The Path Between Us:
An Enneagram Journey
to Healthy Relationships
Hardback: IVP Books, 2018
Buy Now: [ Amazon ] [ Kindle ]
Reviewed by MaryAnn McKibben Dana
It’s a common occurrence in our house—over breakfast, my husband Robert will say, “Well, this morning’s EnneaThought email was another head-scratcher.” Many Enneagram aficionados will know what I’m talking about: the Enneagram Institute sends a daily email, as short as a fortune cookie, and you can sign up based on one of the nine Enneagram personality types.
Some of these emails are so perceptive that they land with a convicting blow, which has made them the topic of much kvetching among friends. (Many of us have wished they were sent at some benign hour in the middle of the day, rather than wake up to them first thing in the morning.) Other EnneaThoughts are impenetrable, with references to divine essence and holy wisdom. It is these that my husband finds eye-rollingly puzzling.
One of the challenges is that nobody, not even the most learned Enneagram teachers (many of whom are Christian), really knows where the Enneagram comes from—only that it’s been around for thousands of years. Based on the Greek words ennea (nine) and grammos (a written symbol), the nine-pointed Enneagram symbol describes distinct strategies for viewing oneself, others, and the world. The whole thing can seem a bit mysterious and inscrutable.
Enter Suzanne Stabile’s The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships, a wise and accessible exploration of the Enneagram. Through her organization, Life in the Trinity Ministries, Stabile has been a master teacher of the Enneagram for the better part of three decades, and co-authored 2016’s The Road Back to You with Ian Cron. As Stabile is famous for saying, the Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box; it tells you what box you’re already in, and provides resources for how to live most fully and faithfully, given the way you see yourself and the world around you.
Some writers seek to cut through the “impenetrable” stereotype with lighthearted, even jokey resources. These books and websites may provide cartoons, or list famous people for each type. Such fluffy trivialities can be an amusing diversion, but they threaten to reduce the Enneagram to a modern-day horoscope. Besides, students of the Enneagram are cautioned against typing other people, and certainly not people we don’t know.
Stabile’s book manages to be clear without being superficial—a worthy companion for any student of the Enneagram, whether you’re brand new to the discipline or years down the road. Part of the beauty of the Enneagram is the self-reflective work of discovering who we are, even when we mistype ourselves. I spent a few years thinking I was one type, only to realize I’d been seeing myself wrong. The course correction has been helpful, but the mistaken identity taught me almost as much. It was Stabile’s work that helped me find that clarity.
The Path Between Us bills itself as a follow-up to The Road Back to You (co-written with Ian Cron), but I intend to recommend this book even more than its predecessor as a worthy first introduction to the Enneagram. This solo work of Stabile’s provides a good summary of each of the types, but expands that focus to relationships with others. How does an Enneagram One relate to an Enneagram Nine? What are the pitfalls between Fives and Twos?
This focus on relationships is a welcome addition to the ground covered in The Road Back to You. After all, we don’t inhabit our types (or our lives) in isolation; we are always bumping up against other people. In fact, I’m hoping this book will be a massive hit, simply because it would be helpful for the people I encounter to know themselves… and to know what it means for me to see the world in the way I do. Certainly there are many paths to self-knowlege—the Enneagram is a tool, and one among many—but when it comes to psychological transformation, the Enneagram has been the richest path I’ve trod.
That’s partly because the Enneagram is itself a web of relationships. Each single type relates to at least four other types. First, there are wings, which are the numbers on either side of one’s main number and can offer color and contour to the ways we live out our main number. There are also numbers we emulate in times of stress and in times of security. “It’s important to remember that the Enneagram is not a static system,” writes Stabile. “We are all moving from healthy, to average, to unhealthy and back again.”
One of the dangers of books about the Enneagram is that they focus on behaviors, which makes it easy to mistype oneself. The Enneagram is centered not around what we do, but why we do it—it is the motivation, not the behavior, that makes us who we are, for the purposes of the Enneagram. This is what tripped me up for years—my behaviors seemed to match a certain number as it’s often described, but the “why” of those behaviors ultimately pointed to a different one. Stabile’s book is not immune to this shorthand—it’s much easier to describe behaviors than delve into motivations—but the underlying “why” is also addressed well here.
Fortunately, the book has been both written and formatted to be easy to pick up again and again. Ideas that the reader missed the first time will leap out on second reading, often at just the right time for deeper knowledge and reflection. With this book, we do not get a long rumination on the origins of the Enneagram, nor some of the more esoteric topics hinted at in those enigmatic EnneaThoughts. What we do get is a charming, clear, deeply wise guide into one of the most mysterious terrains on earth—the human heart.
The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana is a writer, pastor, speaker, and coach living in the DC area. She is author of God, Improv, and the Art of Living, and 2012’s Sabbath in the Suburbs. She is a sought-after speaker, preacher, conference leader and writer around issues of leadership, faith formation, technology, and congregational transformation. She is a mother of three, an inveterate muffin-maker, a haphazard knitter, and an occasional marathoner. Connect with her at her website.