Introduction to the Alchemy of the Enneagram by Russ Hudson


The popular Enneagram has become familiar to millions of people, and it is no longer a surprise to learn that a new friend or acquaintance knows his or her Enneagram type. Many are reading online threads and watching podcasts to learn their “number.” But even as the popularity of the Enneagram expands, the understanding of its true purpose and intent often becomes diluted and vague. The question of what we can learn from our type, and how we can use this knowledge for our development and healing, is not always present. The origins of the system come from spiritual, contemplative traditions, and the whole point of learning one’s type was not to make a definitive statement about a person’s identity but to reveal to them a central pattern or distortion that drove most of their problematic behaviors. To understand the Enneagram on this level takes years of learning and practice and is not something acquired through short-term study. Of course, we all have to start somewhere, and learning our core Enneagram type can be a marvelous launch into a journey of self-knowledge and maturation. But we would be wise to realize that such a journey is measured in years, not weeks, and it requires lifelong dedication to a transformation of our lifestyle.

The same could be said for the process of recovery from addiction. While the basic tenets of recovery and of Alcohol Anonymous’s Addiction Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions seem straightforward enough, knowing how to navigate the many traps and potential pitfalls along the way requires a great deal of experience and wisdom derived from that experience. Breaking the grip of an addiction is not merely the act of refraining from the addictive substance or behavior. There is a process of understanding and healing the underlying emotional issues that drove the person toward addictive behaviors in the first place. Knowing how to be with one’s underlying suffering, and later, how to help others navigate their early traumas and challenges, is no small feat and goes well beyond comforting cliches and sayings. I cannot guide you somewhere I have not been.

This is where Michael Naylor’s work comes in. You are holding in your hand what is, to my knowledge, the first significant book on using the Enneagram in the treatment of addiction. While it might be surprising that no such book has appeared before this, it is good to consider that this work is the result of two major fields of understanding: the Enneagram itself and the various methods of treating and healing addictions. As we have seen, both fields of endeavor appear to be basic and fairly straightforward; that is, “addicts just need to toughen up and stop taking their drug of choice,” and “the Enneagram is just a description of nine types of people. Which one are you?” In fact, understanding either field is a vast undertaking that requires years of learning and experience. We are fortunate to have this book, as The Alchemy of the Enneagram in Transforming Addiction is born from Michael’s long and profound apprenticeship in both fields.

I have known Michael for many years, and I can tell you that he has the needed learning and experience to tackle this huge subject. He has been studying the Enneagram for decades and has become a masterful teacher and guide for those seeking to understand this amazing tool in greater depth. He went through the entire training program that Don Richard Riso and I offered through the Enneagram Institute and familiarized himself with other Enneagram approaches as well. Both Don and I were struck by his passion for learning, his integrity, and his sincere wish to help others. So, when we were looking for some potential teachers to join us in the journey of bringing a more comprehensive and healing approach to the Enneagram to the world, we chose Michael as one of the people we felt could convey the essence of what this work was truly about. He taught with us and on our behalf for well over a decade and has subsequently become one of the most trusted and experienced teachers in the field. Never one to rest on his laurels, Michael has continued to learn about the system, to revisit assumptions, and to find better ways to communicate the core teachings of the work connected with the Enneagram.

There are few people on the planet who know the work that Don Riso and I did as well as Michael. He knows our teachings inside and out and is particularly skillful in conveying the meaning and purpose of Don’s “Levels of Development,” which are key to using the Enneagram for psychological healing and growth. This book presents these ideas with clarity and compassion, and as such, The Alchemy of the Enneagram in Transforming Addiction is an excellent primer on our work. Beyond this, Michael has customized the teachings, changing some of the language and emphasis, to use these tools more precisely for the work of recovery. I find his changes helpful, and they will no doubt make the work more accessible.

Make no mistake, this book is a hands-on, direct, and muchneeded exploration of this topic. I am certain it will become a standard text for counselors of people in recovery as well as for those on their own journey to sobriety and freedom. While the focus here is a practical look at how the deeper inner work of the Enneagram can be of invaluable assistance to the process of recovery, the implications of this work pertain to everyone. We could say that the fixations of each of the nine Enneagram types represent core patterns of addiction, playing themselves out endlessly and in a variety of ways.

The Enneagram, in its original sense, was never about putting people into categories or boxes but rather was a teaching to facilitate the observation of the core of human suffering in each person that drives their more compulsive behaviors. Coming from spiritual and contemplative traditions, a central idea behind the Enneagram is that people are in a lot more suffering than they realize and that our ego is a product largely of the attempt to manage that suffering. It was originally a study of the ways in which we become caught up in habitual patterns of thinking, emotion, and behavior that are essentially defensive in nature—a way of numbing us from our core distress. It is not an enormous leap from that perspective to seeing the implications of this approach for the treatment of addictions.

Part of the great gift of this book is that Michael helps us see the relationship between various addictive behaviors and the underlying suffering that is driving them. He further shows us that not only do the nine Enneagram types offer insights and methods for addressing this core suffering but also that different types are helped by different methods. He methodically takes us through the nine types, offering tips for recovery, potential pitfalls, and scenarios that can lead to relapse, and showing that while there are some universal principles to the recovery process, there are also significant differences in what helps each type stay on track with their healing.

In this respect, Michael’s long experience as an addiction counselor is evident and of great benefit. For each of the nine types he describes both inner and outer processes, illuminates some of the challenges in the early stages of recovery, describes some of the most likely causes of relapse, offers exercises and practices, and provides suggestions for counselors or loved ones to support a person of each particular type in recovery. Of particular value are his suggestions for each type in reframing ways of thinking and feeling that led to addictions and show another way forward. Further, he explains the nature of the “inner critic” patterns for each of the nine types and describes ways to counteract its negative and discouraging influence.

Part of the power of this book is that Michael Naylor knows this process from the inside out. He has been in recovery himself and explored a variety of methods and teachings to continue the process and to support his ongoing sobriety. In this respect, he comes across here as a wise older friend—someone who “knows the ropes” and is utterly free of judgment about any part of the journey. While some of the material might be seen as technical, he conveys it with lucidity and warmth, and the reader may well feel that they have a good traveling companion at their side. Nothing feels abstract because this work was born “in the trenches” and has been tested in real-life experiences.

On a personal note, I can share that when I was first involved in working with the Enneagram, I, too, was battling addictive tendencies and was engaged in twelve-step practices as part of my journey. When I met Don Riso, we drew great inspiration from the Steps and were surprised to learn that there are common roots between the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions and the teachings behind the Enneagram. We shared our own journeys of healing with each other and educated ourselves about the work of recovery both in the twelve steps and in the broader psychotherapeutic community. All of this influenced our work with the Enneagram, and our early book Enneagram Transformations arose from our own grappling with the fourth step, often viewed as one of the most difficult parts of the twelve-step journey: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” We realized that this was exactly what work with the Enneagram asked of us, and we explored the ways in which knowing our Enneagram type pattern might help fellow travelers in the work of recovery meet this challenging step.

 In this sense, The Alchemy of the Enneagram in Transforming Addiction feels like the early work Don and I did coming full circle through Michael’s brilliance and dedication. Much of what we did in those early days grew out of our own struggles and our wish to be truly free. We sensed then, and I still feel, that human beings are capable of so much more than we usually allow for ourselves. In the Enneagram tradition, we learn that beyond the painful patterns of personality lies our essential nature—the ground of our soul and spirit—and that we are in this world to grow and mature this deeper layer of our humanity. This is the source of our wisdom, compassion, courage, love, and many other qualities. We also learn that a person who has been through the fires of transformation is, in a sense, reborn as a person of virtues, a person capable of living spiritual values here in the world and contributing something healing and evolutionary to the human species.

For many of us, the idea of becoming an awakened person of kindness and virtue is of great appeal, but the journey begins with addressing our distress and the ways we have learned to numb ourselves to that pain. This is the heart of the recovery process, and it is also the heart of the Enneagram journey of transformation. It is all fundamentally the process of becoming what George Gurdjieff, the man who brought the Enneagram symbol to the attention of the modern world, referred to as a human being without quotation marks.

I know personally that Michael Naylor has been on that journey most of his life. He knows it well and has learned how to convey it to others. He has been through the fires of inner work and has guided many others through crucial elements of this process. At long last, he has put the wisdom and hope of that journey down in writing and is sharing it with the world, and with you. I trust this book will become a good friend to you and that you will come to appreciate Michael’s wisdom and great heart as much as I do. Many blessings on your journey of recovery, whatever its nature.

Russ Hudson, Copenhagen, Denmark, September 27, 2022

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