Let’s dive right in, shall we?! Without stories, disclaimers, or ways of easing into a deeper conversation. Off the deep end, if you will.
Who are you?
If you were to ask people, “Who are you?” the number and variety of possible answers would quite likely be staggering, though some common themes might emerge as the following:
- I am an engineer/lawyer/doctor/coach/plumber/etc (what I do for a living is who I am).
- I am a father/mother/sister/etc (family tree role, position, and responsibility is a reference to my identity).
- I am a student (in transition to “somebody” just as soon as I finish my degree).
- I am in pain/grief/suffering/ecstatic bliss/etc (my current emotional state is who I am).
- I am a spiritual being having a human experience (quite possibly very true, yet also – and unfortunately – a heavily overused New Age-y cliche).
- I am a divine light beaming through the fog of illusion, bringing the truth of our existence to this human dimension (feel free to insert your reaction here).
Let’s pause and take a detour. I will come back to the question and the point I am wanting to make here. The detour I am making is to the Enneagram, which has been one of my evolving passions and areas of growth, learning, and interest.
“The contemporary Enneagram of Personality illustrates the nine ways we get lost, but also the nine ways we can come home to our True Self. Put another way, it exposes nine ways we lie to ourselves about who we think we are, nine ways we can come clean about those illusions, and nine ways we can find our way back to our center/core.” – Christopher Heuertz
So, the Enneagram. Often, it is also referred to as the Enneagram of Personality. The phrase itself begs the question, what is “personality?”
Most of the time, most of us have a story about who we are, how we behave (and why), what we like and don’t like, how we make meaning of the reality around us – people, events, circumstances – and how others see us. This story is all-encompassing and comprehensive, and is running our lives from the moment we wake up and until we close our eyes at night. Like a marionette doll, we are being guided – dare I say controlled – in everything we do or think. Our personality is that invisible hand that manipulates the myriad strings that guide us constantly and consistency, as long as we are not aware of this mechanism at play. The unexamined and uninterrupted personality is a closed and self-reinforcing system, whereby information that is misaligned with existing beliefs is filtered out, thus repeating and reinforcing the familiar patterns. To make it even more challenging, recent discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity teach us that the more a particular sequence of neurons in the brain fires (activates) together, the stronger and more autopilot-like that repeating pattern becomes over time.
“Being identified with the personality—mistaking your personality for who you are—is where the internal split has its roots. To the degree that you are identified with the personality, the experience takes center stage, and there is no “I” outside of that experience. The less often that the nature of these experiences and why they occur are examined, the stronger the identification becomes.” – Roxane Howe-Murphy
This Summer has been a challenging experience in my (and our, with my beloved) life. As we were going through the seemingly-endless and constantly changing renovation project of our house, we got into a phase of renovation exhaustion, which was followed by a strong disillusionment around being able to create what we dreamed and envisioned. We started by scaling down the design, the approach, and subsequently, our dreams. Eventually, we started talking about the fact that this might not be the property for us, and perhaps not even the area at large. This is where my personality really kicked it, with a very strong reaction and resistance to reality. Essentially, I was in the grip of my personality, like in a deep and dark rabbit hole. For a long while, there was no light at the end of that rabbit hole, and my experience of myself and my reality was getting heavier and heavier.
Here is where we come to the question I have been contemplating since that period. When we are in a very tight grip of our personality, how do we become aware of it happening, and how do we “get out” of this state? How do we come to a state of being able to notice what is really going on, with presence, awareness, and compassion, and allow that tight grip to loosen and open up?
“A primary benefit of using the Enneagram is that it helps you see that you are so much more than you have taken yourself to be.” – Roxane Howe-Murphy
For me, it was “Enneagram to the rescue.” Looking at the patterns of my Enneagram home type, together with my beloved, a few dear friends, my gifted and supportive coach, and solitude time, helped me identify and get present to what has been happening. Being able to see my personality at play, big time, and how it has hijacked my presence and self-awareness, provided the necessary access point that helped me create a little bit of a detachment from my heavy experience. Loosening that tight grip was everything!