The Enneagram invites us to be curious about who we’ve been taking ourselves to be, and about the many facets of ourselves that have been lying dormant within our psyches. “Inner work” with the Enneagram is a practice of self-observation and self-remembering, with compassionate acceptance of whatever we find.

The Wild Enneagram: Integrating Psychology, Spirituality, and Ecology 

by Ben Campbell and Jenny Campbell

The Enneagram of Personality is often described as a bridge between psychology and spirituality, because it makes direct connections between ancient spiritual wisdom and modern psychology. Each of the nine personality types of the Enneagram has at its root a cluster of specific spiritual qualities, and working with the Enneagram is a process of shifting our identification from the surface strategies of our “type” to the depth of our true identity as spiritual beings in human bodies.

However, while the synthesis of psychology and spirituality is profound, it is incomplete on its own. There is a missing third, for which we are using the broad term “ecology.” Immediately when we use that word, most people will imagine the various ecosystems of the “natural” world, as opposed to, and separate from, the human world. What we have forgotten, and what we are advocating for remembering, is the wild origin of the human psyche. 

Human beings are just as “natural” as any other animal, having evolved for thousands of generations living directly in tune with nature’s rhythms, and it follows that no psychological or spiritual model can possibly be complete without including the ecological dimension. For the Enneagram to fulfill its potential as a map of the human soul, it must account for our innate wildness.

Understanding the Enneagram

The nine Enneagram types are fairly easy to recognize in people we know. Our lives are populated with Peacemakers, Reformers, Helpers, Achievers, Individualists, Investigators, Loyalists, Enthusiasts, and Challengers. It can be fun and interesting to figure out where we fit on this map, to learn about the various traits and characteristics, and to be able see ourselves and others more clearly.

However, it’s important (and not easy at first) to understand that your Enneagram type is NOT who you are; it’s how you cope. It is healthy and necessary to develop an ego/personality, but at some point in our development our coping strategies harden into a false self: a social role, a certain way of being that feels like “me” but is actually disconnected from my own true nature.

The Enneagram invites us to be curious about who we’ve been taking ourselves to be, and about the many facets of ourselves that have been lying dormant within our psyches. “Inner work” with the Enneagram is a practice of self-observation and self-remembering, with compassionate acceptance of whatever we find. The more aware we are of our false self, our social role, and our various patterns and coping mechanisms (awareness we develop by learning about the Enneagram), the more capacity we develop to notice when we are acting from the unconscious programming of our personality. At first, we can only see this retrospectively, but in time our Enneagram understanding becomes like an inner alarm clock that wakes us up and creates the possibility of choosing a more conscious response in the moment. 

Restoring the Ecological Dimension

The Enneagram symbol, as originally taught by the mystic philosopher G.I. Gurdjieff, is a hidden key to understanding universal laws of nature, such as unity, manifestation, and evolution. The growing mainstream popularity of the Enneagram makes it easy to forget that the Enneagram of Personality is only a microcosm–a single example of the expression of the Enneagram in nature. The patterns we can discern in human psychology can also be observed—in their own particular way—in animal life, trees and mushrooms, cloud patterns, the development of life on Earth, and so on. 

Human beings evolved alongside all other living things, exposed to the elemental forces of nature. Like everything else, we adapted in order to survive, to procreate, and to sustain the ecosystems on which we depended. (Our ancestors were all indigenous to a particular place.) It’s only in the past few centuries that humans have physically removed ourselves from nature, and this separation has had significant consequences both for us and the rest of the planet. When we don’t acknowledge our own inherent wildness—our capacity for relatedness, for conversation, and for mirroring with the more-than-human world, as well as our sheer dependence on nature for everything from food to spiritual realization—we miss out on a crucial dimension of our potential development. And, when we are unable to acknowledge and experience our inherent belonging to the wild world, it’s tempting to see nature only as a commodity to be used for any number of shortsighted purposes, rather than a connected and sentient ecosystem that requires our protection and care.  

When we invite nature to participate in our Enneagram practices of self-observation and self-remembering, we have the opportunity to tap into the vast and ancient wisdom of the Earth itself. By learning how to communicate and cooperate across the species boundaries, we experience the joy of belonging to our home planet in our own unique, intimate ways. By listening for a wisdom much greater than our own, we discover how to become true stewards—agents of healing, regeneration, and beauty. 

Taking Our “Inner Work” Outdoors

When we take this idea to heart–when we broaden our interpretation of the Enneagram to include all of nature, and we engage in our practices outdoors, we soon encounter the spiritual qualities all around us. We experience the sun and wind, mud and water, plants and animals, as the teachers they are. And, when we offer ourselves up to be affected by the experience, essential qualities such as Aliveness, Wholeness, Goodness, Love, Value, Beauty, Clarity, Awakeness, and Joy arise naturally from within and around us.

Furthermore, when it comes to grappling with the most difficult aspects of our personality, nature reminds us that we never have to do that work on our own. We can bring our resentments to the trees, seek guidance from the birds, weep our sorrows into the welcoming ground. When we do this regularly, showing up in our full vulnerability and offering our sincere gratitude to the Earth, the Earth begins to recognize us. It becomes more and more obvious that we are having a two-way conversation, something that seems fantastical to modern humans, but is actually hard-wired into our DNA. We know how to listen and belong in nature; we’ve simply forgotten.

Invitation to Explore Further

As we journey through the landscapes of our psyche and the natural world, we discover that they are not separate but deeply interwoven. The integration of Enneagram work with nature invites us into a more holistic understanding of ourselves and our place in the cosmos. It's an invitation to heal not just the individual but also the collective, fostering a deeper sense of belonging and connection.

For those eager to embark on this journey in community, we extend a warm invitation to join us at The Rowe Center, June 21-23, 2024 for “The Wild Enneagram: Integrating Ecology, Psychology, and Spirituality” workshop. We welcome all levels of Enneagram experience, including brand-new beginners, and we hope that more advanced students will bring “beginner’s mind” to the ecological perspective we are presenting. Our program will enrich your understanding of the Enneagram, connect you deeply with the natural world, and guide you toward a path of healing and transformation that honors the wildness within and around us.