This ninth life story from the forthcoming book co-authored by C.J. Fitzsimons, is condensed from an interview with a Nine. In the book there will be eighteen life stories, two for each Enneagram style
“The word transformation definitely has a positive meaning for me. Also sometimes I think of it as shifting. I picture moving to the side to go forward in a different way, a shift rather than a drift, a sense of coming into closer alignment with deep values I haven’t always acted on.
“My first transforming experience was in high school, being in a wilderness camp setting for five weeks, working with a dozen other people in an unfamiliar setting and recognizing my contribution to life in a different way – a sense of humor, a more adventurous, whimsical side – and also the importance of connection to other people, learning about different people, being present with them in that moment. After the wilderness camp, I was able to see the world differently.
“When I came to the Enneagram in the last decade, it resonated with patterns I’ve had all my life. I don’t remember them in infancy or elementary school, but by high school certain patterns of responding to the world were definitely there that I now characterize as being typically Nine-like. Not being immediately certain of what I feel, having to come around to it indirectly and sometimes by hearing other people speak and seeing if I agree with them or not. Some hesitancy in taking a stand or going with a particular choice, whether for my own actions or in helping other people decide what to do. I’ve been one to observe and fit in rather than take a definitive direction, until afterwards when I might feel regret about not having done something. A tendency to fall asleep to the things most important to me, to go along, to drift, to be very busy and do a lot of things but not do the most important things, and only realize that afterwards because I wasn’t being present.
“I think of the word inertia in a physics way; it doesn’t mean still – it means I’m going somewhere but without taking any actions to change my direction or velocity. Occasionally something that’s so inspiring it can’t be ignored will kick me out of inertia, and movement is very easy at that point. It’s not work, it just happens.
“The parables and the language of poetry are very strong themes in my life, the way I learn things most powerfully and the way I express things with most meaning. Even though my job wouldn’t typically be thought of as that kind of work, it’s still the way I’m most effective in reaching other people. As a physician my logical, fact-based approach, skills, and technical experience are all very important, but the extent to which I bring what energizes me personally into my workplace and family life is probably healthier.
“The experience of being coached this past year has been very helpful. I’ve become more explicit about how I can be present with myself in a supportive way, even when things are difficult. I’m seeing any discomfort I feel as just as interesting and important to follow as when I feel happy and excited. Whether something is drawing me in a positive way or repelling me, I follow those signals instead of putting them away. If my immediate response to someone’s proposal is negative, or I do not like someone’s personality trait, I now know there’s something there to teach me. I used to bury my reaction or try to ignore it. Now I see it as a real gift to notice the humor in something, or to see an opportunity in what at first feels like a problem and turn it into something that can be managed or find a new direction.
“In my family growing up, I rarely took the opportunity – either in writing or in conversation – to speak to my beliefs. Perhaps I understood them but they were a conglomeration of different traditions and snatches of hymns, some sort of not-conscious framework. But now, as I’ve come gradually to feel more comfortable expressing what is most meaningful to me, it’s easier to listen to different points of view, to be truly interested, without being threatened..
“I’m also different in playing more and having more of a sense of humor about things I think will be difficulties throughout my life; rather than being angry and frustrated or treating them as black or white, good or bad. An example would be how I’ve tended to postpone things, so over time boxes of items have collected that might be treasures or might be unfinished business or things I should have thrown away. That’s an ongoing piece of work, to not put things in boxes but to handle them at the time and keep them in the light until they’re managed. But I can also have a sense of humor about the fact that I do put things in physical boxes. The way it’s shifted is not that I don’t do it anymore, because that’s just my default tendency, but having a bit more of a sense of playfulness and seeing some fun in actually opening up those Pandora’s Boxes, dealing with them and giving myself some concrete wins; taking it down to little pieces. I’ve become more patient with myself about working with my difficulties, rather than beating myself up about them.
“To help myself stay present, I need to be outdoors and engaged in some way in the natural world – taking walks, hiking, walking meditation. Also small group discussions – often centered around a particular book or topic – that might last for a period of a few months or a year, where I get to know people well in relation to a topic we all care about, and take specific actions between meetings. Or a group that’s embarked on a trip; that kind of framework where a small group of people gather together around a particular area of interest but we’re doing something actively in relation to that, not just sitting around talking philosophically, but grounding us in something we all support each other in doing.
“Reading definitely helps. I love word play, not just poetry but powerful novels and eloquent essays that make me see things freshly. The challenge, particularly in these days of the Internet, is that one thing can easily bridge to another. It’s very exciting for me to make all those links but also more challenging to be sure at the end of an hour I remember what I was doing or what was really interesting about what I found. Otherwise, I forget it.
“I get in my own way sometimes when I don’t articulate things clearly. If there’s an idea I’ve expressed and someone else has expressed it more clearly and concretely, everyone runs with that other person’s statements and I think, Well, didn’t I just say that? But I realize it’s not because they were trying to exclude me but because they didn’t hear it coming from me in a very distinctive way. I haven’t wanted to speak up until I’m sure, but sometimes the moment is gone when it would have been useful. My take-home message is to try to express myself clearly and not worry about the outcomes. Doing something less fully baked sooner is important, to start something rather than wait until it’s perfect.
“Knowing about the Nine’s tamped down anger has been a helpful part of the Enneagram for me, thinking I don’t feel angry and then surprising people around me when it comes out in an inappropriately strong fashion – everybody’s taken aback by it, including me. I’m now more aware earlier on, thinking about why I might feel angry over something, so I can express it in a more nuanced way or more realistic to the situation. And I’ve come to understand that peace is not just the absence of tension. It’s OK to have tension, to dislike something, and manage it in a way that leads to deeper harmony.
“A boxes metaphor is strong for me this year. When I used to visualize where I was, I’d see my different roles on a page, but now I’m making that schematic framing of my different roles in life more playful, more positive, more three-dimensional, more enlivening, visualizing boxes and spheres moving through time. In the visual my forearms are parallel to the ground and elbows at my side, my hands cupped and open like you might cup your hands to get well water or to hold something you’re treasuring in your hands. Sometimes I visualize being open to anything; other times I picture bouncing these aspects of my life in this cupped area. Holding my hands this way is a metaphor for how I want to be in life.”
Mary Bast, PhD, coach and coach mentor, is co-author of the first Enneagram coaching book – Out of the Box: Coaching with the Enneagram – and author of several coaching workbooks. More information at www.breakoutofthebox.com.