The Virtue of Type One: Serenity
Part 3 of 9 in the Enneagram Virtues series.
The Virtue of the Type One is “Serenity.” But if Ones aren’t careful, they’ll institute a rule-following regimen to achieve Serenity by the “right way” or “correct practices.” As with all of the Virtues in the Enneagram, this one can’t be obtained with its own energy. If Ones try to get to Serenity by striving, the game is already over. Instead, Ones have to learn to relax into Serenity—the exact opposite of what they want to do.
When I think of Serenity, Frank Costanza comes instantly to mind. There’s an episode of Seinfeld where this character—a serial over-reactor and comically unaware person—gains a small insight for self-improvement and attempts to control his frequent outbursts. Whenever an irksome thing happens to him, you can see the tension building just before he, with great effort, summons the will to control himself and shouts, “Serenity now!”
The punchline of the episode is that Frank shouts, “Serenity now!” ad nauseum with increasing frequency, volume, and angst. While Frank is out of earshot, another character finally reveals that shouting, “Serenity now!” doesn’t work; it just bottles up the anger inside. “Serenity now; insanity later,” says the character—shortly before Frank finally explodes in a climactic rage. This is the emptiness of “serenity” as a matter of willpower.
The Virtue of Serenity, in contrast, is not a matter of willpower because it is not a matter of control. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. (And all the Ones said, “Thank God!”)
Serenity as a Virtue of the Enneagram means relaxing and receiving, not striving and achieving.
Where’s ‘the Good’?
Ones are made for goodness—to long for it, to seek it, to appreciate it. Ones have an incredible attunement to the inherent goodness of Creation and Reality.
In Christian circles, “the Fall” is emphasized and given prominence, but Richard Rohr (himself a One) reminds us that before original sin there was “original blessing.” Before everything went horribly wrong, everything went wonderfully right.
To see the true nature of things through the mind of God or Reality is to look upon all of Creation and see that “it is good.” The longing of the One is completely justified. And yet it becomes twisted.
Ones long for the goodness of everything but look around and see not all is as it should be. There’s injustice and evil, pain and brokenness. Where’s the harmony? Where is the true, good, and beautiful Ones were made to appreciate?
The One’s response to this conundrum is a really frightening solution: Let us create the goodness we desire. Let us play at God.
So Ones try to categorize all of life into two camps: good and bad, in and out, acceptable and unacceptable. It’s the dualistic mind at full speed. And, as you might have guessed, when your mission is to fix all of reality by making it all good, your mission to right all wrongs (especially in yourself) will never end. In fact, the more you play the game of perfecting, the more imperfections you uncover.
Getting Off the Merry Go ‘Round
James Finley, the psychotherapist and former student of Thomas Merton, says another way to look at Christianity is like this: (1) the fundamental problem with humans is that we’re ignorant of and blind to Reality as it is, just the way it is; (2) the natural response to our ignorance is fear; (3) the natural response to our fear is clinging. In Enneagram terms for the One—and again in Finley’s words—this would be clinging to our “dreaded and cherished illusions about ourselves.” Ones’ dreaded illusions are that they are what’s wrong with them. Ones’ cherished illusions are that they can somehow manufacture the goodness they so desperately desire through effort—fixing, reforming, punishing, deserving, repenting, judging, and wringing just one more ounce of willpower toward a solution. It’s a cycle the One’s natural energy can never escape; a merry go ‘round that leaves the Ones sick, dizzy, and confused.
The One’s whole world is a series of judgments. But the thing about judgments is you are either questioning them or becoming more attached to them. For Ones, it often takes a “great love or great suffering” (Rohr again) to get them to start questioning those judgements.
There’s one more step in Finley’s assessment of the human condition, according to Christianity, Buddhism, and many other spiritual traditions. (1) The natural condition is ignorance, (2) which gives rise to fear, (3) which gives rise to clinging. And finally, (4) the spiritual master sees that the solution to this clinging is to let go.
There’s a tremendous gift in letting go, a freedom to lay one’s burdens down. To seek to always be the reformer, improver, and perfecter is to seek to, in a way, be God—be someone who is in charge of shaping Reality in a specific way. Serenity opens a powerful gateway to a freedom space for Ones—the freedom to lay down the yoke of playing at being God, to have to fix it all—and to an immense feeling of relief.
Thomas Merton says, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves.” This goes for the things we love, too. Ones try so desperately to perfect themselves, others, and the world. What they have to realize is that there is a perfection they can access that is available at all times and that in no way depends on striving. Just as Sevens have to realize the satisfaction of any given moment in Sobriety, Ones have to realize the inherent goodness of any given moment in Serenity.
Serenity means detaching from the striving that defines so much of the One’s life. Serenity allows Ones to turn off the Inner Critic and to live a life in grace, which is the opposite of the meritocracy in which Ones assume they (and everyone else) should exist.
On a recent podcast, I heard Beth Moore reflect on her followers interacting with her detractors. She said she wants to say to people who are going after others on her behalf that "It's not my way." Likewise, Ones need to know that their way of being judgmental and trying to right the world isn't the way of whatever we're acting on behalf of: God, Love, Harmony, Order, Reality, Justice, Political Correctness, a Better World. It's not the way.
Letting go is the way. It’s not that Serenity creates Ones who don’t care or who turn a blind eye to the brokenness of the world. But Serenity allows Ones to engage in a way that doesn’t demand a certain outcome for it to be okay. When Ones access Serenity, they access a ground that cannot be shaken by imperfections however great, often, or numerous.
A Goodness Available Now
Serenity is the freedom space from striving. It’s a recognition that the inherent goodness Ones seek is already available right now—no effort required. And it’s available now for anyone with eyes to see.
Finley asks, if we could close their eyes and with our eyes closed be interiorly awakened so that when we opened our eyes we saw with our own eyes what Jesus saw, what would we see? We would see God in all that we saw because Jesus saw God in all that he saw. It wasn’t that Jesus was blind to imperfections; but Jesus’ experience of goodness didn’t require any victory of willpower whatsoever. It required a releasing—a complete fall into the grace of the present moment and finding God in the present moment—warts and all.
If the imperfections of life are waves in a storm, Serenity offers us a an island—a solid foundation that cannot be shaken. To see the present moment as good right now, as missing nothing whatsoever right now, is to be able to come home to the One’s true self. Goodness is given as a gift; it can never be earned. And it’s given freely. In this moment. And this one. And this one.
To access Serenity is to regard all of reality with nonreactivity—patiently, compassionately. The goodness of Serenity is the promise of okayness that a One can access even in the midst of great evil or suffering. From this place of non-striving the One can bring their true gifts to the moment, offering grace, empathy, and compassion without demanding any works whatsoever as payment.
The world needs Ones, but it needs awakened Ones who know that goodness is free, here, and now. The beautiful experience for Ones is to finally access this freedom from striving and to relax into the goodness of being. Once they do, they become their unredeemed self’s opposite: not a taskmaster demanding ever more perfection, but an awestruck child beholding with wonder goodness everywhere they look.
Also in This Series
The Virtue of Type Three: Veracity
The Virtue of Type Seven: Sobriety
The Virtue of Type Eight: Innocence
Samuel Ogles is a writer, speaker, spiritual director, and certified Enneagram teacher living in the western suburbs of Chicago. He co-hosts the Ask a Spiritual Director podcast, and he loves communicating, spirituality, and empowering others with deeper insights and a vision for change. Learn more at SamuelOgles.com.