The Narrative Approach of The Enneagram As A Template for Discussions On Race

By Neil Anderson – October 2015

It can be said that in many ways that the world is becoming smaller. Almost no one can escape the occasional sense that not only are things "speeding up" but a deep sense of encroachment upon everything from privacy to cherished beliefs accompanies this acceleration, real or perceived. As this mosaic of differences bring many points of contact- cultural, linguistic, genderal, racial to name a few,especially where there has been little or no previous contact, it becomes apparent that our choices at that membrane of contact make all the difference. It is here that the Narrative approach to the Enneagram can perhaps serve as a powerful tool.

I recently had the pleasure of attending an open dialogue on race relations at the invitation of a good friend. As I pondered what I could possibly have to contribute to this gathering, I had to admit my own desire, no-passion to participate and was quite sure that others shared a similar need to share and be heard. As it turned out I was right. A large group of attendees showed up to confirm my feelings on this. As the evening progressed laughter, tears, nods of affirmation, respectful silence and all the components of a good gathering unfolded.

I noticed how central the telling story of one's own experience(and having another witnessing it) was the framework for building bridges of empathy and understanding. I realized in yet another domain that this was the meat of the work in the Narrative Tradition in Enneagram work.

We assume the Enneagram to be a type of mandala, a symbol of wholeness out of which we can derive many tools whose attributes are interdependent, dynamic and interpenetrate one another. As we take on the invitation to become self observant without judgement (a tall task itself) we cultivate this sensibility for others as they share their stories, strengthening the tender holding space they may not have had or seldom had in their lives.

This is an act of tremendous courage and vulnerability, and after a time a resonant chord is struck within. A hint of familiarity in another's experience flowers into a powerful affirmation, a kind of "Amen" or "Yes I feel you" begins to create the stuff of true empathy with "type" relegated to secondary importance. We are given full permission to try on the shoes of someone we were convinced was so "other". In this recognition we're given a glimpse of of our potential to inhabit the full range of our sensibilities as we validate our ongoing stories. Reactivity to recognition becomes the coin of the realm.

This is one of the many gifts of the "Sangha", the community of fellow participants whose presence help us to triangulate on truth relative to what we need at the time. In the earlier mentioned forum on race I saw a natural tendency in people to cascade toward a similar recognition, though somewhat shallower given our unfamiliarity with one another. Something in us wants to connect in a kind of vulnerable authenticity, given good conditions. In the community or Sangha we get to see what distractions and defenses mitigate this natural tendency in full view of others.

In the days after the the discussion I lightly held the thought to substitute the term "type" with "race" as a kind of identification with a smaller aspect of ourselves that we take to be the whole, not so much with the intention of eliminating differences (which would be a nightmare scenario that I can barely envision) but rather as a means to recognize and relax into into the source that makes differences possible to begin with and sustains their unique song.

Could we possibly use our experiences with Enneagram work to forge a template of entry into discussions on race, acknowledging the recognition of differences as an essential, healthy step toward common unity? I don't see why not. I believe that if "we who are striving to become more conscious" are to be true to that claim we can at least make the effort to see if it is indeed a case of "As above so below" and bring gifts to the discussions with full confidence and a sense of belonging.

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