Most people who are familiar with the Enneagram know it as a personality test, or a system of nine personality types. A more nuanced treatment of the Enneagram might describe it as a mandala of archetypal behavior patterns or fixations or ego identifications. These are many ways that we can learn and leverage the Enneagram of personality. But aside from the nine types, there is deep wisdom in the Enneagram symbol itself. Its sacred geometry makes an elegant map for any natural, transformational process. The application of this map is often called the process Enneagram.
The process Enneagram can actually be used to map the major phases that we go through as we use the nine-point typology (Enneagram of personality) in the process of awakening. When we access Enneagram-related insights about the nature of the self and reality, that supports our spiritual development along a certain path. This path naturally unfolds in a particular way, with predictable twists and turns, the same way that all transformational process does. The process Enneagram reveals the threefold nature of transformation. It shows us how we progress through distinct phases, and return again to the starting point, only at a higher level in the spiral of expanding consciousness.
The three phases of Enneagram work
Generally speaking, the process Enneagram describes a three-phase cycle of initiation or creation, the resolution of tension (where the transformation occurs), and completion in de-creation or dissolution. For our work with the nine-point typology of the Enneagram of personality, I have named the three major phases: Recognition, Liberation, and Integration.
- Recognition. The first phase of our work with the nine points of the Enneagram is about noticing and naming the patterns that are keeping us stuck. In this phase, we start to see ourselves more clearly. We use typology as a tool to help us observe ourselves: our desires, our fears, and our fixated patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. Here, what was once unconscious becomes conscious, in the light of awareness.
- Liberation. Once our ego fixations are known to us, the second phase of work is releasing ourselves from those patterns. This is where we break free from the limitations of identification by coloring outside the lines of comfortable self-concepts. We engage our conscious mind in making a new and different choice from whatever is “usual” for us — a willful act of rebellion against our habitual ways of being and doing.
- Integration. The third phase is a bit more difficult to describe. This is where we complete the full circle of the transformational process and we return to the starting point with a higher-level understanding of self and reality. We are not trapped by our type, and we are not trying to be our not-type. In this phase, the nine types dissolve. We return to the realm of the formless, where there is no longer any tension between enacting this pattern or not enacting this pattern. The type distinctions blur and converge as we embody the wholeness that includes everything.
Recognition (points 9/0 to 3)
In mapping this to the process Enneagram, the Recognition phase takes place from points 9/0 to 3. Here we learn to see through our previously opaque or unconscious ego patterns — the seeing of these patterns arises from the seed of original awareness at point 9/0, and they begin to take shape in the form of nine conceptual “type descriptions” or archetypes that we see as distinct from each other at point 1. As we move around the circle, we come to the real-time observation of the patterns at point 2. Here we are aware, we understand these patterns exist, and we can observe them in action in our lives. As we come to the shock point at 3, we realize that endlessly repeating these patterns is in fact not inevitable, as we arrive at the crossroads of personal responsibility. At point 3, we see we are not victims of our habits of thinking and feeling, but fully complicit co-creators of the perpetual loop that we have been “stuck” in until now. Here, we take ownership of our experience of life and reclaim our personal power in shaping that experience. The portal for potential change is opened with the power of our intention.
Liberation (points 3 to 6)
The Liberation phase takes place in the “underworld” region at the bottom of the Enneagram, from point 3 to point 6. Having connected with the power of intention at point 3, there is the seed of desire to make changes that is the dominant tone present at the beginning of this phase. We are no longer content to do things the way we have always done them; and we are growing in the resolve to shift how we relate to our patterns and how we show up in life. With this motivating impulse, we come to point 4, where we find discernment. This is where we envision a higher self, freer self, truer self, or more essential self that we hold as an ideal coming through. At point 4, there is the idea that certain ways of thinking, feeling, or behaving are preferred over others — there are things we want to stop, things we want to start. Between point 4 and point 5, we cross the chasm of inner conflict. This nadir of the Enneagram is where we face the biggest hazard, because here we feel how strong the gravitational pull of our habitual fears and desires is, and we confront massive resistance as we deliberately invite ego death. If we manage to cross over, at point 5 is where the “rubber meets the road” and our ideal becomes real. We make a conscious choice.
On the other side of the chasm, the ideal that see from our discernment at point 4 becomes actualized in reality at point 5. We have now empowered ourselves through the lived experience of shaping our reality by choosing differently. Realizing that we can free ourselves by making different choices, we come to point 6, where we begin to see the world as illusion. At the shock point of 6, we contact humility as we realize that even as we make choices, we do so within the larger fabric of human consciousness, and the evolution of that is ultimately beyond our personal control. This may seem contrary to the realization at point 3, where we discover the power of our intentions. Along the 3–6 line, we find dynamic tension between intention and acceptance, or the duality of personal will and divine surrender. Later on, when we return to point 9/0, we will see how this duality is reconciled.
Integration (points 6 to 9/0)
From the shock point of 6, we enter into the third octave of Integration, which takes place from point 6 to point 9/0. We return to where we started from, completing the cycle. The third phase is where we “understand reality.” Once we accept that our individual experience is an infinitesimally small part of a much larger mandala of the human journey, we arrive at point 7 where we can embody the freedom that comes when we become fluid or “in flow” with our lived experience. As we continue, we find that the separate concepts and archetypes that manifested in the first initiatory phase start to retreat back to formlessness. The definition of distinct types that was fundamental to our Recognition in the first phase are dissolved here in the phase of Integration. The flow state and freedom at point 7 progresses to a state of dissolution at point 8. From form, we return to formlessness as we progress towards the end of our journey. As we travel through point 8, as we dismantle our rigid concepts of self and return to the unity and wholeness at the zenith point 9/0.
The equilateral triangle at the heart of the Enneagram represents the Law of Three. This points to the nature of reality arising from three forces: positive, negative, and neutral/reconciling. We see references to this everywhere, whether it is the trifecta of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit seen in Christian teachings, or Brahma, Shiva, and Vishnu of the classic Hindu trinity, or the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces of modern physics.
The process Enneagram of inner work is anchored by points 3, 6, and 9. At shock point 3 (where we transition from phase one: Recognition, to phase two: Liberation), we discover the power of intention. At shock point 6 (where we transition from phase two: Liberation, to phase three: Integration), we surrender in acceptance. And as we return home to the zenith point 9/0, we reconcile these seeming opposites in wholeness or unity (9) as we hold them in spaciousness of infinite awareness (0).
Being consumed by three cosmoses
Gurdjieff scholar and thinker Anthony G. Blake summarized the three phases of transformation — or three cosmoses — with these statements: “I was immature,” “I was mature,” and “I was consumed.”
- I was immature: In the Recognition phase, we are largely dwelling in the lower cosmos of our pre-conscious programming. The inner work journey of the Enneagram begins here as we start to see patterns and learn to catch ourselves in the act of acting them out. Here we observe ourselves as we are and make meaning from what we have seen the past.
- I was mature: In the Liberation phase, we enter the middle cosmos, where higher and lower cosmoses meet. Here we go through the fire of inner transformation, as we learn to move from presence rather than from our programming. Crossing the chasm of inner conflict from point 4 to point 5, we see the ideal become real. We experience the unfolding of reality as a collaboration between higher will and personal choice.
- I was consumed: As we enter the phase of Integration, we move into the realm of timelessness. In this third and final phase, it’s no longer about analyzing the past, or even making choices in the present. Here we exist beyond time; our individual identities melt and we surrender to alignment with higher consciousness.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool that we can use to deepen our self-inquiry and take part in the ongoing expansion of human consciousness.
Instead of consuming so much, let us be the ones consumed.