"Our life task is to use what we have been given to wake up."
— Pema Chodron
Our word "character" comes from the Greek charaxos, which means to etch or engrave. As an aspect of our psyche, character is more important, permanent and useful for spiritual awakening and the cultivation of inner peace than our more superficial personality (which comes from the Greek word persona, meaning mask).
We know this to be true when we say that he or she has, or is, a good or bad character. This understanding was present at the dawning of Western philosophy when Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535 BC to 475 BC) famously noted in Fragment 121 that, "Character is destiny." Less well-known is his statement that, "Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character."
From the point of view of the Enneagram of Personality, our character type can, and often tragically does, prevent the arising of inner peace. How? Each of the nine Enneagram Types (Type 1: The Perfectionist; Type 2: The Helper; Type 3: The Performer; Type 4: The Romantic; Type 5: The Observer; Type 6: The Loyal Skeptic; Type 7: The Epicure; Type 8: The Boss; Type 9: The Mediator) has a dominant emotional habit, what Catholics have traditionally called a vice, and the Eastern Church an egotistical passion.
In fact, they are the Seven Deadly or Cardinal Sins of Pope Gregory the Great (anger, pride, envy, avarice, gluttony, lust, and sloth plus two (cowardice and deceit). To the extent that we have not "come to type," in other words found our place on the sacred diagram (see www.ashlandenneagram.com for diagrams and more information) and thus made conscious our dominant vice or passion, we will tend to be reactive rather than responsive, egotistical rather than living from and expressing our deepest, most essential self. The goal of spiritual practice then is to transform the vice into a virtue, which is not a lower emotion but rather a spiritual quality of the heart.
To use myself as an example, my own inner peace as a Type 7 becomes compromised, or even completely disappears, when I have the false belief or mental fixation that I have to engage in planning for my own future happiness and security. This leads to an inner atmosphere of deprivation (the basic fear of 7s) and the emotional state of gluttony, which is the need to compulsively fill myself up with play and pleasure, stimulation and excitement. All of this takes me away from "being here, now" (as Ram Dass, a likely 7, titled his famous spiritual manifesto).
The genius of the Enneagram is twofold: 1) Horizontally, it differentiates and explicates the nine archetypal ways of being in the world. 2) Vertically, "the Enneagram is one of the few personality systems that anchors type in spiritual life. The explosion of interest in Enneagram studies in recent years is due to this anchor. The system provides a link between personality types and higher consciousness," according to Helen Palmer.
We are born into this world with many givens, including: body-type and genetics, birth order and family members, ethnicity and nationality, gender (male or female) and sexual orientation (straight, gay, bi, androgynous, asexual). Recent research points to the finding that we are born already embodying, for better and for worse, one of the nine character types. The good news is that we are not born with our type-related passion and fixation, and what has been acquired can be made conscious and transformed. It will have to be because there can be no deep and lasting inner peace without a transformation of character.
Carl Marsak, M.A., is an educator, writer and spiritual counselor with graduate degrees in religion and anthropology. He is founder and director of The Enneagram Center of Ashland. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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