The Shift Network Blog

The Enneagram: A Tool to Support One's Spiritual Work

The first time I heard anything about the enneagram was in the backyard of Claudio Naranjo’s house in Berkeley in the fall of 1971. He had just returned from Chile where he had been studying with the Bolivian mystic, Oscar Ichazo, in the desert city of Arica far to the north. Claudio, who was a psychiatrist, had fleshed out the enneagram teaching conveyed by Ichazo with his vast understanding of psychology. Upon his return to California, Claudio announced that he was starting a group dedicated to spiritual transformation and a number of us had gathered that autumn afternoon to find out more about it. From the moment he presented the enneagram that day as the major psychological tool that would be used in the group, I was fascinated by the system. It was such an accurate map of the ego structure in its nine archetypal variations that I was galvanized.

In that first SAT group as Claudio named it, standing for ‘Seekers After Truth’ in emulation of Gurdjieff’s band of followers, we lived and breathed the enneagram. The theory Claudio was teaching us came alive as we shared with each other our personal experience of it. Once it became obvious what my ennea-type was, the understanding Claudio imparted helped me face many things about my beliefs, behavior, and emotional patterns that it would have taken me many years to figure out on my own.

The group lasted for four years, and opened a love for the realm of Being in me. It set me on the Path toward realization, and it also confronted me with the deficiency at the core of the ego structure. One of many things that I came quickly to understand is that the map does not tell us how to move through the territory it charts. The enneagram of personality describes the nuances of ego, and the objective enneagrams describe the transformation of view (the Holy Ideas) and of affective inner atmosphere (the Virtues) that result as we move beyond the personality structure. How to do that is the provenance of a spiritual path. After the group ended, I tried to meditate my way through that inner emptiness to no avail, and it was a number of years before I found a spiritual path that took me through it—the Diamond Approach to Inner Realization. It had been founded by a fellow member of that first SAT group, Hameed Ali, who writes under the name A.H. Almaas. The Diamond Approach is a path that takes people through the virtual reality of their ego structure, metabolizing and transforming it as they come in contact with the realms of Being that lie beyond. I’ve been a teacher of that work for over 25 years now, and it informs the way that I use the enneagram.

Since Claudio first presented it, the enneagram has become part of popular culture, for the most part out of context of its original one: as a tool to support one’s spiritual work of moving beyond the egoic type it describes. Its transformative function remains unrealized if the truths contained in it remain conceptual. They must be found in the immediacy of our direct experience and we must have a way of working with these truths for them to truly be of benefit. I came into contact with the enneagram forty-four years ago, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there has not been a day that has gone by since then in which I have not thought about and understood more about the map—both in terms of my own inner experience and in my observations of others.


Sandra Maitri is an artist, an author, an enneagram teacher, and a principal teacher in the Ridhwan School, home of the Diamond Approach®. She was among the first group of students to whom the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo presented the enneagram system in the United States in the early seventies. She has been teaching the enneagram as part of the larger work of spiritual transformation for twenty-five years. To learn more about Sandra, click here.