This is the 7th of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram (& Twitter) with the hashtag #read25in25.
Enneagram Companions: Growing in Relationships and Spiritual Directionwas written by Suzanne Zuercher, O.S.B., who is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Chicago, a licensed clinical psychologist in Illinois, and has a background in spiritual direction. She has also written 3 other books about the enneagram: Enneagram Spirituality: From Compulsion to Contemplation, Using the Enneagram in Prayer, and Merton: An Enneagram Profile.
In brief, the Enneagram ("nine sided figure" in Greek) is a personality typing system that was introduced in the 1960s by Oscar Ichazo in South America, however the philosophy behind the Enneagram contains aspects of mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism, and ancient Greek philosophy (particularly Socrates, Plato, and the Neo-Platonists.) Numerous credible psychologists, MD's, spiritual teachers, etc. from all over the world have contributed to the Enneagram's growing tradition and continue to today. According to Enneagram theory there are 9 basic human personality types, though the system is extremely complex, and there are actually more than 54 variations on those 9 types and countless levels of information about each if you dive into the nuances. For the purposes of this blog, I won't go into more detail about the Enneagram itself and rather will focus specifically on Zuercher's book. I am in the process of preparing some writing and presentations on the Enneagram and will share those as they become ready. In the meantime, learn more here...or here...or here...
Zuercher's book focuses on the Enneagram as it relates to the field of spiritual direction.
Spiritual direction is the practice of being with people as they attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine, or to learn and grow in their own personal spirituality...The director listens and asks questions to assist the directee in his or her process of reflection and spiritual growth.
Who are spiritual directors? Zuercher claims they are people who often didn't seek out this role. Rather
"they are people who grapple with the hard questions and learn to resist the temptation to settle for easy answers. They grow increasingly comfortable with mystery, their own and that of others...They relax into their bodies with its strength and limitations. They attend to their own issues rather than flee from them into those of other people. On the other hand, their growing humble acceptance of themselves in their own humanity brings them closer to others...Over time such people find others approaching them, not for solutions but for accompaniment." (8)
The Enneagram can help us learn the art of self-obersvation, which can help to release us from the trap of self-deception, and lead us into the self-remembering and understanding that are necessary to grow, heal, and move toward wholeness in our lives. This observation and understanding can and should, with the help of the Enneagram, translate into us being able to more clearly observe and understand not only ourselves but also others, thereby enhancing our relationships with one another and providing tools to aid us in communicating, resolving conflict, and working together.
We all fight this process of viewing reality and ourselves as we really are. In doing so, we resist the possibility of growth and change. We've all developed defense mechanisms from a very early age to help us handle life, and these mechanisms are different for people of each different Enneagram type:
"Some of us get overly busy; some of us shut down. Some fill inner life with perceptions to avoid doing anything. Some fill outer life with tasks around connecting to individuals and groups. Some shuttle back and forth looking for the one answer, which, because it is never found, never needs to be embraced. Our enneagram stance will shape our resistance." (11)
Zuercher's book has a simple structure. 3 sections, 5 chapters per section. The sections are divided by the basic triadic groupings of the Enneagram numbers: 2/3/4 the Feeling (Heart) Center, 5/6/7 the Thinking (Head) Center, and 8/9/1 the Action (Gut) Center. There is first a chapter that contains a general overview of the instincts of the triad in focus. Following that overview, there is one chapter per number exploring how directees of that type may be motivated and may behave in a spiritual direction situation. And finally, each section concludes with a chapter on how directors of the triad in focus would be influenced by their instincts when directing in various contexts.
I realize this content could seem limited to a fairly small, specific audience. However, I don't want to mislead you to perceive it that way; all of the information presented is valuable in any relational context–not only that of spiritual direction. I believe you'd find what this book has to offer as valuable in family life, friendships, professional relationships, etc.
I hadn't necessarily thought of my work (especially at the Yellow House) as spiritual direction, even though "director" is in my title. However this book shed some light on the fact that this sort of direction is a huge part of what we're doing. I'm grateful to be able to take that more seriously, attend to it more intentionally, and apply the knowledge of these Enneagram dynamics even more deeply in my relationships with our interns and coworkers!