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Personality,  Essence and Spirituality 


"Naturally, it takes years of work on oneself to get to know anything real about ourselves; we may think we are finding out a great deal, through self-observation and by applying the other teachings and techniques of The Work [Gurdjieff's teaching]....What we think we have discovered about ourselves is very superficial at first, so that real self-knowledge only comes after years of patient effort. But such effort is immensely worth while in every particular, because it not only transforms us, it transforms our whole life for us; because as our level of being changes, so does our life change, too. We become different people inside, and this is reflected by the way life treats us outside.

"This is an esoteric law...and explains why it is only ourselves who can make anything really worthwhile of our lives. It is no good looking to external factors or agencies to do this for us. Such things cannot change our level of being, and so life remains just as it was before, despite whatever we may be doing or thinking. It is only when we begin to really work on ourselves, and change our habitual ways of thinking and feeling, that anything real or permanent can happen to us. For self-change is the basic pre-requisite for external change. And self-change can only come about as a result of self-knowledge and work on oneself." (Benjamin, Basic Self-Knowledge, 63-64)

Providing accurate knowledge of ourselves was the purpose of Personality Types, just as it is the purpose of the Enneagram itself. The lesson that had to be learned was the wastefulness of ego inflation. As valuable as this lesson was, there was much more to be said: the Enneagram can also guide us to spiritual dimensions by helping us move beyond personality. We have already alluded to the fact that genuine fulfillment (which is to be found primarily within a spiritual context) lies in the ability to discover our true essential nature.

"We must be willing and able to go beyond ego to reach out to something more, to experience the parts of ourselves that have nothing to do with the agendas of our personalities. At the same time, we must also be willing to experience the limitation and pain that our ego's habits are causing us.

"Self-transcendence is difficult and fearful because it entails going into unknown territory, feeling, thinking, and acting in ways foreign to our personality, contrary to our past habits, at odds with our old attitudes and identity, and free of the old wounds and defenses of our childhood. In a sense, self-transcendence is a rebirth, a true transformation, the coming into being of a new person who is learning to leave the old ways behind and strike out into a new world....

"In the last analysis, learning how to transcend the ego involves nothing less than learning how to be open to love. Only love has the power to save us from ourselves. Until we learn to truly love ourselves and others—and to accept the love of others—there can be no hope of lasting happiness or peace or redemption. It is because we do not love ourselves properly that we lose ourselves so easily in the many illusions ego sets before us." (Personality Types, 460-61)

Cataloguing the illusions that "ego sets before us" was the very stuff of the descriptions in Personality Types and on this website. It is now time to turn our attention to that other path—toward higher states that open out to us once we have seen through the veils and illusions of the ego, to that upward spiral by which we awaken to essence.


Describing "living in Essence" is much more difficult than describing Personality Types, for one fundamental reason. Most of the ego states described in Personality Types are unfree; they involve degrees of compulsion, of losing ourselves in illusions and mechanical responses. Since they are relatively fixed states ("fixations"), they are also relatively easy to describe, once you know what to look for. However, essence results in states that are marked by freedom, and as such they are dynamic and ever-evolving—not only as an expression of life but, in a true sense, as life-giving states themselves. If we can analyze the qualities of a truly free person, of someone living in a state of liberation, we will learn more about "living in essence."

"The unfolding of essence becomes the process of living. Life is no longer a string of disconnected experiences of pleasure and pain, but a flow, a stream of aliveness. One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another. There is a constant flow of understanding, insight, knowledge, and states of being." (Almaas, Essence, 178)

As we become healthier by overcoming our characteristic fears and by acting on our right desires, our ego becomes more flexible and transparent as we gradually move up the Levels of Development. To attain Level 1, the Level of Liberation, is to come into contact with our Essence, our essential self, our true nature in all of its magnificence.


The astonishing thing is that we actually get our Basic Desire when we move to the Level of Liberation (Level 1). We learn to do this by recognizing where what we seek can truly be found. We understand that our ego, try as it might, cannot fulfil our Basic Desire. For this, we must turn to our Essence—the ground of our being. Although most of us have had some profound experiences of the deep satisfactions of our Essential nature, it usually takes many such experiences to convince the ego of the ultimate bankruptcy of its project. Part of the problem is that, once we have identified with our ego-consciousness, it is difficult for us to imagine any alternative, even though it brings no relief and causes us to behave in ways that hurt ourselves and others.


Seeing the truth of this is and letting go of our ego agendas is not done once and for all, however, as if we could be liberated from the human condition. We move up and down on the Levels while gradually opening to the type in our Direction of Integration, to our Missing Piece, and to the potentials found there. Thus our liberation is gradual, although with the new state comes the awakening of new capacities. As Almaas says, "One aspect manifests after another, one dimension after another, one capacity after another." We do not move beyond human nature but beyond our delusions about ourselves and about reality. Living in Essence becomes a matter of seeing through our ego and, in so doing, of discovering and maturing our truest self. The search for Essence is not an escape from life but the reverse: a commitment on our most profound level of consciousness to participate in our own creation.


Still, if the idea of "living in Essence" sounds overly esoteric, the Enneagram can help take some of the obscurity out of it. For modern sensibilities, the goal of living in Essence may be strange and off-putting. But if we keep the Enneagram as our frame of reference, we will be less mystified if we think of living in Essence as the same as becoming a fully functioning, integrated person. The goal is not to strengthen our ego but to transcend its limitations and in so doing not only do we become increasingly healthy but we increasingly "live in Essence."


What capacities will we discover in ourselves if we work on ourselves and begin the process of "living in Essence"—whether we call it that or not?

The fact is, that the healthiest characteristics of our personalities become accessible to us as we work on ourselves. The more aware we are and the more we avail ourselves of presence, the more Essence supports the healthy manifestations of our personalities. As we become more integrated as human beings, more and more of these qualities become available, not just those of our own type.


Some of the most important healthy traits of each type are displayed on the following Enneagram. These are only some of the strengths we can learn from each other; they are particular to each type although universally accessible. Always keep in mind that many additional healthy traits exist that you will discover as you move in your own unique way beyond your ego identity.

The Enneagram of Healthy Personality