Book Review: The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
The idea of the Enneagram has started to enter the cultural zeitgeist, so perhaps you have heard of it already. If you haven't, the Enneagram is a personality typing system of ancient and spiritual origins. In the 1970s it became popular among Christian clergy, spiritual directors and laypeople, and in the last decade or so it has started to reach a point of mainstream popularity.
The premise is that there are 9 basic personality types - you will resonate with a single number most clearly, though you might then have wings (relating to numbers on either side of your main one) as well as numbers you move to in times of stress or peace. Identifying and understanding your number can help you see aspects of your personality that might be helping or hindering you, help you discover underlying motivations and emotions that might have been escaping your awareness, and give you ideas of how to become a healthier person moving forward. Sometimes it takes a while to identify your number and other times it's so obvious you could never imagine being anything else.
My personal journey with the Enneagram started in the summer of 2009 when I spent 3 months living in a Benedictine monastery outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Part of our work that summer was undergoing spiritual direction and as part of that, we were introduced to the Enneagram. I immediately typed myself as a 7 (The Enthusiast.) Years later I waffled between continuing to identify as a 7 and thinking I might instead be a 9 (The Peacemaker) or a 2 (The Helper.) When friends kept recommending this newer book on the Enneagram I decided to check it out to see if I could settle the question of my number once and for all.
When I read the chapter on 7 I immediately knew that this was my number. Now I can't even fathom why I ever thought I was anything else. Sevens long for an exciting life, get bored easily, and constantly want to do all the things. So many quotes in this book completely hit home for me, like this one: "Their source of satisfaction is never found within them or in the present moment; it's always external and in the far-distant future. There's always something they haven't tried, something more to do, some new exploit to plan." Also this: "They always need and will have an escape hatch or backup plan in the event life gets scary, boring, or uncomfortable." (Hello this current world adventure we are on because I got bored, haha.)
The most hilarious quote about my number? "Sevens would rather eat glass than suffer boredom." Yup! A great Instagram account about the Enneagram (enneagramandcoffee) once had a meme that said something like "You might be a 7 if you've ever tried to read a book and listen to a podcast at the same time." Guilty as charged. I constantly have Facebook open or a blog post I'm reading even while I'm watching TV because if one of those things gets boring I immediately need another one to focus on. Yeah, it's not a great personality trait.
The quote that struck me the most, and identified a negative aspect of my seven-ness that I couldn't have named before was this: "These pleasure-seekers savor anticipation. For them, the best part of a meal, a party or a trip isn't when it comes; it's the thrill of expectancy leading up to it. This is why Sevens sometimes feel a little let down when the prime rib appears, the party guests arrive, or they're actually standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. The real deal couldn't possibly live up to their expectations." Oof. This is so me. I look up the menu for restaurants before I go so I can have my meal planned and enjoy the anticipation of it. I daydream about places we will go, trips we will take, or what life will look like when we finally settle down (complete with running lists of wants/needs/expectations.)
Because of this, I do often find myself disappointed in the execution of whatever it is I've anticipated. Nothing ever quite lives up to the daydream I built up. This is something I have done automatically, almost unconsciously, for as long as I can remember. Now that it has been spelled out to me so clearly, I can recognize when I am doing this and try to pull myself back to stay in the present. We also struggle with making decisions because, as the author points out, "saying yes to one thing means saying no to another, and that means reducing options." See this blog post I wrote which is basically just my Seven angst writ large.
They say that learning about your number on the Enneagram means being introduced to your flaws, and boy did I feel that with this book. You get to see the positive aspects of your number as well, but really, it is great to learn your faults because then you know what could change, and how to change it. My review of this book has been a little self/seven centered so far, so I apologize.
My point is supposed to be - if you are at all interested in the Enneagram this book is a great place to start!
The book goes chapter by chapter through each number, starting each one with statements that help you identify which number you might be. Within the chapter on each number they identify what a healthy, average, and unhealthy person looks like. They look at childhood events and motivations that might have led to someone becoming that particular number. They help identify your wings, what numbers you move to in stress, and where you move in peace. They talk through what your number is like in relationships, at work, and identify the "deadly sin" of each number. And finally, they give suggestions for spiritual growth.
Personally, I am finding knowing my number to be very helpful. When I start to do something now I can say "Oh, I'm being such a 7," not as a way to excuse my behavior but to remind myself that these are my default ways of being. When I am more conscious of how I behave/respond to things, I can start to change how I behave/respond to things. My goal is not to change my number (for all numbers have flaws and advantages) but to become the healthiest version of my number that I can be.
This even ties into my post from yesterday, of identifying what I need out of the big and the small in life. My unconsious Seven-ness drove me to seek out too much big in my life, and now I am seeking to balance it once again with the small. I am more conscious now of my constant desire to live in the future, to anticipate the next step, the next moment, and I can try to bring myself back to enjoying the present exactly where I am.
I have found the Enneagram to be an invaluable tool in knowing myself better. If that is something you value, then this book would be a great place to start.