Using the Enneagram with Judith Searle


© 2012 by Judith Searle

I read with great interest Susan Rhodes’s astute article “The Missing Body Center (or Making the Invisible Visible).” The problems involved with our culture’s “blindness” to the particular kind of intelligence we see in the “body” or “gut” types (Eight, Nine and One) seem to me real and important, and her analysis is penetrating and useful. Since she especially requested comments on her article from body types, I am offering here my perspective as a One on some of the vital issues she has addressed.

In the January 1997 issue of Enneagram Monthly I suggested in my article “Jottings from a One’s Journal” that calling the Eight-Nine-One triad the “Instinctual” triad was likely to be more confusing than helpful. I pointed out that consistency of style demanded parallelism with the labels commonly used to describe the other two triads as “Feeling” (Two-Three-Four) and “Thinking” (Five-Six-Seven). While feeling and thinking are basic human faculties, instinct is not. The basic faculty that I believe characterizes the Eight-Nine-One center is will. The “Body” or “Gut” types specialize in “Will,” and the imbalances of this faculty among these three types directly parallel the imbalances of “Feeling” and “Thinking” within the centers with those labels.

In the Two-Three-Four triad, for example, we see defects of the Feeling faculty: in Two, feeling is directed excessively outward (empathy toward others, with inadequate awareness of the Two’s own feelings); in Three, feeling is deficient in both outward and inward applications (denial of feelings in the service of achieving visible goals); and in Four, feeling is directed excessively inward (self-absorption). We see the same basic pattern in the Five-Six-Seven triad in relation to Thinking: Five focuses thoughts excessively inward (hoarding them, honing them so as to avoid the intrusion of others); Six’s preoccupation with worst-case scenarios creates a deficiency in clear thinking (“I was so scared I couldn’t think straight”); and Seven directs thinking excessively outward (strategically designed to keep the Seven’s options open, so as to avoid the feared boredom and/or frustration).

If we apply this pattern (excessive outwardness /deficiency/excessive inwardness) to the Eight-Nine-One triad, it doesn’t work well with the labels “Body-based,” “Gut,” or even “Instinct.” But if we substitute the word “Will,” the pattern falls right into place: Eights directing the will excessively outward (trying to impose their will on others); Nines being defective in will (ambivalent, often unable to act because their will is pulled equally in opposite directions); and Ones directing the will excessively inward (preoccupied with self-discipline and deflecting the voice of their Inner Critic).

There is another aspect of the triads that I initially found confusing: Because of the way the triads are labeled, many students of the Enneagram might assume that the “Feeling” triad is not only focused on feeling but also somehow especially gifted in this faculty (the same idea applying to the “Thinking” and the “Will” triads). I now realize that what characterizes each type within all three triads is actually a defect or imbalance in these faculties.

I reiterate these ideas here in some detail because it seems to me that the vagueness of the word “Instinctual” may have contributed to the lack of understanding of the Eight-Nine-One triad’s function. If we acknowledge “Will” as the key to this center, the active function of the triad’s particular kind of intelligence becomes more comprehensible. What we see here is nothing less than the motor that powers evolution (as well as devolution, of course). This “reconciling” force is what drives growth and change. Insight (emotional or intellectual) alone would not suffice.
Seeing “Will” as potentially disabled at the Nine point (as “Feeling” can be at Three and “Thinking” at Six) also opens up deeper awareness of the distinctive role of the often-misunderstood Nine type, whose positioning at the top of the central equilateral triangle is crucial to the dynamic of the whole Enneagram system.

What the Nine point has come to signify is the power of inertia—not “sloth,” in the usual sense. Even “self-forgetting,” which has been used to characterize the Nine’s “passion,” fails to trigger the comprehension needed here. The difficulty many Nines have in making decisions is often attributed to their unique awareness of the strategies of all eight other types; understanding such a wide range of options, how can the Nine discern the best choice in any given situation? If I may continue my analogy with will as the motor, the Nine’s inertia is a result of having the vehicle’s accelerator pushed to the floor at the same time the brake pedal is being pressed with equal force. The oppositions of male/female, feeling/thinking—rather than battling it out in the average Nine’s consciousness—are more likely to bring the individual to a standstill. It seems evident that the Nine’s tendency toward inertia is presented at the top of the Enneagram diagram to signify that inertia is the most powerful force in the universe, equal in strength to the sum of all eight action-related strategies.

What are the implications of this for spiritual development? It might be helpful to consider the Biblical injunction “Be still and know that I am God.” Also to consider that the Nine point is commonly associated in spiritual applications with “Holy Love” (as Six is with “Holy Faith” and Three with “Holy Hope”). Rhodes’s unease with the opposition of “fear” and “love” is confirmed by the consciousness that “anger” (the “emotional challenge” associated with the Eight-Nine-One triad) is the real opposite to “love.”

Rhodes’s diagram “Reconciling the vertical and horizontal” offers a persuasive view of the body as a reconciling force between head and heart, and I agree that the body (in its faculty of will/life force) can function in this capacity. However, I think that seeing the body solely as a catalyst does not adequately acknowledge its particular species of intelligence, which—though not easy to describe—is distinctly different from that of the heart (emotional intelligence) and head (analytical intelligence).

My personal experience is that this form of intelligence might be characterized as “direct knowing,” “gut-level knowing,” or “grounded intuition.” Akin to discernment, it allows me and other body types I know to make distinctions and decisions almost instantaneously. If questioned about my process, I usually fall back on after-the-fact logical explanations of a process that was not initially involved with any intellectual analysis (or conscious emotional progression). I don’t know where this faculty of discernment comes from, but it seems to have become more reliable as I’ve gotten older. I have a sense that it may have been strengthened by a three-decade-long meditation practice. Also, perhaps, by several years of intensive neo-Reichian (Radix) body work when I was in my forties.

I had an unnerving experience in a workshop on intuition with Anne Armstrong at Esalen in the 1980s that may offer some insight into the aspect of intelligence I’m struggling to define. The group was asked to do an exercise in remote viewing of a man whose age was given and whose health issue (undefined) we were asked to tune into. I immediately felt strong chest pains and said I thought the man had recently suffered a heart attack. Anne confirmed that this was indeed the subject’s problem. At the end of the session I told her I felt overwhelmed by the power of my experience. “Be aware,” she said, “that you can turn down the volume.” Since that workshop, I’ve learned that others who have become aware of a personal gift for this kind of intuitive intelligence have often resisted developing it. Certainly there is little support for it in the culture at large.

I am grateful to Susan Rhodes for raising these important issues around the role of the body center, and I greatly admire the openness of heart and mind, clarity, and spiritual consciousness she brings to everything she writes.


This article was published in the April 2102 issue of Enneagram Monthly