Enneagram Centers of Knowing and Human evolution

I have recently received some understanding that seems imperative to put into writing as a service to the greater Enneagram community, to our understanding of ourselves, and to the reflection on our evolution in spiritual and conscious maturity. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Rudolph Steiner and the ideas he laid out in his lectures on the macrocosm and microcosm, particularly Lecture 10, given on March 30, 1910. This can be found in the book, Macrocosm and Microcosm. In these lectures, Steiner speaks to the evolution of the “conscious heart-human” and the need to restore knowledge coming from the heart (our earlier way of knowing) after our current emphasis on head knowledge.

The Enneagram is a tool that I have used extensively in my practice of spiritual direction as a means of understanding ourselves and our relationships, along with how we might mature and find more balance in spiritual and psychological lives. In the following exposition I will largely avoid discussing the individual numbers themselves and focus on the three centers of knowing in which the Enneagram is divided. These have been extremely helpful with women and men that I meet with as they understand themselves as a whole and balanced person, and also with how they understand the journey they have been on religiously and spiritually. I would offer a caution that we not stop at the individual process and understanding, though, as this is a significant pitfall in our increasingly individualistic modern world. Rather, we must challenge ourselves to reflect culturally, historically, and evolutionarily… something that will make more sense as we get further along here. 

The Enneagram is often divided into three centers of knowing and each number interacts with their center in different ways. The 8, 9, 1 triad is what we would call the Gut (or Body) Center. The 2, 3, 4 triad is the Heart Center. And the 5, 6, 7 triad is the Head Center. As I often speak of this, the head center affirms that we know something because we can defend, explain, reason, and justify our understanding through linear thinking. This essay is largely written from a head-centered focus (for reasons that will make sense shortly). The Heart center affirms that we know something because we feel it to be so. Our emotions, our sense of relationship to others based on their needs for connection, and our personal feelings are the “evidence” for our understanding. Finally, the Body or Gut center affirms our intuition, our instinct, and sense of understanding that supersedes an ego identification of Self. Here, an individual might say “I know because I know.” 

The other centers of knowing largely play second fiddle to the Head. For someone to approach a thinker with a “truth” or a proposition coming out of one’s feelings or emotional sense is largely an uphill and very frustrating battle usually resulting in feelings of being unheard, shut down, and confusion. This jump between the head and the heart is, in the Enneagram, the largest gap between numbers 4 and 5 and largely why so much emphasis gets put on the necessary bridge from one’s head to one’s heart. This often gets posited as something men need to be challenged in, but in many ways, it is not a gender distinction. It could be discussed at length that the left side of the enneagram is much more masculine and the right side more feminine, also that due to our cultural history largely being directed by men in power that this could have led to a prominent fixation with “head knowing.”

Now, the body center ironically often gets completely left out of the equation when it comes to how we know. Imagine how it would be received if I were to step forward and proclaim, “We must trust this truth because we must. I know it simply because I know it. I can’t defend it logically and in many ways it doesn’t even align with how I feel about life itself. I just know.” Such a statement would be largely suspect, even more so than if I were to speak from my heart. To instinctively know something, to sense it’s truth because of my connection with nature and the universe around me and within me, is not “good enough” in today’s world. It feels idealistic, naive, or fantastical. I would say though, that when someone is well-centered in their body-knowing, they are often perceived as grounded, immovable, and even similar to an “old soul.”

Thinking about the current culture and worldview in which we live, we can see that specific centers of knowing are prioritized more than others. Having grown up in modern evangelical Christianity, I came to learn that the most important thing for me in explaining my beliefs was that I could defend them with specific Biblical references and/or historical theological evidence. If I couldn’t lay out a specific scriptural defense it wasn’t valid. The same goes for modern psychology, which has largely affirmed that when our thinking is aligned, when we can get the right information, change will happen. The modern age has been literally formed by Descartes’ axiom, “I think therefore I am.” Based on groups’ theories, beliefs, and philosophies, countless social, economic, and governmental shifts have taken place.

This sensibility of agedness is what caught my attention and opens up the door to truths about our human evolution. Here is where Steiner’s theory began to make sense. Steiner spoke to the early stages of human evolution as coming from a place of heart-knowledge, connection with the world around them, understanding through feeling. Only in modern times, he said, do we have the emphasis on our reason and intellect. He noted that as we move forward in our spiritual evolution we must return to our somewhat lost heart-understanding, not leaving the head out of it, but including our intellect as part of the process. This rings true with Ken Wilber’s teachings on “transcending and including” as we move to deep levels of consciousness. Steiner says that attributing the same value to head and heart knowing is like standing a 15-year-old  person (head knowing) next to a 40-year-old person (heart-knowing) and saying that their insight is the same. Better to wonder if the 15-year-old is a child of the older, how they might be related, or how the older has influenced the younger.

I am immediately drawn to the absence of intuitive and instinctual knowing (body center) in this head and heart interchange. This is ironic but unsurprising considering the distance humanity is from body-knowing. If we were to wonder about how things have evolved in humankind over time, most would surely say that the evolution of reason and intellect is our uppermost stage of growth and evolution. At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that before landing in our intellect, humankind existed primarily through connecting in communities and in relationships with each other and nature. And before this, we operated out of an instinct and intuition that preceded even our emotions. This is perhaps why this way of knowing in our intuition is so suspect: because it is so old and so far removed from our current reality. We could add to Steiner’s 15-year and 40-year-old lineup, someone who is 80-years-old. While each has validity in their own right, how true is it that the teenager considers the elder almost entirely irrelevant?  Humankind has, in a way, circled around the wheel of the enneagram unconsciously, to land in the realm of the mind… a place where many are stuck as they firmly hold to their belief that this is “arrival” or the end of the road for us. But what if there is indeed more?!? What if, as Steiner taught, the evolution of humanity necessitates our re-incorporation of those lost centers of knowing, the heart first and then the body?

This process of evolution doesn’t mean leaving behind our reasoning. Our evolution to this point has been outside of our understanding or ability to reason, but now that we have landed in the place of reason, we must bring it with us. So the evolution from this point onward absolutely has to be intentional. It involves developing a vigorous and pliable consciousness that can re-engage the heart and the intuition. This takes work and it takes a reevaluation of our beliefs and our ideas about reality. This is very likely the reason so many individuals and societies are so resistant to moving out of where they are. There is too much discomfort in recognizing the subjectivity of our reason and intellect. 

Considering this transformation mystically and in stages, we can see that in our current modern world of head-centered consciousness. We largely engage as individuals. I am this, you are that. I believe this, you believe that. Salvation is for my individual soul through my personal relationship with Jesus. I can justify this action because I believe this thing. Someone else’s beliefs are theirs so they can do what they want to do. All of it is largely individualistic (personally, nationally, religiously, etc). As we step into the heart center, it becomes less about “me” and “you” or “us” and “them,” and more so collective. How do my actions affect those around me, or how do we see ourselves as a common humanity? I would say that the focus is perhaps still quite focused on humanity versus the world, but incorporating our relationship with the rest of nature is part of it and also moving close to the next stage. When we begin to move into a re-incorporation of our body or gut center, this are no longer about just “us” any more. We begin seeing the world as interconnected, as “all.” I am the food that I eat. I am not just making my own decisions; the world around me, the authors, teachers, ancestors, birds I saw, even the food I ate… these are all influencing how and what I am doing in every moment. Also, the things that I do have far reaching impact into realms and time that I cannot even comprehend. This is the movement from the microcosm to the macrocosm. The difference of living in the body center in later evolution versus earlier evolution is that we have brought our consciousness with us in the experience. 

As I have noted, it is very hard for individuals to move through the uncomfortable places beyond reliance on reason in the head center of knowing. There are countless models for human development and spiritual growth, most which refer to a period of questioning that has to be moved through. Many organizations, including churches, while they might encourage questions, usually answer the questions with previously indoctrinated ideas. So if individuals and groups can’t move through the questioning to the mysteries beyond, they resort back to previous ways of thinking. Fr Richard Rohr often says that we only move beyond our current way of thinking through “great love or great suffering.” I would affirm this and note that it is only through the head-on collision with reality, which is essentially beyond our control, that we can see that our beliefs about this reality don’t change it. We are then invited to trust something more than ourselves and come to grips with our need to control. This is what I had hoped the global pandemic could have done for our humanity, though as we saw so clearly, people’s beliefs about it superseded the reality of what was going on. Many died because of their out of sync “beliefs.” Transformation of human consciousness on a large scale will likely require something even more extreme and undeniable, as some have said could come through our future-coming climate crisis. Many will make the leap to deeper levels of awareness and connection, and sadly, many will die with their beliefs and ideas intact.
The Enneagram is quite informative in helping us understand our differences in what centers of knowing are easier or harder for us. Not everyone is going to be convinced through experiencing things in their body. Not everyone is going to be moved by tugging on their heart strings. As I have noted, our culture, western religions, and psychological methods are largely head-centered. This is precisely why I have attempted to lay this out in a reasonable and linear format. Many of those prioritizing their reason have to be convinced reasonably, until convincing no longer works and only the ice plunge shock of reality sinks in. As leaders, guides, and companions, we have to continue to develop and grow in all areas of knowing so we can meet any and all persons where they are and walk with them into deeper levels of evolution. This is indeed a lifelong process. 

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