Flaming Waters

I tend to write about lighter issues, leaning away from those messy, trite, complicated aspects of life, and even when I tackle something heavy, I sprinkle it with humor as if Mary Poppins. Living in the Gap is not easy and I suppose no one would bother reading blogs if the topics were all doom and gloom? But every now and then…

The truth is we squabble with one another, especially spouses, “after thirty plus years of marriage, and close to sixty years of life, we don’t get angry, we just retreat to separate corners, and prepare for the next inning,” says the wise Bill Martin. So very true.

Perhaps that’s why I landed at the lake house, alone, on my birthday weekend? I was a little pouty at first but then I realized I have total control over the television, refrigerator, wine bar, popcorn maker and itinerary. That kind of freedom is rare.

I took up residence in my mom’s space, at the lengthy end of the long green couch, by the windows that overlooks the lake. There is a storm raging outside and it sort of perfectly mimics my mood. I set a fire, made a pot of coffee, arranged a stack of books by my side, and against my better judgement I opened my computer. 

In one of Amy Hempel’s essays she says, “if it’s true your life flashes past your eyes before you die, then it is also the truth that your life rushes forth when you are ready to start to truly be alive.” Of course this idea intrigued me. I’m sure you feel much the same.

I don’t know why but it made me think of the flash of anger that rushes forth when conflicts arise. Have you ever wondered about anger? Or why we squabble? People do the strangest things, it’s true, we’re all wired differently. I heard somewhere that we’re all just assholes in various colors, genders, and stages. Not the label I like to use when categorizing myself but on occasion it’s mildly applicable. 

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”Anne Lamott (love her)

So I did a little research on my personality type. When you’re trying to figure yourself out I say go right to the source. I found out complacency is my gig, I like to compartmentalize, avoiding anything unpleasant as if it were the plague. I took this mini Enneagram test (fifteen minutes tops – do it) and landed on the number Nine on the Enneagram wheel, a Peace Keeper, it’s sad because it’s so typical of women born in my era. 

Here I am thinking I’m this individualistic, unique, distinctive person, but it’s not true. I’m a product of not only the environment in which I was raised but the culture in which I swam as a child. Some things we’re born with, some things you learn, and some things you simply accept as truth. 

According to the Enneagram Institute, Nines are accepting, trusting, and stable. Usually creative, optimistic, and supportive, but way too willing to go along with others to keep the peace. Nines want everything to be without conflict, which forces them to simplify problems, and minimize anything upsetting. In fact when Nines feel provoked they would rather leave the scene than stand and fight. Let me just say this is truly my gift.

Nines can be powerful healers, forging peaceful solutions to annoying conflicts, patching up discord like nobody’s business (with one notable exception). The truth is we’re afraid of loss and separation (aren’t we all). I crave stability, abhor tension, and I can be jarringly unresponsive during a fight. Don’t you wish everyone was Swedish?

Now if I were to break the cardinal rule of never, ever typecasting another person as to their Enneagram number, I would say I married an Eight, aka the Challenger.

According to the Enneagram Institute, Eights are self-confident, strong, and assertive. But also protective, resourceful, straight-talking, and decisive. Classic Eights are known to be domineering when stressed, also temperamental, and controlling (imagine). At their best they can be masterful, using their strength to improve the lives of others, appearing heroic, magnanimous, and inspiring.

Nines are like a safe harbor, a respite, a person with whom Eights can let down their guard and relax. They tend therefore to teach each other what the other lacks, Eights bring Nines self-confidence and self-assertion, while Nines teach Eights which battles are worth fighting for and how not to push so hard. One of us is a slow learner!

The Eight/Nine couple has been compared to fire and water, an active and receptive force, one that has both complimentary and destructive components. Both have powerful drives and strong willpower; both like comfort and simplicity; both want to create a safe retreat from the world. 

According to the Enneagram Institute when these forces and their talents are harnessed together after the same goals, this pair can be dynamic and powerful, a floating flame of sorts. Maybe I should run for president, Larry as my running mate? Send me your ideas for bumper stickers.

One of the main problem areas for people with this combination is when they deteriorate (stressed) their defenses go in opposite directions. Eights become more aggressive and belligerent, demanding that their energy be met, Nines respond by not responding, they go on emotional strike, and drive up to the lake. Seems totally reasonable.

What’s the solution you might ask? Well thanks be to God the solution is simple, you have to hold onto your sanity like a hat on a windy day, and learn to manage conflict in a healthy manner. Why didn’t I think of that? And to make matters worse, Psychology Today says we create our own drama? Wow, total sucker punch. 

So what are our restorative options?

You’ll never guess, according to Brene Brown, “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” Obviously the one less chosen.

We suffer because we are living at a distance from our depths—it’s as simple as that. The more our souls are infused with Being, the better we feel and the better life seems to us, no matter what our outer circumstances happen to be.” Sandra Maitri

Just when I’m feeling like the rug was pulled out from under me, I see Eight is over there whacking it with a broom, hopefully removing the dust from our worn out stances. The Enneagram Institute claims if we are willing to be vulnerable, stay present, than we naturally become less fixated on the defensive structures of our own personalities, and more attuned to the environment that surrounds us, and this includes our relationships! 

So here’s the hand grenade, Don Richare Riso (Enneagram expert) says our minds are filled with all kinds of opinions about who we are, what we are doing, what is important and not important, what is right and wrong, and how things ought to turn out. Because our mind is full of opinions and old thoughts, it has no internal space for a fresh impression of the real world around us. This also prevents us from really seeing other people – especially the people we love. Boom!

Stop right now, look around, what do you see?

At this very moment I notice the way the sun flows into the east facing windows forming a rainbow of light that arcs into the room, the memorizing flicker of flames from my morning fire, the bitterness of the fresh brewed coffee on my tongue, the recent absolution of a warm shower, the sound of a spring rain drumming gently against the flat roof, or the freshness of a clean sheet that swaddled me last night as if a child in my mother’s arms. I look up when I hear a key unlock the front door, Larry enters briskly, as if he’s come back from the future. Like a wise man, he comes bearing birthday gifts, and an epiphany. 

“I’m sorry.” 

“So am I.”

So these flashes of life that push forth at our significant portals in time have something to do with our capacity to be present? Don Richard Riso says spiritual work is therefore a matter of subtraction, of letting go, rather than of adding anything to what is already present. This seems like the work of the dying but I’ve come to believe it is also the work of those who are finally ready to live.

What else could hold you so profoundly to the experience of life than a flash of present pushing into view that which is uniquely you? When we allow our wall of fear to be breached maybe we’re more capable of fully experiencing life. If time is nonexistent than this is all happening now, we are either collapsing in death, or expanding with every new breath towards a more jubilant present. 

That’s what I call Living in the Gap, drop by anytime, we’ll make signs for our emotional strike. 


  • Take the quick Enneagram Test and then study your personality type here.
  • “The Enneagram is, at its most abstract, a universal mandala of the self—a symbol of each of us.” Don Richard Riso
  • “Every moment has the possibility of delighting us, nurturing us, supporting us – if we are here to see it. Life is a tremendous gift, but most of us are missing it because we are watching a mental movie of our lives instead. As we learn to trust in the moment and to value awareness, we learn how to turn off the internal mood projector and start living a much more interesting life – the one we are actually starring in.” Don Richard Riso
  • “I’m gonna teach you how to be better through the faults of others.” Willam Belli 

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