The Enneagram and Spiral Dynamics: How Types and Lenses Bring a New Focus to Understanding

By Mary Ann Plunkett - October 2014

This past July at the IEA Global Conference I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Deborah Ooten and Beth O’Hara present on “The Big Three: Sex, Power and Money.” I think most would agree that we don’t need the Enneagram (or Spiral Dynamics for that matter) to know that these are some hot button topics in our society today.  Regardless of what stage of life we find ourselves in, these three subjects tend to color our judgments quite a bit on how we view ourselves, others, and most importantly – different societies, not just our own.  The Enneagram is a great tool for the understanding of self and others, but when it is paired with a system like Spiral Dynamics, a whole new world opens up.  It is as if the stars start to finally connect and form the constellation you’ve seen in your head all along.

Trying to CliffNotes Spiral Dynamics into two hours is no easy feat, but with the help of PowerPoint, and some ingenious wordsmithing from two very experienced psycho-spiritual teachers like Deborah and Beth, it was a wonderful workshop that shed light into a new way of understanding; a new lens of compassion and acceptance from which I now view myself and others.  I know we all experience the world through the Type at which we fixate, but what if you could take a sneak peek into the moral framework of not just someone else, but a society at large and gain the same insight you gained from your deep understanding of the Enneagram?  Spiral Dynamics teaches you just that.  It shapes the tiers of consciousness into multiple lenses and shifts the way you view things. It helps you realize your own patterned thinking, or fixed judgments, in addition to the way in which another culture functions.  It suspends your opinions and disintegrates the “us” and “them” thinking we often find ourselves falling back into when we can’t grasp something.

For example, Deborah and Beth highlighted an indigenous culture in which the norm for children to be introduced to sex with, was in fact, a parent.  Looking around the packed conference room, most people started to uncomfortably shift in their chairs, or immediately threw their hand up for objection – or a question.  But it only took about another 5 minutes of explanation from them to teach us, the room, that the lens in which we view sex is different than the lens in which they, the indigenous culture, views sex. In America, it’s a form of power, a way to control; in their culture, it’s a form of care and love.  As parents, they teach and shape their children the same way in which we try to in our society, but the taboo of incest doesn’t exist for them as it does for us.  It’s not an easy thing to sit with, but with the help of Spiral Dynamics, you’re forced to ask yourself, “What if I don’t know?  What if I enter each new situation, conversation, or even conflict with no premeditated judgments?  That everything is fair game?”

For a young enneagramer like myself I found this workshop to be the most impactful and game changing of all the workshops I attended.  It deconstructed the fixed certainties I have on so many things and broke down my ego to a level I hadn’t experienced before.   It elucidated the ways in which I separate myself from true unity consciousness, and at the end of the day, I think that’s what we’re all striving for – a place where we can see more of our similarities in all people, not just the dissimilarities.  We all want that unitive experience and with the program presented in the way it was taught, I know everyone in that room took away something bigger then themselves that day.


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