My family and I recently visited Schoodic Point, Maine, the rocky tip of a peninsula bordering the ocean. The slam and splash of sea against the ancient multi-faceted shelves of rock seemed sporadic, unpredictable. When my uncle noted the “dynamism” of the place, I was reminded of what I had gained during the 2016 IEA conference.
One of my biggest takeaways from the conference was that my ultimate goal, in working with the Enneagram, is to be present to myself and others. And presence includes dynamism, which Google defines as “vigorous activity and progress.” When we become present, we enter into the uncharted territory beyond patterns, a territory of change, movement, and action. One of the sessions that most highlighted this theme of dynamism for me was Sandra Smith’s “The Enneagram Types in Grief & Loss.”
Sandra showed how being present to our grief allows for transformation. According to Sandra, grief is energy, “the body’s response to loss.” We can’t just think about our grief. We’ve got to experience it—to be aware of the felt sense. When we are present to the felt sense, we allow grief to become un-stuck. Our grief is the opposite of Toy Story toys; we need to look at it, really be aware of it, for it to move. The result of this process is not that grief ends, but, in Sandra’s words, that “it finds its shape within us.” So, if allowed to move, grief doesn’t just dissipate; it becomes something inside us. It finds its natural place.
Sandra’s description lined up with an experience I’d had recently of encountering my type head-on. I identify with Type Four, and have often felt separate from the world, even from my own experience of it; it’s as if I’m watching myself live my life. When I spoke with Renee Rosario and Terry Saracino about this on a panel in an Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition (ESNT) class a few days before the conference, they directed me to notice and stay with my felt sense, what I felt in my body when contemplating my separation from the world. For the first time, I fully and viscerally felt the grief over the time I seemed to have lost—time when I could have been connected rather than separate. But as I kept my attention on the felt sense, the pain shifted into peace as an awareness came over me that all of reality is here in this moment so I haven’t lost anything. I not only felt equanimity, but I also felt connected to myself. Where there had seemed to be a hole in my chest, there was now a sense of wholeness. As Sandra described, it was as if the grief, when fully acknowledged and attended to, had indeed found a shape within me. It was able to reach its destination: the other side of the void.
What comes to mind, in considering Sandra’s session and my personal experience, is the scientific law that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Most things in life, including our grief and our types, will stick around—will be neither created nor destroyed. But they can be transformed. The seeds within us, of our feelings and our character structures, hold other possibilities that can unfold in the light of awareness. The transformation of type and of grief occurs only in the present where the dynamism of change and movement are possible.
I thought of asking you to imagine the sea at Schoodic point frozen in place, stopped in the act of hitting the rocks. I wanted to use that image to explain what happens when we distance ourselves from grief by making a story of it instead of feeling it. But I have to toss that analogy on the basis that there’s still movement even when we’re hardly paying attention. It’s just that the act of bringing our full attention to grief allows it to say what it needs to say and more quickly become what it’s meant to become.
I don’t think this is a one-time process. Grief may find its place as many times as the water hits the rocks in that beautiful Maine spot. It’s a lifelong journey—with our types and our grief. Now I’m aware there’s always something else on the other side of the feeling or patterns. There’s a transformational possibility in everything, and we just have to pay attention to watch the transformation unfold.
I’m grateful to have attended the IEA conference for my first time, and I look forward to many future conferences.
Courtney McCall is currently in a graduate program studying to be a psychotherapist. She plans to use the Enneagram in her practice and is becoming certified through the Enneagram Studies in the Narrative Tradition (ESNT) program. Please feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.