This article first appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

You're a Number One. Or Four, Six or Nine.

Whatever the integer, it may influence how you regard yourself, your friends, even God.

The numbers are points on a nine-part graph of personal attitudes called the enneagram (pronounced ANY-a-gram). It's been compared to the Myers-Briggs personality tests, derived from the theories of Carl Jung, but enneagram advocates say that whereas Myers-Briggs measures behavior, the enneagram describes motivation.

The enneagram "is not about a particular spiritual exercise. It's about how to work on your path toward God."

"It really helps people grasp the profound difference in how people see things," said Lynn Parsons, a former Chicago psychotherapist who operates Morning Glory Farms, a retreat center in Mill Spring, N.C. "We all make these little assumptions that other people sort of see things like we do. I think the power of the enneagram is that you do come away realizing that people see things differently."

The enneagram is intended to be used as an instrument of self-understanding and improvement, said Parsons, who recently led a weeklong enneagram workshop at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. "It's an inside job. This is not about typing people. This is about giving people a tool to help themselves."

A stack of books published during the past decade attests to the growing popularity of the enneagram in work and love. Increasingly, through classes, retreats, and literature, it's being applied to matters of the soul as well as the mind.

Each enneagram type has its gifts to be developed and its shortcomings to be overcome. These positive and negative characteristics come into play in people's spiritual lives, said Parsons, a Six, characterized by fear and self-doubt.

"I had always depended on analysis to give me the truth," she said. "If I could figure things out, that would lead me toward God." Now, she said, she uses meditation to learn to rely more heavily on faith. "I feel like my meditation practice is creating a landing field for God," she said. "Sometimes he lands; sometimes there's no planes coming in. But the practice has to be done because I realize I'm never going to get there through my head or through analysis."

The enneagram types have been linked to the "fruits of the spirit" outlined in the New Testament Book of Galatians (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and to the mortal sins and virtues as defined by the ancient church. The enneagram also has been compared to the 10 aspects of the divine personality recognized in the system of Jewish mysticism called kabbalah.

People seldom reflect the pure characteristics of a single enneagram type but are influenced by the "wings" or the types adjacent to their own. Under stress, they may exhibit negative traits of other types and through spiritual maturity may develop additional virtues.

The origin of the enneagram is unclear. Some trace it to Muslim mystics known as Sufis. Others say it goes back to ancient Mesopotamia.

The enneagram was introduced, in its modern form, by George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Greek-Armenian who, with friends, formed a group called Seekers After Truth to explore ancient wisdom and diverse systems of thought. In wide travels to India and the Middle East, Gurdjieff ran across the enneagram.

Healing comes through the enneagram "as we recognize a truth that is bigger and greater, that is more loving, that is safer, than anything we have believed," said Jenny Felder, a spiritual director who uses the enneagram in her work.

"We are created and we come into the world with a core that reflects the image of God," said Deborah Willis, who is educated as a pharmacist and is considering becoming a spiritual director. "I believe we come into the world healthy and good, but as we grow older and we are influenced by people who are wounded, though they love us, or we make mistakes and wound ourselves, we build up a shell of personality that is not God's best intention for us. The enneagram gives hope that God can work in our lives to begin to dissolve this shell and that, as that happens, we know more peace in our lives."

"One of the most important things to realize about Christian spirituality is it's never a solo endeavor," said Liz Forney, associate director of Columbia's spirituality program. Different people working in community make a whole, she said.

"Each of us is an image of God," she said. "By knowing all the aspects of the different personalities, you get a glimpse into the many-faceted nature of God."

He incorporated the symbol into spiritual and psychological work in Russia until shortly before the 1919 revolution, when he moved to France and founded the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.

In the 1950s, Bolivian Oscar Ichazo, who had been raised Catholic, adapted the enneagram to personality types.

"A spiritual practice that's very important for Ones is having fun."

Among Ichazo's students was psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, who was developing a program of Gestalt therapy at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif. Back in California, he began expounding on the enneagram types.

The theory of the enneagram is based on the principle that everyone constructs defense mechanisms to deal with the real and perceived injuries inflicted by life.

"We make protection for ourselves," said Jeannene Wiseman, who taught the class at Columbia with Parsons. "There's a way in which our woundedness requires that we defend ourselves in a way that blocks the natural flow of energy that would be more in harmony with God and the universe. For some people, there's more of a block, for some maybe less."

By recognizing and getting past their own defenses, people are able to use their gifts more effectively and feel more in tune with the Creator, she said.

As a One on the enneagram, Wiseman naturally strains for perfection and feels anger when things are imperfect and when other people seem to care less about details than she does. "Ones need to give it a rest," she said. "A spiritual practice that's very important for Ones is having fun."

The use of the enneagram "is not about a particular spiritual exercise," Parsons said. "It's about how to work on your path toward God. Working to get our bad habits out of the way so those gifts can emerge is really what spiritual growth is all about." "A spiritual practice that's very important for Ones is having fun."

Several Catholic religious orders have adopted the enneagram for use in their retreat centers, but not everyone in church hierarchy approves. Last year, the U.S. Catholic bishops received a report cautioning them about the enneagram, saying "the philosophical and religious ideas of its creators are out of keeping with basic elements of the Christian faith."

Among specific criticisms is that people might use the enneagram to justify sin as the inevitable result of personality. "Personal responsibility for sin becomes very difficult to explain in this theory," the report says.

Wiseman, who has a theology degree from Princeton Seminary, takes issue with the bishops' report.

"I don't see it as saying a person isn't responsible for sin," she said. "In fact, I think the enneagram illuminates the territory where we have responsibility." By helping people to discover the areas of their greatest weakness and temptation, the enneagram can put them on guard, she said.

Students in the Columbia workshop conducted by Parsons and Wiseman say understanding the enneagram has helped them understand themselves.

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