The first step to a non-violent society is...

...wait for it...self-awareness.

That's right. Now, if you really stop and think about it, it makes so much sense. However upon first hearing it, this did give me pause. Partially because you don't often hear deeply personal things like "self-knowledge" and "change of heart" mentioned in discussions on world peace and whatnot. And that's exactly where I first heard these claims. I remember it vividly, though it must have been 4 years ago now: I was sitting on the 2nd floor porch of the Yellow House working on a painting project with my iPad open next to me streaming a series of TED Talks when Scilla Elworthy's "Fighting with non-violence" started to play. The second reason this gave me pause was less about shock and more about excitement because, even back then, my friends and I were beginning to learn the immense importance of self-awareness work, the study of our personalities, counseling, etc. in keeping our friendships alive and the community thriving.

It just made sense. The more aware we were of ourselves, the less violent we were with each other. 

Don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that we're the kind of people that went around throwing literal punches, drop-kicks, shooting things, or putting one another in choke-holds. No, not that kind of violence. Though on some days, I could see how things could escalate to that. (I'm kidding...sort of). But in all seriousness, we can do just as much violence with our words, our silences, our body language, and in our comings-and-goings as we can do with your fists and feet and weapons.

When we're aware of how we innately react to certain things and why we do, we're a little freer to choose whether we will or won't react that way the next time a similar situation arises. When we know that not everyone is going to react the same way we are, we're freed from the pressure of putting unfair, unrealistic expectations on each other...and from the hurt feelings and frustration that follow in our disappointment when those expectations aren't met. We can take fewer things personally, understanding that rarely is an interaction with a person only what it appears to be on the surface–there's always more going on. We can be aware of when we're nearing our breaking points, when we're tired and need to recharge. And we know that different people need to recharge in different ways–one becomes a hermit with a book for the weekend, the other fills the weekend with friends & shopping–and we can willingly make space for each other to do those things. When we're at fuller capacity, we can be most present and love each other more selflessly–avoiding the harsh words, brooding, over-sensitivity and/or outbursts that can come from tired persons. When we're aware of the different gifts and abilities that we each bring to the table, we can make space for each other to contribute in those ways–functioning as body less plagued by power dynamics, where everyone plays their particular part that is just as essential to the whole thing working as is the next person and his/her particular part.

That's a brief look at the interpersonal level of the connection between awareness and non-violence. I'll let you watch the TED video below if your curious about the bigger picture. But I'm grateful to be reminded that the bigger picture only changes if each of us individually is changed. I'm convinced that maybe we can't really change the world (yes, a millennial just said that), but we can change ourselves which will change our friendships which will change our communities. And a whole world of changed communities becomes a changed global community–a changed world.

So, if society is simply a system of relationships–and I believe it is–I think we're on to something here that is radical. Not radical as in extraordinary and hardly attainable by a normal person. No, but rather radical as in what that word actually means...getting to the root of something. 

It doesn't feel extraordinary to have a conversation about why the dishes didn't get done (again)...or to confess an insecurity...or to take a neighbor-kid with a stinky cast on his arm to the ER for a few hours...or to ask the hard questions...or to bury a dead chicken...or to listen to confession of sexual struggles...or to watch "daddy issues" rear their heads again...or to feed your kid and change the diapers...or to sit with a friend through another day of grief over loneliness and waiting for a partner to do life with.

But these are all part of life together. And if we can do these things more peacefully and lovingly with the help of cultivating self-awareness, that we might be better aware of those around us, then by all means let's do it. And let's acknowledge that it's radical. It's healing and nourishing the roots of a giant tree that won't change for the better until it's roots are strong again... 

ENNEAGRAM COMPANIONS

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:

If you'd like to know which Enneagram number you might be, you can  try taking this online test  (or any number of others available on the web). However the best way to identify your type is to read about each and reflect on which one best describes you. The test can be a good starting place, leading you to a couple of numbers to investigate.

If you'd like to know which Enneagram number you might be, you can try taking this online test (or any number of others available on the web). However the best way to identify your type is to read about each and reflect on which one best describes you. The test can be a good starting place, leading you to a couple of numbers to investigate.

"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!

THE WAR OF ART (A Book Review)

This is the 2nd 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.

The back jacket of this book reads…

DO YOU: 

  • dream about writing the Great American Novel?
  • regret not finishing your paintings, poems, or screenplays?
  • want to start a business or charity?
  • wish you could start dieting or exercising today?
  • hope to run a marathon someday?

IF YOU ANSWERED “YES” TO ANY OF THESE QUESTIONS, THEN YOU NEED…THE WAR OF ART.

Pressfield notes early on in The War of Art  that most of us have 2 lives––the one we live, and the one left unlived within us. He goes on to claim what stands between the 2 is the Resistance.

Being a successful writer, Pressfield writes as a man intimately familiar with the creative process and all that wars against it. Being a seasoned writer, he writes with a perspective of great value to the rest of us, in that he’s won countless battles in this war of art-making and can share his learned wisdom from that experience. Still doing his work daily, he writes in solidarity with the rest of us.

Speaking of solidarity, one of my favorite parts about this book is that its audience is not limited only to creative professionals. As you read in the excerpt from the book jacket, Pressfield explains that we meet Resistance basically when we attempt to do anything good in the world–anything that will improve the quality of life for yourself, others, the environment, etc. Therefore I don't only recommend this book to those of us who are in professions that are considered to be “creative,” but to anyone anyone trying hard but feeling stuck or lacking motivation and/or just anyone who has felt stuck before (because let’s be real…chances are you will again).

Defining the Enemy 

Pressfield spends the first 50 pages or so defining the characteristics of Resistance in great detail. Reading it was like an avalanche of accurate articulation for all sorts of things I’ve experienced to be true, just couldn't really name. (Sidenote: This is one of the most valuable things we get from reading I think…the gift of being able to name reality in new ways that spur us on to heal, grow, correct problems, and engage in our lives more fully.)

Some of the key characteristics of Resistance

  • Resistance is invisible.
  • … is internal.
  • …is insidious.
  • …impersonal.
  • …infallible.
  • …universal.
  • …never sleeps.
  • …fueled by fear.
  • ...leads to self-dramatization, self-medication, and playing the victim.
  • ...tries to influence our choice of mate.
  • ...causes us to criticize others’ lives out of discontentedness with our own.
  • ...is directly proportional to love.
  • ...presents us with a series of plausible, rational justifications for reasons we shouldn't do our work.
  • ...can be beaten.

Fundamentalist vs. the artist

One of the most interesting sections to me was contrasting the fundamentalist’s point of view versus. the artist’s. He begins by saying that both confront the same issues, namely the mystery of their existence: Who am I? Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life? (33) He goes on to explain that these are difficult questions because for the majority of history humans have not lived in such a way where we could ask these questions as individuals. We’re wired tribally, to act as part of a group (33). Evolutionarily speaking, the individualization we know in today’s society has not been around long enough for our brains to adjust entirely (which I might argue is a good thing), and therefore a great tension surrounds the attempts to answer these questions for ourselves. Here is what Pressfield offers us about 2 different ways of approaching these questions:

“The artist is grounded in freedom. He is not afraid of it…He has a core of self-confidence, of hope for the future. He believes in progress and evolution. His faith is that humankind is advancing, however haltingly and imperfectly, toward a better world.

The fundamentalist entertains no such notion. In his view, humanity has fallen from a higher state. The truth is not out there awaiting revelation; it has already been revealed…The fundamentalist (or more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He cannot find his way into the future, so he retreats into the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to basics. To fundamentals.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean that the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction…

The difference is that while one looks forward, hoping to create a better world, the other looks backward, seeking to return to a purer world from which he and all have fallen.” (34-35)

May we wholeheartedly adopt the viewpoint of the artist in everything and everyone we encounter. May our faith be that of the artist, not the fundamentalist. May we look forward to imagine and create restoration for humanity, for our communities, for creation, and for the fundamentalists of any kind…

Combating Resistance

Much of the middle of the book is dedicated to sharing practical ways in which we can actively overcome Resistance. Pressfield calls combating the Resistance turning pro–which essentially is committing and showing up to do your work every day no matter what. Here are just a few characteristics of the professional:

  • The professional knows the difference between what is urgent and what is important, doing what is important first.
  • ...is patient.
  • …seeks order.
  • …demystifies.
  • …acts in the face of fear.
  • …accepts no excuses.
  • …is prepared.
  • …does not show off.
  • …dedicates himself to mastering his craft.
  • …does not hesitate to ask for help.
  • …does not take failure (or success) personally.
  • …endures adversity.
  • …recognizes her limitations.
  • …reinvents herself.
  • …is recognized by other professionals.


The Higher Realm

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it” (12).     This is snapshot of a check list of 31 songs that I’ve written over the last 3 years that almost no one has heard…because the Resistance has been beating me in all of the classic ways. Grateful (and terrified) to report I have a friend keeping me accountable to making demos of these and moving toward sharing some with you fine people.

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it” (12).


This is snapshot of a check list of 31 songs that I’ve written over the last 3 years that almost no one has heard…because the Resistance has been beating me in all of the classic ways. Grateful (and terrified) to report I have a friend keeping me accountable to making demos of these and moving toward sharing some with you fine people.

In the final portion of his book, Pressfield acknowledges that “as Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were born to be, equal and opposite powers are counterpoised against it” (107). There is discussion of invoking the muses and angels and the geniuses that aid us in our work–very different from the way our current Western culture puts an inhumane sort of pressure on seemingly gifted people calling them “geniuses” themselves. Click here for a candid talk from writer Elizabeth Gilbert on just that.

There is a brilliant discussion of the Ego and the Self which I have thoughts about that I will have to share at another time, as I started to do it here and realized it would almost double the length of a review that is already too long.

There is contrasting of hierarchy and territory and how both affect our endeavors. And finally there is mention of:

 

 “the third way proffered by the Lord of Discipline, which is beyond both hierarchy and territory. That is to do the work and give it to Him. Do it as an offering to God…we are servants of the Mystery. We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be through us.” (161-162)

______________________

Thanks, as always, for reading! This is in no way comprehensive and in every way longer than I expected it to be, but I hope enlightening and encouraging in some way.

Now let’s all get back to the work…back to the war of art. Where has the Resistance been beating you? How will you combat it?

sd.

MERTON: An Enneagram Profile (Book Review)

This is the first of 25 books I have committed to read & review this year for a project I’m calling “25/25.” Follow visual updates on Instagram with the hashtag #read25in25.

thomas_merton_society.jpg

So, if you’ve spent more than ten minutes in conversation with me at some point over the last year, you’ve heard me mention the Enneagram. Seem like an exaggerated generalization? I’m pretty sure no one will challenge it, but go ahead and object if I’ve missed you somehow. Actually, I’m about to unload on you, so consider this our conversation I suppose…

Let’s start with some brief points of context:

  • The Enneagram is a system organized around an ancient, nine-sided symbol that explains “the nine basic personality types of human nature and their complex interrelationships.” I’ve worked with numerous personality typing systems over the last seven years, and I find the Enneagram to be the deepest, most comprehensive, and most helpful in the transformation of self and relationships. Each of the nine types is indicated by a number, and many subtypes and variations exist in the core number’s relation with the other numbers around the circumference of the Enneagram symbol.
  • Thomas Merton (1915-1968) is a widely revered 20th-century monastic who belonged to the Trappist community at Our Lady of Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky. There he wrote more than seventy books of poetry, personal journals, letters, and social criticisms with a focus on peace, justice, ecumenism, and a life of contemplation. Merton was also a photographer & graphic artist. He is perhaps best known for his exploration of the true and false self, and for his social activism. For merging monastic life with active participation in the society of his day, Merton is sometimes thought to be the first of the New MonasticsMerton is a type 4 on the Enneagram.
  • I am a type 4 on the Enneagram. I first read Merton sometime during the first half college, and found his work deeply resonant. It wasn’t until later that I was introduced to the Enneagram and eventually told that Merton was a 4. (And at some point in that progression I finally gave in and admitted, after much contention, that I am 4 –– a textbook 4.) Suddenly it was clearer why his words were having such a deep impact on me, and I have him to thank for much guidance in my path to maturity, integration, and learning to love and live more fully.

Suzanne Zuercher, O.S.B. wrote Merton: An Enneagram Profile –– which is essentially a biography of Merton’s life interwoven seamlessly with an in-depth presentation of a 4’s experience of the world. And I owe Sister Zuercher a debt of gratitude for the work she’s done. I’ve read many words for too many hours about the Enneagram in recent months, but in no other book have I found the sort of nuance and depth Sister Zuercher achieves in Merton. Undoubtedly that is more possible in a book that focuses on one man and one enneagram type than in one with a broader viewpoint, but there’s also a distinctly different perspective she takes than I’ve yet read elsewhere. I’ll be adding more of her books, such as Enneagram Companions: Growing in Relationships and Spiritual Direction, to my reading list. I believe this work honors Thomas Merton and traces insightfully the journey he took in the process of being freed from illusion and compulsion, being restored to the reality of his true self––and therefore the reality of God & the connectedness of himself to God, humanity, and all of creation. There is no pretense about Merton’s shortcomings (and I expect the late Thomas Merton would have had it no other way). There is worthy tribute to the ways in which he graced his community and the ways his words continues to enrich so many lives today.

I both excitedly and hesitantly tell you how accurate Zuercher’s presentation of the 4’s experience is––excitedly because it’s a rare thing to be understood so precisely, and hesitantly because her account holds nothing back about the challenges and compulsions of 4s. Though, in balance, she certainly lines these up next to the gifts and contributions that 4s (and therefore Merton) can uniquely embody. I recommend this book to fellow 4s and wish you a reading experience that is as encouraging, convicting, calming, and challenging as my own has been. And if you are not a 4, but ever you find yourself wanting for understanding of someone you know that may be a 4, you need look no farther than this book for a fairly comprehensive profile that I expect will be helpful in your relating. And of course, and perhaps primarily, if you are intrigued by the man Thomas Merton, I recommend this read to you for a unique and valuable perspective.

Some topics in the book at a glance:

  • Merton’s/4s’ fear that conflict will destroy relationship and the compulsive attempts to maintain or create harmony.
  • Merton’s/4s’ impulse to “do” rather than “be”…sometimes activity in the form of work, excessive social engagement, etc. and sometimes constant activity or commentary in the mind.
  • Merton’s/4s’ tension between the special/romantic and the ordinary/mundane, and the over-dramatization and intensity this can lead to.
  • Merton’s/4s’ search for significance in all things, making meaning through symbols, observation of the self and others…all comprising the artistic temperament most 4s are known to have.
  • Merton’s/4s’ view of all of life as an art piece, as a drama…positive consequences of this being the possibility of a life of intentionality, integrity, beauty, etc. and negative consequences being a loss of spontaneous, authentic responses and the inhibition to act from feeling constantly observed.
  • Merton’s/4s’ fluctuation between social engagement and withdrawal into solitude.
  • Merton’s/4s’ temptation to despair…often experiencing seasons of melancholy and depression. Redeemed 4s, which Merton became, find the way to a deep hope by way of passing through deep despair, and can then hold space for others in their midst who must work through their own pain.
  • Merton’s/4s’ experience of the spiritual life as a homecoming.
  • Merton’s/4s’ experience of time as a series of deaths and births…leading to a heightened sense of the significance of life events and a focus that falls more easily on the past or the future than the present. Time is perceived more like a spiral shape than linearly. An essential in Merton’s/4s’ redemption is to learn to be fully in the present moment, resting in trust.
  • Merton’s/4s’ focus on the Spirit of God and the oneness of all things in that Spirit.
  • Merton’s/4s’ capacity to hold glaring contradictions: melancholy vs. joy, intensity/seriousness vs. humor/play, harsh criticism vs. warm compassion, oozing tension vs. radiating peace, sociability vs. seclusion, self-awareness vs. self-deception, empathy vs. self-absorption.
  • Merton's/4s'  persistent sense of longing and/or envy.
  • Merton's/4s' deep experience and appreciation of the mercy of God.

This was one of those books that ends up having more underlined, starred, and dog-eared in it than not. Below are some quotes I feel are significant. Though difficult, I limited myself to what is hopefully a reasonable number:

“In the wonder of our redemption we are not delivered from our native endowment. It is that very distinguishing characteristic that becomes our contribution to creation. Once our instincts, which we had exaggerated into compulsion, are admitted, acknowledged, allowed, they gradually assume a proper proportion in our lives. They become increasingly natural and free responses.” (Zuercher, p. 7)

“We are at liberty to be real or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it.” (Merton, p. 25)

“When Merton was taken out of himself by beauty in non-analytical wonder rather than in analytical fascination, he experienced simply what is so.” (Zuercher, p.68)

“According to enneagram theory, the Divine is manifested in the many different aspects of creation. Applied more personally, each human enneagram type especially incarnates something of the Creator. In Christian terms, each triad and each space within that triad, resonates in its energy with a different Person in the Trinity of Divine persons. For 8/9/1s it is the Life-Giver and Nourisher, the Father/Mother/Creator God to whom they witness, each type in the triad nuancing that witness. The Son of God becomes inspiration for the 5/6/7 triad and each space in it. The Spirit of Jesus alive in the here and now takes flesh in the flesh of 2/3/4s, a little differently depending on the number in the triad.” (Zuercher, p. 122)

“The man with the “sacred” view is one who does not need to hate himself, and is never afraid or ashamed to remain with his own loneliness, for in it he is at peace, and through it he can come to the presence of God….Such a man is able to help other men to find God in themselves, educate them in confidence by the respect he is able to feel for them…helping them to put up with themselves, until they become interiorly quiet and learn to see God in the depths of their own poverty.” (Merton, p. 123)

“Over years of experience 4s find out that conflict, misunderstanding, and even division need not end relationships. There is always the suspicion in 4s that if others were ever to come close enough to see who they really are they would be abandoned. In life’s inevitable situations of stress, the “good face” they feel obliged to put forward, the harmony they feel personally responsible to maintain or create, fails. In such circumstances, when people who are consistently in their lives continue to relate to them and to care for them, they are amazed…

Probably the deepest and most real kind of hope 4s can experience is based on the testimony of a lifetime of commitment to the same people. This is one of the many reasons Merton’s monastic vocation held such significance for him. The monks knew him in all of his limitation and loved him nonetheless.” (Zuercher, p. 145-146)

“Merton fluctuated between friendliness and privacy, trust and mistrust, rebellion and obedience, shyness and openness, collaboration and aloofness, snobbery and ordinariness. Such fluctuation characterizes 4s and is their peculiar mix of the social instinct on the one side and the perceptual on the other.” (Zuercher, p. 154)

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Thank your for reading! I hope this has been enriching for you in some way. In the next couple of days I will review The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, a classic for anyone doing creative work. Stay tuned if you’re interested!

sd.