Last week I attended a conference sponsored by Revgalblogpals (a community of female ecumenical clergy bloggers!) on the Enneagram—a 4,000-year old spiritual system that describes nine ways of “seeing” the world and of responding to it. The gift of exploring the Enneagram is to learn how we can grow, change and heal our soul, becoming more fully who God made us to be. For more information, you can read The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr or visit Life in the Trinity Ministry, an organization founded by our conference speaker, Suzanne Stabile and her husband, the Rev. Joe Stabile (I am still new to the Enneagram, so please don’t learn about it from me; what follows is not instruction about it, just new information I am processing and sharing!).
One powerful insight from the conference addressed how we take in and process information. We have three centers of intelligence—Thinking, Feeling and Doing—and while we possess all three, most of us operate out of only two centers. We usually take in information out of one dominant center, process it with a second support center, and repress the third center. Between the ages of 8 and 12, we received messages that one center was less desirable, and we repressed that area. The Enneagram helps us discover our lost intelligence center and develop it. As adults, our repressed area shows up most dramatically in our home life.
- Thinking-Repressed: some of us Do and Feel or Feel and Do without productive Thinking. For example, we have a hard time living on budget, analyzing long-term consequences of choices, planning, strategizing, setting boundaries, and tend to leap into action without asking if the task is ours to do.
- Feeling-Repressed: some of us Do and Think or Think and Do without awareness of or processing our Feelings. For example, we dismiss or repress feelings until they erupt, channel emotional energy into activities, avoid feelings, cannot identify or name feelings, only allow positive feelings, and avoid of intimacy.
- Doing-Repressed: some of us Think and Feel or Feel and Think without much productive Doing. For example, we procrastinate, do what’s in front of us instead of what’s important, miss deadlines, neglect to help others when we have the skills and resources to do so, feel powerless, and can be blind to possibilities.
Interestingly, most of us don’t believe any of these areas are repressed! It seems like we engage in our repressed function all the time, but the real question is, are we engaging it productively? I discovered last week that I am Thinking-repressed, which sounds strange to me because I am thinking all the time! But when I ask myself, “Is it productive thinking?” I am taken in new direction. It’s not productive thinking if it’s the steady barrage of self-criticism, judgment and comparison with others; it’s not productive thinking if it’s about re-doing more perfectly a task which is already completed; it’s not productive thinking if I’m planning how to take care of others while neglecting myself—you get the idea!
Similar questions can be asked if you are Feeling-repressed: Am I expressing feelings indirectly in a passive aggressive way? Can I name how I’m feeling? Where do I feel this emotion in my body? When did I first become aware of this feeling? What’s a healthy way to release it, if it’s a negative feeling? Those who are Doing-repressed can ask questions like this: Is what I’m doing the most important task for today or just what’s in front of me? Have I prioritized what needs doing today or this week? On what tasks am I procrastinating and why? Am I doing what I committed to complete?
These questions just scratch the surface. Deep, intentional soul work involves practicing and strengthening our repressed intelligence center, (usually with a therapist) so we can live balanced lives that allow us to bring our best to the world. It takes work and consistency, or we fall back into what’s most familiar. I was delighted to learn that 12-Step programs help us express all three intelligence centers, so if you’re thinking of working a 12-step program, go for it! (I attend Al-Anon). I have also decided to work with a new Enneagram-trained spiritual director who can help me bring up my Thinking center. The conference speaker shared that when we operate out of our repressed center, we become our most pure self—and that’s beautiful soul work!
Image from: Aetherforce.com