Speculation on Parallels between the Psychological Enneagram and Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way

Note: the following is fairly speculative discussion on how Gurdjieff’s ideas could be related to the modern psychological enneagram. Most concepts referenced here can be found in ‘In Search of the Miraculous’.


Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way appears to have flowed through into much modern enneagram theory – including the ideas of ‘centres’ (and balancing of centres), ‘personality’ and ‘essence’. Which Gurdjieff used the enneagram symbol, however, he doesn’t use ‘type’ behind noting that normal people can be categorized by a preference toward use of the moving/instinctive, emotional, or intellectual centre. [generally speaking, equalling types 891, 234, 567]
A number of the Fourth Way’s ideas however, might be particularly relevant to particular ‘points’ – allocated to particular types – whether general notes on e.g. how particular ‘centers’ work, or negative traits. Much work here is already done by Ichazo with his ideas of particular ‘passions’ of each type, but a particular focus in Fourth Way terms can be useful (Ichazo himself denies that his ideas are greatly contributed to by Gurdjieff, or at least that Gurdjieff’s ideas are particularly original).
‘wrong work of centres’ – one centre doing the job of another – is necessarily what is happening if one centre is ‘overdeveloped’, so it underlies a number of other specific traits – “The attempts of the thinking centre to feel or pretend that it feels, the attempts of the emotional centre to think, the attempts of the moving centre to think and to feel”.
For example, negative emotions are considered to be one sort of wrong work of centres (in his commentaries, Nichol gives the example of feeling depressed about cleaning the stables, rather than getting on and doing it – moving centre).
Some Fourth Way sources differ in that while this is implying negative emotions are part of the emotional centre, C S Nott in his ‘Teachings of Gurdjieff’ instead implies he was taught negative emotions – e.g. anger – are part of ‘instinctive centre’. Ouspensky says that the lower emotional centre is in a sense artificial, and uses ‘materials from instinctive’ which are borrowed in early development, when centres are less fully separated – fear or anger can be seen to be instinctive responses applicable to fighting for your life or being chased by bears, rather than to social rejections or criticisms, but which are over-used due to ‘identification’ (being caught up and taking things out of proportion) or ‘imagination’.
Perhaps One and Four have some of the most obvious negative emotions – although these types theoretically use different centres! (‘One’ being in the moving centre, and Four in the heart centre).
Anger in One may be difficult to struggle against because of moral frameworks that mean any frustration is viewed as legitimate or objective, while in Four depressive-type feelings – “suffering” – may be seen as proving the realness of the self.
Six meanwhile also has an obvious emotion – anxiety – which could however be said to be using ‘imagination’, i.e. work of the mental centre. Gurdjieff considers imagination to come in negative or positive varieties – the ‘negative’ sort being about speculation on unpleasant or terrible things that may happen; Sixes would intrinsically scan for potential dangers using imagination, to find possible perils or pitfalls; is this a scam, are there sharks here, might the railing collapse if I leaned on it – while you’re anxious you are safe. Conversely, Seven would be ‘positive’ imagination – imagination or daydreaming, being perhaps related to ‘Planning’ as described by Ichazo, who calls the Seven the ‘idealistic planner of the future’. ( Imagination is perhaps also connected to ‘intuition’ in the Jungian sense – extraverted intuition or Ne for the Seven, and introverted intuition or Ni for the Six.). A 6w7 or 7w6 would use both sorts.
Rounding out the mental centre, Five is perhaps primarily a thinking type rather than imaginative (intuitive). Gurdjieff discusses the idea of ‘formatory thinking’ which might refer to Five – ‘associative thinking’ – but this is unclear. Potentially, formatory thinking could also relate to say Nine, depending on how or where to place the formatory ‘centre’. [Ouspensky considers the formatory apparatus to be the moving or ‘mechanical’ level of the intellectual centre, which registers information but shouldn’t be used in decision-making, since it tends to process mechanically or in a very either/or fashion; Nott instead describes the formatory apparatus as being a system ‘outside’ the three centres, which receives impressions and sends them on the appropriate centre, sometimes badly; this can be contrasted with the idea that the senses are the result of ‘instinctive’ centre, although there may be a fine distinction between these being raw sensory input vs. meaning-allocation for that data.
Gurdjieff also notes that thinking can be slow, and “in some cases the interference of the thinking centre gives rise to wrong reactions, because the thinking centre is incapable of understanding the shades and distinctions of many events. “ i.e. that it may interfere with feeling. (imagination by contrast, while strictly speaking part of the thinking centre, could be viewed as interfering more with ‘sensation’ [instinctive centre]; this is however in contrast with e.g. the Hurley-Dobson view where 7 as an ‘aggressive’ type, are the member of the 567 triad with a repressed emotional centre].
Also perhaps interesting is Gurdjieff’s concept of ‘understanding’ as a result of ‘being’ + knowledge, with understanding seen to be the result of three centers while ‘knowledge’ is the function of just one – typically the mental (theoretical knowledge) though knowledge could also be limited to just the practical (=instinctive centre, which includes sensation-based knowledge) or emotional (in full ‘understanding’, emotions give context on why or what knowledge is gained, and without an emotional impact, something is less likely to be remembered or accessed by later associations). ISM discusses generally how people of different centers understand everything in a particular fashion – seeing in terms of sensation, feeling, or thinking – and argue without realizing that others view everything through a different lens.
Moving back to the ‘instinctive’ level, we could note that Gurdjieff denotes three different ‘lower’ centres – sexual, instinctive and moving – which I think equate to probably 891 in that order [see earlier post on this]. Which Gurdjieff considers the sexual centre ‘higher’ than the other two, this properly refers to its full or independent functioning; it can be overdeveloped by ‘stealing’ energy from other centres, or when blocked by putting energy into other centres with a particular ‘fervour’ – “it is always fighting something, disputing, critizing, creating new subjective theories”. (Although One is perhaps the type more stereotypically associated with a Puritan, repressive stance). Gurdjieff’s stance on sex seems to vary between fairly puritanical (as expressed via All and Everything) and the more laissez-faire attitude in ‘In Search of the Miraculous’.
Around Nine, aside from the above, relevant sections may be around mechanical habits, and ‘self-remembering’ (compare the idea of 9 as ‘self-forgetting’ in e.g. the Narrative Tradition). While the ‘instinctive’ centre is continually operating in running various bodily functions, its main ‘mental’ action of note is that the senses (vision, hearing, smell, etc.) are an instinctive function.
Finally, returning to the ’emotional centre’ types, concepts relevant to Two and Three may be those of ‘considering’ and ‘false personality’.
“Considering” others would usually be taken as a good thing, but this would warrant a further explanation. The Fourth Way considers some forms of consideration to others to stem from either love or conscience, i.e. higher parts of the emotional centre or the Higher Emotional Centre – being genuinely altruistic. On the other hand, overvaluing how one appears to others is a sort of ‘identification’, giving rise to feelings of frustration when a gesture is not returned. “Inner freedom is first of all freedom from identification” – compare Ichazo’s idea of ‘Freedom’ as the higher idea for Two. (Technically Gurdjieff defines two sorts of ‘considering’ – one as described and another motivated by ‘fear one is not considering others enough’ – this later might be related more to Six, or perhaps Nine).
“False Personality”, finally, would likely be applicable to Three – referring to the idea of a self-image which is overly important, with potential to be distorted in some particulars (a Three need for recognition also suggesting focus on self-image).
(Possibly as Three is one of the ‘vertex’ points representing a basic forces operating, ‘false personality’ [ego] could be a factor underlying the whole of personality development, regardless of type – while probably more critical to Three specifically, Gurdjieff would probably generally consider everyone to have a ‘false personality’, and this may come through as e.g. type-centric behaviour being justified on various grounds as being just normal, helpful, wise, loyal, etc.); likewise ‘Nine’ would represent a key force of self-forgetting.).


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