Enneagram Trance

It's Being Predictable

A trance is not like a stare, it isn't one long unblinking look at reality. While a stare is outward, a trance is inward. Our Enneagram trance is a constant backward referral to interpret what is happening. For instance, if a Seven sees the same reality a One sees, the One will look for what is wrong and the Seven will look for possibilities of new excitement because those are both habits of interpretation. Both are repetitious impulses rather than a long fixed gaze. When we see movies of people in trances they have sort of a fixed-on-one-spot attitude. But the Enneagram is more like a quick peek at the answer book to see what this chunk of reality is apt to yield. So each type has a "sorting" attitude in which they habitually look for the same stuff.

This is why neurotic people (all of us to some degree) can get boring. The more neurotic we are, the more we see the same things over and over. And so say/do/feel/think the same things over and over. This is true because we are looking backwards at what used to be there instead of what is right in front of us. Neurotics are never spontaneous, they are predictable. Everyone hates to be labeled because "I feel like you're putting me in a box." An Enneagram trance is a box, the habits of perception are as confining as any box. The irony is that our Enneagram style recognizes the box we're already in, it doesn't add any box at all.

If my analysis is correct, what can we do about it? Let's look at some of the answers leading Enneagram authors give. Don Riso/Russ Hudson have trademarked their "Cognitive" approach. Their theory is that we are most helped by a more and more detailed understanding of what our box is. They say we are basically saved by knowledge. They are consistent, too. Riso boasts in his latest book, Personality Types, that he has more than 100 adjectives describing each type. And he has further subdivided each type into nine levels of health, so you can tell exactly your type and your level of 'healthy.' And knowing this, you will be able to make the necessary changes. Recognizing the trance in detail is being free from the trance.

I appreciate the intellectual feat of research and observation that Don has done. But I don't think it works by itself as well as it does if other components are added. (And Don/Russ add those components in their workshops, by the way). If straight cognition were effective by itself, Fives would be the healthiest of all styles and the instinctual styles, with their difficulty in abstract, precise, verbal thought, would be the worst off. My experience and research doesn't suggest that. I think it helps some, but there is more that can be done. If this approach appeals to you, then Riso's brand new book (revised version), Personality Types, is just the thing for you.

Helen Palmer and Claudio Naranjo have another suggestion. Both of them argue (brilliantly at times, I must say - they aren't as detailed in their methodology as Riso, but they are both excellent thinkers), that the trance resides in an inner habit of attention and if we can break the habit, we can get out of the grooves of attention that imprison us. Their assumption is that energy follows attention (and I buy that completely), so if you can break the attention focus, you can interrupt the energy patterns and ultimately the behaviors.

Vipassana Meditation

Their solution (Chapter 10 in Character and Neurosis by Naranjo and Chapter Two in The Enneagram, by Palmer) is Vipassana meditation. Vipassana meditation is easy to describe superficially, but it is a practice that is difficult, though richly rewarding. It consists of sitting and observing what thoughts and emotions come unbidden to your mind, then letting them go without any emotional concern about what does come to mind. Just pay attention to your breathing and acknowledge whatever interferes with that attention.

Here's a sequence. You will be amazed as how effective and difficult it is. It is a gem of Buddhist spiritual practice that is completely in harmony with all religious beliefs, because like any tool (such as the Enneagram), it is value-free.

    The steps:

  1. Find a quiet spot and sit down in comfort.
  2. Relax as many parts of your body as feel tense. Pay special attention to your extremities, your tongue and eyes.
  3. Pay attention to your breathing. Don't try to alter it. Just watch. I know it's boring, but do it anyway.
  4. Notice what tries to interfere: itching, tired muscles, preoccupations, images - the list is as long as your attention. Whenever a thought/image/emotion comes up, just release it saying, "hmmm, I notice I think/feel/want/ such and such today.

I recommend this practice highly. I do it a little, but it is not a good practice for me, because as a Seven, I can sit and entertain myself with images that come to mind all day long. This Buddhist practice is a Five's delight (Buddha is a Five, as is Naranjo, while Palmer has a strong Five wing, I might note).

I'm not going to give you exercises because the Vipassana should be more than enough. But I do have some discussion questions.

    Discussion Questions:

  1. When you wake up in the morning, do you start thinking about what you're going to be thinking about most of the day? If you do, what is it? Does this say anything about your trance?
  2. When do people tease you and say, "That's just like you!" or "That's so typical of you!" Do you like what they say? Is there a pattern to what they note?
  3. Are there any public figures who really infuriate you? Often they carry either our Enneagram style or the Enneagram energy we repress the most.

More Resources: Tom Condon's two cassette package, Waking from Trances, gives a long and clear explanation of what our trances entail in each number. In his video cassette work, he uses NLP techniques precisely to break attention trances.