Read an Excerpt
This is not actually a book about “relationships.” You won’t find any tips on dating or rules for attracting the opposite sex here. This is instead a book about being in relationship . What’s the difference? Well, the former is a thing and the latter is a state, and a state is part of what defines us at any given moment rather than something outside ourselves that we have or don’t have. We all exist in relationship; we can’t not. It’s like magnetic force. Every object, by its very nature, exerts a pull on every other object. And whether we are aware of it or not, we are in relationship with all other things in this universe (and possibly other universes as well, but that’s another book).
So, why is this relevant and who am I to expound on the significance of our place in the cosmos? Well, in answer to the first part of the question, understanding the nature of our interactions is important because the quality of our existence is determined by the quality of our relationships. What we believe, who we are, and who we can become are all manifest through our dealings with others. It is here that thoughts and emotions become actualized and our true self revealed. Our behavior is the only real measure of our character, and 90 percent of the time our behavior involves someone else.
And who am I? Trick question, right? Most of you probably know me as the wife of the “great and powerful (Dr.) Oz.” But the wife of a wizard is not necessarily a witch—or a doctor. I am not one of those educated professionals who are qualified to tell you how you should be living your life. Rather, like you, I am a seeker. Sticking with the Oz paradigm for a moment, I am like the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Lion all wrapped into one, striving for compassion and wisdom while I struggle to remain brave. You get to be Dorothy, joining me for a skip down a winding road. I will warn you up front: there will be flying monkeys, but I will try to keep the soporific flowers to a minimum.
At the end of this book we will have gotten to where we are going, which will be where we have always been. The difference is that we will know ourselves a little better. We will have caught a glimpse of who we are by becoming more aware of how we are in each of our relationships.
And I hope we will be friends. The title US in one sense refers to you, the reader, and me, the writer. We too exist in relationship. My intention is that you will see aspects of your own life reflected in my personal stories. My ramblings and musings are supposed to entertain but also lead to a place of connection. I have a hunch we are not that dissimilar, you and I.
So, now that we are going to be friends, I need to make a confession. This is an amazingly difficult book for me to write. See, there’s this little secret among “self-help” writers that I feel compelled to reveal. Most of us are giving advice about the things we need to learn in our own lives. The wounded healer is one of those infuriating and delightful ironies of the universe. And while I never thought of myself as a “self-help” writer, you know where you found this book—right next to Be Your Own Shrink and Why You Think Your Mother Doesn’t Love You —so you know what that makes it, and me.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me state for the record that I am not the perfect wife, mother, child, or friend. Bearing that in mind, it is precisely because of the mistakes I’ve made and the lessons I’m learning that I feel I can share my insights. My wish is that they may prove helpful for you in your own journey.
This book is an attempt to offer the things I’ve come across that work for me (or at least that I’m working on). Please keep in mind that life is a process. I wouldn’t for a minute pretend that I have it all figured out. I struggle in my relationships every day. So if you see me in the supermarket yelling at one of my kids, please give me a nudge and remind me to reread chapter 7. The important thing for me is to be aware and keep moving. The progress may be painfully slow at times. As Franciscan Father Richard Rohr says, “It’s always three steps forward, two steps back.” In reality, it’s sometimes four steps back.
The ideas discussed in the following chapters are a compilation of what I have learned about being in relationship over the years as a daughter, wife, mother, actress, producer, and writer. In each area, I noticed that the lessons were frequently the same and that they would reveal themselves as long as I was willing to do three things—show up, do the work, and be honest with myself and others. It’s a seemingly simple list—but not always easy to put into practice.
I have avoided, procrastinated, and fabricated enough for ten people, but I have also, on occasion, made a concerted attempt to commit myself to genuine presence. (Admittedly, even now this has not become a continuous state. Sadly, I am often looking at my BlackBerry instead of into my husband’s eyes during a conversation.) But while I would hardly claim enlightenment, or even conversion, I believe I have grown. The concepts presented here are what I learned when I was really doing what I was doing.
Much of what I’ve ascertained is the direct result of the choices I made, but I’m not suggesting that you run out and make those same choices for yourself. You can discover similar lessons and more exactly where you are right now. The fundamental ideas are everywhere, in every part of life—sometimes glaring at us like big neon signs, other times hidden beneath a surface of seeming insignificance. The truth of the matter is that we are learning about and living in relationship whether we’re driving a cab or serving on the Supreme Court. The purpose of this book is to provide a mirror for your experiences through mine and to share insights that can be applied to your own personal journey of relationship.
One thing about life is that it often takes a long time to really get even the simplest truths. We can be sent the same message over and over and fail to see it. The problem is that we play out identical patterns with different people—repeat our mistakes because we live by rote—and then wonder what went wrong. To break this cycle, we often need input from a teacher, mentor, or friend who can shed light on our situation and show us what we need to do, where we can go deeper, and how we can change.
For me, those teachers took many forms. Some, like Father Richard Rohr and Reverend George Dole, came as real people; others were revealed through great books such as the Zohar and the Bhagavad Gita. After my parents, the most influential by far was and is Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century scientist and theologian who saw the Bible as a divinely inspired metaphor, illustrating our spiritual journey. He described the path of regeneration, or rebirth, as consisting of a life of charity—which is essentially loving relationships. His writings on the nature of God, humanity, and marriage not only shaped my views on life but fundamentally shaped who I am. For this reason you will find his doctrine, widely and wildly interpreted, as the foundation for just about every chapter of this book.
Just to be really clear: none of the truly big ideas here originated with me. I merely applied the wisdom of my teachers to my own experience. In doing so, I came to the conclusion that all the important things in life are actually about existing in relationship. Of course there are other things, like brushing your teeth and fly-fishing, but my feeling is that ultimately these come back to relationship too.
So what, exactly, is the big secret about living in relationship? Simply what the great spiritual traditions have been teaching for millennia. Boiled down, it’s essentially love God, love yourself, love everybody else. Why am I saying it again? Because I don’t think we can ever hear it enough. I think we need to hear it, read it, feel it, teach it, taste it, speak it, smell it, breathe it, until one day . . . we finally start to live it. This book is my attempt to share the encounters and epiphanies that brought me back to that truth.
I’ve also included exercises at the end of each chapter. Reading about something is easy. Putting it into practice is another thing altogether—especially when the first time we try it is in the heat of a highly charged emotional situation. These tools are designed to help condition our reactions, so that we can respond in a more conscious way when we are engaged with others. I will admit right here that I am not a good tool person. I usually try them once, or at least think about trying them—okay, sometimes I just avoid them altogether because tools/exercises are usually work. These are not. They are supposed to be effortless and fun while creating a shift in perception. I want you to see what each chapter’s key concept feels like when it’s put into action. But please don’t feel compelled to do them. Just use whatever you like.
The book explores the three areas in which we live in relationship. The first is our relationship with ourself. The chapters that focus on this topic are intended to help uncover who we are at our core and demonstrate ways we can integrate our inner being with the outer projection. Understanding our true identity is essential for any relationship, since without actually knowing our authentic self, we can never be genuinely intimate with another person. In these chapters, we’ll also examine different ways of optimizing well-being so that we can bring our best self to all our relationships.
In the second section we look at relationships in a more traditional sense. We’ll cover everything from our most intimate connections with lovers to the way we treat the homeless, paying special attention to patterns of interacting that maximize our mutual potential for personal growth. Topics covered include conscious parenting, sex as spiritual union, and compassionate living through environmental, global, and societal action. The exercises in this section seek to encourage generosity, compassion, and empathy.
At the end of the book we’ll examine the idea of a relationship with God. (If you are uncomfortable with the concept of a personified deity, please feel free to use a term like “the universe.” The divine has many names. Choose one that works for you.) In these chapters we’re going to look at themes such as the interconnectedness of all beings as well as the function and form of prayer. The tools offered here include methods for cultivating gratitude, spiritual journaling, and a guided meditation.
These are our primary relationships. In my opinion they are interrelated and inseparable. We cannot love another person if we have no self-love, and the only way we can demonstrate our devotion to God is through our service for other people. US defines where we are in the broad scheme of existence and who we are at our core. So that’s what this book is about: you, me, and God—US.
© 2010 Lisa Oz
This chapter is about you . Okay, I know, you’re thinking this is supposed to be a book on relationships. And it is. And we’ll get to that. But all of your relationships have one thing in common: you. You are the fundamental unit of every partnership, friendship, romantic entanglement, or antagonistic encounter you’ve ever had. And since you’re the only part of your relationships that you actually have any control over, working with you is a pretty good place to start.
So, with that in mind, who are you? Most of us usually answer that question with a name and a list of vital statistics including occupation, marital status, education, and social security number. In our heads we might also include net worth, political affiliation, and preferred ice cream flavor—anything we feel attached to and therefore identify with. This includes habits, tastes, opinions, and emotions—those qualities that differentiate us from everyone else.
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but in case you haven’t heard, that’s not you. You are not who you think you are. You are none of those seemingly defining conditions or states. They’re merely part of what Swedenborg calls the “proprium” or what Thomas Merton refers to as the “small self.” In psychological terms, we’ve come to know it as the ego. It’s a false persona that constructs a false reality within which to exist. Father Richard Rohr calls this false reality the “world of comparison, competition, and control.”
Now, the ego’s not a bad thing. It’s necessary. We need to have something to work with—something to grow from. Our ego gives us each a unique playing field for life, where we can learn and create and evolve. The problem is that we think it’s all we are. In reality we are far, far more. And less too. We all have a true inner self—a part of our being that can’t be diminished or exalted by possessions or circumstances and has nothing to do with our likes and dislikes. It’s not determined by our history or our attachment to material and emotional things. The true self is that part of us that’s connected to all other life and yet is distinctly us. We don’t often see it; it’s frequently overshadowed by the big, noisy, dramatic false self. But sometimes we get glimpses of it through conscience, acts of altruism, and moments of joy. Mostly it is revealed in times of deep suffering.
Shifting your sense of identity from your exterior to your interior self is anything but easy. Generally it involves struggle, pain, and loss. The false self needs to die to let the inner self be born, and this death can be as traumatic as any physical death. But it’s precisely the demise of what’s on the surface that allows our essence to be revealed. This is the path that all the great religions speak of. In Buddhism it’s described as letting go of attachment. Kabbalah uses the example of clearing the vessel so that the light can shine through. In Christianity, Jesus explains it in metaphor, saying, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed” (John 12:24). It’s through this seeming death that our true life is able to emerge.
Understanding the need to go deeper into your genuine being is one thing, but how do you actually do it? Well, in one sense life does it for you. And in this respect, growth is far more an act of surrender than any conscious effort. When I was twenty-one, I was captain of the tennis team at one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. I was zipping around town in my parents’ Mercedes and engaged to the most amazing young man I had ever met. I thought I was hot stuff.
Six months later all my friends were in graduate school, and I was a fat, pregnant housewife living in debt in an apartment only slightly larger than my former closet. Not that my life wasn’t wonderful. It absolutely was. But all the things that I thought made me who I was, the impressive As—attractiveness, affluence, athleticism, and academic accomplishment—were out the window. It was a bit of a shock adjusting to my new identity. But it also proved to be incredibly liberating. I gave up the constant effort to impress people because I no longer felt impressive. Losing the mask I had hidden behind for years allowed me to connect with others on a real level. The friends I made at that period in my life are still the closest ones I’ve got.
The irony is that if you live long enough, everything that you think makes you special, from your looks and your brains to your power and possessions, is stripped from you. You’re left with what you came in with, and either you realize its infinite value or end up bitter over the loss of your fictitious identity.
But you don’t have to wait until the end of your worldly life to start recognizing your true nature. There are many techniques for ego transcendence, like meditation, fasting, religious ritual, prayer, and certain types of yoga, which can help you separate from your ego-driven personality and bring you closer to identification with your true self. Regardless of the path you choose, you need to start with an honest evaluation of your current state. Only once you’ve made an accurate assessment of where you are can you determine what you need to do to effect change.
One of the tools I’ve found valuable in this potentially daunting undertaking is the Enneagram. An ancient system for categorizing different personality types, it is useful in helping map out key strengths and weaknesses, showing a way to use both for greater integration with the higher self. No one knows exactly where and when it originated, but it’s believed to have been used by the ancient Desert Fathers in the fourth century and by Sufi mystics of the Near East for more than a thousand years. It was introduced to America by the spiritual teacher and mystic G. I. Gurdjieff during the early part of the twentieth century.
The purpose of the Enneagram is to help you see yourself more clearly—to reveal your distinct personality type. It’s within this construct that you face your greatest challenges and opportunities for growth. Each group is defined by how they manage the basic fears and insecurities developed early in childhood. By seeing yourself through the lens of the Enneagram, you come to understand the different ways you meet fundamental needs and avoid emotional pain. You begin to notice that much of what you do is a reflexive response typical to your number, and not necessarily what you’d choose in a conscious, spiritually awakened state. Your evolution begins with this insight.
The descriptions here are merely an overview to give you a general idea of the nine basic categories. There is great variety within each group, as well as subtle degrees of difference, which aren’t covered in this introductory summary. We’re all unique, and none of us matches any one category exactly. You may not be able to determine your type right away. I couldn’t. Sometimes you need to just sit with the Enneagram for a while before you see where you fit. When you find your number, you’ll know it. The self-recognition is astounding.
I remember having dinner with Father Richard Rohr, discussing the different types for about an hour, when my Sixness hit me like a tsunami. We had gone through each number several times and I hadn’t found any that really felt like me. I have elements of all of them, as everyone does. Certainly I’m judgmental enough to be a One. I like to read and have zillions of books. Maybe that meant I was a Five. I knew I wasn’t a Seven or an Eight, and I ruled out Six because among the qualities Richard had mentioned were fearfulness and a tendency to be a follower. You can ask anyone: I am not a follower. “No way I’m a Six,” I assured him. He suggested that I could be a Nine since I was noncommittal. “But I am committal. I just committed to not being a Six.” Richard smiled and continued with his questions. “What emotion describes you mostly?” I didn’t know. “Is it anger? Happiness? Longing? Anxiety?” Oh, boy! When he said anxiety, it was all over. “What exactly do you mean by anxiety?” I asked, looking for a loophole—any way out of where this conversation was going. “Do you worry, have a certain apprehension about . . . well, everything?” he inquired. Bingo. That was me. I was worrying at that very moment—my thoughts racing between whether the cat had broken into the rabbit’s cage and eaten him while we were out and what time the babysitter had to leave. “What number is that?” “Six,” he answered matter-of-factly. “I’m a Six . . . Shit.” I actually swore in front of a priest. He took another bite of his chicken and assured me that my response was quite appropriate.
The truth is I probably would have reacted the same way no matter what my number was. You might say I have a bit of resistance to being categorized as anything. If there were nine numbers, I was going to be a Twelve, dammit! Being stuffed into some labeling system felt limiting and pointless. Like most people, I want to see myself as ultimately indefinable.
But my real struggle with the Enneagram was based in fear: fear of the responsibility that comes with self-knowledge. Once you see who you are and recognize what you’re doing, change becomes imperative. It’s like looking at yourself in the mirror and, for the first time, acknowledging that you’re carrying around an extra twenty pounds. It’s never all bad (heck, my ankles are still thin), but there’s definitely work to be done. Identification of your Enneagram type can be equally intimidating. Each number has specific gifts, distinct flaws, and a fairly arduous path that defines everyone in the category. When confronted by the self-revelation the Enneagram supplies, you’ll generally experience both gratitude and dread. I must admit, the moment I realized I was a Six, my feelings were skewed a little toward dread.
I want to stress that the goal of recognizing your personality type isn’t to fill you with self-loathing. Rather it’s to help you isolate your specific areas of attachment and ego identification. As I said before, that is not you. You are the core of life essence that’s underneath all the layers of false identity. The more fully you realize your own true being, the more deeply and unconditionally you can love both yourself and others.
Remember that no number is better than any other. Each one has its own set of advantages and limitations. Try to see where your type manifests in your individual talents and weaknesses. Often the same qualities result in both. Your greatest gift is frequently your downfall and vice versa.
The Enneagram Types
TYPE ONE Ones are idealists. They think everything (themselves included) should be perfect and are profoundly disappointed when they see this isn’t the case. Actually, they get angry, but of course they don’t show it, because, well, perfect people aren’t angry. Since they have such great self-control, suppressing their hostile feelings isn’t a problem for most Ones. That way they can go back to being perfect.
Ones want life to be fair, people to be honest, and the universe to behave in an orderly fashion. When this isn’t the case, they’ll set about trying to fix it themselves, or at least tell you how to fix it. They’re good fixers. They will clean up crime, feed the homeless, and reform the tax code. Ones are also good teachers. They sincerely want to share their vision of “the right way” with others. Typically, Ones are the crusaders, the reformers, and the judges. They want to make everything all better.
Ones are moral, rational, highly principled, hardworking, and noble. I love Ones. For some reason I feel safe around them. You almost always know where you stand when you’re with a One. They’re so earnest and straightforward. If a One doesn’t like you, it’s usually because you’ve done something wrong.
The problem with Ones is that they can sometimes become self-righteous. Ones who believe their own dogma tend to be opinionated, critical, intolerant, and inflexible. And yes, we can all be all of those things, but when Ones are, they feel they’re justified by everyone else’s poor behavior. Ones can also be hypocritical. Once they realize that even they don’t meet their own idealistic standards, they can give up on the attempt to be perfect and shift their efforts to the attempt to look perfect. The newspapers are littered with stories of politicians and prosecutors who have built their careers and public personae around stomping out some form of immorality only to later be caught seducing male interns or hiring prostitutes from another state.
Ones’ ardent desire to be good isn’t a bad thing. They just need to temper it with honesty and acceptance—honesty in addressing their underlying anger, and acceptance of the beauty in imperfection. They could also benefit from a little silliness, a good laugh, a naked dance in the moonlight . . . Okay, that might be asking a little much from a One. But by allowing themselves to let go every now and then, they learn to balance their sense of order and create a life of harmony and joy.
TYPE TWO Twos are the caregivers of the universe. They spend their lives looking after the rest of us so that we can go about doing whatever it is we do. They’re the nurturers, the enablers, and the support staff: Mother Teresa, Florence Nightingale, and the biblical Martha all rolled into one. Twos’ motto is “Sacrifice and serve.” They love to be useful, to give you what you need, to be . . . indispensable. And there’s the catch. Twos want you to want them. Actually, they need you to need them. Their sense of self-worth is almost completely determined by whether or not they’re perceived as useful and necessary. Which of course means if you have a Two doing anything for you, you’d better fire off a thank-you note immediately.
I have quite a few Twos I’m very close to. Honestly, they are the most warmhearted, empathetic, helpful people I know. But I’m not a Two, so I’m not always sensitive to other people’s needs, and sometimes—okay, maybe often—I forget to show my appreciation for all they do to make my life easier. Big mistake. When Twos feel undervalued, they can become bitter, manipulative, and resentful. Twos’ favorite weapon is guilt. Lines like “I gave my life’s blood for you and you can’t even pick up the phone” are standard in the thwarted Two’s arsenal.
Even when they’re not in a reactionary mode, Twos can be a little suffocating; they are the original codependents. And while they’re always ready to give, they almost always expect some form of reciprocation. They can actually be aggressively selfish in a deceptively passive way. If the motivation for their loving behavior is an underlying compulsion to get affirmation for themselves and doesn’t take into account the genuine desires of the other person, then Twos aren’t really acting from love.
In the same way that Ones can be too “good,” Twos can be too “nice.” Part of the problem is that they secretly take pride in their self-sacrificing. They know they’re putting everyone else first and somehow that makes them superior. Twos could benefit from paying more attention to taking care of themselves. Getting a massage every now and then might help, or saying no once in a while when the boss suggests another working weekend. Twos need to be really clear with themselves about their hidden agenda and ask themselves what they’re getting from their relationships. They can also practice giving with no strings attached. When there’s no expectation, there’s no opportunity for disappointment, and that way everyone gets a gift.
TYPE THREE Threes rule. And I don’t mean that in some third-grade playground sort of way. They actually do rule the world. Look at all the high-level politicians, business tycoons, and media moguls, and you will find a shockingly disproportionate number of Threes. Threes are driven by the need to succeed. They are generally self-assured, social, confident, efficient, and ambitious. Today, in twenty-first-century America, it’s a very good thing to be a Three. At least it looks like a good thing . . .
Threes are about appearances. They like to stay on the surface, where their accomplishments and charisma will win them accolades and hot dates. They prefer interacting with groups of people, where everyone can be suitably impressed. One on one and genuine intimacy is no fun. How do you win at intimacy? (Yes, winning is a big deal for Threes.) Whatever they do, they do it well. Not just well. They do it “the best!” Threes really get off on being the best.
Threes shine. Charm leaks from their pores. It’s hard to resist a confident, energetic, attractive Three. They can’t even resist themselves. Threes generally like being Threes. They think their success and popularity are all that count. They ignore the fact that they have a tendency to be vain, shallow, social-climbing narcissists. And they’re often big fat phonies. Threes lie. Not the tall whopper that could get you to call them on it. They’re masters of the subtle exaggeration, the tactful evasion, and deception by implication. The fact that the rest of us believe them isn’t the problem; it’s the fact that they buy the lie themselves. Complacent Threes live in a world of self-delusion. If Threes aren’t really honest with themselves, they’ll actually start to believe that they are the giant green floating head in The Wizard of Oz and not the scared little man behind the curtain.
For Threes to evolve, they need to be rigorously devoted to the truth. They also need to work in a little downtime, when they’re not performing or achieving—a moment or two when they’re off the stage and can reflect or meditate. (And no, plotting the next phase of global dominion and world conquest does not qualify as meditation.) When they learn to go inside with integrity, then their leadership can become truly inspirational.
TYPE FOUR Fours don’t blend, they stand out. And they stand out with flair. They’re the ones wearing the crushed velvet paisley jacket or the purple mohawk adorned with a single gardenia. Fours make an art of being different. They have a very defined sense of style and a unique approach to the aesthetic. Everything they do has a creative bent or a dramatic turn.
Their elevated form of expression isn’t merely superficial. Fours are highly sensitive and emotionally self-aware. They’re deeply introspective and intuitive. The realm of the unconscious, full of mysticism and symbol, has a particular draw for Fours. Death intrigues them.
It’s hard for Fours to live fully in the present. There’s always a pervasive sense of longing with them—a nostalgic desire for something that never quite was but should have been. Fours need beauty and significance, and they can see it in places the rest of us would never notice—in the symmetry of a row of trash bins or the irony and poignancy of a beggar on Fifth Avenue. Fours make great poets, actors, and painters. The rest of us can do it, but we don’t have the art embedded in our souls.
Fours’ need to be special often drives them away from relationships and genuine connection. They’re so in touch with their own feelings that they can let those feelings become their only reality. This self-absorption can lead to isolation and alienation. They’re by no means easy. With a tendency to be moody anyway, Fours frequently slip into melancholy or outright depression. Even happyish Fours take themselves really, really seriously. Somewhere hidden underneath the layers of eccentricity and romantic nuance, many Fours feel lacking or unworthy.
Fours’ work lies in resisting the urge to withdraw into their inner world. They need to detach from their powerful emotional states and refocus their creative energies into something outside themselves. Transcendence for a Four occurs not through more self-awareness but through outward creative expression. It takes a great deal of discipline, but when Fours turn their attention from their specific experience to the broader scope of humanity, they can bring true beauty into their lives and the lives of others.
TYPE FIVE Fives live in their heads and would prefer if you didn’t bother them there, thank you very much. For the most part, Fives are curious, open-minded, and intellectual. They’re not all smart, but they all like to think about things—much more than they like to do anything. Fives feel most at home in the world of ideas and abstractions.
They love to watch. They observe what’s going on around them, taking in every detail but often failing to engage themselves. A bit aloof, rather cool and reserved, Fives prefer to remain detached in most situations. Privacy is paramount. Fives don’t like feeling encroached upon emotionally or physically. Even moderate proximity can be perceived as intrusive. They don’t like too much attention on themselves and have a hard time expressing their feelings.
Understanding the way the world works—how the pieces fit together—is the way that a Five attempts to control his or her environment and thereby feel secure. For a Five, knowledge is more than power; it’s survival. If a Five happens to be afraid of sharks, you can be sure he’ll be an expert on everything from their migration patterns to their reproductive cycle. I know one Five who hates to fly so much that she learned (theoretically) how to land a plane in case both pilots had heart attacks.
Fives like to collect things as well as information. Cameras are usually a Five’s favorite possession, but they gravitate to any technology-based gadget. They don’t actually need much and pride themselves on their moderate lifestyles, but they aren’t particularly generous with what they’re not using. Fives aren’t natural givers. Even on the mental level, they are much more focused on obtaining information than on turning what they’ve learned to useful action. Deep down they sense an existential emptiness, and their need to know or acquire is, in large part, an attempt to fill that void. Ironically, it’s only through consciously giving to others, rather than taking for themselves, that Fives are ever truly satisfied.
For Fives to grow emotionally and spiritually, they need to get out of their heads and open their hearts. By going from contemplation to committed action, Fives can begin to learn from their own experience. With this type of knowing, they won’t need all the facts and will be able to live in the beauty of embraced mystery.
TYPE SIX I’m a Six, and I can’t say I am particularly thrilled by that fact. But that’s pretty normal for a Six. We’re conflicted—mostly about ourselves. Now, for all the rest of you who happen to be Sixes—and I’m assuming there are a lot of you, since Father Richard Rohr tells me it’s the most common type in the Western world—being a Six can be wonderful. We can be deeply loyal, trustworthy, hardworking, and affectionate. We’re endearing and dutiful, sensitive and vigilant. Sixes can also be extremely brave under pressure. Since they’re dealing with their fears all the time, one more instance where they have to overcome some real or perceived threat isn’t that big a deal.
Managing fear, anxiety, worry—whatever you want to call it—is what Sixes do most. For Sixes, it’s almost as if the worrying holds the world in place. It gives them—I mean us—a level of assurance just to be aware of all the bad things that could happen. One way some Sixes cope is by becoming counterphobic. They avoid the underlying terror by keeping themselves on an adrenaline rush, taking crazy, foolhardy risks like starting fights and driving recklessly. Other Sixes become almost paralyzed by their fear, calculating every possible outcome before they’ll make a move. Then they’ll second-guess themselves and be riddled with self-doubt until the next thing to perseverate over comes along.
One reason I initially had difficulty identifying myself as a Six is that Sixes tend to be a mass of contradictions. They’re strong and weak, generous and petty, bold and fearful, passive and aggressive. Now, I don’t mean some Sixes are passive and some are aggressive. The same Six will frequently act one way and then five minutes later become its exact opposite. So labeling oneself is not a clear-cut endeavor.
For me, the upside of being predictably unpredictable is that Mehmet never knows who he’s going to wake up next to. Is it the nice, loving Lisa or the mean, sulky one today? This generally tends to keep him entertained and ensures that he won’t get bored. But for the Six (i.e., me) it’s emotionally exhausting. The reason Sixes are so variable stems from a fundamental place of reactivity. We don’t have a firm sense of our own inner strength, and we struggle with the vicissitudes of life.
Sixes crave security and certainty. What Sixes need is faith: faith in themselves, in others, and in the underlying benevolence of the Creator. And here’s the crux of the matter: shit happens. The world can be a scary, hostile, vicious place. But it’s never as bad as the Six imagines it to be. When Sixes quiet their horror fantasies and simply dwell in the present, trusting that they’ll have and be enough in any situation, then they will manifest their true power, which is courage.
TYPE SEVEN “It’s all good.” That’s the Seven’s mantra. Cheerful, vivacious, and enthusiastic, Sevens sparkle. They seem to bring the sunshine with them regardless of the weather. They’re full of genuine wonder and excitement. Snow White, with her whistling approach to what would seem like drudgery to the rest of us, is a perfect example of the Seven’s mentality. That doesn’t mean that Sevens walk around all day with a tune on their lips or a Pollyannaish grin on their face, but their natural inclination to see things in a positive light permeates all they do.
So what could possibly be wrong with that? If you were happy all the time, why would you want to change anything? Playful and fun-loving is a pretty good way to go through life. However (besides driving the rest of us nuts with their indefatigable optimism), there’s a dark side to being so light.
With Sevens the drive for pleasure is motivated primarily by a deep-seated underlying need to avoid pain. They’re unable to confront their own grief and fear, so they retreat to the surface, where they can keep themselves amused and distracted by activities or possessions. Beneath the big smile and happy-go-lucky attitude is a hollowness that Sevens would rather not face. By repressing anything negative and staying in perpetual motion, they try to skip along through the pretty parts of life.
The problem is that the void is still there and a few kittens and buttercups aren’t going to make it go away. So what Sevens typically do is get more. The pitfall of a Seven is excess. If a pony makes me happy, why not just buy the herd. More, more, more, and the gnawing emptiness still isn’t satisfied. That’s when Sevens become hedonistic, debauched, and gluttonous. Life becomes a pleasure-seeking party, full of good times and high hopes but lacking in real connection or meaning.
If all the diversionary, escapist activities can’t provide fulfillment, what’s a Seven to do? As with each of us, in every Enneagram type, the most important thing is to be completely honest. Sevens need to acknowledge the unpleasant: the ugly and the painful in the world and inside themselves. They need to see their own suffering and the suffering of those around them. Sevens can also grow through practicing restraint. Resisting the urge to constantly acquire more allows them to fully appreciate what is. By allowing themselves to be present to reality, without evasion, exaggeration, or euphemism, Sevens bring a depth of sobriety to their happiness and experience real joy.
TYPE EIGHT Eights are all about power. Strong, self-confident, and resourceful, they embody the archetypal warrior. And yes, they love a good fight. They even love a bad fight if it gives them a chance to assert their might and prove their heroism. Eights are great defenders of the oppressed. While they shun the notion of weakness in themselves, they’re ardent champions of anyone they perceive as helpless. They’re fervently dedicated to justice and seek to eradicate exploitation and degradation when they see it. Undeterred by obstacles, Eights are the ones to call when you want to start a revolution.
Eights’ self-confident and decisive nature makes them natural leaders. They’re assertive, resourceful, and magnanimous. When they do something, they do it with passion, taking the initiative and taking charge. They’re big-hearted and protective and will stand up for what they believe in. As long as they are in control, they will champion just about any cause.
But with very powerful people the potential for greatness is matched by the possibility of brutality. Eights’ fear of being controlled can lead them to behave in highly destructive ways. They’re frequently on the attack, seeing it as the best way to protect both themselves and others. When Eights feel threatened, they can become combative, vengeful, and ruthless.
Eights never back down from a confrontation. In fact they often seek it out and encourage it. Conflict is a way of connecting for Eights. They enjoy the struggle and seem to thrive on controversy. When Eights walk into a room and everything’s quiet and harmonious, they’ll deliberately stir things up. Eights’ overt aggression and need for dominance can be intimidating to those around them and often prevent the Eight from engaging in truly intimate relationships.
For Eights to achieve real personal development, they need to let their guard down and allow their inner vulnerability to be touched by the world. When they add tenderness to their strength, they can become true heroes.
TYPE NINE Nines are lovely. They exude an inner grace and gentleness that makes them appear to be floating through life like wingless angels. Naturally easygoing and agreeable, they have a calming effect on those around them. Nines are optimistic and look for the best in people and situations. As the archetypal peacemakers, they have a calm, reassuring manner that makes them ideal at soothing discord or dissent. They crave harmony within themselves and in the world around them.
Nines are spiritually inclined, with a thoughtful disposition, and tend to overlook the mundane trivialities of human existence. On one level they seem to be living in a place that the rest of us aspire to, serene and accepting of whatever the universe has to offer. Yet their complacent approach can often become a way of tuning out everything that is uncomfortable or disquieting, and this is where Nines get into trouble. They’ll do anything to maintain their peace of mind, even if it means disengaging from life. Rather than dealing with difficult situations or relationships, they retreat into a fantasy realm of euphemism and denial. Nines make conflict avoidance an art form.
Nines also prefer to avoid any kind of effort or struggle. Saying they’re lazy might be a bit harsh, but they definitely have a degree of inertia—which is actually one of the ways Nines assert themselves. Good luck trying to get a Nine to do something they don’t want to do. “Stubborn” doesn’t begin to describe their level of resistance. They are positively immovable. This obstinacy is rare, however, since Nines’ most common manifestation of lethargy is a passive “go with the flow” sort of attitude.
Identifying oneself as a Nine can sometimes be difficult. They share many qualities with the other eight types but often lack anything clearly distinctive. They don’t always have a strong sense of themselves as individuals and often repress whatever needs they do have in order to accommodate those around them.
To claim their inner power, Nines need to become engaged. Rather than escaping into delusion and passivity, they must assert themselves and take decisive action. When they realize the true path to resolution is through the paradox of opposition, they can find true peace.
A Note of Caution
Initially you’ll want to use this system to categorize others. That’s not its purpose. The Enneagram is a tool for self-evaluation and evolution. When you’re caught up in labeling those around you, you are avoiding the work you need to do on yourself. There’s absolutely no point in musing about whether your boyfriend, who is behaving selfishly, is a Three or a Five. That’s his job, not yours. Believe me, I know it’s tempting. I constantly have to stop myself from using the Enneagram as a way of defining the people in my life. But the only purpose of understanding the Enneagram types of those you’re in relationship with is to help you be more compassionate. By seeing that we’re all just using different coping mechanisms to address the same uncertainties and anxieties, we can let go of some of our judgment and put our efforts into our own transformation.
Watching the Self
Now that you’ve read through all nine categories, see if any number reminds you of yourself. If so, try to be aware of how you habitually react as that type in your daily activities. Notice where your choices are influenced by the same emotions over and over again, and search out your subconscious motivations. Understanding them provides a more specific way of engaging in the journey of personal growth. However, if you use the Enneagram as simply another means of ego identification, a fun little way to label yourself—“I’m a blonde, a Leo, and a Four”—then it won’t do you any good. And it could be dangerous if you were tempted to use it as an excuse for bad behavior: “I’m an Eight, it’s my nature to be aggressive, so back off.” The Enneagram can help bring your exterior self into alignment with your inner, true self, but only when the knowledge of your personality becomes a means to transcend it. You identify a pattern in your behavior so that you can simultaneously accept it and detach from it.
To do this, we move on to nonjudgmental self-observation. This is simply watching yourself without commentary or criticism—just noticing what you do and how you feel. By repeating this for a time, you’ll start to sense two distinct identities. There’s the you who’s experiencing the situation and the you who’s the detached observer. It may feel weird at first. But eventually you’ll get used to your double identity.
The best way I can describe this is to compare it to driving in traffic. If someone swerves maniacally into your lane, you take it personally. The act itself is an affront to your dignity. You glare at them fiercely or swear as if they could hear you. Sometimes, if you’re really offended, you may even gesticulate rudely. However, if that same crazy driver pulls madly into the lane next to you, cutting off someone else, you witness it without emotion—no outrage, no ego involvement—only the realization that the person over there is a dangerous driver.
By practicing nonjudgmental observation, you can come to view your own interactions with the same level of disengagement. Not so that you don’t care about anything (I’m certainly not advocating for a society of passionless zombies), but so that you’re no longer completely aligned with your ego. Because when you live in your ego, it’s almost impossible to change. We are highly skilled at protecting ourselves. And if we equate our identity with our ego, we’ll do everything in our power to preserve it—which usually means doing exactly what we’ve always done. Even when we know our behavior is making us (and others) miserable, we’ll justify it, because it feels like a part of us. When all our energy is going into defending our actions, we’re incapable of doing anything different. But once there’s even a hint of separation, and we can see that who we are is something other than the reactive emotional response, transformation can occur. This is where the real work begins.
DAY 1. Pick a certain time to watch yourself—say, 2:45 in the afternoon. Notice where you are, what you’re doing, and what you’re feeling. Don’t change anything. Just observe, without commentary—no labeling the behavior with “this is good or this is bad.” Merely become aware of what you’re experiencing without judging it. You might feel boredom or irritation, or perhaps a slight hunger or fatigue. Whatever it is, no matter what you’re thinking, saying, or sensing, let it continue, but watch. If you start to do this regularly, after about a week you’ll see a shift. You’ll begin to realize that you are not your emotions. There is a part of you—your real self—that’s separate from what you’re feeling. When you stop identifying with your reactions and feelings, you’ll stop needing to justify and defend them. This allows change to occur more easily.
DAY 2. Once you have the ability to see yourself outside of yourself, pick something in particular from which to create distance. For example, if you have an aversion to waiting in lines, choose this as the place to disengage. The next time you find yourself at a checkout counter behind half a dozen people with two carts each, watch how you react. Start with your thoughts. What’s going on in your head that’s making you feel annoyed or bored? Identify your thinking patterns about this event and then try to just let them go. Deliberately bring your attention to another thought—for example how silly the cover of the latest celebrity gossip magazine is—and watch your emotional state shift.
DAY 3. Use the nonjudgmental observation technique in your interaction with others. The next time someone does something that would typically set your teeth on edge, try to step back and witness the behavior without reacting. Allow yourself to let go of the need to interpret what the person is doing as good or bad, and just watch from a detached distance.
Day 4. Try to determine your Enneagram number. First, narrow down the options. Rule out the ones that are definitely not you. Then, with the remaining two or three, see where each could be you. Remember we all have qualities of each number. The real question is what we are mostly .
Day 5. After you’ve determined your number, list the ways you respond to discomfort, fear, or insecurity that are typical for your number. For example, if you’re an Eight, you may become combative when you’re threatened, while if you’re a Two, you could react with passive aggression. Try to define your own particular pattern of behavior as clearly and specifically as possible.
Day 6. Today you’re going to turn an Enneagram-based weakness into a strength. Select a single behavior you want to improve. (Don’t try to alter your whole personality at once.) Take this habitual action and reflect on it for a moment. Be grateful for the ways it has served you in the past and let go of the need to either defend or condemn it. Acknowledge that it is a choice for you, just as its opposite is, and at the next opportunity, choose to act in a way that is completely different from this typical response. Turn anger into compassion, deception into integrity, avoidance into action, and see how the old energy can be channeled in a new way.
Day 7. Spend ten minutes in meditation on your true self. Start by visualizing the identity you project to the world—all your likes and dislikes, opinions and emotions. Then slowly, one by one, visualize them falling away. Those traits are things you have used to create your external identity, but they are no more a part of your inner being than that purple sweater you wore in fourth grade. Let each superficial layer dissolve until you are left with nothing but pure consciousness. Sit in that place and experience who you really are.
© 2010 Lisa Oz