The 5 As ~ UGP

The Universal Growth Process for Self-Mastery:
Path to Integration and Wholeness


My colleague Terry Saracino and I developed this process over our years of teaching the Enneagram Professional Training Program (EPTP) and workshops using the Enneagram material. In addition much of this material comes from the teachings and contributions of my teaching colleagues Helen Palmer and Peter O’Hanrahan.

GRAPHIC_UGP_5As-2The Universal Growth Process for Self-Mastery is a remarkably practical and powerful means for personal development, the integration of our spiritual qualities back into our lives, and consequently to well-being and wholeness. It interweaves five basic components or processes consisting of the “5As” of awareness, acceptance, appreciation, action, and adherence that are easily remembered and used in all kinds of situations and variety of relationships. All of these “5As” are required for effective and lasting change and loving relationships. They are in our lives in some ways or to some extent even if outside of our awareness. Awareness, acceptance, appreciation and adherence (As 1, 2, 3, & 5) are universal to all the world’s great traditions, for example the centering prayer in the Christian tradition and mindfulness meditation in the Buddhist tradition. The Enneagram’s unique and powerful gift is in the action step (A4) consisting of pausing to reflect in order to notice and not just act out our upset and reactivity and then to engage in gentle inquiry in order to discern and carry out healthy conscious conduct. When woven together, receptive awareness, non-judgmental acceptance, and appreciation constitute the great emulsifier that allows for the integration of our higher essential qualities into in our personality and daily lives to take place.

Remember that we all have the ability to form new neural pathways; neuroplasticity exists! Moreover, learning is a combination of observation, experience and practice, and there is a significant difference between embarking on a “self-improvement” project and following our curiosity to know the truth of the situation. This is what the Enneagram is all about. Here is a brief synopsis of the “5As”, a detailed description of these follows.

 

Synopsis of the Universal Growth Process for Self-Mastery

Awareness – Having a practice to increase our receptivity and grounded presence.

Acceptance – Opening our hearts in non-judgment to accept whatever arises in the moment. This includes befriending our reactivity and working with the critical mind or superego

Appreciation – requires realizing that the positives in our lives often get neglected and require our re-experiencing them in order to help us use appreciation as a great resource. Appreciation is exactly that and more; it’s an appreciation for “what” is revealing itself, in the moment, in another, and/or within ourselves.

Action —

  • Noticing → pausing → collecting energy → containing not suppressing
  • Conduction inquiry in order to discover, discern and work with whatever reactivity or theme arises in the moment – Our key identifications, core beliefs and associated deepest concerns and feelings embedded in type structure (global origins) – Our personal stories/wounds (root origins)
  • Mentoring with the “inner coach” into conscious conduct. Conscious conduct includes two interrelated forms: releasing into acceptance and taking action

Adherence – Committing to regular practice and the process itself.

 


Awareness

Being aware means having the capacity of self-observation, groundedness, and the true receptivity of just being present represent. It is the crucial first step. If we aren’t aware of our Type-related cognitive-emotional-behavioral structures/habits and our personal reactivity (upset, anger, defensiveness), it is not possible to really make more conscious and thoughtful choices about our behavior. Awareness requires an on-going practice to increase receptivity and grounded presence so that our inner observation can “drop in” and witness the basis of our reactivity and literally to witness our habitual type based patterns.

I suggest that we use the breathing and centering practiced described that follows or your own practice to increase receptivity, grounded presence, and self-observation capacity. This capacity is fundamental to the observation of our adaptive strategy with its interwoven pattern of attention and energy; to working with our stress and anger (our reactivity); to grasping and releasing from no longer valid core beliefs; and to heightening our flexibility, adaptability, and understanding. Change, growth, and development depend on awareness. And the practice provides a basis for reflection “on the spot” when challenge, distress or reactivity occur. Every spiritual tradition includes awareness practice. Awareness helps us to witness where we are in each moment and to create a gap between the observer and the object of upset and reactivity. Embracing a simple breath practice is a most useful path to developing awareness.

Basic Self-Observation or Mindfulness Breath Practice
Here it the basic breath practice for developing the inner self-observer or witness and with it grounded presence. Awareness practices are essential to the process of personal and professional development, and to the management of reactivity and stress. As physical well-being, fitness and performance depend on regular exercise, similarly mental well-being, fitness and performance depend upon regular self-observation practice.

The breath is a great inner reference point to come “home to” since it is always there in the present moment 16,000 or more times a day. It takes us away from all the outer claims of the five-sense reality and away from preoccupation with the past and/or future. It allows us to come home inside ourselves. Hence, it is neutral as to content. It has no content or agenda except keeping us healthy and alive. What a gift for building awareness and presence. And even if it had no other benefits except furthering our physical health it would be worth the time it takes to practice on a regular basis. And breath practice also can be the basis of all variety of type-specific inner reflection.

Breath practice goes through several steps in order to direct attention inward, quiet the mind, and focus or concentrate attention. Simply sit in a chair with eyes closed or in the lotus position to reduce external stimulation. Each of us can practice alone following the directions given below.

  • Put your feet on the floor and close your eyes to help remove your attention from external stimuli.
  • Put your attention on your breath and just follow it, allowing you breath to breathe you and your body to soften. Allow your self to be receptive as you concentrate on your breath.
  • As you continue to simply follow your breath, let it deepen and notice that it disappears just below the belly button in the gravitational center of your body.
  • If your attention goes to some thought, feeling or sensation (and it will, time and again), simply observe this, let your attention return to your breath, and continue to follow your breath.
  • When you’re ready, bring your attention slowly back to the external world. Notice yourself sitting in the chair, hear the sounds around you and open your eyes.

Allow 5-20 minutes or more for this practice. If 5 minutes seems to long, start with a shorter time, 2 minutes or so each day divided into 2-4 short periods of centering and reflection. Once we are well practiced in this exercise, we may discover that we only need to take a few breaths to center ourselves and become present.

In summary, this practice, and many variations of breath practice, can be done individually or in a group, for any length of time, and for reflection purposes several times a day. Returning to the breath is especially useful in becoming a better observer and listener, in reducing reactivity at times of frustration or stress, and eventually in redirecting attention at will. Mindfulness breath practice can be done anytime to center and reduce reactivity, with eyes open or closed as appropriate. There is no such thing as a “bad” practice even when there is a great deal of distraction.


Acceptance

Acceptance means opening our hearts to others and ourselves in order to accept whatever arises in the moment. This requires adopting a kind and caring attitude. Acceptance includes befriending our reactivity and working with judgments of self and others and with the associated feelings and sensations. Am I angry, jealous, sad, etc? We need to be honest with ourselves. Tell ourselves the truth in the moment, whatever it is. It’s hard to be honest with others if we’re not first honest with ourselves.

When we get judgmental of others, they often become defensive and create elaborate rationalizations for what they are doing/feeling, just as we do. When we judge ourselves, our natural reaction is to justify and defend, rather than to be present with an openhearted state of curiosity. Thus, without acceptance, awareness can create endless suffering. So we so need to open our hearts to accept the awareness that we’ve discovered. Remember the present moment is all there ultimately is. Each of us can only work from where we are. We are all in a different place in our journey hopefully to wholeness as human beings.

Acceptance does not mean agreement, condoning, capitulating, resignation, forgetting, or permission! It means taking a stand from receptivity and non-judgment that increases the likelihood of being heard, of constructive change, and positive resolution of grievances. Remember that we only can work from where we are as everyone is in a different place in his or her journey.

Understanding the Superego/Critical Mind
To fully understand acceptance and how it does not mean condoning, capitulating, or agreeing, etc. requires understanding the superego or critical/judging mind for the superego can represent either healthy conscience or a core barrier to acceptance. The superego is best defined as the structure that includes the ideals and standards about what is acceptable, good, and reasonable, much of which often is non-conscious. The superego develops through the internalization and identification of values, rules, and beliefs of parental figures and culture. It’s necessary and positive functions are supporting our personality structure and providing healthy guidance. As Jiminy Cricket put it to Pinocchio, “let your conscience be your guide, not your master.” But the superego can become a barrier to acceptance when it becomes fixed and rigid, stands against expansion of awareness and growth (or rigidly holds to these), and substitutes for direct perception and inner knowing.

The general characteristics of the superego or critical/judging mind are its grounding in the past, its preserving the status quo, its conditional love, its causing rejection of new ideas and current experience, its sometimes aggressiveness and uncontained outward or inward anger (often in form of guilt), its tendency to an all-or-nothing way with no distinction between “felonies and misdemeanors”, and the suffering and distress it can cause. It has been my experience that the superego often presents as the most ubiquitous and difficult of the “5As” to work with as it reoccurs in sometimes subtle and diverse manifestations each day.

Tips on Working with the Negative Superego
§Recognize that it is virtually always involved when we have personal reactivity –tension, anger, defensiveness, reactive action, complaint and criticism. And these manifest through our somatic felt-sense. In fact the superego can be defined as that which causes us personal reactivity. This recognizing of the superego means harnessing awareness.
§Realizing that there usually is something more fundamental underneath driving our personal reactivity, the perceived wrong-doing. So it virtually always points to some deeper threat to our well-being, to our type’s adaptive strategy, and to what we are identified with. This means working with the underlying themes and issues.
§We need to “starve it out”, not feeding it by obeying it or trying to slay it by defying it. We can do this by delaying action –pausing and breath backing and doing our inquiry (see the action step to follow). This facilitates disengaging,
§We need to remind ourselves to open our hearts and be kind to ourselves as best we can in the moment. This along with knowing this does not mean capitulating, condoning, or agreeing with the behavior is the key to acceptance itself.


Appreciation

This means really noticing and putting attention on what we are gratefully for in our lives with an open heart, 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. For example, Oxytocin goes up in both the mother and infant during feeding the infant.


Action

This involves three inter-related (non-linear) steps. Action means conscious conduct which in turn means letting go of old habit or at the very least stimulating further work of discernment. Here are the three parts of action leading to conscious conduct.

1. The Pause. After noticing your reactivity, pause, collect our energy, and contain it.

  • Pausing allows us to “delay responding”, to gain time, to recover. It allows space for other “knowings” to come in. It’s essential! So first use awareness and non-judgmental acceptance to self-observe and notice your reactions, upsets, and distress, especially your bodily felt sense that goes with reactivity. Remember our reactivity always occurs in our body, our felt sense before any cognition or acting in out. Then pause by breathing and centering.
  • Through several deep breaths collect your energy back into the gravitational center of your body in the belly – in order to simply be aware of your reactivity, upset, and distress,
  • Containing is about holding our center, being grounded with what is occurring, but neither acting outwardly nor suppressing our reactivity. This is crucial because strong reactivity, upset, and distress naturally wants to be acted out, discharged into old habitual reactions and behaviors.
  • Briefly the Pause means: Notice reactivity ® pause ® collect energy ® contain

2. The Inquiry. What is driving our reactivity? Practice thoughtful and gentle inquiry in order to discover, discern and work with whatever theme and/or issuer arises that underlies our reactivity – such as upset, anger, and distress. Adopt a stance of genuine curiosity to know the truth. Inquiry involves considering what our usual reactivity and automatic responses are about. These responses are keys to development and change because they mainly involve:

  • Key identifications, old core beliefs, and associated deepest concerns and feelings embedded in type structure. I call these the global origins. Then discern if these are simply old concerns and beliefs that are no longer valid or applicable. Examples of old core beliefs: A type One’s reactivity often gets driven by the believed in need to be good or right and not ultimately wrong; a type Six’s reactivity often gets driven by the believed in need to seek certainty and be self-sustaining in order to feel secure and not be helpless and insecure.
  • Our personal stories/wounds, basically the personal narrative of our life. I call these the root origins.

3. The Action of Conscious Conduct. Mentor yourself using the “inner coach” into conscious conduct, the inner coach being the thoughtful, supportive, non-judging voice of encouragement. Conscious conduct manifests in three interrelated forms: releasing into acceptance, taking conscious outer action, and a combination of both.

Releasing into acceptance by staying with the experience/felt sense ®loosen ® simply relaxing into the inner knowing that your reaction is just old habit and no longer valid belief ® letting go by just breathing down to center in knowing awareness ® and from this receptive stance even re-experiencing the higher essential qualities especially those of our type that are underneath type structure. Remember, the essential qualities don’t come and go; our being in touch with them comes and goes.

This last action in letting go can be facilitated by affirming the potential for reclaiming of the higher quality, for example with type Six, “May I allow in the courage to have faith in myself, others, and the universe” and for type One, “May I allow in the serenity that comes with accepting and appreciating difference as they arise in the moment realizing that wholeness or oneness exist in each moment with no division into good and bad.”

Taking conscious action by staying with the experience/felt sense ® loosen ® moving into compassionate action respectful of self and other.

The natural combining of both releasing into acceptance and taking conscious action.


Adherence

This means commit to the process of the “5As” in daily practice. Adherence recognizes the reality that new learning is a combination of observation, experience, and, yes, practice. Intention is an essential and irreducible ingredient! Intention, the motivation for adherence, becomes easier when we realize that there is the promise of pleasure and relief of pain and of greater freedom from the confines of our repetitive and limiting type structure.

Think about the following – we take time to nourish our bodies with food every day. Can we similarly commit to the intention of caring for our spiritual/emotional well being on a daily basis? We all get many opportunities each day as we all go on automatic and get reactive over and over again in both small and large ways. These times of reactivity and challenge represent great opportunities to do our work of development. This is what I call “enlightenment on the hoof” through making the upsets and challenges of daily life our meditation, all the while realizing and appreciating our great type based gifts, strengths. Through adherence we can internalize the Universal Growth Process for Self-Mastery of the “5As” and carry out regular assessment of our growth.

Lastly, change is difficult and “going it alone” can be a daunting task. Think about and seek out support systems for your process – working with a partner, a guide or a group is immensely helpful and recommended.


On Working with the Old Core Beliefs (the ultimate trap) and The Deepest Concerns (the ultimate avoidance)

Each type’s core belief about what is necessary for the three basic needs of worth, love, and security to be fulfilled becomes the ultimate trap; the core fear or deepest concern about what would be our undoing becomes the ultimate avoidance. These represent the sources of much of our reactivity. The core belief (trap) and deepest concern (avoidance) “conspire” together as they are opposites sides of the same core theme, like opposite sides of the same coin. The core belief serves to keep our old adaptive strategy of type in place as does the core concern or fear. They work together. These then also become the core no longer true, yet inherent and intrinsic sources of our type based reactivity – anger, upset, distress, pain. Just take time to inquire and explore into the nature of your type’s reactivity based on your core false or no longer true belief (trap) and core false or no longer true deepest concern (avoidance). Here they are in abbreviated form:

Type 1, the Perfectionist: I must be right and not be intrinsically/totally wrong.

Type 2, the Giver: I must be giving and not be intrinsically/totally useless.

Type 3, the Performer: I must be doing/succeeding and not be intrinsically/totally unable to do.

Type 4, the Romantic: I must be special/complete, not be intrinsically/totally deficient.

Type 5, the Observer: I must be self-sufficient and not be intrinsically/totally depleted.

Type 6, the Loyal Skeptic: I must be certain/sustaining, not be intrinsically/totally helpless/dependent.

Type 7, the Epicure: I must keep life open/flowing and not be intrinsically/totally limited.

Type 8, the Protector: I must be powerful/strong and not be intrinsically/totally powerless.

Type 9, the Mediator: I must seek significance outside of self and not be intrinsically/totally insignificant/dismissed. 

 

There is a true story about Einstein on his deathbed that speaks to the falsity of our basic assumptions/beliefs. In realizing that Einstein’s death was imminent, his colleagues gathered around him wondering if there were any more great contributions he had to make. They asked, “Is there anything else you have to tell us?” He nodded yes and after pausing he answered yes there is one thing, “I would really like to know if the universe is friendly because if it is then 95 percent of what we human beings do is so much wasted energy.”

Similarly, because 90 plus percent of our own reactivity and upset is just old no longer valid or true beliefs or deepest concerns, these keep us from liberation from confinement by our habits of mind. This is just like not believing that the universe is friendly keeps us tied up in conflict and wasted energy. The action step when combined with the other 4As leads to both highly effective and efficient personal change. Thus the action step can profoundly lead to both healthy personal and relationship development and to greater inner freedom. Thus tthe action step is the Enneagram’s gift to life and well-being.

 


Summary

The Universal Growth Process for Self-Mastery consisting of the “5As” truly is universal. The first three As of awareness, acceptance, and appreciation are intertwined and part of all the great traditions as is the fifth A of adherence. Without work with these four As, it is difficult to do the work of the fourth A of Action, which is the Enneagram’s unique and profound gift to the process of personal development and to the integration of personality and the higher essential or spiritual qualities into our lives. This process is more than a good idea or a self-improvement activity; it is a way of being, of creating a whole person, and of integrating all areas of life. When we grasp this, we are on the path of liberation.