"The one and only person who can love us deeply, constantly, and under all circumstances is us. Our own Essence is the source of love we seek because it is an expression of Divine love and therefore cannot be conditioned, withheld, or diminished.... We cannot will ourselves to love ourselves or to love others. All we can do, paradoxically, is to recognize the presence of love in ourselves and others." *
As I mentioned in the last posting, I've been studying the Enneagram, and have been finding it very helpful for figuring out why we are the way we are, why we fall into certain patterns of behavior, and how we can get out of unhelpful ruts. According to the Enneagram, our strongest personality traits come about as the result of something impactful that we learned from our parents as a child, either some fear we learned from them or some lack or loss in their parenting itself. We all have a Basic Fear, and a significant portion of our personality develops as a defense mechanism against, or avoidance of, that fear. It's these fears that create the patterns that have a tendency to rule our lives, unless we face them and overcome them.
That's what I addressed in the last posting. Since then, I have continued to ponder these fear-to-personality connections. My purpose here, however, is not to present you with everything I have learned about the Enneagram. Dan Riso and Richard Hudson, experts in the field, do a wonderful job describing each Ennea-type, and I highly recommend their book "The Wisdom of the Enneagram," if you want to know more about the details of each of the nine personalities -- and also if you don't mind looking at yourself with a very bright light. What I'd like to share, instead, are some of my own insights about the fears that create our personality.
One is: facing and overcoming these fears is easier said than done. It's taken me ten years to face my fear of conflict and argue for my point of view, and -- despite evidence to the contrary for several people I know -- even now I still sometimes feel afraid to speak up. For me, it's been like a game of Snakes and Ladders: sometimes I make great strides forward, speaking up for my point of view, and other times, I slide back down, too fearful to say a word; and this repeats: up, down, over and over again. People who do not have my same fear would find my progress, or rather my lack of progress, frustrating. What's the big deal, after all?
Well, to put it plainly, these aren't your average fears. These aren't the kind of fears that you overcome one day and are done with. These are fears that get to the core of your whole belief system about who you are and what life is about. At their core, in my opinion, these fears are fundamentally about Love -- Love with a capitol L. They are about whether or not we can be loved, fully and truly loved, just as we are.
For example, I have tended to avoid conflicts, because deep down I'm afraid that if I get into an argument with someone, or disagree with them, they will stop loving me. Someone else would not be able to just sit and relax, even on vacation, because they are afraid they aren't worthy of love unless they are doing something productive. Another person tends to avoid talking about their feelings because they are afraid that too much emotionalism will turn people away from them. Another person tends to avoid taking care of him- or herself because they're afraid that other people won't even like them if they are perceived as selfish. Another person becomes a perfectionist because they are afraid they won't be loved if they make mistakes. Another person emphasizes their uniqueness because they're afraid they won't be loved if they don't stand out from the crowd. Another person avoids standing out in a crowd because they are afraid they won't be loved if they are too different. It is clear to me that every Basic Fear described by the Enneagram comes down ultimately to a fear of being loved conditionally.
This understanding comes about for each of us because of real-life events, usually repeated ones, that embed these fears in our minds. As children, and possibly also as teenagers and adults, we were teased, scolded, yelled at, isolated, ie. punished in one way or another, and not just by our parents but also by friends and strangers, for these behaviors. I have, for example, experienced, repeatedly, the ending of friendships because I have voiced disagreement. So, these fears are legitimate fears. The thing we don't want to happen has happened to us: we have not been fully loved by significant people in our lives because of these behaviors.
But guess what? That's life. Sorry to be blunt, but no one is ever going to love you perfectly all the time. Nor are you ever going to be able to love someone else perfectly all the time.
Why? Because we are all fundamentally imperfect creatures. We miss the mark, a lot. Even someone with the best intentions to be loving, even your spouse, even your parents, even your children, will not be able to love you perfectly all the time. The most we can count on from our fellow human beings, and from ourselves, is to be loved and to love perfectly at specific moments in time.
What does it mean to be loved perfectly? Well, Riso and Hudson note insightfully, "Love is not primarily a feeling -- although various feelings may arise in its presence. Love is something that cannot be won or lost, because it is always available -- but only to the degree that we are present and therefore receptive to it." (ibid) Love is being fully present to another, seeing them, listening to them, being with them. "I see you," as the African word Ubuntu connotes.
Unfortunately, we cannot be this fully present to one another all the time. The most we can hope for is to learn to be more fully present to what is going on in our lives, one moment at a time, to be fully present with the people we are with, and to pay attention to what we are doing, one moment at a time.
Only God is present everywhere, all the time. And thus, only God's love is perfect.
However, and this is the key to all the rest, knowing God's Perfect Love opens the door to loving ourselves and our neighbor more perfectly.
The only reason I have been able to, at times, overcome my fear of conflict and voice my contrary opinion, even while knowing my words were not going to be well-received, was because I have felt compelled to do so by God, because speaking up was actually more loving than not speaking up. And the only reason I listened to that calling was because I knew God's love for me would always be there, even if no other love was. I knew, I know, that I am loved unconditionally. And that Perfect Love, as John writes in his First Letter, "casts out all fear." With that love behind me, and in front of me, and within me, I am able to do things I would never have imagined myself doing in my wildest dreams.
In order to know that Perfect Love, however, we, too, have to be present to it. We have to open our hearts and minds to that Presence that is all around us. In other words, we have to set some time aside for quietly being present to what's going on in our own lives, our own hearts, our own minds, and paying attention to all that comes.
May the Peace
which passes understanding
be with you
* from "The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types," by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson (Bantam Books, pg. 149)