Practically speaking and experientially, the Enneagram Centers are how we find our way back home.Russ Hudson
After ignoring several earlier prompts, I started reading the Fourth Way. Clearly not intended for attention spans like mine, my progress has been slow. I am needing to re-read each chapter at least once. But I haven’t given up, and that’s something.
The book, by a student (PD Ouspensky) of 19th Century Russian philosopher, mystic and spiritual teacher, George Gurdjieff, disseminates Gurdjieff’s approach to self-development, Q&A style. If you have studied the Enneagram, his name will be familiar to you. The Enneagram of Personality was drawn from Gurdjieff’s teachings.
Gurdjieff’s teachings, referred to by students as ‘the Work’ and ‘the System’, represent awakening for the modern man, the householder. No retirement is into the desert necessary.
However, because the Fourth Way is more accessible/comprehensive than the other ways, students of the approach need more knowledge and precision in order to awaken.
The birthplace of the Enneagram Centers
A core component of the Fourth Way, and one that the Enneagram of Personality transmitted, is the objective study of man’s Centers, or Enneagram ‘Centers of Intelligence’ as we know them.
In the Fourth Way, the study of the Centers gives a framework and context for two things:
- What to observe. In the Fourth Way, dispassionate self-observation must begin somewhere. The study of Centers gives students a place to begin.
- What is actually being observed. When observations are made, students frame the observations using the Centers.
Being an Enneagram student before I was a Fourth Way student, the Enneagram itself has been my framework for what to observe.
The rest of what I say in this piece is about the Centers-development as framed by the Enneagram, given the newness of my studentship of the Fourth Way teachings.
How I experience the Centers
I do have a fair amount of knowledge about these Centers from my Enneagram study. However, my personal practice has not kept apace with my knowledge-gathering. I’ve always deeply loved learning, but I do need to take care that it does not become a more sophisticated way to stay asleep.
Sincere students of the Enneagram devote themselves to the task of a greater confluence across the Enneagram Centers. This just means that Doing, Feeling, and Thinking – the functions of the Centers – are doing their jobs, rather than getting all up in eachother’s business as they generally do when we aren’t awake.
It is the most urgent ask that springs from a deep study of the Enneagram.
The ‘Repressed Center’ approach to development
When we learn the Enneagram, we learn that how we show up in Instinctual, Feeling, and Thinking (or Body, Heart, and Head) Centers is predictable and not at all free. Anyone who has brought this knowledge into their self-study has verified its accuracy.
When I first learned about the Centers, I was taught that the key thing to do for development was to ‘unbury’ my Repressed Center. At the time I was a Seven, that was the Feeling Center. Now that I am a Four (lol), it is the Instinctual Center.
Specific tasks are recommended for each Center (and these have gradients of quality). The best quality practices I have found for the development of the Instinctive Center are bringing more consciousness to the breath, and working to improve our sensations/somatic awareness. These practices are of themselves life-changing. However, developing the repressed Center in isolation won’t bring aliveness to all three.
The Centers represent, on the one hand, our full humanness, and on the other, our deep disconnection from ourselves. “Humpty Dumpty is broken, and yet to be put back together” says Russ Hudson. The true ‘goal’ of Centers development is for Thinking, Feeling and Doing to be back in their right place.
To take a practical example from my own life: the Instinctive Center should come online when I need to exert a boundary. My self-study has alerted me to the possibility that that doesn’t always happen: that instead of that, my Feeling and Thinking Centers wind up in some unbecoming tangle.
The deeper work
Untangling the Centers begins with studying them in ordinary moments of our lives; getting a mental photograph of how they currently are. This is a practice that seems passive, but as you will soon see if you try it, it’s the opposite.
You notice as often as you can in the day which Center’s function – Thinking, Feeling or Doing, is in use. Which Center is alive now? We ask and we ask again.
One way to frame this practice is as a twofold one of gathering quantitative data (what Center are we using) and qualitative (how are we using it).
Knowing which Centers are active
To the first, it is helpful to be clear on the distinctions between Doing, Feeling, and Thinking. Once you begin to identify what Center’s function is operating in real time, you might misidentify Thinking as Feeling, and the reverse happens a lot too. It is more difficult to mistake Doing.
I notice that in many moments, there is a gestalt of the Enneagram Centers. For instance, I am often using the Instinctual and Thinking Centers at the same time. Although they are taught as independent entities, the Centers don’t operate independently. That is probably not a surprise.
Knowing how the Enneagram Centers are
In terms of the qualitative aspect, it is helpful to know how the Centers look when they are not present.
The shape of our reactivity and non-presence in the Centers is exactly what the Enneagram maps. The standard type behaviors, for instance, the “bigness” of the Eight, is an expression of Center imbalance (overactive Instinctual Center, underactive Feeling Center). Our identities are found in the specific Centers doom-loops.
It is important to remember that there is no singular expression of reactivity. The relative dispassion of the 5 and the 9 – which might look like neutrality (a positive thing) for a 2 or a 4 – is their version of reactivity. It’s impossible to draw conclusions about another person’s level of awakeness from how they show up in isolation of the rest of their personality.
Accidental Body Center
Slumber in the Body Center looks like ‘anger gone to sleep’ (the Nine), anger expressed (Eight), anger repressed (One) and a multitude of other things. All the types are asleep in their Body Centers. Not just the Body triad, who I’ve named.
Being out of touch with the Body Center means being disconnected with our breath and sensation, our most direct experience of ourselves.
The Enneagram’s Body Center has three of its own Centers – Self Preservation, Sexual and Social. In order to study these aspects of ourselves amidst life, we want an idea of how these Instinctual Centers look when distorted, when present, and when not even in action. I have found Russ Hudson’s Zones of Instincts to be the most useful interpretive framework for observing the compulsions and addictions of the Instinctual Center.
Accidental Heart Center
Slumber in the Heart Center looks like Envy (4), Deceit (3), Pride (2) and other forms of reactivity and numbness. Although the Heart is linked with each Enneagram type’s Passion (or core suffering), I have found that I have needed to go beyond the Passion of my type when trying to observe the many shades of my reactivity. We need to be awake to the various expressions.
Accidental Head Center
Head-Center slumber looks like Avarice (5), Fear (6), Gluttony (7) and whatever the Fixation for your type is. The Fixation is the name for the mental pattern that each type falls into when in the trance of type.
Many of us have some capacities when it comes to studying the Head-Center, due to mindfulness and meditation teachings. A Vipassana mediation focus, for instance, is all about developing insight into the nature of the mind.
However, the Enneagram’s knowledge system can open up some objective markers for the Inner Observer. This is what supports us in sustaining a Head Center that is awake during and through the vicissitudes of life.
Doing things in the right order
This next teaching is something I learned recently from a study with Russ Hudson. Making the Centers freer is a process done in a specific order. The Centers are pillars resting on each other.
Body Center homecoming
Coming home to the Body is the “first stage in saying yes to ourselves”. Building presence in the body, or becoming embodied, is a massive focus, perhaps as a result of some disembodying spiritual teachings. The main vehicles are breath and sensation.
It is deeper, longer work, but ultimately (and as I understand it), a fully alive Body Center means transmuted Instinctual drives. A transmuted Self-preservation instinct means “creating a life that supports the wellbeing of the soul”. A transmuted Sexual instinct results in an “unstoppable passion for self-evolution”, and a transmuted Social instinct results in “genuine service in this world” (all Hudson’s words). High aims.
Heart Center homecoming
The next pillar is the Heart, where we can learn to hold our own experience with kindness and humanity. If we can ‘indwell’ in the body, then the deeper, subtler Heart can begin to show itself. Put another way, the vehicle for an awakened heart is a steady foundation or grounding in the body.
It is a periphery consideration (for me), but we exhibit the Enneagram Virtues of the Heart when we are present in this Center. The Virtues, says Gurdjieff, represent human beings ‘without quotation marks’ (I know, I just used quotation marks).
A solid internal marker of a change of heart is that of our experience of something being the same, but our experience of it being different.
Head Center homecoming
An awakened Head Center “can bear witness to this never to be repeated moment in reality”. It is “quiet, lucid and capable of revelation”. The vehicle is an awakened Heart.
I have only very spasmodically had such an experience of my Head Center.
Hudson teaches that the Fixation is what protects us from a more direct experience of the Passion (i.e. the suffering) of the type. It is an idea that behooves of us an even deeper self-compassion for the habits of the mind.
The internal focus required by studying the Centers may feel very ‘standard’ to those well versed in more intricate inner exploration.
What I can see is that it is very specific, disciplined, practical self-work. A person really has to want to awaken: continually, and not just in moments.
I don’t know if I am such a person, or if I just enjoy thinking about it for the time being. The flowering (or non-flowering) of my personal practices will be the tell.