The Enneagram: Key to Opening the Heart


What do the head and the heart have in common? Nothing, if we are satisfied with our lives the way they are. Everything, if we are searching for personal truth and the meaning of our lives. If we fall into this second category, the Enneagram can be used as a key to discovering how the head and the heart can work together creatively.

As experienced by and through our culture, head and heart are diametrically opposed. Western culture deifies the thinking mind. Logic and rationality are unquestioned values in our society. Objectivity is a much sought after (though rarely achieved) goal in our common life. Information gathering is a national pastime. Even personal relationships are now depersonalized in communications conducted entirely on the Internet.

Simultaneously, today’s culture has caused the human heart to be placed on the endangered species list. Daily our hearts are traumatized by being exposed to violence and human suffering until, paralyzed by shock and pain, their murmurs are stifled and their wisdom unheard. Because we don’t hear it, we often erroneously conclude that the wisdom of the heart doesn’t exist.

Mesmerized by the repetition of self-justifying responses of cultural icons, we have accepted as normal levels of greed, lying, and self-serving attitudes that would make us feel ill if we allowed our hearts to experience their reality. Instead, we attempt to protect our hearts with cynicism, sarcasm, and concern for our own survival, not realizing that these tactics slowly put the heart to death. These automatic survival reactions make us participants in our own destruction.


Revering the Mind and Ignoring the Heart

This cycle of revering the mind and ignoring the heart is not a new phenomenon. For ten thousand years, since the agrarian revolution, humanity has attempted to control the vagaries of nature by use of the thinking mind with the body as its agent, while simultaneously leaving the development of the heart to chance. In a farming society, control of the environment means survival, while development of heart values seems superfluous. The agrarian world gave birth to modern culture, which depends on the overdevelopment of the mind to produce what we see all around us, a culture of science and technology.

However, at this point in time the overdevelopment of the mind and the underdevelopment of the heart are at such extremes as to endanger the existence of humanity itself. The mind has developed potentially destructive technologies whose use, if not guided by the humanitarian values of the heart, can eliminate entire species and destroy whole populations. This thought was at the core of the message of George Gurdjieff and his followers and colleagues, Pietr Ouspensky, Maurice Nicoll, and John G. Bennett.

It is the nature of the mind to do what it can do, just because it can do it. It is the nature of the heart to limit and guide action based on emerging conscience and consciousness which grow through knowledge that is digested by the heart until it is not just abstractly true but true for us personally. On this personal truth our values are formed, articulated, and lived.

In our culture we have developed the mind, and we have developed the body as the agent of the mind, but the heart has not been attended to. We have not educated the heart nor developed the heart. This way of life is so normal to us that even the phrases “developing the heart” and “educating the heart” may easily seem odd to us, even as the phrases “educating the mind” and “training the body” are in everyday usage by most people.

Into such a world the Enneagram comes. What does it have to say about the survival of the human heart and the survival of a culture?


The Enneagram and Heart Values

From the start, the Enneagram speaks of the body, the mind, and the heart. In the way that we the authors have learned and teach the Enneagram, these three aspects of the person are treated as intelligences, and even more interestingly, as intelligences equal to each other. They are called the three centers of intelligence, spoken of since the time of Plato, and named by many different terms since then. Since 1994 we the authors have called them the centers of thinking, feeling, and doing or instinct.

As George Gurdjieff simply said, each center has its own mind and consequently, each center has its own proficiencies. Accordingly, every activity is most properly completed with one of the three centers in the lead. Therefore, a simple way to understand the nature of many of the problems we experience in life is that we use centers for purposes for which they are not intended. Gurdjieff and his colleagues called this “wrong use of centers.”

Examples come easily. If the task at hand is picking up a piece of paper off the floor, only the doing center will accomplish it. If you try to complete this task with the thinking center, you’ll only imagine picking it up, and if you try to use the feeling center, you’ll only get angry at the person who left it there.

When the family is sharing an evening meal, the feeling center needs to be up front to relate with everyone and find out how their day has been. The thinking center follows supplying pleasant and interesting conversation. The doing center takes third place until the meal is over and it’s time to wash the dishes and clean the kitchen.

When you’re trying to balance your checkbook, you’d better not allow the feeling center to take over lest you become depressed about your bills or elated about your good fortune, for these feelings will only get in the way of the task at hand. If the doing center takes over, you’ll get up from your desk and distract yourself with some unrelated activity. Only the logic and objectivity of the thinking center can accomplish this task.

While these examples make common sense, all of us have many memories of confusing simple tasks like these by attempting to accomplish them with the wrong centers. It’s all too human an experience. And it is the basis of much of the unhappiness of our lives.


Misusing Our Sacred Energy

On a larger scale, wrong use of centers is a misuse of our personal energy that diffuses our focus and frustrates our true purpose in life. Spending our time and effort in a self-created maze of misguided activities, we lose our direction and unknowingly create a sense of meaninglessness in our lives. We then lose any sense of purpose or destiny — any sense that we are created to be conduits of spiritual energy into the material world — and our lives contribute to the sleeping state of humanity in general.

That’s why the great spiritual teachers say that using centers properly is the beginning of the transformation process, and doing so depends on developing each center to be strong enough to accomplish the tasks appropriate to it. Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, and Nicoll called this movement “balancing the centers.” Balancing the centers allows for the dignity and true purpose of each of the three centers as its own equally important intelligence.

In a culture that overvalues the thinking and doing centers, we believe that the Enneagram has appeared to speak to us of the equal importance of the heart. The Enneagram mirrors back to us our undervaluing of the heart, but more important, if we understand the relationship between the nine personality types of the Enneagram and the three centers of intelligence, it shows us how to achieve balance. This deceptively simple idea is the basis for a revolution of cultural values and norms.

However, Gurdjieff and his colleagues spoke more insistently on this theme. Agreeing with another great spiritual teacher of this age, Carl Jung, they said that it was imperative to develop the heart at this time in history. They literally believed that the future of the human race depended on it. Therefore, we believe that the most important use of the Enneagram is to see our favorite ways of misusing the heart and redirect our energies. Otherwise, as the ancient Chinese proverb states, “If you do not change your direction, you are likely to end up where you are going.”

These teachers further taught that we use our centers in a hierarchy of preference, and Nicoll went so far as to take Gurdjieff’s numbering of centers (doing = 1, feeling = 2, and thinking = 3) and say 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 on the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Volume 2, p. 687 – 88). This means that we habitually use one center to interpret life, another center we use very little, and the third hardly at all.

This means that, when we are caught in our Enneagram compulsion (which is more frequent than most of us are willing to admit) all three centers are weak and unable to accomplish their true purpose. The centers in second and third place are obviously weak, while the lead center is weak because, in being used to interpret all of life, its most superficial values are overdeveloped while its true purpose is left unexplored. (This explains why the Two, Three, and Four, who prefer and therefore overuse the heart center, have just as much work to do in developing the true purpose of the heart as any of the other types.)

We have expanded upon and refined this idea (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 relationship between type and center, which we call the Hurley/Donson Breakthrough Enneagram (r). This is one way to understand the relationship between type and centers, but however you understand that relationship, we believe the value of the Enneagram for modern culture is to be found in understanding how knowing your type leads to the proper development and appropriate use of your 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, because type is created by the misuse of centers. Seen from this angle, the Enneagram becomes a way to understand how we misuse the human heart and, more important, what we need to do to develop it.


Slowing Down

How can we develop our heart center? Possibly the most important and simplest (although not easiest) way to develop the heart is to slow down the pace of our lives. You can’t experience true emotion and connection with others when you’re running through life at 100 m.p.h. Whether our lives are filled with huge projects or trivial details, most of us could do a lot of trimming of activities and be better off mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. This trimming down can come only with intentional reflection and true exercise of the will.

Mary Pipher, a family therapist from Lincoln, Nebraska, has become the queen of the family therapy movement with her two recent books, Reviving Ophelia and The Shelter of Each Other. In them, and in the talks she delivers all over North America and beyond, she says what intuitively we all know to be true. Today we need what people have needed for the last 5,000 years — love, connectedness, meaningful work, nature, good food, and community. She describes our fast-paced culture as “the marathon Olympic event we call modern life” and also says that, in our culture, slowing down may be the ultimate subversive act.

The speed of life and the information highway make us less connected to ourselves, to others, and to life. We are more disconnected from each other than ever before in the history of the world. We don’t connect with extended family members as we used to. People have forgotten how to form relationships.

The intelligence of the heart understands life through compassion, caring, and emotional vulnerability; with these abilities repressed and misunderstood, people attempt to form relationships out of head and body values, only to find something unidentifiable missing. The experience of living a life filled with significance and purpose is replaced by a longing for excitement. This results in people looking outside themselves for what’s missing. Often they find an addiction or a string of broken relationships to fill the void.

In our culture, work and success have become so important that people easily uproot themselves and their families for the sake of a promotion. Another kind of mobility happens when people divorce and remarry, sometimes over and over again. What happens to the expectations of children in these situations for connectedness and relatedness? Growing up without relationship being modeled for them, and growing up having to defend themselves emotionally from feeling connected for fear of losing that relationship through change, they falsely believe that isolation is normal and survival is the ultimate value.

Where is the feeling of connectedness for any of us? Here is another important use of the Enneagram. By understanding ourselves and others through the Enneagram, we can feel more connected to ourselves and to each other. Slowing down the pace of our lives takes power away from our Enneagram compulsion so that we spend more energy living in our true selves.


Disengaging from Self-harming Emotions

Another way to develop the heart is to disengage it from self-harming emotions so that the heart is free to experience real emotions. Learning to discern between connecting emotions and self-defeating emotions is an important principle in educating the heart. With this knowledge a person can take the next step, learning how not to engage with emotions that are self-harming and how to invest fully in emotional experiences that create connection and relatedness.

In our culture, we leave the education of the heart to chance. It doesn’t happen in school. The only heart education we receive is at home, and that is dependent on the level of skill and heart development that our parents possess. It is the rare home that embodies an intentional structure for educating the heart intelligence in children or that consistently expects mature emotional expression in adults.

One common result of this lack of heart education is that, for many people, the emotional life is in chaos. As a matter of fact, one of the reasons our culture dismisses the importance of the heart is that we expect the heart to lead us down a disorderly, unpredictable path.

That’s because, without a proper education of the heart, we foolishly believe that all emotional states are telling us something true, that is, that every emotion is giving us reliable information upon which we can base our action. However, the truth is that many emotional states are self-defeating — for example, moodiness, irritability, jealousy, suspicion, and self-pity, to name a few. These emotions need to be treated differently from other emotions like joy, sadness, happiness, and anger which connect us in real ways with our life experience.

The situation is complicated by the fact that self-harming emotions are often subtle, unconscious, and self-justifying, so that they dominate more of our emotional lives than we can see or admit at first. Furthermore, they act like leaches, attaching themselves to more real emotional states, thereby polluting the entire experience.

For example, take a man who comes to love another person, finding himself truly self-sacrificial in his love. He delights in spending time with the person he loves. Soon, however, he begins to feel possessive of the person’s time and before long becomes jealous of other relationships that the person has. The connecting experience of love now becomes a disconnecting and self-harming experience of jealousy that leads to more destructive situations like rage and even can lead to the end of the once-healthy relationship itself.

Or take a woman who is sad over the death of her father. In recounting the events of his life she is strengthened by his love and example, even as she feels the loss. However, soon the feeling of loss devolves into self-pity as she remembers significant events in her life for which her dad was not present. She also recalls how her dad seemed to be present for her siblings’ important events. Her self-pity leads to moodiness and petty resentments which easily can erupt into disconnecting conversations with other family members.

The only solution to situations like these is to be found in the experience of self-observation, which finds its origin in the philosophy of Socrates whose central principle was “Know thyself.” Only with objective self-observation can we discern between self-harming emotions and connecting emotions and disengage from what is self-defeating. In this way we open the heart to a more expansive and life-giving expression.

To be effective, self-observation has to refrain from self-condemning and from self-justifying; this is how it becomes objective. Objective self-observation has no more evaluation in it than a light shining in a darkened room to reveal our presence. It takes great strength to observe oneself in this way, a strength that can only be developed by repeated attempts at seeing what is really happening inside oneself and in one’s relationships with others.

This is another place in which the Enneagram can be of great value to us. One way of describing the Enneagram is that each type is its own conglomeration of habitual patterns of self-harming emotional states. Because you know what type you are, you know where to begin looking for the self-defeating emotions that hook you most quickly and intensely. This knowledge can jump-start your inner work and guide you toward guarding your heart from experiences that continually drag you into egocentricity, drain your energy, and disconnect you from others.


Stopping Mechanical Talking

One of the first things we can do to open the heart is to stop “mechanical talking.” Mechanical talking comes in several forms. One kind is talk that gives expression to our self-harming emotions. Another kind is talk that is idle and has no purpose other than satisfying our ego needs.

The first step is to recognize that we all talk mechanically. All of us habitually give expression to our self-defeating emotions. They slip out as we describe our experiences, tell our stories, and express our opinions. We express them in habitual phrases or in more subtle forms like tones of voice, gestures, or postures. There is one sure sign of self-harming emotions: whenever we express them they are accompanied by a feeling of opposition whether vague or overt, a sense of pushing against or “getting” another person.

All of us also speak to massage our own egos. We tell stories that no one wants to hear, make observations that are unhelpful or unconstructive, and dwell on details that add nothing to our or other people’s lives. Recognizing this is a battle with our pride and vanity. Pride and vanity make us deny the truth or think poorly of ourselves because we do talk mechanically.

As with the experience of self-harming emotions, we must objectively observe our mechanical talking and not justify or condemn ourselves. We must simply become aware that this is what we do. The next step is not easy but simple: stop. We do not want to stop all talking like cloistered monks or nuns; that would be counterproductive. However, when we stop needless chatter and negative talking we create space inside to listen to our own heart and to truly hear what others are saying to us. Then the heart intelligence is able do what only it can do — connect us to others and to our deeper selves.

If you’ve never worked on this part of yourself with the conscious intention of changing habitual patterns, a good rule of thumb is to talk half as much and spend more energy listening. Also you can notice when people change the topic or otherwise let you know that they are not interested in what you have to say; instead of forcing the conversation back to the topic of your choice, show interest in what interests them. Adopting practices such as these makes both our talking and listening conscious, for they cause us to respond from our real selves to the present moment. Refraining from mechanical talking in these and similar ways is one simple step that can positively alter the course of all our relationships.


Recognizing the Need for Head and Heart to Work Together

Gandhi called his efforts for peace in India “the non-harming truth movement.” Opening the heart is a non-harming movement towards our inner truth. Each person must take steps like this for him- or herself because we recognize our own need. Opening the heart does not come from a place of “should” or “ought.” It happens because we see the reality of our lives and choose to live more fully.

Taking clear, intentional steps toward opening our own heart is not a vague or elusive goal. It happens when we bring head and heart together. By keeping the mind in the heart we will learn to think with our hearts as well as our heads and become balanced individuals.

Rodney Collin, a student of Ouspensky, said that the mind and heart must work together to find the truth. In our compulsive state, head and heart are in the habit of canceling each other out. The heart perceives some truth, but at a later time it seems to be nonsense to the head, which explains it away. Then the heart loses courage, can’t believe in itself, and takes a back seat to the head whose approach is supported by the culture at every turn. The person so afflicted never has the grounding of personal truth on which to base his or her life and so lives a life dominated by values that come from outside him or her.

The heart will be able to grow in sensitivity to and awareness of truth only if it has full support of the head. But that means that both the head and the heart, along with the body, are freed from their mechanical use in the Enneagram compulsion so that they can accomplish their true purposes.

The Enneagram itself will contribute to the dominance of the head if we keep it an intellectual exercise. By constantly refining our definition of type and becoming overinvolved with the details and intricacies of the system, we keep the Enneagram in the head and prevent it from being a useful instrument for revealing the potential for unity in each of us that comes with developing and balancing all three centers.

What is important is not knowing that the Enneagram is true, but rather knowing how it is true for us. However, this personal experience of self-awareness can still remain an observation of the head if we do not take the next step and choose to act differently because of our insight. When we use the Enneagram as a mirror of truth in which we see ourselves and as a motivator to choose new ways of relating to ourselves, others, the created universe, and the divine, this tool becomes more than amazingly accurate, it becomes a guide to the most important values of life.

It is our belief that the most meaningful use of the Enneagram results in our head and heart working together so that we will act in new ways. Action guided by both the heart and mind is our only hope for creating a new society and a new world based on individual lives that are rich with meaning, purpose, and value.

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