December 08, 2005

CAN YOU BE CATEGORIZED?

One of my wife's old friends recently got married, and we had dinner with the happy couple last weekend. She's a writer, and a he's a professional psychotherapist. He's an interesting guy, and a good part of the night was spent discussing a personality categorization tool he's familiar with, called enneagrams, which are based on some obscure Sufi teachings introduced to western culture by G. I. Gurdjieff. At first, I wasn't all that interested. Everyone's unique, and I figured the last thing anyone needs is yet another system for pigeonholing people into different "groups" to save ourselves the trouble of recognizing everyone's individuality and getting to know them as human beings rather than as a collection of labels.

As a society we have had tremendous difficulty with all the assumptions we make about different groups of people. We are slowly, slowly learning that we're all just people, but those who fit into certain categories are still at a big disadvantage in today's society. Whether African or Persian or fat or female or homosexual, it sucks to have people making assumptions about you based on some stupid label or group you happen to fit into.

Buddhism says that deep down we're all the same. When you get down to who you really, really are, your idea of self (your ego) doesn't show up at all. Ego's nowhere near as important as most of us think it is. As a society, we're still a long way from recognizing that. But the ego is still important. It's what's unique from person to person. It's our thoughts and habits, the way we make decisions and approach the challenges life presents us.

As my lovely wife pointed out, it can be useful to know that your ego is just a different system for dealing with the world. It's not that there's something wrong with you. It's just that you might have some bad habits, which can be really, really hard to break. Enneagram types are just common patterns that different people have developed to deal with the world. One article I read suggested that your enneagram type is usually imposed on you in childhood. So enneagrams just give you something to think about, some ideas about what might be motivating you in a given situation. They can give you some things to watch out for in your own behavior, and maybe some pointers to help you avoid the habitual pitfalls that you may have fallen into in the past. You may be so used to these pitfalls that you don't even realize when you've fallen into them. But when you read about your enneagram type, some of them may seem awfully familiar.

I think Zen sitting practice immerses you in your own sense of balance. Eventually you start to recognize when you're leaning off balance, and you can correct for it before you fall into your usual ruts and habits. This is a slow process, but it's the only way to really address the problem completely. Enneograms are a kind of crude tool for helping you recognize what your biggest and worst ruts are, and giving you some tips for working around them. Might help, might not. But I think it's interesting, anyway.

Here's a pretty good test for figuring out what enneagram type you are. You have to select Seldom, Sometimes, or Often as your answer to each question. Sometimes those answers don't make a lot of sense for the question, so in your head just substitute "a little" for Seldom or "a lot" for Often. Click HERE to take the test. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes.
After the test tells you your enneagram type, click HERE and take a look through the free articles listed there, especially the articles that mention your type. You might learn something interesting. Or it might not work for you at all. But I can say that my wife and I have had more than one "Wow!" moment each looking at this stuff. We're both "nines", by the way.

Just remember that these are just common habitual patterns. Your personality might fit one of them pretty well, or it might not. Even if it does fit well, that's not who you really are. It's just a collection of habits. We all have the power to choose our actions in every moment, we're all completely free. We just don't usually notice that.

4 Comments:

At December 08, 2005, Blogger Michael said...

Hi Jules,

Interesting test. I'm a "One" according to my answers. The traits associated with this style are pretty much on-target; interesting food for thought.
Thanks for providing the hyperlinks!

Michael

 
At December 09, 2005, Blogger g said...

I was a nine too, back when my ex-wife was studying this kind of human description. She felt she was able to understand and work more effectively with her friends and associates when they used this tool. I've heard it said that it derives from Gurdjieff, but I think that's just some modern proponents trying to rustle up ancient support for the system.

It certainly wasn't part of any Sufi teachings I ever encountered.

 
At December 10, 2005, Blogger Jules said...

I think the connection with Gurdjieff is pretty well-established, but I agree, I haven't seen any other Sufi teachings that do anything like this. Not that I'm any kind of Sufi expert or anything.

All the same, I did notice that the "type" that I got identified with does match up with my worst ego ruts pretty well.

But for all I know, that would also be true of the other "personality pigeonhole" systems out there, like meirs-briggs or whatever. I haven't looked into those.

 
At December 10, 2005, Blogger g said...

My ex-wife thought it was helpful in identifying strengths, which, on the other side of the coin, are also weaknesses, or blind spots, in oneself. And then she thought it was helpful in knowing how to approach other people. But it's just a tool, and on the night of your dinner, it may have been an ice breaker.

 

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