Sandra Maitri's, "The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul"


This review by Mario Sikora appeared in the December 2001 issue of Enneagram Monthly:


Sandra Maitri’s The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram is a challenging and sometimes-frustrating book, but it is a must-read for anyone who really wants to understand the Enneagram. The source of these frustrations referred to in the first sentence of this review are also the source of SDE’s strengths: Maitri comes at the Enneagram from so many angles and different levels that the reader’s head can start to spin. The book can be repetitive at times, as well, but each time a point is made (or re-made), it is done in a different enough way to add fresh insight. These minor criticisms aside, SDE is a masterful book from beginning to end, written with insight, rigor and clarity.

Readers of the Enneagram Monthly will probably be familiar with Maitri and be aware that she was a member of Claudio Naranjo’s Seekers After Truth (SAT) group in the early 1970s. A few years after SAT disbanded, Maitri ended up in A.H. Almaas’s Diamond Approach® school. Her clear mastery of the subject reflects her 30 years of immersion in applying the Enneagram to inner work.

The first thing one notices in reading SDE is Maitri’s generosity. In a field that is notorious for not attributing sources and influences, Maitri can’t wait to bring attention to the contributions of Oscar Ichazo and her mentors, Naranjo and Almaas. All three, and Almaas in particular are quoted throughout the book. (In fact, SDE almost reads like a primer on Almaas, and it is a much more approachable introduction to his ideas on the Enneagram than his own harder to read Facets of Unity.) In addition, Maitri is quick to point out where she differs from popular Enneagram authors in both theory and method regarding areas such as childhood origins, wings, continuums of psychological health, and movement around the Enneagram. She graciously attributes these differences to perspective rather than validity, however.

The “spiritual dimension” in the title refers to the Holy Ideas—perfection, will, law, origin, omniscience, faith, plan, truth and love—that are, according to Maitri, “nine different objective or enlightened perspectives on reality.” The loss of contact with these ideas leads to the fixed cognitive distortions of reality that become the root of the personality. For instance, an individual who loses contact with holy perfection—the view that the universe is right just as it is—develops a fixation of resentment, the root of the personality structure of enneatype One. The Enneagram of Personality has been covered by a number of authors. This spiritual dimension, however, which refers to essential experience that is beyond the conditioned self, is new to many and understanding it may require some tenacity on the part of the reader.

One should not be mislead by the title, however, and think that Maitri ignores personality. In fact, her treatment of the traits of the enneatypes is pitch-perfect and is matched only by Naranjo’s Character and Neurosis for accuracy in its mapping of the terrain of personality.

Maitri does a nice job of interweaving these two dimensions, swooping from the spiritual to the egoic and back again. Again, this multiple-perspective approach requires patience from the reader, but it is well worth the effort.

The chief strength of SDE is that Maitri understands that the “enneagram” is a diagram that can be used for psychological or spiritual growth rather than a typology; it is a compass for navigating psycho-spiritual terrain rather than a catalog of personality characteristics. “[W]hat we bring to the enneagram determines our understanding of it. By itself the enneagram is simply an archetypal map, and our philosophical and spiritual orientation has everything to do with how we interpret it. What we read into it, in other words, depends upon our understanding of the territory it charts.” Maitri does not try to explain every nuance of personality. Following Naranjo’s lead, she takes an open-ended approach to discussing the Enneagram. Maitri treats the Enneagram for what it is—an indicator of the ways we lose contact with our original nature, a key to understanding the dynamics of personality, and a map of starting points for gaining freedom from our conditioning.

A good teacher does not feel the need to explain everything and SDE is refreshingly free of charts and boxes. Maitri is comfortable presenting concepts that, while in-depth, allow the reader to explore. This approach demonstrates confidence in the material and, more importantly, a rare trust in the reader to find his own way. It also conveys the sense of expansiveness that the Enneagram can be used to find, rather than the sense of futility and restriction that many Enneagram books deliver.

Maitri also understands that each point of the Enneagram map has significance to everyone, not just the personality type associated with that point. Other authors pay lip service to this idea, but then proceed to ignore its ramifications. The lines connecting the various points on the diagram indicate a process that we all go through and Maitri thus recommends that the reader read the chapters in the sequence she structures the book rather than skipping directly to the chapter on her type. The reader with the discipline to do so will greatly benefit because she will better see her egoic dilemmas as part of a continuum of experience rather than as an independent and isolated “type.”

As good as the chapters on the nine spiritual perspectives and related types are, the material prior to and after those chapters is where this book really stands out. Chapter One, “The Inner Triangle and the Fall,” takes a detailed look at the complex process through which we lose contact with our original nature and ends with a description of the way back. Chapter 11 on the “Inner Flow and the Child Within,” was, to this reviewer, worth the price of the book. In addition to explaining the deeper significance of the arrows often placed on the Enneagram (along the lines connecting 9-6-3 and 1-4-2-8-5-7), she addresses the Almaas concept of the “soul child.”

Briefly, the theory goes that each person has as part of their makeup a part of the personality that forms in response to the repression of the qualities found at the point proceeding it on the Enneagram. For example, inside of every Four is a little One taking every opportunity to rigidly wag its finger at those who don’t follow the rules. This theory explains some of the contradictory patterns so often seen in the enneatypes that no one else adequately addresses.

The chapter on the subtypes is also good and the appendix on determining one’s enneatype is very helpful. One complaint about the content would be that the chapter on the wings feels a little tacked on. Maitri places an interesting and very different emphasis on the significance of the points on either side of one’s Enneagram point than most authors, but one wishes she had spent more time developing the ideas. Perhaps she will do so in her next book.

In her epilogue, Maitri states “I will have achieved my aim if I have given readers food for thought and avenues of inquiry to deepen both their understanding of the Enneagram and of themselves.”

You have achieved your aim, Sandra.