In the last few weeks, we’ve been exploring the historical roots of personal transformation. We’ve looked at New Age religions and philosophies as well as allegedly channeled wisdom, before delving into the concept of psychic alchemy. In that last post, we traced the roots of these clusters of personal development and practices to an ancient Egyptian religion known as Hermeticism. The influence of Hermeticism on the Western occult is extraordinary. It even pervades most of our modern day Personal Development literature and praxis, even when packaged in new nomenclature and rational approaches.
One of the key teachings that evolved out of early Hermetic writings, at the hands of the great 3rd century philosopher and sage, Plotinus, was the transformation of our baser emotional states into their higher emanations through contemplative practice. This is accomplished by engaging our personal awareness (our higher self) to disrupt our conditioned responses (our personalities). The Hermetic sage can transform her anger into serenity by introducing its polar opposite into her consciousness, for example. This very process of keen self-awareness and weeding of the garden of our emotional souls is known across spiritual traditions — from Buddhism, to Christianity, and onward to Sufism and Kabbalah. In medieval Western Magick this is known as spiritual alchemy. In modern day psychology we call this Personal Transformation.(1)
So, in a nutshell, Personal Transformation is the psychological process by which we come into awareness of our personalities. Once we become aware of who we are as personalities, we can then become aware of how these personalities condition our realities. Instead of seeing conditioned reality as reality itself, we then begin to seek a perception of reality that transcends our habitual ways of perceiving and this then expands our being in the world. That process of seeking a greater truth than that merited by our perceptual distortions and deletions, is either a spiritual or a psychotherapeutic practice: depending on context, time and place.
There are hundreds of frameworks with which we can explore and identify our personality type and that of others. Among these in Western Psychology there are Freudian , Transactional, and Jungian personality types. But perhaps one of the more interesting Personality Type frameworks is the Enneagram, specifically as it is understood, taught and practiced by Helen Palmer.
Palmer explains that the Enneagram’s historical roots are grounded in various spiritual traditions: in Christianity, for example, it manifests as the 7 seven deadly sins, the equivalent of which can be found in modern day psychological typologies. She uses a modern overlay of the Enneagrams’ 9 personality types to explore the inner workings of such types and the work in awareness and cognition that each practitioner must do to enter transcendental and thus transformational states. What is most useful about Palmer’s approach is that it is stripped of mythology and mysticism, thus resulting in a marriage between Western materialism and transcendental states.
(1) Palmer, Helen. Enneagram. N.C.: Sounds True, 1999.