Decembers

My favorite days are where you look up and notice that the trees around you have exploded in color: bright reds, yellows, and oranges. The sun shines and there’s the hint of a chill in the air that takes the edge off of the melt-your-face-off heat.

But these chilly December days have their own kind of sacredness. It’s quieter.

The truth is that these specific trees, when they’re healthy, will shed their leaves. They’ll do this every year because shedding these leaves makes room for growth. Some of these specific trees won’t shed their leaves. They’ll hold on. They’re dead.

As I walked through this carpet of crunchy, fallen leaves, I thought back to how they had looked on the trees just a few months ago, with vibrant oranges and yellows. As beautiful as they had been, that season was not supposed to last forever. I thought of just how many things we need to let go of on a daily basis.

There are so many thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and ways of being in the world that serve us for a season, but have held on too long. Many time they grew out of necessity, as we responded to the environments and relationships we were in. They kept us safe, in many cases. They protected us. But when our seasons change, they’re just not as functional as they used to be.

We hold on for so long because they were safety and security. They did serve their purpose and help us.

I’m sure you could name some of the leaves you’re holding on to: the ways you’ve tried to gain safety and security and love; the ways you’ve fought against shame and fear and anger. Maybe these thoughts and reactions have made your world seem smaller.

We rarely see trees violently shaking off their leaves on their own (this would be terrifying!), but they allow the leaves to fall. Change happens the same way for us: when we try to shame ourselves into new ways of thinking and being in the world, we terrify ourselves and those around us! Noticing our outdated patterns of being in the world with curiosity and compassion is always the first step to letting go. As we identify the patterns that are no longer serving us, we’re able to begin to be willing to let go of them. Our past is not our destiny. We are also not locked into our ways of reacting. There’s a beauty in honoring the way our patterns have served us in the past and at the same time pivoting to a new story and a new way of responding to our environments and our relationships now.

We let go when the heaviness of trying to do what we’ve always done and expecting different results becomes just too heavy. We let go because letting go makes room for new life. We let go out of expectancy: that there is more, that we are not only what we were, that the best is ahead of us.

When it’s not as real as we think

My son and I recently downloaded an app where we could “find” virtual augmented animals around a local hotel. We had fun trying to see how many there were.

At one point, my son wanted to take the pictures, so he told me where to pose, and we got…this.

I was supposed to be petting the tiger. But it wasn’t there, and I was depending on the information I was receiving to know how to stand and where to put my hand. It wasn’t there. It looked very real through the phone screen, but it wasn’t the whole story.

How often do we do this? How often do we rearrange our approach to life and circumstances, react in our thinking and having imaginary conversations with others, or feel all kinds of ways to things to something where we don’t have all of the information?

Even if we DO have a good idea of what what’s going on, we’re still looking through filters we don’t know we have. The Enneagram shows us the ways each type focuses their attention and how this limits us. Did you know that your conscious brain is aware of around 25-40 bits of information every second, but there’s 11 MILLION bits of information coming at you, every second?

If I decide my goal is, “I must find a way to get close to this tiger”, then I’m overly focused on something that’s not real. If my hand gets close enough, I’ll touch air. Sure, it would be an awesome picture, but just as fake. Think about all the real, true, tangible beauty surrounding me in this picture—the green plants, the palm trees, the sunlight.

The Enneagram shows us how we get stuck, for sure, but it also shows us the ways we can start to let go of our over-focusing, our narratives of fear that keep our experiences closed off. It helps us look up and see more of the whole story surrounding us.

Grover is so scared…

Grover is SO SCARED. ⁠

Have you read this book? As I was reading the words out loud, as Grover became MORE and MORE desperate to stop us from getting further in the story, I couldn’t help but notice how familiar this story felt. ⁠

I recognized the voice of Grover, but not the cute, furry kind. I recognized the inner parts that pops up inside of us and tell us, “Don’t do it! It will be too scary! Stay where you are!” I recognized the behavior—for Grover it was an actual brick wall, but for us, it’s the walls that are not as physical but just as isolating. ⁠

And I recognized Grover’s shock at the end—oh wait! The thing that I’ve feared so much, the parts of me I’ve been trying so hard to protect—it’s just me! “Lovable, furry old Grover.” What was I so afraid of?⁠

Could it be that we’re working so hard to protect ourselves from really knowing and loving those “lovable, furry” parts of ourselves? Could it be that we can see ourselves and our situations with curiosity and compassion until we’re able to move forward with courage instead of fear?⁠

Don’t worry, Grover, we’ve got you. We’re going to walk with you and turn those pages, but we’ll be with you every step of the way.

Bagpipes and Letting Go

I’ve been thinking a lot about college today. It’s weird how that happens, isn’t it? Something sets off a memory and then all kinds of memories come back to your mind. I can still sing the Alma Mater and can still hear the bagpipes playing “Scotland the Brave.” Oh Pennsylvania, so far from Scotland, but you wouldn’t know it in snowy Edinboro.

There was so much good about my time in college, and I was flooded with gratitude as faces and memories passed through my mind. I was thankful for the friendships that I made that I still have today, of the work we accomplished together,  of the ways we helped each other grow as we tried to figure out life. But as I let myself sit in some of those memories today, I noticed another thought rising to the surface: “I wish I would have known then what I know now.”

If I had known then what I know now, I would have allowed more space for questions and uncertainty. I would have said “yes” more often. I would have been more patient. I would have loved people better.

There is no way we can expect our 20-year-old selves to know what our 40-year-old selves know. There is no book, no program, no podcast that can give us the knowledge that 20 years of lived experience can teach us.

Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt like the regret of your past choices has begun to cripple you? Or worse, have you let the lies of shame choke out the life of your now?

Sometimes we need a wake up call to understand that our hidden, unconscious motivations aren’t healthy for us, or that they aren’t getting us where we want or need to be. But noticing is not shame. Shame tells you that because of the mistakes you’ve made, you’re bad, worthless, broken.

Recognizing our stuck patterns and internal motivations can actually be a gift, when we can look at them with kindness toward ourselves or in a safe place with safe people that offer the kindness that we can’t. Our internal motivations often work like the internal operating system on my smart phone. You don’t notice it until it crashes or you get annoying reminders that it needs to be updated.

There are multiple times in my life that my true internal operating system has come to the place where it’s needed to be updated. And at best, I’ve gotten annoying reminders from others or from life that it’s time to update it. At worst, it’s taken a crisis moment for me to realize that the ways I’ve been functioning aren’t the best for me.

Just because we can’t know then what we don’t know now doesn’t mean that we don’t have to apologize. Sometimes repairs need to happen if others have been hurt. But once we recognize and notice that our stuckness just keeps us getting more stuck, it’s an invitation to move forward in a different way.

How does each Enneagram type get stuck? It may look something like this:

The Reformer: If I am moral, responsible and never make a mistake, then I am okay.

The Helper: If I am loving and thoughtful toward others, and not selfish, then I am okay.

The Achiever: If I am effective, competent, professional and am never idle or inadequate, then I am okay.

The Individualist: If I am original, creative and authentic, never ordinary or boring, then I am okay.

The Investigative Observer: If I am knowledgeable, autonomous, not driven by emotions or found without wisdom, then I am okay.

The Loyal Guardian: If I am loyal, reliable and consistent, not untrustworthy or difficult, then I am okay.

The Enthusiastic Optimist: If I am optimistic and joyful, not trapped and optimistic, then I am okay.

The Protective Challenger: If I have power, am in control, not weak, then I am okay.

The Peacemaker: If I am peaceful and accepting, never pushy or ambitious, then I am okay.

Learning about my Enneagram type helped me step back and see how my patterns have functioned when I was both healthy and unhealthy. It helped give language and shape to the internal motivations that I had recognized but hadn’t named. And once I was able to name them, I was able to sort out what I wanted to hold onto and what I could let go.

And isn’t that the point? Letting go of shame, not letting regret hold us back. What can we do now with what we know now as we move forward? Write down some of the stuck areas that you notice, or patterns that you’d like to let go of. Be kind to yourself as you explore some of these motivations. The truth is, they kept you safe and they’ve brought you this far, they’re just not the whole story.

How do I know my Enneagram number?

One of the questions I get most often about the Enneagram is, “How do I find my number?” More often than not, people have taken tests that have given them several options for what personality type they might align with the most closely, and it has caused more confusion than clarification. So, if this sounds like you, know you’re not alone.

Here’s my typical response:

  1. Remember that YOU are not a number. You are a complex, full, and unique person and so it will be hard to “fit” a category. An Enneagram number just shows you the personality type (made up of core fears, core desires, and core weaknesses), that matches the ways that you have learned to cope and survive in this world. Keep in mind that the Enneagram is about motivations and not behavior.
  2. Know that tests can be helpful, but are about 80% effective in finding your type. Why? Because answering “this or that” questions is often difficult (what if I’m both! what if I’m neither!), and your answers will most likely fluctuate based on what you’re experiencing in your life at that moment.
  3. Reading through each of the descriptions of the 9 types (such as here, at the Enneagram Institute website), is a great place to start. Keep a journal handy, and notice what comes up as you read each of the types. Which descriptions seem to hit a little too close to home? Again, keep in mind that the Enneagram is about your motivations and not your behavior.
  4. Be honest with yourself! It’s easy to review the descriptions in an aspirational way, trying to think of who you want to be or your best self. Try to answer based on the patterns you know are present in your life.
  5. Once you’ve read the descriptions, notice your patterns over the next few weeks. What ways do you typically react? Do you tend to react first by thinking, by feeling your emotions, or by reacting or having a physical response?
  6. Consider meeting one on one with an Enneagram coach (like me!) who can walk you through this process, provide more information on the Enneagram as a path for growth, and ask you questions to help you notice the ways that patterns may play out in your life that you may not see on your own.
  7. Realize that self-awareness is a journey, not just a destination. Following these steps alone will open your eyes to the ways your current patterns work (or don’t work) in your life.