- by Alice Morgan Simmonds, MS, MFT
Like all good consciousness junkies, I eat up questions like this for breakfast, so that I can learn more about myself and the people around me - why we are who we are and behave how we behave. I lived in Northern California for 22 years - a hot bed of consciousness work - and one day came across the Enneagram. Part of me liked it immediately. There are long inventory tests to take, you can read lots of books on the subject, and it's also fairly 'mainstream' and therefore easy to bring up in conversation. I soon found a class to attend - a women's group, where for nearly 2 years, sixteen of us met each week and studied the Enneagram with a skilled and experienced teacher.
The Enneagram warrants an in-depth study, but for the purposes of this article, the simplest way to explain it is that it's a system of 9 personality Types, each with their own habits of attention, styles, and strategies for coping and survival. These 9 Types are known commonly as: The Reformer, The Helper, The Achiever, The individualist, The Investigator, The Loyalist, The Enthusiast, The Challenger, The Peacemaker.
Having been involved with Voice Dialogue for over 26 years it's very hard for me to lock myself into a ' type'. But I did find that I was more like the type 9 than any of the others: a seeker of peace and an avoider of conflict. It was fun to read all the literature on this type and I found it to be a very useful blueprint for the mapping of Primary and Disowned Selves. It was useful to type other people too, giving a kind of shortcut insight into their primary mode of operation.
There are wonderful and thorough analyses of how the types emerge, and how they operate in relationships, work and life. Yet like many such systems, this analysis is directed primarily to our minds, so it is the intellect that interprets the teachings. We are taught and learn without the whole of us being engaged. Hence, in Voice Dialogue terms, there is virtually no Aware Ego Process involved. Most systems such as the Enneagram are like standing on the edge of a swimming pool as we analyze the water. Voice Dialogue encourages us to dive into the water - to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste it. It is the full immersion into the experience itself. You can imagine the difference!
So, as I would sit in my Enneagram class and each woman would express what it felt like to be her type, I would silently wish to have her move over - that actual physical switch we do in a Voice Dialogue facilitation - and inhabit her 'type' as a part of herself. Using Voice Dialogue with a type 3 for example (The Achiever) we might actually speak directly to her pushing, doing, or image seeking self, rather than just talk about it. She could then inhabit and experience the space of her Achiever, separate from this side of herself and have the opportunity to explore the waters on the opposite side - her quiet child, her non doing aspects, her simple open presence. She could begin to experience the vulnerability that lives at the base of her type 3 coping strategy - perhaps a need for approval and protection. Or a Type 7 (The Enthusiast) could experience those playful, fun loving and distracted parts of herself and also be introduced to the connecting, calm and still selves within, which enable her to face and handle harder emotions issues in her life. A Type 1 (The Reformer) could know that this part of her is perfectionistic, critical and idealistic. She could then also meet and experience her spontaneous, light and playful parts on the other side.
Instead of this, however, it seemed to me that as we talked about our types we were often unconsciously reinforcing our identification with our Primary Self system, getting insight and awareness into those Primary Selves, but not actually finding much freedom and dynamic movement out of them. Just thinking about it and noticing it wasn't enough, and often we would all fall into a pattern of talking about our types and looking at each other just as stereo-types! There was truth there, but not vibrancy and life. It felt a bit imprisoning. My underlying desire to jump in that pool and get wet gnawed at me constantly. After a while, doing this kind of work became stagnant.
Recently, I took a class in London taught by senior Voice Dialogue facilitator and trainer J'aime Ono Pangaia where she introduced her marvelous group work method. I had the chance to be facilitated and my session illustrates how the Enneagram and Voice Dialogue can be used together.
According to the Enneagram, as a 'Type 9', some of my primary identifications are with peacekeeping, pleasing, merging with others and dropping my own agenda - all true! I avoid anger and conflict and prefer to not stand out, not to have strong needs. Of course, these are Primary Selves, and like any good Voice Dialogue practioner, I know that what is Disowned, seeps out all over the place - i.e. the parts of me that are self-seeking, individualistic, angry. My husband had died suddenly nine months before the class and I knew I needed help. I was drowning in grief, so some part of me volunteered to be the client for the group demonstration.
In this session I got to experience it all! First came forth a very powerful and angelic protective self that transcends everyday life. She had enabled me to handle the tragedy of losing my partner. She was there at the moment he died and helped me deal with the shock of experiencing his death. The Enneagram might refer to this as the Type 9's tendency to spiritual safety.
The next part that quickly arose was the part of me that merges with others and was very worried about taking time and space in the group for my own process. A good old Type 9, she was anxious that I might have 'selfishly' prevented others from having the chance to be facilitated. She was also concerned that I was too energetically depleted to be of help to other group members.
Each time I separated from a self I moved back to the Aware Ego space. As I did so, members of the class came and stood in for the part I had just met. They took on the attitude, values, beliefs and behaviors of that particular self in order to help me witness and deepen my awareness and understanding of it as a distinct part of me.
Experiencing and separating from my Type 9 selves, I was now able to let something new emerge. The anger that sits at the core of a Type 9 came forth, fully and safely in the container of the Voice Dialogue session. I felt fueled with the dynamic energy of the pain of the loss, the frustration and longing for this part of me to find expression, to have a voice and thus become a conscious ally in my new life without my husband. To say it was powerful for me is an understatement. It was transformative!
Having the Type 9 energies distinctly experienced and honored and then allowing the disowned part to speak was a beautiful and dynamic way to work with the Enneagram system. In this way, Voice Dialogue can be used to move our process forward, rather than fixate and cement it. I feel that the hesitation most people have when faced with typing systems comes from an inherent wisdom in us that knows we are not just one thing! I am many things and if I box myself in, I limit my potential and cut myself off from the truth of my essential human and divine nature.
Voice Dialogue can take all the marvelous insights from the system of the Ennagram and bring a juicy aliveness to the work of self-discovery!
A new book on the Enneagram that Alice recommends is:
"The Complete Enneagram", 27paths to Greater Self Knowledge
by Beatrice Chestnut
Check out the Enneagram Institute for a fun exploration.