The Confusion of Essence and Instinct & The Enneagram of Passions

enneagram essence essential qualities inner work instincts instinctual drives passions self-preservation sexual social Oct 25, 2023

The Confusion of Essence and Instinct & The Enneagram of Passions

Human beings have a need to be conscious of themselves, to be themselves in a full, intimate way. As many of the world’s spiritual traditions have suggested, the greatest limitation on consciousness is our derivation of identity from the drives of the body. While this has led to dangerous and destructive misunderstandings that have typically cast the body as a source of moral evil and encouraged dissociation from our embodied experience, there is a kernel of truth in this.

When we become identified with the instinctual drives, the powerful life force of the instincts no longer serves the well-being of the body but becomes infused into the ego, making the ego feel living, vital, and substantial at the expense of the actual well-being of the body and our inner life. This mistake of identity, rooted in the relationship between Essence and our instinctual life, is the core of what puts us to “sleep” to our Essential nature. When we transform the relationship between Essence and Instinct, we take a first step into a wider reality. The road to Self-Remembering requires a confrontation with what it means to be consciousness in an animal body, bringing Essence and personality into their right relationship with one another.Ego, Essence, and Inner Work

The personality is the part of us that is conditioned by experience. It’s a psychological structure that helps us to learn how to be autonomous and independent so that we can meet our basic instinctual needs. It supports us in learning the skills and methods necessary to get by in the world, and it helps us to have a coherent experience of ourselves so that we can forge relationships with other people. “Ego” is a term to describe the experience of being identified with the personality. Ego means “I am”, and it attributes the sense of identity, the feeling of “I”, to the personality structure.

The personality can be contrasted to Essence, which is the innate part of our character, the core of authentic self. When we speak of being present, it is Essence that can be present or not. In contrast to the personality, Essence is more subtle and less concrete, but  paradoxically feels more “real.”

Inner work is the effort to make Essence more prominent and substantial in our awareness so that consciousness can “wake up” and directly experience itself as Essence rather than personality. However, Instinct and the personality are not enemies of Essence. Essence needs to be supported by the personality and instincts, and through inner work, they must find their proper relationship to one another.

The Confusion Between Essence and Instinct

The Instinctual Drives are the expressions of the body’s life force. They are motivational drives that provide the wisdom and energy for attending to our basic biological and emotional needs. In the context of the Enneagram, we study the Instinctual Drives because they are the clearest representation of where physical and psychological structures impact and limit consciousness. Our consciousness becomes restricted when we are identified with instinctual agendas. We don’t become identified with pure physical appetites like hunger or lust, but we can become identified with the motivational drive to care for our physical well-being, with the drive to elicit the sexual choice of a potential partner, and with the drive to create relationships and increase our sense of belonging. 

Caught in identification with the instinctual drives, we lose the sensitivity required to hold an awareness of Essence. Without an inner life vibrant enough to take in impressions of Essence, we lack the ability to “see through” instinctual agendas so that they don’t co-opt the totality of our attention and energy

Identification with Instinctual motivations results in experiencing conflicts of the ego as a matter of life and death, preoccupying us with an agenda that seems far more urgent than contact with our own Being. The independent “I” becomes lost and takes the motivations of the instinctual drives to be its own. This state of affairs means that instinctual goals take on exaggerated, grandiose, and narcissistic importance, as exemplified in the widespread cults of money and safety, sex and sexual vanity, and acclaim and status. . Normal human psychology devolves into an almost religious fervor for instinctual resources rather than being used as a support for a relationship with the soul. Authentic sources of identity and meaning, like presence, love, and consciousness, are almost entirely neglected.

Unconsciously, instinctual resources come to be viewed as the keys to actualizing the Essential self by obtaining desired lifestyle, sexual partners, and esteem or status. Generally speaking, the association of Essence with Instinctual Resources occurs in the three Instinctual Drives in this way:

  • Through the Self-Preservation Drive, there is a sense that Essence is actualized through a vital, strong body, a lifestyle of abundance, and the feeling of being deeply at home through holding, safety, and support. If we are able to achieve an abundant, secure, and dynamic life, the unconscious assumption goes, we’ll be able to actualize our potential. 

  • In the Sexual Drive, there comes to be an unconscious conviction that Essence is realized when someone is strongly attracted to me, when they are deeply turned on and enlivened by me. I experience my own Essence in the glow of their attraction or we share in an Essential experience through our sexual passion. 

  • Through the Social Drive, there is a conviction that when my deeper self is seen, accepted, and loved by those with whom I feel a deep sense of affinity and resonance, I’ll experience Essence. 

All of these things are wonderful, but making Essence contingent on any external resource is a way lock in our addiction to investing our energy and identity in our instinctual patterns, and to assure our continued alienation from Essence. If our sense of estrangement from Essence is profound enough, the emotional, psychological, and spiritual weight of Instinctual aims becomes grandiose and distorted.

The heart longs to experience itself as Essence, but the ego cannot recognize the difference between this core Essential need and Instinctual needs. Therefore, when Instinct and Type are taken together, we gain a clear picture of the crux of our personal and specific pattern of how Essence is forgotten and consciousness is enmeshed in Instinct.

The Enneagram of Passions

One of the chief signs of this confusion and the suffering it produces is our Enneagram Type’s Passion. The Passions are crucial to our understanding of both the Enneagram Types and the psychological consequences of one’s identification with the Instinctual Drives. The Passions, along with the Virtues, Fixations, and Holy Ideas are one of four of Oscar Ichazo’s original “Enneagons” from which Naranjo derived his model of the Enneagram of Personality.

When the heart sources its identity from the instinctual drives, it registers abandonment and begins to react in accordance with the Passion, the specific emotional quality of suffering of our Enneagram Point. The word “Passion” is derived from the Greek word for suffering, Pathos. The ego comes to believe that Essence is conditional upon acquiring the right instinctual resources, which is bound to only perpetuate a sense of lack, emptiness, and frustration. The ego holds the conviction that the suffering of the Passion is only resolved through the finding fulfillment through our Dominant Instinct. The preoccupation with this psychological activity renders deeper layers of Being opaque.

The Passions are the “emotional engines” of the Types that draw their energy from the instinctual drives, the core egoic reactivity resulting from the perceived loss of Essence. They are like misguided mimicries of Essential qualities, attempts by the ego to approximate Essence while remaining separated from it.

Noticeably, the Passions share the names with the “Seven Deadly Sins” of Catholicism: Sloth, Anger, Pride, Envy, Avarice, Gluttony, and Lust, with the addition of Vanity and Fear. This is because the Seven Deadly Sins stem from the wisdom teachings of the desert fathers and mothers, the early Christian monks, ascetics, and hermits of the deserts of Egypt. These seekers sought to understand what patterns and psychological features were distracting their attention from a singular focus on the divine, and from their insights, perhaps drawn from even earlier Neoplatonic and Ancient Egyptian teachings, Evagrius Ponticus, a fourth century Christian theologian, recorded eight logismoi or “tempting thoughts.”

Evagrius employed concealed language to provoke readers into having to put work in to understand his meaning, so while there are eight explicitly-mentioned logismoi, there are clues indicating there may have been a hidden ninth. A century after the Catholic Church suppressed Evagrius’s work, it was recovered and modified, erasing Vanity, corresponding with Point Three, and the possible hidden logismoi belonging to Point Six for the modern list of seven. Oscar Ichazo recognized the value of the work of Evagrius and incorporated it into his Enneagram of Personality.

You’ll also likely have noticed that the meaning of the terms doesn’t always match how they’re commonly used in modern parlance. Avarice usually means greed, but as a Passion, it represents a withholding of oneself, for example. Each term is stand-in for a highly complex psychospiritual dynamic, so instead of updating the names, I prefer to keep them as a link to the Enneagram’s roots. The point is that this inquiry is part of a long and ancient tradition.

Point Eight is Lust, a distortion of Essential Power. Lust represents chronic exertion and pushing against others and the environment. It becomes the personality’s forcefulness around meeting instinctual needs.

Point Nine is Sloth, a distortion of Essential Harmony. Sloth represents the personality’s means of self-forgetting through instinctual preoccupations.

Point One is Anger, a distortion of Essential Integrity, Anger represents the personality’s self-control based in obtaining the “right” instinctual resources.

Point Two is Pride, a distortion of Essential Love. It represents the personality’s lack of transparency of its own instinctual motivations.

Point Three is Vanity, a distortion of Essential Value. It represents the personality’s narcissism about its capacity to obtain instinctual resources.

Point Four is Envy, a distortion of Essential Depth. It represents the personality’s reaction to instinct-based psychological activity being an inadequate foundation for identity.

Point Five is Avarice, a distortion of Essential Discovery. It represents the personality’s fear of inadequacy in dealing with instinctual needs.

Point Six is Fear, a distortion of Essential Truth. It represents the personality’s fear of not getting instinctual needs met.

Point Seven is Gluttony, a distortion of Essential Freedom. It represents the personality’s attempts to use instinctual resources to find inner fulfillment.

It’s important to understand that even though the Passion represents the core of suffering, it doesn’t always feel negative. Even if we feel momentarily happy, when we’re disconnected from Essence, our happiness will merely be a compensation for deficiency rather than authentic satisfaction. It is still seen as suffering from the point of view of Essence. 

The Passions are the primary way we invest attention and identification in our ego structure. The quality of suffering of the Passion is so deep, and intense and that it requires a strong inner life to remain present when it is evoked. The Passions keep us invested in the false self of the ego. When they  override and infuse themselves in the Instinctual Drives, it constitutes the primary activity that provides the Ego with a false sense of Being and substantiality.


Living in Two Worlds

Bringing presence to the passions and the unconscious suffering that fuels them is one of the most direct and powerful ways of deepening our heart’s contact with Essence. As they are a result of the emotional identification with the instinct, the Passions are really the “guardians” between being stuck and fixated in our habitual self-image versus being turned toward authentic awakening. 

It is usually through unexpected spiritual experiences, repeated failures, or unfulfilling successes that the wish to work takes hold in us, a wish that is born from the loss of faith in the personality and instincts as the source of our satisfaction and identity. People often need their instinctual ambitions taken away in order to find inner freedom.

Crises of health, or relationships, or spiritual disciplines like fasting or solitude are all means by which instinctual ambitions are thwarted and humiliated, subverting consciousness’s faith in ego patterns so it may come to better recognize itself apart from psychological activity. This means coming to a recognition that the agendas we had previously bought into as paths to meaning aren’t sufficient and that transformation of consciousness itself is necessary if we’re to connect with that source of potential and meaning we intuit is residing within.

The cultivation of an inner life begins when we are able to hold ourselves in two worlds at once – the world of instinct and personality with its practical demands and concrete objectives, and the world of Essence. Essence is not something we achieve, nor does it come about by earning spiritual points or as a result of spiritual practice. Spiritual practice helps the ego to relax enough such that our attention can become still and subtle enough to take in impressions of Essence. The personality must be strong enough to focus our attention so that not all of our inner energies are given over to our reactions and identifications, even in the face of disruptions and difficulties. If we are able to come to this, we can attend to our instinctual needs in ways that are fulfilling and genuinely self-regulating, and we can attend to our Essential need to be conscious of ourselves without conflating the two.

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