Bible Gateway interviewed Christopher L. Heuertz (@ChrisHeuertz) about his book, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth (Zondervan, 2017).
What is the Enneagram?
Christopher L. Heuertz: The Enneagram is often misunderstood as a personality tool to describe quirks and traits of people’s individuality, however the Enneagram goes much further than mere caricatures. The Enneagram is a character-structure system that illustrates the nine ways we lie to ourselves about who we think we are, nine ways we learn to come clean about the illusions we live in, and nine ways we find our way back to God.
It explains the “why” of how we think, act, and feel. It helps us come to terms with our gifts as well as the addictive patterns that tether us to our greatest interpersonal, spiritual, and emotional challenges.
It shows us our defense mechanisms and all the ways we attempt to fortify our illusions about ourselves.
A compassionate sketch of possibilities, the Enneagram is fundamentally less about nine types of people and more about nine ways we return to God and our true selves.
Ultimately the Enneagram is about excavating essence. Rather than it being a tool for self-absorption, the Enneagram is a tool for self-liberation.
The Enneagram invites us to deeper self-awareness as a doorway to spiritual growth.
What is the difference between a person’s type and temperament?
Christopher L. Heuertz: Temperament is an aspect of our Enneagram type, but it’s just one fragment that makes up the whole of who we are. For example, some of us draw energy from being around other people as extroverts, while others draw energy from solitude as introverts. Unlike our types, our temperament is may change as we mature. For example it’s not uncommon for extremely extroverted people to move toward introversion later in life. Our natural slant toward optimism or pessimism is another example of temperament. These traits often fluctuate depending on our frame of mind, the kind of company we keep, or the phases of life we cycle through.
Unlike temperament, our dominant Enneagram type stays with us throughout our lives; type does not change.
How does a person map his or her Enneagram type?
Christopher L. Heuertz: When attempting to determine your type, the most popular approach is taking one of numerous Enneagram tests. Many free Enneagram tests are available online, and most of them are a suitable start to exploring what your type might be. However, if an online test is your preferred method of typing, I’d suggest paying for the Enneagram Institute’s RHETI test because it’s widely regarded as the most accurate, thorough, and time-tested.
A second approach to determining your type is meeting with someone trained in conducting Enneagram-typing process interviews.
Finally, most experts agree that if you’re honest with yourself and courageous enough, then merely reading the descriptions of each of the nine types will be a sufficient method for determining your type. As you read through the materials, the type you feel most exposed by or most uncomfortable with is usually the one that ends up being yours. Doing your own research requires a level of maturity that assumes self-awareness and truthfulness.
How is our personality the “mask we wear”?
Christopher L. Heuertz: The English word personality is derived from the Latin word for mask. Simply put, our personality is the mask we wear. Taking off that mask, trying to get behind the mask, is the work of the spiritual journey.
How is taking off that mask the “work of our spiritual journey”?
Christopher L. Heuertz: A mark of spiritual growth is when we stop polishing the mask and instead start working on our character behind the mask. The Enneagram helps us do that work. The English word character comes from the Greek word meaning engraving into stone. And that’s what we’re trying to do here with the help of the Enneagram—to chip away at our being, like the most talented of sculptors, and reveal our soul’s essence in its purest form.
Awakening to what the Enneagram exposes within us often leads to an urgent unmasking of our false identity. A contemplative approach to the Enneagram, centered in prayer, allows for discernment to develop as we learn to better listen to the voice of God. We soon realize that contrary to pop psychology, personality is not fixed. Spiritual growth is the result of exposing the masks or illusions of personality and getting to the core of our created identity. The Enneagram supports this inner work.
Explain your statement, “We live unawakened lives marked by self-perpetuating lies about who we think we are.”
Christopher L. Heuertz: Who we think we are can be confused by parts of our story that we over-identify with or refuse to face altogether. Often we allow one piece of our story, for better or for worse, to lay claim to the whole of our identity.
We overidentify with the fragments we think are most attractive, the parts of our stories that seem most successful. This fragmentation keeps our shadow in the dark, out of sight and out of mind, yet always capable of sneaking up on us.
A contemplative approach to the Enneagram invites us to resist the reductionism of inner fragmentation; to realize we aren’t as bad as our worst moments or as good as our greatest successes—but that we’re far better than we can imagine and carry the potential to be far worse than we fear. Father Richard Rohr, one of my mentors who has taught me much about the Enneagram, once told me, “To cast great light in the world also requires a long shadow.” Both belong. If we think we can run from the shadow, we’re sorely mistaken; it’s always with us. Facing the whole of ourselves rescinds the permission we give to the fragments to lay claim to the whole of our identity.
How does the Enneagram assist in a person carrying out the greatest commandments of loving God with all our “heart, soul, mind, and strength” and loving others?
Christopher L. Heuertz: Waking up takes place when we stop fueling our own self-preoccupation and allow self-realization to serve as an invitation to deep union with ourselves and God, which naturally leads to solidarity with others.
Fundamentally, this is at the heart of our Christian faith tradition: that God is love, and in consenting to silence and the self-reflection the Enneagram initiates, we allow Love to wash over us, inviting us into a “new we,” a new kind of community that affirms the divine imprint in all humanity.
What do you want your book to achieve in those who read it?
Christopher L. Heuertz: We know this: if we can’t self-observe, then we can’t self-correct. The Sacred Enneagram helps us self-observe and tell the truth about who we really are coming clean from our delusions and illusions, so that we can live from our authentic identity.
For the past four to five years I’ve been working on the ideas contained within the pages of The Sacred Enneagram and after two long years working on this book it’s now ready to be shared. In its pages you’ll not only learn what the Enneagram is and where it’s come from, but specifically you’ll learn how to pray with your type, how to use what the Enneagram teaches you about yourself so that you can apply that to your own spiritual formation. Learning to see ourselves for who we really are is a gift of grace. The Enneagram helps us navigate this gift.
Bio: Christopher L. Heuertz has spent his life bearing witness to the possibility of hope in a world that has legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness.
Chris is an author, speaker, Enneagram coach, non-profit consultant, and anti-human trafficking activist. After graduating from college, Heuertz moved to India, where Mother Teresa mentored him for three years. There he helped launch South Asia’s first pediatric AIDS care home. For 20 years, Heuertz served with working for women and children trafficked into the commercial sex industry.
Heuertz serves on the board of several nonprofits, and in 2012 he and his wife, Phileena, started Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism. He’s the author of several books, including The Sacred Enneagram, Simple Spirituality, Friendship at the Margins, and Unexpected Gifts. Join @ChrisHeuertz on Twitter in his adventures to love on the margins.
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