Helen Palmer – The Enneagram: Gateway to Spiritual Liberation
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello and welcome again to Conscious TV. My name is Iain McNay and today my guest is Helen Palmer. Hi Helen.
Iain: Helen has written several books about the Enneagram and I heard about the Enneagram oh, it must have been about twenty one, twenty two years ago and I found it so helpful in my life and the first book I read about the Enneagram was this one here The Enneagram in Love and Work: Understanding Your intimate and Business Relationships, which is what I needed at the time. I still need it sometimes as well. And she’s written some other books – we have here The Pocket Enneagram, The Enneagram Advantage: Putting the Nine Personality Types to work in the Office and Inner Knowing. And so Helen’s still working, doing lots of Enneagram work and other courses and I think she’ll keep going for a lot longer time yet. I'm sure she will. So, Helen, when did you first actually hear about the Enneagram?
Helen: I remember where I first heard about it. I was teaching intuition training at a centre called Esalen, which was one of the few growth centres…
Iain: I've been there, yes.
Helen: …yes, in America, on the California coast, that was at that time interested in consciousness and various presenters would go there and present their materials. And I was someone who went back a couple of times a year to teach an intuition training group and the word came to Esalen that there was a material that was presented as an upgrade, or a new view, of the Gurdjieff work because it uses the same symbol as the Gurdjieff tradition, which I was very interested in. And I didn’t hear much about it further until a teacher named Oscar Ichazo announced this material as his own and indeed made good contributions to the material and his student Claudio Naranjo, who I believe you also know…
Iain: He’s been on Conscious TV, yes.
Helen: …yes, was also a trainer at Esalen, came back and began to teach a version, his own addition to what he had learned with Ichazo in South America at a training called Arica. Now I never went to South America but I was very interested in going to a class of Naranjo’s and at the same time that I was teaching intuition work, I was getting a lot of influx from unexpected groups of people like many, many nuns and priests who were on sabbatical leave for a year, or came to California to have a different experience and they would train at the Graduate Theological Union. Now this was fascinating to me, this group of people because they were the first avenue that the Enneagram went down. The first real home that it found was in the Catholic orders. Naranjo was teaching and a priest friend of mine who was in my intuition work, said “look, this is great Christian Mysticism.” That’s how he saw it, though I don’t think Naranjo did but that was his view of this material. He enrolled me to come to Naranjo’s class, which was a nine week course in which each of the types was presented and Claudio Naranjo was doing a very good job of bridging – like a Rosetta Stone – bridging these types of people that were described, into psychological language without which I don’t think it would have progressed very quickly. But in his class – I only took the one class with him – there were many, many people from my university where I was teaching psychology. So I had a double job. I taught intuition training and I also taught psychology and I was trying to bridge the two – two different states of mind. One received wisdom – intuition, objective received wisdom…
Iain: So one’s coming from up here [pointing above the head] and one’s emerging from here [pointing to body].
Helen: Indeed. And the other is conditioned and cognitive emotional in nature. So between conditioned reality and unconditioned knowing I was very busy in my groups trying to put these two things together. And at the University where I taught, which was John F Kennedy University School of Consciousness – the first school of consciousness in the U.S. – many of the teachers came to Naranjo’s class to discover this bridge that he was putting together between mystical traditions’ view of the human person and psychological nomenclature. He was trying to put the two together.
Iain: And that was unique at the time relatively speaking?
Helen: Oh, it was revolutionary, it was revolutionary. The word ‘mysticism’ was a bad word, which is why I was flooded with nuns and priests because those with mystical inclination – why they had taken on a vocation in the first place – were massively disappointed to realise that they had essentially a desk job.
Helen: And there was no training for this inward turn.
Iain: So at the time – I’m interested – how did you work in teaching intuition?
Helen: Hmm. Well, it’s a very different state of mind than ordinary cognition or emotional life, so the first move would be to get sufficiently empty, so that thoughts and emotions are receded in your field of perception.
Iain: So when you say “receded,” mind’s saying they’re not prominent but they’re still there to some degree?
Helen: They are on the horizon. They are available on need but they are not foreground in your attention.
Iain: Well that requires a lot of work and time.
Helen: Not necessarily. Because what I was getting from the Enneagram right early in the beginning of time was that the structures – the psychological structure – of thoughts, emotions, sensation, which we knew about could be observed and witnessed internally. Which is what emptying practice is about and I just use that word generally because I'm not steeped in the tradition of ‘emptying’ so I call it emptying practice, rather than Vipassana, or Zen, or one of the definitive versions of how to achieve emptiness.
Iain: Let’s look at practically what ‘witnessing internally’ actually means.
Helen: Just to get silent and empty.
Iain: Well, hang on. That’s easy to say, it’s not so easy to do in this body in this busy world, to get silent and empty.
Helen: It’s not ultimate silence or emptiness but it is a recession of the structure, the typology structure that you have.
Iain: So you do that by stopping what you’re doing…
Helen: You can do it in two ways. One is the recommended first way, which is to come in and to find your breath and take a pause and be able to follow the breath in the pause because the breath is empty of internal objects. That’s one way.
Iain: So let me do that. So, close my eyes…
Helen: Turn inward and find the breath in the body…
Iain: Yes, when I do that briefly my focus is on the breath, that’s true and then things have gone more in the background – thoughts, yes.
Helen: Yes, because the brain actually can only foreground one significant object of attention at a time. So what you’re trying to do is to get the breath to be the significant object of attention – the internal breath. And you can get quite skilled at it if you don’t put a tremendous amount of pressure on you that it has to be ultimate silence. None of that. Take a pause and come into yourself and relax down and just be with the breath for some little period of time and immediately you recognise “oh, I have these tensions in my body,” or “oh, I have this mind that won’t let go,” or “I have this emotion that’s breaking me.” Something like that.
Helen: Now from the perspective of the witnessing consciousness, the heart, the head and the somatic constrictions, are a restriction of life force. That somewhere there’s been a tension in the body, or a recreation of a habitual pattern that is stealing all the life force for itself, in its own automatic way and it’s our job not to get ultimately silent, it’s our job just to attend to ourselves so that we can get our life force back. Now this is not insignificant in terms of the Enneagram. The passions of the heart are actually automatic emotional patterns that arise all on their own because we are conditioned to have that set of feelings. And they’re attached to a set of thoughts – they operate in tandem.
Iain: I’m just trying to look at this stage by stage. So you’re saying our life force has got constricted because of tensions in the body, which is stress, I guess, in how we live our life, or how we’ve reacted to experiences that have happened to us?
Helen: Yes. Conditioned patterns start in very early life based on the instinctual first tendency response that you have to fight, to flee or to seek contact. That’s your endowment. And then you interface with that primary tendency with the environment that you have. And patterning starts very early, very early on and so we become a type of person, which is a way of adapting so that we can survive most effectively in the environment that we have, based on the instinct that is most prominent in our lives. That’s conditioning and it operates by reinforcement. A child looks for strategies – tries to find strategies that make them agreeable to other people and that create safety, security.
Iain: Yes. And so much of the time when we talk about ourselves, really we’re talking about our basic patterns, aren’t we, our basic conditioning.
Helen: Our identity.
Iain: Our identity. Which isn’t who we really are, it’s just something we’ve learned…
Helen: Oh, yes it is. It is my conditioned reality and it is very suitable to the horizontal plane of ordinary daily living and it has done very well for us to keep us organised in a ongoing survival situation which is life. Which is life.
Iain: So, it’s done its job but it… Okay, I think we’ll just go back slightly, just very briefly, what is the Enneagram? For people that are watching this programme that don’t know what the Enneagram is. What is it?
Helen: It’s a description of nine different personality types, which concur very well with modern psychiatry. There’s no argument. It’s a description of nine different personality types but with the agenda that psychiatry doesn’t have, which is that these types are capable of higher orders of consciousness, if you find a way to get there and many ways have been brought to the planet, different ways.
Iain: Sort of like a key if you like, a doorway, clues.
Helen: A key, a doorway, a method.
Iain: A method, yes.
Helen: Silence, or emptiness, is one of the methods. The other method is concentration. So between silence and concentration you have a key because both methods stop the recurring patterns of identity that we have and bring you into the present moment, which is not conditioned.
Iain: Okay, so when you say silence, we have a feel of that from what we just talked about before but with concentration, are you talking about concentrating on the silence, or concentrating on what?
Helen: Concentration is about objects. So you concentrate by bringing your attention over and over again to a single object and that action of introducing – usually a devotional object, something that you trust, something that is important to you but one object – and the technique is to bring your attention over and over again to one thing only, which backgrounds everything else. Because brain can really only hold – foreground – one thing at a time. So emptiness is one, it’s an empty object you could call it and the action there is to relax resistance and to go deeper into the breath that is empty and so create a kind of, hmm… a breath that is extended, an emptiness that extends in time. And this is extremely beneficial to the health system. The best research in consciousness lately is coming out of the neurological studies of vastly improved MRI scans which got a whole lot better in the last fifteen years, so that you can see by putting a neural net on a good meditator, an advanced meditator, the actual recession of blood flow and nervous excitement, excitation, from prefrontals and limbic areas – emotion and thinking areas – the recession of blood flow and excitation into a more neutral place inside of yourself. And this is extremely useful for lowering blood pressure, for example. And the material that’s emanating out of the work of, originally, Jon Kabat-Zinn, is marvellous. It has health benefits so it’s a kind of evidence that silence is healing if you can just learn to relax out of, not force anything, relax out of, the habit of our identity.
Iain: Yes. I know from what you told me when we talked on the phone yesterday that you were actually practicing Zen when you first heard about the Enneagram. What drew you to Zen?
Helen: This was a long time ago, Iain. This was not in the culture, this was so far out of the culture – the idea of going away on a retreat wasn’t even a concept for most people. What drew me to Zen was turning off my mind. I’d started with a concentration practice, knowing nothing else, I learned how to return attention over and over again to a single object of contemplation. And it happens to be my strength, rather than emptying. There’s a whole tradition of concentration practice. Vedanta for example and others that use active contemplation, but the active contemplation is to return to a devotional object instead of moving with, like, into the future – staying with now and it’s conjoined with breath, which is in the present moment. Now this set me on a path – this concentration practice – and I don’t know how this will sit with you, Iain – but I was in my graduate school, I joined up with a peace activism group against the Vietnam war and I was quite dedicated to it. In retrospect, I can see what the draw was because I was so revved and so… I lived in Manhattan, it was a very competitive school, you know to hold my own and do well, it was very important and so my general energetics was nervous and very high strung.
Iain: I know this for myself, yeah.
Helen: So, I needed a way out. Now what I got out of the relationship with my Zen teacher was a whole lot of peace inside and not much understanding or sympathy with the fact that my visualisation process is florid, which is very suitable to concentration. To imagine inside a devotional object and return attention over and over again to the one great thing, was quite natural to me whereas peace and silence brought up “what am I getting into?” because it felt alien.
Helen: So all of that said, my Zen priest kept saying “too much studying, too much thinking Helen,” you know, “more zazen.” Which did not speak to my situation but I loved him and I loved the little ashram that he had. The little zendo actually. And then there was my mentor in college who loved the way my mind worked and I had a great relationship with him, my supervisor and… “Zen? Leaving your head and your thoughts and your intellectual capacities?” He was appalled, he thought it was sort of magical thinking.
Helen: That was the time. So we were left at that time to put together something that seemed suitable to ourselves. So I started a concentration practice with sufficient emptiness, or so I thought and then I would introduce a single pointed concentration object and again, I don’t know how this will sit with you Iain, but one of my self-appointed jobs in the peace movement, was to shepherd young men over the border into Canada, who were resisting the draft.
Iain: The Vietnam War?
Helen: The Vietnam War. And I was in sympathy with them. The peace centre in which I was active was housed in a church and I saw it as a kind of pacifist commitment. Now right or wrong, that was a decision that I made, but what it did to my tension level was to really skyrocket the situation because this was illegal activity. We had a receiver on the Canadian side because Canada was sympathetic to the exodus of draft aged men but some of these guys could very well have been underage and I was in my early twenties, so I was of age and there were significant consequences. You could get a five year jail sentence for this. So the pressure – self-induced, I signed on for this – in retrospect, I put so much tension on myself.
Iain: You see, it’s interesting because I know, like me, you’re a Type Six which is a fear based personality and yet you choose something which is obviously a passion for you that ramps it up even more.
Helen: Because, in retrospect I found myself pinned – because it was my responsibility to get them across – I found myself pinned in an old brown chair in my living room and I would be awakened late at night and I would go into this state of intense concentration and focus and I couldn’t think my way out. In fact I couldn’t think very well because I couldn’t track, I’d been over the same terrain over and over again and it seemed like a guessing game, “which post – which border post – can you get the car through successfully?” because they were doing random checks and many people were turned back.
So in the midst of 4am and in the old brown chair, I would so concentrate on which one of the choices that I had and focus on one and then the other, that I internalised into a state of concentration that was hyper in its capacity. And I found one evening, myself focussed on the choice to the extent where I let go. I relaxed into silence from great concentration, let go and I entered a scene internally – all of this is internal – I entered a scene of the checkpoint and “this one is not safe and that one is and let’s go here.”
Iain: But how’d you know it was all internal?
Helen: I knew it was internal because every now and then it would become so extreme that I would open my eyes and there would be like an overlay. I could still see the furniture in the room, but there would be this overlay – I actually entered the scene.
Iain: Yes. The reason why I say “was it all internal?” I can’t think of the word for it but there was at one point, it’s now documented, there was a whole department in the United States army where they had these people that could look at defences in Russia etcetera when it was the Cold War. I forget the name of what it was called. It was a technique where, in a kind of a leaving the body and you would go into… but yours you were saying was a different…
Helen: No I don’t leave anywhere. I dig deeper in where I am. I never left anywhere but the perception is of leaving.
Iain: The perception – okay.
Helen: You see that’s what I think is a mistake, maybe not leaving but the perception is that you have left yourself and entered a new scene.
Iain: So you leave your conditioned mind?
Helen: Indeed – it completely recessed the conditioned reality. That would be my understanding. And so my experience was all internal as I understood it, but it had very good information and I relied upon that information for some period of time. And I think I took the chance, I put the pressure on myself, the risk – all of that – to increase my capacity, which was my strength to begin with, of concentration. To become inseparable – non-dual with – a situation which was not present and with great accuracy inhabit that, I would say, internally, in the imaginal world, of reality. And I also noticed in this that the information did not come from increased immersion, it came from a place where you could let go and allow the dream to unfold on its own.
Iain: Okay, so let’s look at this. So there’s a degree of emptiness, then there’s a focus and then, in a way, there’s a letting go of the focus.
Helen: Indeed and that’s where the information is because the focus has backgrounded you own interfering streams and you are in reception, which is where intuition occurs.
Iain: I think we all find this in life sometimes and I certainly find it now and again. You know, I am very focussed on something and there is a kind of a letting go and then something resolves itself, something becomes clear.
Helen: Indeed. You’ve concentrated so much energy in the field of your perception that when you let go it sorts itself out. I completely concur with that. So when you say what did I do with intuition training, I think that was our original thrust here…
Iain: Yeah, but the whole subject is fascinating. Somehow it all ties together.
Helen: It is a secondary form of perception, unlike conditioned reality, that goes from past to future in a conditioned way. It is a direct experience at a level of consciousness that most people are not interested in until they have an experience of it spontaneously and then they want to get back to where they’ve already been. Which was the majority of my students, particularly the nuns and priests who in their prayer life of concentration and the letting go and being in reception of a response to their focussed concentration on a single object of devotion, they were avid to improve this and they have been deprived of methodology.
Iain: Okay but did the improvement of it take them into a real understanding, or experience, of the wider picture?
Helen: That was my job to try to recreate, to try to find, the lost and buried methodology – that’s been my cause for forty years.
Iain: I know you mentioned in a couple of books, you say that the Enneagram is so good that it can actually be a curse in some ways because you can understand yourself so much better, you can understand the other so much better but in a way there’s a danger you keep this in the horizontal plane. Whereas the potential of the Enneagram is, okay, you understand yourself and the other and then, it’s the key, as we said earlier, the doorway, to much, much more.
Helen: And I've been on that trajectory for all of these years, but you have to start somewhere and I have trained, on a world wide basis, my school – which is Enneagram World Wide – we’ve trained thousands of people in many countries, many thousands in many countries, in our history of twenty six, or seven, years now. I am all for the people that have adapted, that have applied, the Enneagram typology, which is the horizontal, how people are different in their ordinary conditioned minds – nine different views of reality, each one accurate to the individual who thinks and feels in a particular way. Subjectively it’s truth and there is no other truth. Though you strive to understand the other truths, it is a concept. It is not something that you live with internally in your patterns. The Enneagram has been applied to many settings. Parenting – what could be more valuable, understanding your children? Psychological counselling – what could be more valuable than empowering a client to know themselves through knowing their type and then the conversation raises in level of information exchange, in a fabulous way. What’s wrong with people in couples counselling knowing each other’s type so that they can interplay more easily? These are marvellous applications. The business world has taken on many applications and I train people like this and I have no objection to the horizontal, unless it sacrifices the reality that I hold, that the very type structure that is adapted is the material, the raw material, for higher orders of evolutionary consciousness.
Iain: How did it work for you, in terms of you moving up the vertical? Okay, you started off probably on the horizontal like we all do and get excited about that. What were the gateways that opened for you on the vertical?
Helen: On a personal level it was that I got better at being an intuitive and I began to train people and this was very important because in training people to be intuitive you know there’s a lot of talent around. You know people that have had experiences and they were hungry for some kind of mystical training, they would come in for a series of classes, they’d get interested, I would teach them the Enneagram so that they would understand the mechanisms that they had and what had to recede. Fear has to go, Iain [laughs]. It has to be relaxed, so that they want to understand it as a structure, that it wasn’t so personal, really. It was a structural adaptation that a Six Type has and there are eight other structural adaptations. So I wanted them to know their type but I also wanted them to enter the state of mind where they could get received information. That was very important and for me in all of this, I noticed the endemic problem of what is now called spiritual bypass.
Iain: There’s even books called that now isn’t there?
Helen: And should be because it’s just coming into the public view. And spiritual bypass, I witnessed it and I probably had some of it myself because I was much better as an intuitive, than I was as a slightly immature Six.
Iain: So just to explain briefly, what is spiritual bypass?
Helen: Spiritual bypass is when you take on a spiritual practice and you find yourself attuned to it and you progress spiritually. So, this is just a simple image – on the cushion you’re free. The patterns of your identity are recessed and you’re in a state where life force is moving smoothly, which feels blissful. It’s the beginning of bliss. You’re in a state where your thoughts are not present, so any troubles, any opinions there, they’re not there anymore and you’re in a state of emptiness and silence, or you’re in a state of object contemplation if you prefer that path, where you’re in reverie and internalizing the object of your devotion which has a quality attached to it. If you meditate on a concentration object that is filled with love, then love is a quality, but that’s not the same as joy, or the same as other qualities of being because you can only do one thing at a time and you can’t switch in the middle. So the road to non-duality is approachable when you have someone who is adept, somebody who has done enough practice to get skillful means, somebody who is rewarded by simply going to the internal realms because you can’t not go there, it’s part of your self, it becomes part of your identity. And then you go back home and life is as problematic as ever.
Iain: So we’re talking about integration and embodiment of what we kind of taste and learn on our spiritual practice. Is that right?
Helen: I do, I do. I would call it reconciliation because you would have the best of your intellectual pursuits and your emotional, horizontal commitments and you would also have access to the terrain of higher qualities of being. I would call it reconciling because the best of the two aspects of the human being, the spiritual and the mundane, they come together but you can see each stream as independent from each other. I like that. But spiritual bypass is quite a bother because if you have done no psychological work, which is true in many people committed to a life long practice. Without psychological understanding of the type, you’re in a different territory, you’re back in the conditioned territory of your type. And the discrepancy is vast between these two states of mind, so the tendency is either to get grandiose, like, “I'm better than you because I have access to these personal domains” which may not be exhibited in your psychological behavior at all because that was back on the cushion, in a different state of mind.
Iain: So, this is a bit of a cheeky question but I'm going to ask it. Do you feel you’re basically free?
Helen: That is cheeky [pause]. Let’s see.
Iain: You don’t have to answer it, if you don’t want to.
Helen: You see, the way that I hold myself is, I'm in balance. And I’ve been written up a lot as an intuitive in the United States. My state is good, it’s demonstrable. It was a lot better when I was younger than I am now because I haven’t been doing sessions, day after day after day but when I was cranked up, I was very good. And you know intuitives have different kinds of capacities, so the capacity I had was to read into other people and to do past and future and I asked always for feedback. Over that thirty-five year span I got feedback from clients. If there was a prediction, I want to know. I want to know if I was projecting or not, so I would give audiotapes. I started out when it was reel to reel recordings, that’s how far back, but that was the property of my clients and I would forget very quickly what had transpired. But I asked for feedback and I always knew that I had done really well if the family members who were described as background characters in the tape for my client, if they all called up and wanted sessions. But the feedback was important to me and I've always been very disciplined about that because without feedback you can’t be certain and without certainty you can’t go deeper. And that was my commitment to that.
Iain: How does certainty feel?
Helen: Certainty in my inner planes? It’s very rewarding. So in the inner planes, I would say I'm more free than the way that I want to hold myself in the outer planes because my commitment is balance and I've never said I'm the best psychic in the world, or the best intuitive in the world – ever.
Iain: That’s the highest thing – balance. Yeah.
Helen: Because each intuitive has a Tour de Force and they’re much better at it than somebody else who’s equally competent in another area of focus. But I know the way between my psychological type, which I treasure because it’s the vehicle and refining the vehicle brings you into a better level of balance. Refining the vehicle brings you into better balance and I know the way back and forth between my prefrontals, limbic and reptilian brain… and the part of myself that is receptive. I know the way back and forth very well, so I would say I'm one of the more balanced people that I know.
Iain: Yes. You know it’s very interesting that the whole journey we’ve been on in conscious. tv, I think it’s six years now and we started off a lot with non-dual, Advaita interviews which were quite fascinating and then over the years we’ve become more interested in the whole embodiment and how one lives a life that we can call a free life, or embodied life, or a wise life, with the day to day existence. And it seems that, it’s almost as you hinted earlier, you know on the cushion, you can be clear and there can be non-duality…
Helen: And it lasts for a while.
Iain: …there could be peace, but you walk out the door and in the market place you have all these challenges and it does seem, this embodiment is such a key.
Helen: Yes and this is why I took the type structure in its conditioned state – the much despised ego structure, the much demeaned identity – that’s the axis that I follow, in order to stay balanced. So I would say my activity of focusing on my patterns as they occur and applying my practice as I notice I’m going on automatic because you can get very skilled with your eyes wide open, embodied as you would say, in a crowd – “I'm going on automatic, I'm starting to have resistance inside.” You can recognize the cues and signs because you’ve gone looking for them. And that’s the inner road map. You recognize them more fitfully and by relaxing the tension, in the vocabulary of felt-sense tension, in the vocabulary of emotional tension, in the vocabulary of mental tension, like becoming compulsive, or becoming paranoid, or becoming obsessive, or whatever – “I'm not going to do that now, I want to change now.”
Iain: And where does that decision come from?
Helen: It comes from the fact that you feel a whole lot better walking around embodied, if you’re not clutched.
Iain: So, it’s common sense in a way, isn’t it?
Helen: It’s… the body likes it! And the physician will now tell you, “go take a mindfulness based stress reduction class” because your blood pressure will lower if you pay attention to your signals. Now that’s just one very obvious application. It’s not about non-duality, it’s just about health, but it certainly speaks to embodiment.
Iain: Yes. One of the things, again, we talked about on the phone and I think this is worth just spending two or three minutes going through, is that all the things the mind is doing and it’s trying to do, almost on a constant basis, it’s either coming up with memories, it’s planning, it’s fantasizing, it’s being emotional. I've probably forgotten a couple of things but our minds all the time they’re on a little kind of journey and it’s this diligence, isn’t it, of coming back and seeing “hey, I'm off again – past, future, emotions, whatever.”
Helen: Well, that’s the training that brings you into intuition because the big question is “what is the observing state of mind?” If you can observe your mind being caught in memory, who’s observing? Who notices this? What aspect of your consciousness perceives this? That’s what you’re after and by witnessing these patterns as they unfold, the skillful means of the observing state of mind, or the witnessing state of mind, or whatever you want to call it – reflective state of mind – that we have the capacity to be able to observe the mechanics of our own process. Because you and I and anybody, could entertain a line of thinking, train of thought and you could tell the train of thought that you’re having, at the time that it’s transpiring and tell it to somebody else. That’s what psychotherapy does. You could have an emotion as it arises and begin to describe, and people do all the time in counseling, “well, this is what I'm feeling inside.” But what is the capacity to witness the arising of the structure of your own identity at the time that it occurs?
Iain: I’ll repeat that. So what is the capacity to witness the structure of your own identity as it occurs?
Helen: And that I feel is the wave of the future because this capacity for inner witnessing is trainable. I know that from intuition training.
Iain: Yeah. It’s like a muscle, you can build it up.
Helen: Indeed it improves with skill and practice. That’s the skillful means. And I don’t have to know – I think I do know but I'm not going to go into it now – what is the reflector, what is the observer, what is the witnessing, what is that function of brain that is installed in us? That is amazing to me. That we have this latent capacity that’s the most underused function of perception on the planet and it changes everything because you’re not identified with this set of thoughts. It’s like, “this is what’s happening and I'm separate from it. I'm separate from these different patterns in my mind.”
Iain: And you know you’re separate because you can observe it.
Helen: I can tell you about what’s happening inside of myself and you can do the same for me. Now from the perspective of neuroscience this is patterns being observed by a different structure, a different perceptual mode, from the perspective of spiritual practice now we’re getting somewhere because you can recognize this is the fruit of it – “I know when I'm going on automatic and I don’t have to. I have a choice.”
Iain: “I have a choice…” even though everything in me is screaming at the time to keep going.
Helen: No. It will not be screaming with sufficient emptiness and I can’t encourage you more Iain, you don’t have to be a Buddha to be able to shift your state of consciousness at will – no! That is what the tradition has informed us about because they didn’t know about neuroscience and science has come into the picture and psychology has come into the picture and we are not of the same kind of consciousness as when the Buddha was alive.
Iain: Yes, but do you know anyone that can really do that – to really catch something and not follow it even for a second or two?
Helen: Perhaps it’s a second or two, so what? Just so you come back. Why make it so absolute?
Iain: No, I think it’s the recognition of the pattern, you know it’s um…
Helen: It is actually first, recognition. That is huge. The second step is shift.
Iain: I can only speak personally; the second shift for me is determination, not to go with it. That’s the second point for me. I have to be sometimes very strong with myself.
Helen: Yes, I know but that’s counterproductive, you see because the will is not involved in letting go. The will lets go and then is not involved anymore. If you increase concentration, it becomes will based and that jettisons the necessary space and silence to be able to let go.
Iain: This goes back to your example earlier, yes, with the intuition. I understand, yes.
Helen: Yes, you can’t use your will. But the will… you see, [sighs] the much despised identity is a player. The identity is, “I'm determined to let go my suffering.” Because I think we’ll all agree there’s a generous amount of suffering in these patterns, these type patterns. “I am resolved not to use my will to overcome them,” that’s concentration – it doesn’t work right here. “I am resolved that when I notice at the time of the arising - or maybe a few seconds later, fine - but I have sufficient wherewithal, sufficient skill, to be able to love myself enough and to love my relationship enough that I don’t want to be on automatic with you because I love you.” I want to be receptive to you, the way I have been, the way I want to get back to the state of receptivity. The great cry is, “give me more intimacy.” Well, be open to it. But the second thing is and “I can’t force myself.” You see, that’s a good hearted person, Iain, that is struggling and trying to do it, but it is not effective. The letting go is everything because letting go makes space.
Iain: Yes, but you can’t do the letting go, all you can do is provide the framework for letting go. You can’t actually say, “I let go,” can you? Or can you?
Helen: No, but as soon as you see “I am letting go” internally reflecting on, “alright, here’s my will,” I'm jammed, my will is here, just relax into it. See, it’s all about progressive levels of relaxation on the horizontal plane of daily living. And that is Holy Work.
Iain: And as that takes place, then the vertical has more space. Is that correct?
Helen: What the vertical ascent is, is simply the relaxation of the type structure at a strategic moment and then you’re still aware. You’re still aware, like you are in deep meditation, on the pillow. You’re still aware. How do you know that you’re beginning to lighten up inside? How do you know and not interfere? Just accept what comes, accept what comes, letting go anything that intrudes. Accept what comes – that’s the vertical ascent. And it goes into qualities of being. And I’ll tell you a little secret that I've learned, if I have a couple of minutes left?
Iain: Yeah, you have more than two. We like secrets on conscious.tv, yes [both laugh].
Helen: There is in the Enneagram teaching a whole phase, very important phase, which I call the vice to virtue conversion and I know that ‘conversion’ is loaded with…
Iain: Okay, let me just think… the vice to virtue conversion, okay.
Helen: It means passion, or the emotional driving pattern. In our case, fear [both are Type Six]. For somebody else, pride [Type Two], or envy [Type Four], or avarice [Type Five], or all of them. So you have this driving emotional pattern, which is ingrained in you by habit and reinforcement. And you don’t like it. But you can recognize because you’ve trained, you know your type and you have a modest practice, not absolute but a modest practice. When, let’s say, avarice comes up, the Five would recognize “I'm beginning to feel that constriction of avarice and I want to leave the room. You know I'm trying to get out of it, I don’t like this.” Noticing that and relaxing into, going toward the place of suffering and contraction, instead of bailing, using the practice of relaxation into, and pretty soon it gets to be a plateau. And when it plateaus and you can’t relax into any further, but you still want to leave the room, you don’t leave it there, you go someplace in your body where you’re not tensed up but you stay, stay in the room and you find a place in the body that is not involved at all in this avarice contraction which is happening in a certain sector in your body. And then being fully involved in this, that is already free, it might be a limb, it might be the front of your face, it might be any part of your body that isn’t involved in the contraction. And then when you feel a little bit of letting go, you go back and there’s more space around the contraction. You work it. Now that is a body of work, I understand it came from Peter Levine. It’s a trauma reduction process.
Iain: I'm aware of this.
Helen: And it’s important for us in spiritual work.
Helen: Now they didn’t have this back then, in the tradition. Science has given us something. It is verifiable by machines that can measure your blood pressure now and its reduction by skillful means. The whole thing is so much faster now in its possibilities for us. It doesn’t take a very long time if you have enough motive to be able to say “I've had it with this contraction against reality.” And every type contracts in a different sector. Just touch a Two’s pride and they contract. Or just touch the vanity of a Three and they contract. These contractions, in the vocabulary of felt sense in the body, can be observed, it can be witnessed. In the same way that emotional… “I've been assaulted” contraction can be felt and recognized in the vocabulary of emotion. And certainly the easiest one to see is where is your attention drifting in the head? You see?
Iain: So, from the level of intuition who’s observing the observer?
Helen: I don’t want to get into that. It’s not of interest to me. The observer, I do believe, is a capacity to reflect reality as it actually is, rather than [as] it appears to be through Type filters.
Iain: It’s reflecting reality…
Helen: It only reflects. Ah… if that’s your question, that’s a good one. Reflection is a form of perception. It’s a faculty of perception, of human perception that operates by reflection, rather than conditioned apprehension through thoughts, feelings, sensations.
Iain: It just reminds me, I’m doing an interview with a couple of guys in two day’s time and they’ve written a book called “Godhead” which is a very dense book which I've read part of and one of the things they said, which was quite fascinating for me, was that actually consciousness needs the human race, this is what they’re saying, it needs awake humans, to be aware of awareness. Because without… and we’ve had other people on conscious.tv – scientists – that have said, “without the observer, actually form doesn’t exist.” And that’s a big leap from what we’ve talked about here, but it just came into my head…
Helen: I believe that, I believe that consciousness is so…
Iain: … conscious observation is so key, on so many levels.
Helen: Yes and it operates by reflection. That much I'm certain of.
Iain: Exactly, yes.
Helen: But on a more modest level, where it’s going is less important than becoming a vehicle of its use.
Iain: Okay. It’s about now; [a vehicle of] its use, now?
Helen: Being used. If consciousness wants to reveal itself, I better be open for it. And you see it’s a very modest… it’s very close to the Buddhist ideal. All we’re trying to do is to get to reality as it actually is, unfiltered by all of these conditions of pattern-like way of sorting information. Getting through the veil of illusion, which are these patterns, or polishing the mirror so that the reflector is able to perceive more and more subtle events in the world. I don’t care if it’s in the world, or it’s consciousness of God, or whatever. I don’t think in those terms. I think in the relief of suffering and the ability to have clarity and I know from my own experience that the past and the future are perceptible in the present moment. And things that are unknown to the human mind, to my mind, that are at a great distance can be described all inside of myself, by reflection. Now somebody else can explain, it, I just prefer to do it [both laugh].
Iain: Okay, that’s a great place to stop. Thanks, Helen. Thanks very much. You were very brave at times. I asked you a couple of not easy questions and I appreciate that you responded and thanks for coming onto conscious.tv.
Helen: I think you’re doing a great service actually to the community, to build these archives so that this time of exploration, which is so fruitful, will have a voice in the future.
Iain: Absolutely. It has a voice now too. So I'm going to show some of Helen’s books again. The first one that I read many years ago: The Enneagram in Love and Work. Great starting place, if you’re interested. Inner Knowing, which Helen’s talked about quite a bit. The Enneagram Advantage and The Pocket Enneagram, which again is a really easy starting place and she has other books as well. Thanks again, Helen.
Helen: Thank you.
Iain: And thank everyone out there for watching conscious.tv. We appreciate that too and I hope we see you again soon. Goodbye.
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