In our last Insight I introduced you to the Inner Triangle that illuminates our universal (shared) human story, where we all started and how we get to where we are now. It is an important part of the Enneagram symbol as it explains how and why we lost track of our Gifts and replaced them with our Defensive Strategy, as well as how and why we can let go of our Defensive Strategy and reconnect with our Gifts. The Inner Triangle follows the journey we start early in life and one we will continue on until our dying day. This journey unfolds in two parts; today we begin with the first part, beginning at point 9 where we first lose track of ourselves.
The term the Enneagram uses for this losing track is “falling asleep” to ourselves. This term highlights what we will do, unaware, here at point 9. This all begins sometime in our first four years of life. You see, we arrive in the world open and vulnerable, intellectually unaware, but holding qualities that come naturally to us (our Gifts.) Our initial vulnerability includes an assumption that we’ll be welcomed and seen as we are, especially in our gifting. We eventually run into experiences in which we’re not seen or welcomed and experience pain and fear as a result. It is simply too scary to be overlooked or misunderstood at this stage in life therefore our sense of security is affected. If this happens too often, we are compelled to find a solution to ensure the seeing and welcoming we require. It will come down to tweaking, in some way, how we have interacted (which has up to this point been driven by our Gifting). As we tweak our Gifts, we are essentially developing their replacements, our Defensive Strategies- behaviors meant to help relieve the pain and fear we experience.
Our new tweaked strategy seems to work, we are grateful, and our pain and fear lessen. As this process repeats itself, we find ourselves moving further away from our Gifted behaviors through lack of practice. At the same time, we are building our Defensive Strategy.
It is important to keep in mind that this is happening when we are young… when there are limits on our knowledge and our options, but no limit on our need for the security that comes from being seen and welcomed. The creativity we demonstrate given these combined limitations, is admirable.
In the next Insight we will continue The Inner Triangle’s journey and find out what is next for us at Point 6.
The Enneagram is a great self-awareness tool highlighting what is important to us and how we interact in the world. It’s also a great problem-solving tool for when things aren’t going so well helping us find better ways to interact. It contrasts behaviors that come from our strengths (I call these our Gifts) and behaviors that come from our weaknesses (I call these our Defensive Strategies.) Today I want to introduce you to the Enneagram’s Inner Triangle which lays out for us how our Gifts and Defensive Strategies are related to each other. Over the next several Insights you will see how the Inner Triangle points to both the self-awareness and the problem-solving wisdom of the Enneagram.
Let me explain a bit. We live our life; we don’t watch ourselves live it. Similarly, we might run a race but don’t watch ourselves run it. Someone else does the watching. From their third-party perspective they can give us feedback on how the race is going. The Inner Triangle takes this same third-party perspective and gives us feedback on what is happening as we live our life. We find the Inner Triangle in the middle of the Enneagram symbol using the lines connecting 9, 6, and 3. Even though it uses these numbers, the Inner Triangle is giving every type feedback on what is happening in us and around us. Using this feedback will increase our self-awareness and make possible new problem-solving possibilities.
The Inner Triangle gives us feedback on our universal (shared) human story, that is, where we stated and how we got to where we are. It is the Enneagram’s attempt to helps us have a context in which to understand how we have both Gifts and Defensive Strategies and how they relate to each other. There are two halves to this universal human story, the first half begins at point 9, moving to point 6, and then onto point 3, the second half starts again at point 9, but now moves us to point 3, and on to point 6.
This may make little sense right now but stay with me as together we follow the Inner Triangle’s observations step-by-step. We will watch from this third-party perspective how our human story starts off with us vulnerable and needy, having little awareness, and trying to figure out how the world works, and then where we go from there. I hope you will see your story reflected in the observations of the Inner Triangle and will be able to use it to increase your own self-awareness and problem-solving skills because that’s what the Enneagram is all about. Stay tuned! – Sali
I began these Enneagram Insights discussing the Law of One and the Law of Three because these overarching concepts are part of the wisdom contained in the Enneagram. Today we move to the Law of Seven represented by the six inner lines that begin and end at point One called the “hexad.” Recall the previous Insight in which we observed two opposing views reconciled and a third view emerge, the Law of Three (see the previous post, below). It is at this point that the Law of Seven comes into play highlighting what unfolds in the life of a thing does not do so in a straightforward way. Instead it will do so in a way the breaks that straight line and move up, down, this way and that, jump, pause, circle back, or go off in a new direction all together. The hexad lines illustrate visually that nothing is free of change; quite the opposite, change is a certainty.
How does this Law of Seven help us navigate personality? It suggests we ready ourselves for the distinct possibility that real outcomes many depart from what we have planned, either in a positive or negative direction. Warned by this law, we can comfort ourselves that whatever is happening now will not continue forever—or we can brace ourselves for that same reality. This invites us to recognize and accept that—beyond our effort or manipulation— things will change, something new will be introduced, and we will need to let go of something else.
It invites us to move with our lived experiences. We can develop practices that help us cherish what we have and experience as we hold them loosely. It invites us to create practices of intentionally marking situations and stages in life that will come to their end. It reminds us that difficult seasons will give way to less difficult ones. This is a truth we have encountered in life. The Enneagram is simply adding this truth to the wisdom it brings. -Sali
In the previous scene of our drama, point 9 showed up in hopes of casting a new vision by inviting our opposing characters to reconsider their Either/Or-ing. What could be their response? Let’s imagine the following.
We watch point 9 assure both 3 and 6 that they are being heard, affirming that they both bring something of merit. This idea was previously unimagined by our 3 and 6 points. Impacted by point 9’s gentle, attentive voice, 3 and 6 begin to relax and, most interestingly, to be a bit more open to the differences that point 9 has affirmed in the other. Now dismissing the other and moving against or away from is replaced by curiosity. As we see this transformation build, we see the potential of moving beyond two opposing views to creating a third thing, a resolution that can move things forward.
I want to shift now and look at the Law of Three more technically. There are labels we use to identify the three forces we have personified for our purposes and have been following these two months. The label used for point 3 is the “Affirming Force,” that which begins the process with the introduction of a starting point. Secondly, is the “Denying Force” at point 6, which comes up against what is offered from point 3. Lastly, the “Reconciling Force” at point 9 that offers to negotiate what is best and true from the first two forces. This last force makes possible the shift needed to achieve reconciliation, support right action, and experience real resolution for the good of all.
The Enneagram, holding the triangle front and center, is illuminating the wisdom of the Law of Three. It is from within this space of Both/And that the Enneagram suggests we come to the table with our ideas allowing other very different ideas to be set alongside them. Then, with time and curiosity, we see how seemingly contrary ideas can refine each other, affecting and influencing each other until what gets created looks very different than what we each first laid down. Truly the “tug of influence” between the Affirming and Denying forces alone gets us nowhere. The Enneagram uses the Law of Three to invite us to see this plainly and loosen the hard, certain lines we draw and discover that Both/And sets us on a path of more durable resolutions. -Sali
We have been exploring the Law of Three represented by the triangle held squarely in the middle of the Enneagram’s circle, listening for the wisdom it wants us to take hold of and practice. Last time we left off with the “tug of influence” happening between point 3’s “Yes!” and point 6’s “No1”. And remember from our last Insight, we all practice both “yes” and “no” views at many points in life. Also keep in mind that there are no “good guys” or “bad guys” here; these are different, unique voices. Yet they can make for an impasse that often becomes a final—though less durable —resolution.
Luckily, this is where point 9 enters the story line, dropping down into point 3 and point 6’s back and forth of what can feel like opposing truths. The 9 moves into this opposition with a beautiful, albeit difficult, Both/And.
We have highlighted the opposing stands point 3 and point 6 represent and the (partial) truth represented by each, but what of this Both/And point 9 brings? What is this all about?
Metaphors abound to help us appreciate the effect of the point 9 here. One I particularly like is visualizing point 3 and point 6 as a boat and sail respectively and 9 as the wind. The boat will go nowhere, the sail will be of no use, without the effect of the wind to pull it all together, to bring the best of each to the act of moving forward. The boat is not enough, the sail is not enough—yet both are needed. What makes their gifts come together to make something happen is the wind. Point 9 shines a flashlight on what both bring, pulling out what is needed and letting go of what is not. To be sure this shining, inviting forward, and letting go, is often unwelcome by the voices at points 3 and 6 or by you and me. We get stuck in our truth, protective to the death–afraid that if you win, I lose. So, we double down, with our hands over our ears, and lose so much. Next time we’ll explore what we might have to gain if we allow point 9’s Both/And to get through to us.
March 21, 2022
Over the last twenty years, the Enneagram has gained greater public recognition in the United States. It is increasingly common to hear people speak of the Enneagram “types,” with varying degrees of accuracy (myself included!). We know from our attention to the Law of One that there is much more than “type knowledge” to be gained from the Enneagram. As a holistic system, the Enneagram invites us inside ourselves to notice, through a loving lens, the ways we navigate life. It then suggests alternatives, should we be interested.
The implications of the Law of One (that everything belongs) for how we live could fill a book, but we are going to pivot and look at the second of three laws reflected in the Enneagram: the Law of Three. This law is imaged by the triangle nestled within the circle.
The Law of Three is the Enneagram’s reminder of the truth that decision making, and conflict resolution are less Either/Or operations than Both/And operations. It is a great temptation to take the quicker Either/Or route and, in so doing, to simply eliminate what we oppose. If this were possible, why would we not do so? The Law of Three, positioned right smack in the middle of the Enneagram, is a constant reminder that this Either/Or approach does not actually deliver on what it promises, that is, a durable resolution.
The truth is we do not have the power to eliminate what we are opposed to. But we do have the power to work with it. The Both/And represents an alternative to the Either/Or approach, taking what both voices bring and making a third thing, a third way forward.
Over this month and the next, we will follow the Law of Three, looking more deeply into this invitation within the Enneagram. For now, let’s notice our Either/Ors and begin to wonder how they might be limiting us as we seek resolution. -Sali
The truth of the Law of One—that nothing is separate from, but rather everything is part of—is truly mind blowing to the ego, which believes the inverse. Ego has us believing that there is limited room at the table. If you are there, there may not be room for me. Ego has us believing that we need to work to belong—and then continue to work to maintain that belonging. That we need to concern ourselves with what others are contributing and compare that to our contribution to ensure our continued place. This is Ego’s attempt to help us avoid suffering, but you see the constant suffering happening here.
As we pause to take notice, we can become aware of this never-ending, anxiety-provoking rat race—and stop.
Stopping is one of the most terrifying movements in transformation work, but without it nothing new will ever have a chance to grow. Stopping brings us to that empty, dark, and terrifying place of holding back from applying our worn out, ineffective band aids and simply waiting. And if we can tolerate this, even a bit, something amazing wafts in on the breeze, something new and oftentimes not all that formed. If we can hang in there, this new thing has a chance to grow inside of us and outside of us. We can become reacquainted with the old truth that had been planted deep within us, We Already Belong! We never lost the belonging that we have been working so hard to compete for. There is no separateness that is operating to take any one of us outside of the whole. We belong and are safe to enjoy each other and the wonderful contributions we and others bring to the table.
When talking about the Enneagram types, something that has felt a bit off for me is a bent toward the low side of each type. I often hear people speaking of their type with the low descriptors, giving no amplitude to the high descriptors, as though these high ones don’t exist. In my teaching I have come to use the labels “Gift” for the high side and “Defensive Strategy” for the low side of each type. While the Defensive Strategy behaviors may be more easily identified as we begin our transformation work, the invitation of this work is to move into the Gifting of our type.
In this transformation work we look with love at the Defensive Strategy and, as a result, come to understand it better. In love we recognize the promises it has made (a way out of suffering) but that it has been unable to deliver. This recognition then enables us to loosen our grip on our defensive strategy as the answer to suffering and invites us to step toward Gift. Remembering the Law of One, we have no need to throw our defensive strategy away: we know everything belongs, both gift and defense. Instead, we can now decide which of the two we practice in the moment. And because our choice will not change our status within the circle of belonging, we are free to try and fail, try and succeed, or decide to try another time. Love is patient, Love is kind.
The Enneagram holds many aspects (core type, wings, arrows, centers of intelligence, instincts, virtues and vices, holy ideas and fixations, stances, etc.) that all affect how we operate in the world. This is one of the reasons I find the Enneagram so fascinating and helpful. It is as if there are multiple transparent overlays stacked upon one another, revealing this amazingly intricate system that gives me insight into what is going on with me and helps me see how I move about in the world. But to take in these many aspects of me, I must approach this stack of transparencies and the picture they reveal with Love.
We cannot see, we cannot keep our eyes open to all that is true about us, without the presence of Love to guide and hold us when we encounter our more challenging pieces. Knowing there exists no trap doors out of the circle of belonging, knowing there is no snare we can step on that will cause us to be ejected, that is the wonderful gift Love gives us all. And it is because of this gift that we can hold open our eyes and see ourselves, just as we are, as we travel the path of awareness and growth. I like the picture of a mother hen gathering all her chicks—the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful—and proclaiming, “You are mine! You are mine!” That is Love.
The Law of One, depicted by the circle that holds the nine points together, says every part belongs.
I want us to begin together in that lovely place of safety. Let’s start with the practice that everything belongs, which means all of me, all of you, and all of everything. Nothing has been kicked out! Often, we don’t mind kicking certain things to the curb but don’t want what we value to be kicked to the curb. Instead, here we are beginning in a place where nothing gets judged as out of place. This concept-turned-practice can be very challenging, but let’s challenge ourselves.
Today, play around with this picture and explore what it is like to believe and practice welcoming every part of ourselves, every part of whoever is with us, and every part of what is happening. This is not denial. This is not indifference. This is a beginning place that can calm and center us for right action—and can lead us to some surprising consequences. Beginning with a YES to what is, rather than a protesting NO, opens us up to what our NO might have missed. But don’t take my word for it—see what you find!
Sali Honess-Ondrey, Certified Spiritual Director, LCSW