The pandemic era is not the first or last liminal time, but it is ours and it is especially acute. Living life during a betwixt and between season—on the threshold that separates what was from what will be—is a balancing act that few are prepared for since our usual ways of managing life no longer work.
The truth is that nothing new happens as long as we are inside our self-constructed comfort zone. More importantly, nothing creative comes from business as usual. Every moment—even, dare I say, a liminal moment— is full of potential if we have the desire and the courage to walk toward it. And the Enneagram is an extraordinarily helpful tool to help us do that.
I’ve been told more than once that it’s important to live a balanced life. I’ve been to workshops where speakers taught how to achieve greater balance. I’ve read books on the topic. I’ve heard sermons preached about it, and I’ve visited monasteries where they’re actually pretty good at it, though they might not say they were. As it turns out, living a balanced life is not that easy.
Sometimes when I know something should be done, I question whether I’m up to the task and then reach for the nearest excuse. Until about ten years ago, I had pretty much given up on achieving any kind of balance for my life. My excuse was that I’m just not well equipped for a balanced life. But as it turns out, that isn’t true. It isn’t true for me, and it isn’t true for you either.
In fact, Enneagram wisdom suggests two things: First, the key to living—in liminal time or any time—is balance. Second, we all have exactly what we need to find that balance.
Perhaps you’ve studied the Enneagram enough to know what your motivations are. You may know which of your wings came first, what triad you belong to, and the sin or passion associated with your number. All of that is very helpful. But what about the three Centers of Intelligence: thinking, feeling, and doing? It is generally and universally accepted by the world’s philosophies and religions that human beings are born with these three native intelligences. Enneagram wisdom teaches us that these intelligences are simply three different ways of meeting the world.
We all have a different combination of these three qualities: one is dominant, one supports the dominant, and one is repressed. These Centers of Intelligence, as the Enneagram names them, are our natural resources, and if we can learn to use each one for its intended purpose, the result will be a more balanced approach to life.
The nine numbers of the Enneagram are divided among three ways, known as triads. Your triad is determined by your first response when you encounter information or situations—with either feeling, thinking, or doing. That is, when you take in information from the environment, do you respond initially with What do I feel?, What do I think?, or What will I do? It’s an intuitive, automatic move and it identifies what is known as your dominant center. You don’t need to try to change this response, but you do need to understand how it affects what you do next.
The other two centers are present, but one is supporting the dominant center, and one is repressed or unused. If you aren’t aware that there is more than the dominant center, you end up seeing only one-third of what’s happening. And that is the beginning of losing your balance, which will only be exacerbated as you continually try to understand and make sense of your life while using only one of your natural resources.
This is really important because your responses are how you make sense of things, and how you make sense of things determines your worldview. Your worldview determines the choices you make, and your choices have the power to contribute peace and goodness to a world that is in need of both.
In all three triads, when the dominant Center of Intelligence is unmanaged, there is a lack of balance. But you can learn to manage your dominant center. There are things you can do to be more aware of its limitations and choices you can make that will help you in learning to use it for its intended purpose.
The dominant center for Twos, Threes, and Fours is feeling. They are all about love, empathy, connection, loss, and pain. But the reality is that emotions are not made, they are allowed. And no emotion is final. For these heart people, anxiety and activity crowd out emotions. And when that happens, emotions can be expressed in unhealthy ways. The result is often fragmentation in relationships, which is the last thing they want.
The dominant center for Fives, Sixes, and Sevens is thinking. They are rational—they choose reasoning over emotions and judgment over reacting. They all struggle with fear, which in Fives is under-expressed, in Sixes is overexpressed, and in Sevens is reframed as a positive. Both feeling and doing for them can be compromised. Their dysfunctional responses to fear limit productive thinking, so they settle instead for lazy thinking, which fails to produce the result they hope for.
The dominant center for Eights, Nines, and Ones is doing. People who make up the Doing Center are all somewhat preoccupied with control and less likely to acknowledge feeling or think about what they are doing. They intuitively convert varying emotions into anger, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the Anger Triad—they attempt to manage anger while engaging in activity as a response to the events in their lives. They hold their ground rather than adapt. And they all have some boundary issues.
Along with managing your dominant center, the key to wholeness and balance is learning to access and bring up your repressed center. In the wisdom of the Enneagram, we bring up our repressed center, the center that we least prefer, when we are able to consciously draw on it.
For me as a Two, that has meant learning to balance feeling—my dominant center—with thinking so that I consider more than my emotions in my choices and decisions. I have learned well that living a balanced life will forever be illusive if we don’t learn to appropriately use the repressed center.
So, the first step toward balance is for each number to accept that their dominant center needs to be managed. The second step is to recognize, and then own, that they are either thinking, feeling, or doing repressed, and then follow that recognition with working to bring up that center. These two steps help us to find more peace and experience less pain, both for ourselves and for those with whom we are in relationship. That’s how we begin the work toward achieving balance. It takes effort to choose to do that, but it’s well worth it.