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As Enneagram’s popularity soars, having an experienced teacher is more important than ever

Longtime teacher Suzanne Stabile sees the Enneagram’s recent surge in popularity as a double-edged sword: She’s grateful for the wider audience but concerned there’s not much depth.

Suzanne Stabile teaching an Enneagram workshop in Portland, Oregon. Photo from SuzanneStabile.com

(RNS) — When Suzanne Stabile first encountered the Enneagram, it was through no less a teacher than Richard Rohr.

It was the early 1990s, and Suzanne and her husband, Joe, were looking for a spiritual mentor of sorts. Joe, a former Roman Catholic priest turned Methodist minister, had benefited from having a spiritual director since he was a young seminary student, and he thought they could use guidance as they discerned the work God had for them to do. So he took the plunge and called Rohr, a total stranger, to ask if he and Suzanne could come to visit.

That was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship between Rohr and the Stabiles — in fact, she still checks in with him before making major decisions. It was also the start of Suzanne’s deep love of the Enneagram.

At that initial meeting, Rohr handed her a manuscript of one of his books on the Ennneagram, which she knew nothing about. “I think you might really like this,” he told her.

Enneagram teacher and author Suzanne Stabile

Enneagram teacher and author Suzanne Stabile. Courtesy photo

She took the book home and “devoured it,” as she explained to Religion News Service in a Zoom interview. In those days, there were few books available on the Enneagram, which has often been described as a personality typing system. Fascinated, she read “everything I could get my hands on” in those pre-Google days. Since most 20th-century Enneagram experts believed the system was best learned by oral tradition under the guidance of an experienced teacher, there wasn’t much written material available.

When the Stabiles visited Rohr again three months later, she came armed with a list of questions.

He told her, “It seems to me that you really get this, organically and intuitively. I don’t know you very well yet, but one of your gifts seems to be synchronicity. I would suggest that you study this for five years before you talk about it.”

So that’s what she did: a deep dive into the Enneagram for five years before she ever taught a workshop. She used that time to observe people of all nine basic personality types and study everything that had been published on the subject.

“I think that has made all the difference,” she said. Today, Stabile is one of the world’s top Enneagram teachers, and the landscape around her has changed dramatically. Information, once scarce and transmitted primarily through oral teaching, is now ubiquitous in print and online. There are numerous Enneagram institutes, teachers, podcasts (Stabile’s is “The Enneagram Journey“), retreats and workshops.

“The Road Back to You” by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron. Courtesy image

“The Road Back to You” by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron. Courtesy image

Not to mention books: Stabile has recently published “The Journey Toward Wholeness,” which is the third Enneagram book she’s either authored or co-authored and published with InterVarsity Press.

Stabile sees the three books as natural progressions for people who are learning about the Enneagram and desire to go deeper.

“The Road Back to You,” the 2016 bestseller for which Stabile was Ian Morgan Cron’s co-author, focuses on learning about yourself. That, she said, is the foundation for growth. “You have to know who you are and the lens through which you see the world,” Stabile explained. “And you have to recognize that you’ve always seen the world that way. And you can change what you do with how you see, but you can’t change how you see.”

InterVarsity Press reports that it has sold 750,000 copies to date. (Disclosure: Jana Riess, the author of this article, was also that book’s editor.)

Stabile’s 2018 follow-up, “The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships” (100,000 copies sold), is about treating other people the way they want to be treated — which is not, she points out, as simple as abiding by the “golden rule.” The golden rule says to treat others the way you would want to be treated yourself. Instead, “the Enneagram offers us an opportunity to treat other people the way they want to be treated.”

The next step of the journey to wisdom, she says, is spiritual: learning how each kind of personality relates to God. “The Journey Toward Wholeness” distills her 30 years of Enneagram study, and particularly her insights into the Christian life.

"The Journey Toward Wholeness" by Suzanne Stabile. Courtesy image

“The Journey Toward Wholeness” by Suzanne Stabile. Courtesy image

Stabile says spiritual transformation is impossible until people own up to the darker parts of their personalities. “The best part of you is also the worst part of you” is a phrase that comes up often in her teaching and podcast interviews. Real transformation, she insists, is as much a matter of letting go as it is of striving for something.

“In our culture in the West, we have this temptation to believe that we have enough control that we can get rid of the worst part of us with enough willpower and discipline,” she said. “That is not true. Transformation occurs when something old falls away, and we allow it to happen.”

Given the Enneagram’s trendiness today, Stabile worries that some people embrace it merely as a fad rather than a tool for change. Some parts of its popularity are great; she’s pleased to see, for example, that the average age of her workshop attendees has dropped significantly in recent years. “My audience does not look the same anymore. Maybe 75% of the people in the room are under 40.”

The down side is a certain shallowness. There’s a proliferation of Ennea-memes, quickie tests online and even sites that promise to tell you which animal you are most like, based on your Enneagram type.

Stabile admits this concerns her.

“Somebody will recognize me on an airplane and then tell me their Enneagram type is a Four with a Nine Wing.” Which is an impossible configuration. Many of these people, she says, have taken a 10-question test online and think that’s enough to get a handle on the Enneagram.

Real study takes time and commitment, and it’s better to learn from a teacher. “I do not support a test and never have,” she said. “I’m clear with Russ Hudson, who’s a dear friend, that his is the best. But most indicators only measure behavior and not the motivation for the behavior.”

So Stabile continues hitting the road and recording her podcast, her obvious energy for teaching seemingly undiminished by the fact that she’s now in her 70s and has earned the nickname “the godmother of the Enneagram.” Right now, she is midway through a multicity speaking tour to promote “The Enneagram Journey,” including Friday and Saturday in her own city of Dallas.

Future tour stops include Denver in July, where pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber will be joining her for the event; Birmingham, Alabama; San Francisco; and other cities.

She hopes people will leave those workshops not just informed, but inspired to change. “The best witness is ‘did it make you a better human being?’ If you are, people will ask you why you changed, why you are kinder and more at peace. If you do the work.”


Related content:

Why has the Enneagram become so popular among Christians?

Enneagram 201: It’s not just about knowing your type