The Enneagram offers insight into our personality structures and psychodynamics, which supports our personal growth, relationships, careers, and various aspects of life. That alone is a tremendous value and gift. The potential of the Enneagram, however, is to go deeper, beyond personal growth into spiritual realization--to experience and understand the nature of consciousness and the fabric of who we are, which we refer to as true nature or essence.
The Diamond Approach teachings offer guidance on using the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual realization, which is described in Keys to the Enneagram by A.H. Almaas and summarized below.
Three Important Elements of Keys to the Enneagram
There are three important elements, or central understandings, presented in the Keys to the Enneagram book and within the Diamond Approach spiritual path in general, that support using the Enneagram as a tool for spiritual realization, as described below.
Personality is an Imitation of Essence
The first central understanding is that early in life we each respond to an imperfect upbringing, with experiences ranging from subtle mis-attunement to severe trauma, by developing egoic personality structures. In that developmental process, we lose connection with our essential nature.
The limited, often unconscious personality structures combined with the disconnection from our essence are sources of suffering in our lives. However, if we bring curiosity and compassion to our experience and learn to embrace and understand our personality structures, we may recognize that they form as imitations of specific qualities of our essential nature. They become doorways back to the original source.
Once we have that recognition, our personality structures can become pathways for revealing our essential nature rather than something to be rejected or repressed.
All the ego manifestations we develop as we grow up—the various ways we attempt to control our experience, defend our vulnerability, and compensate for our deficiencies—are actually distorted and hollow approximations of the spiritual capacities and qualities we were all born with but have lost touch with through our upbringing, our family conditioning.
Byron Brown, Preface, Keys to the Enneagram
Many Essential Qualities
The second important understanding is that while there is one underlying and unified substance of essence, it expresses itself through different qualities, or aspects, such as essential love, compassion, strength, and so on. These are universal qualities of consciousness that can spontaneously express themselves as needed in response to any given situation, whether in our relationships, at work, in our environment, or in response to our inner experience if we have access to them.
Although essence is one, the same substance, it has many varieties, many qualities. These are aspects of essence. This is true for both the baby and the adult. The aspect of truth is not the same as the aspect of love, and this is not the same as the aspect of will, and so on. They are all essence, and clearly so for the one who knows, but they are experienced differently and affect us differently.
The perspective offered in the Keys to the Enneagram is that each ennea-type has a specific quality of essence that the ego-driven personality is imitating. Although we lose touch with that essential quality and attempt to fill the void with the closest imitation, that quality still exists in our consciousness and is more easily accessed than any of the other qualities of essence. It therefore is an important element in our journey to experiencing and understanding essence on our spiritual path.
The important insight is that we are born with one quality of Being, or authentic presence, as a particular essential endowment, which means we can access it more easily than the others. In many cases we experience it as children without knowing it; later all that remains is some feeling of it, some appreciation of how it affected us.
Keys to the Enneagram, pg. 19
Two Pathways to Our Essential Nature
The Ego Ideal is an internalized self-image, largely unconscious, of who we believe we should be to be loved and secure. The Ego Ideal shapes what we think, feel, and act. It drives our goals and preferences in life, all toward an idealization that develops in the mind and is largely disconnected from immediate reality.
Each ennea-type idealizes some way of being or behaving.... Trying to attain or approximate this ideal expresses an unconscious wish for it to give us the desired love, safety, and holding of reality and of the important people of our lives.
- A.H. Almaas
On close examination, the Ego Ideal that we developed in childhood can be linked to a particular quality of essence, which is the basis from which it forms. Although our ego ideal is a poor approximation for this true aspect of Being, it is a valuable key to discovering what that true aspect is. To make this connection it requires becoming conscious of the Ego Ideal and deep inquiry into understanding its origin.
It's not a simple thing to recognize one's ego ideal or to recognize the essential aspect that is part of it... You're dealing with something that runs your life, and part of what gives the ego ideal power is that it's not clearly recognized. It manifests in all kinds of goals and preferences, and to see it clearly, exactly, will precipitate a certain kind of experience. To recognize the essential aspect, you must first of all accurately recognize your ego ideal.
- A.H. Almaas
Diamond Heart Book Three, pg. 59
As we continue our investigation and begin to see through the Ego Ideal we have constructed, we are able to loosen our personality structure and increasingly embody the essential quality that it mimics. This essential quality becomes more readily available to us over time, allowing us to find within ourselves what we are seeking from the outside world. This allows us respond to all the situations we find ourselves in with compassion, wisdom, strength, and natural efficiency.
"As the ego self, we don't believe that we can be loved just for the mere fact of being who we are, independent of our various qualities. One of our deepest desires is to be seen and loved not because we're helpful or original or wonderful in some way, but simply for who we are. And we feel hopeless that this will happen. We feel that having certain qualities is what’s going to get us the acknowledgment and admiration we want. We idealize one of these qualities in particular, and this is the Ego Ideal. We believe the ego ideal is the best part of us, and we want others to see this in us."
- A.H. Almaas
Diamond Heart Book Three, pg. 52
The second pathway to our essential nature is summed up by the adage “the way out is through”. In the Diamond Approach, this means more directly experiencing our disconnection from essential nature. This disconnection is often experienced as a sense of deficiency, or what the Diamond Approach calls a “hole”. The egoic structure, being a facsimile of the essence, has at its core a sense of deficient emptiness resulting from our loss of conscious awareness of essence. We experience an absence or emptiness where a part of us should be.
Generally, this sense of deficiency is something we strongly avoid and is mostly unconscious. However, when we embrace the uncomfortable feelings of deficiency and the issues related to it, we may come to understand that the personality structure is fundamentally a disconnection from essence that can lead to the direct experience of our specific and obscured essential quality.
If one is able to be with the experience of deficiency, turn toward it, and begin inquiring into it, it becomes possible to experience the particular quality of essence the egoic structure is imitating. This takes courage, strength, compassion, and often spiritual guidance, and is a powerful approach to reacquainting ourselves with our essential nature.
We are all of the ennea-types
We may start our journey by recognizing that our personality most closely aligns with one of the ennea-types and begin our exploration there. But as we continue, we find that there are elements of each ennea-type within us, and therefore each essential quality as well. It is entirely possible, although rare because of the amount of care, dedication, and investigation required, to traverse each ennea-type, learn about its personality structures and re-embody each of the essential qualities associated with each.
By the time we have accessed all of the idealized aspects, our bodies will have become transparent to presence and our hearts open and receptive to experiencing the affects that reflect the various qualities of presence. We will have developed our capacity to sense and to be consciously embodied, since this is necessary for that transparency to occur. And our hearts will be willing and able to feel any emotion that arises, regardless of type or intensity.
- A.H. Almaas
Keys to the Enneagram