A tale of recovery: my path from traumatized to healer

I had lunch a few weeks ago with John, someone I’ve known for about 12 years but haven’t seen much in recent years. He commented that I am a very different person now from when he met me, and that would not be apparent to people who hadn’t known me that long.

When we met in 2004 (I think), I seemed troubled to him, and I was. John said that now, I appear to be happy and “like a fountain” (which I love), and he was curious about that.

Other people have said I’ve changed more than anyone they know. Well, that’s probably because I was starting from a more troubled place than most.

So I’m reviewing my path in search of insights to share. This is for you, John, and I know that some of you are interested in recovery from trauma, and some of you are interested in personal growth, so this is for you too. Continue reading

What I’m reading, April 2013

Taking stock of books I’m currently reading, just read, or soon to start:

The Reality of Being: The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff by Jeanne de Salzmann. My Fourth Way  group undertook reading this book aloud together. De Salzmann was one of Gurdjieff’s long-time students. She wrote about his teachings in a straightforward way, making them understandable and accessible. Her heirs found her undated notes after she died at 101 and published them a couple of years ago.

The book is about waking up the Essential Self. There are many, many passages I could share, but this one is from early in the book:

Gurdjieff taught the necessity of self-observation, but this practice has been mostly misunderstood. Usually when I try to observe, there is a point from which the observation is made, and my mind projects the idea of observing, of an observer separate from the object being observed. But the idea of observing is not the observing. Seeing is not an idea. It is an act, the act of seeing…it is an experience that can take place only if there is no separation between what sees and what is seen….

Next up for my book group is Practical Work on Self, by E.J. Gold. After that, we’ll be reading Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson: All and Everything, by Gurdjieff , which will probably take us two years, accompanied by a commentary.

On my own, I’m currently reading Gurdjieff: Making a New World by J.G. Bennett, about Gurdjieff’s searches for ancient wisdom (which has me using Google Maps to get familiar with the geography mentioned — Gurdjieff traveled from the Caucasus region to Egypt, Ethiopia, Tibet, Siberia, Italy, and points between in his searches, done on foot, horseback, and by rail before 1915).

Before starting Beelzebub’s Tales, I plan to  read In Search of the Miraculous: Fragments of an Unknown Teaching by P.D. Ouspensky, an account of his teachings by an early student.

I’m also interested in reading J.G. Bennett’s book Enneagram Studies to learn more about Gurdjieff’s understanding of the enneagram. He used the enneagram symbol extensively, but I’m not sure how it relates to the system of understanding the fixations that keep us asleep.

It’s not hard to understand the attraction of someone who believes wellness must include body, mind, heart, and spirit to the Fourth Way of Gurdjieff. I like the format of my group: We take turns reading, engage in discussion, do exercises.

I’m interested in Gurdjieff’s teachings, but I wouldn’t call myself a follower. I’m more of an explorer seeking wisdom. By the way, although he was fluent in Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Russian, and other languages, Gurdjieff didn’t write in English, and apparently a lot of what he wrote was embellished for teaching purposes and not necessarily straightforward, so to understand his teachings, it helps to read what his students wrote.

I do think he was a remarkable man and urge anyone interested in his life and teachings to at least see the film Meetings with Remarkable Men, or read his book of the same name, an account of his search for ancient spiritual wisdom.

Another book on my nightstand is called mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to Do Cool Stuff, by Marvin Oka and Grant Soosalu. It includes recent findings in neuroscience about the head, heart, and gut brains and how using these multiple brains can increase intuition and wiser decision-making. The authors’ background is Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), cognitive linguistics, and behavioral modeling.

Our modern culture emphasizes the head brain. We try to think our way out of problems. Farming and civilization have been around for 12,000 years, and we are still killing each other. We are now ruining the planet we live on. In my opinion,  more intelligences are direly needed! I would surely like to have more resources, to use my multiple brains appropriately and experience less conflict, more intuition, better decisions…

So how do you tell which brain is operating? How do you know which brain is best suited for a given situation? How do you know when they’re not working together? How can you strengthen the brain you use the least? How can you ensure all three brains are in alignment for important decisions, relationships, and well-being?

Read the book and learn!

I’m in a different book group reading a book unrelated to the above books except as it applies to my quality of life. We are reading Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence to become knowledgeable and mindful about the role of money in our lives. We use a study guide (available for $5 from The Simple Living Network) developed for groups using the book to start on the path toward financial freedom. We meet seven times.

So far, I’ve added up my lifetime earnings (way more than I thought), started tracking every cent that comes in and out, started an inventory of my possessions, calculated my real hourly wage, and come up with a way to determine whether my spending is fulfilling and aligned with my values.

The authors have gotten feedback that after implementing the nine steps, people have reduced their expenses by 25 percent within 6 months and say their quality of life has gone way up. I’m finding this very helpful since I’ve transitioned from being an employee with a regular paycheck to being self-employed.

I’m also making my way through a couple of bodywork books, which I’ll write about another time.

If you’re reading this, you’re a reader. May you find books that nourish you!

Four steps for discovering your Enneagram type

The Enneagram is a system that classifies people by type, like personality typing. It’s kin to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But it’s about more than personality—it’s based on fixation.

According to Enneagram theory, we are either born with or acquire in the earliest years of life a fixation that deeply influences our identity: who we believe we are and how we view life. The fixation is what keeps you from experiencing your essential (healthy) self. It’s how you get in your own way. It’s a filter that in some ways has worked for you, but it can eventually limit you into a habitual way of living that feels too small. You may suspect there’s more to you than that. You can transcend your fixation to find more essence, more freedom, more joy.

Maybe this is what enlightenment is.

There are nine Enneagram types. Each type has two wings and three subtypes. Furthermore, each type moves toward two different types when you are stressed and when you feel secure. Plus, your development level changes with age, experience, and your desire and ability to grow. So it’s a fairly dynamic model, even though (according to theory) people remain their type their entire lives.

To illustrate, my type is Five. Other names: The Investigator and The Observer. We Fives are classic nerds: bookish, shy, avoiding conflict, private, attracted to minimalism, curious, alert, intense, innovative, insightful, cerebral, having a rich inner life, seeking mastery.

Would you believe that part of the path to my essential self is exercise? Living in my body connects me to a vitality that I could never experience living in my head. It took the painful aftermath of a car wreck in my 40s—and the subsequent healing journey—to really get this.

Daily yoga, the outdoor activities I love like snorkeling and kayaking, dance, meditation, giving and receiving massage, hugs, touch, and sex all help me connect with my body, more fully occupy it, and be more present in my full vitality, my essential energy that radiates joy, love, peace, and happiness.

So if you knew me as a child, you’d have known a shy, bookish, smart, aloof nerd. If you know me now, you’d see some of those qualities at times, but you’d also see someone who has a lot of vitality, who lives with an open heart (and who still really likes to think).

For me, the journey from being immersed in my type to living more from my essence has been like moving from a black-and-white world into a world full of amazing colors of infinite variety. I can’t say it’s all due to knowing about the Enneagram, but it has helped and provided much insight.

If you are interested in using the Enneagram as a tool for personal growth, and you don’t know your type, here’s how to find out. It’s not always easy (but sometimes it’s very obvious). You can definitely narrow it down to a couple of types, and then you’ll get an aha! (And you may change your mind later on.) Plus, you will easily recognize some people you’ve known.

It’s important to first note that we often do not see ourselves as others see us. Therefore, learning your Enneagram type might make you feel uncomfortable. Prepare yourself. The truth often hurts before it sets us free.

  1. The Enneagram Institute offers free and low-cost online tests. The free, brief QUEST takes 5 minutes.
  2. Watch a brief video of each of the nine types and self-identify your type.
  3. Watch the videos with people you trust with the intent to identify each person’s type with compassion. Others who know us can be honest yet tactful and supportive (as you can be with them—agree on this beforehand and don’t invite anyone who is insensitive).
  4. If you’re still confused about your type, read how types are often misidentified.

To learn more about how it works, read books. I suggest The Wisdom of the Enneagram and The Enneagram for beginners. For more advanced students, I recommend The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram.

Once you are more or less settled on which type most accurately describes you, you can subscribe to a daily “EnneaThought” email for your type that can support your developmental growth.

Here’s my EnneaThought for today:

EnneaThought example