Marilyn Woodard
The Enneagram is a wonderful, precise map that can help us understand why we are the way we are so we can begin to change what is no longer working for us in our lives.

The Enneagram As A Modern Tool For Enlightenment 

By Marilyn Woodard

“Human beings typically live in a state of arrested development in which the psychological domain rules our consciousness. Reaching the fullness of our potential entails resuming our development, which leads beyond the psychological to the realm of Being or spirit. Our experience in traveling this path is that psychological understanding and spiritual experience are so interwoven and interconnected that they can best be viewed as forming a continuum of realms of human experience.” *

A.H. Almaas, Facets of Unity 1998, Page x

Not so long ago, a person seeking spiritual experience and psychological understanding (which according to A.H. Almaas, founder of The Diamond Approach, are interwoven and interconnected*) would have been required to leave their ordinary life and become a devoted student of a spiritual path, living a life of seclusion, isolation, devotion to study, prayer, meditation and self reflection. Although there are still devotees who leave their ordinary lives to engage a spiritual path, most seekers today continue to go about their daily routines, immersed in a world that can be wonderful, and is often challenging. There are a myriad of spiritual teachings, teachers, practices and paths available at the tip of our fingers. We have ready access to amazing knowledge that in the past would have been totally out of reach to those living an ordinary life.

The Enneagram is one of the amazing resources that is now widely available. While it is not a spiritual teaching or path, it has ancient origins and contains a depth of wisdom drawn from universal truths. Psychologists, therapists, spiritual teachers, coaches, and leaders, as well as individuals seeking enlightenment and a deeper understanding of their nature are currently using the Enneagram as a powerful tool for self-development. It is a map that can lead to a deeper understanding of ourselves and of others, which can then allow us to be more available to spiritual experience and to the awareness that we are more than our personality even as we continue to live in the ordinary world.

The majority of people are sleepwalking through their lives. Like automatons, they docilely adhere to a set of ideas, beliefs and systemic rules that originate from their history, geographic origin, ethnicity, sexual identity, emotional DNA, religion, and all the other many and varied components of each life. Drifting from one experience to the next, most of us never wake up to our true potential and to the truth of what we are. The wisdom of the Enneagram can act as a universal alarm clock. It can awaken us to an understanding of our unconscious motivations and open our eyes to the hidden patterns and beliefs that have been dictating our choices and determining our actions. It is essential that we wake up if we are to begin the work necessary to break out of the box of our personality. We can then choose what will allow more freedom, flow, and happiness; we can choose what will open us up to give and receive more love and support.

Through understanding and observing our unconscious personality structures and patterns we can begin to “catch ourselves in the act”, noticing our reactivity as it is happening. We may become aware that we have felt powerless to do anything differently, to make different choices. Just seeing and understanding how controlled we are by our habituated patterns acts as a catalyst to facilitate a new mindset allowing the possibility of creating new neural pathways, pathways to more aliveness.

To understand how the Enneagram can be useful in helping us create a life that is less constrained by the limits of our personality and habitual patterns, let’s look at one of the insights the Enneagram holds.

Regardless of whether we consider our childhood experience blissfully happy, a complete disaster, or something in between, our parents and caregivers were human beings with their own values, strengths, set of beliefs, and limitations. Our early experiences and relationships with our primary caregivers and the conclusions we came to as a result established in us a sense of who we are and a certainty about how things work. This deeply ingrained sense of knowing who we are and certainty about what we take to be objectively true becomes a mostly unconscious belief system that we carry with us into our adult lives.

The Enneagram exposes one of these core beliefs or conclusions we carry from childhood and build our reality around as though it’s the absolute truth, regardless of evidence to the contrary or subsequent life experiences. These are called The Unconscious Childhood Messages.

Each Type has it’s own particular variety of this Unconscious Childhood Message:

Type One: “It’s not okay to make mistakes.”
Type Two: “It’s not okay to have your own needs.”
Type Three: “It’s not okay to have your own feelings and identity.” 

Type Four: “It’s not okay to be too functional or too happy.”
Type Five: “It’s not okay to be comfortable in the world.”
Type Six: “It’s not okay to trust yourself.”
Type Seven: “It’s not okay to depend on anyone for anything.”
Type Eight: “It’s not okay to be vulnerable or to trust anyone.” 

Type Nine: “It’s not okay to assert yourself.”

For example, a person with a Type Five personality moving through life carrying the unconscious message from childhood, “It’s not okay to be comfortable in the world,” will most likely know the world as a scary place from which they need to withdraw. They may be fearful of being too exposed or becoming overwhelmed, of not knowing exactly how to fit in with other people. Other Types will have a different life experience from Type Five’s because they will view the world through their unique filter. Type Nine will tend to go along with others, not taking their rightful place in life out of a belief it’s not okay to assert themselves. I hope this illustrates the difficulty these unconscious beliefs impose on our lives until we can actually expose them and challenge them to see if they are true.

Since most people tend to believe every one else experiences the world in the same way they do, it can be difficult to have a compassionate, open heart until we become aware of the different underlying message for each Type that motivates their choices and actions. Understanding other personality Types and the way their particular filters affect them, we can begin to see the world through the eyes of another person, to walk a mile in their shoes. Bringing these unconscious messages to consciousness is one of the many gifts the Enneagram offers that can allow more compassion, openness and understanding toward others as well as toward our self and can support the development of a fuller, richer life with more freedom to choose what brings real happiness and fulfillment.

The Enneagram holds many more insights and wisdom about our psyche as well as our essential nature. In this time when many are looking for a deeper understanding of themselves, and are open to less traditional ways that support spiritual growth, the Enneagram is a unique tool of depth and precision. I have found it to be invaluable in my own personal and spiritual development, as well as in my work with clients.

Marilyn Woodard is a Presence-Based® Certified Coach and a Riso-Hudson Authorized Workshop Teacher. She currently lives in Houston, Texas where she is a life coach and does leadership development training using the Enneagram.

She can be reached by email at

or by phone at 713- 256-6586.

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