During my early years of working through grief and loss, I was in survival mode. That is where we all go in the beginning. We revert to the lower levels of survival. We go to the base where we can best survive. Hopefully the house gets cleaned, food gets eaten, and we manage to stay somewhat healthy, both physically and mentally. That is baseline grief. Baseline grief looks ugly. It isn’t a place that most would willingly go to, and when we’re there we want out.
As time moved me forward, I began to change, to grow, to search for something deep inside. None of this made sense, but then what I was living no longer worked for me. I’d grown into a new place, and it required a new beginning—a new base level to grow from.
I’ve discovered my mystical side. I fell into the mystical in a most unexpected manner: a former nun and clinical psychologist who led a spiritual life and showed up just when I needed her to do so. She entered my life at a time when I was exploring new things and new options. She walked with me as I engaged in the Ignatian Prayer Exercises. Through his process, I found something that I needed: the ability to sit in silence and contemplate. It was grounded, and it opened up avenues of new understanding, leading me to do the deeper inner work of the soul. This is where East meets West.
This is where I found out that I needed to chuck what didn’t work because it would never work. I’d been trying to use someone else’s idea of what a spiritual life was. What did I think my spiritual life should look like? It would be unique to me.
As I engaged in new forms of being in a spiritual way, I began searching for other places of learning. I’d heard about the enneagram, and hearing my first podcast about it made it seem complex. There was something about this enneagram thing that drew me to it. I began to look for a book that would explain things in simple terms. I found one called The Road Back to You and digested it. It’s a very basic primer, and what it does very well is enable the reader to get a sense for the number where they might fit. Its downside is that it doesn’t go deep enough. Soon I discovered that there were better ways, and there was more to this thing than nine numbers on a weird-shaped, nine-pointed thing.
With all the therapy I’d done, and now spiritual direction, I was looking for a spiritual growth tool that I could use for myself, and that I could use to work with clients and directees. If someone is interested in this growth tool, I’ll use it. If not, I don’t pursue it.
When I first began therapy, I did a great deal of talking. I needed to talk. While the talking helped, and worked for me during that time of my life, deep down I knew I needed more. How does one fully engage with the shadows of a life? How could I deepen and find a path into personal growth that would work for my entire life? I needed to find an enneagram teacher. There was something in this spiritual growth tool that I wanted. I began to plan and to engage in course work. Good stuff, this enneagram! I was finding a way to engage the deeper shadows and discovered its power.
Growth, and the inner work of growth, is never easy. If it is easy, I’ve found that I’m not going deep enough. I’m not being fully honest with myself. Looking into mirrors can be difficult, terrifying, and the greatest gift we can give our souls. It is also tricky.
I’ve noticed that while people want to change, want answers, and will even tell themselves they can do the changes needed, sometimes the past fouls it up. Sometimes past traumas, letdowns, or the reality of what we must give up to get what we seek traps us. We think it will be easy; we think it won’t hurt; we can’t sit with ourselves for the length of time it will take for the process to affect us and move us into change. We sprint out of the awful, find safety in old ways or a new distraction, and slam the door just when we need to keep it open. Hiding in bubbles doesn’t work.
It Sounds Scary, but in the End, it Frees You
How do I know if I’m ready? The answer to this question is complex. We don’t find relief in catharsis—that is a temporary fix. Relief is found when you can sit the monster down and engage in a conversation and decide two things: the first thing is that you want to understand the monster, and the second is that you will entertain the monster in conversation so that you can learn from it.
This is not easy to do, because we delude ourselves by thinking that we can win our monsters over with one simple chat and a table of cookies and tea or coffee. This is not high tea: this is plowing the field and finding the huge clods of earth that need to be broken up and put to use in healthy ways.
Our monsters want all our tea, coffee, and our cookies. Our monsters lie to us. They tell us that we don’t deserve the good stuff of life. Sometimes our monsters deceive us into believing that there are shortcuts. As much as I love a short route to places, I’ve discovered that I might miss some essential scenery if I don’t stop along the way to engage the process. This brings me back to mirrors and the enneagram.
I have found that I can use the enneagram to understand my monsters. I can meet them in a place where they feel respected by me, and I can converse with them in ways that are generous and insightful. I am taught and moved to new places. I don’t always like my teachers, and that is OK, as long as I hold space for the learning that comes because of the conversations.
This trip through grief has taught me that there are better paths to follow and better ways of seeing myself and others. This trip through grief has also taught me to question and to find new ideas, and that taking the leap into the unknown can be scary, challenging, and just the thing we need to do to change in unexpected ways. This soul journey is going to last the rest of my life, and that is good.