Interview with Sandra Maitri / Part ONE, June 2001
This two-part monthly interview by Andrea Isaacs appeared in the June and July/August 2004 issues of Enneagram Monthly.
Andrea Isaacs: I’d like to begin by introducing you to our readers. You’re one of the few people who studied with Claudio [Naranjo] in his first SAT [Seekers After Truth] group back in 1970. I heard your name for the first time when we interviewed Hameed a couple of years ago [see: “Conversation with A.H. Almaas,” June and July/August, 1999] when he said one of his senior teachers was working on an Enneagram book. Now you’re becoming very well-known as a teacher in your own right, both within and outside the Enneagram community. I have a lot of curiosity about those early days with Claudio’s SAT group when the personal and spiritual growth movements were just beginning to emerge. How did you first come across Claudio, and what drew you to him and his classes?
Sandra Maitri: It was one of those accidents that really aren’t, that’s meant to be. At the time, I was looking for a Gestalt group, and a friend of mine had heard about Claudio. She was living in a New Age community down on the [San Francisco] Peninsula, and she handed me a flyer for the group that Claudio was starting. He was quite well-known as a Gestalt therapist—he had worked with Fritz Perls at Esalen. The flyer mentioned that he had also worked with Oscar Ichazo and that he was going to be starting a spiritual group that would include psychological work. I thought, “Great! That sounds really wonderful!” So I went to a very small gathering in his back yard in Berkeley—there must have been maybe 15 to 20 people there. He talked a little bit about what his ideas were for the group that he was starting, gave a brief introduction to the Enneagram, and then he did a transmission, looking each person around the circle in the eye. And I knew that this was it for me—that I had found what I didn’t fully know I was searching for!
AI: What was his transmission like?
SM: At the time, I was all of 20 or 21 years old, and to me he just seemed to be emanating “Being.” He felt magical. The transmission was silent. It was like what Hindu teachers call Shaktipat where they’re transmitting Shakti or spiritual energy to people. He felt like a real Teacher to me, and somebody who I really connected with immediately and wanted to work with. I had spent most of my high school years here in the Bay Area, and I had gone through the Haight-Ashbury hippie scene. So I was very open to something beyond the conventional world, and that was really what I was looking for. I was looking for an entrance into a realm beyond the normal one. His transmission was very powerful, and I knew the minute I saw him that I was meant to work with him.
AI: Was Hameed in that first group?
AI: Did you know him before that?
SM: No, I met him at the group. Some of us were still in college—I was in art school, and Hameed was in graduate school at U.C. Berkeley working on a doctorate in physics. Somehow, in those days, none of us seemed to be working—we had just tons of time on our hands. A core group of us formed a commune, and we worked on ourselves all day long, talking about our experience and processing with each other, and that was really how we learned the Enneagram.
AI: Was this with Claudio as a teacher, or were you self-guided at that point?
SM: No, we were part of his group, and the group met weekly.
AI: So you were processing what was coming up in the group?
SM: Yes. Claudio used the Enneagram extensively in the group, and we took that map and ran with it. We were really trying to flesh out the theory that Claudio was presenting to us, with our own experience. We learned from each other about what the things Claudio was describing actually felt like and looked like, and were like inside each of us.
AI:There were about fifteen of you in the commune?
SM: No, there were only six initially, and we kept finding ways to build more rooms!
AI:How big did it get?
SM:: Belgrave House was a household of about 12 or 15 people in the end. There were other communes that sprouted up in Berkeley out of this same SAT group. I think there were about three other group houses.
AI: What a unique way to learn and process all that information.
SM: Yes, it was. We’d stay up until about two or three in the morning and process with each other.
AI: Where along the way did Hameed decide to start his own school?
SM: That was a number of years later. The first SAT group lasted about four years or so. A bunch of other SAT groups developed in the course of that time, maybe four or five groups altogether.
AI: Under his guidance?
SM: Right. Then things started to shift. I don’t know exactly why, but Claudio withdrew more from the whole scene, and brought in other teachers. People started working with different teachers and going different ways. Some went into Tibetan Buddhism, for example, going to work with Chogyam Trungpa in Colorado [founder of the Naropa Institute], while others started working with Tarthang Tulku in Berkeley. There were Hindu teachers, there were Theravada Buddhist teachers, Fourth Way teachers—every spiritual teacher who passed through Berkeley it seemed, Claudio brought in to our group. When he started withdrawing, people pretty much went their separate ways. Many dropped out of the whole spiritual pursuit entirely.
At the time, Hameed and I had been trained to do a process called “Fischer Hoffman.” I think it’s still around. It’s kind of a rapid deconditioning process, and had been part of our work with Claudio. When the group ended, Claudio sent me to New York to lead his group there, and to teach the process. Then I ended up going to Boston for a year to teach it. There were some folks from Boulder, Colorado, a Rolfer and an Aston Patterner in the Boston group, who invited me to Boulder to lead a process group. I invited Hameed to come with me.
After about a year of our working with people there, I went off to meditate in England, and Hameed started teaching people who had worked with us, and that was the beginning of his school.
AI: I’d like to backtrack here a moment. Can you describe more about what the Fischer-Hoffman process is?
SM: It’s a process meant to work through a person’s conditioning by zeroing in on a person’s personality structure and how it developed. It was very confrontational. The teacher would deeply confront the student about how they were—what their behavioral, relational, and emotional patterns were, and we would trace these back to what had happened in their childhood. Then they’d go through a process of catharsis, getting in touch with the pain associated with their relationship with each parent, their anger toward that parent, and then finally arriving at a place of compassionate understanding about what had happened to them.
AI: Sounds like a precursor to “inner child” work.
SM: Yes. In fact, part of the process was getting in touch with one’s inner child and helping that child grow up in the course of doing this.
AI: After doing that for some time, you went to England and Hameed started his school. How long were you in England?
SM: I was there about two years.
AI: And why did you choose to go to England to study meditation?
SM: When I was working with Claudio, I had met a Thai monk by the name of Dhiravamsa, whom Claudio had brought to the group. I really connected with his path of Vipassana meditation, and when I was on the East Coast leading the Process, I ran into him again and he invited me to come to England and to become trained as a Vipassana meditation teacher. I was at the ripe age of 26 at the time!
AI: How did you end up back in this country and working with Hameed?
SM: In the course of sitting intensively for the first several months in England, I very quickly got in touch with what we call in the Diamond Approach® (the work Hameed developed), ego-deficiency. A very deep sense of inner emptiness, lack, and pain. I couldn’t meditate my way through it. I think my teacher, Dhiravamsa was a little bit at a loss also in terms of how to help me get through it—a very tenacious Western ego! I stayed there for another year and a half or so, and kept working on myself in that way, but I came back to the States convinced that I needed something else besides meditation to get through it. I also saw that I was escaping from the world by living in a monastic community.
AI: You were persistent to hang in there for two years!
SM: Yes. Although I was struggling internally, I also was traveling into some profound places, and I developed a great love for meditation. We lived in a beautiful mansion in the country in England, and it was quite idyllic in lots of ways.
AI: That makes two years sound easily tolerable!
SM: It was in some ways, but when I came back to the States, I was pretty lost for about a year. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, and I was deeply stuck in the sense of deficiency in myself. I wasn’t in touch with Hameed at this point, but I started hearing about the work he was developing from friends of mine who were in his group. After about a year or two of hearing about it, I had the sense that what he was doing was the hottest thing around in terms of spiritual development. Basically, my pride kept me from getting involved sooner because this guy had been my friend, a very close friend, and my peer. To ask him to be my teacher and to help me was quite a shift. So it took me a couple of years to swallow my pride. Then one day, I called him up, and said “Hameed?” He said, “Sandra?” And then I started to work with him.
AI: The idea of “swallowing your pride” is very interesting. When I first heard of you, I thought of you as his student, but in reading your book, I realized you had been colleagues, friends, and students together. I realized you had to have swallowed your pride in order to go to him as a student. You’re a Two, aren’t you?
SM: That’s correct!
AI: That would make swallowing your pride a big thing. That in itself could have begun the process of a major internal shifting.
SM: It did. Luckily I had enough sense to recognize what Hameed was developing. Even though I was quite young, I had already seen most of the spiritual work that was being offered in the States, and I got that Hameed had developed a way of working that was just phenomenal because it addressed the barriers I had run up against and had seen so many others run up against in spiritual work and not get past.
AI: : I’ve not done his work but I’ve heard a lot about it. I’ve been meditating since about 1970, but what really intrigues me and interests me so much about this work is that it combines spiritual practice with the psychology of your personality style, and it seems it can really accelerate both spiritual and psychological growth.
SM: Right. I think many of the barriers that people reach in spiritual work, certainly in meditation, have to do with the personality. For most of us Westerners, these barriers are stronger because we have a more strongly developed ego, or personality. We have much more individualism, and as I see it, we’ve developed a more individualized consciousness. For us Westerners, dealing directly with the dynamics as well as the contents of our personality seems necessary for real spiritual transformation. It’s important to understand how the personality works and what it’s trying to do. We need to see that it’s basically an imitation of Being, and if we really understand how it ticks, then it can lead us to what it’s attempting to replicate. Another way of saying this is that our personality structure is attempting to give us qualities and states that we are cut off from, to the extent that we are cut off from our True Nature or Being.
AI: Yes, and we can be deceived by the personality if we think that what it is, who we think we are “is” Being. One of the things in your book that I really liked, and something that seems to work through this, is that at the end of each of your type chapters, you describe how each type can experience emptiness, which is horrifying at first, but by staying in it, it transforms into spaciousness. Would you address that process a little bit, either based on a particular type, or generically?
SM: Generically, at the core of the personality structure itself is deficient emptiness. I think the best way to understand this is that our True Nature or Being is, from one perspective, emptiness itself. The Buddhists speak of Shunyata, or the void, for instance. The emptiness that is the nature of everything is also a fullness—it’s not a sense of lack, that something is missing—but when the personality begins to develop around that emptiness, it seals it off. So we feel ourselves to be cut off from the spaciousness of our nature, and we experience that shut-off emptiness inside as a sense of deficiency—the sense that something is missing, that we’re basically lacking something. Each of the types has a particular take on that experience of emptiness internally, based on how it’s filtered through their particular Holy Idea. The whole personality then develops in compensation for this isolation, this estrangement from Being.
AI: Can you describe that process relevant to a particular type?
SM: Before I do that, let me say a little more about how that process happens for all of us. Initially, we seem to be completely immersed in an ocean of Being, so to speak, in touch with our deepest nature but unaware that we are. Very gradually in the first few years of life, we begin to lose contact with this sense of connectedness with the entirety of True Nature that we seem to be born with. Little by little, we start to separate from that ocean of Beingness, or that sense of inner connectedness, that sense of One-ness with everything. We start to conceive of ourselves as a discrete entity, largely through identification with the body, and we begin to experience ourselves as cut-off from the One-ness. Depending on a person’s predisposition, that is, their sensitivity to a particular Holy Idea, that loss of contact with Being is interpreted in a particular way.
Focusing on a particular type, I think one of the easiest to understand is Enneatype One. With the One, the sense of gradually identifying with the body and taking oneself to be a separate entity—isolated, not part of the whole—becomes interpreted as a loss of perfection: “I have lost what is most perfect about me. I have lost a state of inherent blissfulness, perfection, rightness, and so I am now separated from my goodness.”
Out of that, the personality begins to develop in such a way as to try to get back that sense of goodness, that sense of perfection. So a One attempts to re-connect with Being through the vehicle of being good, being right, being perfect, causing the One to become a perfectionist. Basically, what they’ve lost is the perception of their inherent “just rightness,” their inherent goodness. It really can’t be lost; it’s just that a One develops blinders. We can no longer see our fundamental goodness as we identify with the personality—and this is true for all of the types, not just Ones.
AI: How would a One experience the shift from going into the emptiness, and the feeling that you are not perfect, to the feeling of spaciousness?
SM: First, I want to say that this is a long process. I’ve been getting lots of letters and calls and e-mails from people who want a quick fix after reading my book! What I’m describing is deep inner work that takes decades if you’re lucky. I want to add that caveat! The processes I described at the end of each type’s chapter could take a lifetime of inner work.
AI: Right. It’s not something you do in one meditation and you’ve got it.
SM: Exactly. For a One, there are many stages to the unwrapping, or the unpacking of that personality structure, to open up to Being which is contained at the core of the soul. As for every type, there is a turning inward that needs to happen. An internal looking, and a recognition of how their judgmentalness is basically running the show inside of themselves, as well as running their lives. So one of the first steps for a One is to begin to understand how identified they are with their inner critic, or what Freud called the superego, and to see that that sense of being critical, being a judge, being a perfectionist, is a deep cause of suffering for them. Then they can see that this perfectionism is based on an assumption of imperfection—that they and others are not right as they are. And that they see their job as trying to make things perfect once again.
This is why I think the map of the Enneagram is so wonderful, because I think if a One can really get that what they’re ultimately trying to do is to connect with perfection, with goodness internally, that understanding can begin to undo the tendency to automatically become critical, become judgmental of oneself and others, and so forth. So that’s a first step.
Then, gradually, as they work their way down through the strata of the personality, they will eventually get in touch with the belief, the fixed conviction that they’re not good, that there is something inherently bad or flawed about them, which is really the core delusion of this particular personality type. As they begin to really get that, to understand it, and to experience their own consciousness, their own soul, as something that is inherently perfect, they will begin to understand that the sense of imperfection is a mental construct, and that it actually isn’t accurate in terms of who and what they fundamentally are. That’s the big turning for a One: really grasping their inherent “rightness,” just as they are. Seeing that they don’t need to be fixed, they don’t need to change. That what’s wrong—and inaccurate—is this belief that they are fundamentally flawed.
AI: I think it also has a lot to do with self-acceptance and self-love.
SM: I think it’s what this recognition leads to. Definitely, for Ones as well as all of us, you have to accept yourself along the way. You have to accept some pretty terrible feelings about yourself, and see that this acceptance is a loving act. And I think that Ones have to get in touch with the aggression that they address toward others and toward themselves, and to get that ultimately it isn’t beneficial; it’s hurtful.
AI: During the unwrapping, or unpacking of the personality, one comes across type-specific defenses. Do you have exercises or practices for disarming them?
SM: Say a little more about what you mean.
AI: For example, someone feels ego-deficient, or needy in a way they don’t want to be, or controlling in a way they don’t mean to be. This attitude, or way of being, could have become such a strong operating mechanism that the person hadn’t realized this had become a way of being. Once aware of it, it becomes painful and hard to accept, hard to get over, and they’re ready to deal with it but don’t know how.
SM: There’s a lot contained in what you just said; there are many steps in that process, the first of which is not being critical toward oneself. This doesn’t just apply to Ones, but to everyone. The reason for this is that we can’t unfold if we are slaves to our superegos—if we are judging ourselves. I try to help people develop an attitude of acceptance toward what’s going on inside, no matter how much they don’t like it, and rather than trying to change it, to put energy into understanding why they function and feel as they do. That’s one of the basic principles in the Diamond Approach®. We don’t try to change anything. If you really understand Holy Perfection, what you get is that we don’t need to be fixed. We don’t need to change. All that needs to change is our perception. So in the work that I teach, basically what I’m trying to help people do is to accept themselves as they are, and to try to understand how they tick. That in itself starts unraveling patterns that are difficult and transforming for a person.
AI: In the understanding and the unraveling, some of those behaviors would fall by the wayside.
SM: Right. But not by trying; it happens by itself. Our work is really one of understanding and not just understanding intellectually, but understanding experientially. We can have a million insights about ourselves, and I think the Enneagram is a fabulous tool for that. But a lot of people say to me, “All of my self-understanding hasn’t done me any good.” And that’s because the understanding hasn’t been on the level of their soul. It hasn’t been deeply experiential. Once we have a deep insight about ourselves that we feel profoundly, it has a transforming effect on us. If a belief or pattern doesn’t change, it is because we have not fully experientially understood it.
Back to your original question, when I teach the Enneagram, and also when I teach the Diamond Approach®, whether the Enneagram is a part of what I’m teaching or not, we do a lot of experiential exercises with people to get in touch with the territory that the map of these systems is pointing to.
AI: Dyads, repeating questions, monologues?
AI: I have a question about the source of those processes. I’ve been familiar with these techniques for almost 30 years. They’ve been used in a lot of different systems, including EST, Lifespring, Insight, even Scientology, certainly in Diamond Heart work, and also in a lot of Enneagram training programs. What do you think of programs drawing on these techniques and applying them to their own teaching and training programs?
SM: I think these techniques are very useful ways to help people get in touch with inner material, to help “get it” experientially, as they used to say in EST. We started doing these techniques in Claudio’s group. I don’t know if he was the first to use these processes, but that’s where Hameed learned them.
AI: I’m curious where this approach in EST and Claudio’s work fell in the time-line.
SM: Claudio used monologues in 1970 when I joined his group, and repeating questions a year or so later, if I remember correctly.
AI: That might have been around the time EST was starting. Maybe it all came up at Esalen around the same time.
SM: That’s possible!
AI: In some settings, the repeating question may last about five to seven minutes, but I understand in Diamond Approach® work, it’s more like 20 minutes.
SM: Usually 10-15 minutes for a repeating question.
AI: Going at it for a longer time allows you to uncover more layers of your personality.
SM: Yes, and in some settings, it’s done until you have processed that particular question entirely.
AI: So it’s not timed at all?
SM: No. I think that’s the way we used to do repeating questions in Claudio’s original SAT group. We had lots of time then! Back to your question, a lot of people who do the Ridhwan Work, the Diamond Approach® Work, take the techniques and the information and apply them to what they’re doing. That’s a natural process.
AI: Backing up. You said something earlier about the “holes.” In your book, you said the “genital hole” is a specialty for point Six. Can you describe what you mean by that and why it’s their specialty?
SM: The genitals are the part of the body that is associated with point Six. I was referring to the sense of castration, the sense of feeling undermined, of having one’s legs cut off from under one, so to speak, which is a lot of the experience of the Six. The sense of being impotent or lacking power and so delegating power to others, turning it over to others, projecting it onto some authority figure is the province of Sixes.
AI: So it’s like a power center?
SM: The belly and the genitals traditionally are parts of the body that have to do with our sense of power, our sense of potency. For Sixes, that’s what feels at risk to a great extent.
AI: Would you explain which body parts are associated with each type, and why?
SM: The part of the body associated with Point Nine is the ears; Point One, the mouth; Point Two, the arms and hands; Point Three, the thymus gland; Point Four, the lungs; Point Five, the legs and feet; Point Six, the genitals; Point Seven, the adrenal glands; Point Eight, the eyes. I learned these correspondences from Claudio, who I assume was taught them by Ichazo, but the reasons for these correlations were not taught to us.
AI: How was this material developed?
SM: In my book I’ve written about why I think these body parts are associated with the type that they are—what the relationship is to the type—these are the connections I’ve made and this is my own understanding.
AI: Another question about types. In your book, you said Twos and Fours are the most labile, or unstable of all the types?
SM: Most emotional. The most emotive, the most dramatic, the “wettest” so to speak, but this is not the same thing as the most unstable. A person of any type can be unstable—that’s a question of ego strength or weakness. Psychologically, “labile” means having a tendency to discharge rather than contain affect.
AI: Does that mean they cry more than anybody else?! (Laughter.)
SM: Well, their inner atmosphere is not dry, like Fives and Sevens! There’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of emotional stuff churning, there’s a lot of tumultuous feelings. That’s what I meant.
AI: What do you think it’s like for someone who has that kind of emotional terrain to be in a relationship with someone who, as you say, has a drier terrain?
SM: I think it’s pretty typical!
AI: Another way in which opposites attract?
SM: Yeah. I don’t know exactly why that it is, but I think for the more labile types, the more emotional types, that people who seem unemotional might look really good to them, might look closer to the solution. In other words, those who are very labile know that this is part of their suffering, and often would like desperately to be less emotional.
AI: This way of being wouldn’t be too threatening to a drier type?
SM: It certainly can be. But I think that for the drier types, the more emotional types look like they have a lot more life, vitality, and juice happening. In a certain sense, they do, even though it can be pretty superficial.
AI: Do you think the emotive types carry their vitality only superficially?
SM: That’s not exactly what I mean. What I mean is that all of that intense emotionality can look very vibrant and dynamic to those who are less emotional, but very often it is a substitute for a true depth of inner connection. Those who are the most hysterical are actually those who are the least in contact with what they are really feeling, appearances to the contrary. They are simply discharging what they are experiencing, rather than feeling it deeply, and so it is superficial or on the level of the surface of the soul. From a spiritual perspective, all of that intensity is simply reactivity.
AI: What about for the emotive types? Would that person tend to be frustrated with a lack of emotionality if they’re in a relationship with a drier type?
SM: I think that’s pretty individual—I think it’s a bit dangerous to generalize about these things—but ultimately, the disparity in emotionality will certainly come up. How frustrating or not that is depends very much on the person.
AI: I guess it depends on how much each person is willing to grow, and to be open and look at things.
SM: Yes. I think one’s capacity for relationship is quite individual and has little to do with one’s type, and although there are certain areas of difficulty and compatibility between the various types, such generalities can be carried too far. Many people use the Enneagram to choose a partner or an employee, and I think that this is a very dicey proposition. Nonetheless, it is clear that there are certain generalities that one can make. For instance, for a Two, there is something infinitely attractive about a partner who’s a little bit distancing. So a Five or a Seven would be just great.
AI: Why would you say that?
SM: Because Twos love the challenge, and they’re basically addicted to feeling a little bit rejected. So if somebody is too available, as I said in my book, it’s kind of like the Groucho Marks syndrome, “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me!” It’s like that.
AI: It sounds like you’re talking about typical Four issues, which is reminding me of the soul child work that you do. I’m a Four, and I really identify with what you’ve just said.
SM: Yes, that’s because Four is the heart of Two.
AI: Let’s talk a little bit about the soul child. For those who haven’t read your book, would you describe that a little bit?
SM: This is an understanding that Hameed developed. He saw that each of us has a young structure within that feels more like us than our adult persona. He called it the “soul child,” since it is a part of our soul that has remained childlike, arrested in its development. It acts as a kind of drag on the adult parts of us, pulling on us to go out and have fun instead of sitting down and doing things that are boring for a child, like our taxes, for instance. He saw that our soul child first appears in our consciousness as a young version of our heart point on the inner flow of the Enneagram, and that our Enneatype arises in counterpoint to the qualities of our heart point. The qualities of our soul child are qualities that were not held, that weren’t supported, that weren’t encouraged in our childhood, and so we developed a compensatory and more acceptable style, which is our particular type. So it’s built around the soul child. Usually, the most negative aspects of the passion of our heart point are those that we try the hardest to suppress from our own awareness and from that of others, but they feel closer to the bone, so to speak.
AI: Would you describe that in relation to a particular type?
SM: Okay, let’s stay with Four and One. The heart point for Four is point One [going against the direction of the arrows]. The theory is that inside of every Four is a little perfectionist who is very critical, very judgmental, angry, and resentful about flaws they perceive in themselves and others. My sense of Fours is that they feel very much at the effect of that soul child in the sense of being inwardly extremely critical and judgmental, especially of themselves, which from this angle can be seen as the source of their suffering. Whereas Ones are identified with their judgmentalness, and feel noble, good, and right by aligning with their perfectionism, Fours are at the effect of it. I think they have very brutal superegos that are mostly directed toward themselves. So they feel estranged from themselves because of this inner dynamic. They end up feeling inherently bad and fundamentally flawed and, therefore, abandon themselves. The whole personality develops around this implicit sense of badness, the subsequent self-abandonment, leading to the longing for reconnection with something or someone that will be fulfilling and loving. At the core of this dynamic is the sense that they have been cast out because there’s something inherently bad about them. For many Fours, this sense has the feeling of being sort of poisonous, as though there’s something really dreadful about them. The path for a Four, in terms of the soul child, then begins with getting in touch with this little inner critic that is constantly judging, criticizing, and picking at things, and getting in touch with the aggression in trying to get everyone and everything to line up properly, to look right, and do things right and so forth. Beyond that, the source of this behavior, the inner sense of badness needs to be digested and moved through.
Interview with Sandra Maitri
Part TWO, July/August 2001
Sandra Maitri: The [Four] personality develops around an implicit sense of badness and the subsequent self-abandonment, leading to the longing for reconnection with something or someone that will be fulfilling and loving. At the core of this dynamic is the sense that they have been cast out because there’s something inherently bad about them. For many Fours, this sense about themselves has the feeling of being sort of poisonous, as though there’s something really dreadful about them. The path for a Four, in terms of the soul child, then, begins with getting in touch with this little inner critic that is constantly judging, criticizing, and picking at things, and getting in touch with the aggression in trying to get everyone and everything to line up properly, to look right, and do things right and so forth. Beyond that, the source of this behavior, the inner sense of badness needs to be digested and moved through.
Andrea Isaacs: When you say getting in touch with this “sense of badness,” you mean noticing it, being aware of when you’re judging yourself as bad?
SM: Not only noticing it, becoming more conscious of that part of ourselves and the ways we act it out in our lives, but also really feeling what it’s like inside that structure. “Getting in touch” must be deeply experiential to be transformative.
AI: It makes sense that would produce deeper insight. Bringing this sense of “badness” to light could also make it so much more real. Unfortunately, it seems you have to go through that in order to finally embrace it and accept it.
SM: It helps you to not feel so much at the effect of it, and not to feel you need to hide it. Accepting and embracing our soul child comes mostly through understanding this phenomenon in ourselves, and getting that rejecting this part of ourselves will not help it relax. Like all children, our soul child needs holding—what it didn’t get enough of early on. We all initially feel ashamed of our soul child; we feel like its qualities are things that are really bad about us, really wrong with us, so we’re always trying to step around it or compensate for it in some way. Fours need to get in touch with their criticalness, their judgmentalness, their pickiness, and the anger and resentment in what Oscar Ichazo calls “standing against reality,” which, by the way, I think is an incredibly interesting way of looking at anger. For a Four to get in touch with that in themselves and to accept it, to ultimately not abandon themselves because of it, is a lot of the healing. I want to emphasize that the way that I see it is that it’s not that the soul child grows up—which is a concept that a lot of inner child work uses—but that whole structure in our soul becomes more and more transparent; it becomes less solid, less rigid in our consciousness.
AI: That is a very big distinction between your soul child work and the other inner child work. John Lee talks about embracing your inner child and “growing it back up.”
SM: Right. From a spiritual perspective, all of these structures are structures of the personality and ultimately what my work is about is moving beyond them—knowing ourselves to be something beyond those mental constructs.
AI: Can you say more about Ichazo’s way of describing the One’s anger as “standing against reality”?
SM: This description of a One’s anger nicely encapsulates the whole stance of not perceiving the inherent suchness of things, the Holy Perfection of all that exists, and instead having a preconceived idea of how things ought to be if they are to be “right.” This whole position is one of opposing things as they are, including oneself, and is the heart of a One’s suffering. This stance is their passion, the feel of their inner atmosphere, the core and nature of their anger. So instead of perceiving and accepting things as they are, they measure them against their ideas of perfection, and as such are standing against what is.
AI: It’s hard to let go of such strong and deeply held beliefs.
You talk in your book about the lataif, the “subtle centers described in the Sufi system as doors into the essential realm.” Would you talk about that?
SM: We work initially with the five main ones in the Diamond Approach®. They are the entryways into particular qualities of Being, of True Nature, that are needed in order to travel the path. These qualities, or essential aspects, also develop as we travel it. For instance, one latifa is what we call the Red, or the Strength latifa. [Editor’s note: lataif is plural, and latifa is singular.] As one works on oneself, one develops more and more inner strength, inner resiliency, courage (which is the effect of strength on the heart), a sense of being able to generate things, to initiate things, to step out into new territory, both inwardly as well as outwardly.
AI: Would you talk more about stepping into new territory?
SM: The personality is a realm of sameness within ourselves that the Enneagram of personality describes very precisely. To the extent that we’re identified with our personalities, we live in a universe that, despite its variation, basically is a tape loop that just keeps repeating. It’s neatly defined by our enneatype, and all the writing about the Enneagram describes this tape loop in infinite detail. To actually step into something beyond the personality, which is to begin to move out of our structured sense of reality, requires courage. That’s really what the work of transformation, from the perspective of the Red, is about. It’s about moving into new territory beyond the personality. Developing the strength and capacity to be willing to experience something new, something different, something unfamiliar. One of the characteristics of our personality structures, and our clinging to them, is that even though they make us miserable to greater or lesser extents, there’s a sense of familiarity about them. For many people, to step out of their suffering can take a huge amount of courage, paradoxical as that may sound.
AI: I’m at a turning point in my life in a number of ways, and feeling just that—that I’m about to step into an abyss. Sometimes I’m very excited about it, and other times I panic. I’m asking this question because I feel like that’s exactly what I need—I need more Red here! Do you have any advice on developing one’s Red?, or however you would state it?
SM: Yes—what would help is to articulate and face your fears, and to really get that they’re ideas about what’s going to happen. Until you actually travel the territory, you have no idea what’s going to be there. I think a lot of our fear is feeling that we don’t have what it takes to be able to deal with what we might get into. Does that resonate with you?
AI: Oh, yes—unfortunately! You say facing the fear and realizing it’s just an idea helps?
SM: There’s a lot more to it—that’s one of the understandings along the way.
AI: Tell me more about it.
SM: One of our understandings in the Diamond Approach® is that there are various qualities of Being that are more difficult for particular people, and each of us has particular ones that for one reason or another we lost the most access to. From that perspective, what we need is to re-gain our access to them. That will involve feeling the absence of them and may involve exploring our history of how we lost contact with those particular qualities within ourselves, and that’s a long process. It demands really looking into our childhood and re-experiencing this loss, and experiencing that hole in our consciousness.
AI: Using myself as an example, if I need to work on developing my Red—how would you phrase that?
SM: You can phrase it that way, but it’s important to understand that you have it—you have the strength—and you may not be aware of it. It is simply blocked out of your consciousness. It needs to be made more conscious, more incorporated into your sense of yourself, a recognition of your own capacity.
AI: To “develop my Red,” I’d accept that my fear is “just” an idea, and then go into the history of losing my “Red.” So I would then go into childhood memories of when I first lost contact with my courage and my strength?
SM: Yes, and if that’s a big pattern, there’s going to be a lot of history there; not just one incident, but a whole pattern.
AI: Do you have repeating questions for that?
SM: (laughter) “Tell me a reason you don’t believe you’re strong.” I’m being a bit facetious—there’s a whole long teaching we do about the Red.
AI: Would you talk more about it?
SM: The Red has lots of nuances to it. It has to do with strength, it has to do with courage, it has to do with the sense of inner capacity and ability, it has to do with excitement, it has to do with glamour or pizzazz, of the aliveness, juiciness of life, a sense of electricity, and so forth. Each of the lataif can’t be narrowed down to one particular quality. Each is a whole gestalt, so as we work on it, we look at each of the nuances of that particular latifa and some of our history that went into the loss of contact with it. One of the things that we need to understand about the Red is how we attempt to be falsely strong, how we attempt to compensate for the lack of feeling real strength, and that’s something that you see in people who try to be real macho or macha—those who try to be really tough, really strong—but the strength is rigid, it’s not flexible. If we compensate for the loss of contact with our inherent strength with artificial or self-generated strength, it inevitably is rigid and fixed. One metaphor that Hameed uses is that it’s like using a blow torch to light a fire on the stove. We need to get in touch with how we attempt to be falsely strong, and to understand that real strength is the capacity to be flexible and resilient and to rise to whatever is demanded of us, depending on the situation. This will help us get in touch with the gap in our access to true strength, which is what it takes for this quality to really arise in our consciousness—contacting the lack rather than trying to fill it.
We can spend a year or two years in the Diamond Approach® working on the five major lataif. A year is pretty minimal, since really integrating them often takes many, many years.
AI: Having a sense of real strength along with flexibility can give you the courage to step into new territory.
SM: Yes. As you start accessing a sense of inner strength, a sense that you can do, that you do have the capacity to deal with what life presents you with, and that this capacity is inherently a part of who and what you are, naturally gives rise to courage.
AI: This seems related to will. In your book, you describe will as “feeling the presence of Being as a steadfast and unswerving inner support.” One of the ways I would describe a lack of will, and this may be a different kind of will, is when you know you want to or you must do something, and you’re unable to exert the will to actually do it. Can you give an example of how a person in that situation could learn how to exert will?
SM: (long pause) The reason I’m hesitating is that actually reclaiming access to one’s will is not just a matter of being able to do things that you want or need to do. Many people, for example, counterphobic Sixes, can force themselves to do things that are difficult without really being in touch with the inner support and confidence that arises as a result of contacting the steadfastness and indestructibility of our True Nature. On the other hand, there are specific things that a person can do to strengthen their access to will. One of the things we do in the Diamond Approach® is that people take “aims.” This is something I believe Hameed incorporated from the Gurdjieff work, which works a lot on the development of true will. Students state intentions to do something that’s very difficult for them. And they use the support of the group that they’re in—and the stating of their intention in the presence of that group—to help support their actually doing what they’re trying to do. That is one of the ways of developing the will.
AI: Do you think you need to actually state that intention, and to have a “witness” to it, so to speak?
SM: It can be necessary for some people. I think it’s individual, but for some people whose will is quite weak, taking an intention in that way can really help them to be able to follow through. The fact that they’ve said “I am going to do this,” and they’ve made a commitment to it in the presence of other people, can be a real support, and can be a lot easier than just saying to yourself, “Oh, I really need to do that thing…I swear I’ll do it.” People make New Year’s resolutions every year that they break! Using real will is actually aligning your soul with your intention. If you do that, then you’re really supporting your will, and your capacity to persevere.
AI: How do you align your soul with your intention?
SM: You feel your intention and you commit yourself unreservedly to fulfilling it in the depths of your soul. Being able to do that is part of a larger teaching, a larger work on oneself. It’s part of the unearthing of that particular quality of being.
AI: Unearthing will?
SM: Yes. And that’s a very long process. What I’m trying to say is that it’s not simple. It’s not cause and effect. You can’t do a particular thing or an exercise that will actually connect you with essential will. There’s a whole process of understanding needed about perceiving what’s happening with you in relation to that quality of Being, and basically getting in touch with the lack of that capacity, and understanding your defenses against the lack, and the ways that you try to compensate for the lack. One of our understandings in the Diamond Approach® is that if you really let yourself feel the absence of a quality of Being, which we call an essential aspect, in time it will start showing up—this is because it’s present all the time. We have just screened it out from our sense of reality.
AI: Yes, that makes sense. It’s counter to what you would think. If you really focus on not having will, it will eventually emerge.
SM: Yes, if you let yourself feel the absence.
AI: Do you think that in childhood or early life, certain experiences can damage your ability to use your will?
AI: Can you give an example of how that might occur?
SM: If a parent is constantly telling you to be careful, you’re going to get hurt, don’t do that, let me do it for you, that will undermine a child’s will. They’ll lose the confidence that they can do what they need to do and that they’ll survive and they’ll be okay doing it. Another way we lose access to our will is the opposite situation, where a child is prematurely forced to do things that they’re not capable of doing yet.
AI: So they’re taking on someone else’s will.
SM: Yes, you can look at it that way, in the sense that they are made to conform to someone else’s expectations of them. Also, if a child is brought up under conditions that are far too rigid, they lose the capacity to know what they really want, which is part of the will also. “What is my will? What is my direction?”
AI: Isn’t it interesting that children can grow up in the same household, with the same parents who are very rigid, and one will develop will and the other won’t.
AI: It goes back to type not being nurture, but nature, something that you’re born with.
SM: There’s the innate endowment, and then there’s the person’s enneatype that causes them to respond differently from the way a sibling might respond to the same parent.
AI: Another topic I’d like to address regards the subtypes. In your book, you said something with a slightly different angle than I’d thought of before. You said the subtype doesn’t change. I’ve heard others say that depending on your life situation, a different one will come to the forefront.
SM: What I meant was one particular instinct will be the most dominant—one life-arena will be a central preoccupation. I’m not saying that in certain situations, the other ones won’t kick in. If you’re in a social situation, of course your social instinct kicks in. But one of the instincts will be the one that your personality is the most organized around. In Claudio’s group, we did a very long exercise of looking at our passion in all of the situations of our lives. So we got to see where the passion came out the most strongly. That was how we figured out our instinctual subtype. For instance, if you’re a Two and your pride comes out mostly around sexual situations, relationship issues, and so forth, then it’s pretty clear that you’re a Sexual Two.
AI: You said in your book that we begin the journey back to our True Nature at point Three, and then we go to Six and then to Nine. Can you describe why it goes in that order?
SM: I was looking at the inner triangle as a blueprint or an archetypal map of the loss of contact with Being at point Nine, the existential fear that develops at point Six as a result of that loss of contact, and then the developing of the personality, or the persona, at point Three. I’m not looking at it here in terms of the types themselves, but of a much larger map that the inner triangle represents (among other things) that is universal for everybody.
AI: So to go back home, you’d reverse that process and begin with Three, where the persona begins.
SM: Exactly. You have to start looking at the structure of your personality, who you have come to take yourself to be, and in the course of doing that, sooner or later you’ll start to get in touch with the fear that’s driving that structure at point Six, and the emptiness that gives rise to the fear, which is represented by point Nine. If you really let yourself go through that emptiness, or that sense of absence or lack, you’ll get in touch with what’s missing in your consciousness. Another way of putting it is that when you experience the inner emptiness at the core of the personality without the conviction that something is wrong, you will begin to get in touch with the profundity, the mystery of our ultimate nature, which is both presence and absence, existence and nonexistence at the same time.
AI: Is recognizing what’s missing in your consciousness part of returning back to essence or True Nature?
SM: Yes, but this recognition must be complete—in other words, it must be fully experiential rather than simply conceptual. When you recognize what’s missing in this way, you realize that the idea that something is missing has been the misconception, and that everything you need and are has always been present, and you know this because you experience this. That’s really the big picture of the process represented by the inner triangle.
AI: So you wouldn’t then continue the journey by doing 1-4-2-8-5-7?
SM: I don’t think it works that way—we’re talking about two different levels of reality here. From this perspective, the inner triangle refers very specifically to the loss of contact with Being. And I think that the inner triangle is more central and universal in that sense, and the other types can be seen as elaborations of that process.
AI: That makes sense.
SM: Just as point Nine, which has to do with the principle of losing contact with Being, referred to in some spiritual traditions as “going to sleep” or “falling into ignorance,” is the fundamental principle underlying each of the types. That’s why I call it the “mother” of all the types. The inner triangle in the way that I just described it functions on that kind of level.
AI: Speaking of the mother of all the types sitting at the top of the symbol, what would you say about the position of Four and Five being at the bottom?
SM: People have asked me about that. I know that Gurdjieff talked about it, and I honestly don’t know his theory well enough to be articulate about it. But as I understand it, there’s a stage in inner work that points Four and Five represent in his system that has to do with a crossing of a particular inner abyss. But I really haven’t thought a lot about it, and his logos regarding the Enneagram is different from the one I learned from Claudio.
AI: I’ve heard people talk about Four and Five sitting in the abyss of the Enneagram, and I feel it sometimes!
Another question I have is more about typing. As we learn the Enneagram, it’s inevitable that we begin, at least in our own minds, to type the people we know. It’s a trap in a lot of ways. One trap is if we type Uncle Charlie, for instance, as an Eight, and if he happens to be an unhealthy example of an Eight, that could tarnish our impression of Eights so we think all Eights have his negative attributes. How can people overcome that pitfall?
SM: Before I answer that, I want to say something about the whole issue of healthy or unhealthy. This is something I feel strongly about. I know some writers talk about healthy and unhealthy traits, or the high and low of a type, and basically from the perspective that I look at the Enneagram from, the personality is the personality, and we’ve got that whole gamut of experiences, of behaviors, of emotions, that can be called healthy or unhealthy, high or low, within each of us. I’m not sure that that categorization works from a spiritual perspective. It really refers to the relative adjustment of the ego.
AI: But if there’s an Idi Amin, or a Saddam Hussein, for example, whom you’ve typed as Eights, if you have an image of someone like that in your mind, you have an exemplar in your mind of what you think of as that type. Then, if you meet someone who may be an Eight but who’s not like that exemplar, you may not recognize the person as an Eight.
SM: That’s why you really need to understand the way that each type ticks—not simply the external manifestation. If you really understand the core inner dynamics that are happening intrapsychically—within a person’s own consciousness—and you understand the defenses, the compensations, and the whole delusion that they’re oriented around, meaning the loss of the Holy Idea that that personality is oriented around, then I think you’re less influenced by the more external behavioral manifestations that you see, and you really understand how that type operates.
AI: In other words, you see the loss of the Holy Idea more than the behavior itself.
SM: In a sense. In addition to the behavior patterns, you need to discern the loss of the particular Holy Idea that the behaviors are oriented around. You need to grasp the whole way the personality is attempting to cope and compensate for that loss, and that entire pattern bears the stamp of each type. That’s how you can type somebody accurately.
AI: In a way this is what we’ve been talking about, but would you address the difference in how the Enneagram community per se uses the Enneagram versus how you use it in the Diamond Approach® work?
SM: The way we use it is as a map of the territory that one is traveling through and working on in the path of inner transformation. The Enneagram is really a subset of that work, the work of spiritual development, since it is a map rather than the territory or the method of traversing it. That’s what I think the real place of the Enneagram is, and that’s the context it was originally taught in. It can be used for lots and lots of other things, but I think this is what it was intended for—as an inner road map. We use it initially in the Diamond Approach® as a tool to help people get in touch with how their personality functions, and at later stages we work with the Holy Ideas and the Virtues more specifically.
AI: It seems that as a tool by itself, it doesn’t have much to offer.
SM: Right. If you isolate it to the Enneagram of Personality, you also lose the full dimensionality of the system out of which it arose, as well as not invoking to consciousness the full dimensionality of ourselves.
AI: It seems more and more Enneagram teachers are adding a spiritual perspective to their teaching.
SM: Yes, and I think maybe Hameed’s book was responsible for that to a certain extent. He started illuminating the aspects of the Enneagram that got lost in the process of it becoming popularized. I think the Enneagram is universal knowledge; it’s a map of reality. So if somebody starts pointing to an aspect of it, the reality being pointed to is bound to start arising in people’s consciousness.
AI: I hear the terms Ridhwan School, Diamond Heart School, and the Diamond Heart approach used synonymously. What are the distinctions?
SM: The name of our school is the Ridhwan School, and we teach the Diamond Approach®, which is the name for the work that we do. Diamond Heart is the name of one of our programs. Many people are starting to call our work the Diamond Heart work, but it’s really called the Diamond Approach®. The full name is the Diamond Approach® to Inner Realization. We have a program called Diamond Heart Retreats in which the work is taught in retreat format several times a year, and there are the Diamond Heart Groups that are ongoing monthly groups. We probably have too many names!
AI: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to add at this point?
SM: One thing that I’d like to add is something I feel very strongly about: the Enneagram is only a map. It’s not the territory. I see a lot of people getting caught in the Enneagram itself as having some particular reality. It becomes a reified substitute for direct experience for many people, and that is not what it was intended to be. It’s just a map of that reality—albeit a very powerful and accurate one. It’s very important for people to understand that. Also, along the same lines, another thing I’ve seen is that a lot of people are confused by the different ways in which it’s taught or used. It’s a map of personality and of Being, but the path to reconnecting the two is not indicated in the Enneagram itself. It doesn’t tell you anything about how to get there. So the way that the map of the Enneagram is used or interpreted, the way one travels that map, is not embedded in the map itself. I think that’s something a lot of people don’t understand, and because of that, it can become a kind of religion—which it definitely is not and I don’t think was ever meant to be.
The Enneagram can open the door to aspects of our personalities that we might find deeply disturbing, as well as to dimensions of ourselves beyond who we have historically taken ourselves to be, and so it is a very powerful, and in a sense, magical tool. So I would like to end with a word of encouragement for the Enneagram’s sensitive and wise usage.