Contemplative Prayer and the Enneagram

As I continue to seek spiritual formation with the Enneagram as a tool I find myself continually drawn to contemplative prayer as a spiritual practice and companion to Enneagram work. This close relationship between the Enneagram and contemplative prayer exists in part because both are about raising our awareness. The Enneagram describes your behavior patterns and then asks you to catch yourself in the act of being your number. As you name your compulsive behavior it becomes less compulsive and awareness increases. Over time, contemplative prayer increases your awareness of your own actions. In the end the Enneagram and contemplative prayer work in tandem to increase our self-knowledge, which is crucial if you want be a life giving person. 

While contemplative prayer happens to raise awareness, this is not its primary work. Fist and foremost, contemplative prayer is setting time apart to be present to God. This is an end unto itself, but it is an end with many mysterious and fantastic byproducts. When we stop and are present to God rather than the small self, with its constant commenting and reframing reality, we begin to detach from our minds compulsion to frame reality in a way that asserts power/control, safety/security and esteem/affection. 

The mind is good for many things, but it has its limits and we must take a break from it in order to learn what lies beyond those limits. Richard Rohr elaborates on why we are so unaware of what lies behind the small mind, saying: 

Most of us have lived our whole lives with a steady stream of consciousness, with a continual flow of ideas, images, and feelings. And at every moment of our lives we cling to these thoughts and sensations, so much so that I don’t have the idea; the idea has me. I don’t have the feeling; the feeling has me. We have to discover who this “I” really is, the one who has these always passing feelings and thoughts. Who am I behind my thoughts and feelings? The fixed point that watches things pass through me—is the real ME!


Contemplative prayer invites God to introduce us to this true self and teaches us how to abide there in peace. When we abide there we can observe the small mind and see it for what it is—one of nine different brands of small mind that has captured us and convinced us that it is encapsulates the entirety of our being. 

Contemplative prayer is simple, but it is not easy. It’s so difficult because in a sense it feels like dying. The small mind is used to being in charge and we are used to giving it this place of power. When we ask it to stand down it doesn’t do so without a fight. That is why we must constantly return to the breathe, mantra or physical sensation and let go of thoughts in prayer.  

Jesus declared “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:23-24). Letting go of thoughts through contemplative prayer feels like losing your life and that is exactly what it is. Contemplative prayer asks us to let go of the part of our life that tries to make something of ourselves apart from God. It asks us to let go of our Enneagram number.