An old wise sage sits around a crackling fire and presents a riddle, “Loved ones are gathering after a tragic death. One friend is sitting silently with the grieving mother who lost her child too soon, tears rolling down their own cheeks. Another, equally close friend, is swirling around the kitchen, freezing lasagnas like it’s an Olympic sport. A third friend has not yet arrived, not sure what would be helpful, both prayerful and paranoid about getting that close to sadness.”
The sage leans in and she says, “Now tell me, who is the true friend?”
Those around the fire start to explore possible answers to the wise sage’s riddle. Some say the one able to see and feel the pain of grief is the true friend. Others argue that it is the friend getting stuff done, giving of his time and productive energy. A few point out that true friendship provides space and doesn’t rush in to respond and react.
The sage smiles knowingly and then asks another question, “Are you a true friend?”
In reality—we all respond differently in situations like this. And we can be great friends no matter which one of these options feels most right to us.
We likely respond differently because when we find ourselves in tough, uncomfortable, life-or-death situations, our survival mechanisms are very much in control.
Whether your instinctual reaction in a situation like this would be to take action, connect emotionally, or take the time to mentally process and assess things, there’s an innate form of intelligence advising you—and most of the time, you don’t even realize it.
Three Centers of Intelligence
Let’s call these metaphorical advisors “Centers of Intelligence.” You have three: body, heart, and head.
It’s quite neat and tidy to think of intelligence in these three ways. Your brain, in fact, is divided into three main parts:
- Brain stem, which controls your instinctual impulses that don’t require conscious intention at all — body 💪
- Cerebellum, which controls voluntary movements, balance, language, and mood — heart ❤️
- Cerebrum, where your thinking, reading, analyzing, and decision-making happen — head 🧠
Also interesting—the vagus nerve in your body is like a “communication highway,” connecting your brain, heart, and gut and influencing how your nervous system controls all three.
Polyvagal theory recognizes how important this nerve is to understanding our fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses—these are evolutionary adaptations we actually use to keep ourselves safe in the world. Adaptations that advise us on what’s okay and what deserves caution.
You are quite an intelligent being.
The Organic Intelligence of You
I have a friend that always refers to her partner’s job at a “building with three letters on the sign.” I have no clue which three letters she’s referring to—and I’ve never asked—but I’ll admit I enjoy picturing him in clandestine operations and knowing secrets about what’s happening in the world while we go on with our lives totally unaware of a darker and gloomier reality than we’re privy to.
While we may not be talking about that central intelligence agency here, we are talking about your central intelligence agency.
We’re talking about the organic intelligence of you.
And those clandestine advisors—your body, your heart, and your head…well, they’re worth listening to. Because they know things.
But they also need to be put in their place as consultants, not the ones running the show.
It turns out that while we all have a body, a heart, and a head, the center of our intelligence is most easily accessed through one of these.
And did you know that the one you most easily have access to is related to your personality type?
In the Enneagram, we can divide the 9 types of personality into three categories: the Body Center, the Heart Center, and the Head Center.
💪 The Body Center of Intelligence
This includes Enneagram types 8, 9, and 1. Body types have an instinctual awareness that sets you apart from other personalities. It’s like you just know things in your gut. You’re quick to take action and you tend to not be held up by over-thinking or over-feeling.
Body types need to move—and you tend to be well-coordinated and comfortable with physicality.
Because our culture tends to glorify mental intelligence and disregard body intelligence, these people might not feel like there’s space in our world for instinctual knowing. Forget culture. Take time to know things in your body.
❤️ The Heart Center of Intelligence
This includes Enneagram types 2, 3, and 4. Heart types tend to have easier access to intuition, empathy, and emotional knowing. You can often sense truths about people just by looking at their faces—and slight changes in the position of someone’s features can reveal depths of information to those of us with access to this emotional intelligence.
Heart types lead with our hearts…literally. Around others, you may unknowingly push your chest forward, trying to make an energetic connection with the person on the other side of the conversation. Eye contact means something to a heart type, whether the connection is there or whether it’s too painful to connect in the moment.
And emotions flow (whether outwardly, inwardly, or just under the surface). Take time to feel your feelings—it helps you to process through life and gives space for those around you to do the same. Tears aren’t bad news.
🧠 The Head Center of Intelligence
This includes Enneagram types 5, 6, and 7. Head types tend to process the world through information, thought, and analysis. You want to gather intel about things. You want to think things over and consider all possibilities before coming to decisions.
I’ve noticed that head types tend to look up when answering questions, as if you’re trying to access a file cabinet of information and sort through possibilities before returning the file and rejoining the conversation in front of you.
Planning ahead and thinking through possibilities are paramount to accessing this mental intelligence. For head types that thrive on exploring the depths of their minds, sometimes it’s helpful to trust what you already know…which is a heck of a lot.
Owning Your Center of Intelligence
Sometimes understanding what center of intelligence you’re most comfortable in can help you identify your core Enneagram personality type.
But once you know this information about yourself, resist the urge to compare and pit one type of intelligence over another. We all have access to all three and all three are necessary for human survival. You just happen to have easier access to one, which is a glorious gift.
All Enneagram typology works to explain and reveal, not constrain or suppress. So, in exploring possibilities to truly own your center of intelligence, think about these questions:
- What safety cues do you find when listening to your center of intelligence?
- What does your center of intelligence reveal about your life’s story? What’s meaningful about this for you?
- In what ways have you resisted trusting your body, your heart, and your head?
If you’d like to dive into deeper Enneagram exploration like this, you might like the Fully Human Incubator—a 12-week process that takes you from discovering your Enneagram type to creative self-awareness and incubation to crafting a revenue stream and making money that feels good.