Spiritual Traditons

The Enneagram can serve as a template. If you study any given spiritual tradition, you will see that it has an Enneagram flavor. What constitutes this flavor? The most obvious thing is a certain preoccupation with the high and low side of the style.

For example, the Dominicans, a good "Five" religious order, has as its motto, "To give to others the fruits of contemplation." A strength of the Five is a natural bent for contemplation and the task is to enter into and engage the external world. The Dominicans work on handling that tension creatively by that motto. Now if you are a Five, the Dominican charism would be attractive to you; it would address a central concern in your life. It would take advantage of your natural gifts and challenge you to extend yourself to engagement with the outside world, your connection to style Eight. So in one sense, if you are a Five, the Dominican spirituality would suit you just fine.

It may also be redundant. It deals with what you already deal with. You might easily embrace the contemplative part and stay there, getting more and more wrapped up in contemplation and use it as an escape. You already know this territory, so you might just settle in and think that life is all about contemplating and occasionally venturing out to share your wisdom.

But if you had a spirituality that was most concerned about your connection to Seven or Eight (where your stress and security points lay), you would find it a stretch and probably a healthy one. For example, Fives have a cool distaste for spontaneity. One of the ways they protect their privacy is with time. They usually don't like surprises much and love to plan.

But if they have a spirituality that is predominantly Seven in its orientation, they would be urged to consider the beauty of spontaneity. Sevens do spontaneity quite well and if you read the life of St. Francis, you'll see how a healthy Seven did it. Or look at the New Age. Now New Age Spirituality has some Sevenish flaws, serious ones, I would argue, but you have to grant it spontaneity.

Franciscan emphasis on poverty might also be just the corrective to a tendency to hoard that some Fives are burdened with. Fives can be inveterate collectors; it does not occur to them that this habit might weigh them down, so to speak. Poverty relates to freedom of movement and Fives could learn to appreciate this inner freedom. Some Fives have the opposite problem with material goods - they live without, going through life with very few things so they are not bothered with the material world and can live in their head. Studying true poverty might show them a middle way and make poverty an experience of freedom rather than an expression of inner deprivation. It can be really helpful to belong to a spiritual tradition. The tradition knows the vices that look like virtues, how to distinguish between a healthy expression of an attitude with the unhealthy look-alike. The tradition also serves as a corrective for our own delusions. I may be really convinced I know it all, but if I submit to some kind of community, a tradition, I run a good chance to find some needed corrections.

The prophetic tradition of all religions addresses this repeatedly. The kings in the Hebrew scriptures were sure they were doing the will of their God and the prophets called them to task. They always called them on their fidelity to the tradition. A prophet was never heeded if his message conflicted with the revelation in the Torah.

In the New Testament, even Jesus made sure he affirmed the central spiritual truths of the earlier revelation. (Matthew is a Six, so he constantly emphasized the continuity between what Jesus said and did with the great tradition of the Hebrews).

Karl Popper, a contemporary philosopher of science, has coined the term, "the principle of falsibility." By this he means that a genuine scientific truth needs to be affirmed or denied by the community before it can be declared true. He understands this for all science that starts with experience.

Spiritual experience is under the same strictures. (In the absence of a community holding one's spiritual experience accountable, you have the bizarre case of Jim Jones and his lethal Kool-Aid. He was answerable to no one, so when he had a crazy religious idea, he acted on it. We all do this to some extent. We need a community, either a horizontal one (family, group, church, it can take a lot of forms), or a vertical one extending through time. The great traditions of the major religions are like this. If I am a Buddhist, I really need to know if Buddha might or might not agree with me. If he doesn't, I may have to reconsider.

The popular notion in American culture, most eloquently held by sophomores, is that everyone has his own opinion and we're all right. As I mentioned earlier, delusion can be a problem and that's a good description of one. Without some kind of outside check on spiritual principles, we all suffer from delusion.

After defending the need for a spiritual tradition, it is also important to know that every spiritual tradition has a focus, a preoccupation and we may not submit to any tradition completely. The reason lies with the nature of reality. Every tradition needs to be refreshed by current spiritual experience and corrected by new information, spiritual and otherwise.

Most spiritual traditions (I've found no exceptions yet) have an Enneagram style - that is, they have a focus of attention and subsequent energy allocation that is a little too tight and excludes parts of reality that also need attention. That focus in no way vitiates their contribution, but an understanding of the Enneagram style can help you look for specific strengths and weaknesses that may be just what you need -- or not.