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Don’t Worry, You’re Normal

I’m normal. 

That was my first thought after I took the Enneagram test.* Initially, I resisted doing this assignment for our relationship class. It categorizes people into numbered personality types. Only nine varieties of human struck me as a bit reductive.

But in the spirit of doing all the homework, I completed the assessment and holy cow.The results explained why I never felt like I belonged anywhere. Why I detest small talk. The reason friends often tell me I am too hard on myself. Why I always want everything to be better.Apparently, it’s my nature to search for what’s missing. And there are others who see the world that way too. I found it comforting to know that in this peculiar worldview, I am not alone.

According to the Enneagram, each personality type has a unique core belief which then motivates behavior. Knowing your type helps you examine your organizing principle and consider what critical life lesson you are here to learn. My enneatype is here to reclaim wholeness in the present moment by appreciating what is here and now. Being grounded in my body instead of getting caught up in story.** It is absolutely worth the $10 and 45 minutes to validate your existence.

I wanted to know more about the origins of the Enneagram and how it could be so totally spot on. A google search revealed a mysterious history. Ancient roots in Babylon some 4,500 years ago, an appearance in Greek philosophy 2,500 years ago. But when I read that one of the first modern gurus had been responsible for introducing the Enneagram to America, I stopped cold.

George Gurdjieff.

This name had been spoken in my home growing up so often I thought he was a special friend of my parents. After a while, I realized it was the man’s teachings that had made him seem more important in our family than me and my sisters and brother. He was the reason my parents spent money we didn’t have on a farm house and a few acres out in East New Mexico. My parents planned to live communally with their group and study Gurdjieff’s path to enlightenment called The Work. My father, a clinical psychologist in private practice, would lead them.

Despite the dusty property having nothing for us kids to do but roam around and dig in the dirt, all the parents brought their kids to The Farm.

 

As often as we could get away, a couple dozen families met at someone’s home in Albuquerque to caravan up to Santa Rosa. Kids were left to catch a ride in whomever’s car had room—my least favorite feature of the weekend. My siblings and I were little and I didn’t like to ride with just anyone.

On one memorable trip, my older sister and I got stuck in creepy Richard’s car. He had a history of swindling kids out of their beloved toys and getting them to wait on him to earn their stuff back. On the long front seat next to Richard, Miriam pushed me against the rickety passenger door to keep away from him. I held my breath and tried not to panic as we sped down a one-way dirt road on a sheer cliff with no guard rail. Once we pulled into the dirt-packed lot, I staggered away from the car having barely breathed the whole way.

At their weekend commune, Dad played the part of guru​The house had not one stick of furniture, save for one long, splintery dining table. We all sat together for dinner, listening to the adults discuss esoteric this or that which often erupted into arguments. One time, a fight broke out and the table was tossed onto the unlucky ones seated on the other side, food crashing down, little kids shreiking.

Days were filled with the adults digging ditches and other make-work that seemed hard and pointless. My mother didn’t love Dad’s harsh interpretation of Gurdjieff’s conscious labor and intentional suffering. That wasn’t how she taught it when we kids lived with her at a commune up in Taos where she lead the group. But she was done being a guru and had left this one to Dad.

One morning I heard a commotion outside and picked my head up over the sleeping bags in the kids’ room. Adults were lined up against the barn, stark naked, while Dad took photographs from a distance. When I asked about it years later he said, somewhat defensively, “that was a body study and it was really well done.” He wouldn’t say much about it so I looked it up and deduced that the comparison of ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph body types was a critical part of awakening to the inner experience.

The one thing I actually liked about Santa Rosa was the abundance of baby frogs. Past the barn, at the foot of a large reservoir, I sat with my knees tucked under me in the dirt, as tiny frogs hopped into the palm of my hand. I delighted in their little webbed feet jumping off me like I was their friend.

My siblings had tried their hand at pets. Kitty, my sister’s cat, had dined on her fair share of my brother’s gerbils. No one seemed bothered by the periodic loss of life, but it put a chilling effect on my desire to own a pet. But I loved the frogs so much and it seemed like they liked me okay too, so I planned to bring some home and take care of them. I had stuffed a Tupperware container in the back of our turquoise Subaru for just this purpose.

The morning we were set to leave, I popped the trunk and grabbed the container. At the reservoir, I peeled the top off for the frogs to jump inside. They didn’t go in right away, so I let them hop into my hand then placed a dozen or so gently inside and sealed them up.

I walked them carefully back to our car and shoved the container in the way back so that they could ride undisturbed. I didn’t tell my siblings. I figured they would want to play with the frogs and squish them by accident.

Smooshed between kids on the way home, each bump in the dirt road caused my heart to jump. I pictured their tiny frog heads hitting the top of the container and prayed they’d be okay. My stomach was in knots by the time we arrived home a couple hours later. I scrambled out of the car, slipped the container out and took the frogs up to my room. I hoped they would like their new home. Maybe I’d save up and get a fancy terrarium at the pet store so they could live in style instead of in the plastic box.

I nestled the container on my pillow and gently lifted the top off.  The frogs lay motionless at the bottom. Why weren’t they moving?

And then it hit me. I hadn’t made any holes in the container. I had killed my first and only pets.

I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t even think to share it with them. I had broken my own heart and they didn’t even notice.

 At the time of the frogs, I felt flawed and alone. It is only now, some 45 years later, that I am taking a personal development course with my husband and dear friends that Gerdjieff has shown up again. Up until now, his name has evoked only a dim flicker of heartache. His enneagram has helped me understand myself though, specifically the ways I react under stress. I try to be someone I am not. I attempt to guess what the other person wants and act like that even though it’s not me. When I am feeling whole and peaceful, I am a responsible, organized person who seeks to make the world a better place.

Gerdjieff is here to tell me those feelings I had all those years ago were normal and I don’t have to feel shame about being who I am now or ever. My identity has nothing to do with my parents–they didn’t ignore me because I was unlovable. Today I seek only to know how to do my life better. As a healthy enneatype four, I am honest about how I feel. I own my motives and contradictions without bullsh!tting myself.

This experience has also helped me understand where my parents might have been coming from back then. At the time, their way of seeking enlightenment was as foreign to me as I’m sure my zoom call would be to them. I just want to laugh and grow with people I care about. At our core, we weren’t looking for such different things, my parents and me. I’d just prefer my friends to remained clothed during the zoom calls, so don’t get any ideas, Matt Goodman.

When you realize you aren’t alone in your quirky view of the world, you get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.

Love,

Elizabeth

WRITING PROMPT:  Is there anything from your past that has come back to change you mind? Have you done the Enneagram? If so, what did you learn about yourself?

*Click here to take the test: https://www.narrativeenneagram.org/-test/. And for my friends who’ve wondered why I am such an odd bird, this explains it: https://www.narrativeenneagram.org/types/the-romantic/

**It also provides insight into how different types react with one another. It totally nailed Mark and me. You have to take the test first and find your number and then do this one:

https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/the-enneagram-type-combinations

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