It seemed like a good idea when I started. Use that box of dates I bought awhile back to make a snack to take to a group meetup tonight, and conveniently avoid the thing I should actually be doing. But quickly, it turned into a scene from I Love Lucy. There was no conveyor belt hurtling candies my way – just the insane mess that comes from when I “improve” a recipe I find online.
The recipe for Almond Joy Stuffed Dates comes from Minimalist Baker. It sounded yummy, even though I have never once enjoyed an Almond Joy candy bar. No, those and Mounds – horror – were the ones you gave to your parents after trick-or-treating. All I remember is the texture of dried elbow skin from that desiccated coconut. No, thank you.
But homemade always beats store bought, and as an adult I rather like coconut. The fault here is not with the recipe. The recipe says to slice each date, remove the pit, stuff with coconut and an almond then dip in chocolate. My improvement was to make them bite-sized.
I used a quarter of a date, piled some coconut and an almond on each, froze briefly, then dipped in chocolate. All was well until I got to the chocolate. Then I had no choice but to eat every third attempt, in a failed effort to make the other 66% look presentable.
Because, in my haste, I didn’t stop to do the math. Instead of 20 candies to cover in chocolate, I now had 80. Which was seventy-five too many for my patience level. Chocolate, chocolate everywhere. Meanwhile, their goddamned jingle, which I doubt I’ve heard in 20 years, ran continuously through my mind.
YES, already. YES, I FEEL LIKE A FUCKING NUT. I always feel like a nut. Evidence: I wanted to make each one look like a rabbit, with almond bunny ears? For Spring/Easter/Equinox whatever holiday is upon us now?
“Aw, you made little mice,” my husband said.
At least he could tell they were supposed to be cute rodents. I think they look more like rodent droppings – but I *was* right. One quarter of a date + a toasted almond, a bit of coconut and some chocolate = perfection.
Despite my inability to follow directions, I’m grateful to the recipe developers of the world. Whoever has the time and patience to actually perfect a recipe/technique and tell the world about it deserves some credit.
The more the world turns digital, the more I feel the need to be offline. I haven’t written on this blog in so long, I couldn’t remember the password when I decided it was time to reboot it. It doesn’t matter one bit if no one reads this – I need to get the thoughts out of my head.
And so, today’s little story is about expectations. I spend one morning a week making pottery, simply because I enjoy working with clay. In much the same way AI can pump out a meaningless essay faster than a person can, machines mass-produce more than enough functional and decorative pottery to meet people’s needs. In this capitalist/consumeristic cesspool we call society, if any of us think too hard about why we do what we do or make what we make, we’re liable to get depressed. It can (if you have the necessary dollars or plastic) all be outsourced, 3-D printed, delivered an hour after you order it. Why even bother, sighs the Lazy Egg.
Anyways. I enjoy getting up to my elbows in good, clean muck.
It is satisfying to center a lump of clay on the wheel and nudge it into being
the best little mug or pot it can be. The process isn’t difficult, but it does require
your full attention.
Today, my attention was scattered. I survived the chaotic
choreography required to merge from the 405 to the 55 on too little breakfast
or too much coffee. Someone had accidentally squished one of my better attempts
from last week while it sat on the shelf drying. The studio was colder than
usual, and an incessant beeping (just the kiln heating up, apparently) felt
My first bowl crumpled into a slippery heap of mush.
The beeping stopped. Relieved, I scraped my wonky first attempt off the wheel, and tried again. It started off okay, then possibly the most annoying song from the past decade came on the radio. The chirpy ear-worm was every bit as painful as the beeping, and once again my bowl went off center and collapsed. As if the clay has agency. No, I moved too quickly, or incorrectly, and that’s what made the bowl collapse. No mystery, just a lack of attention. A scattered attention.
On a good day, I barely register what’s playing on the radio, letting that day’s decade of choice wash over me. Today wasn’t one of those days, so I gave up on throwing and moved on to trimming the pieces I made last week. Better music came on the radio. Eventually, I found a rhythm. I was still having trouble finding center, but hey. That’s life. An Alanis Morissette song I loved in high school played.
“You treat me like, I’m a princess. I’m not used to, liking
it. You ask how my day was.”
Back then, I thought she was clever for the head over feet line, her ironic abundance of spoons. Now, I’m like, WTF? You’re impressed because a guy asked you how your day was? Is that what being a princess means to you? Back in the day, Alanis was, if not cutting-edge, at least edgy for a pop singer. But she was singing to the same marketplace. She was as much a product of her environment as the rest of us.
Maybe Alanis was still being ironic, even in her ballad. But
in 2023, its upsetting to realize teenage Cindy’s expectations were just as low
as that silly song’s.
I expect a lot better of people now. Is it an Oprah-ism to
say you get treated the way you teach people to treat you? Maybe. Oprah was on
the kitchen TV nearly every day of my formative years. Empowerment involves
having expectations (boundaries?) and taking action when necessary.
But as for my pottery, I’m going to keep the expectations (and
my caffeination) low. The clay isn’t trying to overpower me. I just need to
spin the wheel a little slower. Focus on the clay sliding between my fingers,
and let go of the mental tangles for a moment.
Then, in that one moment of time, I will feel, I will feel
eternity. (Thanks Whitney.)
Where does the Enneagram come from is a question that truly doesn’t trouble me. None of us were there at the beginning, and while it might be fun to conjecture, it can also turn into a mind game. An ego trap of I’m right and you’re wrong, when really what we are looking at is so much bigger. If you read my last post, you know I’ve decided to research the origins of astrology. I’m curious if it overlaps with the Enneagram, and also just curious to learn more than the basics (i.e. you are your sun sign and that’s it).
To start, I requested just about every library book on astrology that I could get my hands on. The majority were the basic sun sign stereotypes, so back they went. But a few went deeper. And internet access means all of us can enter in our info and get a complete birth chart in just a couple seconds.
With my birth chart and reference books, I got started. And proceeded to get deeply, deeply confused. There are twelve astrological signs, twelve houses and twelve (I think?) planets. All have meaning – and all of those meanings change in relationship to each other’s placement in the chart. Whoa.
So my first impression, based on the sheer number of conflicting influences that seem almost impossible to tease out, is that astrology is very much like the Enneagram. Not the dumbed down version where 8s are all meatheads and 4s are emo-poets. The full, you-can’t-tell-someone’s-type-based-on-behavior-because-it-is-internal-motivation-that-matters version is what interests me.
The difference, which is a doozy, is that the Enneagram is something you identify yourself. No one told me I was a 9 (well, my husband kinda guessed) . I came to that on my own. But astrology tells you exactly what you are, no choice involved. It was ordained at birth.
Maybe since I’m an Aquarius, or maybe since my Uranus is in my first house, I kind of rebel against that. (Uranus co-rules Aquarius, btw. Guess I am more rebel than I realized.) Each sign is ruled by a planet (or two). Each sign rules a house. So I’ve decided the first layer of meaning I need to untangle or just get comfortable with is the planets.
Oh, and I had to paint my chart so I could get a feel for the patterns involved. Fire, Earth, Air, Water; positive/negative; cardinal, fixed, mutable…there is a lot of terminology to learn, too. And just when I was just about fried, I remembered a website a friend had sent me months ago. This website lays out a very detailed argument for why the Enneagram is based on astrology. I don’t yet know if I agree with all of it, but it doesn’t look to be wrong. The planets, which the ancients attributed to gods and goddesses, rule the signs.
A recent episode of The Art of Growth podcast discussed the origins of the Enneagram. Their take? The origins can’t really be pinned down, but the Desert Fathers – a group of hermetic early Christians – are the likeliest origin in their view. Astrology surely falls under “occult” and other proposed influences (Sufi mystics? etc.) that they mentioned in passing. I know zero about the Desert Fathers. It is entirely possible the Enneagram stems from them. It is also possible that they took knowledge from the culture at the time and removed the associations that didn’t jive with their beliefs. Maybe it went from “the gods have predestined…” to “God made you this way.”
Language changes. Symbols change (side note: even the Enneagram symbol itself might not be as fixed as I thought it was according to the above podcast). The archetypes themselves are ancient. The preference to believe your life is handed to you from God, preordained, or your life is sprung out of random chaos, with infinite options, or anything in between, changes based on our culture, beliefs…and possibly the planet that rules your sun sign? Fact remains, we are here now. So, what are we going to do? Are we going to argue over the unknowable, or get out of our heads and face reality?
(Next post will likely list all the ways that I’m not fine with not knowing the roots of something because, spoiler alert – it does really, really matter! Except when it doesn’t. In the meantime I’ll be making planetary glyph charms similar to my zodiac symbols. The more the merrier, right?)
The other night, a friend, who is also an astrologer, made a comment that stuck with me. It wasn’t some deep, profound prediction. It was just her observation that “astrology is a symbolic language.”
Astrology is not a language that makes sense to me – yet. I am reading and learning more about it. The Enneagram makes more sense, simply because the descriptions of Nines hit home in a way that my zodiac sign never has. But just because I can’t see it – yet – doesn’t mean it isn’t real. A poem can have layers of depth and meaning, even if the reader just shrugs and tosses it aside. One day, the same reader might open the book again, or hear the poem read aloud, and suddenly get it. Not with their thinking mind, but with their heart, or their gut. There are many ways of knowing.
Part of the problem, as any astrologer will tell you, is that the pop culture version of astrology seen in daily horoscopes is just a tiny part of the picture. A person’s sun sign doesn’t dictate everything about them – there is a whole chart of ascending planets and houses and I don’t know what all else to consider.
Our culture doesn’t really respect symbolic language. We seem to want to take everything symbolic, ethereal or ineffable and turn it into a rule. Something solid, predictable and orderly. A one-line promise of how our day will go: love, money, etc. Just the highlights. And when this dumbed-down version is wrong, we dismiss the whole thing. I see this in the Enneagram stuff I see online, and it makes me sad, particularly when it comes to the heart.
The heart is a symbol of love, sure. In the Enneagram, it is also a symbol of emotion in general. Humans are emotional creatures. We need to understand that reality, and respect it. But instead, I hear and see “rational” arguments as to why the heart is important – it has a bigger magnetic field than a brain! And the gut has so many nerve endings, it has to be important, too!
Have you tried living without a heart, or a body for that matter? Obviously, the brain is not the only thing that matters. Rationalizations like these drive me insane. In the head, which is my dominant way of perceiving the world (even though I’m a 9, a body/gut type). Did you know, Aquarius is an air sign? That somehow makes sense to me. Air represents intellect. And I know from experience that relying too heavily on my intellect doesn’t turn out well.
I need the input from my heart and gut, even if those are just symbols for parts of reality. We are not going to become a more loving and embodied species if we keep insisting everything – even symbols for emotions and instincts – measure up against the “important” qualities of the brain.
This year, I’m going to look more deeply into astrology, and Chinese medicine, and Ayurveda, and poetry – at everything that looks at the relationship between things as a dynamic process. This includes the Enneagram (and yoga!) but not in the pop culture version of it, where there is a simple formula for each type to follow, or in the case of yoga, one handstand to rule the world.
Nothing is that simple. There’s just messy life, and it is full of symbols and messages, whether you appreciate them, ignore them, or misunderstand them entirely. Why not have fun with the mysterious web of if all, instead of trying to reduce it down into something that “makes sense?” That’s my plan, at least. I’ll let you know when I have anything worthwhile to share from my zodiac/Enneagram studies. After all, a symbolic language is only useful if it is shared.
“Hack your vagus nerve!” claims the latest and most unintentionally ironic social media headline to trigger my annoyance. Humans cannot be hacked. To imply that they can, whether by hacking their reward systems or nervous systems or biological functions or Enneagram types is not helpful.
What exactly are we trying to do here?
The definition of “hack” has evolved from “to cut with rough or heavy blows” to the modern usage of “use a computer to gain unauthorized access to data in a system” to “a strategy or technique for managing one’s time or activities more efficiently. ”
I know when people use the word “hack” they mean a useful shortcut, but the sound of the word carries its original sense of violence and violation. To me, that is an important clue.
Research shows the vagus nerve is involved in a wide range of bodily functions, and having poor vagal tone is associated with a variety of disease states. Poor vagal tone can mean your system is in a stressed fight/flight mode so often, it can’t easily return to a calm, happy place. Can threatening to hack yourself really bring true relaxation and healing? My intuition says no.
That said, I am a total geek when it comes to physiology and science. I love learning about how complex our bodies are – not so I can control it, but so I can bow down to it. Our bodies deserve reverence, not resentment. This is a good article on some of the ways we can explore our experience through the lens of the vagus nerve.
Don’t just hack – ask!
What all the hacks – and most of the good resources, even – miss, is the big question: WHY! They skip right from symptom to “cure” without looking at the underlying cause.
WHY are you breathing shallowly (or deeply)?
WHY are you tired (or wired)?
WHY are you not okay with your current state?
WHY? WHY? WHY?
Forgive the all caps. That is a very crude way – a language hack, if you will – of getting my intensity across in print. If I could, I would whisper. Better yet, you can whisper to yourself:
Why is my intelligent body breathing this way?
Why do I want to feel differently than how I am actually feeling right now?
Why do I feel the way I feel?
Why do I think I need a hack to fix me?
Ask – and then listen for the answer. It might not come immediately, but when it does, your vagal tone will naturally improve because you will have gotten to the root of the issue. All the cold showers and breathing exercises in the world – as well as all the Enneagram books and quizzes – can’t help you if you won’t help yourself by listening to your own wisdom. Tuning yourself out causes stress – I know because I have many years of experience doing just that! That is why I feel so certain that humans cannot be hacked.
There’s a good reason humans cannot be hacked
With both the Enneagram and the vagus nerve, there isn’t a “right” way. It is a sign of health to be able to shift states appropriately. Context matters! Sometimes we need to be assertive, other times passive. Sometimes we should run for our lives – but a lot of the time, we really aren’t in danger. Yet, since our culture holds certain states in high esteem and degrades others, we demand justification of ourselves if we aren’t in the “good” states. As if people truly are machines that should work endlessly without complaint.
We can care for ourselves and others when we pay attention to what we are experiencing in the current reality. Humans cannot be hacked. Let’s stop pretending that side-stepping what our bodies are trying to communicate is a desirable thing.
Pay attention. That’s all you can do.
In case that is all a bit too abstract, here is a simple example. For several days, I was aware of the possibility of coming down with a cold. There was a tickle in my throat and just a slight feeling of being off. We went camping. The feeling stayed with me, but I didn’t get sick. We came home and I went to bed practically as soon as the sun went down. I was more tired than normal, and I had jury duty the next day.
The getting sick feeling was stronger in the morning, but I overrode it. I had to go to jury duty. I did not want to reschedule. I shut down (unconsciously, but very obviously in retrospect). I repressed my coughs and sneezes in the courtroom. I went for a walk at lunch. I drank extra coffee to stay awake. I survived rush-hour traffic to make it home – and then I collapsed. I was sick.
This isn’t a “poor me, I shouldn’t have to do jury duty” story. I made a choice. I am happy with my choice. But our choices always have consequences.
Progress, not perfection
The old me would have continued to deny I was sick. I would have taken cold medicine to repress my symptoms and continue “functioning.” But I know better. I know the real cure is rest. So I drank tea and laid around listening to audio books.
I was sick for two days. Bummer. But – I used to have the same symptoms, “hack” my way through life, suffer terribly, all the while denying it, before finally going to a doctor and getting antibiotics. Two days of surrender is a bargain compared to three weeks of ickiness.
Humans cannot be hacked! We are complicated organisms requiring rest, care and love, in addition to work, thoughts and achievements. Hacks are just another way of intellectualizing, and thereby avoiding, that reality – unless you use them to dig deeper into what is true for you.
For anyone who is interested, here’s an Amazon affliate link to the book I listened to as I listened to my body and rested (thanks OC Library!), and the source of the above doodle quote.
Just kidding. I don’t hate the Enneagram. I just hate what I see (some) people doing with it – which is robbing it of all usefulness and meaning by encouraging people to identify with the most shallow, surface level details and cling to them as an identity. That’s pretty harsh, isn’t it? Okay…How about helping people dress themselves up in yet another layer of clothing, instead of helping them strip down to what is real and true about their innermost selves?
Not that I have anything against clothes. Clothes are great. So are personalities. It’s the clinging that’s the problem.
The Enneagram is a really solid framework for understanding what each of us are (consciously or not) motivated by. It is not a checklist or description of outer behaviors that we can group people by. And yet – that’s the temptation, right? It is always a temptation to freeze things into a form we can understand, because it makes us feel safe. But unless you’re a specific frog with antifreeze in its veins, to freeze something is to kill it. I’m afraid people are killing the Enneagram.
This blog on why it isn’t a good idea to get attached to your Enneagram type sums up my stance so clearly, I feel like I can relax. My mind can drop the imaginary arguments it was spinning out on. I can go back to making graphics and carving molds of the Enneagram symbol to make jewelry without worry that it won’t be understood the way my inner control freak wants it to be.
Why do I find seeing my ideas represented elsewhere or expressed by other people to be so reassuring? Because it proves I’m not alone. It rids me of the delusion that it is me against everyone else. I am not the only (possibly crazy / bitter / jealous / myopic / judgmental / ignorant / insensitive / insert-your-favorite-insecurity-here) person in the whole universe who doesn’t agree with what everyone else thinks is grand.
And just like that – I no longer feel the need to defend anything. Personally, I think there are more layers of meaning and usefulness in the Enneagram than there are stairs in that Vessel thing. It doesn’t matter if other people think the Enneagram is just a fun label to rally others around their love of cozy blankets or checklists, because there are other people who “get” me.
I hate the Enneagram? No. That’s just my reflex, to hate something when other people “ruin” it. But I’m not a five year old. I can do better. I can stop tuning out my anger, hear what it is telling me, and choose what to do. Compare that to refusing to let anger surface, and then feeling endlessly confused and conflicted, as is my pattern as an Enneagram 9.
It is a gift to feel seen and understood. I didn’t understand just how much of a gift until I started letting go of my resistance to it. (I had this notion that I could somehow be safe if I didn’t ever “need” things from others. What a joke.) Because the Enneagram helped me see where I was stuck, I want to share it with others. But when I feel like someone else is threatening a concept by having their own ideas about it, well. That’s a sign I’m heading in the wrong direction. It is the same mental trick that lets people kill in the name of religion. Fundamentalism takes the fun out of everything.
I don’t need to tear down anyone else’s ideas, and I don’t need to force mine on anyone else. My heart knows full well that everyone has a right to their own experience, as it is right now. I’m happy that people are finding ways to feel seen and understood. The fear that people are boxing other people in with their Enneagram memes is just a mental abstraction. It isn’t actually happening in my life. If anything, the memes are helping me , so long as I accept my feelings and get clear about what exactly I am having a reaction to.
I’m accepting my need to explore what I think, feel, and create with people who are also interested in not just what they do, but why they do it.
Thanks for being one of those people.
PS – I am a Body Type. That doesn’t mean I can’t think or feel. We all have all three types of intelligence: body, heart and head. Check out my new Enneagram Resources page if you are still figuring out your type.
It isn’t that I’ve had a change of heart – I still believe it is important to identify your Enneagram type by number, not name, to avoid creating yet another layer of separation between yourself and reality. However. Language matters in the Enneagram, just like it matters everywhere else.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”
I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks. It isn’t that I set out to do everything differently than I normally do, but that is what happened. For two weeks, I didn’t write or read books. I used my phone for navigation and photos but little else. Zero driving, only one yoga practice, little TV or radio – I couldn’t even tune into conversations the way I habitually do as so many of them were in foreign languages.
Symbols are especially useful when you’re traveling. The little stick figure in a skirt was always a welcome sight, as I didn’t have to second-guess my tired brain’s comprehension of unfamiliar words. It is less work to send a heart or smiley face emoji than to type a response. However.
The last book I read before our trip was The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. In the dystopian world of Gilead, women (other than the “aunts”) are not taught to read. Instead, symbols are used so the working class can “function” under the regime. I’d forgotten all about this story until, while looking for coffee in NYC, we walked right by a coffee shop several times before I figured out its logo (a bottle).
Symbols are simple – life is not
So yes – symbols are useful when you don’t know or speak the language. However, there in Rockefeller Plaza after attending mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, symbols suddenly struck me as dangerous, too. It wasn’t that long ago most people couldn’t read. They didn’t need to: the church took care of disseminating the word of God to them. Capitalism is a religion in its own weird way – and is more universal than any church these days.
We accept the green and white mermaid, and blue bottle, as a representative of sugary and caffeinated beverages. We accept the ichthys and the cross as symbols of Christian faith, even though plenty of less than ethical business owners slap the sticker on their bumper because they know it implies trustworthiness.
My point – and I do have one – is that symbols are just symbols. They aren’t the real thing. The real thing – the real mystery of life and consciousness and identity and all that jazz – cannot be summed up by a symbol, or a number, or a name. They can’t be summed up at all. But we humans have to try. Language is the best tool we have, so let’s use it – but wisely.
Language matters in the Enneagram!
We all rely on symbols and habits in some areas. That’s not a bad thing. But the point of the Enneagram is to really get to know ourselves, and for that we need language: gloriously complicated, loaded, meaningful, constantly evolving, and imperfect language. An emoji will not suffice.
In Personality Types, the authors (Riso/Hudson) give nine different titles for each Enneagram type, for each of the nine levels of health. I find this to be really illuminating, as it explains the potential in each type and also guards against the tendency to see only what you want to see.
For example, it’s easy for me to justify “going with the flow” as just being me, a Peacemaker 9. Yay Peace! “Accommodating Role-Player” at level 4 isn’t exactly flattering – but “Denying Doormat” at level 7 is a true wake-up call. Who wants to be a doormat?! No one. However. The potential clearly exists – unless I wake up to what it is I’m doing in this crazy little thing we call life.
I’ve moved Riso & Hudson’s titles for each type at their absolute best and worst to my main Enneagram page. Please check it out! I hope learning about the Enneagram types at different levels of health is as useful to you as it was for me.
I am enough: three little words that have great power. But how can you believe it when you coulda, woulda, shoulda? In the end, that’s up to you. But here are nine ways of believing I am enough to get you started.
First, it helps to recognize we all have our own way of defining “enough.” The Enneagram helped me identify my own specific way of feeling like I wasn’t enough, and to notice how my way is both similar and different than other people’s version of not enough.
I’ve had “i am enough” necklaces in my Etsy shop for maybe eight years (?) now. It remains one of my favorite affirmations because it is true on so many levels. Below are nine ways of believing I am enough, based on the Enneagram triads.
I am enough for Enneagram Heart Types (2 3 4)
2: People will always need more than I can possibly give – yet I am enough.
3: Win or lose, profit or loss, happy or sad – my circumstances do not define me. I am enough.
4: Emotions can feel overwhelming at times, yet I’m not “too sensitive” or “too dramatic” – I am enough.
I am enough for Enneagram Head Types (5 6 7)
5: There will always be more to learn- yet I am capable now. I am enough.
6: I see all the ways things could go wrong, yet trust I’ll handle whatever comes. I am enough.
7: I’m not missing out. I’m happy and I am enough, right here and now.
I am enough for Enneagram Body Types (8 9 1)
8: There’s nothing to defend against. I am enough as I am.
9: I can see everyone’s point of view and still maintain my own sense of self. I am enough.
1: The world’s not perfect, I’m not perfect, perfection is impossible – and yet, I am enough.
Is I am enough not your style?
I get it. Maybe it is just my Eight wing talking, but some days I feel the need for something with a little more punch. That’s why I have my FYeahJewelry Etsy shop – to house messages like these:
The message is the same. I am enough, you are enough, we are all enough. So let’s be kind to each other. It feels a lot better than the alternatives.
A few weeks ago, I was journaling about the Enneagram (what, like you weren’t?) and made a list of how it is like ping pong. Personality ping pong. Each one of us has a certain something we express in the world – a ping. And we get something back – a pong. Actually, there are millions of things we put out in the world (ping ping ping!!!) and at least as many pongs coming back at us.
But, we all have filters: our personalities. You might see all those balls flying at you and think: what fun! Or, how terrible! You might have forgotten that you sent that ping out in the first place, so why now are these pongs showing up at your door? Or you’ve being pinging desperately and not finding any pongs.
You never really forget how to play
This weekend, I got to play ping pong for the first time in ages. It took me a minute to get up to speed with my opponent – but just a minute. Then I felt the old conditioning kick in. I spent hours of my childhood in my best friend’s basement, playing ping pong against her and her older brother. I learned to flick my wrist to give the ball a little spin, to watch for opportunities to knock a high ball down hard and fast. Aware of it or not, I carry within me some strangely specific skills and pattern recognition software.
But my skill or habits are only half the equation. The person across the table has their own habits, their own strategies. My friend wanted to keep our volleys going. She also wanted to have fun – so any chance she had to turn up the speed, she took. When I played against her husband, our tempo was more lackadaisical. Same game, same me: different experience.
The idea of personality ping pong is silly, I know. It is also easy to understand and therefore useful as a metaphor. Ping pong is an individual sport (game? I don’t know. I was sweating by the time we were done.) A fun game of ping pong also requires two players who have, if not the same skill level, enough overlap so as to keep the ball in play. It is also pretty easy to see where your skill or lack thereof interrupts the game and sends you crawling under the table to find the missing ball. You can alter where you stand, how you shift your weight, etc.
Personality Ping Pong by Enneagram Type
So, here is my assessment of what each Enneagram type pings, and the pongs they receive back, which serve to reinforce their existing world view. It is how each of us end up believing that our reality is the same as Reality. I love how the Enneagram illustrates how we create our lives – even if we think the idea of “creating our own reality” is woo-woo nonsense.
2: Twos have learned that self-worth comes from helping people. When others refuse their help or assert their independence, the Two fear of not being lovable is triggered, which makes them try harder to prove how essential they are.
3: Threes are out of touch with their feelings, but reflexively know how to present themselves in the best possible light. They mistake the trappings of success for the real thing, then assume they’ll stop feeling empty and dissatisfied when they achieve their *next* goal.
4: Fours get caught up in their emotions to the point that it doesn’t matter what people pong their way – they only see the negative. Eventually, people give up … and Fours take this as more proof that they are different and flawed, just like they feel.
5: Fives like to figure things out. The world looks crazier every damn day, so back into their minds they go. Fives withdraw to analyze, but it is impossible to amass enough knowledge. Meanwhile, Fives miss out on the experiences that would give them confidence in their ability to thrive.
6: Sixes are aware of all contingencies and possible problems. When others don’t share their level of concern, Sixes become even more hyper-vigilant since obviously, the rest of us flakes can’t be trusted.
7: Sevens only want to feel positive emotions – and genuinely see happy possibilities everywhere – but even their greatest plans don’t satisfy them. They are already (mentally) off planning the next one instead of experiencing the present moment. Panic sets in – but that’s a negative feeling, so Sevens spin it as more, better, faster, instead.
8: Eights are so determined to make sure that they are never at another’s mercy that they make everything a battle…which pisses people off, and proves to Eights that their aggressive behavior was necessary. Good thing they are tough: it is the only way to be in a dog-eat-dog world.
9: Nines tend to check out and merge with others. It is easier than getting mad or fighting for their way, since what does it really matter at the end of the day? Their own thoughts and feelings are less real than those of other people … so of course Nines don’t feel like anyone special or important. They barely exist.
1: Ones see all the ways that things could be better, or how they really should be. However: people don’t like being criticized (shocker, eh?) and most people don’t share Ones attention to detail. This makes Ones angry – they know they are right! Their anger turns inwards and they resent having their perfect plans foiled.
One giant personality ping pong game
All nine Enneagram Types fail to see the whole picture. These short descriptions are meant to help illustrate the patterns of how we do so, not to define or limit anyone. We are all just doing the best we can at this crazy game of life. You hold your own paddle. When you learn to use it wisely, personality ping pong becomes a lot more fun!
I may have lost count of how many Enneagram books I’ve read, but I feel like I’ve learned at lot. It is both surprising and helpful to find that different authors apply different names to the nine personality types. My stance is that it is much better to find your Enneagram type by number, not by name – even though you’ll come across many, many names.
Numbers are value neutral here. There are no points. It is no better to be a One than an Eight or any other number.
The Enneagram is not personal: that’s kind of the whole point. You are not claiming an identity to cling to when you discover your type. You are simply identifying a pattern in your personality structure. It is not the whole story of you. Not even close.
Each type is defined by an emotional habit, a characteristic pattern of thought, and a style of relating to others, which together produce a distinct point of view.
Name types cater to stereotypes. They can be helpful when you’re first learning what the different personality patterns are like, but if you stop there, you’ll be sorry. Each Enneagram number has three subtypes based on their primary instinct (self-preservation, social or sexual), and just to keep things interesting, one of these three types always runs counter to the type. This means 1/3 of all Enneagram Fours will look *nothing* like the stereotype summed up by the names Romantic, Artist, Individualist, etc.
The most popular and accepted Enneagram names overlap with titles and roles that we all fulfill as humans at different points and in different ways: The Helper, The Artist, The Achiever. This can make it easy for us to choose a type based on how we *want* to see ourselves, or who other people see us as, rather than who we actually are. For example, not all artists are Enneagram Fours. Not all Enneagram Fours want to be artists. Not all Enneagram Eights show up in life as The Boss, etc.
Labels are hurtful and limiting – even when they appear positive and affirming! So limit the hurt and limitations by looking at your Enneagram type as just a number. Of course, the more people refer to Enneagram numbers, the more they become a shorthand or stereotype in culture. Resist the urge to think you can know someone just because you know their number.
Still looking for your Enneagram number?
Find your Enneagram type by number by reading lots of different descriptions of the Enneagram Types. The audio and video clips on Helen Palmer’s website are super helpful. Pay attention to how you react. Strong feelings of like or dislike are excellent ways to learn about yourself, even if finding your Type is not as quick and easy as taking an online quiz. (It might be. But don’t worry if it raises more questions than answers.)
There are many people you can consult with to determine your type, but since that isn’t the path I took, I can’t offer you recommendations there. However, if you’re looking for a book to read, I’m your pal. (I hate, hate, hate the term “gal.” WTF does it even mean? Part of a gallon?)