Take a centuries-old system of personalities charted in a nine point diagram called the Enneagram, mix it with modern psychology and nonsectarian spiritual ideas, and you have a means for understanding ourselves and others that prompts compassionate and empathetic behavior.

The Enneagram has undergone a renewal of scholarly attention in the last decade. Helen Palmer, co-founder of Enneagram Worldwide and the Enneagram Professional Training Program considers the system crucial and promising in uniting psychological and spiritual insight and awareness.

"I think the Enneagram is here because we need it on a global basis. We need to take more responsibility for the thoughts and emotions which guide our actions in the world and to experience the reality of standing in someone else's shoes. We need to know that objective reality appears to be quite different from another type's perspective, yet each has its own logic and integrity." Says Helen Palmer.

The system provides a means in which to understand our own patterns, reactions and blind spots and become more flexible and skillful in interactions with others. When we recognize others' types without bias, we gain tolerance and consideration. We are able to take their negative reactions or hostility impersonally. Without criticism and shame, we are each inspired to profound personal growth and healing. We move toward our inner life and open to the divinity within.

In the Enneagram, neither qualities nor challenges make one of the nine types better than another. Each individual copes with self and others in a distinct way and identifies strengths, potentials and problems unique to each type impartially. The system reflects normal and high-functioning behavior rather than pathology – traits rather than symptoms. The egalitarian concept has been regrettably unique in psychology practices, though more often found in spiritual direction teachings.

The Worldwide Enneagram website provides an online test to determine your personality type. "The Pocket Enneagram" by Helen Palmer and "The Essential Enneagram: The Definitive Personality Test and Self- Discovery Guide" by David Daniels, M.D. and Virginia Price, Ph.D present further explanation.

David Daniels, Clinical Professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford Medical School, is a leading developer of the Enneagram. Daniels leads workshops on the Enneagram at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, California. Vipassana (Insight) Meditation – to see things as they really are – aids in release of fixated patterns to reveal one's essential nature. In the course, participants combine the Enneagram and Vipassana to deepen the capacity to live with greater wisdom and compassion.

Program Director and teacher in the Enneagram Professional Training Program, Peter O'Hanrahan, envisions the Enneagram in the hands of progressive business and social leaders. O'Hanrahan sees the practice as a powerful tool for increasing compassion and communication and reducing conflict and aggression. "It increases the appreciation of diversity, and brings people together in more effective ways," says O'Hanrahan.

Following are sample characteristics and facets of the nine personality types according to the website and "The Pocket Enneagram":

Type 1: The Perfectionist turns their attention toward seeing and correcting what is wrong and making it right. They are known for honesty, dependability and common sense, and are often put in the role of social reformer. Crucial growth occurs as they learn to accept their imperfections and tolerate other's points of view.

Type 2: The Giver is feeling-based with a focus on relationship. Twos excel at empathy and support of others but have more difficulty attending to their own needs. Setting personal boundaries can be challenging and sometimes leads to emotional outbursts to relieve the pressure. While earning approval and acceptance of others has merits, it doesn't satisfy the longing to be loved for oneself.

Type 3: The Performer channels their energy into getting things done. These hard workers accomplish goals and meet other's expectations of success. Threes stay active and on the go, and find it hard to stop and slow down. Their challenge is to be self-aware and to achieve with values meaningful to them.

Type 4: The Romantic often expresses through dance, music and poetry. Their attention moves between empathy and their own inner experience. Their challenge is living with an open heart while integrating joy and suffering.

Type 5: The Observer is often a scholar or technical expert because of their keen perception and analytical ability. They value privacy and may experience others as intrusive. Relationships and feelings present a challenge.

Type 6: The Loyal Skeptic uses perceptions and intellect to understand the world and discern whether people are friendly or hostile. They anticipate problems and solutions, know the rules and make agreements yet they oscillate between skepticism or certainty, rebel or true believer.

Type 7: The Epicure. Sevens possess an optimistic and positive attitude. As excellent communicators they are less concerned with image and approval. Their priority is to have fun in travel and adventure.

Type 8: The Protector takes on the leadership role. Energetic and intense, they can intimidate. They prefer their way yet place a high priority on fairness and justice. The challenge arises to combine assertion and control with interdependency and cooperation.

Type 9: The Mediator excels at seeing others' viewpoints but sometimes at their own expense. They make good arbitrators for others though ambivalence and conflict avoidance are typical traits. Nines exhibit good instincts but lack body-awareness.