All wisdom traditions acknowledge that we experience the world in three ways, through our head, our heart and our body. Science is catching up on what has been known for thousands of years. It’s now known that we have complex neural networks in the heart and our gut, and that more signals go from these areas to the brain than the other way around as previously assumed. In the Western world we tend to value the wisdom of the head over that of the heart or gut, and our educational systems reflect this bias. The heart and body have an equally valid intelligence however, and it’s possible to use all three centres in a more balanced way in order to experience and respond to life more fully.

The Enneagram system teaches that each type has a dominant centre of intelligence through which we experience the world. We each have a head, heart and gut so all three centres are available to us but we tend to lean more on one centre and underuse the others. In this way we turn away from some of the wonderful resources available within each one of us.

We all use our head centre for thinking, analysing, planning and much more but Enneagram types 5, 6 and 7 filter the world predominantly through their head centre. They have good imaginations and value facts and ideas. These types are concerned in different ways with safety and security. Fear is the core emotion associated with the head centre though each of these types experiences fear differently.

We all use our heart centre to experience emotions; it’s about what we feel rather than what we think. Enneagram types 2,3 and 4 filter the world predominantly through their Heart Centre. They focus on relationships and particularly how others see and relate to them. Sadness is the core emotion associated with the Heart centre though each of these types experiences sadness differently.

We all use our body, gut or instinctual centre to experience the world through sensations, for example when we have a gut reaction to a person or situation. Enneagram types 8,9 and 1 filter the world predominantly through their body centre. They make decisions from a sense of body knowing and tend to act instinctively. Anger is the core emotion associated with the body centre though each of these types experiences anger differently.

We don’t need to know anything about Enneagram types in order to become more aware of our centres of intelligence. In fact discovering your dominant centre is often a first step to finding your type.

Even though we tend to be more comfortable in our dominant centre, we often use it in an unhelpful way. Type Four for example may get lost in negative emotions while Type Five may over-analyse. Ideally we want to be able to access more the resources of our less used centres of intelligence and use all three centres in an integrated way. We don’t want to rely solely on our head for example when making a decision but use the wisdom of our heart and gut instinct as well.

It’s a valuable practice for us to connect with our three centres. Begin by paying attention. Take a few moments to be still. First notice what’s going on in your body. Ask yourself, what sensations do I notice and where in my body are they? How relaxed, tensed, energetic, tired does my body seem? What are these sensations telling me? Then take a few moments to notice your heart centre. Ask yourself, what’s going on in my heart? What sort of feelings are coming up? What are these feelings telling me? And finally notice your head centre. Ask yourself, what’s going on in my head? Where’s my attention? What thoughts, memories, ideas or imaginings are popping up?

At first it may seem like visiting unfamiliar territory when you try to connect with your less dominant centres. It might seem as though a part of you is closed off. But the more we bring our attention to our three centres and especially the ones we use less, gently asking “what’s going on in this centre?” the more we open ourselves to all of who we are.

When we access our three centres of intelligence in a more balanced way we benefit from a quiet open mind, a compassionate loving heart and a grounded aware body. What more do we need?

Enneagram Panels help us gain valuable insight into the inner world of people who relate to a particular type. They are an essential feature of the Narrative tradition. A panel usually comprises a group of people who share the same type patterns.  During the panel these representatives of the type explore their patterns in an interactive way.  The audience is made up of people who wish to understand more about this type and also themselves in relation to the type. Many seek a better relationship with a partner, family member, friend or business colleague who lives with these patterns.

The panel begins with a grounding exercise led by the facilitator. This is valuable because we bring with us whatever has been going on in our lives during our day. These moments of checking in with ourselves allow everyone attending to leave their “stuff” aside and be fully present with an open mind, compassionate heart and grounded body.

Before opening up to the panel, the facilitator explains the main features of the type. Each of the panelists is then invited to describe how they recognise the patterns of this type in their daily lives. Because we each come from different backgrounds and life experiences, we “wear” our type in our own unique way. We tend to relate to some patterns of our type more than others. The panel illuminates the ways people of the same Enneagram type are similar and how they are different.

Panelists choose how much or how little they share of their lives. In order to create an atmosphere of trust and safety, everyone agrees at the beginning of the session to respect confidentiality. The privilege of entering into another’s inner world comes with the responsibility to respect that person’s privacy.

We learn more from panels than from any Enneagram book because we learn from the experts, the people who live with these type patterns every day. With many type descriptions the focus is on outward behaviour but panels enable us to see what goes on beneath the surface.  We witness the energy, the nonverbal manifestation of the type. We hear what is important to them and why, where their attention tends to go, what their particular view of reality is. We begin to understand what drives this type. It’s often difficult for those new to the Enneagram to understand the passions (emotional habits) and fixations (mental habits) but listening to a panel demonstrates the myriad ways they show up in everyday life. For example the word “sloth” really comes alive when we hear those with Type Nine patterns describe its impact on daily life.

Understanding brings compassion. When we gain insight into the underlying motivation behind behaviours, the struggles the type contends with, the wonderful gifts they bring to the world, we become less judgemental and more appreciative. We are touched by what we hear.  It becomes clear that no type is any better or worse than another, and that each of us is on a journey of discovery. Being truly present allows us to observe our own reactions to those on the panel, and so gain unique insight into how we respond to others.

Participating in a panel benefits the panelists too.  They feel less alone realising that others share their experience of life. For a six to hear another six share their preoccupation with safety and security is strangely comforting.  One person’s comments may make sense of an aspect another has been struggling with or unaware of. It was only when I heard a Six describe projection that I truly understood what it meant. By gaining greater awareness around our patterns, we learn to loosen their hold.

The facilitator may invite the audience to ask questions of the panelists at the end of the session. People might use this opportunity to gain advice on how to better relate to a person of that type in their life, or for further clarification on something that was discussed during the panel.

It’s such a joy to facilitate panels. I gain fresh insights every time.  I’m always amazed by the self-awareness, honesty and courage of the participants and also by the compassion and appreciation of the audience. Every panel is different and every panel brings something new.

Panels can be face to face or online.  Phyllis Jordan is another Enneagram teacher trained in the Narrative tradition. Each month Phyllis and I join together to host an Enneagram panel online. Everyone with an interest in deepening their understanding of people is welcome to join us. Tickets must be purchased in advance and proceeds go to charity. If you would like to experience the power of panels please email me to join the mailing list.

Most of us have at some stage stopped to assess what and how we eat. Perhaps as a result of a health scare, high cholesterol or lack of energy, or wanting to lose weight, – we begin to pay more attention to what we eat and what we don’t eat and work towards a more balanced diet. This improves how we feel, what we do, how we live each day.

What if we apply this in other areas of our lives? We seldom stop to examine how we think, feel and behave or why we do so. It’s easier to see other’s traits and less straightforward when we come to our own. And why would we want to look at ourselves in this way? Aren’t we doing just fine ticking along? The problem is we tend to respond and react in predictable ways even when they don’t serve us or those we care for. We avoid the same situations, fall out with others for the same reasons, repeat the same mistakes, feel stuck in areas where we want to change. And we do all this without any real awareness.

The Enneagram is a brilliant tool to help us have a good look at ourselves. Like a mirror it shows us what we tend to pay attention to, what bothers us, where we do well and what challenges us, where we shine and how we get stuck. It even shows how we turn up in relationships. And then it goes deeper to explain our inner motivations- where all this comes from.

We develop our patterns early in life as a way of getting our most basic needs met. In childhood these are important survival strategies that help us navigate our way. In adulthood they become automatic and habitual. We keep doing what we’ve always done whether it’s meeting the needs of others before our own, avoiding conflict, asserting strength and power and so on. What helped us growing up comes to limit us. Our patterns keep us stuck when we should be moving on, they prevent us being free and joyful in relationships. And it is difficult for us to recognise what’s going on. This is where the Enneagram comes in.

At a basic level there are nine different Enneagram types of personality, nine different ways of viewing the world and this applies across languages, culture, continents. We each relate to the patterns of one type in particular. With our different backgrounds, life experiences, culture, genes and so on, we each wear our type uniquely. Identifying our type helps us feel less alone. We realise that others too experience life as we do. The Enneagram is taught worldwide because it shows how despite our differences, we are all connected. It promotes tolerance and understanding. Working with the Enneagram makes us more aware of what goes on inside us.

It’s a wonderful journey of self-discovery to get to know yourself in this way. We start by observing ourselves more closely, what triggers us, what makes us feel good and much more. We become curious about what goes on inside us, and how that relates to our outer world. We see unfamiliar parts of ourselves and this can be uncomfortable. It’s like being in a clothes shop dressing room with double mirrors showing a rear as well as a front view. Compassion is a necessary companion. We’re all doing our best. Humour lightens our journey when we’re able to gently laugh at ourselves.

Once we begin to really notice our patterns, we can try to understand why they developed and how they were necessary when we were young. We realise that we have a choice, we don’t have to respond and react in our usual ways. It’s as though without realising it we’ve boxed ourselves in and live a curtailed life. The Enneagram helps us climb out of our box and see that we are much more than our personality. Learning about the other types helps us recognise what’s going on for those close to us, what drives them to do what they do. So as well as understanding ourselves better, we gain insight into the inner worlds of others. It’s a little easier to be compassionate.

Taking a good look at ourselves can be daunting, exciting, courageous and challenging. You may realise you are not who you thought you were and you may discover you are more than you ever dreamed.

Starting something new – a class or workshop, a project, this website-can be daunting. How will it go? Beginnings bring up something different for each of us and they offer wonderful opportunities for self-exploration. How do we react to the new in our lives? Bringing an attitude of curiosity to how we respond in any situation is like allowing fresh air in through an open window.

The practice of Focusing offers us a way to be with whatever is going on for us. We all Focus without realising it. When you feel a warm sensation in your heart as you remember someone you love, or when your gut tenses in advance of a difficult meeting- this is Focusing. As I get ready to launch my website I notice a quivering sensation in my throat and stomach, a part of me that is fearful, imagining what might go wrong, and ready to retreat to a safe corner. There’s also a doubtful part that is so familiar I seldom stop to check exactly how it feels, but yes it’s here and it’s a pulling back and down sensation in the middle of my trunk. I’m also aware of a part that’s excited, impatient, eager to get going. This part is in my heart and like an enthusiastic child it wants to leap and bound and race onward.

I tend to try to ignore the scared part, shove it into a corner and pretend it’s gone. But I know it’s there. The strange thing is if I acknowledge this part in a gentle way, it relaxes. The edges soften and my body calms. Doubt needs a slightly different approach. It’s a pattern that has been with me a long time. I’m learning to be more aware of it and notice the way it operates, how reasonable and persuasive it sounds and how it holds me back. Sometimes I get frustrated with its constant “buts” and “what ifs”. Other times I’m able to compassionately say, “Ah here’s doubt again”, and then it relaxes slightly as though laughing at how ridiculous it sounds. The childlike eager part swells happily when I stay with it. Paying it just a little gentle attention brings a feeling of joy and a vibrant energy to move forward.

There are always different parts in each of us, various patterns playing out in all the situations of our lives. When we’re able to pause and notice them bringing a kind attention to anything we find, both body and mind become more at ease. This practice seems strange at first. We haven’t been encouraged to stop and become aware of our thoughts, our feelings, what’s going on in our bodies. Mostly we run away from ourselves.

The body is our starting point, its myriad sensations a language informing us about what’s going on if we take the time to listen carefully. It only takes a few moments to pause and observe inwardly, and give a little gentle attention to whatever we find. Listening in this intimate way invites self-acceptance. And surprisingly it usually brings something new, a fresh way of seeing or being in any situation.

As you start something new take a moment to pause and become aware of how you are. Gently acknowledge the different sensations and feelings you notice in your body without trying to change them. This is the beginning of Focusing.