Last week, in part 3 of our blog series, Spiritual Formation Through the Lens of the Enneagram, we examined the role of True Self and false self. This week we will explore how we can begin to shed the false self or move toward healthier levels of development within our Enneagram type.

Often, once we learn our Enneagram type and begin to notice tendencies within our personality that reflect the false self, we are eager to change.  This is good!  Awareness is the first step toward growth and vital to the formation process.  However, in our new found zeal to transform and become a heathier version of ourselves, it is not uncommon for us to call upon ego-driven ways of getting there.  Our ego-driven methods of growth and change are often renewed commitments to try harder and likely involve behaviors like fixing, controlling, and analyzing.  The result is commonly the implementation of behavior modification skills, which is not all bad when trying cultivate healthier rhythms and habits. However in the work of spiritual formation, behavior that cultivates growth characteristically looks more like letting go, self-emptying, and surrender, rather than grasping, striving, and perfecting.

Kenosis is the greek word for self-emptying, and can be found in Phil. 2:5-8 which says, 

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

                   Who, being in very nature God,
                   did not consider equality with God something to be                          used to his own advantage;
                   rather, he made himself nothing
                   by taking the very nature of a servant,
                   being made in human likeness.
                           And being found in appearance as a man,
                   he humbled himself
                   by becoming obedient to death—
                   even death on a cross!”                   

When Jesus “made himself nothing by taking on the nature of a servant,” he emptied himself.  This self-emptying is a hallmark of Jesus’ entire ministry.  Jesus practiced gentle release every moment of his life.  Within his ministry, we hear him say things like:  Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Do not be afraid!  Kenosis is the opposite of cling, the opposite of grasping, striving, or perfecting.  Jesus modeled for us, through his life and ministry, how to shed the false self and become aligned with our True Self. 

Any expert of the Enneagram will tell you to couple your knowledge of the Enneagram with a spiritual practice if you desire spiritual growth and transformation.  Almost all would also recommend your practice be a contemplative practice.  The recommendation for a contemplative practice, as opposed to other types of spiritual practice, is because all contemplative practices involve deep listening.  Entering a spiritual practice with the posture of listening requires surrender and letting go of our agenda.  In contemplative practice we quiet the busy mind, the engine that drives our false self, and listen into the silence – where the mystery of God lies.  Trappist monk Thomas Keating’s statement, “God’s first language is silence, the rest is just poor translation” makes sense of the need for deep listening.  As we listen, surrender, and let go, we grow intimacy with God and begin to receive glimpses and experiences of the True Self – ourselves as created in the image of God.

What sorts of behaviors tend to cultivate spiritual growth and transformation in your life?          

Has your growth occurred more through fixing, controlling, and analyzing or listening, letting  go, and surrendering?

In the final post within this series we will explore the contemplative practice of Welcoming Prayer, which I have found helpful in integrating toward a healthy version of my Enneagram type.