And if she were here today, I think she would say that the Enneagram played a huge role in that.
So, come be transformed this summer, every Wednesday night in June and July, as we explore the wisdom and the power of the Enneagram. Together.
–Steve Franz, a Type 9 “Peacemaker”