Article and Interview in Australia’s NOVA Magazine
Vol 12 No 6, August, 2005
At first glance, the Enneagram appears to be simply a rather pretty geometric shape, a nine-pointed star with enough symmetry to please the eye, and just enough irregularity in its form to make you curious. But this ancient Sufi design is far more than just an eye catching geometric oddity. According to the renowned teacher of the sacred Enneagram, Eli Jaxon-Bear, it is a profoundly revealing-and potentially liberating-wisdom mirror, reflecting back to us the truth of who were are not, and implying beyond that who we really are.
Eli Jaxon-Bear says the Enneagram is a powerful psycho-spiritual tool that describes the drives and patterns of the human ego, pointing out that which the mind tries very hard to avoid seeing. As he explains it succinctly: “The real purpose of the Enneagram is to wake you up — to wake up from the false identity of fixation and bring you home to freedom.”
Eli says that before the Enneagram can be of any deep use, the person approaching it needs to be clear about the most fundamental thing in life. “First of all, you have to know what it is you really want in life before you can approach the Enneagram, because until you know what you want, everything else is going to be pointless. But if what you want is freedom, then the Enneagram can be very useful for showing you where you’re bound in slavery.
“If you’re not interested in freedom, then the Enneagram can actually be poisonous, it can help you fall deeper into the traps of ego. But the great gift of the Enneagram is that if you’re ready to wake up from an ego-identified life, then it shows you the structure of ego, so that you can see the lies, and you can give yourself to the truth, and in this way you can free yourself from the bondage of egoic identity,” he says.
The Enneagram in Essence
At each of the nine points of the Enneagram is a number (one to nine, not surprisingly), and each of these numbers represents a specific pattern of what Eli calls fixation or crystallization. In effect, each point describes a particular set of strategies the egoic self deploys to keep itself centre-stage and running the show of your life. Limitless consciousness is “crystallized” into a limited, contracted knot, Eli says, a knot that is both an illusion and a very powerful trance that can keep us entirely under its spell for life.
Born of the egoic–or separate–self’s desire for survival, the nine different fixations vary in their manifestation. Some are driven by fear, some anger, some hysteria-butall serve the same purpose, namely to defend and perpetuate our sense of ourselves as a separate being.
All the fixations mask the same transcendent truth as well, veiling the pure, pristine consciousness that is our true nature, Eli explains. Each person has one dominant fixation, but will sample widely from them all at different times.
“Because of our genetic and karmic predispositions, we identify ourselves with our body and our name, with our body’s relationships and its drives, and then we call that our life and we justify it, we defend it, we spiritualize it, we change it-and all of that is just looking in the wrong direction. We crystallize, or fixate, in at least one of our three bodies — mental, emotional or physical — as a survival strategy, as a way of creating a personal identity to strategize for survival in the world.”
When the willingness to stop identifying ourself as that identity or fixation arises, Eli says the Enneagram is a precious helper, if also a ruthless revealer of the truth we might be reluctant to face.
“What my Zen teacher says is there are illusory medicines for illusory diseases, and the disease is the disease of the mind and false identification, and the Enneagram is an illusory medicine for that illusory disease of mind. With the Enneagram, you can face the fundamental misidentifications in your life, curing that illusory disease of separation.”
But before you start flicking through the pages of Eli’s book, The Enneagram of Liberation, to find out which fixation your partner, housemate, mother, or brother has, so as to tell them what their problem is, pause for a moment and save yourself first, Eli advises.
“You can’t wake anyone else up, but you can wake yourself up. Nobody needs a missionary to tell them they have a disease and they need to wake up. Each person has to come to their own realization of their own suffering, and it happens one by one. And when people realize that no matter what they have done or owned or bought in life is not enough, when they realize that no matter how much sex they’ve had, it’s never enough, then they realize that everything in the world doesn’t bring them fulfillment. Then their spiritual search starts and everything is useful.”
Before the Enneagram came into Eli’s own life, he was pretty sure he had it all stitched up, and was congratulating himself on being a bit of a spiritual success story. Then one day he came face to face with the Enneagram. “I went to a weekend workshop on the Enneagram, and I was sure I was free because I was successful, productive, and busy, until I heard my number described, which was an Eight, and then I knew for sure that I’d been busted!” he confesses with a quiet chuckle. What does he mean by “busted”? I ask. “I mean busted in the sense that I could suddenly see that behind all of that success and imagined freedom, my life was run by lust, as is typical of an Eight fixation,” he explains.
Humbled and intrigued, he decided to find out all he could about this mysteriously wise geometric shape that had just “busted” him, that had pierced his illusions about himself so simply. But as he sought out teachings about the Enneagram, he became frustrated with the shallowness of the systems that he encountered. “They never went deep enough, they always stopped at the level of personality. It was only through my own investigation that I found that the Enneagram is actually not about personality, it’s much deeper than that: it’s the structure of character,” he says.
“When the fixation falls away, what’s left is your natural soul or character, which has certain qualities of essence—the essence of kindness, of love, of purity. The fixated character will tend to imitate these essential qualities, whereas the true character naturally is these qualities.
Fixation has an agenda, but true character or soul has no agenda. When you make that distinction, then you can start to bust yourself. The tendency will be to try to fix everyone else, which is the superego trying to judge others as a way of avoiding your own deficiencies. So then you just allow yourself to see your own deficiencies, and in seeing them-miraculously-you find they don’t really exist.”
So what happens when we look into this wisdom mirror and face our false identification? Who are we when we’ve busted ourselves? “What remains when we cut the illusory knot of our fixations and habitual identity?” I ask him.
“You begin to come out of the trance of egoic identity. Then all the fears of survival come up, all the fears of relationship, all the fears of loss, everything that’s been avoided will arise, and be met. And so what you will discover are all the places where you’re subconsciously identified as a “somebody”. And when all that stops, when the knot is cut, what’s revealed is immortal intelligent love, which is itself perfectly capable of making intelligent decisions for your survival,” he says.
“There is experiencing for yourself the truth that cannot be just read about, or taught — who you are is already pristine consciousness, who you are is already immortal truth.
This goes against all of the cultural norms; it’s quite threatening to the conventional present-day culture. The culture just wants everybody to stay in line, and be a part of the mass consumerism, to just be a mindless consumer and continue to play your role. And so to wake up from your role is revolutionary. It will change all of the political structures when everybody wakes up. We won’t be willing to be led like sheep anymore.”
Man the barricades — the revolution is coming! But before we get too high on the idea, Eli puts it in a sobering perspective. “There is enormous pressure to keep the trance in place,” he observes. And there is also a great deal at stake. It’s a uniquetime in the history of our world, because for the first time, the world is being destroyed by one of the species that lives in it, not by a cataclysmic force of nature of nature. I believe that we’ve hit this crucial stage, yet somehow have also released the potential so that each one of us can wake up and take responsibility. The wonder is that even as the earth is quite possibly dying, it’s giving birth to something completely new, and that’s our possibility, that’s our movement.”
No place like home
“Every soul is longing for home — for freedom — and most are completely unaware of it. Most of us are living so deeply in trace, so completely numb to the possibility of freedom, and so completely ignorant that there is a possibility of freedom,” Eli says.
“That’s the great gift of the Enneagram –it shows you the most subtle ways that you take the desire for home, the desire for freedom, and misuse it by turning it back into egoic desires and gratifications. So the Enneagram will show you the drives of the body-mind structure — the drives for security, the drives for ambition and social relationship, for sex, and for each fixation, so that you can be aware when you are siphoning off your desire for home into your fixation.
When you wake up and realize who you are, you truly come home. You realize you’ve always been immortal consciousness, you’ve always been eternal love, and in truth you’ve never suffered, you’ve never been born and you will never die — that’s the real truth.”
Everything that we call reality is an illusion. When you die to the unreal, you wake up into reality; this is called crossing the ocean of samsara.”
Eli has of course had first-hand experience of the difference the Enneagram, this toll of awakening, can make, both in his own spiritual life, and in the life of his marriage to the much-loved and respected spiritual teacher Gangaji. “We’ve been together nearly 30 years, and without the Enneagram it wouldn’t have happened. The Enneagram really saved our relationship. We had to be able to see what strategies were running beneath our conscious awareness. We both were committed to waking up, but I was justifying my fixation and she was justifying hers, and we were fighting — as most couples do. But the Enneagram gave us a way to slice through it all and see what was fixation and what was legitimate. And once we could see that, then it opened our relationship to a whole new level of intimacy. It was quite beautiful.”