Welcome to The Spiritual Enneagram: Nine Ways to Be Divine! Much of the material on the Enneagram Personality System that is currently available focuses on helping each of us uncover the underlying view of reality that keeps us broken and suffering. In other words, it emphasizes the negative aspects of our way of looking at the world.

Have you ever wondered about the positive aspects of each Enneagram type, the ways in which each personality embodies a different facet of the Divine? Then this blog is for you! Here, I've revised the traditional "Holy Ideas" of the Enneagram into a system called the "Sacred Ideas." This system details three different traits for each type, each of which serves as a different lens onto the Sacred.

Although each of us comes into this world with a tendency to embody just one type - and therefore just one set of Sacred Ideas - this system helps us see how we are called eventually to embody all of the different sets of Sacred Ideas. As you read about the divine qualities of each type, I encourage you to make a practice of visualizing how you might embody them in your own life.

This blog consists of:

(1) an introduction to the system,

(2) a brief exposition of the metaphysical framework in which each of these sets of Sacred Ideas fits,

(3) a summary of the spirituality and Sacred Ideas of each type, and

(4) longer posts that present sets of quotes from a variety of spiritual traditions which illustrate each of the Sacred Ideas. In the following list, each Sacred Idea has its own link. Simply click on the one(s) you want:

Type Nine:
Sacred Backdrop, Sacred Self-Forgetting, Sacred Bliss

Type Eight:
Sacred Omnipresence, Sacred Expanse, Sacred Resistance

Type Seven: Sacred Novelty, Sacred Flow, Sacred Freedom

Type Six: Sacred Faith
, Sacred Suspense, Sacred Community

Type Five: Sacred Omniscience, Sacred Detachment, Sacred Integration

Type Four: Sacred Origin, Sacred Romance,
Sacred Longing

Type Three: Sacred Discipline, Sacred Confidence, Sacred Deception

Type Two: Sacred Grace, Sacred Compassion, Sacred Praise

Type One: Sacred Goodness, Sacred Perfection, Sacred Repair

Enjoy the journey!

Stephen Hatch

P.S. If you don't know your Enneagram type, here is a good place to find a short test. Within that link, there are instructions on how to buy a longer, more thorough test ($10). An especially accurate (and simple) Enneagram test crafted by David Daniels at Stanford University can be found here. If you want a good introductory book on the Enneagram (with cartoons), go here. If you are a psychotherapist or their client with an interest in what works best for each Enneagram type, a friend of mine (Carolyn Bartlett) wrote a book which you can access here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Type One - Sacred Repair

Sacred Repair

The third Sacred Idea of Type One is Sacred Repair. This is the active process of raising all of the worldly sparks of Sacred Goodness and Sacred Perfection up to the Divine Presence, thus reconstituting the Primal Whole. Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) is especially skilled at realizing that this awareness of union with the infinity of God is necessary to help repair the world.  Without this awareness, One energy can become self-righteous, judgmental and shrill.


Energy in the form of light is trapped in gross matter.  Sparks of holiness are imprisoned in the stuff of creation.  They yearn to be set free, reunited with their Source through human action.  When we . . . use something in a sacred way or for a holy purpose, . . . the captive sparks are released and the cosmos is healed.  This liberation of light is called the Repair of Creation . . . And every human action therefore plays a role in the final restitution.  Whatever we do is related to this ultimate task: To return all things to their original place in God.  Everything a person does affects the process.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner


Hasidism contains the awareness that all things are God’s good creation.  God has, so to speak, put something of the divine goodness in everything.  There are holy sparks in all created beings.  The human task is to see these things and to liberate the divine sparks in creation by praise, love, and joy.  In this view, all creation is waiting for us to come along and liberate the divine element in it, so that everything becomes one great blaze of glory to God.  There’s nothing better for monks and contemplatives than this approach; this is how we need to look at creation.

Thomas Merton


Early Hasidism developed a doctrine called “strange thoughts,” or “lascivious thoughts during prayer.”  According to this teaching, one sure sign that we have attained a high level of prayer is that invariably we will be assailed by embarrassingly wicked thoughts.  Our first inclination is to reject them at once, but, as everyone knows, this only gives them even greater power over our prayers.  We must, counsels the Baal Shem, realize that such thoughts are in reality only rejected parts of ourselves that sense this time of great closeness to God and come out of our unconscious yearning for redemption.  As Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye, a student of the Baal Shem Tov, used to teach his students:

                        One must believe that the whole world is filled with [God’s]
                        presence, and that there is no place empty of God.  All human
                        thoughts have within them the reality of God . . . When a strange
                        or evil thought arises in a person’s mind while he is engaged
                        in prayer, it is coming to that person to be repaired and elevated.

Hannah Rachel of Ludomir . . . carefully explained . . . that [one] must learn how, as the Hasidim say it, to “find the root of love in evil so as to sweeten evil and turn it into love”
. . .

We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done – not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it.  We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do.  This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

We lose our temper because we want things to be better right away . . . We hoard material possessions because we imagine they will help us live more fully.  We turn a deaf ear, for we fear the pain of listening would kill us.  We waste time, because we are not sure how to enter a living relationship.  We even tolerate a society that murders, because we are convinced it is the best way to save more life.  At the bottom of such behavior is something that was once holy.  And during times of holiness, communion, and light our personal and collective perversions creep out of the cellar, begging to be healed, freed, and redeemed.
Rabbi Yaakov Yosef of Polnoye taught: “The essence of the finest teshuva [the returning to one’s Source in Heaven] is that ‘deliberate sins are transformed into merits,’ for one turns evil into good . . .”

The conclusion of true teshuva, returning to our Source in Heaven, is not self-rejection or remorse, but the healing that comes from telling ourselves the truth about our real intentions and, finally, self-acceptance.  This does not mean that we are now proud of who we were or what we did, but it does mean that we have taken what we did back into ourselves, acknowledged it as part of ourselves.  We have found its original motive, realized how it became disfigured, perhaps beyond recognition, made real apologies, done our best to repair the injury, but we no longer try to reject who we have been and therefore who we are, for even that is an expression of the Holy One of Being.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner


Jewish mystics realize that the Repair of Creation is possible only when we view ourselves as partners of God.  More accurately, we fulfill this role from within God.  That is, we are the hands of God.


In one of the final scenes in the film Manhattan, Ike, the Woody Allen character, challenges his friend Yale to be more self-critical about the ethics of his personal life.
Yale resists the challenge. 

“You are so self-righteous!” Yale screams.  “We’re just people.  We’re just human beings.  You think you’re God!”

Ike shrugs his shoulders and says, “I gotta model myself after someone.”

As lofty, impossible and arrogant as it may sound, that is the beginning of the Jew’s spiritual mission: Imitating God . . . Being like God is the twin of the notion that we are made in God’s image.  God is holy. “You shall be holy, for I the Eternal am holy” (Lev. 19:1) . . .

Jews imitate God . . . More than we realize, God’s actions inspire Jewish faith and life.  A good example of this is in the realm of ritual.  When Jews light Shabbat candles at sundown on Friday, for instance, they become domeh la’Kadosh Baruch Hu, “akin to the Holy One,” Who, during Creation, made the sun and the moon, which the two candles represent . . .

Let me introduce you to a theological first cousin of [the practice of] imitating God: Being God’s partner.  Whereas imitating God means “doing what God does,” being God’s partner means picking up where God left off.  On the seventh day, God rested and said, “It [creation] is very good.”

Good, but not perfect.  This very powerful God needs us to be a partner in the unfolding, incomplete pieces of creation.  We are not, therefore, insignificant specks in the cosmos.  We are nobility . . .

God-partnership is one of the great hidden themes of Jewish literature, life and lore . . . This helps us remember that our hands can be the hands of God in this world.

According to the kabbalist Isaac Luria, when God contracted to make room for the creation of the world, divine light flowed into cosmic vessels.  But, in a great cosmic catastrophe, the vessels shattered and divine sparks dispersed throughout all existence.

Yet, the sparks were not irretrievably lost.  We can find them: Through prayer and religious study, through each deed of kindness and justice that we perform. This is called tikkun olam, repairing the world.  Potentially, every holy act we do can repair the world.  When the world is sufficiently repaired, it will be ready for the Messianic Age.  In the world of Aleinu, the great liturgical summation of Jewish striving and purpose, L’taken olam b’malchut shaddai, “We must perfect the world under the reign of the Almighty.”

The Jews of 16th century Safed in Israel were exiles from their beloved Spain, which had expelled them in 1492.  They constructed a theology that spoke to the reality of their exile.  As Isaac Luria said, “We are in exile.  Our exile is part of the broken nature of existence itself.  Even God is in exile from the world.”

“But we are not powerless,” he said.  “We have nobility.  We can find the sparks of the holy that are in the world.  We can lift up the sparks.  It is like stirring up the ashes in a fireplace.  You poke the ashes, and the sparks that are hidden there fly upwards.  What we do in our lives is crucial for the welfare of the cosmos.  We can repair the world.  And we can even repair the rift that exists between God and the world.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin


Interestingly, some mystical Jews view the part of God that is hidden in the world’s scattered sparks as “Shekinah,” the feminine aspect of God.  When we practice raising the sparks of divinity hidden within all things, we reunite the immanent feminine part of God with the transcendent masculine part, thus performing a sacred Marriage.


Rabbi Kushner emphasizes the fact that our repair of the world happens from within our mystical union with God.  All other action is inadequate.


[One] mode of devekut [clinging to God] is the devekut of behavior.  In this experience, one seeks to literally affect and, as it were, to help God through specific actions . . . In this mode of devekut, one’s will and actions become God’s.  If one becomes a servant of God, then his or her deed is also God’s action.  By repairing things here, we repair them above.  A personality drawn to such cleaving to God is action-oriented, a doer, an achiever, a fixer, someone who wants to repair the world.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner


Sacred Repair may be viewed not just in terms of raising the divinity of all things up to God, but of returning them to the Sacred Feminine – to the Goddess. One way of doing this is to take our seeming flaws and to realize that they are the presence of Another – the Goddess – trying to get our attention and to compel us to uncover her sacredness.  In the following passage, taken from an article entitled “Pink Madness: Why Does Aphrodite Drive Men Crazy with Pornography,” archetypal psychologist James Hillman relates this idea to the modern male’s preoccupation with pornography.  He imagines what Aphrodite, the goddess of desire and beauty, is saying to us, especially since our culture has refused to believe in her.


Aphrodite’s Complaint:  If you had been put in a closet for hundreds of years by priests, philosophers and prudish women who loved their religions more than their bodies, what would you do to let mortals know that you are still vibrantly alive and well?  And . . . if there was no dignified place for you in the big literal world, what avenue would be left except fantasy?

Remember, this lady’s terrain is the evocation of desire, the provocation of attraction, the invocation of pleasure.  But long hair is not allowed on the production line.  Gets caught in the cogs.  Botticelli’s lovely lady would have to wear a white hygienic cap.  Managerial women cover the pulses of throat with high collars, like clergy.  Skin shall be covered to protect from cancer . . .

So I, ruler of beauty and desire, how do I bring my cosmos into the actual world where the gestures I provoke are called sexual harassment, the lust I instigate called date rape, the body I make concupiscible called a mere sex-object, and the images that pullulate from my teeming greenhouse of erotic imagination called pornography?  What shall I do?  Well, she said, I have my method: I shall make men crazy; I shall afflict them with pink madness . . . And by pink madness I mean putting on rose-tinted glasses to see allure in the flesh, the aurora in the vulva, . . . rosa mystica.  Pornography shall be my path – the path of libidinal forbidden fantasy.

I shall invade every nook of the contemporary world that has so refused me for so long with a pink madness.  I shall pornographize your cars and food, your ads and vacations, your books and films, your schools and your families.  I shall be unstoppable . . .[T]he civilization will be crazed to get into my preserve, my secret garden . . .

Oh, it wasn’t always this way.  I wasn’t always excluded . . . But now that I am driven from the public realm, I shall rule what has been left to me, the private, the privy secrets, the privates . . .

James Hillman: I am recounting what she – I hope it was she, Aphrodite – indicated to me, a retired psychoanalytic man who saw hundreds and hundreds of dreams and fantasies and obsessional thoughts that we call pornographic in the psyches of what are called “patients,”  i.e., those humans so often suffering from the absence of Aphrodite in their actual lives and therefore victims to her incursions and her revenges.
To go on with her appeal.  I am not happy, she said, and it is my nature to be happy.  No, I am not happy allowed only this one access of fantasy, so I am a bit spiteful, revengeful
. . . So, pink madness is my retribution, [m]y avenue of return . . .

Sex education, sex talk shows, sex help books, sex therapy, sex workshops – Aphrodite’s pink ribbons wrap our culture round.  The billion-dollar porn industry is minor league compared with the haunting sexual obsessions endemic in the culture at large . . .
[W]ho buys porn?  Where’s the money coming from?  “Not me,” says the average reasonable standard community person.  It must come then from the non-reasonable (irrational, demented?), not average (fringe?) persons.  There must be an awful lot of them with fat wallets to maintain the ever-expanding multi-billion dollar industry . . .

Men ogle and leer and spend not mainly because of patriarchal depravity and abusive power so rampant in our society.  No, it is because men are entranced by the mystery revealed in porn, the naked Other revealed.  They are, as Camille Paglia says, in awe and under dominion of the feminine Goddess.  Porn reveals Her power . . . Indeed, Susan Griffin [ a feminist author, writes:], “the pornographic mind is the mind of the culture” – tho’ not as you argue because of men’s inflammations but because of Her infiltration . . .

[T]he unceasing generation of pornographic images cannot be a male province or even a male perversion.  As natural, they must be the gift of the [W]oman who is nature, the gift of the Goddess,  . . . in the shape of Aphrodite porneia . . .

[T]here is a God in the disease, as [Carl] Jung says, . . . and is it not wiser to pay obeisance to the God [or Goddess] than be obsessed by the disease?  . . .

I want to defend . . . soft sex selling against the proponents of hardcore.  They want crotch shots and organ grinding.  No wrappings and trappings, no romance, no chiaroscuro, no fuzzy fadeouts.  The crucial criterion of hardcore content is direct concrete presence; nothing hidden, nothing absent.  The reverse of this utter one-sided sexual literalism are the prudish censoring cover-ups, i.e., utter one-sided moral literalism . . . [where having sexual thoughts toward someone is the same thing as actually having sex with them, as in Matthew 5:28) . . .

The importance of covering for the lustful imagination of uncovering suggests that Mapplethorpe’s nude images are less pornic than the Apollo Belvedere who invites prurient peeking.  Even Aphrodite stands at her bath, partly turned away, partly covered, yet nude and bare.  Presence and absence both, for absence makes the heart grow fonder.  Nonetheless, as I said, advocates of hardcore want full exposure . . . [But] coverup is essential to . . . arousal.  Soft core, because it invites fantasy beyond what is presented, fetishizes even more strongly an arousing image . . . For the soft brings in Eros, as Plato says.  So I, Aphrodite, favor soft core . . . or yearning, a longing for what is not here, hard, now, sure, known and red, but away, diffuse, rosy.  Soft porn yearns toward the unattainable . . . Soft porn offers sex transfigured to mystery, the sacralization of sex redeemed from secular conformity by Aphrodite charis, the grace and charm of the unknown as the new . . .

So I, Aphrodite, and my boys, banned from secular civilization, return into its heart core through the allure of consumerism that makes us want, desire, reach out . . . If truth be told, I, Aphrodite, invented soft core.  It is how I catch a culture with a pink hope, a desire for wings.  And it is far more effective than hardcore because it has the power of a symptom: it both denies and offers what the psyche wants.  Soft porn is a compromise . . . It invites the soul’s yearning for the beauty and magic of Eros, but only tantalizes with fantasies of a ghostly lover unknown, unseen . . .

As I see things, soft porn is not an idealization of sex, as the Freudian grey-beards might say, and therefore a defense against hard reality.  Rather it is the heavenly aspect given by me, this Goddess, . . . reminding the soul that is must always serve in my temple, where it will always be susceptible to a wondrous lifting up from this world and reminiscent of another, platonic, romantic and rosy-fingered, filling this consumer world with the golden glow of Aphrodite Urania, that otherworldly radiance which was always the main purpose of my being and the main significance of my smile.

James Hillman, archetypal psychologist


Part of the mystery of Aphrodite, for a man, is the ironic truth that his sexual fantasy, drive, and emotion are feminine.

Thomas Moore


Ultimately, of course, the Goddess wants to lead us to the whole Earth as her temple.  Sexual desire is meant to spread from desirable persons to the “Other” as she appears in her multitude of forms: in other cultures, in new ideas, and – especially – in landscapes.  As Terry Tempest Williams says, what we really need is an “erotics of place.”  Only when we feel turned-on to the beauty of landscapes will we want to preserve them.


Jungian psychologist Marion Woodman points out that our culture’s eating disorders are in reality a message from the Goddess who is upset that we have not recognized the realm of matter – her domain – as sacred.


All matter is feminine.  On this level, men’s bodies are embodiments of the feminine just as much as women’s.  The extraordinary thing is that matter is becoming conscious.  For women, there is an anguished realization: “I hate this body!”  For men, it comes out in the cry, “It hurts!”  Matter is forcing many people to become aware of its sacredness.  So we have these scourges of illness like messages from the gods . . .

Actually that is what is happening in an addictive state – you become possessed . . . I have enough faith to believe that the feminine is forcing her way into consciousness by means of these addictions . . .

I think ordinary human beings are now waking up to see what is in their own matter, their own bodies, in terms of the larger consciousness in all matter . . . I call it the feminine side of God – God in matter.  Matter as a metaphor of the Goddess . . . I would say the goddess energy is trying to save us.  If we go on with our power tactics, we’re going to destroy the earth.  That’s why we haven’t got a long time to evolve.  We’re either going to make a leap in consciousness or we aren’t going to be here.  Sophia, Shakti, by whatever name we call her, is that wisdom deep down in all matter, pushing her way into consciousness, one way or another.

Marion Woodman, Jungian psychologist 

A similar divine principle is present in addiction to alcohol.


There’s a wisdom in the addiction if the person takes the time to find it.  I really like working with addicts because they’re desperate, and they have fierce energy.  Their dreams are full of wolves, and mythologically the wolf is the animal of Apollo, the sun god and also the god of creativity.  These wolves represent a ferocious hunger for something; the addict doesn’t know what it is.  From a Jungian perspective, the psyche naturally moves toward wholeness.  If we become stuck in a way of life that is not right for us, or a psychological attitude that we’ve outgrown, then symptoms appear that force us out of our nest, if we’re willing to deal with them.  If we choose not to, then we become obsessed with something that concretizes a genuine spiritual need.

Jung, for example, worked with one of the founders of AA.  “The craving for alcohol,” he wrote, “is the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness; expressed in medieval language: the union with God.”  Alcohol, he pointed out, is spiritus in Latin.  If that wolf energy can be lovingly disciplined and turned in the right direction, it can be powerfully healing and creative.  That’s what the addict’s journey is all about – it’s a spiritual search that’s become perverted.  You see it in the rituals that addicts engage in.  If you work with these rituals creatively, you will often find profound religious activity going on there.

Marion Woodman

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Type One - Sacred Perfection

Sacred Perfection

Sacred Perfection is the second Sacred Idea of Type One. While Sacred Goodness is the fundamental core of worthiness that resides at the heart of ourselves and of all things, Sacred Perfection is the work of uncovering Sacred Goodness and of allowing it to shine forth. We might think of Sacred Goodness as a static reality, and of Sacred Perfection as dynamic and ongoing.  Indeed, Sacred Perfection is the process of revealing Sacred Goodness in all of its various facets.  “Perfection” should really be a verb:” perfecting.”  If Sacred Goodness, like the Divine Being, were revealed to us all at once, we would be overwhelmed and unable to appreciate its many nuances.  On the other hand, when we uncover it bit by bit, we find ourselves able truly to appreciate its many facets. To speak in Judeo-Christian terms, we might even say that the Genesis Fall from the childlike perfection of Eden had to happen as a means of enabling Sacred Goodness gradually to reveal itself in the process of overcoming the consequences of that Fall.  After all, we see natural objects best when highlighted against a background of shadow.  Similarly, Goodness can best be experienced against a background of imperfection.  Only in the process of perfecting can Perfection truly reveal itself.


Kabbalists [Jewish mystics] say that Ein Sof [God, the Infinite No-thing] is perfect, by definition, and this universe is constantly in the process of perfecting itself.  Indeed, Judaism says that the very purpose of existence is the continuous perfecting of the universe . . . God represents perfection.  This universe represents the potential for perfecting.  Can we ever expect to make the universe perfect?  The kabbalistic answer is no, because our purpose is to continuously perfect ourselves and the universe.  If we achieve perfection, we are finished and the universe would cease to exist.

Perfection is an absurd goal for the Kabbalist because an essential aspect of God’s perfection is the creation.  You see, perfection cannot be perfect without the potential for perfecting!  The Baal Shem Tov has said, “The book of the Zohar has, each and every day, a different meaning.”  This is a crucial understanding . . .

This view of our continuous perfecting is of great importance.  Once we fully appreciate that our purpose is not to achieve some transcendental level but to deal with the imperfect world as a partner in creation, we gain the very thing we turn away from.  That is to say, once we surrender to the fact that we will constantly be repairing our own souls and those of others around us, we gain a new sense of the fullness of each moment . . . With perfecting as our model, we do not need to look beyond what we have because this idea of continuous perfecting is in itself perfect.

Rabbi David Cooper


Joseph Campbell: The perfect human being is uninteresting – the Buddha who leaves the world, you know.  It is the imperfections of life that are lovable . . .

Bill Moyers: [W]hy do you say you love people for their imperfections?

Joseph Campbell: Aren’t children lovable because they’re falling down all the time and have little bodies with the heads too big? . . .

Bill Moyers: Perfection would be a bore, wouldn’t it?

Joseph Campbell: It would have to be.  It would be inhuman . . . [T]he thing that makes you human and not supernatural and immortal – that’s what’s lovable.  That is why some people have a very hard time loving God, because there’s no imperfection there.  You can be in awe, but that would not be real love.  It’s Christ on the cross that becomes lovable.

Bill Moyers: What do you mean?

Joseph Campbell: Suffering.  Suffering is imperfection, is it not?


Some in the Jewish mystical tradition view the mythical Fall as a setup on the part of God.  It is –after all – the Fall that allowed Adam and Eve to become adults and to strive for perfection. In the following passage, the key to understanding this view is found in these words: “God rejoiced at our disobedience and then wept with joy that we could feel our estrangement and want to return home.” However, this time, we would appreciate our home for the first time.  Adam and Eve were too naïve to appreciate an Eden of relative perfection.  We, however, are in a different position. For we have undergone a lifetime of trials that make us profoundly aware of the Sacred Goodness necessary to overcome those very trials.


[One of the] forms of tearing that is responsible for human evil comes from parents and children separating from one another.  The price a human being pays for growing into an autonomous adult is the pain of leaving home.  I am now convinced the Eden story intuits this.

If God didn’t want Adam and Eve to eat fruit from the tree in the center of the garden, then why put it right there, out in the middle of the garden where Adam and Eve could reach it?  Why didn’t God just hide the fruit somewhere deep in the forest?  And then, equally puzzling, after putting the tree in the middle of the garden, why did God specifically tell Adam and Eve to be sure not to eat the fruit?

(Can you imagine telling an adolescent, as you leave the house, “You can do whatever you like, just don’t ever go in the top drawer of my dresser.”  “Sure,  Mom.  Right, Dad.  Thanks for the tip.”)  What a different world it would be if the forbidden fruit were on one unknown random tree hidden deep in some primordial garden.  The chances are high that we might never have discovered it.  We would all live in childhood eternal.

There is one rabbinic tradition that tells of God’s creating other worlds and destroying them before our present universe.  Each one was presumably deficient in some vital way.  For all we know, God did try creating a world without the tree temptingly planted right in the middle of the garden.  Or maybe there was a prior universe in which God neglected to forbid human beings to eat the fruit . . .

After universes of infantile obedience, [Adam and Eve] remained tediously, predictably, and incorrigibly infantile.

“Yes, Daddy, yes, Mommy, whatever you want.”

“This will never work,” reasons God.  “Better they should know some sin, estrangement, and guilt but at least become autonomous human beings rather than remain these insipid, goody-two-shoes infants” . . .

I suspect it was for this reason . . . that God resorted to a “setup” that has come to be known as the expulsion from the garden of Eden.  Eating the first fruit was not a sin but a necessary prearranged passage toward human maturity.  We have read it all wrong: God was not angry; God rejoiced at our disobedience and then wept with joy that we could feel our estrangement and want to return home. I can just hear Adam and Eve now:

“You mean it was OK all along to eat the fruit?”

“I knew you would,” says God.  “Why do you think I put it right in the middle and then made such a big deal about not eating it?  I made you.  You think I didn’t know what would happen?  It was a setup.  That forbidden fig has had your name on it since before I began the creation” . . .

What Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden was not a sin; it is what was supposed to happen.  Indeed, it has happened in every generation since.  Children disobey their parents and, in so doing, complete their own creation.  Adam and Eve are duped, not by the snake, but by God.  They were lovingly tricked into committing the primal act of disobedience that alone could ensure their separation from God, their individuation, and their expulsion from (childhood’s) garden . . .

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner


How do we begin the process of getting in touch with the Sacred Goodness within ourselves that will lead to Sacred Perfection?  Several classical Christian contemplatives provide some hints:


A heart that would contemplate must be bright as a mirror, shimmer like some still stretch of water crystal-clear, so that in it and through it the mind may see itself, as in and through a mirror, an image in the image of God.

Isaac of Stella, 12th Century Cistercian monk


[W]ash away, by a life of virtue, the dirt that has come to cling to your heart like plaster, and then your divine beauty will once again shine forth.

Gregory of Nyssa, 4th Century Church Father


In the following vignette from the life of Zen Roshi Shunryu Suzuki, we see that the quest for self-improvement must be based on an awareness of our innate perfection.


One morning when we were all sitting zazen, Suzuki Roshi gave a brief impromptu talk in which he said, “Each of you is perfect the way you are . . . and you can use a little improvement.”

*  *  *

We might talk of both Sacred Goodness and Sacred Perfection in terms of Beauty. Most traditional Enneagram teachers associate the love of beauty exclusively with Four-energy.  However, I disagree.  I see two different experiences of beauty.  The first is ecstatic, sizzling – terrifying, almost – and erotic.  This is the beauty of the Four.  The second is calm, balanced and soothing.  This is the beauty of the One. It is a beauty that adds a gracefully aesthetic element to the subject of morality. Without such beauty, Ones would be tempted to become shrill, rigid and self-righteous. 


Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

 Philippians 4:8 


The Navajo term hozho includes everything that a Navajo thinks of as good . . . It expresses for the Navajo such concepts as the words beauty, perfection, harmony, goodness, normality, success, well-being, blessedness, order, ideal, do for us.

This is probably the central idea in Navajo religious thinking . . . In various contexts it is best translated as “beautiful,” “harmonious,” “good,” “blessed,” “pleasant,” and “satisfying.” As a matter of fact, the difficulty with translation primarily reflects the poverty of English in terms that simultaneously have moral and aesthetic meaning.

Leland Wyman and Clyde Kluckhohm, anthropologists


Some philosophers view beauty as the means by which the Good is able to manifest itself.  For them, beauty is the external manifestation of an inner Good that is mysterious and hidden. As such, beauty is the Sacred Perfection – the uncovering, in a visible way - of Sacred Goodness. For Sacred Goodness is more an assumed reality than a manifest one.  Accordingly, it would be more true for the Great Mystery to exclaim “How wouldn’t I be good!” than it would be to state “I am good.”  The same is true of the human soul.  Because goodness is assumed, beauty is therefore needed to manifest the Good.  And this manifestation is a form of Sacred Perfection.


[T]he beautiful is related to the good, but distinguishable in that unlike the good, the beautiful “can be laid hold of.”  Plato asserts through Socrates . . . “the good has taken refuge in the beautiful.”  In housing the good, the beautiful, through its own light and radiance, disposes the soul toward it.  Through the soul’s search for the good, the beautiful reveals itself . . . [G]ood is the goal to which beauty leads . . . [Marsilio] Ficino also identifies beauty as being near the good.  He locates beauty as the central term in the three-fold nature of God: good, beautiful, the Just (truth).  Beauty stands between goodness and justice.  Goodness shines forth as beauty, and beauty is the “splendor of the Good sparkling in the series of the ideas.

Ronald Schenk, Jungian psychologist


Beauty or Sacred Perfection  is not simply the process of manifesting – perfecting - the Sacred Goodness  present within individual things.  It also involves harmonizing – balancing - all of the various expressions of goodness into a greater Whole. 

A classical definition of beauty describes it in terms of symmetry, which is “the harmony or balance of contrasting things.” Thus, for example, we might see beauty in the balance of mountain and valley or in the harmonious flow of the convex and concave curves that make up a woman’s body.  The balance between the notes of a bird song and the silence in between is yet another expression of beauty, as is the harmony between psychological traits like humility and self-confidence, or spirituality and earthiness.  Beauty is also expressed in the harmony present between various beings.  As the eighteenth-century Puritan Jonathan Edwards once put it, “Beauty is one being’s active consent to another being . . . The beauty of the world consists wholly of sweet mutual consents.”

Another form of beauty is the balance or symmetry set up between the “beautiful” attitude of the perceiver who looks at an object with awe, and the perceived – the beautiful object itself. In other words, when we treat a thing as beautiful, it is then free to manifest its beauty. This relationship between perceiver and perceived is itself a form of beauty. Dynamic and ongoing, it appeals to the One’s innate desire to actively manifest goodness in the world.  As such, it is funded by the energy of Sacred Perfection.

Irish theologian John O’Donohue has a lot to say about the realization that beauty is a harmonious relationship between perceiver and perceived.  When this relationship is maintained, Sacred Perfection is able to manifest itself in all of its glory.


There is an uncanny symmetry between the inner and the outer world . . . Each of us is responsible for how we see, and how we see determines what we see . . . We have often heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  This is usually taken to mean that the sense of beauty is utterly subjective; there is no accounting for taste because each person’s taste is different.  The statement has another, more subtle meaning: if our style of looking becomes beautiful, then beauty will become visible and shine forth for us.  We will be surprised to discover beauty in unsuspected places where the ungraceful eye would never linger.  The graced eye can glimpse beauty anywhere, for beauty does not reserve itself for special elite moments or instances; it does not wait for perfection but is present already secretly in everything.  When we beautify our gaze, the grace of hidden beauty becomes our joy and our sanctuary.
[W]hat you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach . . . When we approach with reverence great things decide to approach us.  Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things.  When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us . . . In its encounter with us beauty invites our dignity and graciousness.  Often it beckons us from afar but holds us off until our hearts become more refined and receptive; then beauty draws us into her mysterious invisible embrace . . . When you take the time to travel with reverence, a richer life unfolds before you.  Moments of beauty begin to braid your days.  When your mind becomes more acquainted with reverence, the light, grace and elegance of beauty find you more frequently . . . Reverence bestows dignity and it is only in the light of dignity that the beauty and mystery of a person will become visible.

[T]he thought of [Thomas] Aquinas is remarkable in its continuous insistence on the real, sensible presence of things.  Each stone, tree, place and person was in its depths the expression of a divine idea.  Consequently, each thing had a unique form.  No thing is accidentally here . . . Beauty was to be understood as the perfection of a thing.  Perfection is not static or dead, it is the fullness of life which a thing possesses . . . According to him, each thing secretly and profoundly desires to be known.

[Beauty] invites us to a sense of proportion in how we see, feel and act.  Without proportion, there is no balance, and the force of imbalance ultimately brings destruction.  Since classical times, it has always been recognized that beauty demands proportion and balance . . . The experience of beauty has for the most part a particular force.  It envelops and overcomes us.  Yet there are times when beauty reveals itself slowly.  There are times when beauty is shy and hesitates until it can trust the worthiness of the beholder . . . [B]eauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it.  In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something.  It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object.  The hidden heart of beauty offers itself only when it is approached in a rhythm worthy of its trust and showings.  Only if there is beauty in us can we recognize beauty elsewhere: beauty knows beauty.  In this way, beauty can be a mirror that manifests our own beauty . . . There is a profound balancing within beauty.

John O’Donohue, Irish contemplative


Navajo artists are well aware of the fact that beauty and perfection arise as part of an ongoing relational process.  They understand that beauty is less an object than an active relationship between the artist and the thing created. This approach appeals to the One’s desire to actively bring perfection into the world, yet softens it with an aesthetic touch.


Many tribes believe that the artistic process provides a means by which the artist may imitate the Creator who originally created the world.  When a Pueblo potter molds a pot from moist clay, she establishes a relationship with the creative force of the earth.  She plays the part of the Creator in giving that force a form, and the completed vessel is a living being, both alive and containing life.  Similarly, the Tewa weaver participates in acts that imitate the creation of the universe itself . . .

This emphasis on the creative process differs from the Western focus on the finished product.  The Navajo erase sandpaintings after ceremonies, while the Western observer may try to capture them in photographs.  For the Navajo, the value of the sandpainting is found in its creation and in its use in healing, not in its preservation.  The Navajo language reflects this orientation; there are more than 300,000 distinct conjugations of the verb “to go” and only two or three conjugations of the verb “to be.”  As Gary Witherspoon explains, this seems to point to an emphasis on processes and events, rather than on the static state of being and things.  This is expressed in the Navajo sense of beauty, hozho, which “is not in things so much as it is in the dynamic relationship among things and between humanity and things” . . .

For the Navajo, the process of creating art offers a way to sustain harmonious relationships.  The condition of hozho stretches beyond aesthetics to encompass goodness, happiness, long life, and harmony . . . When this partnership is respected, health and goodness, clarity of vision and freedom . . . are maintained . . .

Gary Witherspoon writes:

            The Navajo does not look for beauty, she generates it within herself and
            projects it onto the universe.  The Navajo says shil hozho “with me there
            is beauty,” shii hozho “in me there is beauty,” and shaa hozho “from me
            beauty radiates.”  Beauty is not “out there” in things to be perceived by
            the perceptive and appreciative viewer; it is a creation of thought.  Beauty
            is not so much a perceptual experience as it is a conceptual one.

. . . For the Navajo, beauty and harmony are realized when the forces of this world are in balance, when evil is overpowered by goodness, illness is restored to health, and disorder is replaced by order.  This state of balance, called hozho, is the natural condition of the world.

Joseph Epes Brown, anthropologist 


Such beauty is an active process of balancing various goods rather than a static object that is passively perceived.  This understanding appeals to the One’s desire to act in the world to bring about perfection.


                                    With Beauty (hozho) before me, may I walk
                                    With Beauty behind me, may I walk
                                    With Beauty above me, may I walk
                                    With Beauty below me, may I walk
                                    With Beauty all around me, may I walk
                                    Wandering on a trail of Beauty, lively I walk

                                    Navajo Chant


Beauty is the only thing we are here for.  In everything else we do, we’re just trying to find beauty . . . Beauty is the action of being in the moment . . . In Tiwa, beauty is bah-chu.  Bah is related to the legs . . . [W]e use our legs to walk.  The word chu means everywhere.  When you are in the state of beauty . . . you are in a state of movement, which is beauty that has connected to all the heavenly planes . . . What we need to do is keep a loving bond between us.  Then we realize that if we have a loving bond with plants, animals, and the land around us, . . . then we walk in beauty, and the beauty is who we are and what we are doing.  Beauty comes from our relationship to all those around us . . . Bonding is one of the qualities of beauty.

Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), Picuris Pueblo healer


For beauty to be maintained it must be expressed in actions such as the creation of art.  Thus, the process of making art, as well as the art object itself, is considered beautiful.  For the Navajo, “the piece is merely the vehicle whereby beauty, hozho, is transmitted from an artist, who is himself or herself in a state of beauty, to a recipient or audience, who will in some measure be brought into a state of beauty through viewing, wearing, or appreciating what the artist has done and made.”  The Navajo concept of beauty is an extremely active one.

The Desert Is No Lady


 As we’ve noted, beauty may be conceived as the harmony or symmetry of contrasts. We’ve seen this principle exemplified in the harmonious relationship between an object and its perceiver, and between an artist and her creation. However, we can also apply this definition to ethics, the familiar domain of Type One. When, for example, there is a symmetry or balance between various societies – or between various groups within a single society – in terms of adequate food, water, shelter and medical care, then we have an ethical form of beauty.  The process of creating this situation of harmony and balance and symmetry is, we might say, a participation in Sacred Perfection. The following set of readings makes clear this connection between beauty, goodness, relationship and ethics.


[There is a] connection between beauty as “fairness” and justice as “fairness,” using the widely accepted definition by John Rawls of fairness as a “symmetry of everyone’s relations to each other” . . . [B]eauty assists us in getting to justice . . .

[B]eautiful things give rise to the notion of distribution, to a lifesaving reciprocity, to fairness not just in the sense of loveliness of aspect but in the sense of a “symmetry of everyone’s relation to one another” . . .
When we begin at . . . the beautiful object itself, it is clear that the attribute most steadily singled out over the centuries has been “symmetry” . . . But what happens when we move from the sphere of aesthetics to the sphere of justice?  Here symmetry remains key, particularly in accounts of distributive justice and fairness “as a symmetry of everyone’s relation to one another” . . . [I]t is the very symmetry of beauty which leads us to, or somehow assists us in discovering, the symmetry that eventually comes into place in the realm of justice . . .

The equality of beauty enters the world before justice and stays longer because it does not depend on human beings to bring it about: though human beings have created much of the beauty of the world, they are only collaborators in a much vaster project.  The world accepts our contributions but in no way depends on us.  Even when beauty and justice are both in the world, beauty performs a special service because it is available to sensory perception in a way that justice (except in rare places like an assembly) normally is not
 . . .

It is clear that an ethical fairness which requires “a symmetry of everyone’s relation” will be greatly assisted by an aesthetic fairness that creates in all participants a state of delight . . .

[J]ustice itself is dependent on human hands to bring it into being and has no existence independent of acts of creation.  Beauty may be either natural or artifactual; justice is always artifactual and is therefore assisted by any perceptual event that so effortlessly incites in us the wish to create.  Because beauty repeatedly brings us face-to-face with our own powers to create, we know where and how to locate those powers when a situation of injustice calls on us to create . . .

Elaine Scarry, Professor of Aesthetics, Harvard University


Beauty also involves a harmony or balance between our empowering others to wake up to their own goodness, and an experience of their goodness empowering us to awaken to ours.  Thus, the manner in which we treat others and the manner in which we see ourselves are yet another of the symmetries involved in the experience of Beauty.


Whoever prays for others also sees his or her own desires fulfilled.


The Talmud teaches there are three things that revive a person’s spirit: beautiful sounds, sights, and smells.  To be able to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell beauty in everything is awesome yet inspiring.  When you can accept the beauty in everything and move beyond that to endowing everything with beauty, everything you come in contact with becomes beautiful because you have made it so . . .

Can you look beyond the façade of another and empower that person’s beauty?  Can you see beyond the affects and defects in others and accept them as part of the beauty of yourself, the wonders of nature, and the miracle of love?

Begin by experiencing the beauty in yourself.  Look at yourself in the mirror and begin seeing through lenses that color everything in beauty.  Accept each part of your body as a beauty of nature and wonder of life.  Practice this with people you meet during the course of your day.  You will notice that when you see beauty, the beauty is reflected back to you.  This happens with people, with animals, with plants, and with all the elements in nature.

To a mystic, everything is ordained with a heart, a voice, and a vision of itself.  In this way, the animate and inanimate worlds are in correspondence with each other.  You are in continuous correspondence with your environment and all its elements.  As you empower the beauty, the beauty empowers you.  In the process, there is a deeper appreciation for every aspect of creation and for all properties of life and living.

In the Hasidic tradition the essential vision of creation is one of goodness and godliness.  The psalmist said, “Only goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” (Psalm 23:6).  This means that goodness and love are patiently following you until you slow down, turn around, embrace them, and bring them home . . .The Baal Shem Tov used to empower everything in nature, as well as empower his students.  He would walk past a tree, empower the tree, and listen to the language of the tree.  The same with the birds and flowers and fields of grass . . .

Some of the best connections are made in the most unlikely places.  If God wanted you to be empowered in solitude, you would be living on an island by yourself.  However, you are here as part of humanity in order to receive the richness of empowering another to empower yourself.  So next time you enter a restaurant, a waiting room, or even a sanctuary that is familiar to you, empower someone and see the miracles unfold . . .

As in the fable of Beauty and the Beast, the world is full of spirits imprisoned in judgmental klippot [veils], waiting for a look, a sound, a fragrance, a touch of beauty to release their divinity and kindle their Godspark . . . In the world of the spirit, there is no difference between how you relate to yourself and how you relate to another . . . Be aware of your next encounter with any aspect of God’s creation, whether it be animate or inanimate.  Remember it has a soul that awaits your empowerment.  As you see, hear, and touch the beauty in it, it will reflect it in you.  Imagine a world where there is only the acceptance of all as beautiful.  The standards of tomorrow rest in you today.

Rabbi Shoni Labowitz

Friday, February 10, 2012

Type One - Sacred Goodness

Sacred Goodness

The first Sacred Idea of the One is Sacred Goodness. This is the realization that the core of human identity is basically good, and therefore lovable.   In other words, in our inmost being, we already are as we should be. It is this insight that gives us the power to change our behavior to bring it more into conformity with who we really are. The following passages from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition use the term “basic goodness” to speak of this core. Interestingly, they talk about the necessity of dropping the ego – that is, concern about “me” - as a means of getting in touch with basic goodness.  This makes sense since basic goodness is a Larger reality we participate in, not a “thing” that can be possessed by the ego.  Thus, rather than saying: "I am basically good," we could more accurately say: "I am grounded in the all-encompassing reality of basic goodness."


A great deal of chaos in the world occurs because people don’t appreciate themselves.  Having never developed sympathy or gentleness towards themselves, they cannot experience harmony or peace within themselves, and therefore, what they project to others is also inharmonious and confused . . . When you don’t punish or condemn yourself, when you relax more and appreciate your body and mind, you begin to contact the fundamental notion of basic goodness in yourself.  So it is extremely important to be willing to open yourself to yourself . . . That kind of gentleness towards yourself and appreciation of yourself is very necessary.  It provides the ground for helping yourself and others.

Chogyam Trungpa, Tibetan rinpoche


Our minds are vast and profound.  In the teachings on rulership, this innate wisdom is known as “basic goodness.”  It is the natural, clear, uncluttered state of our being.  We are all appointed with heaven – great openness and brilliance . . . If you can develop certainty in the indestructible basic goodness that lies at the heart of everything, then you can rule your world.

Basic goodness, the shimmering brilliance of our being, is as clear as a mountain lake.  But we’re not certain about our own goodness.  We begin to stray from it as soon as we wake up in the morning, because our mind is unstable and bewildered . . . The magnet of “What about me?” draws away windhorse – our ability to bring about success – and our mind becomes very small.  We lose touch with earth – our potential to give our life meaning – so there’s no place for true happiness to land . . . What makes the mind of “me” so small is confused emotion, in Sanskrit, klesha – anger, desire, ignorance, and pride.  These are obscurations that block our view of basic goodness . . . With this small-mindedness, we have little inspiration to improve our situation in a lasting way, because we don’t trust what we can’t see – like wisdom and compassion.  We have no relationship with the unchanging ground of basic goodness . . . When we’re on the “me” plan, what others say about us has great power . . . In reality, praise and criticism are like echoes – they have no substance, no duration.

Virtue is practical, not moralistic.  It consists of cultivating thoughts, words, and actions that will help move us out of the “me” plan . . . We have more space in our mind, and our view gets bigger.  We begin to see our inherent richness, the brilliance that’s been hiding behind the clouds of stress and anxiety.  The nature of our mind is pure, like the sky.  Like space, it has a quality of accommodation.  Like water, it is clean, with no obstructions or opinions.  This is basic goodness, the indestructible nature of our being . . . [It] is the idea of “me” which keeps us from seeing our own basic goodness . . . [T]he disease of “me” is the root of all disease.

Sakyong Mipham, Tibetan teacher


Unlike the exoteric Christianity that has oppressed and discouraged so many people, the Christian contemplative tradition believes that everything in creation is basically good, for it all comes out of God.


And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

(Genesis 1:31)


The forms and individual characters of living and growing things, of inanimate things, of animals and flowers and all nature, constitute their holiness in the sight of God.  Their inscape is their sanctity.  It is the imprint of His wisdom and His reality in them.  The special clumsy beauty of this particular colt on this April day in this field under these clouds is a holiness consecrated to God by His own creative wisdom and it declares the glory of God.  The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints.  The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of the road are saints looking up into the face of God.  This leaf has its own texture and its own pattern of veins and its own holy shape, and the bass and trout hiding in the deep pools of the river are canonized by their beauty and their strength.  The lakes hidden among the hills are saints, and the sea too is a saint who praises God without interruption in her majestic dance. The great, gashed, half-naked mountain is another of God’s saints.  There is no other like him.  He is alone in his own character; nothing else in the world ever did or ever will imitate God in quite the same way.  That is his sanctity.

Thomas Merton, Trappist monk


We find, in the Rule of St. Benedict, that the monk does not treat material creation with contempt.  On the contrary, we find the humblest things handled with reverence, one might almost say with love . . . Even the tools with which the monk tills the soil, even the simple pots and pans and kitchenware, or the broom with which he sweeps the cloister, are to be treated with just as much care (with due proportion) as the sacred vessels of the altar (Rule, Chap. 31).

Thomas Merton


John Muir, the “wilderness monk” of the Sierra, was especially adept at finding Sacred Goodness at the root of the natural world.  He was unusually gifted at seeing this goodness in the smallest of Nature’s details.


[After a snowstorm at Yosemite] I rode to the very end of the valley gazing from side to side, thrilled almost to pain with the glorious feast of snowy diamond loveliness . . . From end to end of the temple, from the shrubs and half-buried ferns of the floor to the topmost ranks of jeweled pine spires, it is all one finished unit of divine beauty, weighed in the celestial balances and found perfect.

Here [in the riverbed of Merced Canyon] is . . . quartz, granite of all shades and textures, feldspar of diorite, fragmentary chippings and rubbish, each bit a perfect creation in itself, each a volume written within and without . . . Every rock is as elaborately and thoughtfully carved and finished as a crystal or shell.

Indeed every atom entering into the structure of a storm is measured and fitted to its place, has Nature’s square and plummet laid upon it, and is inspired with unchangeable love.

Looking at them [mountain bighorn sheep leaping on the cliffs] I often cried out, “That was good!” . . . I exulted in the power and sufficiency of Nature, and felt like saying aloud to God as to a man, “Well done!”

One would never think of removing a single dead limb or log from these woods . . . , such is the sense of fitness and completeness.  I never could see room for even such paltry improvement.  See the fineness of finish, how each object catches the light . . . And so, when we walk the aisle-like defiles of the woods over ridges, through meadows, and still, cool glens, we find each in perfect beauty, as if God had everywhere done His best in putting it in order that very day.

John Muir, 19th Century wilderness explorer


Most people wounded by traditional Christianity who have either left the church or become agnostic are afflicted in the Type One aspect of their personality. Specifically, this means that they struggle with viewing themselves as good, especially in the eyes of God. It comes as a relief, then, to realize that for Christian contemplatives, the core goodness of every human being  is a basic teaching.  This insight is rooted in the fact that we are “made in the image and likeness of God” (Gen. 1:26). Evangelicals believe this  means only that humans have a mind, will and emotions like God.  However, for contemplatives  it means – most importantly – that the core of the soul, like God, is holy. “Sin” – a sort of moral graffiti – is merely an overlay that does not alter the basic goodness of the soul.


The fundamental goodness of human nature, like the mystery of the Trinity, Grace, and the Incarnation, is an essential element of Christian faith.  This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.  Our basic core of goodness is our true Self.  Its center of gravity is God.  The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.  God and our true Self are not separate.  Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.
Thomas Keating, Trappist monk


O image of God, recognize your dignity, let the effigy of your Creator shine forth in you.  To yourself you seem of little worth, but in reality you are precious.  Insofar as you forsook him whose image you are, you have taken on the colors of strange images.  But when you begin to breathe in the atmosphere wherein you were created, if perchance you embrace discipline, you will quickly shake off and renounce this false make-up which is only superficial and not even skin-deep.  Be wholly present to yourself therefore, and employ yourself wholly in knowing yourself and knowing whose image you are.

William of St. Thierry, 12th Century Cistercian monk


Now when Holy Scripture speaks of the unlikeness that has come about, it says not that the likeness [to God] has been destroyed, but concealed by something else which has been laid over it.  The soul has not in fact put off its original form but has put on one foreign to it. The latter is an addition; the former has not been lost.  This addition can hide the original form, but it cannot blot it out . . . The gold laments that is has grown dim, but it is still gold: its pure color is faded, but the base of the color is not altered. The simplicity of the soul remains unshaken in its fundamental being, but it is not seen because it is covered by the disguise of human deception, pretence, and hypocrisy . . . So these evils are accidental, and do not result from the good gifts which are natural, but are superimposed on them; they defile but do not wipe them out; they bring confusion upon them, but not destruction.  So it is that the soul is unlike God and consequently unlike itself as well.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th Century Cistercian monk


God is the painter of this [divine] image [at the core of the soul].  And because He is so great a painter, his image can be obscured by lack of care, but it can never be wiped out by evil.  For the image of God always remains even if you yourself paint over it an image of earthly things.

Origen, 3rd Century Christian theologian


For me to be a saint means to be myself.  Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.


At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.  This little point . . . is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven.  It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and the blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.


A person can enter into the deepest center of himself and pass through that center into God . . .

Thomas Merton


Ones are extremely concerned about the soul’s imperfections; in classical terms, its “sin.” However, Christian contemplatives understand that all sin arises from a false self which erroneously believes it exists outside of union with God.  Ultimately, however, this false self is illusory.


Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self . . . My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the radius of . . . God’s love – outside of reality and outside of life.  And such a self cannot help but be an illusion . . . For most people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist.  A life devoted to the cult of this shadow is what is called a life of sin . . . Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God.  If I find Him, I will find myself; and if I find my true self, I will find Him.

To say I was born in sin is to say I came into the world with a false self.  I came into existence under a sign of contradiction, being someone that I was never intended to be and therefore a denial of what I am supposed to be.


[The] false self . . . is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him.  And to be unknown of God is altogether too much privacy . . . The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God.  But whatever is in God is really identical with Him, for His infinite simplicity admits no division and no distinction.  Therefore I cannot hope to find myself anywhere except in Him . . . We have the choice of two identities: the external mask which seems to be real and which lives by a shadowy autonomy for the brief moment of earthly existence, and the hidden, inner person who seems to us to be nothing . . . Yet we must not deal in too negative a fashion even with the “external self.”  This self is not by nature evil, and the fact that it is unsubstantial is not to be imputed to it as some kind of crime.  It is afflicted with metaphysical poverty . . .


There is no evil in anything created by God, nor can anything of His become an obstacle to our union with Him.  The obstacle is in our [false] “self,” that is to say, in the tenacious need to maintain our separate, external, egotistic will.  It is when we refer all things to this outward and false “self” that we alienate ourselves from reality and from God.  It is then the false self that is our god, and we love everything for the sake of this self.  We use all things, so to speak, for the worship of this idol which is our imaginary self . . . We do not thereby make [things]  evil, but we use them to increase our attachment to our illusory self.


God seeks Himself in us, and the aridity and sorrow of our heart is the sorrow of God . . . who cannot yet find Himself in us because we do not dare to believe or trust the incredible truth that He could live in us . . . But indeed we exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany.  But we make all this dark and inglorious because we fail to believe it, we refuse to believe it.  It is not that we hate God, rather that we hate ourselves, despair of ourselves.  Fortunately, the love of our fellow man is given us as the way of realizing this.  For the love of our brother, our sister, our beloved, our wife, our child, is there to see with the clarity of God Himself that we are good.  It is the love of my lover, my brother or my child that sees God in me, makes God credible to myself in me.  And it is my love for my lover, my child, my brother, that enables me to show God to him or her in himself or herself.  Love is the epiphany of God in our poverty.

Thomas Merton

The term original sin is a way of describing the human condition, which is the universal experience of coming to full reflective self-consciousness without the certitude of personal union with God.  This gives rise to our intimate sense of incompletion, dividedness, isolation, and guilt.

Original sin is not the result of personal wrongdoing on our part.  Still, it causes a pervasive feeling of alienation from God, from other people and from the true Self.  The cultural consequences of these alienations are instilled in us from earliest childhood and passed on from one generation to the next.  The urgent need to escape from the profound insecurity of this situation gives rise, when unchecked, to insatiable desires for pleasure, possession, and power.  On the social level, it gives rise to violence, war, and institutional injustice.
The particular consequences of original sin include all the self-serving habits that have been woven into our personality from the time we were conceived; all the emotional damage that has come from our early environment and upbringing; all the harm that other people had done to us knowingly or unknowingly at an age when we could not defend ourselves; and the methods we acquired – many of them now unconscious – to ward off the pain of unbearable situations.

This constellation of pre-rational reactions is the foundation of the false self.  The false self develops in opposition to the true Self.  Its center of gravity is itself . . .

Our basic core of goodness is dynamic and tends to grow of itself.  This growth is hindered by the illusions and emotional hang-ups of the false self, by the negative influences coming from our cultural conditioning, and by personal sin . . .

The experience of being loved by God enables us to accept our false self as it is, and then to let go of it and journey to our true Self.  The inward journey to our true Self is the way to divine love.

The growing awareness of our true Self, along with the deep sense of spiritual peace and joy which flow from this experience, balances the psychic pain of the disintegrating and dying of the false self.  As the motivating power of the false self diminishes, our true Self builds the new self with the motivating force of divine love.

The building of our new self is bound to be marked by innumerable mistakes and sometimes by sin.  Such failures, however serious, are insignificant compared to the inviolable goodness of our true Self.  We should ask God’s pardon, seek forgiveness from those we may have offended, and then act with renewed confidence and energy as if nothing had happened.

Prolonged, pervasive, or paralyzing guilt feelings come from the false self.  True guilt in response to personal sin or social injustice does not lead to discouragement but to amendment of life . . .

The goal of genuine spiritual practice is not the rejection of the good things of the body, mind, or spirit, but the right use of them.  No aspect of human nature or period of human life is to be rejected but integrated into each successive level of unfolding self-consciousness.  In this way, the partial goodness proper to each stage of human development is preserved and only its limitations are left behind.  The way to become divine is thus to become fully human.

Thomas Keating, Trappist monk  


As the above quotes illustrate, the contemplative tradition is quite gentle toward sins and failings.  In fact, it understands that dwelling obsessively on a personal fault is worse than the fault itself.  Since it sees all things in God, this tradition also realizes that the desire to let go of unhealthy behavior is itself already the presence of God dwelling within us. In addition, our abandonment of ourselves  into the mercy and love of God is not something of which we can expect to be fully conscious, contrary to the attitude that Ones embody whenever they obsess about being “right.”  Accordingly, we should simply abandon ourselves to God without the assurance that we are really doing so!


Never distrust the one faithful Friend, Who never fails us, although we fail Him so often . . . God is not like people, whose vain sensitiveness turns to vexation and unforgiving indignation.  Even if you had failed in your duty to God a hundred times over, if you return to him sincerely,  . . . at that moment he holds out His arms to you.  It is he Himself Who has preceded you by His mercy, and has put in your heart the desire of returning to Him.  How should He not receive with kindness a feeling of your heart, which His kindness itself has formed there? . . . We must be content with wishing to love God, and with acting as well as we can, according to this root of love within us.  God has not an easily-offended sensitiveness, as we have.  Let us go straight to Him, and all is done . . .

Do not be uneasy either about your faults or your confessions.  Love without ceasing, and “many sins shall be forgiven you, because you have loved much.” . . . Our vexation for a fault is generally a greater fault than the fault itself.

Abandonment is a simple resignation of ourselves into the arms of God, as a little child reposes in the arms of his mother.  Perfect abandonment goes so far as to abandon abandonment itself.  We abandon ourselves without knowing that we have abandoned ourselves; if we knew it, we should be abandoned no longer; for is there a more powerful [non-spiritual] support than a state of abandonment known and possessed?  Abandonment consists not in doing great things of which we can give account to ourselves, but simply in bearing our own weakness and powerlessness, in letting God do with us as He pleases, without being able to assure ourselves that we are really letting Him do so.

Francois Fenelon, 18th Century spiritual director


It is useless to try to make peace with ourselves by being pleased with everything we have done.  In order to settle down in the quiet of our being we must learn to be detached from the results of our own activity.  We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are the quiet expression of our inner life.  We must be content to live without watching ourselves live . . .

Thomas Merton


In the Christian contemplative tradition, sin is the result of our ignorance about the fact that we are always and forever united to God. For the Lakota, evil is not an independent reality, but is rather an innately good thing that is simply out of place.


Mainstream religions often say the sacred (the wakan) has evil as its opposite or complement.  But that is not so for the traditional peoples of this continent.  For them, the opposite of the wakan is the washte. The wakan is the sacredness that is found in times and places alien to human society, and the washte is the ordinariness found within human society – the goodness of routine, tradition and habitual activity.  Both, it must be emphasized, are good, provided they are allowed to thrive in balance, each in its natural times and places. Among the traditional peoples of this continent there is no concept of evil, per se, but there is the somewhat similar concept of sicha.  When the washte or the wakan is allowed to get out of balance, to thrive in times or places not theirs by nature, or to disappear from times and places natural to them, conditions become sicha.

Sicha is not quite the same thing, however, as the concept of evil found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  The concept of evil presumes certain activities, forbidden by G-d, are by their very nature evil, regardless of circumstances.  The concept of sicha, however, relates not to particular actions, but to the upsetting of natural balances.  Sicha is activity, or the failure to act, that results in imbalance.  It is forcing into movement what should remain in stasis, or restraining what should remain flowing.  In Kantian terms, sicha is turning Sein (being) into Werden (becoming), and vice versa.  This is why the Native Americans were upset when the Europeans started damming rivers, razing forests and mountains, and cutting through four-legged migration routes by fencing in the land and building highways.  That was clearly sicha to them, since it was holding back what should flow freely – and now nature is out of balance . . .

It is also sicha to indulge in the wakan indiscriminately, to the degree that it becomes washte.  Traditional peoples are appalled at how unrestrainedly many people drink alcohol, smoke tobacco and engage in sexuality, with no thought to approaching these sacred things with care and respect.  Tobacco is a sacred herb to be used in prayer; when one smokes it frequently, with a mind full of petty anger, greed and boredom, that becomes in effect one’s “prayer.”  True prayer then becomes more difficult, just as overusing healing herbs diminishes their effect. 

Sicha is certainly evident when men force themselves sexually on women – and I don’t mean only rape here, but also the tricks and wiles, the “lines” men use to “get sex.”  Sexuality, like storms and river rapids and winter, like anything wakan, is to be respected – and we must not try to force it to manifest itself when or with whom it doesn’t want to.  It is less often realized that sexuality must not be restrained when it wishes to flow; that, too, is sicha . . . Rape is sicha not just because it is theft of a most egregious kind, but because it tries to control the wakan – for every individual is wakan, and beauty and sexuality themselves are wakan.  Rape forces it to be washte . . .

Every culture makes the wakan washte in some ways.  Whenever this happens, the wakan loses . . . its natural tendency to build in energy [i.e., in “stasis”], tending instead to dissipate energy [in “flow”] as does the washte [which involves routine repetition].  [At other times, when wakan should be flowing, we instead restrain it] . . . The water that is brought in for drinking or cooking from the wakan flow of the river must be replenished and eventually changed, or it grows brackish – just as the water in the freely flowing river stays clean but the water in a still pool can become brackish.

James David Audlin (Distant Eagle)


Ones are quite concerned about righteousness; that is, about the experience of being right before God, the Ultimate Mystery. Exoteric Christianity tries to restore this sense of rightness by speaking of Christ “saving us from our sin.”   However, in doing so, it often pits the two parties over against each other in order to claim that Christ is good while we are sinful. Contemplative Christians, however, view Christ not as one individual set over against other individuals, but as a mirror of our own true self.  They understand that he makes us whole – that is, “saves” us – by revealing to us who we really are in our divine core.  In this connection, they like to quote St. Paul, who says: “We, who with unveiled faces gaze at the glory of the Lord as in a mirror, are being changed into the same image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 A Benedictine monk named Sebastian Moore wrote an entire book on this experience of Christ as mirror of the true self.  He says that in Christ’s cross, we see our own true self, the one that is united to God, “crucified by the ego.” Moore points out the fact that fundamentalists  in our time have “lost the capacity to see Jesus as the reflection of their own deepest lives, feelings, aspirations.”  But “A new title for Jesus is beginning to form in people’s lives.  He is ‘the self.’” For “In John’s gospel Jesus says ‘he who believes in me, out of his interior will come a fountain of living water, springing up to eternal life.’  That is what it is to believe in Jesus.  It is to have one’s own flood-gates opened.” 

Moore believes that the root of sin is our own self-hatred. However, we are unaccustomed to realizing how bad our self-hatred really is, how it obscures the true self that participates in God.  Although many of us would never think of intentionally hurting another person, we hurt ourselves all the time.  Because this is the case, we need to see our self as other if we are ever to realize how bad our self-hatred really is.  In other words, we need to see that our desire to kill our own self is the same as the desire to kill another person.  As Moore puts it, “To be changed I need . . . to be brought to seeing the self, that I hate, as other . . . I need to say ‘there is my life, my beauty, my possibility, my humanness, my full experience as a human which is a personifying of the universe, my outrageously ignored and neglected dream of goodness.’”  For “The self that we hide in others in order to neglect and destroy it there, needs to be seen symbolically, whole-makingly, as another, before we can appropriate it.  Its otherness is the spur to sorrow . . .”

Not only is this the case, but we also need to see our true self as a pure and innocent other in order to realize how bad our crucifixion of that self really is.  Thus we need “the power of the other, of the not-me, to represent my wholeness to me.” We need to see this pure self in the other since we could never see it in ourselves.  This is where the crucified Christ comes in.  For in traditional terms, in Christ we see a pure, sinless and innocent being who deserves the praise of the universe.

Moore makes use of the traditional Christian belief that it is we who have crucified Christ – through our egoic sins and failings - to make his next point. He understands that transformation comes when we make the shift from seeing our ego as the crucifier of the pure other – a pureness which is Christ - to seeing that we are the pure ones that our egos are crucifying.  Here, “I move from an extroverted position . . . in which I am the crucifier, he the crucified, to a centered position where I acquire sufficient selfhood to be identified with the crucified.  This is the transition from man [or ego] who ‘crucifies the Lord of Glory’ to man who is ‘nailed to the cross with Christ.’  It is the same man, changing only through self-discovery in Christ.”

When this transition occurs, we realize how bad our self-hatred really is. For it is really the same thing as murdering another person, a totally pure and blameless person. Yet in feeling accepted by Christ’s love, we find healing.  For “In the mystery of Jesus, contemplated in faith, sinful man plunges, murderously, desperately, hopefully – who knows? – into the self with which he has ever been at odds: and there is accepted, there finds identity and freedom.” Because the divine nature present within us never wants to harm another being – especially Christ - when they are perceived as they truly are - as completely lovable - the transformation is automatic.  When we see that our own ego-crucified self is really a holy, lovable other – Christ - this seeing organically contains within itself the ability to stop self-hating.  And thus we are healed.

Indeed, a criminal is able to plot and carry out a killing only because he doesn’t truly see the victim as a pure, lovable other, as Christ.  He views them instead through the personal filter of a lifetime of pain.  If he viewed the victim as they really are – as Christ – he would never want to kill them.  It’s the same when any of us sees our true self in Christ as a lovable other.  We are healed of the desire to hate and kill our own true identity when we see it in the most noble way possible – as the sinless and divinely human Christ.

However, once this realization of the identity between Christ and the ego-crucified true self occurs, we are not led thereby to dispense with the need for Christ.  For, as Moore so skillfully points out, our own true self is truly limitless.  There are an endless number of layers of that self to be explored.  Therefore, we will always need Christ to reveal to us the layers of self that we have not yet discovered and appropriated as our own.  As he puts it, “the portion of the Christ that I have not yet appropriated [must] be concretely realized in someone . . . At every stage of my personal entry into the mystery, the Christ that I have not yet become is a man who somehow is . . . This tension seems to be essential to the encounter.  Resolve it by dissolving the thought of the Jesus who actually was on that cross, and the encounter itself, with all its power to evoke in me the self, falls to pieces.”


Thomas Merton understands that Christ “saves” us by identifying not only with our true self, but with our false self as well.  In doing so, he asks us to forgive our flaws as though we are forgiving him!


Only in the proper understanding of ourselves can we come to that true compunction [the prick of conscience] which is the very heart of monastic prayer . . . But . . . we recognize that it is Christ Himself, in us, who cries out for mercy – and that He cries not only to the Father, but to us. Yes, it is Christ Himself who has identified Himself with us and begs us to begin having mercy on ourselves, not now for our own sake but for His! . . . But His is a strange way of forgiveness: He identifies Himself with us and asks us, as it were, to begin by forgiving ourselves.  In doing this for Him, we are, as it were, forgiving Him.  If we forgive Him, He forgives us.  Then He gives us peace with ourselves . . .”

Thomas Merton


Just as Christ takes responsibility for our failing, so we are meant to do so – consciously and willingly – for those around us.


The monk, who abandons himself to the love of God, who takes upon himself responsibility for the sins of all and holds himself responsible to all, by that very fact places himself below all, . . . and spiritually “washes the feet” of everyone in the world – principally of those with whom he lives . . .
Christ alone is able to bring true peace to the hearts of human beings, and it is through the hearts of other people that he brings it.  We are all mediators for one another with Christ . . . in taking upon ourselves the sins of the world without condemning sinners, placing ourselves below others and forgiving all.  By our humility and charity Christ lives in the world . . .[T]here must still be some in the world who will bear the sins and injustices of all, and repair them by their love.

Thomas Merton


Perhaps God – in Christ – really does see himself as responsible in some way for our shortcomings.


When God united himself to our suffering by offering himself to us in the crucified Christ, he was in a sense apologizing and taking responsibility for placing us here on this earth in such a difficult position.  For at birth, we enter a world where we cannot readily experience our union with God.  In fact, life’s sufferings often make us feel separate from him. And in the absence of an awareness of this union, we naturally fall into sin. It is for this situation that God seems to be apologizing in the crucified Christ.

Thomas Keating


A Sufi might say that this “difficult position” of imperfection is created by the fact that the world is set up as a means of allowing God – and we – to see divinity  mirrored in an infinite number of ways. In this setup, God must push us away as a means of creating the distance necessary for us to mirror him.  Just as a person cannot adequately see her reflection when she presses her nose right up against a mirror, so God – and we – cannot experience his grandeur in the mirror which we are  unless he pushes us away.

In addition, God – it seems - found it necessary to hide from us as a means of allowing the subtle nuances of his Being to manifest themselves bit by bit, as now one aspect of his presence, and now another, is gradually revealed.  If, on the other hand, the totality of the Divine Being were revealed all at once, we would find it far too overwhelming to appreciate or even experience.  Therefore, a certain distancing from God is called for as a means of unveiling God’s presence a little at a time.

 Although both  kinds of distancing  are apparently necessary, they nevertheless result  in our failure to grasp the fact that the God who pushes us away - and who hides - does so as a means of making greater intimacy with us possible.  It is perhaps for this necessary but often painful state of affairs that God seems to be making an apology in the death of Christ on the cross.