Author Archives: Maren

Happiness in the Midst of Life

happy helathy personA few weeks ago, a piece of click bait showed up on my Facebook feed that directed me to a clip from America’s Got Talent. I took the bait and watched a lithe 30-year-old woman with a pixie haircut take the stage. When greeted and asked how she was doing, she said: “I’m awesome. I’m so happy to be here.” She planned to offer an original song entitled It’s OK which captured the last year of her life. Come to find out that she has been dealing with cancer for several years, and the disease has metastasized to her lungs, spine, and liver. But there she was, radiant, seemingly full of life.

Her song and performance were riveting – I’ve watched it at least a dozen times – and garnered rave reviews from the four judges. Even the ofttimes acerbic Simon Cowell was rendered temporarily speechless by her artistry and strength of character. In response, she said:

“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”

That’s my touchstone for today’s post. Because at this moment, there are a lot of dark clouds in my weather system. Dear friends are dealing with suffering and loss. The organizations with which I am involved have challenges and uncertain futures. The geopolitical landscape is awash in conflict with deep fissures in my country. Millions across the globe cry out to have their basic needs met. Mother Earth is in distress. And yet:

“You can’t wait until life isn’t hard anymore before you decide to be happy.”

While you may not – at this moment – be in a place to heed this advice, there are really good reasons to give it a go.

Happiness guru Dr. Sonja Lyobomirsky of the University of California at Riverside tells us: “When we experience joy… we feel ready to take on the world, are more mindful, creative, and open to new experiences, feel more trust and oneness with intimate others, believe that life is more meaningful, and have the sense of being captains of our own ships.” Moreover, positive emotions give rise to positive thoughts. So, whether you want to tackle the world’s problems, your family’s or community’s problems, or your own challenges, being happy gives you the best chance of doing it well. Besides, it just feels good.

When I’m happy, I experience a lightness of being. Face open, perhaps with a smile. Brows relaxed. Chest, shoulders, and belly at ease. Restful breathing. Feeling connected to those around me. Feeling safe in this world. Being right here, right now. Free from thoughts that have me rehashing past woes or worrying about the future. Fully alive. So, I’m decidedly interested in figuring out how to have more of it in my life.

Extensive research gives us quite a lot of great advice about how to increase happiness. Yale professor Dr. Laurie Santos created an entire class on the subject. It’s wild popularity gave rise to a free on-line version of the course and a podcast entitled The Happiness Lab. But here are just a few simple things that we can do every day.

Express gratitude. Be mindful of everyday blessings – a practice that overcomes our natural tendency to notice what is wrong or simply take all the good for granted. It can be as simple as the regular expression of the words “Thank you” or a more formal exercise of capturing them in a journal.

Cultivate optimism. Look on the bright side daily activities and circumstances. For example, instead of: “Ugh, laundry again!,” think “Yay, I have lots of clothes and a washer and dryer.” In the midst of adversity, treat circumstances as temporary rather than intrinsic and hold confidently to a belief that you’ll get through it.

Savor life’s pleasures. Slow down and enjoy a soothing shower, a nice meal, a walk in the neighborhood, a trip to the grocery store with all that magnificent food, a quiet night with a good book. Savoring intensifies the positive feelings around something you love… and keeps them around longer.

Practice acts of kindness. Be on the lookout for what others need. As we bolster our capacity for compassion and act on it, we perceive others more positively, become more conscious of our interdependence, and act accordingly.

Cultivate community. In the company of close friends, family, and associates, we savor everyday moments, we experience the “flow” of seamless collaborations, we find purpose for our existence, and we share our triumphs and defeats.

Stop and Smell the Roses

I’ve been thinking about gratitude having shared some reflections on the subject last week. And, I particular, I’ve thought about the need to “pause, breath, appreciate” as the antidote to my usual hurry-up-and-get-it-done approach to life. My Scottish terrier decided to give me an object lesson on the subject.

Brodie in his harnessSince moving into the townhouse, my husband and I need to trade off taking the dog for walks every time our pooch needs to respond to the call of nature. I view the task as a utilitarian effort to get the job done as expeditiously as possible, particularly when the weather is less than hospitable. My dog views it as an opportunity to take in every smell that may have settled on a blade of grass, a leaf, a tree trunk, or even the sidewalk since his last go round. Our difference of opinion has not resulted in favorable results.

For several nights running on the last walk of the night, Brodie and I have been in a tug-of-war. I tried to move things along with (significant) pressure on his harness. He resisted. Even if I just gently attempted to move forward, he pulled in the opposite direction. I know that Scotties are stubborn, but even this behavior seemed atypical for the breed.

I decided to give dear old Google a try and see what some experts had to say about it. Reading through several posts, I was reminded of my dog’s need for stimulation and his pleasure at noticing every little scent to which his nose might be attuned. Other than eating, it’s his happy place. I learned that resistance was an instinctual response to my tugging and that, perhaps, giving him some slack (and judicious use of treats) might get better results. And, as I thought about it, I realized: What in the world was I doing trying to rush things anyway? Couldn’t I stop and smell the roses while he was doing it, too?

The last few nights, I’ve done just that. I’ve let him control the pace while I paused, breathed, and gave thanks. For the lovely neighborhood. For the freshly cut grass. For the Spring flowers. For the stillness in the air (and relief from the heat of the day). For the adorable little dog who has given us so much love and joy over the years. For the gift of life.

The tug of war has more-or-less ceased. We still have a few moments where I need to remind him that I’m the “alpha dog” in this relationship. But having cut him some slack for most of the walk, he falls in line pretty easily.

Thanks for the lesson, Brodie.


thank you

A few worldwide statistics:

  • Nearly 1 in 10 persons lives below the international poverty level of $2.15 per day (per the World Bank)
  • Only 1 in 4 people have access to safely managed water (according to WHO)
  • Only 1 in 6 people own a car (per PD Insurance)

When exposed to this data in combination with sufficient media exposure to see how people live the world over, it’s not much of a stretch to acknowledge all the blessings in my life. Born white into one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. Raised by conscientious and loving parents. Access to stellar educational and employment opportunities. Loving friends and family. A comfortable roof over my head in a safe neighborhood with the means to keep it there. Nourishing food.

Gratitude ought to be a no-brainer, and yet it often feels like something that should be felt rather than naturally arises. That sensibility gained traction growing up as the gratitude factor was often invoked somewhat punitively. If we complained about a meal, we were reminded that there were starving children in Africa. My parents often recited the phrase: “I cried because I had no shoes until I saw the man who had no feet.” Very true. And quite guilt inducing. In fact, I still beat myself with the gratitude stick every time I complain.

Good old evolutionary science cuts me some slack here. Our survivalist brains aren’t wired for gratitude. They don’t take inventory of what’s going well. In fact, they get used to all the good stuff and barely take notice of it at all. If anything, they ratchet up expectations for more goodies in the future. But they are always on the look-out for what might go wrong: imminent danger, potential threats, scarcity. And they get drawn into social comparisons, determining their social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others in their peer groups. It isn’t me vis a vis the world’s population, but me vis a vis my community, my Facebook friends, my alumni groups, and so on.

That point was driven home to me years ago when colleagues of mine were doing a study in behalf of a major financial institution on the market needs for “private clients” – that is, individuals with very high net worth. They snagged an interview with an heiress of a major industrial enterprise. Upon explaining the nature of the work and the clientele they were interviewing, she said she didn’t think she fit the mold. After all, she wasn’t worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Such behaviors are normal and natural, even if we wish they weren’t. Much like lovingkindness, forgiveness, and equanimity, it takes intentionality and practice to become beacons of light.

So, how do we turn the heart and mind toward gratitude?

First Off: Pause. Breathe. Appreciate.

If we want to disrupt those well-established neurological patterns that take the good for granted and trend toward negativity, it’s wise to take them off autopilot and redirect their attention. To slow down and start noticing all the blessings that arise in our lives and in the world. Want a guide to help you? Read Mary Oliver’s poetry.

Second: Good old… count your blessings.

Buddhist monks begin each day with a chant of gratitude for the blessings of their life. Native American elders begin each ceremony with grateful prayers to mother earth and father sky, to the four directions, to the animal, plant, and mineral brothers and sisters who share our earth and support our life. In Tibet, the monks and nuns even offer prayers of gratitude for the suffering they have been given: “Grant that I might have enough suffering to awaken in me the deepest possible compassion and wisdom.”

As Jack Kornfield says: “Gratitude is a gracious acknowledgment of all that sustains us, a bow to our blessings, great and small, an appreciation of the moments of good fortune that sustain our life every day.”

Third: Find silver linings.

Hate doing dishes? Be grateful for the food that messed them up. Hate paying taxes? Be grateful for the income that sustains you and makes it possible to remit funds to the government. Hate those lines that are creeping across your face? Be grateful for all the smiles over the years that have put them there. You get the drift…

Fourth: Establish a practice that works for you.

You can do a weekly gratitude walk, where you just go around wherever you live and find things for which you are grateful: the trees on the street, the neighbors who smile and say “hello,” the dogs that wag their tails when they see you, the flowers showing off their radiant colors, the warmth of the sun.

You can keep a gratitude journal or have a little gratitude jar into which you and your guests capture blessings as they arise.

Say thank you… even for all the ordinary things in life. Thank you for doing the laundry. Thank you for doing the dishes and putting them away. Thank you for walking the dog.

Just sit and reflect: What am I grateful for? What else could I be grateful for? What opportunity is life presenting right now for which I can be grateful?

Take in a guided gratitude meditation.


Like it or not, life presents challenges and setbacks. Thoughtful folks may make plans and take precautions to minimize their occurrence, but there remains much outside our control. A traffic jam precipitated by a roadway accident. A major financial reversal, or simply unanticipated expenses. The unnerving medical diagnosis. The unusually long line at the grocery check-out when you’re already late. Stalled deliverables on an important project. Depending on our response, some challenges can prove beneficial. They may help us grow and/or heighten appreciation for things that we previously took for granted. Some… not so much.

balanced healthThe ancient stoics – Zeno of Citium, Epictetus, Seneca – experimented with “framing” when facing setbacks. They’d consider all of the things that were going well in their lives and treat the setback as a minor inconvenience. They’d imagine how much worse things could be and took comfort that their circumstances weren’t all that bad. They’d frame news with a positive spin – e.g., a 60% survival rate for a disease versus 40% mortality. They’d consider how they’d feel in an hour, a day, a week, or a month and ask themselves: Will this setback really matter to me then?

St. Paul, the great Christian evangelist who organized communities of faith throughout the Near East, took solace in his unshakable faith in God. Though he is revered today, his life was far from easy. He spent a healthy amount of time in prison. And he tells us in a letter to the Corinthians, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea.” And, to top it off, he regularly dealt with squabbles in the churches that he’d founded.

Yet throughout the full arc of his life experiences, Paul seems neither puffed up by his successes nor undone by his trials and tribulations. Life can beat him about, and he just keeps on keeping on. As he writes to his compatriots in Phillippa:

“I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances, I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and having need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:10-13]

He speaks to the essence of equanimity – to be in the midst of life’s vicissitudes without whitewashing or sugarcoating them, and without being undone by them. To live in that peaceful place of knowing that it can all be taken in and experienced without fear or defeatism. To stand sure-footed in this world.

I cannot help but think of my husband who is a grand master in equanimity. He brings the capacity for great caring to his community, his work, and his relationships yet remains steady amidst the ups and downs of life. I’ve seen it in matters great and small. A story from our distant past…

We purchased a largish hunk of property in California a few years into our marriage. To control weeds, we opted to blanket the yard with fir bark. And being youthful and frugal, we spread the stuff ourselves. A dump truck arrived and unloaded a HUGE pile of the stuff which created a sizable mountain in our driveway, blocking egress by both our cars. Needless to say, we were highly motivated to get it spread – a task that required filling wheel barrels and carting them down a steep hill to our back yard, dumping the contents, and then spreading the stuff around.

After a few hours of effort, I could find no material evidence that we’d made any dent in the ginormous pile of fir bark. So, in addition to the physical fatigue, my mind starting spinning on: “Oh my gosh. Why did we decide to do this job? We will NEVER get it all spread! We can’t get the cars out to go get food. And I’m so tired. I just can’t do this anymore. What are we going to do?”

Amidst all my suffering, I notice that Spike just keeps spreading fir bark and saying nothing. Pretty soon, his calm demeanor starts to bug me. So, I say: “The pile isn’t getting any smaller. We’ll never finished. Aren’t you upset?” And he replies: “Not really. I just know that I’m going to be spreading fir bark until 5pm, and then I’ll go inside and have a beer.”

Jack Kornfield offers the following:

“Peace comes when our hearts are open as the sky, vast as the ocean. From this place, we choose to care for this moment, this cup of tea, this bowl of food in front of me, this child, this man, this woman, this earth, [this pile of fir bark,] the content of experience with a peaceful heart, knowing that it is all impermanent, not with sorrow, but saying how precious it is that we only get this day once. We only have this moment once.”

Forgiveness as Release

the missionIn 1986, Jeremy Irons and Robert DeNiro co-starred in a period drama called The Mission. In it, Robert DeNiro plays a mid-18th-century conquistador named Captain Rodrigo Mendoza who kidnaps natives in the eastern Paraguayan jungle and sells them to wealthy plantation owners. Betrothed to the beautiful Carlotta, he is a picture of worldly success. But upon discovering that his fiancé is having an affair with his half-brother Felipe, Mendoza challenges Felipe to a duel and kills him. Wrought with guilt, he spirals into depression.

He encounters a Jesuit priest named Father Gabriel (played by Jeremy Irons) who offers him a path to redemption. The priest invites Mendoza to join his Christian mission to convert the very Guarani population that Mendoza has been terrorizing. Mind you, the entire mission is a dangerous prospect. The Guarani had killed a priest who’d previously attempted contact, and they would certainly bear hostility toward Mendoza. But Father Gabriel had piqued their interest through his calm demeanor and captivating oboe music and trusts that this modicum of goodwill might serve Mendoza as well. For his part, Mendoza must foreswear violence and carry his armor and sword in a bundle tied to his waist. The latter is no mean feat as the path through the jungle to meet the Guarani is rather treacherous even for one unencumbered.

Anyway, Mendoza is transformed by the journey and has clearly shed all traces of the violent opportunist he used to be. While the natives recognize their former persecutor, they soon forgive the tearful Mendoza and cut away his heavy bundle. He is released from his heavy burden.

I like that word: RELEASE. It helps me to think of forgiveness as letting go of guilt, blame, hurt, anger, and resentment, connecting with my vulnerability, and opening myself to a compassionate response – to myself and others. That release brings the freedom to be compassionate. And as one sage put it this way: “Don’t push anyone, including yourself, out of your heart.”

With this lens, I see forgiveness as a practice of unhooking from distress around past harms regardless of who the object of forgiveness might be. It’s letting go of what we would like to have happened. Someone else may or may not make amends to us, but if we hold ourselves hostage to someone else’s behavior, we cannot be free.

Lily Tomlin puts it this way: “Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.”

Just reflect for a minute: When you don’t forgive, how is that for you? How is it to live with that? How is it in your body, in your nervous system? If you walk around thinking to yourself, “I hate them, I hate them, I hate them,” who is suffering?

The other party or parties do not need to know about your decision. It’s not about them. It’s about casting off the suffering that weighs you down. It’s the possibility of profound redemption and release. But it can only happen in the right way and at the right time.

I’m not suggesting that forgiveness is a one-and-done transaction. It’s unrealistic to expect that we will come to a final release around a situation, especially if we have suffered deep wounds. Rather, it’s an attitude and an aspiration that we continue to practice, even if the same stuff crops up again and again. We keep doing the work.

Loving Kindness Meditation

I begin here where I left off last week – with an invitation to share the loving kindness we feel toward intimates with all beings everywhere. What a glorious world we would create if all of us could express that sentiment, ever and always!

But here’s where the rubber meets the road.

Let’s face it – it’s easy to love lovable people. People who are in our immediate orbit. People who are most like us in sociopolitical standing, cultural background, political ideology, religious faith, and so on. It’s not easy to love who hold views that are diametrically opposed to our own, who threaten or hurt those we love, who behave unkindly toward us, or who thoughtlessly race in and take the last parking spot that we’ve waited for patiently!

A few years ago, I crafted a post based on Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s book, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, in which he argues that we are biologically wired to process differences in race, ethnicity, gender, social status, and beauty. Our brains are especially attuned to skin color. In fact, we form US vs. THEM dichotomies within milliseconds of exposure to others. We feel a sense of obligation and reciprocity toward those we deem part of US, and view THEM as threatening, angry, and untrustworthy. THEY might even evoke disgust.

We all belong to several US-THEM groupings, and our affiliations vary over time. Yet Sapolsky tells us that we do not need to be held hostage to our biological or cultural biases. If we acknowledge that factions exist, we can choose to follow our better angels. We can focus on larger, shared goals and invest the time and effort to see the world from a different vantage point.

We can prepare the mind, heart, and body to be receptive to, and purveyors of, loving-kindness through mindfulness meditation. The traditional practice has five categories: lovingkindness for oneself, for specific friends or benefactors, for a neutral person, for a challenging person, and for all beings everywhere. It proceeds by sending forth these blessings:

May I/you be filled with lovingkindness.
May I/you be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I/you be well in body and mind.
May I/you be at ease and happy.

Starting with the self can be hard. Sharon Salzberg, in her book Real Love, quotes her friend Nora, saying: “You always hear you need to practice self-love in order to love others. But no one tells you how to love yourself. On the one hand, it feels like a cure-all. I need to love myself to find a lover. On the other hand, I think a lot of people seek out romance as a way of not loving themselves. In some sense, self-love is the most difficult.”

If self-love proves difficult, it isn’t necessary to start there. I typically meditate on loving thoughts toward others, then receive loving-kindness from them, and then consider loving myself. Evoking the sense of loving-kindness is enormously important. Because when I feel love, it’s easier for me to access that intention for myself.

Starting out, I did not force myself trough gritted teeth to send loving thoughts out to challenging people. I didn’t want to be disingenuous or find myself in a grand meditative debate as to whether or not that person deserved it. It became easier to add that element back in once I’d worked with the practice for a while.

There’s a story of a rabbi who used to teach in the Jewish mystical tradition. He had his disciples memorize, reflect, contemplate, and place the teachings of the holy words on their heart. One day, a student asked why the rabbi always used the phrase “on your heart,” and the master replied, “Only the divine can put the teachings into your heart. Here we recite, and learn, and put them on the heart, hoping that some time when your heart breaks, they will fall in.”

So, it’s a practice. It’s something that we can train and do. If the phrases offered earlier do not resonate, it’s OK to choose other ones. Most teachers suggest intentions that revolve around safety, happiness, good health, and ease (peace, equanimity). It’s also OK to use different phrases for different people. An especially difficult person may receive the blessing: May you be free from hatred. May you be free from greed. May you look upon others with kindness. May you find peace in your heart.

I’ve been working with the practice for a few months, typically first thing in the morning. I vary the phrases (often because I can’t remember the traditional ones!) And I don’t constrain myself to a particular pattern of extending well-wishes. With consistent practice, I feel changed for the better. When enough of us experience that transformation, perhaps we’ll create a kinder world.

Loving Kindness

Today’s post focuses on metta, the Pali word used to describe benevolence, loving-kindness, goodwill, and active interest in others. It is the first of four sublime states in the Theravada school of Buddhism and is central to the practice of mindfulness. I’ll begin with a story…

golden buddhaIn the early 19th Century, the King of Siam established a new capital city in Bangkok. And after commissioning the construction of many temples, he ordered that various old Buddha statuary should be brought to Bangkok from ruined temples around the country. Mind you, this was no simple undertaking. One such statue stood nearly 10 feet tall and weighed over 6 tons. Imagine the effort that it took to relocate it given 19th century technology. It was not especially beautiful as its outer covering was that of stucco and colored glass. But its origins in the 13th or 14th century rendered it valuable.

The piece was moved three more times before settling into its permanent home in 1954. But during that final move, something happened to cause some of the plaster coating to chip off, revealing a golden surface underneath. This was a curious development. And at the direction of the monks, all of the plaster was removed. To the astonishment of the assembled workers and clerics, a golden Buddha emerged, preserved and protected over hundreds of years from would-be marauders who would otherwise have stolen this national treasure.

This story is oft repeated as a metaphor for human life – and, by extension, all of life on this earth. Luminous. Immensely valuable. Golden at the core of being.

Yet as we grow and walk this earth, how easy it has become to lose sight of our inner gold as we accumulate layer upon layer of outer shells and colored glass. Some as shields. Some to appear attractive according to the style of the day. And some due to a lost ability to let that inner core shine through even (and perhaps most especially) when we fail to act in accordance with our better angels or simply hold ourselves in low esteem.

Since I began a mindfulness meditation teacher certification program over a year ago, I’ve been struck by the frequency with which my instructors use the words “compassion” and “kind attention” in dharma talks and guided meditation. For example, if noticing physical discomfort when settling in for a period of silence, Jack Kornfield invites us to acknowledge the distress with compassion and then move mindfully. When investigating difficult emotions in a R.A.I.N. practice, Tara Brach encourages us to give kind attention to our sensations, our feelings, and stories. These aren’t throw away phrases. They’re constant reminders of that golden essence that lies at the core of our being… and that golden essence merits deep respect and care no matter what thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise and pass away.

That is the kindness that we owe ourselves. That is the lens through which we are invited to receive and respond to all beings. It is captured beautifully and simply in the Hindu greeting namaste which connotes “I bow to the divine in you” or “the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you.”

And turning now to the word “loving.” Those among us who have experienced a deep connection with the Divine, who have experienced loving relationships in their families of origins, who have been blessed with committed partners and friends, who have raised children (and perhaps fur or feathered babies), and/or lived in intentional community may have a leg up in accessing this deep feeling of attachment that can abide between us. Far beyond the flutter of the heart, it speaks to a genuine concern for the other’s wellbeing, a steadfast presence during the ups and downs of life, a celebration of the other’s strengths and accomplishments, and a gentle tolerance for faults and failings. It is a felt sense in the heart and active engagement toward the other’s betterment. Metta invites us to extend the feeling we share with intimates to all others in our communities and on this earth.

The Enneagram’s Heaven Triad

In the final installment of William Schafer’s take on the enneagram, the members of the Heaven Triad seek to imbue life with meaning: FOURS through the importance of the individual and self-expression, SEVENS by radiating joy, and ONES by striving for an expression of divine perfection. Even as they reach for the sublime, they tell us how life fails to reach utopian possibilities.

  • enneagram heaven triadFOURS are disappointed idealists who focus on beauty and seek a world in which everything of importance or substance is attained (though they fixate on what’s missing).
  • SEVENS are excited idealists who focus on potential and are impatient for its realization. They seek an ideal, positive world that is free of suffering and pain and full of pleasant, free-flowing experiences.
  • ONES are exacting idealists who seek a perfect world according to their internal standards of the way things ought to be. They focus on order and work diligently (often too hard) to attain their standards.

The members of this triad are shut off: FOURS from appreciating the already perfect wholeness in all there is; SEVENS in embracing all of life – good and bad, mundane and ecstatic; and, ONES from appreciating variations and differences in life and in people.

Life Force Receptive
Emotional Regulation Reactive
Positive Outlook
Center of Intelligence Heart

Type Four: The Individualist

According to Schafer, FOURS have lost sight of how all physical and psychological forms spring forth from one source and connect with the field of Qi – a.k.a., Holy Origin. Our deepest authenticity and worth originate in one’s connection to the divine mystery. When disconnected from it, there is a deep sense of deficiency and endless preoccupation with retrieving what was lost.

FOURS experience envy rooted in a feeling that others possess what they lack. Melancholy arises in the wake of unquenchable longing. They seek intense emotions to feel real but may find they take over and runs on their own. Their desire to be seen results in searching for that which what is authentic, unique, and individual.

To establish reconnection with the Origin, FOURS must give up their dramatic external searching and settle quietly within. They find healing in Equanimity, recognizing that life can be meaningful without the roller coasters. Mindfulness of emotions enables them to observe emotions without letting them take control.

Type Seven: The Enthusiast

According to Schafer, SEVENS have lost sight of nature’s ability to sustain energy effortlessly, as the constant flow of water in a waterfall. There is a grand Work, Plan, and Wisdom in the universe that creates and sustains beautiful patterns. It requires neither our machine-like contributions nor our compulsively designed schemes. It unfolds and calls upon us to abide within it.

SEVENS have an abundance of creative energy and move outward mentally, constantly mapping and planning for the future. They’re always asking “what’s next” to seek pleasure and avoid boredom and pain.

SEVENS profit from heeding the call to Constancy, being grounded in the moment, allowing the holy weaving of my life to work out. It transforms unrestrained doing to an appreciation for the underdetermined surprises and delight. Pleasure shifts from the act of mental mapping (yang) to the experience of enjoying the moment (yin).

Type One: The Perfectionist

According to Schafer, ONES have lost sight of Being’s completeness be-ing – Perfection as it is. This loss of essence lands like a wave of wrongness, challenging ONE’s internal standard of rightness.

ONES’ fault-finding gives rise to the inner effort of improving. They want to re-create perfection. It renders them preoccupied with rules and correctness. They experience anger but hold it in all the while urgency trying to fix that which seems off-the-mark. The root of the problem lies not with the inflexible standards but in placing their hopes in standards in the first place.

The antidote lies in Serenity, leaving the maelstrom of perfection and anger. It implies a clear vision of each element as a manifestation of Dao to which one can be still and welcoming. ONES then receive every instance of life as a gift, perceiving the loveliness of the divine in the features of every human face. This is true serenity.

The Enneagram’s Human Triad

Continuing in a review of William Schafer’s characterization of the enneagram, the members of the Human Triad are core exemplars of the three ways to create enlightened human society: FIVES through science, EIGHTS through the politics of power, and TWOS through service. They stave off rejection by providing necessary, important functions and becoming powerful in their own right.

  • enneagram human triadFIVES offer thoughtful analysis and rational viewpoints; they move away from others to deliver reason and perspective.
  • EIGHTS offer strength and protection; they assert what is required at any given moment.
  • TWOS offer care and support; they move towards others to meet needs.

The members of this triad are shut off: FIVES from acknowledging that they have needs and cutting themselves off from them; EIGHT from releasing their grip on the environment to control their needs; and, TWOS from meeting their own needs through a natural flow of give and take.

Life Force Receptive
Emotional Regulation Competency
Positive Outlook
Center of Intelligence Head

Type FIVE: The Observer

According to Schafer, FIVES have lost sight of original awareness through Holy Omniscience and Transparency. This divine principal states that we are whole and complete, knowing whatever is known from the inside out. This endowment enables a generosity of spirit from a wellspring that never runs dry.

FIVES embody a scarcity mentally in which needs, dependencies, and interactions with others prove draining. They fear loss of resources and being left totally depleted. They erect boundaries, cling tightly to what they have, and resolve to do with less. The generosity of origin squeezes into avarice.

That path to growth lies in Nonattachment, surrendering everything and embracing life with an open and grateful heart. In self-emptying, they can experience the fullness of illumination.

Type EIGHT Protector

According to Schafer, EIGHTS have lost sight of Holy Truth, that gut-level openness to authentic presence. It’s an acknowledgement that life can never move against itself.

EIGHTS find embodiment a threat. They narrate the world through the lens of Self vs. Other, separateness, opposition. A lost inner source of energy morphs into a passion for excess and resistance to that which is threatening. They may even stir up trouble to make the outer world cohere with their inner vision of it. It’s all about power, where power suppresses frailty and vulnerability. They believe sheer force prevents them from being hurt.

EIGHTS must recognize that there is an element of weakness in all strength. Essential Being was never weak or insignificant. There is freedom in Innocence. The real defeat is to divide rather than belong, to fight rather than live.

Type TWO: The Connector

According to Schafer, TWOS have lost sight of the fact that life force is intentional and purposeful. Each moment unfolds meaningfully with the divine process concerning itself with personal destiny – a.k.a., Holy Will and Freedom. The individual and collective do not act in opposition. Rather, full individuality better serves the needs of the whole.

In early life, TWOS lost the feeling of personal significance, as though life force had forgotten them. They seek emotional connection in the world, often forcing the give-and-take in relationship rather than letting it happen naturally. It renders them uncomfortably pinned between their own needs and those of others. Their energies collapse into an intense effort to care for others while unconsciously calling attention to themselves. It may feel ego-gratifying but can be exhausting.

TWO’s antidote lies in Humility, accepting their limits and expressing gratitude for life as it is. While at root they manifest a spiritual longing for connection, they need to stop trying to act lovable and allow love to act.

The Enneagram’s Earth Triad

As noted in last week’s post, William Schafer views the nine types of the enneagram through the lens of energy (yin, yang, and balancing) and the clouding over of divine light as a function of shocks to our initial state of bliss. A loss of wholeness, emotional connectedness, and/or trust creates knots in our awareness.

The members of the Earth Triad evidence a deep preoccupation with embodied existence. NINES felt a loss of wholeness, THREES a loss of emotional connection, and SIXES a loss of trust. Each concerns itself with how to blend into, align with, and thrive alongside others in the world.
enneagram earth triad

  • NINES seek a comfortable, harmonious, go-along-to-get-along place in the world.
  • THREES individuate and seek a practical and sustaining, ambitious and productive role in the world.
  • SIXES see a safe and secure, predictable, and certain existence to survive in the world. They straddle individuation and union in service of that agenda.

The members of this type are shut off: NINES from their own action; THREES from their own feelings; and, SIXES from their own thinking.

Life Force Receptive
Emotional Regulation Positive Outlook
Center of Intelligence Body

Type NINE: The Peacemaker

According to Schafer, NINES have lost sight of the innate loveliness and inner radiance of all Beings – a spiritual endowment of Holy Love. They do not experience themselves as inherently beautiful, lovable, or powerful. They feel insignificant. Survival depends upon being attentive to those who have power and merging with their needs.

NINES tend toward inertia, either staying at rest (asleep) or staying busy. They may find it hard to start a task or to end one in progress. Decision-making proves challenging. Anger and resentment show up as stubbornness.

NINE’s spiritual task is to wake up and welcome discomfort and conflict. Right Action demands that they gain awareness of their own energy and internal world. They must notice with compassion their own reactivity and experience their own thoughts and feelings without judgment. Passivity can transform into active energy and allow them to reclaim Hold Love and open up to all aspects of life energy.

Type THREE: The Performer

According to Schafer, THREES have lost sight of the fact that life force unfolds naturally and creatively according to Holy Law, Harmony, and Hope without control or guidance from us. When losing this sense, they become identified with their own activity, disconnected from vital essence of the original source. With a firm belief that “everything is up to me,” they gloss over their inner emptiness with unrestrained drive and endless “to do” lists.

THREES pump energy outward in multiple directions at once. They burn their feelings as fuel for production, considering them a waste of time. They’re preoccupied with image – successful, productive, useful – and believe you can only be measured by what you accomplish. The compulsion to create and re-create themselves through action renders them prone to exhaustion. Sadly, that predisposition reflects a false stimulation of vital essence.

THREE’s spiritual task is to transform from a human doing to a human being and set aside vainglory in service of Veracity. They need to see the real self and not the produced one, thereby exposing their tendency toward shallowness and gravitation toward image. In that process, the fear of failure (“I cannot act”) can find new life as a choice (“I can not act.”)

Type SIX: The Security Seeker

According to Schafer, SIXES have lost sight of our staying power amid life’s toils and tribulations and the promise that all Beings evolves according to universal love and hope – a.k.a., Holy Strength and Faith. They view the universe as predatory and lean on caution and doubt to survive.

SIXES energies collapse into a narrow preoccupation with safety, security, and predictability. They’re constantly scanning for real or perceived threats and developing plans to address them. They don’t characterize this behavior as fearful; they believe it simply renders them prepared. While they seek authority that is steadfast, solid, and certain, they tend to mistrust it even when found. They rely heavily on mental constructs and give short shrift to direct knowing by the heart or gut.

SIXES must recognize that the doubting, critical mind doesn’t produce certainty; it enflames fear. They need the courage to Trust their own strength and believe the deepest part of Being will care for them.