*Or self-coach, or supportive friend/family member.
It is one thing to appreciate the immense utility of the Enneagram as a developmental map. It is quite another to apply it to the specific terrain of a challenged human being.
As a graduate of the Integral Coaching method, I can do complexity. However, I’d be fibbing if I told you that I find it comfortable. And vigorously double-clicking on the Enneagram lens has opened up significantly more tabs – and saddled me with yet greater complexity to navigate! That’s a lot of heady stuff for a slightly lazy Four with a penchant for intuitive hunches.
Recently there is an idea that I am taking refuge in. Presence – a very specific kind.
Enneagram Assessment – what even is that?
What do I mean when I say Enneagram Assessment?
It is probably obvious, but using the Enneagram in coaching goes beyond typing (a fraught enough affair) – unless someone has come to us specifically for help in typing. Even then, I’d personally want to know a bit about what motivated them to do that.
An assessment is a process of identifying the main challenge a client is facing and what is behind it. An Enneagram assessment is carrying out that exploration through the Enneagram lens.
Beatrice Chestnut and Uranio Paes have developed a model for such a process, which includes a hefty 31 distinctions, or ‘assessment factors’. An assessment factor is a specific part of the client’s Enneagram type. “Is the topic/challenge a manifestation of the Passion, or could it be an underuse of a resource such as a Line?” Such are the questions that the coach using the Chestnut/Paes model asks.
An integrative assessment will also include factors that are unrelated to the Enneagram. For instance, the presence of trauma, the client’s social and cultural context, and their stage of development. This adds precision to the assessment, which ideally yields finer calibration of practices/recommendations.
Underneath all coaching topics
Iterations of coaching topics – even with two people that share a Type or Subtype – are as vast as humanity. But (and this is a little controversial) most coaching topics are – at their most distilled essence – a presence issue. Put another way, underneath most presenting agendas is an unwillingness to be present to a certain aspect of one’s experience.
Likewise, much of the challenges we experience in our coaching/therapeutic practices (and beyond) are lack of presence issues – needing approval, needing results, needing…something.
Which segues nicely into what is currently resourcing me through the assessment quagmire.
Capacity for presence as a resource
As I think I mentioned, for me, Enneagram and integral assessments are a heady business. Something that has helped me lately to handle the complexity is returning to this idea of presence. Presence with myself and with the human being in front of me.
Presence is not something that may be defined objectively. The way I am currently defining it is as an intimacy with self, combined with alertness to other – object and environment. I know it most easily by knowing what it is not (for instance, being driven by the lower side of Fourness).
Learning the Enneagram is of itself a presence-cultivating activity. It facilitates the objectification of the constructs that keep us stuck in a state of identification with ego.
But the Enneagram framework is obviously content, not state. It doesn’t alone shift us into a self-observational stance. We have to train that capacity (Helen Palmer calls it the Inner Observer) separately. And like everything, the stance itself moves through developmental stages.
Presence… as an Elixir?!?
Lately, I am inspired by how A.H. Almaas talks about presence: as a ‘transformational elixir’ and change agent. He says:
“When I talk about Presence, I don’t mean just the transcendent. I mean Presence as its original sense of just the sense of being. The sense of being myself as Being, as Presence, as the fullness substantial sense of almost a substance, that is now, in some sense it is almost like a medium.”
Materials from Almaas’s school, the Diamond Approach, state: “When we are able to investigate our experience to become aware of and understand what’s happening, we stop pushing against it. Not understanding it means that we are acting according to some other impulse that originates in a more superficial part of our soul.”
What I extrapolate from this idea is that if we do absolutely nothing else than support our clients’ shift into a more witnessing/accepting position, then we’re being effective. And the way to do that is to be it.
Somehow that takes the pressure off a wee bit.
Jim Dethmer calls this sort of thing “coaching from the Transformational Field”. Dethmer has an impressive way of bringing his clients into the field of presence. He reports interrupting loquacious clients by explaining how he started boring himself. This coaching strategy is not for the faint of heart, but definitely something to aspire to!
Almaas’s presence, then, is something that we train versus experience ephemerally. It is hugely complementary to Enneagram work. We always need to combine content with state; perspective and beingness.
Personal observations on presence practice
What is clearer to me is that my capacity for presence is better when I am alone than with object. I am a lot more Four when I am with you, than when I am with me.
This makes me think of that philosophical thought experiment about forests and trees. Without other, is there Type?
Who cares, I guess.
For me, it has been useful to spend lots of time practicing presence when alone. Once we have been able to touch the void enough times alone, we develop a certain sensitivity that doesn’t leave us I think.
But it is necessary to rack up the practice of presence with ‘other’ too, and especially with other humans, seeing as most of us don’t want to continue to live the lives of hermits after Covid is over.
Watching for presence capacity in clients
The capacity for presence is an assessment factor of itself (in the Integral method, it is gauged through the application of the Quadrants and Lines lenses). Some Enneagram teachers – Riso and Hudson – appear to elevate this capacity as being the sole marker of a person’s development within their Enneagram type. Whether you agree with that conflation or not, the extent to which a person is able to be present definitely correlates to the developmental possibilities available to them.
For instance, as a Four, it is of limited use to me to sit down and decide in advance how I will cultivate my One and Two, or my Three or Five, in service of my intentions and values. That move actually happens in the moments that my dreaded Fourness is alive.
And so the priority practice is exploring whatever is arising on the precipice of my awareness (to the extent that my developmental level allows). Being aware of it and accepting it. Huge work alone!
That is not to say we can’t design practices for clients around their Wings or Lines until their capacity for presence is expanded. It is more to say that the possibilities of the Enneagram unfold as awareness deepens.
And so it is…dancing between complexity and the void, between prep and presence
Performing an Enneagram assessment takes being able to hold a lot of complexity, and that can feel especially overwhelming for us newer coaches (I can’t imagine ever not calling myself that). Doing it well requires preparation.
But let’s not forget that there is a deeper intelligence within our clients and in us – a substance that Almaas calls ‘presence’.
As a coach, I know where I find it more restful to be.