Essence and Ego
The word "Essence" refers to that which is the deepest core of you, who you truly are underneath any mood or self-image or belief or behavior. This definition of Essence, from the American Heritage Dictionary sums it up well: “the intrinsic or indispensable properties that serve to characterize or identify something; the inherent, unchanging nature of a thing.”
In the Riso-Hudson Enneagram teachings, we understand that each type is a particular quality of Essence at its deepest core or highest potential. You can think of it as each type having a sacred home, or representing an individual face of the Divine, or being one of nine basic colors / flavors / sensitivities of True Nature.
Tthere is no hard and fast duality of "positive" Essence vs. "negative" ego (or personality)—we are on an ego/Essence continuum all the time; thus, holding, understanding, and working with both ego and Essence are necessary for our unfoldment and growth. As A.H. Almaas, founder of the Diamond Approach, puts it, "The personality is not something that needs to die or to be thrown away; the personality needs to develop in time, to be refined, and integrated with the sense of beingness" (Diamond Heart Book Four: Indestructible Innocence, p. 69).
You can find some definitions for True Nature, Ego, and Levels of Development on my bio page.
What is the difference between ego and Essence? When we are in touch with Essence, we feel an all-encompassing sense of aliveness, connection, and well-being. This is distinctive for each type, and depends on the Essence or Essential Qualities / flavor of True Nature to which they are most sensitive. Imagine how we feel when we are in contact with Essence—with our holy ground, our most exquisite sense of God-communion, this most amazing, sacred, and treasured experience of the Divine. Now imagine how it feels when we cannot maintain that contact, but live with the only the memory of this potential, which is our birthright or True Nature.
With that in mind, we can also begin to understand how traumatic it really is to lose contact with this True Nature—a loss that happens during infancy, which Riso and Hudson refer to as "the primal catastrophe." This loss of contact with the Essential Quality to which each type is most sensitive causes each of the nine personality develop nine different strategies or compensations to try to recreate this contact with our deepest, most true self.
As Almaas says, "Understanding that the ego is a reflection, or an imitation, of a true reality makes it possible to connect to this reality" (The Pearl Beyond Price, p.18). This understanding can illuminate how our type motivations are a mix of divine yearning and ego questing. Seen in this light, the ego motivation is driven by a deeper motivation to regain contact with that which is most truly who we are, with that which we love the most, our sacred ground. Thus, the whole unfolding of personality has a sacred impulse at its core.
The following type descriptions illustrate how this happens. Remember that each of these types are aspects within each of us. It is difficult to describe in a few words the depth and breadth of Being that these Essential Qualities describe, so these brief descriptions may be thought of as a jumping off place for your own exploration.
Seeing the nine type manifestations in this way gives me more understanding and compassion for how we are all trying to reconnect with that which we see as most sacred and most holy—the deepest contact we can feel to our True Nature. Each type loses more and more touch with the specific Essential Quality to which they are most sensitive as they go down the Levels. Contact with the Essential Quality gets more and more occluded, and in an attempt to reconnect, the ego gets involved in creating an ersatz version of that specific Essential Quality. Unfortunately, the less healthy we are, the more distorted the attempt at recreating a connection becomes. But it is always a continuum. At any moment, we can wake up a little more and be more present, more in touch with Essence, or fall asleep a little more and lose more contact.
Type Four: Essential Identity, Depth
Type Five: Essential Illumination, Clarity
Type Six: Essential Awakeness, Guidance
Type Seven: Essential Freedom, Joy
The Essence Qualities of the Nine Types
This is my understanding of the Essential Qualities as taught by Don Riso and Russ Hudson. The Essence Qualities I present here for each type are not meant to comprise an exhaustive list—they are simply the ones that I have learned are most relevant to the generation of each type. The collages I offer here reflect my experience of each of the types as I explored them in myself.
Type Eight: Essential Strength, Aliveness
The Divine or True Nature is perceived as a sense of Strength to the Eight—like aliveness, immediacy, realness, confidence, power, robustness...When feeling connected, grounded, or resonating with Essential Strength, the Eight in me feels able to be heroic, courageous, self-surrendering, magnanimous, and empowering. I am one with Strength and this gives me a reason to live, a purpose, a sense of Being.
When the Eight in me feels disconnected from Essential Strength, I am driven to find a way to recreate this connection. For without a sense of Strength, I feel as if I am totally screwed! I fear being weak, vulnerable, dependent on others, without personal power. So, in orrder to try to feel strong again, my ego takes up the Life Script: "in search of impact" (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). By making an impact on my environment, I try to feel a sense of strength again, and thus the whole characteristic profile of Type Eight is born. In trying to feel back in touch with my Essential Strength,
- at the Healthy Levels, I try to be strong, direct, and decisive;
- at the Average Levels, this translates as hard-driving, no-nonsense, dominating, and intimidating; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes dictatorial, ruthless, terrorizing, and destructive.
And the attitudes and behaviors the Eight is manifesting are all because of the loss of contact with Essential Strength! It is a desperate attempt by the ego to recreate this Strength, which the ego can't do...But I don't know this, so I keep trying to find what feels like a true sense of strength and aliveness to have contact with what I know to be my birthright, Essential Strength.
Type Nine: Essential Wholeness, Unity
For the Nine in us, True Nature feels like being connected, at peace, and in harmony with all that is. Like the Julian of Norwich quote, the Nine in me knows that in everything, with everybody, and everywhere: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." There is a sense of substantiality, of grounded relaxation, of dynamic solidity, and peacefulness. When feeling connected, grounded, or resonating with Essential Wholeness, the Nine in me has an abiding presence, is balanced, nonjudgmental, attuned, stabilizing, and peacemaking. I am one with Oneness, the all-embracing unity and wholeness of All.
When the Nine in me feels separated from Essential Wholeness, I need to find a way to recreate this connection. For without a sense of Wholeness, I feel cut off from everything. I am separate, fragmented, insubstantial, completely annihilated—there is nothing left if I am not one with the Wholeness.
This is so painful and terrifying that the ego response is to try to find a way to feel that Wholeness again by following the Life Script "in search of harmony" (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). From this search of harmony and peace, which feels like the Wholeness, the whole personality profile of Type Nine unfolds. In trying to have wholeness and peace of mind, because I feel cut off from Essential Wholeness, I do things to not disturb the peace:
- at the Healthy Levels, I try to be mediating, optimistic, and peacemaking;
- at the Average Levels, I become accommodating, comfort-seeking, wool-gathering, and resigning,
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes neglectful, unavailable, and shut down.
The Nine is me is manifesting these attitudes and behaviors all because of the loss of contact with Essential Wholeness! As I drop down the Levels, it becomes an increasingly desperate attempt by the ego to recreate this Oneness, which the ego can't do...But I don't know this, so I keep trying to recreate a sense of wholeness and peace of mind in order to try to feel connected to what I know to be my innate Essential Wholeness.
Type One: Essential Goodness, Sacredness
True Nature is a sense of Goodness and Sacredness to the One—it is as if my whole being were organized around an alignment with all that is good, all that is right, all that is true. There is a sense of an upward verticality to my Being, an alignment between being grounded in the earth and flowing up toward the heavens. When feeling in contact with Essential Goodness, the One in is wise, impeccable, conscientious, compassionate, and responsive. I am one with the Goodness, the Truth, the Sacredness of Being.
When the One in me feels disconnected from Essential Goodness, all my energy goes into trying to find a way to recreate this connection. For without a sense of Goodness, I have no way to know what is right, what to align myself with, how to be good. I feel afraid that my unconscious feelings and impulses will lead me astray, and impair my reason.
So, I attempt to follow the Life Script of "in search of perfection" to bring me back home (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). The fear of being wrong is too much to bear, so from following this Life Script, the whole characteristic profile of Type One is born.
- at the Healthy Levels, I try to be reasonable, responsible, and principled;
- at the Average Levels, I become striving, self-controlled, and judgmental; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes self-righteous, hypocritical, and punitive.
And the attitudes and behaviors the One is manifesting are all because of the loss of contact with Essential Goodness! It is a desperate attempt by the ego to recreate this Goodness, which the ego ultimately can't do. But it feels like the only chance I have, so I keep trying to find what feels like a true sense of alignment and integrity, to have contact with what I know to be my birthright Essential Goodness and Sacredness.
Type Two: Essential Love, Sweetness
The flavor of True Nature that Twos feel most sensitive to is Essential Love. When the Two in me feels in contact with this, I feel a sweet, yummy, delicious interconnection within myself and with everything. We are all swimming in an ocean of love together. I am one with Essential Love and this allows me to love unconditionally, to be compassionate, generous, and nurturing.
When the Two in me feels cut off from Essential Love, I can't bear the loss, the sense of separation from this sweet, divine Love, and I fear being without Love, loveless. This is so painful that the ego steps in with the Life Script "in search of closeness" (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets).
I feel if I can just create closeness with others, a loving connection will be re-established. I think I need to create this love or it will not be available for me or anyone else. So, I try to be a source of Love for others so that I can feel that Love myself. If I am generous, supportive, loving, thoughtful, empathetic, ... maybe I'll feel contact again. Maybe then I'll feel that deep sense of Love at the core of my Being. So, as we look at the Levels of Development, we can see how the Two tries to create Love:
- at the Healthy Levels, I am loving unconditionally, empathetic, and nurturing;
- at the Average Levels, I become demonstrative, possessive, and overbearing; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, I become manipulative, entitled, and emotionally consumed.
All of this because I am trying to follow my Basic Desire in order to recreate a connection to my True Nature, Essential Love! I want desperately to feel contact with this sweet Love that is the source and connection of all things and the only way I know to find this is to try to create it. But the ego can never do this—all my other-directed actions will only create an ersatz version of Essential Love which doesn't satisfy.
Type Three: Essential Value, Glory
True Nature is imbued with the flavor of Essential Value to the Three. When I feel in contact with this, I know that no matter what I do in the world, my life, my beingness has value and meaning. I know my own and others' preciousness, gifts, and radiance, the authentic expression of divine potential. Contact with Essential Value allows me to be truly sincere, admirable, gracious, and worthwhile.
When the Three in me feels cut off from Essential Value, a fear arises that I am worthless and deficient, and I fear that this lack will cause me to be rejected by others. So I start working my Life Script "in search of vaildation" in order to feel my value again (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). I start doing things that others will find value, by creating value in the world. I work on being the best at whatever I take on, I develop myself and my talents, I show the world what I am good at. All in the hope that if others mirror my value back to me, that I will feel in contact with it internally again. We can see how this shows up in the external behaviors and attitudes as we consider the Levels:
- at the Healthy Levels, I am genuine, outstanding, and accomplishing;
- at the Average Levels, I am becoming performing, appropriate, and self-promoting; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes deceptive, scheming, and relentless.
This all develops because I am trying to follow my Basic Desire in order to feel some kind of connection to my True Nature, to my Essential Value! I strive continuously to feel contact with my own divine preciousness, my own authentic and true Value, but the only way I know to try to feel this is to get others to admire and esteem me. But this will never work—all I end up with is a façade, an externalized image of success and admirableness.
Type Four: Essential Identity, Depth
Essential Identity is the flavor of True Nature the Four feels most sensitive to. When the Four in me is in contact with this, I know that I am somebody—that I am a unique and beautiful human being. There is a sense of deep intimacy with myself and others, and I am able to see the incredible beauty, originality, and revelation that each person, including me, is. I am one with Essential Identity and this allows me to be engaged, self-renewing, life-embracing, and inspired.
When the Four in me feels cut off from Essential Identity, from the Divine, there arises a great fear that I am nothing, a nobody, with no significance—as Russ says, God could look down and not even see me...
Thus, in an attempt to create a feeling-sense of Essential Identity, I try following the Life Script "in search of identity" (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). If I can find things about myself that are unique, and explore the breadth and depth of my personal, individual feelings, and develop an image that stands out, maybe then I'll feel contact again. Maybe then I'll feel jazzed, aligned, and connected to my Divine Identity...So, as we look at the Levels of Development again, we can see how this longing manifests externally:
- at the Healthy Levels, I am introspective, sensitive, and expressive;
- at the Average Levels, I become dramatizing, romanticizing, temperamental, and self-absorbed; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes hateful, tormented, and despairing.
All of this because I am trying to follow my Basic Desire in order to recreate a connection to my True Nature, my Essential Identity! I want desperately to feel contact with my own divine nature, my own unique identity and I know no other way to do it than to try to create it. But the ego, ultimately can't do it—at best it can create an approximation, and at worst, it can lead me to despair of ever being in touch with it again.
Type Five: Essential Clarity, Illumination
For Type Five, my Essential Nature feels like contact with Essential Clarity and Illumination. There is a recognition of Reality, Gnosis, an experience of "aha" in which all things suddenly become exquisitely clear and knowable. I am part of this great Illumination, as is everyone else. The ground of knowing is constantly unfolding and illuminating everything, and being one with this grounds and brings me into contact with all things.
When I feel I've lost touch with Essential Illumination, I fear I have no way of knowing what is true and real, that I am not intelligent enough to undrestand the world. So, the Life Script "in search of mastery" kicks in (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). I try to recreate a sense of contact with Essential Illumination and Clarity by trying to be intelligent, perceptive, and visionary. Maybe I can think my way back to that clarity... So the Levels show us the behaviors and attitudes that are born from this attempt to get back in touch with Essential Illumination:
- at the Healthy Levels, I am pioneering, smart, and innovative;
- at the Average Levels, I become studious, conceptualizing, and argumentative; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes isolated, horrified, and imploding.
Regardless of how I try to think my way back to Essential Illumination, I can never find it by pushing my thinking mind. The most I can do is create a facsimile—trying to be smart by studying and observing will never get me back to Gnosis, the part of True Nature I feel most attuned to.
Type Six: Essential Awakeness, Guidance
For Type Six, contact with Essential Awakeness is a sense of knowing that I am available, alert, awake to that which appears on my path. This Awakeness is the ground that holds everything—to be wakeful means that nothing can "go wrong" because I am awake and ready to meet life, with no need to fear being unprepared. Being awake means that I can show up in the moment with whatever is needed, that I, awake, am enough. I am part of this unfoldment, part of this awakeness, part of this secure ground. This feels like the Divine, my True Nature. I am this, and I am enlivened by it, grounded in it, and one with it.
When it feels as if this Awakeness and Guidance falls out from under me, I no longer feel safe or know what to do and where to go. So, I try to find my way back by following the Life Script "in search of ground" (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). I maintain a stance of being alert, vigilant, hard-working, always trying to figure out what is safe and supportive. The behaviors and attitudes, again, vary depending on my psychological health:
- at the Healthy Levels, I am reliable, alert, and committed;
- at the Average Levels, I become dutiful, worrying, defensive, and suspicious; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes panicky, unreliable, and paranoid.
But no matter how hard I try to recreate a sense of Awakeness and thereby feel secure, I never succeed in getting back to that amazing feeling of being Essential Awakeness. My ego cannot create this—it can only create a false imitation of the real thing...All my vigilance, all my keeping track, all my loyalty, all my questioning does not lead me back to what I hold most dear.
Type Seven: Essential Freedom, Joy
Contact with Essential Freedom is a sense of open-ended consciousness, the unlimited possibility to know, experience, and appreciate all of life. This Freedom is limitless and doesn't reject or hold on to anything, but allows everything to creatively arise and unfold in awe. This aspect of True Nature feels like home to me and undergirds the entire, amazing, ever-evolving world full of Joy.
When it feels like I've lost touch with Essential Freedom, I feel constricted, trapped, unfulfilled, and frustrated. Life is no longer full of satisfying options, potentials, and possibilities.
So, to try to recreate this sense of freedom and joy, I follow my Life Script "in search of experience" (Riso-Hudson, Core Dynamics Sheets). I am spontaneous, future-oriented, and anticipating, in order to feel contact with that unlimited possibility and freedom. However, the harder I try to do this, but harder I have to try, and this causes me to move down the Levels:
- at the Healthy Levels, I am satisfied, enthusiastic, and engaged;
- at the Average Levels, I become variety-seeking, self-distracted, and dissatisfied; and
- at the Unhealthy Levels, this becomes insatiable, reckless, and overwhelmed.
In trying to find my way back to that sense of Freedom, I get farther and farther away from it, feeling more and more dissatisfied. The ego can't do it—all my planning, anticipating, and pursuing of options can only create a limited version of the real Freedom and Joy which I so desperately seek.
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