Simon Parke is best known to Mail readers as the man behind our Shelf Life column in Weekend magazine...
For 20 years, he was a priest in the Church of England - then gave it up to start life anew. Today, he is a writer and a leader of spiritual retreats. In a remarkable new book, he reveals the secrets of the Enneagram: an ancient symbol that can offer you life-changing insights into your own personality and that of those around you...
When I was young, I remember seeing a televised version of The Man In The Iron Mask - and heart-wrenching stuff it was. This famous story by Alexandre Dumas is built around a fascinating premise: that the true king of the land is bound and imprisoned in a castle, while his unworthy brother rules wastefully in his place.
The true king is denied sunlight, honour and the right to speak - while his country suffers in his absence. I find it a very good metaphor for the way we all live our lives.
Deep inside every one of us lies our true self - imprisoned by our false, outward personality. This false personality is not just the face we show to others, it's also the face we show to ourselves and which we've come to believe in as true. But it is a usurper.
To enter the castle of our psyche, disarm the guards, unlock the door of the cell, remove the iron mask and set free the rightful heir within - well, this requires much courage. Yet, even more than courage, it requires honesty.
Is this something you possess? I suspect it is - which could make the Enneagram a rather enlightening friend for you.
It is an odd word - pronounced Enny-a-gram - but announces a time-honoured way of understanding the human psyche, which is at once ancient and modern. Developed more than 1,500 years ago by both Sufi and Christian mystics, it was overhauled in the 20th century using the disciplines of Western psychology.
It starts with a symbol that looks like a nine-pointed star contained within a circle. The symbol identifies nine types of personality - nine ways of being. Each type is different, with different genius and darkness attached to it. And the intriguing truth is that one of these nine types is you.
Shortly, we will describe these nine ways of being. In this portrait gallery, you will find everyone who has ever lived - past, present and future. Every prime minister, pope, president and parent; every conman, murderer and tyrant; every boss, sporting hero and celebrity; every sister, every brother, every teacher, every friend.
It is fascinating to turn fresh eyes on such people. Most of all, however, you will find yourself - and it is a homecoming you deserve.
The Enneagram will describe you even better than you can describe yourself. Almost unbelievable, perhaps, but after 20 years of working with the Enneagram, in many and varied settings, I have seen it happen too often to doubt it.
Here you will find your true self, perhaps for the first time in your life. Because strangely, self-knowledge is often the last treasure we dig from the mine of our experience - and some never do.
It's not an easy process. The Enneagram has uncomfortable truths to tell us about the compulsions and fears that we each allow to govern our lives. So long as we are ruled by these desperate habits, the false king is on the throne. But the Enneagram also lets us glimpse the very best part of ourselves - and invites us to set that inner self free.
The following descriptions are brief - doorways into larger halls of understanding - but they are a start. Read slowly, don't judge, ponder all things and jump to no quick conclusions.
But as you wander through this gallery and gaze on these nine faces of humanity, can you sense yourself?
There is a sense in which these people were good little boys and girls who learned to behave properly. And because their natural desires were forbidden when young, they rarely ask now what they want from life. Instead, they focus on what they perceive to be the correct thing to do.
They will be familiar with feelings of guilt, for there is within them a strong inner critic. This critic rarely gives them a break. It often tells them what they could have done better, but rarely tells them what they have done well.
It is hard for Ones not to pass on this critical attitude to others, and they can become a rather judgmental presence. 'Ought' and 'should' may well be significant words for a One. They have a clear sense of how things should be done, and tend to want others to do it in that way.
Anger is felt to be a bad emotion by these people, so they do not wish to express it. They do not react well to anger, either theirs or that of others. Within themselves, they work to keep it from view, hidden safely 'below stairs'.
When asked if they are angry, they will probably say no. If Ones do get angry, they feel bad afterwards, until able to rationalise it away.
Ones are concerned with how others perceive them. They are anxious to be seen to be doing the right thing and worry about this. There may also be lingering resentment about others not doing the right thing.
Homecoming and delight arrive for these people when their turbulent inner life and active outer life merge in a harmonising pool of self-acceptance. It is a place where no one condemns them. They feel entirely held by the water and know nothing but their own worth.
The energy and clarity of Ones makes them great reformers in their different walks of life. Their integrity and passion for truth make them truly inspiring. But to be free, they must leave behind guilt and shame, and learn to see the sweet perfection in all things - including themselves.
These people are seen as life's carers. They love to be in contact with others, to help others, and to some, they look like saints - busy saving everyone.
As their sense of self is found mainly in external value, Twos move outwards, towards people, with remarkable energy. They may find it harder to find value in themselves, however.
It is hard for Twos to face their own needs. They were perhaps their mum and dad's little helper. They felt such help won them approval, and as adults, they both need and seek this approval still. They display a strong desire to be needed, and work to create dependence.
Because they have little sense of inner belonging, these people can become clingy in their need to belong in the world. In particular, they crave the approval of those they regard as important.
They are adept at flattery, knowing instinctively what people want to hear, and tend to merge with a strong leader. They are able to lead, but are much more comfortable as a power behind the throne.
Pride is an issue, as they impose their caring will on situations. They rescue people - but such rescue is not offered freely. Twos look for a sense of gratitude and dependence in the helped, and resentment is felt if this is not forthcoming. They can be angry and aggressive in such circumstances.
They tend not to seek mutual relationships but dependent ones. Like a cat, Twos can display both affection and extreme independence. They don't seek the help of others - just their admiration.
Homecoming and merriment come to Twos when they give up the self-image of saviour and dare to approach their own needy selves. They fear there is nothing within, yet they will find so much - a strength and beauty they never believed possible.
The compassion and generosity of Twos will always draw in outsiders. Their challenge is to do this with humility and freedom - and without manipulation.
When they realise they can save no one but themselves, they can truly save the world.
These people like to be active, and are often perceived as successful. They tend to be seen as effortless achievers in their chosen spheres and possess a competitive edge.
They also possess a deep fear of failure and put much energy into avoiding it. Threes are skilled at succeeding, but often at great cost to themselves.
There is a schism between their performing self and their real self. They are attracted by the heart, but to go there seems a journey too far - so they stay active and busy instead; it drowns the pain.
Their background may reveal someone who valued them only for their achievements. The ambition of another is absorbed by them and becomes their own - a false self they carry into adult life. It proves a joyless taskmaster, however.
Threes instinctively find the right image and effective means of self-presentation in order to further their ambitions. Friends can become little more than those who serve the Three's self-image and may find themselves dropped if they no longer do this. These people have little sense of self-worth beyond that of achievement. They just wish to stay ahead of the rest. To this end, deceiving themselves, as well as others, can become a way of life.
Feelings are not welcome in this life-script, and no space is allowed for them. If feelings appear, they provoke great anger or sadness, and disable Threes quite seriously. There can be an inner crisis when activity stops.
Homecoming and hope come to Threes when they discover their world doesn't collapse if they are truthful to themselves and others; when they find that, they can fail and still be loved.
Adaptable, energetic, practical, they can lead and inspire in remarkable ways. But they must realise the pursuit of success is not the same as the pursuit of wholeness. Then they can soar like a caged eagle set free.
These people live with a sense of both beauty and abandonment. There is within them the sense that something-is missing from life. It is important they feel special as an adult, for they did not feel special when young. Certainly, they do not wish to be ordinary, and struggle with the common things of life.
There is often a sense of style in the way Fours do things. They tend to be creative people, whether laying a table or choosing clothes.
Beneath the surface is a melancholic sense of tragedy. Their feelings are up and down, and Fours remain acutely aware of any perceived rejection or sense of being misunderstood. Any hint of abandonment brings deep pain.
Yet, in a strange manner, they invite it. They may talk of a desire for a deep relationship, but tend to push it away if it comes too close. They are frequently negative to what is close, and positive towards the unobtainable and far away.
Their envy of others grows from an inability to love themselves and what they have. Everything within reach is unsatisfying. They feel the present is not quite real, but the future may be, in some golden and loved way.
In the face of their swirling inner emotions, these people can become controlling. Unable to control their inner environment, they desperately try to impose order beyond.
Homecoming and wonder come to
Fours as they connect with their beautiful origins. They can then begin to relate to people, not through sadness but through a sense of their own worth.
Their challenge is to live in the present, to leave behind their grandiose mourning. If only they can do so, they will bring style, awareness and deep creativity to everything they touch.
These people drift towards the corner, wishing to hide themselves. They tend to be quiet loners and unemotional.
They are inclined to pause before they speak, and choose their words carefully when they do. They know what they think, but find it hard to state what they feel.
They may stockpile knowledge of some sort, for fear of inner emptiness, and in order to help them in the world. Knowledge is their weapon in a world perceived by them to be hostile. If they can know more than others around them, they may just be OK.
These people tend to be observers, trying to understand the world before taking part. Some Fives never get round to taking part, however, lacking both the energy and social skills to connect with others.
They are stingy with the time they offer relationships. Life is compartmentalised to keep the contradictions at bay; every commitment has a box, and every box a time limit.
Fives may be experts in particular areas of knowledge, large or small, but they are frightened. In a heated situation, their first step is always back, and they fear spontaneous confrontation.
They struggle to be present to anything, delaying emotional response until after the event, when they are alone. Fearful Fives greatly value self-control and seek predictability, wishing to know what will happen and when.
They gain strength from solitude - but need be aware of when solitude becomes isolation.
Homecoming and engagement come to Fives when they submit to instinctive action, and say 'Yes' to the emotional flow of the world around them. Perhaps they became adults too early. It is time for them to play again.
Challenged to step beyond their own small constructs, Fives can step happily onto the public stage and bring gifts of understanding, focus, clarity and wit.
These people are much concerned with issues of trust, security and authority. The big question for them is: what or who will bring me security?
They have mixed feelings about authority. In one sense, they gave up trusting it a long time ago. Yet neither do they trust themselves. They look elsewhere for identity, and their desperate search for someone or something to trust does not always result in good choices.
They have powerful imaginations, with a tendency towards a paranoid version of reality. They constantly scour the horizon for danger in order to be prepared. Sixes either plunge recklessly at what they fear, or run away.
These people are very aware of rules, of norms, and have no desire to be regarded as deviant. They tend to be loyal to the institutions they are part of, and submissive followers if a leader is found.
They may be little bigots in their own quiet way, overly sure of their opinions; and they tend to create baddies and heroes in their relationships. They are instinctive supporters of the underdog, perceiving themselves in that role.
Dominated by their head, internal debates can go round and round inside a Six, paralysing their decision-making. These are fearful people - and, fearful of making a bad decision, they can end up making no decision at all.
Homecoming and wholeness come to Sixes when a trust in themselves replaces an apprehensive conformity to authority. Instead of valuing the values of others, they grow to value their own. They must find their own voice, for it is a good voice. Rooted in their own inner strength, they will reveal the humorous, engaging, confident, loyal and assured people they are.
These people are always looking to the future. They are instinctive planners, working to keep options open and escape routes clear, with a deep fear of being bored. With plots, maps and back-up plans, their life-script is one of uneasy activity, like that of a colourful but restless butterfly. They seek out social contact - but remain individualists in all settings.
Sevens often smile - but the smile does not always reach their eyes, which may reveal fear. Their defence mechanism is often a mind-circus of thinking, associated ideas populating their brains like monkeys swinging through trees. They love their mind - and often confuse it with genuine emotion.
These people often bring optimism to situations. Under stress, however, they can lose their natural optimism and acquire instead a critical and carping attitude towards others. There is negativity close to the charming surface of Sevens.
Sevens are head rather than heart people. Genuine emotion can be hard for them - either to recognise or participate in. They plan to avoid such things, with a natural inclination to keep things light and on the surface.
But a persistent feeling of alienation can leave these sociable souls wondering whether they are loved in this world - for true connection always seems denied them.
To compensate, they seek a variety of experience, greedy always for the new. Pain and sadness are what they most fiercely reject; they will do anything in their power to avoid these.
Sevens know how to get to places - but not always what to do when they have arrived. They prefer a feast of many adventures to the deep experience of just one.
Homecoming and peace come for Sevens when they allow themselves to be touched by the sheer depth of existence. They become aware that to run towards pleasure is not necessarily to run away from pain. They learn to live in the honest moment, with level-headed calm.
They will always possess a butterfly quality, colourfully touching many things. But at their best this becomes a joyous dance, a celebration of goodness and beauty, while also accepting that existence brings pain.
These people take pride in their power and strength, and if they are not in charge, they will take on the one who is. Life is warfare, so it is best to hit hard and hit first. They believe that everyone needs testing, and that truth comes out in a fight.
The talk style of Eights is to make others hear and understand what they want to say, and can be more a monologue than dialogue. Natural leaders, these people enjoy using their strength.
In their better moments, they use their vibrancy and daring on behalf of the weak. In their less good moments, they use it to build their own kingdom. They have a great lust for life with all its tastes and experiences. Consequently, they can feel constrained by society's rules.
They live by confrontation, and when there is none, they may need to create it. They seek to pull down all those who have power. They might call this 'the pursuit of justice', but it may equally be about vengeance or getting even.
Beneath the surface of the Eight, though perhaps strongly denied, is guilt and self-blame. They despise weakness in others, just as they cannot face it in themselves. Eights seek to control people rather than relate to them.
Homecoming and healing come for Eights when they discover their own innocence, and grow to seek truth in engagement rather than battle. Then, the great force of Eights can be used on behalf of others.
Compassion replaces domination as the guiding principle. Friendship rather than competition fills their great heart. Seeing the harmony in the world, their strength becomes the beautiful power of gentleness.
These people feel happiest amid peace and unity. Conflict is the last thing they wish to face. Nines tend to present a calm demeanour, and may be considered easy-going by some people. But beneath the surface is a stubborn streak, and they will do nothing they do not wish to.
Nines are the queens and kings of self-forgetfulness, sacrificing their own identity in order to accommodate the attitudes of those around. Sensing they were beyond the reach of goodness, they fell asleep to themselves long ago.
They turn now from real wishes to small comforts and substitutes for love. They can inhabit the lives of others just as enjoyably as they can inhabit their own.
These people fear conflict. They prefer to say 'yes' even if they mean 'no' - if it means they do not have to grasp the nettle. As leaders, they are at their best when there are no decisions to be taken. There is a tendency towards the unfocused use of time, and they can be easily diverted by the non-essential.
With little sense of their own self-worth, like a dry sponge in water, they absorb praise or attention. Some Nines develop an elaborate and posturing self-importance as a bolster to poor self-esteem.
Anger is Nine's primary issue, but is repressed, and usually expressed in passive ways - through catty remarks, a depressed or surly attitude or just plain laziness and sloth. Just occasionally, the anger may come to the surface and explode terribly.
They are attracted to the familiar and the old, and fear the learning of new tricks.
Homecoming and happiness come to Nines when they wake up to their own value, their own deep goodness. They leave the lethargic pit of self-abasement and take their authentic, individual place in the world. They become the strong reconcilers and mediators they were born to be. Like no other number, Nines can hold the world in their big arms - arms of deep and knowing love.
THE NEXT STEP
So there it is - a gallery of small portraits. Perhaps you saw others there: family, friends. But did you see yourself?
There is no rush to find your number. And don't worry if you see aspects of yourself in all nine types. You're seeing that because it's true - all the numbers are connected, just as all human beings are connected.
Some of the most important connections are shown by the lines that zig-zag across the face of the Enneagram, linking various numbers (see box above).
But don't get distracted by this. If you listen long enough, and patiently enough, one number above all will call out to you. It may come slowly, like the breaking dawn, but it will come.
Ponder on these things, without judgment. Tomorrow, we will fill the portraits out a little and discover more about how the Enneagram can free our better selves. There's too much good news to stop now.
The paths to pain that bring out the worst in all of us
The zig-zag lines that cross the Enneagram show important connections between the nine personality types. There are connections that reveal problems we must face, and others that reveal paths of healing.
Today, I want to look at how the lines lead us to our 'stress points'.
These are traps that we fall into when we come under strain and pressure.
At our most vulnerable, we adopt ways of being that are far, far away from our best selves.
Interestingly, the face we show in these situations will strongly resemble the dark side of another number on the Enneagram.
The lines across the circle show us how this works.
ONES: Your stress point is number Four, and takes the form of self-loathing. You yearn to be correct in the world, but in times of stress your inner critic tells you that you're a failure. You try to hide what you really feel - smiling when you are furious, for instance - but the compulsion to judge turns inward, and guilt and self-condemnation overpower you.
TWOS: Your stress point is number Eight, and takes the form of vengeful desires. You yearn to be a saviour for others, but in times of stress you resent their failure to respond as they should to your care. If they do not respond to your manipulation, it can provoke a sense of humiliation and anger. Suddenly, the carer wants to punish.
THREES: Your stress point is Nine, and takes the form of numbing self-distraction. You yearn to be successful, a superhero who can always deliver, but in times of stress you come under siege from feelings of failure you've tried to deny. Your response is to enter emotional shutdown. The great 'doer' slumps from hyperactivity into lethargy and depression.
FOURS: Your stress point is Two, and takes the form of proud separation. You yearn to be accepted by those around you, but in times of stress you feel rejected and misunderstood. You respond by building barriers and become a separate, rather superior soul, with the sensitivity of the insecure. Yet, how you envy the common world!
FIVES: Your stress point is Seven, and takes the form of disconnection, avoidance and scattered mental activity. You yearn for a life free from fear, but in times of stress you feel overwhelmed by a world you think you lack the resources to deal with. You respond by cutting off from your feelings, lest they overpower you.
SIXES: Your stress point is Three and takes the form of desperate pretence. You yearn for stability and certainty, but in times of stress your soul is flooded by anxiety and doubt. You try to bury your fear by rushing around, insisting all is well and that you're coping brilliantly. There can be bluster and aggressive selfassertion. But you fool no one - least of all yourself.
SEVEN: Your stress point is One, and takes the form of negative and judgmental thoughts. You yearn for life's good things and freedom from pain, but in times of stress your dreams can crumble because they were flighty and unreal. When your pursuit of joy is thwarted, you respond with anger and blame.
EIGHT: Your stress point is Five, and takes the form of brooding, solitary despair. You yearn to avoid weakness and vulnerability, so in times of stress, rather than admit those qualities in yourself, you project them onto others. But this reduces everyone else to pawns in your game. You can possess, protect or attack them - but you struggle to relate or belong.
NINE: Your stress point is Six, and takes the form of paralysed caution. You yearn to be invisible, as a way of escaping your feelings of inferiority, and in times of stress find it impossible to assert your own needs. You may sometimes look busy - but inside, all is confusion and indecision because you've lost your sense of truth and value.