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3 reasons why the 3 centers of intelligence matter


In the world known as the Enneagram, some people – new and old enneagrammers alike – dismiss, ignore or downplay the importance of the 3 Centers of Intelligence. I am concerned about this, so I decided to write about why the 3 Centers of Intelligence matter so much. Here’s why:

Reason 1 | to heighten awareness
To use the Enneagram to know and accept yourself, to interact and work more effectively with others, or to use the Enneagram for personal, professional and spiritual growth, awareness is a crucial component. If you are not aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and the patterns that emerge within these three areas or between them – think cause and effect, such as this particular thought creates that specific feeling or this particular behavior creates that specific thought – how can a person develop awareness? And awareness means awareness in those three areas: thoughts (Head Center), feelings (Heart Center), and behavior (Body Center).

To add additional insight into the above reason – the importance of the Centers of Intelligence in heightening awareness – is the fact (and it is a fact) that many people become confused between and among the responses from the Centers. For example, “I didn’t like that he did that!” Is this a feeling or a thought? It is actually an ill-distinguished combination of the Head and Heart Centers. The feeling might be anger or sadness (this goes far deeper than the “I didn’t like….”), anxiety or even a combination emotional response that includes anger and sadness or anxiety and anger. A pit or ache in the stomach might simply be indigestion (thus, in the Body center), but it could also be the somatic aspect of a feeling of anxiety or anger. In sum, focusing on each Center separately adds great clarifying information that is extremely useful in heightening awareness.

Reason 2 | to engage in self-development
Part of the beauty of the Enneagram is its ability to facilitate focused growth. In other words, a person’s Enneagram type reveals his or her most common and poignant growth areas, and it also contains highly impactful development activities specifically for people of that type. What makes the Centers of Intelligence so important is that there are specific development activities for each type, some of which focus on the Head Centers, others on the Heart Center and still others on the Body Center, also called somatic activities. Without understanding the importance of the 3 Centers and how each works within us based on our type, it would be very challenging to know what activities to use for each Center. Instead, we tend to rely on activities designed for the Center in which our type is formed – that is, Head Center for 5s, 6s,and 7s; Heart Center for 2s, 3s, and 4s; and Body Center for 8s, 9s, and 1s.

The problem with relying on the Center from which our enneatype is formed for our development is this. As Albert Einstein observed: “We cannot solve our problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.” What is true about developing with the Enneagram is that the Center in which the issue exists is often not the best Center for loosening its hold. Imagine a Six using the Head Center to stop worrying! Better is to use the Body Center to achieve calmness and centeredness. Imagine a Nine trying to access what he or she wants and feels through the Body Center alone. Better is to use the Heart Center to get in touch with the deep desires. Imagine a Four trying to achieve emotional balance only through the Heart Center. Better is to use the Body and Head Center together to achieve this equilibrium.

Reason 3 | to achieve integration
When I teach the Enneagram, I always say that the purpose of learning the Enneagram isn’t to know your type number. So what if you are a One, a Five, or an Eight? The real purpose for learning the Enneagram and then using it for development is what is called “personality integration” or “psycho-spiritual integration.” Integration refers to the degree of access we have to the productive and full use of each Center of Intelligence and the alignment and interface or interaction between and among the Centers. The Head Center’s purpose, for example, is for objective analysis, astute insight, and productive planning; the Heart Center’s purpose is for empathy, authentic relating, and compassion; and the Body Center’s purpose is for taking effective action, steadfastness (holding one’s ground), and gut knowing.

What the Enneagram does do is to illuminate how, by enneatype, we specifically misuse each of our Centers and also provide development paths to change our misuse so we can gain more full access to each Center. For example, Sevens misuse their Head Centers by over-planning (positive possibility planning); Twos misuse their Heart Center by emotional manipulation, and Eights misuse their Body Center by taking excessive action.

For Sevens, an excellent development activity to counteract over-planning is to stay with feelings and explore them, as the over-planning is often the result of masked anxiety. Better to explore the emotional world (Heart Center) and lessen the need to over-plan. For Twos, an excellent development activity is to get more in touch with their body sensations (the Body Center) and to identify through their sensations what they truly feel and want. This lessens the need to get needs met through emotional manipulation. Finally, Eights can use their Heart Center to explore their feelings, often those that lurk behind their more easily expressed anger, to reduce their need to take immediate and excessive action. Getting in touch with their vulnerability allows Eights to identify and work with what their action and anger is covering; often this is their fundamental vulnerability.

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7 years ago

Hey Ginger! Well said… I can also share from Sari and my experience teaching it this way just this past week-end during our WholeBody Focusing Meets Integral workshop that people really get it somatically when they learn how to listen with their whole body. Powerful messages that can be the nucleus of transformation and they come from within…



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