To lean how to facilitate change and help people and organizations to realize their potential we can draw on living systems theories of evolution and development in order to expand our understanding of the four phases of what Dan Siegel refers to as the self-organization cycle (approaching order, destabilization, approaching chaos, re-organization) into nine phases.  Each of these nine phases corresponds with a number on the Enneagram.  The developmental concerns of each phase are what people do too much when they are caught in the vicious cycles of their Enneagram fixation.  The nine phases are:

NINE Homeostasis

The system organizes itself at the edge of chaos with self-maintaining feedback loops (homeostasis). It regulates predictability and equilibrium by the consolidation of emergent relationship patterns into a more robust system, which in turn will effect adjustments in the larger system to which it belongs.

Primary concern: How to maintain stability?

ONE Awareness of Limitations

There is a growing awareness in the system of the limitations of relating to life within the parameters defined by the existing structure, which initiates the destabilization of homeostasis.

Primary concern: What’s the problem?

TWO Adaptive Behavior

The system attempts to adapt to the increased demands of the emergent properties within the parameters of the existing structure by relating to circumstances more effectively. This leads to an amplification of self-reinforcing feedback loops.

Primary concern: How to adapt to problems?

THREE Limits of Capabilities

By climbing fitness peaks the system (attempting to reestablish homeostasis) reaches the limits of its existing structure. At the boundary of its current attractor basin, the systems efforts spill over into a higher dimension of opportunity.

Primary concern: How to promote success within the status quo?

FOUR Inadequacies Revealed

The inadequacies of the system become more apparent as boundaries begin breaking down, opening the system to untapped creative potentials.

Primary concern: What are the inadequacies?

FIVE Diffuse Boundaries

Boundaries become more diffuse, which allows a greater flow of information into the system and initiates a sorting of what is vitally essential for survival.

Primary concern: Why is this happening?

SIX Differentiation

The system maintains its integrity around essential structures or patterns, while others disintegrate and may be eliminated. Balance shifts away from the previous level of organization towards chaos.

Primary concern: What to hold onto and what to let go of?

SEVEN Exploration and Experimentation

At the boundary of order and chaos the system seeks out new couplings and internal patterns of organization. Exploring various ways of relating to changes in the environment creates possibilities to be discovered and experimented with.

Primary concern: What’s next? What else is possible?

EIGHT Self Reorganization

Certain new couplings are selected, organized and integrated with existing essential structures into a more complex and robust order and a new sense of self.

Primary concern: How to gain control?

NINE Consolidation and Re-stabilization

The system organizes itself with self-maintaining feedback loops (homeostasis). It regulates predictability and equilibrium by consolidating emergent relationship patterns into a more robust system. This in turn will effect adjustments in the larger system to which it belongs.

Primary concern: How to regain stability?

Symbolic Geometry

enneagram developmental cycle

Upon completion of every developmental cycle, the system does not return to the same homeostasis, but to a higher level of organization. A spiral is likely the best geometric representation. With each complete cycle, the circle goes higher and wider.


Although the creators of the Enneagram didn’t have the theoretical constructs available today, I believe they had an intuition about this pattern. Perhaps the Enneagram was their attempt, with the mathematics available at that time, to construct, like fractals, a model of living systems.


The Enneagram is a geometric structure consisting of three geometric forms: the circle, the inner butterfly-like shape and the equilateral triangle. Traditionally, these geometric figures are said to represent various metaphysical and principles and natural patterns of organization.

spiral of changeThe circle represents the whole of creation. It can also represent the circular nature of creation and the cycles of life.

The equilateral triangle represents the tendency for the oneness of creation to be perceived in divisions of three:

  • gas, liquid and solid
  • proton, electron and neutron
  • strong force, weak force and electromagnetism
  • greater, lesser and equal
  • height, depth and breadth
  • past, present and future
  • birth, life and death
  • beginning, middle and end
  • inner, outer and membrane
  • three primary colors (blue, yellow and red)
  • thought, feeling and action
  • towards, away and stationary
  • self-preservation, social instincts and sexual instincts
  • This is echoed in the way the great religions perceive spiritual reality
  • Christianity: Father (God), Soul (Holy Spirit), Jesus (Human Son)
  • Buddhism: dharmakaya, sambhogakaya and nirmanakaya
  • Hinduism: Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva
  • Taoism: The Three Pure Ones

    The butterfly-like form figure connects the repeating numbers 1, 4, 2, 8, 5, 7, and is generated by the mathematical equation 1 divided by 7 = 0.142857142857 It is symbolic of the oneness of creation perceived in divisions of seven. This is recognized in schema that are counted in sevens:

  • colors of visible spectrum of light

  • physiological systems (respiratory, immune, endocrine, digestive, nervous, circulatory, reproductive)

  • energy levels of the periodic table

  • basic measurements: meter, kilogram, second, ampere, kelvin, mole, candela

  • notes of the musical scale

  • chakras of the human energetic system

  • continents and oceans of Earth

  • days of the week

    How the Enneagram symbol was discovered is unknown, but its ability to represent the nature of creation is elegant and simple. The integration of the three mathematical principles wholeness, and wholeness divided by three and by seven, like the integration of three mathematical formulas to create a fractal has created a framework for profound understanding of the basic patterns by which life self-organizes. Combining the three principles produces an image of a circle (cycle) divided into nine phases.

    It is possible to think of the movement around the circle as a step-by-step process, though living systems are more complex than this. Some parts of the system are more active in relationship to one another at any time. If we were in phase TWO, we would also draw on the qualities associated with EIGHT and FOUR. In addition, remnants of phase ONE and preludes of phase THREE would play a part. However, because we are discovering essential wholeness as a web of relationships between all its parts, all aspects of our wholeness are always presents and accessible. To help us understand the complex relationships of a system, we have dissected it; however when a living organism is dissected, what is destroyed is the pattern of life itself. This is why we need an approach that addresses wholeness.

    We can use this understanding of how all systems evolve and grow we can more effectively support the development of individuals, families and organizations in psychotherapy, family therapy, coaching, management and consulting.