Monday, April 13, 2015

A Sacred Sorrow

"Going to pieces or falling apart is not such a bad thing. Indeed it is as essential to evolutionary and psychic transformation as the cracking of outgrown shells... What 'disintegrates' in periods of rapid transformation is not the self, of course, but its defenses and ideas... [opening] us up to new perceptions, new data, new responses." Joanna Macy, Chapter 16, Sacred Sorrows
My first cracking of the shell, when it hit, was comparable to what's been depicted by others: a sense of emptiness when approaching activities that had been fulfilling, disorientation, feeling separate from others and from myself (I could look in the mirror and not even recognize my own face). It was also clear I'd walked through a door that had shut tight behind me. 

That step into a space between the worlds was taken in the Spring of 1997, when I ended my second Naranjo workshop with a deep commitment to engage fully with life. For the first month afterwards I did just that. Then I fell into depression of a kind different from the familiar and transitory times of feeling dispirited. I finally realized that for me to really engage (the Nine's spiritual goal) I'd have to go through a wild and scary ride. 

I've read many books and articles about depression and about transformation. There are accounts from survivors of depression and references to spiritual struggles, but few personal stories of how transformation can occur during these dark times, how people are different as a consequence of this experience that disconnects them from all that's familiar. It appears that many who experience the pain of transition stop the process -- by taking antidepressants, being unwilling to endure the discomfort, and/or failing to recognize this could be a passage to something new and not simply a dark and endless tunnel with no light at the end.

Based on my own experience, if you use the Enneagram beyond playing games to categorize people, you will find yourself on the path of transformation whether you expected that to happen or not. I'm not a Catholic, so didn't originally turn to such resources as Suzanne Zuercher's Enneagram Spirituality:
"What does this surrender based on the necessity to admit our truth feel like? It is the experience of anguish, because anguish is to be aware of, to admit, what we cannot accept and embrace about ourselves... Such pain gradually lessens as we become more humble, simply acknowledging what is so."
As much as I admire Zuercher's work, however, her examples are generic and related to Christian scripture and beliefs. Riso and Hudson have broadened our perspective in The Wisdom of the Enneagram, writing that the "great religions of the world have provided a multitude of practices for personal transformation; so have modern psychology, the self-help movement, and contemporary spiritual thinkers." They also disclosed some of their own transformation process:
"Part of our discussion had to do with whether or not we would ever see the proverbial 'light at the end of the tunnel,' since each of us was constantly going through a fair amount of pain as we uncovered layers of neurotic habits and unresolved issues from the past… Even though excavating the various strata of the psyche meant going through layers of pain and negativity, making conscious the old accumulated psychic junk that we had not wished to deal with, it would be worth it." 
Over the years I've heard the voices of all nine styles. I don't think I'm crazy. Quite the opposite. Caroline Myss (Spiritual Madness: The Journey of the Modern Mystic Through the Dark Night of the Soul) said we invite spiritual madness whenever we say "I want to see clearly." 

I've come to view the nine points as representing passions with which we all struggle, though a stronger dynamic exists for the personality fixed at that point. And I've been in and out of the abyss as if batted around the Enneagram, experiencing the dark night of the soul from the perspective of all nine styles, particularly the Four, the Five, the Seven, and my own, the Nine. This has given me more empathy for the varieties of distress each style must encounter. And each point has valuable lessons:
One of the ways I've experienced a Four-like anguish is an existential angst, a mourning for all the pain and evil in the world and an attraction to "doing something about it" (e.g., volunteering to take meals to AIDS victims) without actually moving past my emotions and taking action. My own experience reflects that of one of my Four friends: when I'm in this place of mourning I avoid meditation/prayer because of the fear that if I looked for my essential Self "there might be no one home." When I can stay with this fear I remember myself, become more clear about what I value, and act accordingly.
When my sense of desolation takes a Nine tone I feel a deep fatigue; avoiding the energy, focus, meditation/prayer that would be required to discover my true will and purpose. I'm now better able to observe my fear that if I looked, there might be "someone home" and that discovery would require action! Now when I notice myself avoiding engagement (energy, commitment) I stay with the fear, it ceases to control me, and I feel a sense of contentment and even joy. More and more I find myself committing with enthusiasm to people/projects that match my own agenda and values.
During one whole month I experienced a Five-like down time, a retreat into intellectual safety, much reading and analysis, a strong discomfort with sharing my own deep emotions. But I experienced it from afar, observing it to exist more strongly than ever before, but at the same time separate from "me." By the end of that month I easily and generously connected with family, friends, clients and enjoyed those connections freely: sitting in the middle of friendship in a way I'd never experienced. I was not conscious of a plan to work through my feelings, but I did commit myself to staying centered and enduring the "madness." As Myss pointed out, my answer didn't come in a letter! It came in the changes I saw in myself after I returned.

My Seven-ish spiritual madness, when it shows, is more a manic state of avoiding deep work, a sense of unbearable pain and fear of confinement -- a fear that if I get down in there I won't like it and I'll never be able to find my way out. Because it is so dread-full, I bring myself out of it quickly. But the learning from this shadow work is fantastic. This is where I hear the voices of addiction yet being separate from them. For example, I've become able to hear the ego aspect that says, Wouldn't it be fun to stop writing and go out for a chocolate sundae; then you'll feel so much better. Or, Wouldn't it be fun, instead of going home and working on that project, to stop by this department store and see what's on sale? When I can sit with the feelings and ask myself, What do I really want? the answer is always some version of a journey to the Soul.
I still sometimes fall deep into sorrow. But as Clarence Thomson said to me, "I'm amazed at the intuitive intelligence of some of my Nine friends. Our culture doesn't always support this kind of intelligence, even when, and especially when, it's hard to put into words." Well, I have learned to trust the sorrow is sacred and my intuitive intelligence, my gut sense, my Essential Self will guide me in the process of self-remembering, my spiritual unfolding.