One size does NOT fit all

Spirituality is one of the more abused words in the last 10 years. You're really not hip if you're not on a spiritual path. I'm on a spiritual path. Aren't you? Isn't everyone?

The Enneagram is often considered a spiritual path. As is channeling, guided imagery, art therapy, journaling, centering prayer, vipassanah, fasting - but we both grow weary. There are a lot of them. Which one is right for you? Which three would work -- perhaps?

I think the Enneagram is not a spiritual path at all. I think it is a map of energy flow, a world-view and a trance, but it is not a spiritual path because it doesn't require that you "do" anything.

But it is a map of spiritual energies and the contours of the different worldviews suggest that some spiritual paths are better than others.

For, you see, most spiritual paths embody the high side of an Enneagram style. Benedictine spirituality has many of the good characteristics of a healthy Six. It has a strong emphasis on community, a keen sense of tradition, a liturgical program that includes everyone and builds community and a clearly delineated hierarchy and authoritative structure. Most Sixes would feel right at home with Benedictine disciplines, emphases and values.

But Jesuits have much strong style One values. The spiritual exercises make you take action, they love examination of conscience, their teaching has clear moral values and they are much more individualistic, relying on the individual conscience more than communal consensus.

But should type Ones study the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius? Or would it be redundant? Do you really have to tell a style One to make an examination of conscience? The answer must be nuanced. For some Ones, learning to tailor and discipline their compulsive moral self-examination might be helpful. They can see how St. Ignatius dealt with this energy.

But the Carmelites, with St. John of the Cross (a powerful healthy Four) and St. Therese of Lisieux (a flaming neurotic Four) might be more helpful to a style One. Point Four is a natural resource for One, and the disciplines, insights and values at point Four detail how to act out the energy of point Four.

This isn't armchair theory. I do spiritual direction, some of it on the Internet. When I suggest to a One that they change disciplines (after finding out what they are doing currently), and I suggest the disciplines that act out the energies at the stress and security points, I've gotten some dramatic results.

You can't do this (or any counseling) in a mechanical way (Oh, you're a Three, go read the Rule of St. Benedict because that's a resource for you). But you can study that tradition, tease out some of the values and suggest those disciplines. For example, if I were counseling a Three (and I am), I would suggest that they find a spiritual path within a community. I'd warn them about competing with the others in the community, I might suggest a group activity in which competition is not possible, or in which Three's activity would be anonymous. I might suggest some Zen practices, which tend to illustrate the high side of Nine.

I might not suggest American Indian disciplines for a Three, because even though the chiefs are always portrayed as Nines in the movies. Fool's Crow, for instance is a clear One and a Three might find many of the process instructions for ritual emotionally barren.

Certain traditions are quite mixed and you need to tease out strands. For example, many people speculate on what number Jesus is. Well, popular piety usually pictures him as a sentimental Two, giving and giving and having no needs of his own. But in Mark's Gospel he is a dynamic Eight. He deliberately picks fights with authorities, Mark divides every encounter into good/bad guys, Jesus is constantly in motion (only prays three times in Mark, once in the beginning, once in the middle and at the end!). Whereas in Luke, Jesus is portrayed in prayer nine times and even the disciples pray a lot. Luke is a Five. He pictures Jesus as a Five, very contemplative. So I'd recommend Mark's healthy Eight to an Eight, but invite the Eight to read it through the lenses I mentioned, and then ask him to move to Five, his security point and read Luke, looking for another type of energy - a more inner, prayerful energy.


I haven't seen this specific approach any place yet. But you might sharpen your spiritual critical abilities if you try to figure out the Enneagram styles of each of the evangelists. Most of you know St. Paul is a One. Read one of his epistles and see if you can see his Oneish energy. Then read the epistle to James. James is a Three with a Two wing. See if you can tell why.

Read some lamentation psalms. See if you can feel the Four energy in them. (try Psalm 22 or 88 for starters, but there are lots of them). If you have some scriptural sophistication, you can see that the book of Jonah is a satire. It sounds like a Seven ridiculing the Fourish energy of the Hebrew conservatives of their day. If you can't perceive the satire, you miss the essential spiritual message.