Now that we’ve shared abbreviated life stories from our forthcoming book on transformation with the Enneagram, C.J. Fitzsimons and I thought Nine Points readers might be interested in excerpts from our own stories.
Mary and CJ, you’re both Nines, you’ve known each other for years. What stimulated your decision to write this book?
Mary: My interest in writing about the process of transformation grew from realizing many of us don’t know what we’re getting into when we commit to greater self-awareness. Shortly after an intensive Naranjo workshop I became depressed and looked for insights in Enneagram literature, but the only resources at the time were theoretical. Luckily I found a Jungian psychologist who helped me see my depression as a dark night of the soul. Suddenly I had not only the mournful this hurts view, but also thought Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people could read, from an Enneagram perspective, real-life stories of the joys and struggles of awakening?
CJ: There are two connected reasons why I was drawn to co-authoring this book. First, in most Enneagram publications the author’s point of view seems to be on a different level than the reader’s. I’m much more interested in what real people talk about, what they do in their development, what they do in their waking up. Second, I had an idea for a similar book many years ago, something along the lines of Portraits in Growth or Portraits in Transformation, where I’d collect photographs of places that have special meaning to people and, on a companion page, they’d describe what this place means to them and what helps them with their development.
You’ve asked others how they define transformation. What is your definition?
CJ: To be honest, I try to avoid labeling the process of change. I’ve had so many different experiences with my clients, watching how people wake up to themselves, wake up to possibilities. Or, as Anthony de Mello put it, “Before I became enlightened I used to get depressed. Since enlightenment I still get depressed.” I don’t know if it’s marketing, but some people sell seminars, courses or retreats to help people see more clearly, and their material often suggests that suddenly, if you do all this, life’s going to be perfect as in picture-book perfect. Life is fine as it is. So the deal is to see things as they are and respond in the appropriate way – and what’s appropriate is going to come out of that moment. What comes to me is, discernment, because what’s right or wrong is not black and white. And when it’s possible to bring that to a coaching or workshop setting, it can support really great things for clients.
Mary: For me, a transforming moment is either a bolt of lightning or a minor electric shock. In either case, we suddenly get something about ourselves. Not, I was this kind of person and now I’m a better kind of person, but rather remembering essence, seeing past ego. In Enneagram terms, transforming has to do with discovering how our Enneagram styles have been a habitual, mechanistic response, and coming to freer choices. The change is from being asleep, in a trance, to awakening. There’s a story about a man working for Gurdjieff who really irritated people, and they’d play tricks on the man. Finally, the guy said, “I’ve had it, I’m going to leave!” And Gurdjieff said, “You can’t leave. I’ll pay you twice what I was paying you before,” because he realized the irritation this man brought to the group was helping them understand themselves. When we start being mindful, we see parts of ourselves we’ve never seen before.
Describe your own transformational experiences:
Mary: I’ve done a lot of work on myself, but I was thirty years old the first time I became the least bit self-aware. I went to a weekend t-group because my first husband and our best friends had been in one, and I didn’t know what a “t-group” was. My first day there someone pointed out that I seemed angry. I thought, Who, me? I’ve never been angry in my life! They helped me express the anger, and after that weekend I had dreams of hitting my husband over the head with a frying pan. I didn’t learn about the Enneagram for another twenty years, but in retrospect that was the first insight into my Nine trance.
My self-awareness has been much more intensified since I learned the Enneagram. A few months after a Naranjo workshop, for example, my cat became very ill. I’d been on a twelve-day trip and left him alone except for someone coming in once a day to feed him. By the time I returned he’d lost three pounds, wouldn’t eat, and I completely merged with the cat for almost two weeks. Then one morning I fell to my knees. I can’t do this anymore! I can’t make this happen! And from that moment the cat started to get better. The shift was in seeing how my obsession to control things, my resistance to taking a deep breath and being with the process, kept me from letting my cat heal. I was trying to make it happen, stuffing food down his throat so much he couldn’t possibly take over himself. And that’s a good analogy for what we all do. Ego’s need to be in control is the very thing that keeps us from being present.
My depression had started in 1998 when I was also burning out from coaching corporate clients, thinking I want to take them deeper, but I don’t know how. I came to see I’d been trying to force my clients’ change in the same way I’d force-fed my cat. Until I went through the pain of seeing my Ego’s controlling nature, I couldn’t take other people to that point.
CJ: My way of coming into all of this was growing up in an alcoholic home. In my mid-twenties I started going to Al-Anon meetings and was introduced to the Twelve Steps. That helped me start seeing life a lot differently and also to begin behaving differently – best summed up in Mello’s words: Perceive clearly and respond accurately. So the waking up part is perceiving clearly, dropping the things that get in the way. In Enneagram terms we’re talking about ego fixations. How can we turn down the volume on those? And once we’ve done that and hear it a bit more like it is, how do we respond?
One major shift was in my S-Index, which was how I counted how many shit days I was having every month. My S-Index when I started Al-Anon was about 28 or 29. After a couple of years, my S-Index dropped dramatically down to 1 or 2. There was a lot of unacknowledged anger. I can remember a couple of years into Al-Anon the theme of the meeting was anger and I said, “I’m the only person in the room who doesn’t get angry.” When I could see that a bit more clearly, about a year later, I thought, Whoops!.
Fast-forwarding into my late thirties when I’d risen in the organization and was a program director for research in ABB, a large, multinational Swiss/Swedish equivalent of G.E., managing about eighty people worldwide. It was a fun job and they were thinking about preparing me for a step up. I said “I’d better think about it.” That summer of 1998 I was in a ten-day program called Nature as the Source of Power. I’d been on a long walk reflecting back on my life, stopped for a rest, had this moment of clarity looking out at the Alps, knew what I was supposed to be doing was not what I’m doing now. I quit my job, not knowing what was going to come next. That was a big change and a big waking up, getting out of the comfort zone. Being too comfortable is a danger, not just for Nines, of falling asleep.
What has changed for you? How are you different?
CJ: David Daniels said once, “When we notice we’re in our trance, we have a choice whether we want to do something else or whether we want to stay in there.” I’ve become much more in touch with observing myself, releasing, detaching from things, learning to appreciate and savor and notice more. To really experience feelings and what’s getting in the way brings another dimension of joy to life. It doesn’t mean I can do it all the time. I’ve had people say I can’t be a Nine because of the poetry and songs I’ve written. We Nines get stuff done. However, we sometimes get stuff done at the price of forgetting ourselves. So it’s keeping that balance.
Mary: The difference is in what happens internally when my patterns come up. I sort differently. I experience differently. I’m more open to myself and my foibles. I’m hooked less often and the struggles aren’t as difficult. I more readily know what I’m feeling and make conscious choices. I’m much more loving and forgiving of myself. For as long as I live, my stuff may keep showing up, but I’m coming to love myself anyway. The most important and visible change – finding my voice: having opinions, writing, being an Enneagram coach and mentor. Those wishes were underground until a therapist said, “Do you hear yourself?” And I realized, Oh yes, there I am!
What resources have helped?
Mary: I discover myself as I talk. So if I find myself in a stuck place, I go to a therapist or talk to a friend. I’m lucky my body requires some of my practices. I’m very physically reactive and if I don’t do yoga I get arthritic. Too much coffee or alcohol or sugar stresses my system and I get acid reflux. If I don’t practice qigong I’m tense and a bit depressed. Gendlin’s Focusing technique helps me stay with my feelings. Beginning with a felt sense that something is going on, I stay with it, try on labels until I sense Ah, yes, that’s what it’s like. Then there can be a felt shift, but the process is valuable even if I don’t feel the shift because it keeps me present. Reading Carl Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections was reassuring. His personal experience was what made his psychology so powerful, a perfect example of the Wounded Healer.
CJ: The Twelve Steps are helpful for perceiving clearly. The Enneagram is a wonderful help. Joseph Campbell is also very important to me. I better understand, looking back, how particular phases of my journey have unfolded. I’ve been increasing my interest over the last number of years in systemic structural constellations, which adopts a curative view; “How might it be if…? I love the openness of this stance. There are many people really important to my development. What they brought to the conversation was the ability to totally listen and be unconditionally accepting and supportive. One was a retired doctor and psychologist who mostly just listened, but the few sentences she did say gave me something to chew over for the next week. The whole time the clearest message was, No matter how screwed up it looks, I’m totally OK as I am.
What have your resistances been?
Mary: One of my resistances to change has been leaving situations because I didn’t like the way the teacher was teaching. For example, I paid for a week-long Jean Houston workshop, but because I was annoyed with her for pushing us into self-revelation without first building trust, I left on the second day. I’ve done the same with some Enneagram teachers, rationalizing my negative judgments as stemming from superior knowledge of the right way to do things. My most common block is knowing what practices will help, yet not doing them. When coaching I’ve had to devise ways to help clients get past their defenses. So I certainly know how to get past my own, but my resistance hooks me anyway on a regular basis. I hope maybe 80% of the time I see it, stay with it, and eventually it lets go.
CJ: One of my patterns that can get in the way is becoming comfortable and saying, Well, things have improved and I’m comfortable with how things are now. The danger for me is to drift off and forget to do the things that keep me awake or help me wake up. An example is from time to time not thinking about doing the morning practice. It just doesn’t occur to me when I wake up, even though I have done it for the previous thirty days. Or to lose my focus and do something irrelevant. I think the greatest challenge in episodes of awakening has been applying and using this in relationships and partnerships. For a long time I was conflict avoidant. So a big learning was not to walk away from something when it started to get difficult, but to stay with it. An area that still needs work.
What’s your model or metaphor for transformation?
CJ: My metaphor for these changes is emerging from the mist, which fits the experience of growing up in Dublin, a city that gets its share of mist and fog, a cold seaside city. I can remember walking down the street when there was a heavy mist and suddenly somebody emerges from the mist to me, then disappears. Then the next one comes, and the next. It’s not a one-off thing. As I go down the street, it’s a series of merging, meeting, then back into the mist again because they’re going down the street in the other direction. It’s this being able to see them clearly that moment. Perceive clearly, respond accurately.
Mary: My understanding of Horney, Jung, and Buddhism all flow together in my notion that we develop awareness of a given aspect of Ego, habits of attention, then we observe how these patterns play out. And usually the first thing we observe is how annoyed we are at what we’re seeing, wishing we no longer had these reactions. Then we observe ourselves letting go of judgment. Sometimes we use techniques or practices, sometimes a shift will occur spontaneously. We then recycle; observing the same old things in a different form or at a different level. I see this as an inward spiral. An infinite spiral pointing inward to the Self.
Where are you in the process?
Mary: Being more present and engaging with others, knowing what I want and putting my voice out in the world are, I pray, a form of active engagement. As with learning the Enneagram, however, I think, Oh, I understand that now, and then I engage more deeply and realize I know nothing!
CJ: There was a British TV show “The Prisoner” in the 1960s where a guy was being held prisoner in a village and whoever was running the whole thing communicated with him through a televised system: “Number Six!” and he would scream back, “I am not a number! I am a free man!”
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.