No limits

Idealistic and energetic people love phrases like “The sky is the limit.” I don’t.
Many Enneagram styles set themselves goals without limits. When a Three told me “I always succeed,” I knew he was seriously deluded. Everybody fails, but in his case his failure was obvious. He had about a 50 inch waistline. Had I uncharacteristically not restrained myself, I would have asked him about his diet. He was an arrogant ex marine, so I was discreet. Most of us have, somewhere deep inside us, a quiet infinite task. The sky is the limit carries with it a proportional effort.
Sometimes it is seriously pathological. Kansas’ own right wing billionaire, David Koch, worth $36,000,000,000, was asked how much wealth he wanted. He answered, “I want it all.” The sky is the limit.

Four reasons

This Thanksgiving Day we will eat. Food is richly symbolic. Let’s, rather arbitrarily, say we eat for four reasons:
nourishment, pleasure, social lubrication (best achieved with suitable beverages designed for that) and (drum roll) our Enneagram style.
When we eat for reasons quite unrelated to hunger, we eat for our enneagram style. If we examine our eating habits, they may frequently reveal our enneagram style. Of course there is overlap, so the place to look for our enneagram style is in excess. My research would indicate there is a relation between our portions and our proportions.


Most of our self-limiting Enneagram habits have a payoff. Those payoffs are varied and subtle, but this Thanksgiving let’s make it an Enneagram thanksgiving. Whatever payoff your style gives you, be thankful at least for that. If you’re a three, neglecting your inner life for money and fame, be thankful for that. If you’re a Six, be grateful for the security you have been able to obtain by intermittently constructive worry. If you’re a Nine, rejoice in the comfort you found while tamping down your desires.
We are never able to weaken our Enneagram styles until we can acknowledge and even protect what our ego-styles have gained for us. So start. Let’s all be thankful for at least how well our neuroses have worked so far.


People often talk about “false beliefs.” In relation to certain things outside ourselves, that makes sense. Some folks don’t “believe” in climate change. That’s a false belief, often called simple ignorance. That’s not too hard to deal with in coaching. But what if the belief is about yourself? Then whatever you believe has a remarkable power to either be true or become true. If you believe people will reject you, you will act in such a way they probably will. Why would you do that? To be right. To think that you may be wrong about the way you are in the world would be pretty devastating. So we do everything we can to make whatever we believe come true. Belief could be understood as an intention rather than a conclusion. It certainly is in my case. “I believe I’ll have a drink,” invariably leads to my having one. Or, “I believe people are basically honest/corrupt” will have a great influence on how you react to advertisements for home protection plans.

We need help

Most coaches subscribe to the notion that coaches need a coach themselves. I am a theologian: I know why coaches need a coach. In the Christian tradition, people serious about spiritual growth acquire a spiritual director. In my Catholic tradition, all priests, monks and sisters – even the bishops and the pope – are required by church law to have a spiritual director.
Here’s why. Once you leave the realm of science (sensory or computer data), you enter rare thin air of opinions and convictions that you can’t assess or evaluate with “hard” data: choose this career, marry that person. You need the advice of someone who has “been there,” or at least has learned from someone who has. In religion, you see the results of religious people who have no parameters or meaningful tradition. Think of Jim Jones or Michelle Bachmann. Someone schooled in a tradition, someone familiar with the self-deception of the ego needed to talk to them.
If you are considering coaching, an experienced coach can help you recognize what there are barely terms for: self-deception, narcissism, grandiosity and delusions of every hue.
I had the lovely experience of helping a Hindu yogi write a book. I was deeply impressed by his love for and reliance on his own master. I saw the parallel then between his touching respect for his master and my own tradition of venerated spiritual directors.
Now a further parallel is emerging in the coaching field. I’m seeing the reliance of new coaches on the experienced coaches. And, theologian that I am, I was first amused and then impressed with how often I hear the wise old coaches talk about “false beliefs.” It felt like the good old days in graduate school when heresies were trounced and false beliefs condemned.
But beliefs are wrong/harmful/stupid/inspiring/fruitful and only those who have done inner work are in any position to distinguish the difference.

Your good intention

Psychologists talk about something called a “secondary gain.” When we do self-defeating actions, we actually have a good intention. Behind the actions that don’t make sense “I don’t know why I can’t ask” is a secondary gain. In this case it may just be self-affirmation that you’re right about the way the world is – you can’t expect anything from it. It may be. But it may be any one of a myriad of reasons.
So I ask “What’s in it for you?” They usually answer, “Nothing.” So I repeat the question. Here’s where the Enneagram is so valuable. I have a pretty clear idea of what I call the Enneagram payoff. If a nine doesn’t ask for what she wants, it is probably related to a belief that if I get what I want, then you won’t get what you want –and then you will either cause me conflict or at least no longer like me. If the person has a different number, I look in different places. But I don’t tell them. I just keep saying that they are good people and there is something positive they are looking for or protecting. The question often has to be repeated — even to yourself – “What’s in it for me?” The Enneagram payoff is the booby prize. It’s better than nothing but not much.

I told you so

All real Enneagram students dutifully acknowledge that our Enneagram habits begin with a focus of attention. That’s the easy part. The corollary, or collateral damage is a bit more elusive. If we focus on something, we usually can not /will not see some other things. Now, being told to see what we don’t see is not very helpful. But it is the first step. Michael Neil is a world-famous high priced coach. He says this:

I have come to realize that lives are changed and businesses transformed most often through discrete moments of insight – the sudden seeing of something which has always been true, but had somehow gotten clouded over in the midst of people’s thinking.

That’s why an Enneagram coach can be so effective in only a few sessions. She knows what you’re not looking at


All right, I gave in to pressure and watched a couple sessions of Doughton Abbey. It is a delightful soap opera. But for Enneagram students, it is a gold mine. It is largely character-driven, supported by drama. You should be able to identify e-styles all over the place. (The literary form is Four ish. It is all about intense dramatic personal issues).

Babes in the woods

Most people would like to have more power. Coaches, therapists, parents and teachers can see, clearly or mistily, that we give our power away. Enneagram Sixes give it to authority, Ones to rules, and Fives attribute fierceness to people way more than is real.
So the first question to ask is why do we do that? Why give our power away?
A lot of the time, we swap power for innocence. If what happens in my life is beyond my control, then my mess is someone’s fault: I’m innocent. After all, no act or situation is my fault if I don’t have a choice or I don’t have the opportunity. My parents, my boss, the government (The Tea Party syndrome), and of course my genetic inheritance.
So today’s self-exam. What are you innocent of?

A thing of beauty

Regardless of your enneagram style, one way to weaken the hold your compulsion or fixation has on you is to create some beauty. Our culture places a tremendous emphasis on efficiency (the hallmark of a style 3 culture). But a focus on beauty widens and softens our tight focus on getting things done quickly and cheaply. Beauty feels like a waste of effort.
Except that beauty makes us happy. When we are worried or obsessed or angry or or or..if we can put ourselves in the presence of beauty we will increase our HQ -happiness quotient.
This is true on an individual personal level and on a cultural level. As our education system phases out liberal arts, music, dance, theatre etc, the culture gets meaner, the inhabitants more addicted to palliatives and the levels of violence grows.
Beauty is soul food.