Growth through Stress – 3 drawing from 9

Advent is often understood as the period of waiting between the now and the not-yet. In the story, Mary now knows what the Angel has told her, but we are not yet at the point of the Angel’s announcement to the Shepherds of a savior being born for them.  In our lives, we have the experience of Christ with us, but anticipate a more complete realization of his presence in our world. 

Rick Lawrence of Vibrant Faith reminds us that this waiting is a liminal space, a “threshold” through which we are gradually walking. It is that “thin space” between what is and what is yet to be. Richard Rohr describes liminal space as “a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be but where God is always leading them. It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.”

I cannot say how people of color respond to racism apart from what friends have shared with me this year. I would love to hear and know more about how this season of racial reckoning holds hope for some, feels liminal for others, and simply remains a place of fear and pain for many more. As someone coming to terms with whiteness and seeking to be more antiracist, I do feel the tension between what has been and what must be.

In this liminal space, I want to step away from the benefits of white privilege, but that’s not so easy and there is not yet a new way of racialized cultural experience. I believe the 1980s model of color blindness was a white response to avoiding liminal space; it was a rushing through the door of racism to the imagined possibility of no longer seeing race. It didn’t work; we still all saw race, and we still contributed to and experienced its effects. Now, we know we have to see it, and address it.

Layla Saad, author of White Supremacy and me, teaches, “You cannot change your white skin color to stop receiving these privileges, just like I cannot change my black skin color to stop receiving racism. But what you can do is wake up to what is really going on, challenge your complicity in this system and work to dismantle it within yourself and the world.”

As we consider these things and the utter stress of this work, I do want to consider Enneagram responses to our work and our waiting, and I want to ask how our different racial and cultural experiences shape, reinforce, or differ from what is commonly taught as Enneagram wisdom.

One dynamic Enneagram pattern I want to consider is what Riso and Hudson have taught us to think of as a stress response – the ability to “go to” a number across from us, in front of us, via the arrows on the Enneagram.  While the misnomer of “stress” implies the negative traits we take on from unhealthy connections to this number, we know this connection can also be a healthy “resource point”, as Peter O’hanrahan says, which can help us “access some important quality that helps us take action in the world.”

For Chestnut, this forward direction is a “growth-through-stress point, a specific challenge perfectly suited to expanding the narrow focus of our core personality.”  As such, we can move forward on a growth path and forward to overcome challenges we need to become whole.

This dynamic shift in personality can last for moments or months, it can be unconscious or quite intentional. As a 3, I have the energy and passion to commit to the work of racial conciliation, I can celebrate the accomplishments of colleagues of color, and I am willing to take a stand. However, when I am in the wrong in a relationship, or when the pain of racism needs to be addressed, my anxiety and shame (combined with my privilege) lead me to find the quickest way to avoid the situation, a response of my behaving like a less than ideal 9. This has been a year where I have sought to stay in the conversation with students and colleagues who need to share their pain.  I have even invited conversations that I knew would be painful. However, my default is to work hard up to a point, and then I find myself wanting to avoid conflict at all cost.

These are the undesirable ways that I draw from 9 traits as a 3. However, we each also have the ability to draw from the healthy traits of the number in front of us on the Enneagram in order to grow in a balanced way. I can choose to step into healthier 9 traits before I fall into the unhealthy ones. I can grow through the stress of what comes my way. As a 3 this can mean being calm and collected rather than the frenetic pace of much of my life. I can choose to slow down.  It can mean being a synthesizer, a listener, a mediator. 

The work of antiracism for me as a 3 is not just the tackling of tasks that I have taken on this year – planning a race equity team, organizing a monthly educators’ group, and a weekly campuswide accountability group, writing a regular column, and reading everything I can find. It is also taking my time to connect and listen, to sit and reflect, and to practice the mindfulness of the inner work of racial justice, as Rhonda Magee teaches. My growth path to becoming whole means moving from 3 to 9, means slowing down to listen to and seek to understand colleagues and students of color, and being more intentional and collaborative in my work. I have to remind myself of these things daily, if not more often than that! 

In light of our national racial reckoning, how might we each need this resource to move forward? Moving forward this way can be a stress response. So, yes, we may exhibit the stressful and painful traits of this number across from ours, but it can also be growth-through-stress, as Chestnut says, which can expand our focus. 

In my next post, I will share what this move forward across the Enneagram means for each of the numbers. And, I will share some possible antiracism implications of this shift for each type.  I’ll need your input to help evaluate my thoughts! 

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