“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
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The most genuine love we can show those around us is to nurture self-love. If this sounds narcissistic, hold your judgment and read on.
I’ve been forced lately to consider some rather disconcerting truths about myself. I often feel a little squirmy stopping to glance in the soul-mirror longer than the space between songs on my iPod playlist. But, to crack our spiritual eggs, God has to play hardball before we smell the omelette of his presence wafting through our life’s kitchen. And, let’s be honest, we generally don’t learn any other way.
The twelfth century French abbot, Bernard de Clairvaux, believed self-love for the sake of God to be the highest of all since it is the best revelation of God’s fingerprint in us and guarantees we have no projections toward or pretensions against which we might wrongly see God. My point is this: self-love develops from a basis of self-knowledge. Lately, one tool God has been using in this process is the “Enneagram” as developed in two books on the subject, The Wisdom of the Enneagram by Riso and Hudson and The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert.
For years now friends have suggested, either openly or subliminally, that I take a look.
A close look.
It’s alright, we’ll wait…
Isn’t it funny how those we know best actually know us better than we do ourselves? Nosy buggers. Obviously they’ve seen something I have yet to see or just haven’t turned to face yet.
In recent years I’ve adopted a greater willingness for such loving intrusions into my psychic space. Why not? It’s going to get dealt with one way or another, right? Why not do it through the more supportive way of loving community? As Rohr makes clear in his book, how we interact with others will contribute to and be impacted by those incremental movements toward union with God.
Let me try to unpack this a bit. For those unfamiliar with the Enneagram, it is an ancient, pre-Christian tool used by the Desert Fathers, medieval Sufi mystics and a host of others in determining the nine primary “Essences.” In Christian spirituality, it was used to help identify our core sins; those pitfalls in each of us that deny wholeness and integration.
The authors are careful to point out that there are bits of all of these in each of us. The freedom comes however in discovering which number, and its accompanying “capital sin”, that best describes our struggle toward self-awareness and it’s end, self-love.
In my case, not one, but two numbers did a brazen Fosbury Flop off the page and down my throat with hurricane-like insistence. I seem to be both a glittering, off-the-charts FOUR (defined as “the need to be special”, or The Individualist), and a cozy, kumbaya NINE (“the need to avoid pain”, or The Peacemaker). Either way it has forced me to address my overriding need to be everyone’s center of attention but not so much that it messes with my “chi.” Whenever I’m not the dinner table centerpiece I will force my way there or look for better prospects.
The flip side however, or my NINE-ishness, denies me full entrance into that hallowed place since, to be there, means the potential for failure, or worse…success, neither of which I care to deal with. Avoidance is my chosen modus operandi. I am good at it.
Want to come live with me? Didn’t think so. I wouldn’t either.
It is particularly challenging for guys like me to be “just a part of the pack” when we crave peaceableness, beauty, balance and blustery goodness everywhere we go. How, then, do I also ensure ample amounts of praise, attention and pats of approval on my needy crown? God forbid that I don’t stand out somehow; that I’m not just a little hipper, a little funnier, a little more talented or good looking or profound than the rest. When that happens I ratchet it up a notch to achieve the desired result, often with disastrous consequences. And, to complicate matters, the peacemaker in me loves to live vicariously through whoever happens to be the most interesting or inspiring person in the room, the very person I’m trying to be! Aah, just the way I like it, a confusing nightmare of complexity!
Thanks to the Enneagram, among other things, I am inching closer toward self-knowledge. The self-love part? Not so easy. People tell me they’re not mutually exclusive. At times I have my doubts however as my eyes open ever wider to my blatant inconsistencies and shameless coverups.
But, there it is, my present journey toward self-love. It is coming with the help of the Enneagram and at the expense of a good spiritual chainsaw. Like the Orcs’ insidious intentions in Fangorn Forest, God and I have together hacked and burned and burned and hacked at the forest in my eyes. It is an unwelcome process however necessary.
As I said at the beginning, I’m slowly understanding what self-love can actually mean; the benefits so to speak. Those with whom we must share this life are best served when we work on our own stuff first. After all, nobody wants to be another’s eye-forest lumberjack.