A Look at Enneagram Communities by Penny Whillans

A Look at Enneagram Communities by Penny Whillans

My objective for this article is to share some of what I am learning in my ongoing research and involvement with Enneagram communities. I hope to encourage the members and the facilitators of Enneagram communities to observe the functioning of their communities from the perspective of the three basic laws of the map of the Enneagram. I have found that awareness of these three basic Enneagram laws is an effective vehicle to guide Enneagram enthusiasts as they enter into a vibrant community.

What is an Enneagram community?

‘Community’ is defined[1] as “a group of people having [interests] in common.” The word likely stems from the word ‘commune,’ which means to “communicate mentally or spiritually, … feel in close touch with.”[2] An Enneagram ‘community’ is defined here as a group of people who are interested in the Enneagram and who wish to be in close touch with one another in order to share their mindful, heartfelt, embodied experiences as they explore themselves and their environments through the vehicle of the Enneagram.

The Challenges of Community

Because of its underlying interests an Enneagram Community will be heterogeneous. It contains people of divergent backgrounds, differing cultures, biases, ages, education, languages, and experiences and of course, people who represent the full range of the Enneagram types and subtypes. This eclecticism along with the objectives of sharing and learning renders such a community unique.

A pattern frequently arises among emerging Enneagram communities. Eager Enneagram enthusiasts come together with the conscious intent of creating a community of support and deepening their Enneagram-based awareness. These well-intended emerging communities often do not last long. Despite their worthy intent, despite their knowledge of the Enneagram and even despite a growing self-awareness, these groups often fraction, or dissolve.  Why is this?

My observations suggest that the beautiful idealistic assumptions motivating the forming stage of a community also hold within them the divergence.  These assumptions could loosely be expressed in the following manner; “We’ve all experienced the ease, freedom and peace that is possible when we know about the Enneagram. Now that we’ve experienced this, let’s come together to support and maintain this experience.” This heartfelt sentiment often ends with unidentified struggles and conflicts. Discouragement and frustration reign and idle talk /gossip tends to follow.  The community fractions, takes stances, or dissolves. But this just should not happen! Or, should it?

Considering that this is the way our personalities function, it follows that this similarly occurs in communities. Perhaps the discord and disenchantment is not only to be expected but is necessary for us to see what we really want and then to commit to this.

The beautiful wish to peacefully and easily commune with one another is part of our human condition. The Enneagram, ancient teachings and psychology[3] research inform us that we need to associate with others if we are to effectively become less tightly fixated or habitual and experience deeper ease and peace. We need community interaction. The ‘messiness’ of being with others, of interacting with different people and the experiencing of the accompanying discomfort encourage us to learn and develop. It is with others that we learn and practice the skills of staying committed to our Enneagram insights.

Committed participation in communities inevitably makes us feel vulnerable, perhaps weak, and certainly not in control. It feels risky. That is why many of us have learned the organizational development skills such as Roger’s rules of order, or meeting protocols. By themselves they are helpful tools. There are innumerable books and essays providing us with advice and directives and the ‘do’s and don’ts’ for social groups, work groups or neighbourhood block meetings. We can even find directives about how to interact with our families. Slap any of these directives onto a group of Enneagram enthusiasts who are contemplating the creation of a ‘community’ and resistance appears and discord begins. Such regulations hint of control and domination, and the lack of safety for enthusiasts who wish to feel free to explore themselves and learn together in equality.

Nevertheless we need guidelines. Our psyches tend to function best with guidelines that allow us to stretch our perspectives, develop new skills and help us to learn to tolerate discomfort and vulnerability in new ways. We need to learn to be safe and vulnerable and to be together without a rigid set of rules. Community is an excellent arena for this learning.

Would it not be nice to have a few flexible guidelines that everyone could agree upon?  During difficult times, these guidelines would maintain the community intention of deepening self-awareness and Enneagram knowledge.

The Enneagram symbol provides us with these very guidelines. It is a map of functioning. The Circle, the Triangle and the Hexad of the Enneagram represent the three basic laws of how we function. This map is immediately accessible and is the common ground for every Enneagram enthusiast. It is perhaps the best starting place for any new group of Enneagram enthusiasts. The community can better comprehend ‘what’ is occurring, ‘where’ it is, and on what the community needs to focus on and to do when it can see evidence of the action of these laws within it.  The map points us to the skills that are needed at any given time as we move through its dynamics.

The ability to read this map supports Enneagram communities in maintaining their dynamic enthusiasm, effective functioning and their expanding Enneagram awareness.

How do we read this map? How to begin?

Let’s briefly look at the three Laws as they apply to community.

The Law of One is symbolized by the circle. It focuses on the Oneness of all existence reminding us that there is no separation between one ‘thing’ and another; that we are the same as every ‘thing.’ For a moment, I encourage you to drop what you know of this law and instead place your awareness on your Enneagram community with its people and personalities. What qualities would ideally represent the nature of unity or one-ness in your community’s interactions? This is the beginning point of transferring the theory of the Law of One to the qualities of what ‘One-ness’ represents for you in your community.

As the community members explore the many qualities of One-ness the community begins to ‘feel/ sense itself.’ But these qualities of ‘One-ness’ are esoteric and personal experiences. They need to be brought into the embodied action of daily living in order for a community to reflect them, to live them. How do we transfer these qualitative experiences into action?  How, for example do we demonstrate our ‘openness,’ ‘cohesiveness,’ ‘compassion’ or ‘trustworthiness?’ With these questions a dynamic and interesting exploration follows in which the community discovers its deeper values and intents and begins to set its own behavioural guidelines.

The community determines the behaviours that accurately reflect its qualities of One-ness, of Unity. These behaviours must be observable and easy to do. Here are some examples:

To demonstrate the quality of ‘respect,’ the behaviour could be expressed as, “Keep quiet when another is talking. Do not interrupt.”

To act on the quality of ‘confidentiality’ the community could agree that, “We speak only from our own experience and refrain from talking about others.”

Once the community has outlined several behaviours derived from the qualities it envisions, the members agree to practice these behaviours when they interact and to support one another in doing this.

The Law of Three is symbolized by the equilateral triangle. This law[4] refers to the emergence of new-ness and the constant force of change within the community. It reminds us that the status quo is constantly being replaced. The community can more readily observe this emergence dynamic when the agreed behaviours are practiced and supported. As the Law of One behaviours are practiced the community develops sensitivity in its ability to notice the emerging changes and dynamics of the Law of Three. It is then more able to midwife the change and the change process.

The Law of Seven is symbolized by the hexad and it refers to the process of change through which the new emergence is established.  Examples of a ‘new emergence’ could be, a group project, a change of behaviour, the assimilation of a new awareness, specific decisions to be made or it could be a creation that is not yet envisioned.  There is a recognizable stage-by-stage process of change.[5] Each stage within the process requires a different awareness and a set of skills from the community. Sometimes these skills and approaches need to be learned. Within the change process difficulties do arise and there can be a resistance, stall or stickiness to the movement of change. These are the shock points. They require extra attention to the needs of the community and perhaps new approaches.  Again, this process can be more readily identified within the community when it practices the agreed upon behaviours that represent the Law of One for that community.

In summary:

When we heighten our awareness of the Laws as they move within our Enneagram communities we gain clarity on how to support and maintain their growth.

Fundamental is the Law of One. The identification and practice of the Law of One behaviours is pivotal to the community’s ability to sense, feel, and mindfully be aware of the emerging dynamics of change and the location of the community’s stage in the change process.  It is my experience that as this occurs, our communities can better support and midwife the emerging dynamics and thereby focus on the needs of the community. In this way we lessen the tendency to overstep ourselves in our enthusiasm, idealism and driven-ness. We then support the constant emerging vitality of the community and gain further insight into Enneagram teachings.

I look forward to ongoing discussion with other community members and facilitators.


[1] Canadian Oxford (compact) Dictionary (2002) Oxford University Press

[2] Canadian Oxford (compact) Dictionary (2002) Oxford University Press

[3] An excellent starting reference is, Rappaport J, Seidman E, (eds) (2000) Handbook of Community Psychology. Springer Science & Business Media. NY.

[4] The Law of Three is seen as a constantly evolving dynamic. The three forces are the forces of Emergence, Status Quo and Change/Movement. An excellent source for further study is C. Bourgeault (2013) The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. Shambala, Boston.

[5] Whillans is currently researching the application of J.O. Prochaska’s and C.C. DiClemente’s Process and Stages of Change work to the Enneagram map. She is evaluating the applicability of superimposing this model of change on the Law of Seven dynamics.  For an example of their work refer to J.O. Prochaska & C.C. DiClemente (1984) The Transtheoretical Approach: Crossing Traditional Boundaries on Change. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press. She can be contacted at penny@canadianenneagram.ca or  1-250-385-9192.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Skip to toolbar