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The Enneagram and Transformation:
Interview with Dr. Joseph Howell
The ego impairs our sense of reality and our ultimate success. With the enneagram, we see the other person or ourselves that are the antidotes to the problems of the ego.
The founder of the Institute of Conscious Being is Joseph Benton Howell Ph.D. Dr. Howell is a graduate of Samford University (B.A.1971), Yale Divinity School (MAR 1974), The University of Virginia (Ph.D.1978), and Fellow in Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School (1978-79). He is an International Enneagram Association (IEA) Accredited Professional Teacher.
Dr. Howell has been practicing Clinical Psychology since 1980 in Anniston, Alabama. He began teaching topics in spiritual development in the late eighties and has traveled extensively presenting conferences and seminars in such disciplines as dreamwork, the Enneagram, levels of spiritual development, techniques in spiritual direction, and the theology of Henri Nouwen, Joe’s mentor at Yale Divinity School.
Aided by his wife, Lark Dill Howell who presents her own topics at conferences, Joe is in demand as a conference presenter all over the country. His book, Becoming Conscious: The Enneagram’s Forgotten Passageway is a ground-breaker in the area of consciousness achievement through the ancient Enneagram. Over a lifetime of treating patients and teaching spirituality, Joe has vast experience in psychology and spiritual growth and change. Through the years, he and Lark have undergone their own spiritual transformations that were brought about by the implementation of the spiritual consciousness of which they teach. Joe wants to share this accumulated knowledge and years of study across many disciplines.
He also brings to the Institute other experienced teachers who are interested in teaching vital areas of spiritual consciousness and transformation. This way, even more people can be aware of this knowledge, more students can be trained as teachers to pass on this wisdom, consciousness can be raised, human suffering can be diminished and healing can occur in the individual as well as in the collective.
More about Dr. Howell and ICB at https://www.instituteforconsciousbeing.org
Read the Interview Transcript
Hugh Ballou: Greetings, everyone. It’s Hugh Ballou. We’re back for another episode of The Nonprofit Exchange. We’re approaching 300 interviews with people who have great things to share. So far, we haven’t had any duplication. We’ve had people talk about the same topic with different things to say about it. My guest today is no exception to that.
Dr. Joseph Howell will be talking about- Let me let him talk about it. Dr. Howell, welcome. Before we get into the content today, tell people who you are and why are you doing this work with the Enneagram?
Dr. Joseph Howell: You said it, Hugh. Thanks for having me on this wonderful podcast that you’ve done. I didn’t know you had done nearly 300. That’s quite an accomplishment.
I’m a clinical psychologist. I’ve been in private practice since 1979, so I’ve been around the block in psychology. But I’ve always had a spiritual understanding of psychology. The Enneagram has brought the worlds of psychology and spirituality together for me in a very profound way. In my studies of this amazing ancient spiritual tool, I have unearthed some tremendous similarities between it and Christianity, and between it and the process of spiritual growth. Unlike a lot of people who study the Enneagram as a personality typology, the way I study and teach it is more or less for spiritual growth purposes, not for finding out what one’s Enneagram type is.
Hugh: There are some people listening that might not understand what the Enneagram is. Could you give us a quick overview? It’s very complex, and there’s a lot to say.
Dr. Joseph: It’s a very ancient set of organized beliefs that was discovered at the beginning of the last century in a monastery in northern Afghanistan by a man named George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. He brought that system from that monastery, it is believed, to the West. In looking at it, he found, and we learned, major things about the totality of our lives and of the universe.
To put it all down into layman’s language, the Enneagram is a set of nine huge energies that are on a clock, not a time-telling clock, but in a circle as a clock with 1-9 as the hours. Every time slot on that clock represents one of the major energies of humanity and of people. For example, one of them is Power. Another one is Love. Another one is Benevolence. Another one is Creativity. Another one is Wisdom. Another one is Kindred Spirits. What Ivanovich Gurdjieff put together was an understanding of what these energies are, and that everybody in the universe identifies most primarily with one of those energies.
Hugh: You said primarily. I’m a 1. I’m married to a 6. We explore what that energy is daily, looking at that. I’ve worked with people who have done Myers Briggs and other personality tools. This is different in my sense. People tend to want to think, “This is who I am, so that’s what it is.” Are we trapped into one perspective, or does this just help us have self-awareness?
Dr. Joseph: Actually, the beautiful thing about the Enneagram is that when one discovers their type, that is actually their ego type, which is their false self, what we present to the world. If you have discovered that you’re a 1, you come off as knowing the right thing to do, being the classroom monitor, having a sixth sense of what the best path is to follow, and the beautiful thing of discernment, which is a tremendous gift. But that is what we have found for all the nine types as just our surface self. The Enneagram tells us how to make the trip from one of those energies on that clock to another energy that we are really most like, and that we were born into being, and that contains the qualities of our soul. That is an amazing insight to be able to get. It’s like coming home.
Hugh: Wow. You really define this in a way that I have heard about the Enneagram and look at thoughts from another source about it every day. Just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding it. What you just did in a succinct manner is give me an overview of it.
You’re educated in psychology. You had a private practice. When did Enneagram come into your life? When were you first introduced to it?
Dr. Joseph: I’m still in my private practice; I see patients every day. But I was introduced to the Enneagram when I was in my 30s by the Jesuits in Cleveland, Ohio, with who I studied with. The major ones were Patrick O’Leary and Maria Bezing, who taught me the Enneagram from the first book on the Enneagram written in the United States. It still is existing today. That book was what began my journey, and what they taught me about that book.
Hugh: You bring the spirituality of being Christian, as I do, to your work. Does the Enneagram work with people of any faith, or is it centered in Christian philosophy?
Dr. Joseph: What it is is truth, which is in every religion and every denomination if you please. It doesn’t speak to anyone religion. However, the more I’ve studied it, the more I see how it reflects Christianity in particular because that’s my private, personal spiritual practice. It reflects Christianity in amazing ways. For example, I told you about those nine energies.
By the way, your soul energy, if you’re a 1, would be found at 7, which is Joy. You were born as a very joyous soul. In this half of your life, you’re probably recontacting that. In our second half of life, we do the journey back to our origins, like salmon swimming upstream.
To go on with your question, in Christianity, one of the major parts of the gospel that makes Christianity so outstanding is in Matthew, the Beatitudes. If you read the Beatitudes closely, you can see that Christ spoke nine different Beatitudes. He gave nine different blessings. After unpacking these, I found that he blessed nine groups of people for going to their soul out of their ego. Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be the Children of God. That would be for Ennea type 9, the people who go to 3 with their peace-loving and actualizing, manifesting, so to speak, peacemaking in the world. You have nine different Beatitudes from Christ that perfectly match the nine Ennea types. In Paul, you have nine gifts of the spirit and nine fruits of the spirit, which also are very consistent with the nine energies of the Enneagram. All built on the law of three. That amazing study threw on tremendous light for me.
Hugh: Go on. Say more about how the Enneagram has impacted you personally. When I have studied the work of Murray Bowen, and of Burns and Bass, who created transformational leadership, and of Richard Rohr and others, it impacts my sense of who I am, but it also empowers me with new visions of how I can be present in the world. Talk about the Enneagram specifically and how it has impacted your life.
Dr. Joseph: I’m certainly glad to share that. The ego type that I identify with would be ego type 6, which is found in the mind. That ego, like I told you yours has, is given to fear; suspicion; blind loyalty to others, especially if you feel they will take care of you; being connected with others, and having a good support system, but maybe in a more dependable way. Most 6’s look for an alpha figure, a mentor, or a chief of their tribe who will protect them and take care of them. By mid-life, you realize this isn’t going to work because this isn’t really true. Nobody is going to take care of us. No matter how secure we are and how many burglar alarms we have, there are still going to be dangers in the world.
It opened up for me, what does the Enneagram tell me to do? Looking at it, it told me to go against my arrow to the 9, which is a relaxed soul, a soul that understands the universe is in hands that are much greater than me, that I am being held by these hands. If I relax into the knowing that all is well, I will not have the anxiousness and fear that was ruling me in my ego when I thought I was in charge of my life. It changes everything when you find out how you really came into the world. Then you go back to that, which takes spiritual practice and study. The ego isn’t gone; it’s still there on our shoulders every day. You better be scared of this, or in your case, you better tell them the right thing to do. But the soul, once we have access to it, is the alternative for being caught in our ego.
This works on the collective, too. For example, churches have church egos. They can be telling other people what to do or giving things people all day out of needing needs or having power over others in dominion. Type 7, being happy all the time. it’s just always happy. That is the ego of the church. Likewise, states have the ego. Organizations have the ego. The United States of America has an ego. But if we can find out what our organization’s soul is, we come to understand the essential qualities that really began our organization that has morphed into much of an egoic way of being in the world. Going back to the soul qualities of our own nature, and in organizational structure, the soul qualities of our organization, we are grounded, we are transparent, we live from the truth, we live from a total 360-degree view of what’s going on around us. We are not myopic or ego-centric.
Hugh: Wow. That’s a whole lot of sound bites. You explained some complex concepts in an understandable way, Dr. Howell. Thank you. Let’s go back to ego a minute. I’m not sure, those of us who are not psychologists or psychiatrists understand ego. But you pretty accurately described a 1. I’m not just a 1 in the Enneagram, but I’m the older brother of brothers. I don’t know why people don’t see that I know the answer…
Dr. Joseph: That’s what all you ego 1s say. The problem is it can depress you.
Hugh: How do we take that information and not go into some negative spin with it? How do we take that information and learn from it and be a better self by understanding the Enneagram and who we are?
Dr. Joseph: I hear what you’re saying, Hugh. All of this talk about being your better self and your best self, that is not a quickly done deal. Isn’t that why we were put here? To slowly become the fulfillment of the seed which was planted in us at our making. It’s not about being a bad person who flips into a good person because they found out the Enneagram. It’s about using the Enneagram as a tool to become more conscious every day of what reality is, what faith is, how to love deeply, what Christ’s message is, on loving somebody else as we love ourselves. You know, that is the biggest challenge I believe to ever have been given humanity: to love others as we would love ourselves. If that happened, this planet would not be in jeopardy, and we would not just be 30 seconds away from nuclear decimation.
Hugh: Yo. I set you up for something that you handled really well. Thank you so much. It’s not about being right or wrong; to me, it’s about discovery and learning. I hit 75 this year, and I’m just beginning to learn some things. It’s a grand adventure to learn. How do people learn about the Enneagram? There’s a website you have, DrJoeHowell.com. But you also have this Institute for Conscious Being. Tell us about what people will find at either one of those.
Dr. Joseph: The one you mentioned is for my private practice, which is not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about the Enneagram and how I teach it and the place that I teach it. That is THEICB.org or Institute ForConsciousBeing.org. That is a school that my wife and I have founded that teaches the Enneagram in very plain and simple and spiritually transformative terms.
If anybody wants to learn these, on the website, you can take your typology test, which will help you to understand your ego type, which will lead you to understanding what your soul type is. This school, you can apply online, and you can come and take our courses in person, or we have them in hybrid form. The school is done three times a year with homework assignments in between. On those three times, it’s for a long weekend, beginning on Thursday evening and going until Saturday afternoon. It’s done about an hour north of Birmingham, Alabama at an Episcopalian conference center called Camp McDowell. If anybody would like to know anything, they can email us, and we can tell them any specifics that they may want to know.
Hugh: On that website, I bet there is a Contact Us page. Is it okay if I add your email address?
Dr. Joseph: Please do.
Hugh: I know secondhand because in transparency my wife is a part of that process. She is dancing in the air when she finishes, and in between. She is finding great value from that. I am inspired because she is inspired. Who are candidates for that? I was surprised to find at the meal tables people of all kinds of professions doing this. It isn’t for clergy or psychologists or for one kind of person. Who is it for?
Dr. Joseph: People searching for their true selves and for truth, and who want to live in that space.
Hugh: You are continuing in private practice. How do you use the Enneagram with the people in your practice?
Dr. Joseph: My answer right off the bat is: How can I not use it? It’s the most beautiful spiritual tool besides meditation and discernment. If it is that most beautiful tool, it is part of my psyche, my soul and spirit. When I’m with people, I can sense some of the energies that they are trapped in, that are making them feel up against the wall, depressed, anxious, desperate, sad, lonely, rejected, excommunicated. When you know these energies, you understand how to talk that language.
People say, “How did you know how I felt that way?” It’s because of two things: experience and the empathic understanding of that energy that they are living out of. Then in the actual treatment, you as a therapist minister to this person by speaking to what you know is the corresponding soul of that ego that they are trapped in.
If you had come for example as an ego type 1 who was very depressed to me because the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and nobody is listening to you, and your son has gone off to the Himalayas without a job, and your daughter is a stripper in a nightclub, and you come to me and say, “I have failed. Life has failed. The world has failed.” I wouldn’t speak to you in a way that agreed with you. I would certainly understand the pain of it. But I would then begin to speak to you from Enneagram 7, which is joy. That is the soul pundit of 7. I would be speaking to you of hope, optimism, the fact that you’re not in charge of this world, that laws make it run in ways that have nothing to do with you because these laws preexisted you and will still keep things running after you. That’s holy perfection. You can rely on holy perfection, even though that includes just a lot of ugly mistakes. I would begin to speak to you about the beauty of some of the mistakes. Some of the things that could be optimistic about your son being out of pocket and your daughter going down a path that ultimately, she probably will find is not her true self. We would be able to get you back in the energies that are most comfortable for you, which are the energies of hope, joy, and optimism.
Hugh: That’s so inspiring. It would occur to me that it would be a benefit to communities like maybe a Sunday school class or a community association or couples to work through the process together to get that common understanding. Is that right?
Dr. Joseph: Perfect. As a matter of fact, if I could be a little bit personal here, my wife and I have suffered the loss of a child. That was a very difficult time. In our spiritual recovery, of course, we employed the spirituality of the Enneagram. We saw the profundity of it, and how it allowed us to put our Christian faith into a practice that we had never been able to employ before, and to give life to that Christianity in ways that went far beyond what we had ever imagined. We thought, well, you know, if this is healing us, could this help heal the world?
How are we going to heal the world? We can’t cast a spell on the world. We can’t stop wars, we can’t save the planet, we can’t save the climate problems, we can’t save the nuclear threats, but we can teach this system one by one that will put our faith on steroids and raise consciousness in people so that we understand that nothing we do is alone. We are all vitally connected. Vitally connected. I am giving ripples now, and you, on this, that is connecting to people we do not even know. Even in China, what happens in this hemisphere is very important, and vice versa. But when we look at ourselves as separate, egoic entities that we must defend and tell other people they have got to be like us to be accepted, that’s why we have wars. That’s why we can’t love one another as we love ourselves.
One by one, we are trying to make a dent in this, Hugh. We are giving our all to teach this so other people who come and are students of ours can take it and go to those Sunday school classes or those community meetings and give other people access to this wonderful language and way of walking in faith in this world.
Hugh: That is profound. We have these short interviews. We can’t possibly talk about everything about a topic. But what you’ve done is given us a really clear perspective of the Enneagram and why it’s important, and why it’s important to me. This is precious. Anything you want to add about the Enneagram? We are coming to the end of our time here. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would like to share about the Enneagram before we end?
Dr. Joseph: I just feel real complete about our conversation today. I feel the wholeness of it. I just would like to extend my gratitude to being asked by you to share this, which is so important on my heart.
Hugh: Dr. Joseph Howell, thank you for being our guest today on The Nonprofit Exchange. You have impacted a lot of people, and we’ll make sure it impacts a lot more. Thank you.