Today’s Enneagram is most commonly known as a system of personality types as it draws from ancient wisdom traditions and insights from modern psychology to assist personal and collective transformation. The Enneagram is also known for and expressed as an enigmatic, nine-pointed symbol that represents nine distinct strategies for relating to ourselves, others and the world.
You Are Not a Number
Yet, while the question “What is your number?” might be the most frequently asked question pertaining to the Enneagram, it is important to understand that none of us is a number, a single personality or even a collection of many personalities. The Enneagram is meant to help people expand their awareness, and its set of nine numbers offers a language and a system for understanding and discussing the diverse landscape of everything that makes us who we are as human beings. In other words, that which creates and characterizes one’s identity can be charted by all nine numbers of the Enneagram. One’s identity is the sum total of every good and every bad thing that has ever happened to them, including genetics.
The anatomy of the brain reflects this principle. We are not left-brained or right-brained—we are whole-brained—and the Enneagram reflects that wholeness.
Your identity, formed in the brain, is comprised of a combination of nature, nurture, and discipline-based conditioning. It is shaped by all of your life experiences—both positive and negative. Brain anatomy and brain function are rich with complexity. In fact, the three main areas of our brain—the brain-stem, the right hemisphere, and the left hemisphere—correlate directly with the three “intelligence centers” of the Enneagram: the head, the heart and the gut.
A Brief History of the Enneagram
The modern understanding of the Enneagram began with the teachings of George Gurdjieff in the early 20th century. Gurdjieff claimed that we human beings are asleep to our full expression of spirit, will and being, and that a great many internal and external forces conspire to keep us this way. He believed that waking up is possible but claimed that the keys to awakening lie in our ability to develop our attention and foster a healthier relationship between our essence and our personality.
Further, Gurdjieff stated that our three intelligence centers had to be awakened and functioning properly, rather than left to the disorganized state of the average person. He recognized that many traditional spiritual paths typically emphasize the development of one of the three centers at the expense of the other two. For example, the way of devotional monastic paths, such as the Eastern Orthodox monastic orders and Sufi Dervish orders, emphasize the heart center. For Sufi Muslims, on the other hand, the spiritual ascetic attempts to overcome identification with the body. Paths that discipline attention and understanding, such as those of Indian Yogis and Zen monks, cultivated the mind. Further, most expressions of these three paths require that one give up their life as a householder—their regular participation in work, family, and society—and retreat from the world to live in solitude or a spiritual order.
These are the other articles in this series.
Gurdjieff called his work the “Fourth Way” because he sought a path to develop all three intelligence centers, even within the conditions of daily life. He taught the Enneagram as a means to bring together what he called the Law of One, the Law of Three, and the Law of Seven. These universal laws are represented in virtually every spiritual tradition worldwide. The Law of One simply states that everything emerges from one source. The Law of Three—reflected in the countless trinities found in spiritual traditions around the world—describes how any whole phenomenon manifests in three ways: active, passive, and reconciling force. The Law of Seven represents process and draws from the same principles as the musical octave.
Over the decades and centuries, several others have helped to evolve the Enneagram into what we know of it today, including Oscar Ichazo, Claudio Naranjo, Helen Palmer, A.H. Almaas, Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. Contemporary Enneagram teachers continue to broaden its impact in psychological, spiritual, educational and organizational domains.
The Brain-Based Enneagram from a Triad Perspective
The circle within the Enneagram symbol represents the big-picture view of one’s whole identity. Within that identity are three distinct yet united segments—instinct, intuition, and intellect, also known as the gut center, heart center, and head center, respectively. The triad of centers also represents a person’s body, soul and mind, and, neurologically, the brain-stem, right hemisphere, and left hemisphere of the brain.
The Enneagram associates each intelligence center with three numbers in the structure, providing a more nuanced expression of each one. These numbers are symbols for the expressions of our identity and ultimately establish who we are:
Instinct: 8, 9, 1
Intuition: 2, 3, 4
Intellect: 5, 6, 7
The Enneagram symbol is typically drawn with number 9 at the top of the circle. In the brain-based Enneagram, however, the number 9 is placed at the bottom of the circle, reflecting a correspondence between the Instinct triad and the brain-stem at the base of the brain.
Population Density Map
Imagine a population density map of your brain. All over your neurological landscape, there are sparks of activity in the regions you utilize most. Some areas are buzzing with life, some are warm with mild use, others are quiet and cool. Imagine a population density map of your identity.
Throughout your mind, body and soul is your life force. Some elements of your being are teeming with vitality, some are growing in maturity and others have gone dormant—or have never awakened at all. Like the density map, our intelligence centers express different aspects of the Enneagram with different degrees of activity. Some numbers you live in constantly, and others you may only visit occasionally or rarely if ever.
The metaphor is also accurate from a neurological perspective. The brain functions that you use the most will be more capable of increasing their efficiency, expanding activation, and attracting higher volume of residency in your “brain map.” By increasing activity, you increase the efficiency of that area. The more we understand our unique map and makeup, the better we can respond to the needs and desires of that region and expand our holistic well-being.
The Numbers of the Enneagram
When you shift the focus of the Enneagram from being all about a single number to recognizing the efficient expression of all nine numbers, the Enneagram language shifts with it. It begins to focus on nature and values instead of type and reductive behaviors. For example, the number seven, traditionally associated with the label “Enthusiast,” can instead be represented by the innate human capacity for enthusiasm as well as the value of experiences. “I am an enthusiast” transforms into “I value experiences,” which allows more room for nuance, invites growth and begs the question, “And what else do I value?”
Here’s an introduction to the nine numbers of the Enneagram and the innate human capacities reflected in each. We begin with “8” as an introduction to the gut center, and, moving counter-clockwise around the Enneagram, we end with “7” in the head center.
8 I am a challenger. I value autonomy.
9 I am a peacemaker. I value serenity.
1 I am a reformer. I value justice.
2 I am a helper. I value appreciation.
3 I am an achiever. I value creativity.
4 I am an individualist. I value authenticity.
5 I am an investigator. I value clarity.
6 I am a loyalist. I value guarantees.
7 I am an enthusiast. I value experiences.
Every human being has access to all nine numbers of the Enneagram. Based on nature, nurture, and discipline-based conditioning, we express the values of each number with varying degrees of intensity based on our lived experiences.
In Part 2 of this series, I will discuss in more depth the nature and capacity of each number as well as explore the relationships with our instinctive survival (re)actions, often referred to as fight, flight and freeze.
Jerome D. Lubbe DC, DACNB, is CEO and Founder of Thrive Neuro Health, where he uses functional neurology, neuroplasticity and other tools to improve patient well-being. His book, The Brain-Based Enneagram, offers a first-ever neuroscience-based model of the Enneagram. Contact him at [email protected]