"My Life as an Enneagram Five"
ISC Enneagram Weekend Intensive
(The following presentation was made to a group of students being trained in spiritual direction work and resources, with this weekend covering an introduction to Enneagram theory. They were given a reading assignment in advance of the weekend. Each of the nine personality types was introduced by someone speaking from their own type.)
Enneagram Fives, you have learned from your reading, find the source of their energy from the Head/Intellectual/Perceiving Center. This is the assemblage point for ordering their sense of reality--and ordering reality is very important to those of us who are fives. Our primary myth about ourselves is that we are "wise" and the "path of knowledge" or of following the "way of truth" is a way of speaking about our spiritual life that would make sense to us--and again, making sense of things in a way that gives meaning and order to the world and helps determine what is our rightful and harmonious relationship to the world is very important to someone who is a five.
I want to speculate with you about how I got to be a five. As a kid (the eldest child in the family) I witnessed the destruction of my parents marriage. Between the ages of 6 and 12, I saw prolonged separations (since we fives are primarily observers of reality I tend to use the observational and reflective words "think" and "saw" a lot)--I repeat, between the ages of 6 and 12, I saw increasingly intense arguments between my mother and father and increasingly prolonged separations finally resulting in divorce. I think this caused a great wounding of my Heart/Relational Center. My grief was primarily experienced and dealt with in isolation from others. I had a great aching feeling of loss along with a pervading feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness which was very frightening to me. Also during this time, because I was an overweight kid I got a lot of taunting--and any sense of self-worth became split off from my body and my Instinctive/Gut Center (because I experienced my body as untrustworthy and the source of humiliation). My sense of worth and social survival became focused on being smart--being one of the "brains" in school. I think that is how I developed the myth that "I am wise," drew my energy and power from the Head/Intellectual/ Perceiving Center, and became a five.
There was a Simon and Garfunkle song that was popular when I was an adolescent that I could identify with--particularly these words:
I have my books and my poetry to protect me.
I am shielded in my armor.
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb,
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock. I am an island. ...
Fives defend against the fear of emptiness and worthlessness by feeding ourselves with knowledge. I want to lay stress on the words "feeding ourselves" because this way of acquiring knowledge is primarily a solitary activity. The quest for knowledge is insatiable in a five--life is very interesting and there is so very much to know. We will study something very thoroughly, viewing things from all angles and perspectives with an objective detachment, before we feel like we can make a right judgment about something. And it is very important to a five to have a right judgment--meaning that the judgment has been a thoroughly considered one. Of course we know, perhaps better than most other people, that in many matters we cannot be absolutely sure--but we will try our very best. You see, we don't want to appear stupid or foolish. That strikes at our greatest fear--that deep down inside we really are empty, stupid fools.
That is the inner demon that looms its head any time I am preparing a public talk or sermon. And I really feel at risk when I am offering a talk or sermon to a group that is composed of my professional colleagues. I can agonize for days about how much I am aware that I don't know--and fear that they will judge me harshly for all that I don't know, concluding that I really am the empty fool that I fear that I might be. Enneagram writers often say that fives are stingy about their knowledge, fearing that in giving it all away we would feel depleted, empty. There may be something to that, for we fives have a tendency to be stingy about many things out of fear of being depleted. However, my experience is more likely to be that I am hesitant to begin to give it away because it is very hard work presenting a thorough, comprehensive, systematically coherent treatise on the subject--and that is what I expect out of myself when offering others what I know. Anything less and I am afraid it will appear to be shallow and will trigger my own anxiety about being shallow. Does my compulsion shine through here?
Once at a gathering of my family around the time my wife, Ruth, got her Ph.D. something I said or did provoked Ruth to jokingly call me a "dummy." I went ballistic in front of her and my family--something pretty uncharacteristic--yelling out that neither she nor anyone else was ever to call me a dummy. She had touched upon my core fear in a social situation and it triggered intense embarrassment and shame, which my own out-of-control reaction only served to heighten. That little scene has been judiciously remembered at occasional family gatherings and is a cause of family mirth at my expense.
Often we fives, being keen and detached observers of reality and slow to judge, are able to laugh at our own behavioral quirks. After I got interested in enneagram typology I looked back at the way I learned some new skills and had to laugh. It was so five-ish. For example, in my late thirties I became attracted to trout fishing. When some new thing interests me I dive in to researching the subject first, and then try out the skills--alone first. Rarely do I try to identify someone who is already skilled and ask them to teach me. The admission to someone else of not knowing something is often just too much for me. So when I was attracted to trout fishing I got all kinds of books on the subject and studied my dear trout's behavior and environment. Finally I got my gear together, researched where trout streams were in my area, and tried it out. Slowly I gained proficiency and then learned about the sub-speciality of fly fishing. This gave me the opportunity to build another library of books. After researching fly fishing I then got my gear together and tried it out, going out by myself. This brought me into consideration of learning how to tie my own trout fishing flies. I went through the same pattern of book research, building my little library, collecting my paraphernalia, and trying it out in solitude. Along the way I would talk with excitement about my research and discoveries to some chosen people and invite them into the fascinating world of trout, then fly-fishing. Soon there were others who were trout fishing and tying flies too.
I did the same thing when, at forty, I wanted to get in touch with my less- developed aggressive masculine energy. One thing had led to another and I became interested in hunting. Since I was not raised in a hunting family I knew absolutely nothing about it. Most reasonable people would seek out an experienced hunter, but not this five-type guy. I got all the books and videotapes related to the subject that I could out of the local library and then began my hunting career. Of course, along the way, in talking to others about my discoveries I ended up having a few others to go hunting with. But it started, like learning to fish for trout, as a solitary research project. In the course of gaining the knowledge I was introduced to and immersed in the fascinating worlds of trout streams, fields, and forests. Furthermore, I gained a deep respect and love for and knowledge about the subject of my pursuit--be it brook, rainbow, or brown trout, steelhead and salmon, rabbit, squirrel, pheasant, grouse, or deer. Finally, being a bit of a theologian I have spent lots of time reflecting on hunting and fishing and the ethical and spiritual dimensions of these sports and the broader meanings of ecosystems, life-giving sacrifice, and communion between species. I even found a medieval patron saint of hunters and fishers: St. Hubert of Maasterichs who I can play with in a sort of communion-of-the-saints way. He hasn't been very helpful in increasing my hunting and fishing productivity, but we do have fun together. I pray, asking the old bishop to help me out, then I don't usually get the quantity of quarry I would like, so I chide him for not being a very helpful saint, then I imagine that we both have a good laugh together.
As you might have observed fives have a very rich inner world. That is both blessing and challenge for we fives. Our inner world is so richly textured, peopled with those past and present, and filled with systems, structures, ideas and technological know-how that it is the fertile ground for profound insight and wisdom. But, under stress a five in a compulsed state will withdraw into this inner world and might even become delusional. We can become unhealthy hermits.
I think that fives, especially with a strong four wing or when moving with the arrow to the negative side of the seven, are particularly vulnerable to substance abuse and emotional illness. I don't have any hard data on this, but I do know that in my own situation I spent twelve years (from ages 17-29) dancing dangerously on the edge with heavy drug use and personal unguided studies and experiments in occult and shamanistic practices. During that period in my life I kept having dreams that I was in the wrong classroom--figure that!
Befriending my body has not been easy. I recently heard someone in her sixties say that she has a good body and some parts are excellent. I am able to befriend my body much of the time now, but still struggle with the concept that I am my body. Many years of hatha yoga and qigong movement has been a help to me in appreciating the body-mind-spirit connection. Meditational walks and outdoor activities such as camping, hunting, and fishing have helped me feel more connected through my body with the world around me. Having a loving life partner has been a real gift from God in helping restore the bodily and affective dimensions of my life.
Over the years I have found that both small spirituality group relationships and being with a personal spiritual companion are very helpful to me and I would recommend a five trying out both ways of being with others-a small group may be more of a stretch but may also be of tremendous benefit. A five tends to be very guarded with his or her feelings and the expression of the personal dimensions of life and needs quite a bit of time to test out how safe it is and how meaningful it is to be with the others. Fives detest being in unstructured social situations, parties, church coffee hours, or get-togethers. We are not given to chit-chat. So any group situation had better not be too loosely structured or lightweight in its purpose or chances are a five will not tarry long-if you can get them there in the first place! We are masters at avoidance and withdrawal and becoming invisible.
When I was in seminary seventeen years ago studying for my Master of Divinity degree I was a member of a small group of students that had Sr. Joan Scanlon (now the superior of the mother house for the Kentucky Dominicans) as our facilitator. I remember talking about a visit back to my home area in Michigan and seeing a beautiful deer on the edge of a meadow. Joan asked me if I could identify myself as that deer. Often enneagram writers describe the five's animal totem as the owl. And while there is the sense of the owl as an animal that is associated with wisdom and has very large observer eyes, I also do think that a deer is another kind of animal that could be associated with a five. We fives tend to be very vigilant, staying in protective cover or on the edges of open areas, and ready to flee in an instant. But we also can be very beautiful if you can get to know us.
Our challenge is to break out of the compulsed isolation and risk sharing ourselves--a movement to the positive side of the enneagram eight position where the gift is assertiveness and action. If you were going to be a spiritual companion to a five I would encourage you to listen carefully to what the five person shares as giving her or him a sense of meaning. A five is usually pretty good at saying what is intriguing them, or what they are studying or reflecting on in life. We highly value wisdom and might well enjoy sharing some reflections on wisdom literature of various faith traditions.
It probably will take longer for a five to get to the feeling-level of experience. Be patient with us-don't push too hard or fast. We feel much more vulnerable about sharing our feelings than our thoughts. We are usually going to lead with our heads, but with some gentle encouragement and patience our hearts and bodies will respond to the sacred too. And we might share those experiences with you.
Various forms of centering practices can deepen our prayer life. Being with a sacred word, an icon, a candle flame, a simple repetitive prayer-that kind of open-focused prayer can be helpful. Some fives may be very adept at imaginative exercises, while other fives may be much more comfortable using discursive, thinking-directed meditational exercises. We are probably not too interested in leading expressive, public, spontaneous prayer as a general practice!
I would expect that bio-spiritual focusing (which you will be trained in later in the program) would be difficult for many fives. But if a body awareness can be sustained to the point of being with a feeling for a while I think that a five will derive a lot of meaning from the felt sense-yet it is a challenge, at least to me, to stay with the felt sense/body awareness without fairly quickly jumping back into my head and reflecting on the experience.
Fives might well enjoy a good spiritual paradox. We can be challenged to love wisdom, and yet also emulate God's folly and respect the holy fool. We can yearn to be filled with all knowledge, and yet know that an important part of spiritual life development is in self-emptying and embracing not knowing. We also need to learn that our bodies and our hearts are important sources of wisdom.
The book you were assigned to read gave you other good information on fives. Those of us who are fives here expect that you read it diligently and don't want to be bored with repetition of material. So I will set you free to ask questions and make comments.
here to return to Lamb & Lion Spiritual Guidance Ministries.