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Somatics and the Enneagram | An Interview with Peter O’Hanrahan

The more I work with people with the Enneagram and development, the more I have concluded that bodywork and somatics is the most underemphasized and a missing core ingredient in our development psychologically and spiritually. I have also noticed that many people shy away from working with the physical aspects of their character structure.So I decided to go to my “go-to” person on somatics and the Enneagram (really, on just about everything Enneagram) and try to persuade him to let me interview him on the topic and to write a 9-blog series on the subject, one blog for each enneatype. Peter said yes, so this is the starting interview:

Ginger | Tell me about your background, particularly as it relates to the Enneagram and also to somatics and bodywork. What is the best word to use when describing this?
Peter |
The most descriptive terms are somatics, bodywork and the body-based therapies. As for my background, I came to California from Maryland in the mid 1970s to study body therapy and holistic psychological and spiritual work. California was really where much of the cutting edge work was happening (and maybe still is). Then 3 years after I came, I heard about the Enneagram and began my study of it, and it was natural to relate the Enneagram to all the body therapy I was doing.

Then and now, the Enneagram allows me to tailor bodywork to the specific person and their type issues. To know the types from the perspective of 3 Centers of Intelligence is incredibly useful, important, and necessary!

I knew Helen Palmer as a teacher of intuition and the Enneagram and she suggested I learn more about it. The 1st public Enneagram class in Berkeley opened in 1978 and was taught by Kathleen Speeth, PhD who had worked closely with Claudio Naranjo in his SAT program. This led to 8 years of study with Dr. Speeth at the same time as I studied with Helen. I started my 1st Enneagram study group in 1981 and soon after started leading panel classes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ginger | What is the role of somatics and bodywork in our development?
Peter |
If we draw on Gurdjieff’s model of the 4thway, we can and need to use methods or approaches that utilize all 3 of our Centers: mind, emotions, and the body. This is the only way we fully develop. Being present in our Body Center helps us be grounded and healthy. But also, the type structures are seated in the body; these structures are actually neurobiological patterns: feeling, sensing, our nervous system, and our emotions. Although we like to consider ourselves rational beings, much of our lives comes directly from our emotions and instincts. Emotions are part of our physical experience. The Emotional Center and Body Center have a much longer history in our evolution as human beings than our Mental Center. And in childhood, long before there’s a cognitive structure to sustain a coherent point of view (at age 5-7), we are already developing emotionally and instinctually and, in this way, developing a sense of self. In these early years, our sense of self is formed not so much by our minds, but by our other functions: emotional and instinctual.

Ginger |
How are somatics related to the Enneagram types and development of type?
Peter |
Each type has a different somatic pattern; there are habits of mind and emotion for each enneatype, but also somatic (body) patterns. Not every person of the same type fits the patterns exactly, but they are useful generalizations.

I learned these over years of working with people in my private practice as a body therapist, and also in the groups I led. To be effective as a body therapist, you have to make your approach aligned with the person’s character structure and their emergent evolution. Type is not only about personality; it’s about character structure and this understanding is essential. Character structure is deeper and more pervasive, akin to a person’s core architecture. As therapists or body-therapists, we have to adapt our method to the different structures because not everyone responds to a given approach, no matter how good it is. Adaptation matters. For example, I have to approach Eights very differently from Fives. Their patterns of tension and “holding” are very different.

People can develop only so far without doing the somatic work, so if you are serious about spiritual and psychological work, somatic work is essential.

Disembodied spirituality is a serious problem. You can access certain states but they are not integrated in daily life. Non-integrated people can be quite immature personally and not so good in relationships because they are only partially developed. In a monastery, maybe this works – that is, if you are solitary and don’t have to relate to others so much – but not in the regular world. Our unworked parts, the parts we seal off by escaping into spirituality – this is also called a “spiritual bypass” – are put into the unconscious or shadow. When people do this, the shadow roars back with a vengeance, and the shadow resides or lives in the body.

Ginger | Why do you think people (or at least this is my impression) avoid the body piece of the development work we do?
Peter |
In our culture the body is often held in the shadow because it’s where we might experience physical limitation and painful emotions. People don’t want to feel the scary stuff and they lack support to do this. Instead, the body becomes objectified. People in our culture are so externally oriented, they want to stay on the go, so they avoid slowing down to be present to their internal emotions and sensations.

Ginger |
What 3 words of somatic advice do you have for all of us?
Peter |
Well my main advice would be: notice when you are holding your breath. Breathe fully. This unlocks everything. This is how we learn to feel our feelings and physical sensations, which opens the door to deep change in our type structure.

Peter O’Hanrahan
is an Enneagram teacher, body therapist, business consultant, and Senior Member of the Enneagram in Business Network (EIBN) who teaches internationally and also works closely with the Enneagram Worldwide and the Palmer/Daniels Enneagram Professional Training Program. You can visit his website at EnneagramWork.com | POhanrahan@aol.com

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This is splendid and so true. Notice how many of the early teachers of the Enneagram are head types. Wonderful to gain new perspective of all three centers and their influence on change. Can’t wait to read about specifics. Thanks!

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