September 4, 2021

Contemplative Prayer meets the Enneagram: Spiritual Insight from the Contemplative Faith Tradition

By Amanda Brandimore

Identity Development

This post is based on the enneagram, which can be difficult to understand for anyone without a prior introduction to it. If you’re familiar, great! I’m so glad you’re here. You can skip the first paragraph to get right to the point.

Before We Begin, Here’s A Resource if the Enneagram is Unfamiliar:

If the enneagram is new to you, you may want to first check out this three-part introduction here. For those who may need a brief refresher, the enneagram is a way of understanding different types of people based on their core motivations in life. There are 9 types, and each of those types belong to one of three intelligence centers: head, heart, and gut. The intelligence centers refer to the way that we understand the world and ourselves in it. For 8s, 9s, and 1s in the gut triad, they perceive the world through intuition and engagement of bodily senses. 2s, 3s, and 4s in the heart triad perceive the world primarily through their emotions and relational connections. 5s, 6s, 7s make sense of the world through their thinking. While everyone uses each of these three means to some degree to make sense of the world, we rely on one intelligence center as our primary means.

Posturing Our Prayer Based on our Enneagram Intelligence Center

Knowing about your intelligence center can also tell you something about how you understand and relate to God as well. Each intelligence center belies a specific desire: a desire for control (gut), connection (heart), or answers (head). Those desires tell us about what we long for and therefore, what we hope for in our relationship with God or our spiritual walk. In his book, Sacred Enneagram, Chris Heuertz provides insight on this very topic by marrying two of my favorite things. He explains how integrating the Enneagram and the contemplative prayer tradition can offer a corrective to our spiritual imbalances and aid in our spiritual alignment and growth. There are three major postures in contemplative prayer: solitude, stillness, and silence. While we need to cultivate all three postures, our intelligence center signifies one that is crucial for us.


This is the intentional practice of spending time alone. For the feeling types in the heart center who are drawn to others for affirmation and approval, the spiritual practice of solitude can be a corrective to their dependence on connection with others or comparison to others for a sense of self-worth. Practicing solitude makes space for heart types to be present to themselves and to God without being distracted by the approval of others.


For gut types, there is a constant motion, whether it’s directed outward to change their surroundings like 8s, directed inward to fix what is broken like 1s, or directed toward ignoring the negative emotions and tensions that life throws at them like 9s. There is an element of inertia with these types that the objects in motion stay in motion unless forced to stop. In practicing stillness then, a gut type makes space to realize the ways they have overidentified with their impulse to “do.” Stillness is a corrective to the control of “doing” and frees them up to apply their drive rather than be ruled by it.


In the head center, the thinking types tend to build up a level of inner noise. Whether they are searching for answers like 5s, worrying about the possible outcomes like 6s, or anticipating the next adventure or mountain top experience like 7s, head types tend to think their way to security. Through intentionally setting aside time for silence, head types can make space to turn down the inner noise enough to attune to themselves and to God.

In the book, Heuretz highlights three contemplative prayer practices that each cultivate all three prayer postures which are discussed further in the book. These are centering prayer, the Examen, and the welcoming prayer. For other voices on the topic of contemplative prayer practices and practical guidance, I also recommend “Renovaré,” a Christian nonprofit founded by Richard Foster, or Ruth Haley Barton’s book Invitation to Solitude and Silence.

In Closing

Maybe you glanced through this post and are thinking, “Gosh, I don’t know where to start with the enneagram.” Or you may already have an initial understanding, but you’re not sure how to apply an “enneagram lens: to a practice like contemplative prayer personally. If you’re searching for ways to enrich or deepen your spiritual practice, an appointment for therapy might be a great support to review where you’ve been, what you’re struggling to apply, and how you can incorporate the resource found within the Enneagram and Contemplative Prayer to deepen your Spiritual Identity. 

I’m confident the Enneagram is a powerful tool because it has helped me and so many others with understanding ourselves, holding empathy for others, and with the impact of the resources I mentioned in this post our lives and practices as individuals in faith communities. I’d love to incorporate the enneagram or contemplative practices into clinical work with you! Reach out today to schedule an appointment.

Important Disclaimer: 

In the past year, Chris Heuertz, author of The Sacred Enneagram from which this post draws heavily, has been under investigation for allegations of abuse. It is important to acknowledge that reality and to hold space for the possibility of injustice that has flourished under the name of goodness and love. Even as this tension exists and the behavior of the author may be called into question, I think his work of integrating the enneagram with contemplative prayer still has something beneficial to offer us. As critical consumers of information, I humbly offer you this window into how an imperfect man’s work has strengthened my own spiritual walk. I hope it can do the same for you.


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