Or More Reality

A certain type of writing about the Enneagram talks in traditional language about achieving what is called "higher consciousness." Other traditions use words that mean almost the same, like "enlightenment," "ego-destruction" and a few other synonyms. I am going to try to show you that you already know a lot more about these esoteric words than you thought and I will try to put it into short words and simple stories so you get something of the feel of these diverse religious traditions. I have found the Enneagram an enormous help in understanding these spiritual concepts in the same way I understand black only by way of contrast with white.

One of the favorite terms of the Zen masters is inner silence. Buddhism recommends meditation in order to arrive at a mind that is "one-pointed," a state of inner harmony and openness to all of reality. Most Eastern religions recommend meditation in order to clear our mind of a type of self-preoccupation. A Zen story will illustrate: The young eager student came to the master and asked to be taught the Zen way of life. The Master, agreed, but asked the young man to join him for a cup of tea. The student eagerly accepted the hospitality, but was somewhat taken aback when the Master poured the teacup full and kept on pouring. The student asked why he did this. The master replied that trying to teach one like him was like trying to pour tea into a cup already full.

The contemplative traditions of Christianity recommend ascetic traditions that prepare us for the gift of contemplation. They are often described as negative, in the same sense that a cup is negative when it is empty. Asceticism is a self-emptying, and the understanding is that we empty ourselves of our false selves (our Enneagram style).

Enneagram as busywork

The Enneagram helps us understand these diverse traditions. The Enneagram describes nine ways in which we do not have inner silence. Every Enneagram style is an inner noise. Our Enneagram strategy is to keep telling ourselves to look for this or that. Threes hear an inner noise that says they have to work hard. Sevens hear an inner noise that says they need to escape from boredom. Nines hear an inner noise that says "What's the use?" Some of the inner noises are voices (Ones hear voices, their critic is auditory), some are feelings (like the Nine just as gut feeling things aren't going to work out) and others have inner noises that are visual (the fear types tend to "see" the worst things coming to pass.

However, the point is that our Enneagram style is a strategy, it is a noisy, highly active doing the same thing over and over. When we can be said to be full of ourselves, it is precisely the Enneagram style (the false self) that we are full of. Sixes keep scaring themselves, Twos keep inflating, Fours keep negatively evaluating etc. Consequently, our Enneagram style prevents us from paying attention. We pay attention to our past experience (our model of the world that told us nobody could be trusted or authorities were dangerous or whatever) instead of paying attention to what is happening right now.

So one of the functions of prayer, meditation, contemplation, spiritual practices of all kinds is to silence the nagging of our Enneagram style. The old joke about the old man who said that he had 30 years experience being told that he had only one year of experience 30 times is brilliant. Our Enneagram strategy is a way of coping with the world as though it was going to be a repetition of what happened in our childhood. Our Enneagram style creates a model of the world that excludes all experience that doesn't fit the model. Threes "know" they have to work hard or their world won't work. Twos "know" they have to please everyone.

Don't be so sure

These inner "knowings" are the opposite of inner silence. These inner knowings are recordings playing so loud we can't hear what reality in front of us is saying to us. The tradition of "not knowing," is valuable. We know what is going to happen only to the extent it is like the noisy record predicting what will occur. In Luke's gospel, the Jew in the ditch must have "known" that no Samaritan would help him. He probably would have predicted it. There is a sense in which "grace" or "enlightenment" is letting into our lives things that we know darn well aren't true. We have an ugly saying about that. "It's too good to be true," because we know our world is small, one ninth of the truth, predicted by our Enneagram strategy. If we allow the other eight ninths of reality in, it will be too much for our programming to handle.

So when you hear the term higher consciousness, enlightenment, ego reduction/destruction, what they mean in plain English is being aware of more reality than our Enneagram style has previously let us see. We are conscious of more reality, in that sense it is higher, but the best metaphor I can come up with is cleaning your lens. You'll see more, but what you see will be ordinary. What will be mind-blowing and prompt you to say mysterious things about "higher" consciousness is the gap between what you saw with your Enneagram style and what ordinary reality you've been missing all these years.


  1. If you were to lose what your Enneagram style gets you, what would you put in its place that your current style doesn't provide? (If being a Two made you popular, what would you replace popularity with if you lost it?)
  2. What one thing will you never have and you do you manage to keep it out of your life?
  3. When you complain of being tired, what is it that tires you? What could you do instead?


  1. Share your favorite story and say why it is your favorite. Then rewrite it to fit your Enneagram conviction - or did you pick one that fits your Enneagram style?
  2. If your spirituality were subtraction, what one thing could you let go of that would open you up to new possibilities. Discuss how this might happen.