What All Christians Need to Know About the Enneagram
A conversation with author Chris Heuertz.
By now, you’ve probably either heard about the enneagram or heard people identify their personality type based on its numeric scale.
In his new book, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth, author Chris Heuertz argues that the enneagram is far more than a personality test. It’s a way in which Christians can grow closer to God.
We recently spoke with Chris about the book, what we can learn from the principles of the enneagram and why all Christians should understand it more.
I hear a lot of people talking about the enneagram, but there are still people who may be unfamiliar with it. How would you describe what it is to someone encountering it for the first time?
I understand the enneagram personality, which is the form and application of what we’re doing with the enneagram now, as a way of sort of decoding or deciphering, or even sort of displaying, our ego set of coping addictions that we’ve wrapped up around a childhood wound. And we do this so we don’t have to face the pain and tell ourselves the truth about who we really are.
So what the enneagram does is it exposes our personality as a mask and invites us to take this mask off and really excavate our essence to figure out who we really are, what our true self is, how our essential nature really needs to come forward, so we can be the gift we were born and to be.
In the title of the book, you use the adjective sacred, The Sacred Enneagram. Why use the word sacred there? What makes this something that has sacredness?
Essentially, the enneagram I’m suggesting in the book is that our enneagram type isn’t fundamentally about the type of person we are, but it’s more of a pathway back to God, a path back to our true selves. What I do in the sacred enneagram is help folks come to terms with one of the nine types where they are dominant and essentially try to suggest that there are nine different ways to pray.
There’s nine different ways to do our inner work to nurture our own spiritual lives. And when we can discover what our unique path back to God is, there’s something deeply sacred, very simple, but still deeply sacred in that.
It’s interesting because you frame our understanding of what a personality is as almost like a construct—this developed because of things that happened to us. So where do you draw the line between the personality that you were given, that is part of your created nature, that God made you to be an individual person and the personality that’s developed because of experiences?
What I think the enneagram helps us do is differentiate and discern the difference between personality and character. When we look at the nine types within the enneagram, what we’re looking at is character structures.
And I think the difference between character and personality is character is what we develop through our inner work and personality is a collection of fragments, if it’s our memories, if it’s our eccentricities, if it’s our foibles, if it’s our quirks.
Unfortunately, what a lot of us do is let one of these fragments of our personality lay claim to the whole of who we think we are. So if you’re funny, if you’re artistic, or if you’re really smart—and you want to lead with that and you over-identify with that fragment; a lot of us end up building personality around that fragment.
A lot of us actually sort of fasten that mask to our sense of self and we begin to polish that mask, we begin to believe that that mask is who I ultimately am. Personality isn’t bad. In fact, important. It’s one of the ways that we transmute and express the gifts of who we are.
But there’s so much more to us than simply personality.
I feel like there are people who may be resistant to the degree of self-reflection that really digging into the enneagram requires. For people who would have a reluctance to devote the emotional energy required to really apply these principles, what would you say to them to change their mind?
I think some of the masks that we wear are necessary. But these masks, for the most part, keep a lot of us trapped in the illusions of who want to be, who we think we’d like to become or what other people perceive us as. And so really we know this.
In all the great spiritual traditions and all the great wisdom schools, part of the journey of becoming more human is often totemed against this notion of sort of waking up and coming out of these illusions.
In the book, I actually talk about that. I use the Wizard of Oz—that great book, that classic American film—as one of the sort of parables that helps us sort of know how to work with the enneagram. So we have this young girl from Kansas, Dorothy, who’s knocked out in a storm. In the beginning of the film, when she’s awake, everything’s in black and white, right? Things do seem like it’s just bland, monotonous. But as soon as she falls asleep and she falls into her illusion, her dream, everything is vibrant and in color.
Secondly, if you take a Jungian dream analysis overlay to the Wizard of Oz and in Jungian dream analysis they say everybody who shows up in your dream is actually part of your collective consciousness, trying to tell you something that you’re not listening to while you’re awake. Then you see these bits of Dorothy show up on the road: her three companions. It’s a lion without his courage, a tinman without a heart and a scarecrow without his mind. And if you look at that, your body, your heart and your mind, these are the enneagram’s three intelligence centers.
So suddenly what you see in this dream is here come these integral parts of who she is, of who all of us are, and what they’re trying to tell Dorothy is until you can help us reconnect with what we’ve always had, you’re going to stay asleep and until you wake up, you’re never going to get home.
I think that’s part of the problem with our personalities.
For Christians who believe that part of their purpose right now is to develop a deeper relationship with God and a knowledge of God, why do you think, for them in particular, this is such an essential thing to put into practice in their life?
I think that for folks who grew up in historic, Christian faith traditions there’s a series of ways that we have been offered to help us in our faith journeys. So we have various ways of praying, various ways of worshipping, various ways of doing Bible study. And all of these things are helpful exercises for our soul, but at a certain point in all of our Christian experience the way that we nurture our spirituality will no longer work. It’ll feel worn out, it’ll feel used up, it’ll feel really thin.
And when that happens, that gets really hard for people. They sort of fall like they’ve fallen into a spiritual desert. Others think this is the introduction to a dark night of the soul and for others, they hit this wall and just sort of putter out—and that’s it.
Well, my sense is when we hit those walls, when the old ways no longer energize us, excite us, we’re actually at sort of a crossroads. And I think it’s a really exciting time in all of our lives because I think what it is is it’s an invitation to go deeper. And not go deeper in new ways of praying, but actually return to old historic practices that are rooted in our historic Christian contemplative tradition and my sense here, in the Sacred Enneagram is that as we come to terms with what our type is, that actually gives us a clue of what it looks like to nurture a deep, contemplative spirituality.
And so, in the book, I suggest that if you’re in your heart, you’re in your intelligence center. Your intelligence center in the enneagram is the three ways that we perceive reality. It’s either through our body and our instincts, our heart and our emotions or our head and our thoughts. And when you can come to terms with what your dominant intelligence center is, the first gift—the obvious gift of that is that you are now more capable of trusting your God-given, innate tools for discernment. So if you’re in your heart ( if you’re a 2, 3, or 4), or you’re in your head (5, 6 or 7) or you’re in your body (8,9 or 1), you’re also sort of given this key to know what to bring into your own prayer life.
And in the book, I suggest if you’re in your heart, you bring this prayer posture of solitude. If you’re in your head, you bring the prayer posture of silence and if you’re in your body, you bring the prayer posture of stillness. Now we clearly need all of these, but my sense is that one is more healing, one is more liberating, one is more attune to the affinities of what our type actually really needs to begin to tell ourselves the truth. And I think what solitude actually teaches us is to be present. Present to ourselves, present to God, so that we can be present to others.
Silence. There’s so much noise in our life, we’re distracted. We’re constantly distracted by all of these digital notifications. And sadly, if we went out for a cup of coffee, I imagine our phones would actually be on the table between us, and what that does is prohibits us from truly listening. But silence teaches us to listen—to ourselves, to God, to one another.
And stillness, it’s like, on one hand, it’s great for a world that has pronounced needs with incredibly painful human suffering, but I just feel like we live in a time where there are more nonprofits, more cause-driven people than ever before. But the problem is, even in our best intentions, history is not going to absolve us of the unintended consequences of [things we’ve done]. So it teaches us what proper social engagement should look like.
So solitude, silence and stillness, these contemplative prayer postures, become the corrections to what’s out of control in our lives. Because for different reasons, for nine different reasons, the things that tether us to our addictions keep us from God. But solitude, silence and stillness help loosen the grasp that those addictions hold over us.