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Zhang Li and her shame story. She’s a 4/3.

The Enneagram: A Model for Ongoing Mindfulness and Healing

During 2019 I’ve devoured several books on the Enneagram, an ancient spiritual road map that helps a person grow lighter and gain clarity once they’ve owned their lingering darkness and confusion. The Enneagram road map and the Buddhist framework synergize well together, as their practices, tools, and insights inform and reinforce one another.

The Enneagram, generally believed to have been created by BCE mystics across different religions, was “rediscovered”  and shaped during the latter decades of the 20th Century by psychological and spiritual thought leaders. The road map displays nine different “types” of individuals, each of which is centered in a portfolio of healthy and unhealthy tendencies.

And while each of us has aspects of all nine types hard-wired into our personalities and habits, it’s generally agreed that one type describes us better than all the others–and humbles (and even temporarily disillusions) us far more than the other eight.

Here’s a brief snapshot of each of the 9 types’ “deepest needs,” based on consistent themes in the most widely read Enneagram literature:

  • Type 1 – the need to be perfect
  • Type 2 – the need to be needed
  • Type 3 – the need to succeed
  • Type 4 – the need to be special or unique
  • Type 5 – the need to perceive or understand
  • Type 6 – the need to be sure, certain, or secure
  • Type 7 – the need to avoid pain
  • Type 8 – the need to be against
  • Type 9 – the need to avoid


Based on my study of the Enneagram and taking the established Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI® version 2.5), I most resemble a “Type 4 with a 3 wing”, or “4/3.” A “wing” is one of the adjacent types that you reflect the most after your main type.


No other “personality type” model has “nailed me” as thoroughly as the Enneagram. More specifically, through studying Type 4/3, I’ve confirmed that I’m at my happiest and healthiest when exhibiting these traits:

  • Presence (mindfulness)
  • Equanimity (that non-attachment and emotional balanced referenced as the fourth of the Four Immeasurable Minds/Noble Abodes)
  • Originality
  • Authenticity
  • Creativity
  • Innovation
  • Discipline
  • Wit
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-renewal
  • Inspiration
  • Discretion
  • Objectivity or Realism
  • Boundaries
  • Embracing and resting in solitude

Conversely, I’m at my worst—and experience the deepest sufferings of shame—when I’m:

  • Restless or bored with the ordinary moments of life
  • Convinced something is missing, no matter what’s going on
  • Believing I’m special or unique compared to other people and, paradoxically, being simultaneously envious of other people
  • Isolating myself or withdrawing from others
  • Frustrated, moody, melancholy, temperamental, angry, or resentful
  • Overly self-indulgent
  • Self-absorbed, pretentious, emotionally demanding, and dramatic (including being a martyr)
  • Over-identifying with my feelings
  • Fantasizing
  • Overly nostalgic
  • Anxious about the future
  • Excessively idealistic
  • Fearful of being unloved
  • Perfectionistic
  • Overly flattering or manipulative of others, in order to earn their acceptance of me
  • Denying my own needs
  • Trying to fix everything
  • Excessively critical of others


Closing Thoughts


In a nutshell, I’m actively seeking to heal my shame, and build new thinking habits, through mindfulness meditation upon my body, feelings, and perceptions. During this meditation, I often integrate the Four Noble Truths, Noble Eight-fold Path, Three Dharma Seals, Four Immeasurable Minds/Noble Abodes, the Three Jewels of Refuge, the Four Nutriments, and my Enneagram Type 4/3 awareness.


Some days I’m consistent with these practices; other days, I blow them off or forget about them. Sometimes when I practice I feel great afterwards, and other times nothing really seems different.


What’s crucial, I’ve learned, is to let go of the desired outcomes of practice and focus on practice itself. Overall, I’m happier and more peaceful now than I was before my deeper dive into Buddhism and the Enneagram. So, I guess you could say that even while my embedded shame remains powerful, my practice “is working” because the shame is starting to heal.


Slowly. And stubbornly. But starting.


I’m keeping in mind that becoming increasingly aware of how much shame is truly entrenched in my body, feelings, and perceptions, can feel like an increase in suffering. It can seem like I’ve stuck at the First Noble Truth: Suffering is real. Suffering is a part of living.


But shame is loosing its grip on me, and will continue to do so, because I’m not settling for just the First Noble Truth. I’m continuing to the Second, the Third, and Fourth. And I’m determined to walk the full Noble Eightfold Path with grit and resilience, because I refuse to continue to feed the shame and cause the suffering.


From the conventional perspective, I’ve got a long way to go. But from the vantage point of deeper reality, each step of my journey is its own destination. Healing is available right now.


Growing Your Strengths

I’m a Nashville-based writer, talent strategist, and certified executive coach. On this website, I primarily write stories featuring a diverse group of professionals that includes Zhang Li and Ana. Their stories offer insights and tips on applying mindfulness, learning agility, and storytelling that will help you love your career and enhance your quality of life.

These characters face familiar pain points: nonstop change, accelerating technological disruption, and the collective “noise” that grows louder each day. The impact, for these professionals and for many of us, has been confusion, distraction, and stress.

Until, however, each of these individuals chooses to do something new: practicing mindfulness, learning agility, and storytelling habits, and growing them into strengths…strengths that respond to change rather than just react.

Strengths that you can develop as well.

Don’t settle for the confusion, distraction, and stress. You’re stronger than that, and capable of much more.

Choose to do something new. Today. Start with this post, check out my books, and join our learning community to receive exclusive content each month with timely guidance on applying mindfulness, learning agility, and storytelling.