- Illustration by John Luckovich.
Esteemed Reader of Our Magazine:
In the early part of the last century, a teacher named George Gurdjieff emerged from a long journey visiting monasteries and centers in India, Tibet, Central Asia, and the Middle East teaching a new formulation of a perennial system of inner work toward the completion of human beings. The symbol of the enneagram became the insignia of the teaching and the school that formed around him.
By now millions of people are familiar with the symbol, mostly because it was employed by the philosopher and teacher Oscar Ichazo in describing the spectrum of personality types. Most are not aware of its origin—nor that the system of personality types is but one of an infinite set of holons that the symbol can elucidate. Prior to Gurdjieff's introduction, the enneagram does not appear in any known historical records, texts, or monuments. We can assume he either invented it or found it in some very secret, hitherto unknown society.
According to Gurdjieff, the enneagram illustrates the three fundamental laws at work in every whole, living system.
The first law is embodied in the circle that represents the Law of One. This is the singular, unitive aspect of everything. In this sense, even something we perceive as a multiplicity, the collection of parts, is, in the aggregate, a singularity.
The second is the Law of Three embodied in the triangle. This is an expression of the positive, negative, and neutralizing elements at work in every event. Gurdjieff named these as affirming, denying, and reconciling forces. In the enneagram, they are the inputs from outside the system, and each represents the beginning of one of three overlapping processes proceeding around the outside of the circle.
The third law of the enneagram is the Law of Seven, rendered as the inner lines of a hexad connecting the points 1-4-2-8-5-7. Its basis is the decimal produced when dividing one (the totality) into seven parts, 0.142857, repeating. The law describes the unfolding of processes, in the way that seven notes comprise the musical octave in its journey from Do to Do, or the doubling of vibrations.
The enneagram is understandable only as a living symbol. It is not two-dimensional. It would more accurately be called five-dimensional in the sense that it addresses time as a solid-state phenomenon, including all creative possibilities latent in the continuum, as a singular, simultaneous occurrence. In this fifth-dimensional meaning, the linear steps in a process are perceived as simultaneous with a reality outside of time, an interlocking lattice of interval nodes moving from points 1 to 4, 4 to 2, 2 to 8, 8 to 5, 5 to 7.
To experience anything through the lens of the enneagram is to see that reality is never fixed and is always in motion, either evolving or devolving. It is to see that "for everything, there is a season," times when change is possible and times it is not, times to create, and times to destroy. With this sensibility, one can embody the wisdom of patience.
The principle "as above, so below" is also expressed in the formulation from the Old Testament, "[A Completed Human Being] is made in the image of [The Totality]. It expresses the identical nature of holons at degrees of magnitude. The enneagram is both a symbolic portrait of and a roadmap to becoming a completed human being.