The other day, I came across the question, What have you learned about the relationship between the emotional and the spiritual work? My response was that to me, any true spiritual work needs to come after, or even spring out of, emotional work — otherwise the “spirituality” stays on the surface, as fluff, while the real thing eludes us. But the concept of this relationship stayed with me, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts here ❤️
From where I stand, spiritual work and emotional work are indeed so strongly connected that they cannot quite be separated. And moreover, I’m realising anew that this often a connection that is missing when I perceive that people don’t quite get the point, or the depth, of the Enneagram. In my experience, it’s only when we see the connection between the shape of the ego personalities and the essential qualities they spring from (or rather, the perceived loss of these qualities) that things start happening at a deeper level. When we discover the truth and mechanics of the passions, rather than just listing a string of “sins” each ascribed to a particular type; when we understand the deep truth of the heart wounds (beautiful contribution, Russ!), so we can start making some sense of the origins of the whole ego machine — that’s when we can enter into the deeper “emotional work”. This work only becomes available to us once we’ve sorted through some of the psychological dynamics and the everyday emotional habits.
And behind that, or underneath, or even inside all that mud, is the proverbial lotus (or the gem in the dirt for those who respond better to settler stories than Eastern metaphors 😊).
So to me, emotional work and spiritual work are intrinsically connected. And what’s more: we absolutely need the emotional work, as that, again, is what truly opens the door to a spirituality that is the real deal, not just an idea.
In my experience, as long as we do our personality work within the context, or with the understanding, that there is something permeating this whole experience of ego that is not, in itself, the ego — that’s enough. In fact I’d go so far as to say that any spiritual states or experiences produced any other way will more often than not be fancy a cul-de-sac — cool, fantastic, stunning experiences of clarity, insight, oneness, or whatever it is, that ultimately can’t lead anywhere, or be integrated into anything truly meaningful.
(However, the ego, of course, likes to make a big deal out of our “spirituality”. In fact, spiritual endeavours that abhor the felt sense and emotional realities are usually more “ego” than “spirit”. Oh, the irony 😎😉)
Where’s the separating membrane?
So is there a boundary that clearly distinguishes where our ego reality ends and spirituality begins? Sometimes, in the Enneagram context, it’s how it sounds. We hear that the types are just ego, and that we are meant to “transcend” them, or integrate them all in equal measure, to the point where “type” is erased. Then, presumably, we will have gone beyond the ego and realised our essential nature as spiritual beings.
Except well, no. That is not how I see it happening. It is not what I see in my fellow human beings who have genuinely realised their true, spiritual nature. Sure, it’s true that we are spiritual beings having human experiences — rather than the other way around — but the part where we are actually having these human experiences is every bit as important as the statement that the spiritual is our true home. When humanity goes, so do our bodies.
“The personal element of the divine”
In fact, the part where our spirituality meets our psychology is what I find most rewarding, and interesting to explore. In The Wisdom of the Enneagram, in the chapter on Fours, Don Riso and Russ Hudson write:
The experience of intimate contact with this flow [of the constant transformation of our true nature] opens us up to deeper contact with others and with more subtle aspects of spiritual reality. This contact always feels personal—precious and of the moment. In a sense, Fours help us recognize the unity of the personal self and other, more universal aspects of our true nature. Thus, the Fours special Essential quality is the embodiment of the personal element of the Divine.
And of course, this is not unique to Fours — what is, is the meaning for the Four of physically embodying this. But, just as they write, our personal self and the other, more universal aspect of human nature is one thing, not two.
To me, the most primal human form this takes is that of temperament. We are not born with ready-made personality types, as personality is not quite formed until a good number of years into our lives. But what is there, is temperament. Anyone who has been pregnant more than once will tell you that not even foetuses are devoid of temperament, but that babies, even before entering the world, have their own energetic constitution, which can be quite unlike their siblings. We simply arrive with something already there. We are not blank sheets coming into the world.
Temperament and the role of attachment
And of course, despite the second-to-last header, there is no membrane separating ego from essence, or spirit. There can’t really be, as the ego is not really a thing; nor, in actual fact, is essence, of course. But for this purpose, one interesting part of our human experience is attachments. Attachments are are something that we are destined to be dealing with in our lives, and it starts being a thing the moment we enter the world — successful ones, less successful ones, those we crave, and those we try to escape.
Our primary attachment style is simply one clear, early, and highly significant aspect of who we will grow up to be. And the temperament that we bring with us into this world will have a lot of influence on how we handle and perceive our attachments.
If you learn about the types from a decently knowledgeable and serious Enneagram teacher, you will learn about how attachment theory fits into their different psychological structures. There is a lot to be said about this, but what we can note is that there are three types called simply “attachment types”, three types called “frustration types” (One, Four, and Seven), and the remaining three types called “rejection types” (Two, Five, and Eight). And this terminology does not mean that only the first three relate to attachment in a way that is significant for their type pattern. All of them are attachment categories, including “Frustration” and “Rejection”. it It’s just that the primary types (on the triangle, i e Three, Six, and Nine), who carry the attachment label, represent a more clean or “naked” relationship to these particular issues, whereas the other two groups — which interestingly enough form their own “triangles” in the Enneagram symbol, only one of its lines is invisible — express two different attachment distortions.
But it’s not like the primary types all have either good attachments — or abysmal, for that matter. Nor does it mean that we only ever exhibit one pattern. Rather, everyone has all of this. Which group you are in only says something about which patterns are more central to your personality type and, more specifically, the issues you are typically having. Anyway. As I said, you can dig into this for quite a while. (If you are interested in hearing more about the attachment triads, you might want to check out Russ Hudsons online course about them, Temperament, Environment, and the Patterns that Bind Us.)
Very close to our hearts
But from a temperament perspective, and if we are sniffing about for to the demarcation between spirit and ego, here, we are getting closer. That is, the perceived loss of essential connection and its resulting passion and heart wound lie even deeper — but also, these loftier concepts can be a lot to take on emotionally at first, and it easily happens that we approach them kind of theoretically, rather than experientially. When it comes to the exploration of the attachment styles, so long as we are open and available to what they mean, it is not as easy for the ego to run and hide behind the intellectual concepts. For most of us, it’s all too easy to see — and feel — how we repeatedly get stuck in habitual frustration, rejection, or just the plain drive for attachment; how this has screwed us over more than once in our lives, and how, try as we might, they are not that easy to shift!
So if you feel you have looked into everyday, psychological patterns and typical behaviours of your Enneagram type and feel you are ready to gently and compassionately dive a little deeper, the attachment styles might be a good place to start. They are right at the door of personality — where before, we might have looked at the instinctual drives and our preferences there and how they really aren’t a part of the personality, but something more natural and animal in us, now we make the distinctive move over to personality. Attachment aspects are among the rawest and earliest components, weaving together our experience of the social instinct and the relating of the heart.
Can you feel now close we are getting? Behind our attachment patterns, there is not far to go until we meet with passions and heart wounds. And while neither of it might sound palatable to some of us, these aspects are also the key to us — to ourselves as personalities, to our “personal element of the divine”, and to our deeper, truer nature. Welcome ❤️