...in the Celtic world, wells were sacred places. Wells were seen as threshold places between the deeper, dark, unknown subterranean world and the outer world of light and form. ...Wells were reverenced as special apertures through which divinity flowed forth. Manannan mac Lir said, "No one will have knowledge who does not have a drink from the well." -- John O'Donohue*
I feel like I've fallen down a well! It's been over a month since my last blog posting, and whereas the trend over the last couple of years toward fewer and fewer postings has been due to the lack of time spent reflecting about faith and life in my journals, that hasn't been the case this time around. This time, the reason has to do with the fact that I have completely submerged myself in studying and journaling. It all started with a class on the Enneagram, presented a few weeks ago in the school for people who want to become spiritual directors, called Tacheria, in which I am enrolled. I found the subject absolutely fascinating, and have spent most of my days since then, reading and journaling, and trying to understand it.
On the surface, the Enneagram is a personality-typing system, with each of us falling into one of nine personality types -- although there is some blending and cross-over between these nine types. It is often used to help people figure out what career would be best for them; or for companies to find the right people for the jobs they have in mind. I would hazard a guess that online computer matchmaking programs also use it, if not similar, personality typologies. It is certainly amazingly accurate at nailing one's personality. For me, it was like looking in a mirror.
For example, according to the Enneagram Institute's online test, I am a "9," which is often described as "The Peacemaker." Nines are generally easy-going, accepting, and are good at seeing all sides of an issue; they are unifiers, mediators, harmonizers, good at resolving conflicts; they are often spiritual seekers. I think this describes me pretty well. The fact that this blog focuses primarily on finding spiritual unity in the midst of so much diversity, that I'm passionate about ecumenism and interfaith concerns, and that the book I have been working on for the last three years in subtitled "Lessons in Unity," was not lost on me. Nor was the fact that I made a bumper sticker earlier in the year that reads "Unity in Diversity Creates Harmony." Nor was the fact that I sign off nearly everything I write with the blessing, May the Peace which passes understanding be with you always. Nor was the fact that I most often think of God as that very Peace-Which-Passes-Understanding! So it got that right, most definitely.
But, lest you think the Enneagram is all sweetness and light, describing only positive attributes, you might, or might not, appreciate knowing that it also describes one's flaws pretty accurately, too. As a "9," I also have a great tendency to procrastinate (and how often have I written about that in this blog?!), I have a tendency to lose myself in the agendas of other people (ah, yes), I have a tendency to avoid conflict whenever possible (unfortunately, also true), and I would sometimes rather get lost in a book or take a nap than face a hard reality (yikes!). It was a bit disconcerting, to say the least, to see yourself all laid out on a piece of paper like that.
So I started to wonder...and ask questions -- all of them, in fact. How? Who? What? When? Where? Why? Now, finally, I feel competent enough to share some of what I have been learning. There is a lot more to the Enneagram than finding the right career. In fact, the Enneagram goes quite deep. Like a bucket bringing forth water out of a very deep well, it offers a wellspring of insight into "the subterranean world" of our unconscious motivations. So, I'm gong to take this in stages.
One of the most significant concepts described in the Enneagram is that
your particular gifts, talents, and interests -- and your flaws for that matter -- come about as the result of a specific loss,
fear, or avoidance you experienced or learned as a child. This doesn't have to be a traumatic experience -- although it can be. Sometimes what you learn as a child is cultural, as it was for me. My parents -- good northern Europeans that they were -- taught me to avoid talking about certain subjects, particularly politics, religion, sex, and money, because doing so might lead to conflict or unpleasant confrontations. So for most of my life I avoided, as much as possible, talking about concerns that might lead to conflicts. I was almost 40 years old before I could talk about God out loud, and then only to my closest friends! When that didn't result in the terrible catastrophe I feared, the floodgates truly opened. When, a year later, I found myself repeatedly defending gay marriage from a religious point of view -- laying aside three taboos at one go -- I knew something was definitely different.
Coincidentally, when I read that part of the Enneagram about the connections between our gifts and our fears, the Gospel reading in church was about the Parable of the Talents, where Jesus tells the story of a man who would not invest the one talent God gave him because he was too afraid of failing. And I could see that, Yes, our fears rule our lives far too often, with little warrant. Recognizing our fears, and overcoming them somehow, so that we are able to take risks, is really what God wants us to do.
The more I thought about the various personality types described in the Enneagram, and the fears or avoidances associated with them, such as conflict, pain, weakness, need, emptiness, failure, etc., and the ways we hide from these fears, the more I learned. At one point, the Beatitudes came to mind: Blessed are the peacemakers.... Blessed are those who mourn.... Blessed are the meek.... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.... Blessed are the pure in heart.... Blessed are you when people revile you.... (see Matthew 5:1-12) It turns out that there are also nine Beatitudes. And slowly it dawned on me that The Beatitudes matched the Enneagram in this area of fear.
To the person who wants to avoid conflict, like me, Jesus says, blessed are those who get into the fight, even if it means being reviled; to the person who wants to avoid appearing weak, Jesus says, blessed are those who are meek; to the person who wants to avoid emptiness, Jesus says, blessed are you who are poor in spirit; to the person who fears failure, and so puffs themselves up to look better than they actually are, Jesus says, blessed are the pure in heart; etc. Now I knew that the Beatitudes offered advice that ran counter to the establishment, but here also Jesus seems to be encouraging us to face our specific fears, that doing so will help us see God's love for us more clearly.
That alone ought to keep us thinking for a little while... There is more. Until then,
May the Peace
which passes understanding
be with you
* from "Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom," by John O'Donohue, (Harper Perennial ed., pg. 86)