A Story About Outdoor Cats & The Enneagram
This is a guest post by Tamara Shantz, Spiritual Director and Enneagram Teacher. Tamara’s work centres on “practicing incarnation,” with the Enneagram as a key piece of the puzzle.
Our cat Izzy is NOT an indoor cat.
When we first took Izzy and her brother Alex in six years ago, they had been living as outdoor cats for at least a year. We hoped to transition them to being fully indoors, but after months of constant crying and complaining, we caved, and allowed Izzy and Alex to move freely between inside and outside.
Alex died really unexpectedly the other summer, and we were so devastated. As we grieved Alex, we were also trying to figure out what to do about Izzy. There was a possibility that Alex had died from exposure to rat poison, so until we got the results from an autopsy, we decided to keep Izzy inside.
One day of her confinement, she spent about 8 hours loudly petitioning to be let outside. There was nothing pleasant about Izzy’s confinement for anyone in the household. Thankfully, in the end, rat poison was not the cause of Alex’s death and we decided to return to Izzy’s usual state of roaming freely between our indoor and outdoor spaces.
Protection or Imprisonment?
This experience with Izzy got me thinking about the idea of protection. I’m sure any parents (of human or fur babies) can relate to the choice-making we do for the protection of our vulnerable charges, even when they conflict with the desires of the one we seek to protect.
I have no doubt that Izzy did not feel protected. She felt imprisoned. Like many protective acts or barriers in the world, it really depends on perspective.
What one person sees as an act of protection, for another, is an act of confinement.
We can find this dynamic within ourselves as well.
The Wisdom of Enneagram
The Enneagram is a tool for self awareness that describes 9 basic personality structures. It sees your personality as a collection of coping strategies – defence mechanisms that develop in order to keep yourself safe. Especially when we are children, at our most vulnerable, we need to learn how to protect ourselves in the world. We begin to create a tough outer layer to defend the tender parts of our truest selves.
And so Ones begin to perfect themselves, Twos start to shower others with care and kindness, Threes get busy, and so on. Each one of us believing that these strategies will keep us safe; will bring us love.
Nothing Is Inherently Wrong
What I have found to be so beautiful about working with the Enneagram is that this development process isn’t seen as something that has gone wrong, or that these protective layers are to be judged in any way.
It has been incredibly liberating to be introduced to the Enneagram’s perspective on human development where there is nothing inherently wrong. The structures of our Enneagram type, the ways that we have tried to protect ourselves are necessary, natural, and good.
There is beauty, love, and power at work in the formation of our personalities.
From Protection to Protest
Just as our choice to confine Izzy was rooted in love, it was still confining!
Even as our personality formation is essential and marked by love, these same traits and structures that have protected us can also begin to chafe. They begin to feel confining.
Like Izzy, I have found myself at the closed windows of my being, loudly protesting my confinement.
This is where meaningful work with the Enneagram really begins.
One of the purposes of learning about your Enneagram type is to begin to see these various coping strategies clearly, to notice when they become activated, and to develop the freedom to let these habitual patterns go.
I find my home at point Nine on the Enneagram. One of my primary coping strategies has been to numb out, dissociating from physical sensation and retreat into my daydreams.
For many years this was a necessary habit to keep me safe. But as I moved into adulthood, I began to realize how this numbness also was its own prison, and work with this limitation. My confinement is much clearer and more temporary than it used to be.
Letting Ourselves Be Outdoor Cats
We were a bit anxious when we ended Izzy’s confinement, but we do have some tools we use to keep her (and the birds) safe: a bright, rainbow clown collar and bell, neighbours who keep an eye out for her, and an early ‘bedtime’.
The Enneagram can provide these tools for each of our own processes by helping us to become acquainted with our unique confinement, and offering practices to help us feel supported as we risk venturing outside of our protective walls.
Curious? It won’t kill ya! Join us for a workshop to dive in: The Enneagram: Nine Journeys of the Soul on February 10 and 11. Registration here.
You can learn more about Tamara and her work on her website.