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Enneagram 5

This article first appeared in the December 2004 Enneagram Monthly. I updated it in December 2006.

A 5 Speaks of Music, the Enneagram, and Infinity
By Elizabeth Wagele

A child is given an impossible task, and, on the verge of cracking under its weight, retreats, entombing the horror and failure within, until…

I and many of the other 5-Observers I know tend to have interests that offer opportunities for exploration far beyond what’s directly in front of us. This is especially true of INTPs and INFPs – intuitive types. The Enneagram is that kind of interest. In my mind’s eye, the Enneagram is a kind of three-dimensional spider web preening itself in front of a three-way mirror, ever-reflecting and ever-complicated, ever-reverberating. In some ways, this interest in the Enneagram resembles my longer relationship to music.

There’s never a moment that I’m not imagining a piece of music, often more than one, no matter what else I’m doing. From almost the beginning, it seems, I have gotten pleasure, kicks, and meaning out of music – and in a different way, people. When I was a child, I was also connected to a kind of mystical level of reality that I couldn’t talk to anyone about because it was too frightening. Integral to this was an experience I had with a particular recurring sound:

Between the ages of about seven to ten, maybe a couple of times a year, I would hear a slowly ascending flute-like tone. Along with this imagined tone came a responsibility – a command from what seemed like an outside authority – to continue imagining this tone rising upward “infinitely.” There would come a point where, try as I might, I could no longer conceive of it rising any higher. Failing my mission, yet still determined, I would become extremely frustrated and crack – almost explode – under the strain. The only way to separate myself from the tangle would be by shaking my head – and the tone would disappear.

I would want to tell my parents how scared I was, but didn’t dare risk it. I worried they would think I was crazy, be ashamed of me, or worse: dismiss my experience as trivial. This pattern of holding in pressure and fear continued into my adult life. When I imagine my older sister in the same predicament, I imagine her shouting angrily at the “authority” for trying to bully her. Had I heard of others hearing sounds in their heads, I might not have been so frightened. But nobody ever spoke to me of experiences anything like this. This one seemed completely alien to me.


Our first exposures to numbers are repeated sounds and vibrations in the womb, then visually our mother’s eyes and our fingers and toes. Music begins as the rhythm of our own and our mothers’ heartbeats. Just out of the womb, we add own breathing and patterns of footsteps, clocks, chimes, high and low voices, baby melodies, and so on. “Stop right here!” I said. “I’ve found my world and it’s music!”

I didn’t feel free to be myself in my family and wanted to rise on out of there, but not on the tail of a flute-like note from what seemed like outer space. Music and I would retreat, complete, into my inner fortress. I’d own it by committing it to memory and I’d protect it, 8-like. I’d teach myself how to play the piano. Music benevolently allowed me to enter and explore its universe. It gave me the tools to express the power and ferocity I didn’t express in “real” life.

If music didn’t exist, I would probably have found another consuming interest, but how could anything have been as fulfilling as the particular emotional, spiritual, and intellectual truths my composers communicated to me? Their lessons may have had something to do with why school didn’t agree with me. I found little of meaning there.

On the extraverted side, music wasn’t always a perfect match. Sometimes I enjoyed hamming it up and showing off my ability to improvise notes of my own making. But to perform the classical music I love, each note exactly as the composer wrote it, with no mistakes – I could do it, but it was really hard for a fearful person like me. “They” thought I’d be a concert pianist. I had some of the ingredients necessary, but not the iron nerves that you need for solo recitals at Carnegie Hall. Though I studied alongside fellow piano students who gave concerts there, I didn’t have the constitution. My temperament was more suited for composing, but I didn’t sustain an interest in that. Sometimes I laughed and sometimes I considered it a curse – why did my consuming interest have to go hand in hand with performing?


5-Observers are usually curious and can concentrate for long periods of time. When we want to learn something, we can take the initiative and try to do it ourselves. As a small child, I loved listening to my father’s classical music collection. Soon I developed a need to generate music myself. After one musical skill was accomplished, I would take up a more advanced one. How fast could I move my fingers? Could I play this piece in other keys? Could I play a major piece in the minor mode?

I pleaded with my parents to give me piano lessons, But when I was about four, before I had convinced them to find me a teacher, I fell madly in love with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” It started with a haunting violin solo in a minor key. I placed the needle at the edge of the record repeatedly to hear the first note and poked around on the piano until I found it. I located the second note in the same way, and so on, racing back and forth across the room from piano to record player. After I learned to play the melody, I found the harmony notes underneath. At first, I didn’t believe it would be possible to play more than one note at a time, but it was. In a few days, I was familiar with intervals and some chords and could play most pieces after one hearing – if I liked them enough and they weren’t too complicated. I’ve been told I have a gift for music. Perhaps extra cells in the music centers of my brain were stolen from other areas where I’m not so swift, like the places that retain historical facts.


It was during World War II. I was around three or four. One night, I dreamed my beloved toy Indian drum was almost as big as the three-story apartment building we lived in and was outside, level with our dining room. enemy soldiers were running in and out of holes in the drum, throwing flaming torches into our window as we ate dinner. Meals were bad times for me – my sister was more attention-seeking and I didn’t feel heard, while my father only seemed to care about enforcing strict table manners. In the dream, the curtains slowly caught fire, spreading to my parents and sister. I escaped through the kitchen and down the hall to my bedroom, but the others were all burned to death. In one way, what happened was what I wanted to happen – no one would bother me any more – but it also left me an orphan. After that dream, I felt very guilty about “killing” my family, and was freaked out for years by the terror of the dream. When dream expert Jeremy Taylor saw a drawing I did of it years later, he pointed out its shamanistic elements and correctly guessed there was something neurological going on with me, based on where I had placed the fires and some other things. I thought he must be a wizard because I had been recently diagnosed with a neurological disorder called temporal lobe epilepsy. (I mention this in case it’s related to my experience with the rising tone. Starting in my late 30s, it manifested itself as sensations that felt like an atom bomb going off in my head. Just as I kept the rising tones a secret, I also kept these spells a secret; I didn’t want to relive the fear by telling anyone. Fortunately, it is completely under control now.)

Back to the dream: My wonderful womb-like drum was the support center for the horrendous torch attack on my family. In my four-your-old psyche, Music was mother to the warriors, sending them to set the fire, yet letting me and my precious inner life escape. Music was life-giving and death-giving. It was the Great Mother. In the future, after the dream, Music became even more meaningful to me. Mother Drum had given me the ability to discern that I was angry with my family, though guilty, and had taught me what a powerful force music was.


I believe 5s, especially, are prone to having sensitive nervous systems and can be made sick by singing voices like Mrs. Fowler’s. The two poles of her vibrato would wobble farther and farther apart as her loud and grating voice soared uncontrollably above the others during hymns in the church our family attended. One Sunday, when I was about eight, I thought I’d have a nervous breakdown if I had to listen to her voice clashing and grating against the others’ for one more minute. I walked out of the church holding my ears and never returned.


I improvised in high school in jazz bands and helped support myself in college by playing at fraternity parties in a small combo. I also “play” people on the piano at parties and enough guess who I’m playing to make it fun. Did I say I have a hammy side? I’ve played my dreams in dream classes, too, and asked people to describe them as though they were their own; usually these descriptions come fairly close to the way I might have told them in words. In junior high school, I sensed certain patterns in faces and body language among other students. “That girl had an issue with her father,” I thought (knowing nothing about her). I wasn’t at all sure my intuition was correct, but I thought I was picking up something. When I found out about the Enneagram years later, I had the feeling of, “Oh, I’ve been waiting for you.”


When violin strings are perfectly in tune, there is nothing like the harmonious sound of two adjacent open strings being bowed. The Enneagram had a similar purity to me, and there was the satisfaction of discovering I was not the only person like me in the world. Improvising the types and subtypes on the piano helped me understand and integrate the system further. Have you ever had the experience of not being able to taste something because the music playing was too intense? In some strange way, the senses are interchangeable; and the Enneagram reverberates within me in a way that seems to reflect the overtones generated by my mind/body. In all directions and at that high place where the rising tone opens onto infinity, it conjoins the same abstract patterns that underlie the structure of a Bach fugue.

Something Else Music Has Taught Me about the Enneagram

What excites me, I learned from music, is not the same thing that excites everyone. The music of Johann Sebastian Bach, my favorite composer of all, captivates and thrills me, but I have heard many people say they hate his music. If this is true, then anything could be true… If anything could be true, I need to keep my mind open and make room for all the unexpected truths that may come along! 5s are often good at this, which is one of the reasons they are interesting to me. Living in our heads allows us to be flexible in some ways, hopefully balancing a tendency to be negative in others…


I wanted to present something about music at the IEA conference in Baltimore in 1998. Of those I looked into at the time, only one composer expressed a broad enough spectrum of the Enneagram to work for this project: Beethoven. The period of 4 or 5 months of studying his 32 piano sonatas as they related to the Enneagram was one of the most exciting creative times of my life, in which I saw both the Enneagram and Beethoven’s music in new ways.


Music is made up of endlessly complex and fascinating relationships that tickle my pleasure centers, play around in my mind/body, feed my spirit, and comfort my soul. A long note in a simple children’s song can take my breath away. Jazz gets me dancing. Brahms speaks from the depths of the ocean. When I get discouraged about what people are doing to each other, Bach’s B Minor Mass reminds me of what perfection humans are capable of. I can’t imagine life without what I’ve learned from Billie Holiday, Mahler, The Grateful Dead, Schoenberg, the Beatles, Chopin, Alban Berg, Charles Mingus, and a long list of other musicians. There will always be a musical project to interest me: Shostakovich’s symphonies, Beethoven string quartets, learning a new piano piece. In 2006 I finally got around to making a recording of the Enneagram Chop Sticks variations I made up and played at two IEA conferences. My next musical project will be “The Bach Enneagram.”

Music can be analyzed until the cows come home, but you can never really get to the bottom of why it has the effect it does. You can analyze the melodic line and the rhythmic and harmonic structure, but you can never say precisely why that particular chord in that Schubert sonata sends chills up your spine. One theorist might say, “That’s because of its place within the form of the piece,” but isolated the effect is close to the same. A piece of music is finite; it’s all there as notes on paper or as an isolated performance. At the same time, it’s elusive and mysterious. After majoring in music theory and composition, I got tired of my music always disappearing into the air. I took up ceramics, where I could punch the clay and hold the pots I made, drink out of my cups, even break them if I wanted to.

Music, I turned against you briefly, when I was in the thickest of my introverted 5 fixation. You are Art, so you could not be frightened. You are by definition bold, daring, definite, even though you may express weakness or fear. You simply cannot hide.


This frightened fun-loving 5 rabbit knew something had to change, so in my 30’s I set out to make more friends. I had small children, so there were other mothers about. I was initially uncomfortable around them, but I persevered. Coffees, dinners, shopping, just being with people. Later, co-authoring two Enneagram books with Renee, authoring another, and writing, performing, and recording the “Beethoven Enneagram” meant speaking tours, radio interviews, even TV interviews. EEEEEEEEK! What a stretch for this shy person. I prepared by going to Toastmaster’s, hypnosis, and everything else I could think of, and kept on going though I was terrified. Then singers Knute and Courtney joined me in performing programs of music at two IEA Conferences. After a long while, I was a lot less terrified. I didn’t do it alone. Some angelic people helped me by sitting with me and encouraging me. My relationship to fear is much less scary now. In 2006, publicizing “The Happy Introvert” was much easier than previous books. You really do have to plunge headlong into it. Knowledge alone won’t do it. At least it didn’t work for me.
It took a long time to make friends with the fierce warriors who scared me half to death in my dream and for years after, but now I thank them for the gifts they brought me from Great Mother Drum. Whatever I’ve done to conquer my fear, to the degree I have, has been well worth it. I recommend to all that they push at the corners of their type, explore what frightens them, write about what they love the most, and expose a few ancient dreams and ancient secrets to the light of day.


A letter to the editor:

Letter to editor in the January 2005 Monthly:

“5s sure unpack thoroughly once they decide to. EW does it about her Music, the Enneagram and Infinity; with detachment and almost with the quality of an impersonal bystander who has nothing to hide. It’s odd how polar extremes rise together – the cathartic and the guarded.
…. – Bill Spear, Boston MA

“Dear Liz, Just read your article. Interesting, how even though radically different the story, the style of conveying it is similar. I’m referring to Dave Lorne (the Canadian runner, EM Nov. 03). It’s so all-or-nothing with feelings…like a clam that “cracks” open when pried open forcefully by life.
Cheers, Jack Lebanauskas (Enneagram Monthly editor)
PS, My sanity was saved many a time by obsessing on Coltrane or Chico Hamilton, Mingus, Davis, and requiems…”


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