by S Alexander Alich
When we begin our spiritual work, with or without knowing it, we bring a number of things with us. We bring our hopes and dreams that we will find the answers and healing that we are seeking, we bring our ideas and expectations about what we think things are going to be like in our work and with our teachers and, of course, we bring our habits – the parts of our personality that we have not fully worked with yet. This can be an eye-opening experience especially if you want a fresh start on a new spiritual path. It is wishful thinking that the rest of our life won’t follow us right onto our spiritual work. Unfortunately not wanting to look at our habits is one of the most common reasons people give up in this work.
What are these habits and where do they come from? From a spiritual perspective we could say that we were each born into an environment that challenged us. In that environment we learned how to survive and to get our needs met as best we could – and that is not a bad thing. But as our life goes on we may find that there are different or better ways of doing thing and as we begin to change the first thing that can trip you is the very same habits that helped you for so many years.
Now one of the most common statements I hear when people come to shamanic work is, “I want to break down my habits!” My response is usually, “Great, what are they?” To which the student stares at me blankly. And that of course is the dilemma. First we must see ourselves clearly in order to know what to change. We must also be willing to look just because it is something we have done for a long time doesn’t mean that it is bad or that it needs to be changed immediately. I once worked with a student who was “working hard to break down the old” in his life without first identifying what “the old” was. For me it was like watching someone re-arrange the furniture with a blindfold on. Needless to say it profoundly affected the students mental and physical health in not a good way.
So where to begin? First it is best to know ourselves and what is motivating us. The longer we wait to do this in our spiritual work the harder it can be to change. This is where working with a good teacher is always a gift. Teachers in this way can act as a mirror to help us see ourselves and what circles we are running in our lives. But teachers are not always available and there are other ways to do some of the work on our own. My teachers offered me this wheel years ago and I am glad to share it with you. It is the Enneagram wheel of habits we most commonly bring to our spiritual work and few ways to begin to change them. I recommend looking at the entire wheel first and taking some time with it. It can be difficult at first to see – or want to see – ourselves in this way.
1. Habits: Resentment. Internalized anger towards self.
Worldview: “The world is an imperfect place. I work toward improvement.”
Childhood: Parental or authoritative critical voice becomes internalized.
Focal point of attention: What is right or wrong with the situation.
Spiritual obstacle: To do spiritual work perfectly by a severe internal standard.
Growth challenge: Question one’s own internalized rules and standards.
What can help: Question the difference between should and want statements. Learn to respect and see value in others’ ways of seeing or doing things. Remember there are as many spiritual ways as there are people.
2. Habits: Flattery. Externalized, what am I feeling? Validating self from outside.
Worldview: “People depend on my help. I am needed.”
Childhood: Loved for being helpful. Figured out what others needed in order to receive approval until the point of self-forgetting.
Focal point of attention: Approval for self.
Spiritual obstacle: To do the work to please the teacher, study group or partner.
Growth challenge: Question, who am I doing this for? Myself or to receive approval from someone else?
What can help: Recognize your own needs rather than meetings others’. Discern when other people really need you and when they don’t. Look at the habit of giving to get something. Try to offer help freely and without expectations.
3. Habits: Image and deceit. Feelings are suspended to get the job done.
Worldview: “The world values a champion. Avoid failure at all costs.”
Childhood: Rewarded for what was accomplished – not for self.
Focal point of attention: Approval for a job really well done.
Spiritual obstacle: To create the perfect spiritual image without the inner work.
Growth challenge: Trust that risking failure can be a step toward growth.
What can help: Learn the difference between doing and feeling. Stay with difficult situations instead of creating new projects. Allow the fear and feelings that surface with resting.
4. Habits: Melancholy. Internalized, what am I feeling? Dramatized feelings.
Worldview: “Something is missing. Others have it. I have been abandoned.”
Childhood: Experienced actual loss of loved ones and learned it is not safe to be in the moment and to love.
Focal point of attention: Best in distant past or future – worst in what is here.
Spiritual obstacle: To be attracted to spiritual work as a way to escape the ordinary.
Growth challenge: To be with each moment and learn to value what is in the present.
What can help: Fully mourn losses in order to complete closure. Find the beauty and joy in daily life. To find home in the present moment. To move the focus of attention from what has not been done to what has been accomplished.
5. Habits: Stinginess. Internalized fear – afraid to feel.
Worldview: “The world is invasive. I need privacy to think and refuel myself.”
Childhood: Learned to shut down and withdraw to survive.
Focal point of attention: What do others want from me?
Spiritual obstacle: Hoarding “spiritual” knowledge, time and personal space.
Growth challenge: Discern the difference between intellectual knowing and spiritual growth.
What can help: Notice when thoughts and emotions are withheld from others. Notice the difference between ideas and lived experience. Find activities that bring together mind, body and heart.
6. Habits: Doubt. Fear projected into environment.
Worldview: “The world is a threatening place. Question authority.”
Childhood: Raised by authorities who were not trustworthy.
Focal point of attention: Finding the hidden intentions of others.
Spiritual obstacle: Doubt the teacher, system, study group and the path.
Growth challenge: Trust that the choices that you have made and the work you have put into motion will take you where you need to go in your growth.
What can help: Reality checks with a trustworthy friend or teacher. Notice when thinking replaces action. Setting realistic deadlines so that procrastination does not take over.
7. Habits: Constant planning. Externalized fear is projected into pleasant options.
Worldview: “The world is full of options. I look forward to the future.”
Childhood: Learned to live in pleasant memories to survive.
Focal point of attention: Finding pleasant options.
Spiritual obstacle: Plan to do spiritual work but can not commit to just one path for fear of losing other options..
Growth challenge: To commit to one path and stay with it through a complete cycle.
What can help: Don’t deny problems and hope they will go away. Focus on the task in the present moment instead of imagining what other things you could be doing. Accept that spiritual work has cycles and that there will be both high and low points.
8. Habits: Vengeance. Excess anger.
Worldview: “The world is unjust. I defend the innocent.”
Childhood: Highly sensitive children had to make tough exterior to protect against unfairness.
Focal point of attention: Control of people and situations.
Spiritual obstacle: To recreate unfair situations in order to validate internal views.
Growth challenge: Allowing the “tough exterior” to soften so that real feelings can surface. Trusting that those feelings are correct.
What can help: Notice the habit of needing to stir up problems or to polarize conversations into fair and unfair. See that confrontations and excesses can cover authentic feelings. Learn that compromise is not equal to failure.
9. Habits: Indolence/self forgetting. Anger that went to sleep.
Worldview: “My efforts won’t matter. Keep the peace.”
Childhood: Own needs were overlooked. Child learned to discount own needs.
Focal point of attention: Merging with other people’s positions.
Spiritual obstacle: Not seeing that other people’s views and actions are their own and not yours.
Growth challenge: Question what do I think, what do I need? What do I stand for?
What can help: Learn the signs of passive aggression. See openly expressed anger in the moment as a blessing and a step toward growth. Learn to feel the build up of anger in your body. Put things into action and reward yourself when you complete something.
“The Enneagram” by Helen Palmer
“The Intelligent Enneagram” by A.G.E. Blake.