Diagnosis and Prescription: The Enneagram and The Fourth Way


If your interest in the Enneagram is how it can improve your life, we believe there is much evidence to commend linking it with elements of Fourth Way spirituality. Briefly, the term “Fourth Way” refers to a process by which the most mundane events of ordinary life are used consciously to unfold our life’s meaning. (We will explore this system more fully in the next two sections of this article.) We the authors have combined the Enneagram, elements of The Fourth Way, and principles of the spiritual life that we have gleaned through the years to create a strategy for healing the human soul that we have found effective both in our personal lives and in our writing and teaching.

In the early 1980s, a friend introduced us to the writings of Maurice Nicoll and through him to the ideas of George Gurdjieff and Pietr Ouspensky and their concept of Fourth Way spirituality. We were immediately attracted to Nicoll because his ideas seemed to hold the promise of healing, which has been our lifelong interest. We have found Nicoll’s Fourth Way teachings to be an essential addition to our Enneagram studies because the Enneagram only provides a diagnosis of our condition. By itself, it only describes our current condition, generally by highlighting what is wrong with us.

Diagnosis by itself is both frightening and dangerous. If your doctor tells you that you have a serious illness but does not tell you what the cure is, you enter a state of fear that easily slides into hopelessness. The case is similar with the Enneagram. If studied by itself, the Enneagram is not only incomplete but can even mislead people into believing that there is nothing they can do about the compulsive personality traits and motivations that it describes. You need something else to show the way out of your predicament. That’s where The Fourth Way becomes invaluable.


What Is The Fourth Way?

The term “Fourth Way” relies on the notion of the three centers of intelligence, taught since at least the time of Plato and named by many different terms since then. In some traditions they are called the head, heart, and gut; we call them the intelligences of thinking, feeling, and doing or instinct. The three centers of intelligence are the elemental faculties of the human soul.

Ancient approaches to healing the soul, or what in some traditions is called spiritual transformation and in others is called self-realization, rely on developing the gifts of one of the three centers over the other two. However, overdeveloping one side of our nature creates its own problems in realizing our full potential as human beings.

Morality and devotion is the way of the monk and it overdevelops the feeling center. Developing mental power, which relies entirely on the thinking center, is the way of the yogi. Physical discipline is the way of the fakir; it overuses the doing center. These are the first three ways to spiritual transformation.

When you rely on the strength of only one center for spiritual transcendence, you can develop extraordinary gifts but at the cost of exploring the fullness of your own humanity. Further, to learn any of these three ways, one has to remove oneself from the world and practice intense spiritual disciplines with like-minded students under the direction of a master. For these reasons, the way of the monk, yogi, and fakir are more remote than ever as we approach the third millennium.

The Fourth Way is the alternative; it is the way of developing all three centers and their gifts in order to connect with one’s soul or real self. In the Fourth Way, you live an ordinary life in the world, and life is your teacher.

Many people benefit from engaging the support of a spiritual director, a spiritual mentor or guide, or a spiritual community as they pursue this line of transformation because balancing the three centers in the midst of daily life has a deceptively simple sound to it. In actuality, it is the most relentlessly demanding way of all because it requires constant attention simultaneously to one’s inner and outer lives. However, working with yourself in this way causes profound shifts in consciousness, so that you no longer view life in an ordinary way. You come to realize that life has a meaning beyond itself. Thus, life is not about what you do, life is about who you become as you do what you do.


Fourth Way Principles

Balancing the centers is the core idea of the Fourth Way; other concepts and practices round out the system. Briefly, Fourth Way work begins with the idea that what we call normal consciousness is a state of sleep walking, and that true consciousness is only achieved through “growing your soul” through reflection and self-observation. In Gurdjieff’s system soul is something human beings have only in embryo, and few people apply the appropriate effort to develop their soul. Until the soul is mature, identity lies in the unreliable and unpredictable false personality. A strong soul becomes the seat of the creativity and dynamism of the real self.

Gurdjieff proposed but never guaranteed that The Fourth Way promoted rapid transformation. However, he asserted that very few people attained an enlightened soul because they believe they already have consciousness. Believing they have what they in fact need, people don’t search for the deeper qualities of soul. “The terror of the situation” was his name for this state of illusion because it keeps people from recognizing both the damage they create through their unconsciousness and the potential they could activate if they were to “wake up.”

This illusion is kept firmly in place by the fact that, while people imagine themselves to be interiorly unified, the reality is that our sense of self is fractured into many sub-selves or sub-personalities. To put it in the way modern psychology states it, we are all slightly dissociative. When one sub-personality gets close to an uncomfortable truth about our lives, our attention shifts and we see life through another, less observant sub-personality. Each Enneagram type could be described as its own amalgamation of hypnotic sub-personalities, each convincing us of its own lie. Only through objective self-observation can we begin to see these many parts of us and how they interrelate, so that we can get beyond them to a sense of our real selves or souls.

Further, in Gurdjieff’s view attaining transformation doesn’t “feel good” because we must transform our coarse, heavy existence on the physical plane into the finer energies of soul. We accomplish this goal through what Ms. Quirolo calls the “bad news component” of all transformative paths. “They all present a spiritual methodology that includes ethics, morality, discipline, prayer, and place a demand on us that causes a shift in equilibrium.”

In other words, the different languages of different belief systems belie their singular spiritual goal and list of means to that goal. Lighter, more popularized approaches to transformation focus mostly on soul development, the sense of expansion and freedom that comes with inner work. True spiritual paths, however, balance development and discipline as the talents of the right and left hands of the sincere spiritual seeker.


What The Fourth Way Is Not

As with any movement that has been around for awhile, different impressions of The Fourth Way have developed as various people have influenced and observed it. A quick survey of two negative impressions of The Fourth Way will help further clarify what it is and is not.

The most common unfavorable impression we have heard is that The Fourth Way is grim. People infer this from certain followers of Gurdjieff whose dour affect make them stand out in most any situation. For example, an acquaintance of ours told us of attending a party with Fourth Way students; he said much of the evening was strangely spent in silence as everyone became self-conscious of what they were about to say and what it might reveal about their state of transformation.

Another uncomplimentary impression is that some followers of The Fourth Way have an arrogant attitude about the superiority of their spiritual methodology. They can convey this attitude both subtly and overtly as they present their ideas about how people achieve higher consciousness.

While it is apparent that certain followers of The Fourth Way can exhibit both grimness and arrogance, it is not clear how either of these attitudes are inherent to the system itself. We believe that those who are grim may take too seriously Gurdjieff’s pessimism about human nature and have inwardly braced themselves for the distasteful medicine of transformation, while those who are arrogant may have not yet sufficiently opened the heart center of intelligence to balance what they have learned in their heads.

As we read and experience it, the goal of The Fourth Way is to become a real (some would say “realized” or transformed) human being. This is such a challenging aim that people who try to attain it can experience many forms of resistance, and among these could be both sternness and superiority.


Nicoll’s Embodiment of The Fourth Way

Our mentor in The Fourth Way, Maurice Nicoll, was known to be a man for whom qualities opposite to those mentioned above were characteristic. Popular among his friends for his humor, he was fond of Plato’s saying, “Serious things must be understood alongside laughable things.” A guitarist and singer, he entertained his family and friends on many an evening, and another of his favorite recreations took him and his friends to the local pub for refreshment and conversation.

Nicoll’s reputation as a man of erudition, spiritual depth, perspicacity, and humility is unsullied in all the literature written about the teachers of The Fourth Way. In following Nicoll’s lead, it is our desire to develop his values in ourselves and offer them as goals for others. To our way of thinking, none other could be the outcome of a system that, in the words of Ms. Quirolo, proposes a plan of “ethics, morality, discipline, prayer, and . . . a shift in equilibrium.”

Consequently, there are two Fourth Way maxims we hold dear. One is that The Fourth Way requires that you develop a sense of humor, especially about yourself, and the other is that you cannot proceed far in this work without learning how to rest.


The Fourth Way and the Enneagram

In recent years, many people have been introduced to the ideas of Gurdjieff and the Fourth Way through the Enneagram of Personality Types. However, these two systems are not inherently or directly related. While Gurdjieff used the Enneagram symbol, it was for a much different purpose than personality types. When working on personality in his students he used a more intuitive and less refined typing system. The modern Enneagram of Personality as we know it emerged in the teaching of Oscar Ichazo in the 1960s and the development of that teaching by Claudio Naranjo in the 1970s, and it has evolved through the work of Enneagram teachers and authors since then.

However, there is a way to relate the nine types to Fourth Way work and in doing so make available to oneself all its wisdom about personal transformation. This path is through the three centers of intelligence. If you view the nine Enneagram types through the lens of the three centers, you can “jump start” your personal work and begin to overcome the limitations of your Enneagram type with Fourth Way principles.

How is this goal accomplished? It begins with a teaching of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Nicoll that we use the three centers in an order of ranked preference. Taking Gurdjieff’s numbering of centers (doing = 1, feeling = 2, and thinking = 3), Nicoll said there are six kinds of individuals: 1-2-3, 1-3-2, 2-1-3, 2-3-1, 3-1-2, 3-2-1 (see Psychological Commentaries, Volume 2, p. 687 – 88). This means that every person habitually uses one center to interpret life, another center is used very little, and the third hardly at all.

However, after making this observation Nicoll did nothing more to develop the idea into a system of personality typing. Instead, he focused his attention on the Fourth Way theme of learning how to use each center for the purpose for which it was intended.


How the Centers Interact to Create the Enneagram Compulsion

From the point of view of the modern Enneagram, the idea that we use the centers in a ranked order of preference takes on new meaning. We know that each type prefers or overuses one center; this is the center through which that type interprets life. The other two centers blindly follow the lead of this “lead center.”

Consequently, when we are caught in our Enneagram compulsion, all three centers are unable to accomplish their true purpose and are therefore in a weakened state. The centers in second and third place are obviously insubstantial, while the lead center, in being used to interpret all of life, is stretched beyond its capacity and therefore expresses only its most superficial values, leaving its true purpose unexplored.

We the authors have expanded and refined Nicoll’s description of ranked centers mentioned above (which for us describes the Enneagram’s types One, Eight, Two, Four, Seven, and Five respectively) and applied it to types Three, Six, and Nine to create a coherent and seamless relationship between type and centers, which we call the Hurley/Donson Breakthrough Enneagram®. This is one way to understand the relationship between type and centers, but however you understand that relationship, we believe there is great value in understanding how knowing your Enneagram type points you on the path of proper development and appropriate use of the three centers of intelligence.

That’s because, however you understand the relationship between type and centers, one point becomes eminently clear: no type, as type, uses any center well. Type is created by the misuse of centers. We either overuse our centers or underuse them.

To overuse a center means that the mechanical values of that center — as opposed to the values of the other two — overwhelm and determine the person’s own value system. Simultaneously the values of the other two centers are dismissed. Twos, Threes, and Fours view life primarily through the superficial values of the feeling center. Fives, Sixes, and Sevens view life chiefly through the thinking center’s trivial values. Eights, Nines, and Ones respond to life mainly from the shallow values of the doing center. All nine types leave the true purpose and meaning of their lead center behind them.

To underuse a center can have two meanings. One is that this center is used simply as an adjunct to another center, supporting it in its superficial agenda. This is the role of the center in the second place of ranked preference. The third center drives the unconscious where its automatic expressions control that person’s behavior. The gifts of this center are also unconscious. The counterpart for this unconscious or underactualized center in Jungian psychology is the shadow.

However, the important point here is that both overusing and underusing a center keep its functioning superficial. The shallow expression of each center encourages the trivial manifestation of the other two. The three centers then operate in lockstep, firing each other off in habitual patterns. This mechanical linkage among the three centers is indeed what creates “type.” In other words, the reason that the Enneagram can predict nine different patterns of motivation and of thinking, feeling, and behaving is that the three centers are interacting in a patterned, pre-determined way.

Beginning with this deceptively simple insight, the Enneagram combined with Fourth Way teachings quickly evolves into a system that supports the spiritual seeker in recreating his or her entire life. This prescription for the retrieval of soul creates hope where there was fear and hopelessness.


Exploring the Centers

Let us look at each center briefly. The mechanical values of the thinking center are information, planning, and abstracting. Its automatic uses include small plans, collective thinking, and being opinionated. Freer expressions include creative thought, insight, and discernment.

Image, taking things personally, and reading the emotional environment are the mechanical values of the feelings center. Emotional reactions, taking things personally, and focus on personal likes and dislikes are among its habits. Artistic creation, the search for meaning, and conscience are expressions of it that access the true self or soul.

The doing center’s mechanical values are energy output, safety, and stamina. Its automatic elements produce self-indulgence, imitation, and repetition. Its freer parts yield guidance, completion, and joy.

With self-observation, reflection, and a generous dose of inner work, people can encourage the three centers to function at freer and freer levels, accessing them for their most exalted and responsive qualities — the qualities of soul. With inner work guided by elements of The Fourth Way we can live in our souls, express our true individuality, and discover the unique meaning of our lives.


The Enneagram and a Tradition of Healing

More and more frequently toward the end of his life in 1949, Gurdjieff called his system “esoteric Christianity,” but few if any of his students took him seriously. Instead, they preferred to believe his exotic stories about finding the core of his teaching in experiences with the secret Sufi order he named “the Sarmoun Brotherhood,” even though when he told that story he often ended it by saying it was a parable and not to be taken literally.

In the last years of his life, Gurdjieff became even more pointed, telling his students to connect with the monastic tradition of the Orthodox religion. Pietr Ouspensky had a monk friend, Father Nikon, who lived in a monastery on Mount Athos, the center of Greek Orthodox monasticism, but none of Gurdjieff’s students followed either Gurdjieff’s injunctive or Ouspensky’s example. On the other hand, by 1930 Maurice Nicoll had already made numerous connections between The Fourth Way and the Judeo-Christian scriptures to produce a system of spiritual healing and recovery of soul.

We believe that the Enneagram must be explored in the context of healing the soul if studying and applying it is to have any lasting value. This is not simply a personal belief, because the Enneagram proceeds from a real “healing tradition.” It is the Christian path of inner work, which could also be called an inner path of human development, the “esoteric (meaning ‘inner’) Christianity” which Gurdjieff said was also the origin of his Fourth Way spirituality.

In this teaching we can find the seeds of all the elements both of the Enneagram of Personality Types and The Fourth Way, along with other principles that complete the system. These were seeds surely, which in the intervening centuries have been planted and cultivated to yield the nourishing fruit that we now harvest in the field of Enneagram studies. Our experience has been that reuniting the Enneagram with this ancient tradition is comparable to a chemical reaction. It creates tremendous new energy for healing.

This inner path to the experience of God — what Gurdjieff called “objective consciousness” — was complete by the year 399 C.E. when, for many political reasons in both church and state, it was suppressed and scattered. This was a tradition of soul healing that lead a practitioner out of the illusion that human nature is inherently defective into the reality of experiencing “God consciousness.” Bits and pieces of it have arisen through the research and personal experience of mystics in the West, but only recently have we been able to piece together the entire teaching.

Now we know that the seeds of the Enneagram and of the principles of personal transformation come from one source, a teaching devoid of dogma and institutional religion. Thus, the convergence of the Enneagram, elements of the Fourth Way, and the this renewed inner tradition — if researched appropriately, experienced sincerely, and taught with both wisdom and humility — can be a positive and dynamic force in bringing soul healing to individuals and cultural healing to the confused and confusing modern scene.


Is There a “Cure”?

The imagery of the Enneagram as diagnosis and The Fourth Way and the inner tradition of human development as prescription begs the question, “Is there a cure?” Is there a cure for having a compulsive, mechanical personality? The answer is No if you understand “cure” as achieving a state of perfection, but it is Yes if you experience “cure” as a process of never ending change and growing one’s soul.

We the authors call the convergence of these three teachings “The Enneagram in the Healing Tradition.” This spiritual path clearly states that not only is it possible but it is the true goal of the authentically lived life to shed the illusion of the compulsively driven false personality and to realize our full potential through objective consciousness.

However, there are in general two lines of thinking about how to achieve objective consciousness. One says that you do it by reaching immediately for the most transcendent experiences of the spiritual life: visions, direct inspiration, intuitively revealed knowledge, telepathy, etc. This approach is seductive. It claims that ancient wisdom teaches how to access divine power quickly, bypassing the discomfort and effort of personal growth.

Over the past 25 years, we the authors have seen many people attempt this path to spiritual wholeness and have come to the conclusion this method is not safe. Without sufficient ego reduction work preceding transcendent experiences, the ego grabs every spiritual experience and distorts it. People end up with some authentic spiritual experiences, but also with many others that are (unwittingly) fraudulent. They are also grandiosely deluded about the state of their spiritual development.

Most cruelly, a compensation of an equally deep depression awaits its practitioners when one day they face the truth that, despite numerous hours and dollars spent, they are in reality no happier, more fulfilled, or further along the spiritual path than they were when they started. They were reaching for that for which they were not prepared, and so they couldn’t sustain the transformative experience. To be fair, this method must in some way work for certain individuals or else they would not popularize it, but we have not seen it helpful for the majority of people.

Our experience tells us that it is far more safe and realistic to proceed slowly as The Fourth Way teaches. In so doing, people discover and explore the complex, searching, questioning, creative and individuating land of soul. This is a journey that is grounded in daily life, a journey of growth that consists of many small steps. Deeply spiritual experiences await you, but they come much later in the journey when the soul has grown and matured so as to desire union with the divine. (The exception is the possibility of a spontaneous “flash” of enlightenment early in the journey, a preview of coming attractions, as it were).


Growing Our Souls

This second way is a humble journey in which every moment offers challenges and opportunities to hone and develop the three centers of intelligence to accomplish what they were meant to do. It is a process that takes not months but years, even decades, to complete. While this path may sound arduous, it is also filled with the joy of learning to accept everything, love everyone, and expect nothing in return. This is a recipe for freedom that leads to lasting spiritual joy and peace.

There are certain outcomes we can look for as we grow our souls. Here are some examples of the results that we can expect.

In the thinking center:

  • Developing creative thought, and letting go of rote thinking.
  • Acquiring discernment, and letting go of mechanical attitudes.
  • Quieting the mind through practices that silence “mental chatter.”

In the feeling center:

  • Becoming compassionate, and letting go of pre-judging.
  • Allowing conscience to evolve, and letting go of blaming others, life or God for problems and mistakes.
  • Quieting the heart by disengaging from self-harming inner states that misdirect thought, feeling and behavior.

In the doing center:

  • Experiencing joy, and letting go of lethargy
  • Receiving guidance, and letting go of random activity.
  • Quieting the body through creative leisure and learning how to rest.

The first rule in the land of soul is that those who find it necessary to say they have fully achieved their goal have traveled less of the path than others, not more. This is a land in which people are more aware of what they have not achieved than of what they have. Even as they grow and become more radiant vessels of the divine light within, others see the effect more clearly than they do. They are more aware of their journey and less aware of any achievements.

Thus, the “cure” for compulsive personality is growing your own soul. This is a way of seeing the world says that spirit finds its true home in the mundane realities of daily life, and that by living daily life consciously we spiritualize matter. In this very real garden created by the conjunction of the Enneagram, the Fourth Way, and the renewed inner tradition we grow a soul big enough to desire, and finally to realize, the truly spiritual destiny of our human nature.

© 1998, Enneagram Resources, Inc. All rights reserved.
By Kathy Hurley and Theodorre Donson