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June 2019
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2011-04 The Enneagram

a colum written by James for the Sligo Weekender

From the beginning of time, man has been trying to get his head around the meaning of life -  our purpose, the significance of life and existence. As far back as Plato, Socrates, Confucius, and Christ, personal development has been part of the daily agenda. Thankfully I am one of the sorted ones, no emotional baggage here - Ahem!

As I absorbed the life experiences of some elder interviewees such as Michael Parkinson and Terry Wogan as they were interviewed by Gay Byrne on his very watchable The Meaning of Life series, I was encouraged to hear that I am not the only one disheartened at times by religion. Lately I have read quite a bit by such writers as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. I have even explored Humanism, and a more general spirituality.

Yet I seem to be constantly searching. I have spent decades attempting to develop myself personally in a quest for self-knowledge, self-awareness, and self-identity, as I know it will help me to develop my talents and potential to their fullest capacity, and in so doing enhance my quality of life, and help contribute to a fuller realisation of my dreams and aspirations.
In my quest for self-awareness, I have recently re-discovered the Enneagram.

The Enneagram was essentially established by George Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo, but has its roots in such teachings as the Kabbalah, and even the Seven Deadly Sins. The Enneagram is a powerful and dynamic personality system, with nine very distinct patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. There is not the space here to discuss the Enneagram in full but it is fundamentally areligious, and can serve as a means of finding a path to a higher state of being, essence and enlightenment. It will do you no harm at all to find out more about it! Once you find out which enneatype you are, the new knowledge can help you recognise and avoid the usual pitfalls of unhealthy behavioural patterns.

The Enneagram itself is a circle of nine parts of equal distance from each other. Each of the nine parts is a distinct personality-type, or Enneatype. It is safe to say that almost nobody is a pure enneatype. It is most common to have a home-base type, and then perhaps wings of one or two other types. Some may even have elements of all nine.

Types 1, 8 and 9 are the Instinctive enneatypes. Types 2, 3 and 4 are the Feeling types. Types 5, 6 and 7 are the Thinking types. It would be impossible to give an accurate and thorough view of all the characteristics of each type here, but by visiting such helpful websites as or you can undergo a personality test at your leisure to determine your enneatype. Each type has its positive and negative aspects - sure dont we all? By learning about these, this ancient self-help-tool can lead us to a much greater understanding of ourselves, so we can dump some of our unwanted baggage.

Type 1 is the Reformer/ Perfectionist, and is typically conscientious, responsible, self-controlled, with a strong internal self-critic. On the negative side, Type 1 can be over-critical, resentful even, and sometimes finds it difficult to really let go. Type 8 is called the Challenger/ Protector, and seeks justice, and is direct and strong, but can also be excessive and over-impulsive. Type 9 is the Peacemaker/ Mediator, always seeking harmony, but tends to avoid conflict and be stubborn.  Type 2 is the Giver/  Helper and is caring and supportive, but can become intrusive and/or demanding. Type 3 is the Achiever/ Performer who sees success as a means to be loved, and is goal-focussed, but hence has a tendency to be impatient. Type 4 is the Individualist/ Romantic, and feels deeply, but often leading to being over-dramatic or even moody. Type 5, the first of the Thinkers, is the Investigator/ Observer, and is analytic by nature, but can become private or detached. Type 6 is the Loyalist, and values his/her good friends, but can become accusatory or fearful. Type 7 is the Enthusiast/ Epicure, and is typically optimistic and adventurous, but also has an impatient side.  Again it is important to stress that I have only given about 1% of the characteristics of each enneatype above.

This profound and powerful aid to understanding personalities can surely do no harm to explore.

Oh, and in case youre interested, I am Type 1, with a Wing of 9.