The Enneagram,
Loss and Grief

SYNOPSIS OF ARTICLE: The ways we deal with the dying process, which includes the experience of loss and grief, are fundamental to how we personally develop and live life fully. There is nothing more avoided or crucial. Here I present the key elements of the grieving process, including the four existential truths and the corresponding four spiritual pains and healing,  how these relate to our three centers of intelligence, both the universal and personality type-specific ways of working with loss and grief, including sharing my own personal experience, and my concluding thoughts on immortality. I stress that what never dies and is permanent and unchanging are our higher essential or divine qualities. As you read this work, do give yourself the time to stop and reflect on these key elements that are fundamental to the loss and grief process, especially as these relate to your own personality type structure.

The Enneagram, Loss and Grief

The Inspiring Path to Transformation, Freedom, and Living Love

By David Daniels, M.D.


The ways we deal with the dying process, which includes the experience of loss and grief, are fundamental to how we personally develop and live life fully. Here I present the key elements of the grieving process, including the four existential truths and the corresponding four spiritual pains and healing.  I examine how these relate to our three centers of intelligence, both the universal and personality type-specific ways of working with loss and grief, including sharing my own personal experience, and my concluding thoughts on immortality. As you read this work, do give yourself the time to stop and reflect on these key elements that are fundamental to the loss and grief process, especially as these relate to your own personality type structure.

Brief Review of the Enneagram System of Nine Personality Types
The Enneagram gifts us with a powerful and dynamic personality system that describes nine distinct and fundamentally different patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting (“ennea” simply is Greek for nine). We each view the world through a set of lenses, of filters, that limit our experience and perspective. We see a slice of reality, but not the full 360-degree view. As we were growing up, each one of us developed one of these nine sets of filters that become patterns over our mind, heart, and body as an adaptive strategy. Why a strategy of this kind? To hopefully assure a satisfactory life and to protect aspects of our essential self that felt and still feels threatened. Underneath each pattern or Enneagram type is a basic proposition — a core belief — about what we need in life to meet our three basic needs for love, security, and sense of self-worth and hence, what we need to have a satisfactory life. These underlying beliefs profoundly shape our view and our individual ways of dealing with loss, death, and grieving.

Key Elements in the Loss and Grief Process
Destructive myths abound concerning the loss process. First, contrary to some views, there is no one “right” way to die or grieve; our personality type makes a difference in how we address these processes. Some of us go peacefully and some others of go screaming. Second, many people don’t go through all the steps in the grieving or dying process as outlined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying or in the order she states. She lists in order: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance/resignation. By bargaining she means asking for a favor or another chance often based on the promise of good behavior. Depression is not inevitable, and some people don’t feel angry. With loving care, receptive awareness, and the acceptance that goes with presence, many people realize that life is each day, that wholeness is the goal, not postponing death. We can heal the heart while the body is dying. When we realize that birth and death are just part of natural impermanence, we more easily choose to live each day fully with love.

We only have this day.

There are myths about the grieving process as well. The main ones are making grief into an illness, something to get better from, and that we grieve first and then come back to live life as though grief and life are linear processes. In truth, grief is a natural process. It lets us know that we care/love. Furthermore, the natural sadness of grief often comes in waves and unexpectedly. Trying not to grieve often causes persistence of distress and even depression. The natural process involves leaning into pain, not away from it, and releasing through the pain into love and into life as it unfolds in each moment. Life and grief go hand-in-hand in a natural co-existence. These realizations when truly lived make both the dying and grieving process transformative rather transfixing; life enhancing not detracting; liberating not limiting.

These best or healthy principles about the dying and the grief processes have been honored in both hospice and Anamcara (soul friend) care that goes back over 1000 years. They are in virtually all of the ancient books of the dead: Egyptian Book of the Dead, Celtic Books of the Dead, Gnostic books for Living and Dying, and Tibetan Book of the Dead. Groves and Klauser in their excellent book, The American Book of Dying, describe four themes in spiritual pain and healing that correspond to the four great existential issues we all face or avoid and, in my view, to our three centers of intelligence – of mind, heart, and body (see Table I). Remember that all three centers are involved in our lives and differing emphasis simply reflects greater involvement of our lead center. That there is a correspondence between the great life issues, the spiritual themes in the dying process, and our three centers of intelligence is a remarkable finding well worth reflecting upon!

Death Anxiety is part of all life. It represents one of the four great existential issues and is core theme in existential psychology. Earnest Becker pioneered the work associated with death anxiety in his book, The Denial of Death. In it he affirms that this denial results in the belief in the invisibility of the hero or the belief in the ultimate rescuer in some form, meaning immortality of life after death. Both of these lead to huge amounts of violence and destruction. These same issues, invincibility and ultimate rescuer are core to existential psychology. I believe this core fear of death relates to the mental or head center of intelligence which tells us

TABLE 1:
THE FOUR EXISTENTIAL TRUTHS

and THE FOUR THEMES IN SPIRITUAL PAIN AND HEALING

Working with Loss and Grief: The Role of Universal Growth Process for Self-Mastery (UGP)
In working with any life themes and issues there are both universal processes across all types as well as the type specific processes. The UGP provides the fundamental means of the “5As” of awareness, acceptance, appreciation, action, and adherence that apply to all of us. These represent simple universal means for working with grief and living life fully. All of the “As” except the Action step are in all the world’s great traditions. The Enneagram’s gift is in the action step. It provides the specific means for working with loss and grief for each type. This process is fundamental to working with the naturally occurring distress accompanying the dying process and in loss and grief where reactivity and upset can predominate and block the process. Here is a summary of the UGP.

Awareness
We need to have a practice to increase our receptivity and grounded presence to both self and others. This means developing a good self-observer or inner witness. Adopting a simple breath practice whether in centering prayer, reflection, or meditation represents a classical means to developing receptive awareness. This means taking a few minutes each day to practice breathing down and in to the belly. The breath practice represents a great gift as the breath brings us back to now in the present moment, helps us great grounded literally in the gravitational center of our bodies, and is neutral and has no content, just presence in the moment.

Acceptance
Acceptance means opening our hearts in kindness toward self and others, accepting whatever arises in the moment. This includes befriending our upset, defensiveness and personal reactivity and working with our judging mind. We all make judgments as they reflect violation of our values and beliefs about the way we and life should be. But without awareness and acceptance, we go from natural judgment to judgmentalness. This means we get critical of ourselves and other, flare up, or get defensive. These are the “shoulds” that can dominate our lives and keep us from the healthy experiencing and processioning of loss and grief. And the acceptance of non-judgmentalness does not mean capitulating, condoning, or agreeing with others or abandoning ourselves. This is the most difficult of the “4As” to master as judgments occur so frequently and so readily slip over to judgmentalness.

One additional note here. Awareness and acceptance need to be interwoven together, for awareness without non-judgmental acceptance can be full of self-criticism and hence debilitating. Furthermore, it is impossible to have a truly open heart without the grounded presence of awareness. They just must go together.

Appreciation
This means really noticing and putting attention on what we are grateful for in our lives. Do so with an open heart, focusing on the positives both ordinary and unique. And it means being in the natural flow of giving and receiving, which in and of itself is highly nurturing and produces coherence and harmony in our bodies and lives. When we are in this flow, both the nurturer and nurtured, produce oxytocin, the feel-good hormone associated with bonding and love.

Action
Here, as mentioned, is where the Enneagram understandings can be of great value. And there are three parts to this third “A.”

  1. Pausing to breath. We need to be able to notice our reactivity/upset ® pause ® collecting collect our energy through breathing back down and in so as not to just act out whatever is upsetting us. In this way we can contain our reactive energy, not just act it out.
  2. Inquiring to discern cause. We need to then inquire as to what our upset/reactivity is about in order to discover, discern, and work with our underlying values and beliefs rather than just act out our reactivity. Much of our reactivity is tied into our Enneagram type. For example if we are a type Two, the Giver, and are unable to help out or not appreciated, we can get upset and reactive. If we are a type Six, the Loyal Skeptic, and don’t feel we can count on others for support and to hear us we can get upset and reactive. We all get reactive when the beliefs embedded in our type structure get threatened or violated.
  3. Enacting conscious conduct. Often then we can in kindness release from our reactivity realizing that it is just about old guilt, hurt, and no longer valid belief. When we do this process, we even can often come back to our best self and higher qualities such as hope, faith, and love. This allows us to experience our loss and guilt in healthy ways. And when external action is required we can behave in ways that are respectful and considerate to both ourselves and other. Thus we can learn to mentor ourselves with the “inner coach” into conscious conduct.

Adherence
This means committing to the process of working with our awareness, acceptance, and positive action in our daily life, knowing that we all need to practice in order to change and develop. Intention is an irreducible element.

Working with Loss and Grief: The Role of Type Structure
In addition to the universal factors in the loss and grief process presented in this paper, each Enneagram type has specific responses and ways of reacting to and working with loss and grief. Remember to avoid stereotyping based upon these summary descriptions. Here are the type-by-type summaries based on what each type believes is needed for a satisfactory life and what is necessary for transforming loss and grief into the liberation of living life and love each day.

Type 1, the Perfectionist/Reformer, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must be good and right and not be utterly wrong in a world that demands good behavior and punishes bad behavior, and bad behavior often includes the fulfillment of pleasures and desires. Therefore, Type 1s are conscientious, responsible, improvement-oriented, and self-controlled, but also can be critical, resentful, and self-judging. Consequently, the situations that get 1s reactive and judgmental include feeling that self and others are not measuring up to set standards, being wrong, feeling unjustly criticized, and whatever the 1 deems as unfair and irresponsible, even when not a party to it.

Naturally, then at times of distress and loss, Ones want structure based on what they consider the right way to proceed. They want clear directions and guidelines in making decisions. They want to know the specific steps to take, and 1s want openness to questioning the process. In grieving, for Type 1s, it is vital to allow forgiveness; release into love and acceptance in the moment. Realize there is no one right way, and inspire others with acceptance and non-judgmentalness.

Type 2, the Giver/Helper, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must give fully to others and not be utterly useless in a give-to-get world. Therefore, Twos are caring, helpful, supportive, and relationship-oriented, but also can be prideful, as in, “I know what you need better than you do.” Type 2s ca be overly intrusive and demanding. Consequently, the situations that get Type 2s reactive and judgmental include not being needed or unable to give since being needed is at the core of self-worth, being needy yourself and having unmet needs surface, feeling unappreciated or uncared for or taken for granted, and people not caring and not supporting each other according to your model of the world.

Naturally then, at times of distress and loss, 2s want the support and approval of others in deciding a course of action. They want to protect the well-being of people close to them. They want to assure connection with loved ones and want to be a needed, helpful provider. In grieving, Type 2s need to come back to their own feelings and distress, allow the natural flow of giving and receiving, pay attention to their own well-being, and share the love and care that emanates from a separate self.

Type Three: The Performer/Motivator, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must accomplish and succeed and not be utterly unable to do or succeed in a world that rewards doing rather than being. Therefore, Type 3s are industrious, fast-paced, goal-focused, and efficiency-oriented, but also can be inattentive to feelings, impatient, and image-driven. Unsurprisingly, the situations that get 3s reactive and judgmental include any obstacles or anyone who thwarts the successful and efficient achievement of goals, incompetence or outright failure — both yours and others, indecision or needless delays in getting to goals, and another receiving credit and acknowledgement for a Type 3’s accomplishments and hard work.

Naturally then, at times of distress and loss, Type 3s automatically want to know and set goals quickly, want an action orientation, want to know what to do, want an efficient, task-oriented process, want to express feelings yet not be overwhelmed by them, want practicality, and want to take a leadership role. In grieving, Type 3s need to slow their place, let in their own true feelings (including regrets), allow others to take charge, realize as possible that love comes from being and not doing, and inspire others with compassion in the face of suffering.

Type 4, the Romantic/Individualist, believes that to assure a satisfactory life you must be special and complete and not be utterly deficient in a world that otherwise wouldn’t love you. Therefore, Type 4s are idealistic, deeply feeling, empathetic, authentic to self, but can also be dramatic, moody, and sometimes self-absorbed. Consequently, the situations that get 4s reactive and judgmental include people letting the 4 down, disappointing experiences, experiencing lack in self or other, real or imaginary, supposing that he/she will be left or rejected because of underlying deficiency, not feeling understood or seen as special and unique, and repeatedly feeling unfulfilled as a result of the focus on what is missing or lacking.

Naturally then, at times of distress and loss, 4s want quality of emotional connection, want what seems to be missing in the process, want special recognition often non-consciously, and want others to express their feelings. In grieving, 4s need to focus on what is present and positive in the process, allow for a sense of gratitude for life, realize that a sense of wholeness and love comes from experiencing what is in the flow of life, show the possibilities life offers in all circumstances, and communicate heartfelt feelings.

Type Five: The Observer/Thinker, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must be self-sufficient and knowledgeable and not get utterly depleted in a world that demands too much and gives too little. Therefore, Type 5s are independence-seeking, non-demanding, analytic/thoughtful, and unobtrusive, but can also be withholding, detached, and overly private. Consequently, the situations that get 5s reactive and judgmental include too many demands upon their time and energy, unwanted intrusions upon their privacy and insufficient time to think things over, an overload of emotional input characterized by too many emotional claims upon them, and trying to learn everything before taking action, especially when others are making claims upon their time or energy.

Naturally then, at times of distress and loss, 5s want clarity before making decisions, want rational action, want to avoid an excess of emotion and turmoil while allowing for expression of feelings, and want private time. In grieving, Type 5s need to do their best to stay engaged and open-hearted, allow feelings, receive the support and care from others, be at peace with not knowing, and show the value of the inner knowing that life goes on.

Type Six: The Loyal Skeptic/Loyalist, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must gain certainty and security and not be utterly helpless and dependent in a hazardous world you just can’t trust. Therefore, Type 6s are themselves trustworthy, inquisitive, good friends, and questioning, but can also be overly doubtful, accusatory, and either confront or avoid fearful situations. Consequently, the situations that get them reactive and judgmental include experiencing untrustworthiness and betrayal on the part of others, feeling cornered and pressured when they haven’t had time to figure out what to do, endlessly trying to make their existence certainty and secure, and trying incessantly to prove themselves in the quest for sureness.

Naturally then, at times of distress and loss, 6s want to make life certain often through loyalty. They want reassurance about the future. They want to determine what the worst case scenario could be. They want to take a definitive problem-solving approach and want directness, clarity and forthrightness from others. In grieving, 6s need to sustain or reclaim faith in self and the universe, realize that love and life can endure and flourish, move forward into life with all its uncertainties, and inspire others in the beauty of faith and courage.

Type Seven: The Epicure/Adventurer, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must keep life open and flowing and not be utterly limited in a world that causes pain and restrictions, from which one must escape. Therefore, Type 7s are optimistic, upbeat, possibility- and pleasure-seeking, and adventurous, but can also be pain-avoidant, uncommitted, and self-serving. Consequently, the situations that get them reactive and judgmental include constraints or limits placed upon them, anything that could trap them, losing freedom to do what they want, boring and mundane tasks that take away their options, getting stuck in negativity however they define it, and people who are stuck in unhappiness or inaction.

Naturally then, at times of distress and loss, 7s want to explore the range of options, want to focus on the big picture and avoid “too much” detail, want only a moderate amount of structure and authority, want decisions to be made quickly yet have some time to express feelings. In grieving, Type 7s need to be more present and steady in the moment, allow their hearts to open to themselves and others, welcome in the natural pain/sadness of grief, just practice presence to what is, and sustain their great optimism.

Type 8, the Protector/Asserter, believes that to assure a satisfying life you must be strong and invulnerable and not be utterly powerless in a tough world where the powerful will take advantage of you. Therefore, Type 8s are justice-seeking, direct, strong, and action-oriented, but can also be overly impactful, excessive, and sometimes impulsive. Consequently, the situations that get them reactive and judgmental include perceived injustices that they can’t correct since they detest being weak, people who won’t stand up for themselves thus letting them know what they can count on, inaction and weakness in themselves as this would be their undoing, boundaries or rules that are unjust or constraining, and most of all, attempts by others to control them as they don’t want to be at the mercy of anyone.

Naturally then, at times of distress loss, Eights want to take some control, want to be direct in getting to decisions, generally want to get started and move through the process while offering support and care for others, and want to show strength and take definitive action while allowing for the expression of feelings. In grieving, 8s need to allow their own vulnerability and soft feelings (sadness), knowing this is not weakness, allow or adopt kindness toward self, not self-battering, practice beginner’s mind and the innocence of coming freshly to each situation, and inspire others in the strength to have a positive future.

Type 9, the Mediator/Peacemaker,
believes that to assure a satisfying life you must seek importance outside of yourself and not be utterly insignificant in a world in that requires you to blend in and not make a big deal of yourself. Consequently, Type 9s go along to get along and are harmony-seeking, comfortable, and steady, but can also be self-forgetting of its own priorities, conflict-avoidant, and sometimes stubborn (because there is a person inside that doesn’t want to just go along to get along). Consequently, the situations that get them reactive and judgmental include: being forced to take a position before they have had time to process all the points of view; being pushed into action before they are ready, because of their go-along-get-along stance; trying to harmonize naturally occurring disharmony; being forced to face conflict when they so desire comfort and harmony; and paradoxically, being treated as insignificant or unimportant, which is their worst fear.

Naturally then at times of distress and loss, Type 9s want to be inclusive, participative, and come to consensus, want room to express feelings, want to take into account all points of view, want to avoid conflict and reduce others’ discomfort, want to go along and get along, and want to have clear procedures and lines of authority in making decisions. In grieving, 9s need to allow in their own personal reactions and feelings, take time to focus on their own process and purpose in life, remember to love themselves equally to all others, and inspire others to reach out as they naturally do.

Concluding Thoughts
Over the years, I have facilitated a good number of workshops and many individual consultations on the meaning and experience of grief and loss. I, together with my family, experienced the sudden loss of our then-25-year-old son, David, and the heartache that goes with such a loss. From these experiences, I have come to realize the importance of the principles presented in this paper. Moreover, this experience has gifted me a greater understanding of the nature of immortality.

Summarizing the Principles of Loss and Grief:

    1. Grief is a natural process; it is not an illness.
    2. Grief lets us know that we care.
    3. Grief and living life go hand-in-hand. We don’t grieve first and then come back to living life.
    4. There is no one right way to grieve.
    5. Grief comes in waves.
    6. In working through loss and grief, we need to apply the Universal Growth Process (UGP).>

There is no good way to put into words the meaning and significance of working with loss and grief. In working with the dying and grieving, it has become clear to me that at the heart of the avoidance and the difficulty of working with grief and loss is our splitting away from unconditional love, which occurred as the natural consequence of personality formation and of seeking a satisfactory life in the world. Along with this splitting away from unconditional love, what arises is the need to forgive ourselves for not loving ourselves unconditionally and, of course, others, as we can not truly love others without first loving ourselves. This is the return of unconditional love, which has always been there in the background, it’s just that we went away from it, it’s what naturally allows back in all of our higher qualities. The process involves not just befriending our judging mind and reactivity, but literally, our whole self in the process becoming our own best friend. This is the art of inner friendship and ultimately the friendship with life that brings us back to our soul and liberates us into loving and living life each day.

I return to my personal experience of the loss of our youngest son, David. Losing him brought forth a profound learning regarding the validity of a life lived in love, and joy, and with an open heart. It had just been over 20 years since his passing, this last Fall, when a college friend of David’s proposed a celebration of his life contacted us. More than 70 friends from all parts of the United States attended this celebration held at the Nature Center in Palo Alto, a center dedicated to his honor. Why such an event after 20 years? At the time of David’s passing, these were young friends in their early 20s, just beginning the journey into adulthood. At the celebration, one after another of these friends rose to express what his life continues to mean to them. How he inspired them to love more deeply, how he shared joy and hope, how he supported their lives at difficult times, and how he loved unconditionally. While we, his family, couldn’t keep track of all of David’s enduring friendships, we knew that his qualities of being were his ultimate contribution to all those in his life. While determined, thoughtful, and disciplined, what really mattered to David were his friendships imbued with love, care, delight, and helpfulness. And yes his adventuresome, spontaneous, and fun-loving spirit as well. At this lovely celebration on a warm Fall day, one of the attendees, Tracy, summed up the core of his meaning to others in this remarkable statement:

“When I first met my husband Mark almost 19 years ago, David’s passing was still very raw to him. So when he would talk about David, I would think, wow, he really has this guy David on a pedestal. No one is that perfect, or that great! But then, I met Bea and she would talk about David in a similar manner. Then, I met Denise, his sister. She too would talk of David with this sense of reverence. Then Marianne, and Brian…and over the years, it didn’t matter who I met that knew him, the story line never changed. It was always the same – he was … is still the essence of love. And it is evident by the love that is here today at the celebration of his life. It is apparent his spirit is alive and his presence, his legacy is here at this gathering to honor and remember him. It’s palpable. It is real. What a blessing to be touched in such a way, by someone I’ve never met. So I thank you, I thank all of you for giving me the opportunity to know David and experience his love through all of you.”

To me, this is testimony to a least one true aspect of immortality. When we live love each day as best we can, when we manifest hope and joy, these qualities endure in the perpetuity of immortality. Nothing destroys our higher essential qualities, as they underlie all external manifestations and are permanent and lasting. In Enneagram terms, when we do the work of integrating our higher qualities into our lives through, the process of embracing the “4As” of the Universal Growth Process, we manifest that which never dies – love. This is the “Hope for the future of all who pass this way,” as the plaque at the Nature Center, in David’s honor, so simply says.

In closing, I simply want to mention a few of the most meaningful phrases to me about death and life, loss and grief, and hence the possibility of our transformation and liberation into living love. Some of these come from Stephen Levine’s extraordinary book, Who Dies: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying. These meaningful phrases for me are:

    •     Fear of death is fear of life.
    •     Yearning for things to be other than they are, we perceive rather than receive reality.
    •     We are unconditional love in unity, in the cycle of life.
    •     Death does not shatter oneness, it brings us back to oneness.
    •     Under grief is love and care.
    •     We can heal the heart while the body is dying.
    •     Resistance to pain causes the heart to whither.
    •     To let go of this last moment and go to the next is consciously dying.
    •     Live life every moment, care every moment, and forgive every moment.
    •     Desire wants what it doesn’t have; freedom is opening to what always has been there.
    •     In my end is my beginning.
    •     A good death does honor to a whole life.