Heaps, Process and Personality Fixation in the Enneagram (R6)

This is a complete re-write of something I first penned in September 2008…

  • There’s a preamble that emphasises how the Enneagram functions as a universal generative model of ‘reality’. It can be made to apply to anything.
  • I tell of my first brush with the Enneagram in relation to Personality Constructs.
  • There is a description of Bennett’s Process Model.
  • The Enneagram of Personality Constructs compared with Bennett’s Process Model.
  • There follows the result of a stimulating challenge to convert diagrams in an earlier Glob to Enneagram format.
  • The result of the challenge looked at from a linear, sequential point of view and then by following the internal dynamic of the Enneagram. The analysis follows the pattern of the work-outs in relation to Bennett’s model.
  • There’s a glance at a different way of looking at The Heap—one which perhaps dips into Emotional Centre and could itself, no doubt, be analysed in terms of the Enneagram.


In Chapter 14 of In Search of the Miraculous, Gurdjieff is quoted as saying:-

Speaking in general it must be understood that the enneagram is a universal symbol. All knowledge can be included in the enneagram and with the help of the enneagram it can be interpreted. And in this connection only what a person is able to put into the enneagram do they actually know, that is, understand. What a person cannot put into the enneagram they do not understand. For the person who is able to make use of it, the enneagram makes books and libraries entirely unnecessary. Everything can be included and read in the enneagram. You may be quite alone in the desert and you can trace the enneagram in the sand and in it read the eternal laws of the universe. And every time you can learn something new, something you did not know before.      

… The enneagram is the fundamental hieroglyph of a universal language which has as many different meanings as there are levels of people…

The enneagram is perpetual motion, the same perpetual motion that men have sought since the remotest antiquity and could never find. And it is clear why they could not find perpetual motion. They sought outside themselves that which was within them; and they attempted to construct perpetual motion as a machine is constructed, whereas real perpetual motion is a part of another perpetual motion and cannot be created apart from it. The enneagram is a schematic diagram of perpetual motion, that is, of a machine of eternal movement. But of course it is necessary to know how to read this diagram. The understanding of this symbol and the ability to make use of it give man very great power. It is perpetual motion and it is also the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists…

In order to understand the enneagram it must be thought of as in motion, as moving. A motionless enneagram is a dead symbol; the living symbol is in motion.

Personality Fixations and the Enneagram

Back in 1988, my approach to the enneagram such as it is, was conditioned by reading Don Riso and then, following Ichazo/Naranjo, figuring out the way so-called personality fixations work together.

Philosophically, it seems to me that, so long as it is ecologically sound, whatever ‘works’ is pragmatically OK and I have just grown to accept the existential clarity and validity this way of working with the enneagram seems to offer, constantly testing the sense of it out and adding to it with various groups of people.

Ire and Personality Constructs

In my experience, two major dismissive (often high-octane) criticisms are made of the Enneagram of Personality: firstly that the arrangement of personality constructs around the perimeter is entirely arbitrary and cooked up by charlatans; secondly that the constructs are static. I have indeed often wondered why the Fixations are arranged around the perimeter in the order as conventionally presented; but I have never regarded the nine so-called personality descriptors deriving from Ichazo & Naranjo as written in concrete—indeed I have always described them as temporary ‘Fixations’ since what has become seemingly fixed can always be unfixed and that, for me, is the whole point of the Enneagram: it suggests possibilities for development away from one’s current level of programming—unfixing what’s not useful.

I well remember the very first time I went through the Enneagram of Personality with a small group of Adult Education volunteers one Saturday morning. Guided entirely by the excited feedback from individuals, I came to understand that irrespective of anything I said by way of introduction they found it very compelling and seemed to learn much about themselves by following what I presented as the internal dynamic of the model. This took me by surprise but fired me up!

Bennett’s Process Model

In the Gurdjieff canon the Enneagram is often related to planetary effects on the way we are but I have so far had little time for this. More to my way of thinking, JGBennett, a follower of Gurdjieff and successful businessman fifty years ago, used the Enneagram as a complex & powerful systemic tool. Thus, presupposing that the Enneagram can unravel and explain the system inherent in all human experience (and beyond), he considers the simple practical example of a kitchen at work:-Scan0002

The Enneagram is a way of usefully deconstructing a work/life process as well as a way of working with personality fixations and I have been wondering about the possible tie-up between the two.

Taking the example of ‘The Kitchen at Work’, it can be seen that the fundamental 9-3-6 triangle depicts the prerequisites for the kitchen’s very existence; without people in charge at 9, without the notion of finished food on a plate (3) and without customers (6) there would be no kitchen; ‘kitchen’ is the emergent property of this particular system.

On the perimeter of the Enneagram, stages 1 round to 9  represents a temporal flow of events, one thing following another in time; 1-4-2-8-5-7 is what Gurdjieff refers to as the ‘enneagram in motion’ and it offers choices of different vantage points from which a temporal process can be productively viewed.

For example, when you stand at 4 and look at 1 you’re obliged to ask the question—in what way does the kitchen have to be organised in order to prepare the food in a particular way: when you stand at 5 and look at 7 you’re obliged to ask the question—in what way does cooking the food impact on the process of eating it?…  if you stand at 3 and look at 6 or 9 you’d find yourself asking the questions—what raw food best satisfies ‘life’ and what kinds of food will be appropriate to this particular community?  And so on. Adopting different vantage points in what is usually thought of as a temporal process helps to flesh out and codify interrelationships between stages only vaguely apprehended. When we are entranced by the clock we have ‘no time to stop and stare’ at other possibilities…

Scan0003In another example concerning launching a new product, Bennett first of all separates out the 9-3-6 triangle in order to highlight the essentials of the process. Management, the new product and the market form the basis of an organisation’s existence; they must be in synch. If the product has only been designed to suit a market it may not meet expectations—the role of management is to achieve congruence between product and a particular market. If management blithely devises a whole lot of products without considering a possible market, bankruptcy looms. If management simply works to appease a market there won’t be much in the way of a suitable product.

Bennett then lays out the process of getting product design (which might be anything from a new machine to a training programme, to, in life, a holiday proposal…) up and running from management decision (which might be yourself) through initial design to production and quality control. This follows the PDCA (Plan/Do/ Check/Act) industrial Continuous Improvement model.


Again, 1 through to 9 represents a logical step by step sequence. But 1-4-2-8-5-7 in either direction offers a set of possibilities that’s more in line with what goes on in the brain when we’re thinking out a process—it jumps around; using the Enneagram in this way gives us a deliberate way of exploring what can otherwise be a chaotic & random process: when you stand at 4 and look at 1 you’ll perhaps become aware that you already had a vague idea of the possible product from which you derive the precise specification—does it successfully describe what you had in mind? when you stand at 5 and look at 8 you could begin to anticipate what snags ‘quality control’ might reveal in the design you arrived at after working with the sample product at 4; if you stand at 3 and look at 6 or 9 you’d find yourself asking the questions—how does the product relate to the market and will it satisfy management or the demands of the organisation? And so on…

The Order of the Fixations round the Perimeter of the Enneagram

If the Enneagram as a model describes all human [and inhuman] processes, does the temporal order of events in a process have anything to do with the way the Fixations are ordered?

This is a purely rhetorical question since some part of me has already answered it to its own satisfaction thus:-

9. The peaceful autonomous self-fulfillment of Nine-ishness in Life enables it to have a detached view of the whole process 1 – 9…

1. To have a proper  conception of the kitchen ready for work requires the ordered, all-encompassing Big Picture, visionary approach typical of One-ishness…

2. When the kitchen is at work it requires the sensitive guidance of a person who cares about other people—Two-ishness might be handy here…

3. Selection of raw food requires purpose and persistent focus and direction—Three-ishness has these characteristics…

4. Preparing the food demands creativity which is broadly the province of Four-ishness…

5. Cooking the food is applied creativity— taking into account all that’s known about methods, constantly reviewing the variables involved—Five-ishness is good at checking and observing…

6. No use doing any catering unless you consider the needs of other people—Six-ishness is good at doing this…

7. Serving a meal requires enthusiasm and a practical zest for style—Seven-ishness has both these characteristics…

8. A good way of eating a meal is to be in control of how you eat. Eights have self-leading qualities which well fits them for making calm decisive assessments of the success of a meal…

9. The peaceful autonomous self-fulfillment of Nine-ishness in Life enables it to have a detached view of the whole process 1 – 9 again… round and round… Reminder:-


For comparison, let’s consider Bennett’s ‘Launching a New Product’ example…  Reminder, where 9, 3 & 6 represent Management, Product & Market respectively:-


9. Management makes a calm cool & collected decision about the need (etc) for a new product…

1. The spec is a vision of how things could be—requires Visionary-I

2. The spec requires nurturing and careful work with others to bring it to the design stage… Caring-I’s province…

3. A Three can have an image of the final result and work hard with focus & direction… Dynamic-I

4. The initial creation of a sample product… Inventing-I

5. Thinking about the original design in comparison with the sample product— refining if necessary…

6. Taking everybody into account— including the possible market

7. The product is up and running—it now needs persistence and enthusiasm to keep the project going…

8.  Self-control & leadership required at this stage…

9. Management makes a calm cool & collected look at what’s happened with the new product… round and round…

For me the Enneagram is a very good way of making a system out of Multiple-I’s.

The Challenge

I was challenged to devise an Enneagram to depict the diagrams in the first part of colinblundell.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/the-end-of-yet-another-era/

For amusement and artistic flavour, this is what my first attempt looked like!


And then I put it into provisional order:-


Using the Enneagram as a way of outlining a story—the process—one can go round the outside: ‘once upon a time… this happened… then that… then something else… and so in consecutive order until everybody lives happily ever after (or not, as the case may be…); a much more interesting alternative is to deconstruct the ‘same’ story in the manner of some modern films with flashbacks & flashforwards and with no neat & tidy outcome—much more like the way the brain hops between events in a more or less random kind of way—as often happens in dreams.

Going Round the Outside

In terms of my habitual Heap and my constant attempts to sort it, I start with an ideal intellectual feeling of being in a state of equilibrium, with things in some kind of mental order with which I can rest content, at least for a while. The danger here is that I become so content that I subside into smug self-satisfaction. Nevertheless, all my life I’ve  been aware of a drive towards some kind of responsive ordering of things—(9). So Meta-I observes the heaps with a vague recollection of the need for order—(1). Without delay this thing I call ‘I’ sets about carefully sorting things but there are so many stages it’s leaving out—(2). There’s a pause at (3) for a full realisation of the task to dawn: it takes a step back to do a trial assessment of what’s there. Knowing full well that getting stuck in will likely result in losing itself in a particular topic, it begins to invent some possible categories to determine organisational structures—(4). It thinks out the categories and begins to classify material in sub-heaps, acknowledging the danger of becoming too cut & dried—(5). There’s another pause at (6) where it asserts its presupposition that ‘everything really is connected’—there is a system behind observable ‘reality’ even if it has the appearance of being pretty unsystematic; a good question is how to keep it that way while advancing in organisational flux—(6). Right, let’s get going and let’s stick at it!—(7). It can take charge of all its various ‘I’s and get to the bottom of things—defined as ‘seeing the woodwork of my desk for the first time for months—(8). Revisit (9) briefly and know what it’s all about and so on round the perimeter of the Enneagram.

The triangle (9) the ideal—a responsive ordering of things, (3) the material—a full realisation of the task and (6) the notional system—the understanding that everything really is connected forms the backbone of the system, stopping points for considering the relatively minor steps in between.

The Enneagram in Motion—Its Internal Dynamic

To study the internal dynamic of the Enneagram you can start anywhere and then do the circuit. A process is unlikely to be successfully achieved if a stage is missed: you could go to (8) and assert “I am going to take charge of myself and sort all this lot out”—a hopeless ambition in itself because of all the denying forces in your makeup, indolence, habit and so on. Standing at (8) you might look at what needs to happen at (2)—taking on the task carefully—but that would be of little use without at (4) inventing some strategies for categorising the material lying around in heaps. You could stand at (1) and observe the original mess and look at (7) to realise that enthusiasm and persistence is needed; how can you summon that up? Well, from (5) it might help to have tackled simplifying the task by thinking out some categories to work with.

In other words by walking round the system it’s possible to shock moments in the temporal process by beginning to realise what’s needed to make it come alive. Then a full awareness of what’s involved has to be internalised, to be felt in the bones and muscles, dealing with the snags & problems.

A Different Way of Looking at It

While I was working on all this I happened to read the following in Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power. It appears in a section of the book in which he discusses the various metaphorical constructs that can represent the concept of ‘crowd’; for example, a forest and its millions of leaves, the sea with its waves and eddies of being, the wind as it comes and goes through the generations and then The Heap. A Heap of anything. Elias Canetti’s words amount to a celebration of ‘The Heap’ and as I began to read them they chimed in many ways with my own sense of the Heaps that surround me as I write and the Heap of things in my head, throughout my Being. In the end I do not, I suppose, wish to rid myself of my Heaps—I just want to chart a way through them while celebrating their existence!

My thoughts as they arose appear in square brackets.

The Heap

Every heap which has human significance has been collected. [Oh, how I collect! This house is a museum of my life; my workspace a collection of the writing on all the bits of paper that have seemed to be of significance to me through many years… Occasionally I indulge in a potlatch…] The unity of a heap of fruit or grain is the result of activity. Many hands were occupied with the picking or harvesting. [Only my hand as a final part of the process constructing the Heaps—but many hands were involved in the original writings and in the thinking…] These are tied to a definite season and are of such decisive importance that the oldest division of the year is derived from them. [Each bit of paper or annotation is tied to a moment when I thought it important and now in the late autumn of my life I see fit to put them all into some kind of order but not one that destroys the ebullient randomness of original discovery…]  Men [and women…] celebrate in feasts their joy over the various heaps they have managed to collect. They exhibit their pride and often their feasts are arranged round them. [Yes, I have a kind of humble pride—is that what it is?—it often seems disgusting to me—at the colossal Heap I have accumulated—I’m sure that whoever has to dispose of it before long will not thank me for it…]

The things which have been collected are all of the same kind, one species of fruit or grain. They are piled as closely as possible and the more there is of them and the denser the pile, the better. [Elias Canetti is referring to a harvest of fruit & grain but it’s a flick of the mental wrist to designate my ‘dense piles’ of papers & books as the fruit of many years of thinking/feeling about this & that, only ever coming to very tentative conclusions about anything…] It is close at hand and does not have to be fetched from far off. [I just have to turn my head or look out of the corner of my eye…] The heap must be large and people boast of it. Only if it is large enough will it last all of them for any length of time. [I must make mine larger then…] As soon as they have got used to the gathering of things for these heaps, people go on and on making them larger and larger. They love to remember the years which brought the richest harvest and, as soon as annals are kept, these are recorded in them as the years of greatest happiness. [1953-58… 1977- 87 and many other years if I put my mind to it…] From year to year and place to place harvests vie with each other. Whether they belong to the community or to individuals the heaps of produce stand as exemplars to be guarded and cherished. [I cherish my Heaps!]

It is true that they are then used up, sometimes quickly on special occasions, at other times slowly according to need. The time of their existence is limited. The idea of decrease is contained in them from the beginning and their re-assembly is subject to the rhythm of the seasons. All harvesting is a rhythmic heaping, and feasts are celebrated in accordance with this rhythm. [Limited the status of paper & ink, its re-assembly a consistently fitful rhythm. And it’s all an existential absurdity…]

One thought on “Heaps, Process and Personality Fixation in the Enneagram (R6)

  1. Unlike Canetti’s heaps of fruits and grain, whose time of existence is indeed constrained by the seasons and by the number of hungry consumers who will inevitably decrease the amount, your heaps of scholarly conjectures will – I hope – exist for a great many seasons, and can be consumed by one hungry reader after another, with no decrease in supply for those future readers who have yet to discover your blog. So please do keep sharing your heaps with us – they are indeed “to be guarded and cherished”!



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