May 21st 2013
These questions are coming up in me when I think of pregnancy and being an (enneagram) 8. Knowing that power is important to an enneagram 8, how do you experience power while being pregnant? Do you feel power differently? Another way of asking this is how has your understanding of strength changed (if at all)?
Emily Joye McGaughy-Reynolds
You know, Jess, it's funny. This question is, for quite obvious reasons, taking me back to the first time I ever heard of the Enneagram. I was in the second unit of a year long CPE residency and a friend of mine--a baptist minister named LeAnn who I grew to love with my whole heart and is now a dear and geographically too-far-away friend--gave us an Enneagram didactic. I'd heard people talk about the Enneagram in seminary and I'd seen the Enneagram symbol on the cover of books and on facebook profiles, but this was the first time I was actually hearing something about it in depth. My response? This is utter fucking non-sense. Pure unadulterated bullshit. Just another personality test meant to put us in boxes for the sake of minimizing who we truly are. I was less than taken. And then, about 3 months later, we had a CPE retreat with other regional programs in Northern California at a spirituality center--a day long affair with nearly 100 other residents/students--devoted entirely to study of the Enneagram. I was kicking and screaming the whole way there. At one point they put us in small groups according to our type. I noticed that everyone in my group was equally suspicious of this thing. (Which should have told me something right there!) No one wanted to talk first. We all postured hard-ass and made wise (and i do mean wise, cuz that's how we are, ya know) cracks about the process. But when it came time for us to describe the other types, there was no shortage of in-depth analysis, opinions or judgments. Huh. When we went back to the large group, the facilitator called us out: "I bet you rarely spoke to each other at the start, but when it came time to name the dynamics of others you were pressed for time." We all laughed, but something inside of me recognized a personal dynamic within that small group dynamic. And that, that was the day I began to open my little hard ass heart to the truth of the Enneagram. I still think some of it is dangerous and overly simplistic, and one must be weary of too much categorization. But. And. There's too much truth in it for me to deny its relevance. I've learned a lot a lot a lot in reading, contemplating, and discussing the Enneagram over the last 4 years: a lot about myself, a lot about others and a lot about the dynamics that pass between us.
Before I get into the Enneagram/Mothering connection, I want to throw an observation your way and see what you make of it. I've noticed that my relationships with other 8s are all kinds of complex. I tend to get into fiery, passionate, boundless connections with 8s that WAY too quickly get messy, angry and full of betrayal. There's instant attraction (not always romantic, but that's certainly there sometimes) and almost equally instant repulsion. Have you had similar experiences? I'm wondering because it seems to me a part of that dynamic might be instructive in terms of how others experience us. I've also noticed that if I can get through those initial phases of attraction/repulsion, there's deep, abiding love on the other side that's worth the "fight." Does that make sense? Talk to me.
"How do you experience power while being pregnant?"
I experience the power of pregnancy itself. As opposed to my 'own' power. This feels like an important distinction. It's a lot like writing or dancing. In that I feel like a third space exists between me and the thing. In writing, there's the self and there's the text: but there's a spirit that enlivens one to produce the other. It's a time and space invoked and occupied, but only temporarily and its mystery/identity cannot be articulated by one in the other or vice versa. Because you are a writer, Jess, I know you can comprehend this. There's you and what you write. But the real juice is in the process where you become the text and the text comes forth from you. That's a separate all together holy thing in itself. With dancing, same thing. There's the music and there's the responsive movement, but there's the interstice, the in-between creative coming to when body and beat become one with each other. The power of pregnancy is like that. Like there's me. And there's Isaiah. But this 9 month time, when we are entire mysteries to one another, there's something else. A third thing, between us, enveloping us, making through us. I feel the power of that thing more than anything else. It's not my own power, though my own body and Isaiah's growing body are the hosts for this power.
And in this sense, it's an incredibly GOOD and humbling thing for an Enneagram 8 to experience pregnancy this way. Because as you know, when we mistake our own power as The power, we are royally screwed and so is anyone who steps in our path. That is our greatest temptation/sin, I think: to confuse our power with the power of Life/God/Love itself. You know? We are at our best when we are gracious host, willing vessels making space from our vulnerability. Pregnancy can be that. It absolutely can.
My understanding of strength has changed, actually. And there is nothing on Earth that has changed my concept of strength more than giving birth. Like, actually, pushing Aurora out of me into the hands of the womyn doctor waiting for her/us to arrive--that was a kind of strength I'd never tapped. And that strength was made manifest in the (second) worst pain I'd ever felt.
Against the urgings of many folks in my life, I went into the delivery room determined NOT to use pain meds. I wanted to be present. For sure. But I think there was the desire to 'prove strength' in that decision too, to show that I could do "it." Such typical Enneagram 8ness in that posturing. Anyways...for the first four hours I did well with the contractions. It just felt like enduring harsher-than-usual menstrual cramps. But then the baby wasn't "coming fast enough" (ugh, beware of Western medicine and forced timelines) so the attending nurse kicked up my pitocin level. For the next 5 hours, my contractions were less than a minute apart, they came in rounds of three, and by the very last one, I thought I was going to die. But something interesting happened: when I finally hit the wall with pain, I felt Aurora's head. They tell you that "you'll know" when it's time to push because you'll feel the babies head. I don't think it's any coincidence that I became physically ready to push at the very moment my body could no longer take the pain of contractions. And the very exact same dynamic happened with the pushing. I gave it everything I had, for about 30 minutes. But when her head was right at the opening of my vagina, I had nothing left in me. I looked at the doctor and said "I can't do this." She looked me in the eye and said "I need one more big push." When it was time, I took a big deep breath, and tried to push, but I couldn't. I literally had no strength. But you know what? That little girl pushed her way out anyways, without me having to do anything.
The lesson in all of this?
There is strength beyond my strength. There is power beyond my power. And it is only at the limits of my strength and power that I can learn about or interact with the stuff that transcends me. We, you and I and many like us, call this transcendent thing God. But in the birth room, I didn't feel God in the ways I usually feel God. I felt Life. Like capital L. Life. It was a zone I entered and came back out of. But I touched something transcendent, yet more immanent in the Earth/Nature than anything else. It was/is the place where life is in charge. Sometimes humans think they're in charge. But I knew, in that birth-room, that Life was in charge. This rhythmic, cosmic, power that exists to do nothing else but create Itself came into the room, took a hold of me and took a hold of my daughter, and let it be known that something bigger than the two of us was having its Way. I beheld it as a power that's been around since the Beginning and will be around until the End.
Yeah, Alpha and Omega.
That experience forever fucked me up as a pastor. Honestly. Because the power we claim sovereign in church, that mytho-phallo-logo-centric God we claim, has nothing on that Power of Life I felt on March 20th 2012. Even the best feminist, post-colonial, liberation theology can't touch it. Catherine Keller's Tehom is the only thing that comes close, but even then. Even then. It's some wild ass animal stuff, Jess. For real. Our frameworks are too decent, too tea-time. I don't know. Is this making sense? When you've had the Power of Life have Her way with you, it's really hard to digest and/or produce theologies of mediocrity. Which unfortunately find their way into my vocation (almost) weekly. I know that stuff about God being a man is a lie. It's a fucking lie. Always has been, but now I know, from my belly bloated, to the blood on the floor, to the naked child emerging, now I know. Now my body knows as much as my mind has always known.
Back to the Enneagram. Pregnancy, birth and child-rearing thus far have taught me to go to the limits of my strength and power and to expect something on the other side. Something that is not of my own making. Something that is beyond me. And you know what? Every time I do, there's a miracle waiting. Just waiting.
Much love to you, soul-sister. You rock my world--always have, always will.