To find our calling is to find the intersection between our own deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger.Frederick Buechner
Note: There is no specific theory I am drawing upon here: just a few personal explorations.
Frederick’s quote, which I stumble upon every now and again, has been problematic for me. Calling can seem a loaded term. I’ve seen too many people tyrannized by it, along with its fellows: ‘purpose’, and ‘meaning’.
And yet I do resonate with this quote.
Merriam-Webster defines calling as “feeling a strong urge to a particular way of life” (my emphasis).
If you like that definition, then you probably believe that ‘calling’, like purpose and meaning, are feelings. Maybe that seems obvious to you.
It is now commonly understood that what we feel, similar to what we think, is a result of our personal meaning-making architecture. Therefore it seems prudent to look there first if we want to understand how purpose and meaning show up for us. What is in our personality structure that elevates certain pursuits as purposeful, and others not? And what is driving that? The Enneagram can assist with these explorations.
Although I could, I won’t go to town on the other elements of Frederick’s quote.
I’ll just say a couple of things. First, I think sources of ‘deep gladness’ change a lot in a lifetime as we develop (read this, for instance).
Second, claiming to know the ‘world’s deep hunger’ feels very bold to me. Not all of us will quench the world’s hunger with our pursuits of purpose: some of us will only (!) make a difference to those we interact with.
Personally, I wouldn’t underrate that.
The mythology of purpose
Why do conversations around purpose produce instant anxiety in many of us? Because of some pretty unhelpful ideas, that’s why.
For instance, that purpose and calling need to overlap with how we make money; that purpose is a destination, rather than a process of “more of this, less of that”; that purpose is what we do wholesale for the rest of life as opposed to being what we will do next; or that purpose should be central to life and produce impact. Maybe most unhelpfully of all, that everything is going to be great when we finally have clarity of purpose.
None of this is true.
For me, the grain of truth is that how we decide to apply ourselves in our “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver) matters – and not just to us. From across the spiritual and religious traditions, we repeatedly encounter the idea that we are all here to contribute something unique to the unfolding.
To me, this idea is an invitation to be more of who we truly are. You know, underneath the bullshit. But orienting from the Four perspective, I probably would say that.
What the Enneagram says about purpose
Again, the Enneagram says nothing explicitly about purpose, and these are my constructions.
At the most stripped-down level, our purpose is to survive (see Maslow’s hierarchy). This has psychological aspects too. Our patterns and adaptive strategies are there because we believe we need them (although it isn’t as conscious as that). To test that out, simply try doing anything that is antithetical to your usual ways of being.
According to the Enneagram, survival is secured through the operation of the nine ways. These ways, stemming from a core wound in one of three Centers of Intelligence, are identified as nine ‘Passions’. They give rise to a set of ‘motivations’, ‘desires’ and ‘core fears’. These elements of our types are deeply unconscious, which is why so many of us don’t relate to them.
My point is that if we’re going to talk about purpose, I don’t think we can ignore these motivational thrusts.
Core motivations of the types
|One: Being good and right, and not being bad or wrong|
Two: Being loved and wanted, and not being unloved or unwanted
Three: Being valuable and successful, and not being worthless or a failure
Four: Being authentic and unique, and not being insignificant or ordinary
Five: Being competent and capable, and not being incompetent and incapable
Six: Being secure and safe, and not being without support and guidance
Seven: Being satisfied and content, and not being deprived or trapped
Eight: Being self-governing, and independent, and not being controlled or harmed
Nine: Being at peace and harmonious, versus being separated and shut out
(Note that my languaging here is just one version of the motivations for each type. Unlike the Passions, there aren’t agreed names for them. There are also a lot of secondary motivations that have been identified for each type. You will find them, for instance, in Understanding the Enneagram.)
I don’t know about you, but when I read these, I am struck by how much goodness is there. How much contribution to the world has already been made because of these fundamental drives. They seem to be part of each unique individual’s gift-bearing.
When these unconscious motivations are made more conscious (as happens in Enneagram work), they don’t just fall away from the character structure. That’s not the point.
The point is to be a lot more aware of them, preferably in real-time. It is that awareness that expands the meaning-making architecture, which enables purpose to be felt in a broader way.
When these fundamental purposes relax their vice-like grip on us, reportedly, life starts being less about doing and more about being.
‘Beingness’ for the Types is defined by the Holy Ideas and Virtues: the states of the nine awakened Minds and Hearts.
From a purpose perspective, we might say that each person is ‘on purpose’ when they’re living from the higher qualities associated with their Enneagram type. We might be doing the exact same things we always were, but we feel different.
Or, feeling different might lead us towards different actions: those that generate a deeper sense of purpose.
|Ones – Perfection|
Twos – Will
Threes – Law
Fours – Origin
Fives – Omniscience
Sixes – Faith
Sevens – Plan
Eights – Truth
Nines – Love
Patterns between Type and purpose drama
This is dangerous ground, but hey ho. I can imagine many Ones, and even Twos and Eights not struggling with a lack of purpose until perhaps much later in life. I can imagine Fours and Sevens getting stuck in the pursuit. For Threes, Sixes and Nines, it can go either way! Fives, well – the Fives I know believe that life is ultimately meaningless. So no point in arguing with them!
All this said, any Enneagram type can have a crisis of purpose.
Using the Enneagram Centers as a Diagnostic tool
If we are going through a purpose crisis, or supporting someone who is, the Enneagram map may illuminate where the ‘problem’ is located in the type structure.
The inquiry can be done through the lens of the Enneagram’s domains of consciousness: the Centers of Intelligence.
Head Center and purpose
An awakened and inhabited Head Center is associated with lucidity, clarity, and profound listening. A distorted Head Center (not just a plague of Head types) is agitated, dogmatic, or maybe just foggy.
It’s fairly straightforward to see how distortions in this Center can result in purposelessness. The problem is perhaps best addressed by looking at ideas and paradigms, internalized societal constructs, and ideals. See above.
The Heart Center and purpose
An awakened Heart Center is calm, kind, compassionate and “characterized by a fierce determination” (Hudson). An unawakened Heart Center, on the other hand, is over-the-top reactive, or numb. We may struggle to experience our identity and our value.
Given that purpose is tied up in our concepts of identity and value, it might be that us Heart types (Twos, Threes, Fours) suffer the most in terms of Heart Center purpose issues. Then again, everyone longs to be happy and content. Longings are also not bad: like all emotions, longing is important information signifying that we are not living the truth of who we are.
In terms of how to work with our Heart Centers, it seems that the first task is to ‘come home’ to them and seek to inhabit this Center more fully in life.
The Body Center and Purpose
The instincts, which many Enneagram teachers will tell you inform our behavior a lot more than type, have their own set of purposes. Depending on our level of presence with these instincts, they can interfere with the feeling of purpose.
Very broadly stated, self-preservation has the purpose to conserve; social the purpose to connect and advance the cause of the group; and sexual, the purpose to renew and regenerate. The more present we become in the instincts, the more that their higher purposes are expressed (Hudson).
Distortions in these instincts on the other hand, which is a normal state, can lead to behaviors that create a lack of purpose and meaning. For instance, prioritizing comfort over taking a risk (self-preservation dominant; sexual repressed). Or being so disconnected from the group and from service, that we aren’t awake to how we contribute (social repressed).
There are a few different theories on how to go about working with our instincts (which everyone agrees is very important). We might work on bringing them all into balance (Hudson), or we look at our sequence and then target our practice at what instinct needs to be controlled, and what needs to be coaxed out of hiding (Chestnut/Paes).
I think that the Enneagram can support us in understanding our relationship with purpose more deeply, and in making the shifts needed to experience purpose more fully in life.
The Enneagram can also help us to see which aspect of the ‘self’ (as told through the Centers) might be limiting our experience or expression of purpose. Again, that helps us to land on the practices that will support development.