Becoming Your Best Self

By Leslie Hershberger

Save me from self help. I stopped getting Oprah magazine because the endless articles about self-improvement were missing something. I rarely read business or spiritual self-help books. I fast forward through any article that is about 9 Ways to Mend My Life.

When a friend suggested the Enneagram was self-help I cringed. Self-help often devolves into an inner dialogue of how much we all need to be fixed.

Or, on the other end of the spectrum, self-help can slowly creep across the line into self-absorption that masks as “I am living. my. best. life” or “we are interconnected” (which is ever so true), but downplays real world realities which can invite us into a more expansive, demanding ethic of care which requires we attune ourselves to the world in a way that stretches us beyond any small self that can be helped.

So, what is the Enneagram?

  • Is it a psychological typology?
  • Can it be used in secular organizations without using the word “spiritual?”
  • Can it facilitate spiritual maturity?

Yes, yes and yes. But mostly, it’s a way of seeing how you see the world. It is not a theory. Rather, it came from people who work with people who noticed certain human patterns of behavior. These patterns were rooted in how they paid attention.  In other words, it came from stories. It came from ways people get stuck and can’t seem to touch into something deeper.

That intrigued me. It felt alive. Organic. Breathing.

The Enneagram as a Psychological Typology

When I first learned the Enneagram, I learned it to understand my kids. They were so different from me and when they headed into school years, I began projecting my childhood all over them and ramped up expectations and parented from my own childhood experiences. The Enneagram as a psychological typology saved them (and me).

I learned how fundamentally differently we see the world. A teacher gave me the wise advice to quit trying to change them or “help” them and work on myself. She said when you become aware of your own type patterns, people notice. Something shifts. You. Them. The family system. The workplace.

As a psychological system, the Enneagram is unparalleled as it not only points to the distinct way we actually create our own internal suffering and project it onto others, but it also offers simple practices to live into a more expansive, compassionate view of self and others.

The Enneagram as Tool for Individual and Team Effectiveness in Business

Can the Enneagram be taught in business settings without highlighting the spiritual dimension? Absolutely. I’ve done it countless times and the experience is pretty impressive. I’ve Ginger Lapid-Bogda to thank for help with the translation. She’s one of the premier trainers for use of the Enneagram in business and she says:

“Organizations across the globe are using the Enneagram in a wide variety of business applications, with new uses constantly emerging. Most organizations begin using the Enneagram to increase communication, foster feedback cultures, respond effectively to conflict, and enrich leadership styles and then move to applications such as creating high-performing teams, developing 21st century leadership competencies, enhancing sales performance, creating cultures of commitment and engagement, and more.

Once individuals identify their styles, they then use the system to understand and improve how they and others function at work. Although having the right skills is an essential ingredient of high-quality job performance, emotional intelligence (EQ) – the ability to accept and manage oneself and the capability to work effectively with other people – is equally important. In fact, people with high EQ tend to be more successful, more flexible, better learners, and more desirable coworkers.

According to a Harvard Business Review study (June 2005), employees were asked what mattered most in a coworker: someone who was competent or someone who was easy to work with. Most replied that while they preferred coworkers with both attributes, they would pick someone easy to work with if forced to choose between the two.” (See More)

When I teach the Enneagram in organizations, we are not talking about spiritual development. Rather, we are working consciously with type as relates to increasing self-awareness and fostering cultures of constructive communication, feedback and conflict. In September of this year, I’m going to be partnering with a colleague and we’ll be offering a retreat for young women in business who are moving into leadership roles.

The Enneagram as a Spiritual Tool

When we start using the Enneagram as a spiritual tool, it gets particularly interesting as we are moving into more expansive and the elusive territory of mystery. In order to be clear about terms, I use the word “Spirit” as the animating, dynamic force of the Ground of Being.

Spirit evolves as we evolve.  We are conscious participants and create from the Ground. It is not separate from us and outside of us, but it encompasses more than just us. It is not static and fixed. It is ever changing. It can only be experienced first hand or otherwise it’s a concept. All the world religions use the word “breath” in describing our ability to consciously attune ourselves with this animating Life Force.

Here is where the Enneagram comes in: The Enneagram engenders consciousness. When we increase our awareness of ourselves and others, we evolve in consciousness. That’s the psychology part.

Yet, psychology has its limits. We can get into patterns such as beating ourselves up, over-using the Enneagram to control or manipulate other people or working harder and harder to be better and better and forgetting our connection to the world outside of ourselves. It’s a zero sum game and ultimately quite defeating. It’s back to the limits of self-help and self-absorption.

The Spirit part is in our ability to surrender to something larger than ourselves. Call it what you like. I call it Love. My friend calls it divine energy. Another calls it Presence. I’m less interested in how we define it than in how we engage practices which cultivate spiritual qualities like forgiveness for self and other, compassion, gratitude and ethical care.

With practice, our type loosens its hold on us and we open more fully to this Reality. Each type actually has within it a virtue…virtue is Latin for virs which means life force. As we gradually grow in awareness, we tend to free up stuck energy in our body. The virtue of our type comes online.

For example, I am an Enneagram Seven. My attentional style is scattered. It takes a lot of energy to compulsively come up with new ideas. It takes more energy to be disappointed when they don’t come to fruition because I didn’t maintain steadiness. Spiritual practice cultivates a greater capacity for focus. The virtue of my type, constancy, is what remains when I let go of my addiction to ideas and fantasy. The greater focus, the more energy is available to me to do some decent work in the world.

It’s not an easy walk. It helps listening to the panels as we experience our shared humanity.  We feel less tightly bound in our anxieties, fears, resentments and desires to “even the score.”

The Narrative Tradition offers a communal component. We step into the story of another and listen. We feel less alone. We laugh a lot because we’re in this together. I’ve often noticed my Enneagram friends feel called to serve the wider world in some way. It’s almost as if the freed up energy calls for something beyond our small, individual selves. My friend Susan runs a Prison Project, another friend helps families

Susan Olesek and the Enneagram Prison Project

navigate the morass of immigration while another uses the power of the Enneagram to assist global health agency officials who must collaborate on a day-to-day basis to actualize global programs for the treatment and prevention of HIV-AIDS.  Another cares for her aging mother differently. The difficult situation didn’t change. She did.

No Arrival Point

We aren’t jackhammering our way to enlightenment. We’ve no control how this all will go. There’s no arrival point where we won’t feel anger, ache or fear again.  It’s a walk in awareness. It a deepening and an opening. It’s sometimes unsettling, so patience is helpful.

I continue to be surprised. But know what has struck me more than anything in 15 years of working with the Enneagram? We have a more difficult time receiving authentic kindness, gratitude and love than in giving it. At first pass, this is encouraging as we tend to be a rather generous species.

But it’s kind of sad. It’s like we’re exhaling like crazy without taking the time to pause and receive fully the lives we are living.  No wonder we’re exhausted and feeling empty.

So, maybe it’s about opening ourselves and another. Stepping into our vulnerability. Being a little more real. Letting go. Receiving with gratitude what’s in front of us. A conscious person is the midwife of a new creation.

When used skillfully, the Enneagram helps us be and act like grown ups and the world needs more grown ups.

This isn’t to say self-help and goals are never valuable. I  finished this blog, after all. Classes are scheduled. Workshops are on the books. Clients are booked. The newsletter is finished.

The increasing ability to finish was born in an awareness of my type which scatters easily and loses focus. I am able to be with my grandson with a greater quality of presence. I teach differently than in the past as I am able to more fully available to participants as I trust a Love larger than myself to do the heavy lifting. I’m more aware of the very different stories of each of the people sitting in the room regardless of their type so I’m less inclined to project my assumptions all over them.

So maybe I help myself after all…AND…I can’t do this alone. It is a deeply communal endeavor to grow up. My family, my community and this world draws me outside of any silly notions that I could actually help myself or them without attuning myself to the unpredictable ebb and flow of real life.

My house is still marked by three unfinished projects: the deck is half pressure washed, the photos are almost organized and the bush trimmings are on the front lawn. It’s also marked by a conscious awareness born in a realization that help is received and the opening is to keep saying a “yes” and an “Amen” to life as it continually reveals itself.

Reprinted with permission from Leslie Hershberger’s blog at lesliehershberger.com.

Leslie Hershberger’s work as a facilitator and teacher is an ongoing integration of inner
contemplation and compassionate action in the world. She first used the Enneagram to
better understand her children, which led her to working with it to deepen spiritual
practice and relationships. She created the Enneagram Spirituality course, “Between
You and Love: Coming Home Embodied” and will lead the retreat, Becoming Your Best
Self: Introduction to the Enneagram, at Copper Beech Institute, October 9 – 11, 2015.
Commuters and overnight guests are welcome.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and
contemplative practice offering more than 40 opportunities to help you awaken to the
beauty of your life.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute  l  Follow our Awaken Everyday Blog  |  Subscribe to Our eNewsletters  l  Come to a Retreat  l  Friend Us on Facebook  l  Follow Us on Twitter

The Simple Quick- Fix

The simple things.
These are the easiest ones not to do. To forget about.
The glass of water I would drink before each meal now forgotten. The morning meditation that I skipped that one day-  and never went back to. The occasional celebratory glass of wine that has become my daily way to unwind. The sugar-filled granola bar in the car that counts as a meal is now the norm and not the exception to the rule.
I realize there are other simple things that have been forgotten, too.
The hug when you first walk in the door. The “I’m sorry” for no other reason than one of us is hurting. The making of a hot cup of tea for me at night. The pulling back of your side of the covers before I slip into bed.
My favorite thoughts come in the morning, right after that first cup of coffee, when I am quite sure I can conquer the world while never eating another carb ever again and always remaining calm in every moment. It’s a high that comes with a price. When the power wears off and I am without my caffeinated cape, the ground seems far below. The wounds deep from repeated falls. It is in this lowest of places that my determination and commitment to remember to do the simple things starts to waiver. It’s easier to look at the big picture far off in the future. What magic pill or quick- fix book do I need? Its harder to focus on my own daily habits instead.
Recently I woke early in the morning, before the creak of the wooden steps would cause anyone to stir, before the birds had realized it was time to add their voices to the day, before the sun was ready to make an appearance. I sat on the porch, engulfed in more darkness than light and woke to the realization that I had literally stuffed my life with big, noisy, flashy activities and events and what I wanted back was the small, insignificant in the moment, simple things. I realized I left no room for those simple things to happen. Sitting on the couch with my legs across your lap, listening to music. Enjoying a good book from cover to cover in one evening. A spontaneous dance party on the kitchen floor. A stroll at night just to check on the shape of the moon and to feel grounded under a blanket of stars. Not quantifiable in any way. Not worthy of an Instagram post. Just deeply fulfilling.
I made a list of all the simple things I had let go of and wanted back. I gave myself permission to only focus on the one thing I wanted to do today that would affect my tomorrow. For me, it was cultivating gratitude for what was already present in my life. I then restarted my morning with a mug full of hot tea and a simple text, “How can I make your day great?” I sent it to my husband. Then I realized I needed to send it to someone else, too. I sent the same text to myself as a reminder to start with the little things first.
What simple thing do you want back in your life? What one thing can you do today that will make your tomorrow even better?

Kimberlea Chabot is the founder of a hyper-local resource for holistic living called LuckyPennyFound. Please visit www.luckypennyfound.com for more information. Kimberlea lives in West Hartford, Connecticut and considers her husband of 18 years and their three children to be both her greatest blessings – and her greatest challenge to living mindfully. Kimberlea is a regular contributor to the Copper Beech Institute blog, Awaken Everyday.

Copper Beech Institute is the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice located in West Hartford, Connecticut. We offer more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you find the calm, compassion and true happiness you seek.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute l Follow our Awaken Everyday blog

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Rediscovering Basic Goodness

by Susan Piver

I just finished teaching an Open Heart retreat in beautiful Dechen Choling which is situated in rural south-central France, near Limoges. The beauty here reminds me of what the world felt like when I was a kid in summertime:  Verdant, lush, quiet, warm…all you want to do is be outside. These words are misleadingly prosaic… But when you arrive here from gray, cement, noisy, and cold, they are anything but.

I arrived into Paris Charles de Gaulle last week after a late night flight. I waited four hours in the airport for my train to Poitiers where I would connect to the train for Limoges. Each train ride was approximately two hours long (including a heart-stopping 12 minute gap between trains, causing me to remember the last two times I made this journey and missed the connection each time. What is French for wtf do all these signs mean??) This time, I made the connection with literally two minutes to spare.

The train from Charles de Gaulle to Poitiers was a high-speed TGV train. It was clean and comfortable and the scenery was beautiful. The train from Poitiers to Limoges was a regional train, also clean and comfortable—and slower. I thought I would doze or read but all I could do was stare out the window at the trees, lakes, and farmhouses.

I was also very awake. Despite having missed a night of sleep and spending about 15+ hours in transport, I felt super alert. The beauty woke me up. I even went for a short run once I arrived here, at around 8:00 p.m. At this time of year, the sky remains light until about 10:00 p.m. and it was like I had arrived in the land of perpetual morning.

On the final train ride (from Poitiers to Limoges), I also began to think about the program I was coming to teach, The Open Heart Retreat. It was to be four days of exploring the connection between meditation and emotion, which I thought sounded awesome when I wrote the program description. But now, hours away from beginning, what, I wondered, did it actually mean to make this exploration?

How do you teach a person to open their heart?

As Westerners, most suggestions around how to feel involve some type of management system. Create a sense of safety by establishing ground rules. Manage expectations. Take responsibility for your emotions, don’t lay them off on others. Use “I” statements to express feelings. Resolve childhood wounds or at least come to some sort of closure with them. Expect that current relationships will recreate previous patterns and thus offer the chance to intercede to shift the pattern. Explore, reflect, analyze, deconstruct. Talk things through.

There can be great value in such approaches. I have certainly benefitted tremendously from them. However, I’m not a therapist, I’m a Buddhist. Too, I’ve noticed that while systematic exploration of painful emotions and fears can be instructive, by itself, it is not transformative. There is a gap between recognizing an issue and then actually changing.

Expanded awareness of your patterns is powerful and necessary—but what comes next? And are there modes of transformation that feel soulful and rich and human rather than mechanistic, as if I was reprogramming myself like a computer?

In Buddhist thought, especially in my Shambhala Buddhist lineage, emotional pain of all sorts can be said to arise from one particular disconnection: Losing faith in your basic goodness. “Basic goodness” doesn’t mean basic goody-goodness, it means something more like your essential wakefulness. So, with this premise, heart-opening would naturally occur upon recovery of  confidence in your basic goodness.

But how do you do that?

Also according to Buddhist thought, every journey has three steps: a ground; a path, and a fruition, so my mind naturally turned to the question, what is the ground, path, and fruition of rediscovering our innate basic goodness? Because that is what this program would have to be about.

Here are the answers I came up with and they are the things we practiced during our retreat.

The ground of rediscovering basic goodness is relaxation. This is where will have to begin, not by further dissecting the root of our problems, but by calming down from the speed and stress of daily life. Without this as a foundation, we will simply continue to pile layer upon layer of conceptual thought onto our problems. So, on this retreat, rather than working harder, we’ll work less, I thought. Instead of trying to change ourselves, we’ll rest with ourselves as we are. Luckily, in the practice of meditation, that is exactly what we are practicing, so we had that one covered.

Then what? If we are able to relax and create space, what will help us to travel on? I realized that the path was the sense perceptions, that if we could spend time becoming absorbed, not in what we think and how bad our problems are, but in the way things look, sound, smell, and so on, we would be connecting with basic goodness itself. So we spent time engaging our senses in various ways.

The fruition, then, I posited, would be doubtlessness When you see a tree with green leaves, there is no doubt in the greenness. When you hear birds sing, there is no doubt that you are hearing a kind of music. When you add salt, there is no doubt in saltiness. And so on.

So this is what we did; we established the ground of relaxation, walked the path of sense perception, and, I believe, recovered at least some sense of confidence in basic goodness and thus could allow ourselves to feel. How did I come to believe this? I saw it happen. It was measured in smiles, tears, embraces, and in greater ease with both emotional confusion and clarity. It was like watching us all turn back into human beings.

Reprinted with permission from Susan Piver’s blog at susanpiver.com.

Susan Piver is a writer and Buddhist teacher and has been teaching meditation for more than 10 years. She is a frequent guest on network TV, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today, and CNN. She is founder of the online mindfulness community the Open Heart Project with more than 12,000 members from across the globe. Susan will lead the meditation retreat, Start Here Now: A Guide to the Path and Practice of Meditation, at Copper Beech Institute, October 9 – 11, 2015.

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Summer’s Last Handstand

by Brandon Nappi

A labor day sun hangs heavy and low over the lake where my family spends lazy Sunday afternoons making mudpies, playing monkey in the middle and diving off of docks.  I’m waist deep in thick water encircled by an elementary school gang of giggling children sucking summer’s last available marrow. “Dad, look!” my eleven year old barks. Sophia’s body erupts heavenward and then plunges jerkily into the depths to reveal a perfectly executed under water handstand. Tween boys tackle each other all around us dropping the F-bomb on occasion. Sophia and I chuckle. Toddlers shove fists full of beach sand into their mouths. Disgruntled teenage thumbs hammer on screens. A Taylor Swift song bellows.

I notice the great upside-down tower my daughter’s legs had become– the fruit of a decade of eternal summer weekends honing Olympic quality handstands. The sun rests upon her pointed toes as if placed there like the star atop a Christmas tree. In this moment, thoughts of graph paper and her first school dance seem to be buried in the cool mud of the lake bottom. Her handstand lasts for ages, and my mind scrolls through time.

I remember the hundreds of attempts to attain this singular vertical posture. This one handstand performed effortlessly the day before the start of middle school was years in the making. I’d witnessed awkward tipping, water logged sinuses, choking, spitting, tears and now this. I’d been asked to observe her perform this feat a zillion times, and I pretended to watch more than I care to admit. This is how practice works. After blue collar effort, desire and the boredom of repetition, suddenly there’s no effort at all.

This is why we practice—to cultivate the kind of effort that doesn’t require effort. What we do in meditation–the noticing, the watching and breathing takes incredible focus, energy and determination. From another perspective, it takes no effort at all. Being present doesn’t require any more effort than it takes to notice a handstand. Pay attention to all the paradoxes you encounter in life. They are the big red X’s on the treasure map where the riches are buried.

Sophia’s feet are wiggling more now as she runs out of breath and balance. I watch pruned toes, and I realize, “No one tells you when you are watching your daughter’s last handstand.”  At some point in the coming days, my tween will become a teen, and the teen will become a woman. In truth, this is already happening but I’m not willing to admit it yet. At some point, she won’t bound into the musty brown water, pull down her goggles like a knight exploding into battle and throw her blue toe nails toward the sky. At some point, I won’t have dozens of handstands to watch and spelling lists to quiz her on.

Isn’t this how it is in life? Last moments aren’t usually announced. I didn’t know the last diaper I changed would be the last. I didn’t know that the last conversation I had with a friend would be the final time to hear his laugh. A father never knows when he will watch his daughter’s last handstand which is why it’s so important to watch as many as he can. This is why I practice mindfulness. It’s just so easy to miss our own lives. So we dedicate great effort to being as awake, as present, as available as we can be, until it takes no effort at all–like an eleven year old performing a Labor Day handstand without any labor.

Dr. Brandon Nappi is founder and executive director of Copper Beech Institute, the nation’s newest retreat center for mindfulness and contemplative practice. Copper Beech Institute offers more than 40 transformational retreats and courses, as well as mindfulness practice and mindfulness at work offerings to help you awaken to the beauty of your life.

Copper Beech Institute will host the retreat, “Mindful Parenting: Helping You Focus on What Matters Most,” to help parents, grandparents, and caregivers discover practical mindfulness tools to navigate and manage every age and stage of parenting. Commuters and overnight guests welcome.

Learn more about Copper Beech Institute  l  Follow our Awaken Everyday Blog  |  Subscribe to Our eNewsletters  l  Come to a Retreat  l  Friend Us on Facebook  l  Follow Us on Twitter