Much of the current Christian politial discourse centers on the body: gender, sexuality, abortion, sexual abuse. In the Christian tradition, the body has generally been denigrated, viewed with suspicion. It is seen as temporary vehicle for the soul to be eschewed when we are ready for the real stuff. But it’s worth remembering that God created that body for something and, in fact, needed a body, an incarnation, to do God’s work. Perhaps having a body is essential to becoming fully divine and fully human. Perhaps there are things that can only be known through a body.
For Lent, we are trying out some spiritual practices in church and talking about the Enneagram in Sunday School. I’m taking a different approach in teaching the Enneagram this time, avoiding numbers and type descriptions in favor of talking about dominant and repressed centers of intelligence. In the Enneagram model, there are three ways of knowing, of taking in and processing information that determine how we see the world and respond to it. They are the body, the heart, and the head. This week, we looked at the body center.
It may seem strange to talk about the body as a way of knowing. Yet, we talk about “muscle memory.” I still remember my taekwondo forms from high school, though I couldn’t name them or describe them. The movements are automatic, though now quite clumsy. We also now understand that mental and emotional stress or trauma are held in the body, whether it be tight shoulders, high blood pressure, or an ulcer. Scientists are now discovering that stress and trauma changes our bodies at the cellular level. I know people who have begun weeping in the middle of a massage because the therapist touched some stored up trauma. The body knows and remembers what we can’t.
Each of these intelligence centers can be a gateway to the soul. In the case of the body, it is the source of presence. The body is here and now, not ruminating on the past or fantasizing about the future. If we learn to engage the body, we can become fully present to ourselves and to the world. In so doing, we are truly free.
But each intelligence center can also be hijacked by the ego, or false self. For those whose dominant center is the body, that means that the ego substitutes control for freedom. This might manifest outwardly in a person trying to control the world, distrusting others. It might manifest inwardly in a person trying to control themselves, distrusting what they body tells them. Or it might resist both outwardly and inwardly, claiming to be unaffected by the outside world and disconnected from inner thoughts and feelings. Each of these types thinks that they will be free if they can fully implement their strategy for autonomy, but they really are slaves to the need for control. Consequently, these types have an underlying rage that they might act out, deny, or repress.
Part of the strategy with this approach is to narrow the field of possibilities for your number. If you can identify yourself as dominant in the body center, there are only three possible types. But figuring out if you’re in the body triad is not as easy as it sounds because it does not just mean that you are connected with your body. In fact, it might mean the exact opposite. It only means that your ego is constructed around the body center. So, rather than looking for anger that might be suppressed or denied, see if you feel constrained. The constraint could be from external people or circumstances or it could be a critical voice in your head. You might also not call it anger, but instead call it stress, frustration, or pressure.
Finally, pay particular attention to your need to act under stress. The body is the center of instinct. It wants to do. Specifically, it wants to do in order to keep you from thinking or feeling. Or perhaps even doing productively. (We’ll talk more about that in a few weeks when we get to repressed centers.) A quick story: one time Lisa and I were eating dinner before a concert and it took a little longer than expected, so we were running late. When we got to the car, I pulled out my phone to make sure I knew where I was going. She, a body-dominant type, was incensed that I was wasting time. She said, “Just go! We’ll figure out where we’re going on the way.” I didn’t even know which direction to turn out of the parking lot! She was stressed. She hates being late. She didn’t want to think about what to do or feel her “frustration” at being late; she wanted to do something.
Identifying one’s dominant center is not just looking at one aspect, but looking at all the characteristics and seeing how they interrelate. Body types want to be free. Their inability to have true freedom results in a need for control. The frustration of lack of control leads to rage. That rage is abated by a tendency to act instinctively, even if that action is not productive, thoughtful, or heartfelt. The need for control is supported and validated by the abatement of rage, so the ego is further entrenched. However, because it is not true freedom, the rage is always there, simmering under the surface.
It is tempting to think positively of Enneagram type. I encourage you to resist that. It’s exactly what the ego wants. Body types are often very productive, so they are socially rewarded. But our focus determines what we are missing as much as what we see. The false self is specifically constructed to keep us from seeing something and it is likely the very something that will make us free. “The Work” of the Enneagram is intended to reveal that something to us, so that we can restore balance in our lives, so that we can undercut the personality’s hold on us and see that which is beloved, that which is truly free. Blessings in the work ahead.