I have recently noticed an aspect of my psyche that I have seemingly been unaware of for some time. I could say that I have been aware of it nominally, but have only recently been able to articulate the nuances of its functioning. The structure of this realization is nestled within the framework of the enneagram and its articulation of the states of integration and disintegration. The heart of this matter is that I have realized certain mindsets that indicate disintegration as well as certain meditative focuses that nurture integration. Each of these I see in the context of the integration/disintegration dichotomy (in my case, as a 6w5) as well as a descriptive, metaphorical psychological landscape that I would like to call the “lake of lacunae.”
My initial motivation began when I noticed that I was more and more neglecting certain aspects of my existence while diving further and further exclusively into others. For example, responsibilities like household chores would often not ever register in my mind as something that needed my attention. I eventually would get around to them, but it was never done with much purpose or attention. Apathy towards monotonous tasks hardly strikes me as unusual at all, but when I compared this attitude to what follows, I was shocked. What disturbed me deeply was that I had lost interest in being outside hiking and camping. Had you asked me if I enjoyed these activities, I would have answered unhesitatingly in the affirmative. What I mean here by losing interest is not that I ceased to enjoy these activities, but that the personal time I invested in giving them serious contemplation and consideration dropped off startlingly. One day I simply noticed that I had stopped considering camping and hiking although I know that these are activities that I love. This gave me pause. What followed was this very article.
After a week of reflection I came to the conclusion that I was losing the ability to emotionally or otherwise psychologically engage with multiple aspects of my life simultaneously. That is to say I was losing the emotional flexibility required to multitask amidst the dynamism and diversity of all that for which I am responsible. If you really sit down and enumerate all of the things for which you are responsible, it can get overwhelming! I suspect I was beginning to shut down in a sense to streamline my own psychological space and energy. This was great for work, but it was clearly influencing my personal life in a decidedly negative fashion.
What I had noticed is that I had backed myself into a corner of my own mind where other corners were just not that visible. In looking for a suitable metaphor to explain this, I first thought of a random geometric shape, which led me to the idea of a round room with many alcoves, each of which being hidden from view from the others. Then I recalled the Latin word “lacunae,” which means “lagoons.” The term figuratively is used to express elements of an argument that are missing or not given thorough enough attention. It also is used to point out sections of a text that are missing. Literally, it’s just the plural form of “lagoon.” I liked this term because it connotes intellectual and psychological short-comings and oversights as well as the geometric criteria with which I began. The term fit all too well.
My metaphor begins with a sailboat in the middle of a small lake. This lake represents the psyche or the place in which one invests the variety of energies required to live one’s life as well as where one endures life’s various internal and external requests. For most people of average mental orientation or arrangement the forces of life tend to pull in several directions at all times. If you insist on staying oriented in one direction, these forces become exceedingly difficult to navigate. The individual then is the sailboat in this metaphor or more properly, the individual’s ego. The forces of life’s responsibilities are then so many winds and currents. A sailboat has difficulty functioning when the wind is chaotic, coming from every which way at once, so we are naturally compelled to simplify things. In this analogy, the sailboat finds solace by entering one of the various lagoons or lacunae surrounding the lake. Each of these lacunae represents a different aspect of one’s life into which one invests various degrees of energy and time. And also, as per the geometry of each lake (our psyche), certain lacunae, can see across into other adjacent lacunae or into perhaps the ones across the lake. In each case, each lacuna has its own climate; its own prevailing winds, currents and waves. Staying in one place certainly has its advantages when it comes to the ease of one’s “sailing.” The trouble arises when one becomes overly comfortable with their favorite lacuna, as many other lacunae are obscured from everyday attention and thus fall into neglect.
This metaphor of retreating to a safe harbor suggests to me the enneagram’s notion of disintegration. In the case of Sixes, disintegration is characterized by stubborn self-righteousness and grasping at external systems for guidance. Sixes are beguiled by external authority because they feel it will lead them to something solid upon which to base their lives. They are “looking for a sure thing… They increasingly turn to safe bets, reliable procedures, and tried-and-true methods for solving problems.” (1) Although alluring, this is also a sure path to stagnation, which perpetuates the need to escape the ever-present reality of the lived world’s (or “the lake’s,” if you will) dynamism.
I noticed that although I felt emotionally balanced and generally psychologically healthy, I was to a certain extent disintegrating. To correct this, I realized that I needed to deliberately invest more attention to the other lacunae from which I had drifted away. The first thing I noticed was how much I ordinarily resist changing the focus of my attention. For example, here is a simple recipe for my own anxiety. If I have my mind fixed on something in advance and then that thing changes, I get anxious. It has become a joke between me and my wife to respond to a sudden request with, “You just can’t spring this on me!!!” The humor of the statement is generally inversely proportional to the actual difficulty in accommodating the request. But this, I am realizing, is exactly the psychological response with which I need to become more familiar. In order to move towards integration, I needed make my peace with anxiety amidst the sea of dynamism.
Through my meditation, I have been becoming more aware of letting go of thoughts, categories and other self-imposed restraints. Meister Eckhart, a Catholic theologian, has been a surprising source of inspiration. As I sit, I remind myself of Eckhart’s words; that those who are truly poor in spirit (Matt 5:3) are those that want, know and have nothing. (2) To want nothing and to know nothing are related. In self-cultivation, there is no thing to be known, rather it is a state of mind or a state of being that is being cultivated, neither of which can be accurately pinned down by words. It is a state of being that is not yet attained, so how can the individual honestly believe that they know the destination and want to be there before they have even arrived? The last notion he brings up is to have nothing. He brings this up in the context of having a place in one’s self in which God can work. In the context of integration, I believe that a person leaves behind the illusory notion that the psyche must take a fixed form, or in my metaphor of the lake, that the sailboat has an intrinsic orientation. A sailboat with no distinguishable features or no fixed orientation (denoting port or starboard) does not worry which way the wind blows. My realization then is that in order to integrate, one needs to leave behind the very notion of clinging to or preferring certain lacunae. Conversely, to insist that one knows what is best, wants to be in a certain lacuna and has that particular place in mind, in this metaphor, is the very definition of disintegration.
I have concluded that in order to integrate, each and every one of us needs to take steps towards “learning to spend more time in the middle of the lake,” exposed to the full spectrum of reality’s demands and free from self-imposed and thus limited perspectives. I see more clearly the allure, but also the weakness of retreating into one’s favorite lacuna. A short passage from Schleiermacher that has stuck with me for some time attests to this. He writes, “To know of only one point of view for everything is exactly the opposite of having all points of view for each thing; it is the way to distance oneself directly away from the universe and to sink into the most wretched limitedness, to become a true serf, bound to the place on which by chance one may be standing." (3) Does this not echo the spirit of disintegration and integration? To know one point of view is to become a slave to a single orientation, but to entertain all views is the very heart of integration.
Schleiermacher was also astutely aware of what it is like to make this transition from disintegration to integration and what awaits those that make this decision. He writes, “Observe yourselves with unceasing effort. Detach all that is not yourself, always proceed with ever-sharper sense, and the more you fade from yourself, the clearer will the universe stand forth before you, the more splendidly will you be recompensed for the horrors of self-annihilation through the feeling of the infinite in you.” (4) To paraphrase in the context of this article’s metaphor, Schleiermacher is saying, “Notice all of the breezes, wave and currents for what they are. Do not insist upon any safe lagoon and examine your situation carefully. When you do this, you will find yourself at home in the middle of the ocean which is in fact your true nature!”
Looking again at Schleiermacher’s statement, in order to remove the self-imposed constraints brought on by the desire for continuity, monotony and simplicity, one truly needs to detach all that is not his/herself, and this can only be accomplished through careful observation. This is exactly what Eckhart had in mind too. Our petty preferences for our most familiar lacuna do not define us, but we feel that the more time we spend there, the more time they will somehow define or account for the authentic “us.” This is the artificial sense of self-identity from which Schleiermacher suggests that we fade. Letting go of the familiar, especially when it is familiar modes of self-identity, is terrifying, which he makes note of. But there is a reward; the universe announcing itself authentically.
Just as an aside, I find this experience, especially how Schleiermacher defines it, to be selfsame as Freud’s “oceanic feeling.” Defining this term he writes, “It is a feeling which he would like to call a sensation of 'eternity,' a feeling as of something limitless, unbounded--as it were, 'oceanic.' This feeling, he adds, is a purely subjective fact, not an article of faith; it brings with it no assurance of personal immortality, but it is the source of the religious energy which is seized upon by the various Churches and religious systems… One may, he thinks, rightly call oneself religious on the ground of this oceanic feeling alone, even if one rejects every belief and every illusion.” (5) This experience is a human experience in the sense that Jung states, “anima naturaliter religiosa.” (6) This intrinsic nature of being human strikes me as that towards which integration leads when one becomes truly poor in spirit as defined by Eckhart. I find it absurd to consider such an experience could even be possible from a fixed position of disintegration.
To return to a more mundane discussion of integration, Riso and Hudson write, “[Sixes’] courage arises from a feeling of real inner solidity and of profound connection with themselves and with all living things. Thus, integrating Sixes, like healthy Nines, can approach tremendous challenges and even tragedies or threats with inner balance and equanimity.” (7) This suggests to me that a Six, when integrating, loses his/her “idea” of self (the idea they want, know and have) and start to become what they really are. This also suggests that a Six stops resorting to authority figures outside of itself and spontaneously and effortlessly becomes an authorityitself. This is a being that is infinitely flexible and infinitely adaptable to whatever chaos life can manage to deliver. This is also a state of mind that entertains all positions for each problem that arises, entertaining and applying those that are useful intuitively, rather than resorting to a single source of authority. This is also to say that if the psyche retreats to a single lacuna, it will be incapable of fully and adequately relating to or dealing with life itself.
The integrating Six needs to lose his/herself in the sense of losing the urge to retreat to an absolute “me” that is shored up behind whatever external badges of authority they happen to promote. This specious sense of self is naught but illusion. To lose this self they need to first embrace and then thoroughly examine the anxiety and fear that is present when they venture out of their lacunae into the big lake of an authentic, mature existence in order to become better adapted to none other than change. But we seem to naturally resist embracing change. The paradox of Thesus’ ship demonstrates this anxiety. If Theseus’ ship, over many years, has all of its planks, bolts, ropes and sails replaced, is it still the same ship? I contest that there is no paradox at all! Dynamism and constant change are at the heart of our very nature. The illusion that things are otherwise arises only when we insist on clutching to the apron strings of our favorite lacuna. In this case, the lacuna is defined by the infantile wish that things would stay put and that the dynamism that is at the core of our experience would simply go away. Contrary to common sense, the self that we lose is (always has been, always will be) an anachronism constructed in childhood that we perversely insist is still valuable, but like other things that get outgrown, this sense of self is little more than a set of psychological training wheels.
If I haven’t worn out my nautical metaphors I’ll introduce one more. The old adage goes, "A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for." What do you think your ship is built for??? If choosing a path of self-cultivation of the personality, Sixes also need to ask themselves, “is my ship really built for leisurely paddles around the lagoon? Am I, deep down inside, actually a battle ship? A research vessel?”(8) I think that time spent “out at sea” tests one’s mettle and that although we may feel as if we are mere canoes, with experience we find that our potential for exploring the sea has been grossly underestimated. Integration leads to such self-authenticating experiences unfathomable from our ordinary position of disintegration; unfathomable from our lacunae. This strikes me as a self-evident truth for Sixes to investigate if they wish to pursue integration. I know I’ll be doing so.
(1) Riso, Don Richard & Hudson, Russ. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. New York: Bantam Books, 1999. 243.
(2) Meister Eckhart. Meister Eckhart: The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense (Classics of Western Spirituality) . Translated by Edmund Colledge & Bernard McGinn. Mahwah, NJ : Paulist Press, 1981. 199.
(3) Schleiermacher, Friedrich. On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers. Translated by Richard Crouter. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 62.
(4) Schleiermacher, 68.
(5) Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. Translated by James Strachey. New York: Norton & Company, 1961. 11-12.
(6) Jung, C. G. Psychology and Alchemy: The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Volume 12. Translated by R. F. C. Hull, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993. 12-13.
(7) Riso & Hudson, 257.
(8) For the sake of simplicity I will end with a position similar to Jung’s where the unconscious and the ego forever remain two distinct aspects of the psyche whereas I am naturally drawn to far-eastern traditions wherein, most notably in Zen, this dualism collapses. In the context of the lake/sea metaphor, this would mean that integration culminates when one realizes that the ship and the lake are really one and the same. But I have no idea as to how to weave this into my metaphor without either confusing or losing the reader, so I’ll leave it be... for now.