Early in King Lear, Goneril and Regan discuss their father’s erratic behavior. Goneril puts it down to incipient senility, and while her sister is sanguine about this theory, she has a simpler yet more profound explanation:
'Tis the infirmity of his age: yet he hath ever
but slenderly known himself.
We are our own best friends, right? No one knows us better than ourselves, we assume; we’ve known ourselves all our lives! Yet time and time again, it has disconcerted me to notice people whose entire lives were predicated on lies they told themselves so frequently that they came to believe their own press.
Cases in point. Two lifetimes ago in Los Angeles, I worked for an arts organization with someone ostensibly at the helm who was famous for holding forth about the important of honesty. She brought it up all the damn time: the quality of transparency, the value of authenticity. Yet her entire staff and quite a swath of the theater community knew that she was a compulsive prevaricator. A reckless one, lying when she didn’t need to, telling falsehoods she was easily caught in.
Different town in a different lifetime, where I worked for a while with a boss who extolled the spiritual life. He took time out of the office every day to meditate; he liberally quoted the Vedas -- by heart. Yet the man’s vaunted visits to the empyrean heights never seem to translate into actual……behavior. He was callously indifferent to his employees and talked trash about them behind their backs, yet tears would well up his eyes when he talked about the ascended masters.
Why all this always disconcerted me so much, rather than merely amused me, is that it made wonder what illusions I held about myself – what presumed values might I be tediously espousing, when it’s clear to various and sundry that I perform the opposite of what I profess?
Over the years I’ve discussed this again and again with a beloved friend known affectionately, in one particular circle of comrades, as Guru Loopy. On the spiritual circuit, Loopy has done it all: lived on a kibbutz; slaved for EST; formally studied manifesting; dyed every scrap of her clothing in clashing shades of red in exchange for residency at Antelope. That’s a partial list, believe me.
It was Guru Loopy who exposed me to a latter-day system of personality typography called the enneagram. Unlike systems such as numerology or palmistry, which refer to esoteric or mystical causes of personality (at least in some theories, not all), the enneagram profilng is refreshingly pragmatic. The man who developed the system, Oscar Ichazo, simply claimed he and others observed humankind, and noticed they tended to fall into nine main categories – hence points on a nonagon or an enneagram.
When Guru Loopy introduced me to this, the culture seemed to be in a negative phase; all the categories had pejorative titles (mine, #5, was called The Stinge) except for #9, The Peacemaker. Even #9’s dark side was only faintly criticized, as in: “hard time deciding because sees all sides of an issue with equal clarity.” Come to find out, most enneagram advocates are self-professed 9s. Guru Loopy, of course, was and is a 9.
Now that I’m thrust into yet another soul-searching phase, my mind returned to Guru Loopy and the caustic commentary of the enneagrams. Nowadays -- but of course! -- the whole thing has been recuperated to be more consumer-friendly. Judgmental labels are replaced by neutral terms, and most websites on the subject acknowledge that each number has its good side as well as its flip side. Especially interesting to moi-meme is that I seem to have lost a little valence along the way, getting knocked down from a 5 to a 4. Whereas formerly, being a 5, I was:
The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated
I’ve now morphed into:
The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental
which raises the interesting question of whether people change, or at least develop, or anyway regress and maybe loop back around again. Or is this just the enneagrm test's reflecting back to me my own state of mind, currently, now that I'm suddenly bereft of an identity 25 years in the making?
But what are you, you ax. You can find out right now. The quick, free questionnaire is available right here. Go ahead; you know you want to. Go ahead and click!
If you do take this brief test, I’d love to hear about your results. Maybe through each other we can get a bead on whether this thing actually works. And/or divest ourselves of another illusion or two while we’re at it.