Bob Dylan as an Enneagram Four: Part 2

Three and a half months ago I wrote a post on Bob Dylan as an Enneagram type Four (Here’s that link). I said I was going to write a number of posts on this theme, but I ended up only doing the one. Now I have a few days in between my block class and the start of the semester, which I’ll use to go a bit deeper into the topic. If you don’t know about the Enneagram, you can start on my old post. The subject is so vast that I don’t feel nearly competent enough to introduce it fully and all at once, so I’ll be explaining it as I go along. I’ll also include the full names of books whenever I quote or reference a book, and those would be good references to check out from the library.


It would be easy to write a book on Dylan as a Four—the same way someone wrote a book on Thomas Merton, the Catholic monk, as a Four (Merton Enneagram book)—so it’s difficult to know where to start.

Let’s start with identity, a preoccupation of Dylan and of Four’s in general. “All I can do is be me—whoever that is,” said Dylan in an interview. This sentence just about sums up the Four stance. About Four’s, Don Riso in his book Personality Types writes, “Their sense of identity is not solid, dependable, in their own hands. They feel undefined and uncertain of themselves, as if they were a gathering cloud which may produce something of great power or merely dissipate in the next breeze” (1996, p. 139). There is a hint here of what creativity means to a Four, how inspiration cannot be nailed down, or called upon at will. In his biography on Dylan, Time Out of Mind, journalist Ian Bell writes how, for Dylan, “Sometimes songs just come…that kind of claim makes his gift sound like a fragile thing” (2014, p. 341). ‘A fragile thing,’ ‘a gathering cloud’ which may ‘merely dissipate.’

Dylan expresses this lack of definite identity in the first stanza of the song ‘Shelter From The Storm’ from his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks

‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
When blackness was a virtue, the road was full of mud
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form
“Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

He also gives voice to this concept in interviews: “Sometimes you are held back by your name. Sometimes there are advantages to having a certain name. Names are labels so we can refer to one another. But deep inside us we don’t have a name. We have no name” (Essential Interviews, p. 206). We identify each other by name; if deep inside us we have no name, then deep inside us we also have no way to be identified, no identity.

Because the Four’s identity is ‘undefined’ and ‘not solid,’ because he is ‘a creature void of form,’ the Four begins a search for self, or for some place, some home where he can feel himself, where his formlessness will be given shelter, given time to form or allowed space to remain formless. The formlessness feels like the wilderness; the self a mystery, unknown. Dylan gives clearest expression to this search for self in his autobiography Chronicles when he writes, “There was a missing person inside of myself and I needed to find him” (147). And Nora Guthrie, the daughter of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who Dylan first came to New York on a quest to visit, said of Dylan, “I think he’s very much an experimentalist, looking into himself all the time, saying what do I want to do now…he’s experimenting with his own soul” (Ballad of Bob Dylan, p. 74).

Dylan’s quest to visit Woody Guthrie is a uniquely Four-ish endeavor. Richard Rohr writes in Discovering the Enneagram, “The life program of FOURs could be described as an eternal quest for the Holy Grail” (1990, p. 85). Dylan felt something in Guthrie’s music and sought the man himself, went on a quest to meet him. Guthrie’s music was Dylan’s ‘Holy Grail’ at that time in his life. Guthrie was sick, in a hospital, not famous or even known outside the folk music circle. Dylan also was not famous or known at that time in any circle. Yet Dylan would go and sit by his hospital bed, sing Guthrie’s own songs to him.

Many 4’s, including Dylan, express this ‘eternal quest’ in art:

In the creative moment, healthy Fours harness their emotions without getting lost in them, not only producing something beautiful but discovering who they are. In the moment of inspiration they are, paradoxically, both most themselves and most liberated from themselves. This is why all forms of creativity are so valued by Fours, and why, in its inspired state, creativity is so hard to sustain. Fours can be inspired only if they have first transcended themselves, something which is extremely threatening to their self-image. In a sense, then, only by learning not to look for themselves will they find themselves and renew themselves in the process. (Personality Types).

This is Riso again, who writes mainly about the Four’s search for self. I quoted Rohr above who said the Four is searching for the Holy Grail. The Holy Grail is not the ‘self,’ but Fours have an intuition that the Holy Grail could be found within themselves, yet they also find something when they are ‘liberated from themselves.’ As Riso makes clear, Fours feel most themselves when liberated from themselves. But this experience is transient, it doesn’t last, it keeps the Four on a continual quest to experience this liberation again. Permanent liberation, even if feasible, often doesn’t seem like a worthy goal. In Ballad of Bob Dylan, author Mark Epstein expresses this predicament well, writing of what may have been Dylan’s happiest time in the late 60’s, spent with his wife and children:

The problem with paradise on earth, as one might expect, is the day-to-day sameness. There is little variety in perfection and one might find it boring—particularly an artist who thrives on the tension between the real and the ideal, the knowledge of suffering and longing, his own and other people’s (214).

If the Four were in a state of permanent liberation, a ‘paradise on earth,’ what would there be to search for? Since the Four feels his identity is based on this ‘eternal quest,’ what would his identity be if the quest were completed, if liberation were lasting and unending? Yet Dylan sings in “Ain’t Talking”, “The suffering is unending.” Better the unending suffering of the quest or the unending liberation that may lie at the quest’s completion? Will the quest ever be complete? And is liberation ever without end? The quest is full of questions.

Thus, as the identity of Fours is based on being on the ‘eternal quest,’ Riso writes that self-transcendence is ‘extremely threatening’ to the Fours’ self-image.

In most of the songs Dylan writes, this quest—whatever it is for, whether the self or the Holy Grail or heaven—this seeking quality, is present. Let’s look again and a bit closer at the song off his 2006 album Modern Times called “Ain’t Talkin’. The last stanza to that song goes,

Ain’t talkin’, just walkin’
Up the road around the bend
Heart burnin’, still yearnin’
In the last outback, at the world’s end.

When I hear the phrase, “quest for the Holy Grail,” I think of a pilgrim walking, a vagabond, perhaps in vagabondage, chained to the road, pursuing salvation. The lyrics above could be the words of a pilgrim, walking, questing, still yearning at age 67. Going to ‘world’s end,’ if necessary, or as Dylan sings in “Dignity”:

Searching high, searching low
Searching everywhere I know

Dylan is always ‘walking’ in his songs. Take “Love Sick,” the first song on Time Out of Mind, released in 1997. The first line in that song goes, “I’m walking through streets that are dead.” And the second track on that album, “Dirt Road Blues,” has a line: “Gon’ walk down that dirt road until my eyes begin to bleed.” I could pick out a line from each song on the album that is an apt expression of the walker on some sort of pilgrimage, but perhaps no song is as apt as “Trying to Get to Heaven.” Each stanza in that song ends with the refrain, “I’m trying to get to heaven before they close the door.” The first stanza ends with:

I’ve been walking through the middle of nowhere
Trying to get to heaven before they close the door

What could be a better expression of the pilgrim’s purpose? Heaven, salvation, redemption, self-transcendence, liberation—all words used to describe the Holy Grail the Enneagram Four is seeking on the pilgrimage through life. Walking through the middle of nowhere, looking for the everything that exists in the midst of that nowhere, perhaps in the middle of it, in the center, at its heart.


I’ll end this post here. In the next post, because I ended this one with ‘heart,’ I’ll go into how type Four fits in to the Heart Triad, which is also referred to as the Image Triad, and how Dylan gives form to some of the common conundrums that Triad is faced with.

Bob Dylan: Enneagram 4 (Part 1)

“We have named this type The Individualist because Fours maintain their identity by seeing themselves as fundamentally different from others. Fours feel that they are unlike other human beings.” (https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-4/)

In the next few posts, I will look at Bob Dylan as an Enneagram 4. If you don’t know the Enneagram, I suggest reading the above link or checking out a book on it from the library. One of the best ones I’ve found is Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery by Don Richard Riso (http://www.amazon.com/Personality-Types-Using-Enneagram-Self-Discovery/dp/0395798671). That book goes over the levels of each type, from healthy to average to unhealthy, the relationships that can occur between different types, and the wings of each type, as well as other Enneagram functions. The book is ideal for explaining the incredible complexity of the Enneagram with words and concepts someone who has never heard of the system can understand.

I cannot pretend to explain the Enneagram in full, but I will try to explain some of it as I go along. I did some research on Dylan as an enneagram 4 for a presentation I gave in a psychology class on personality, but I will go more in depth with it here. Because of an unfortunate circumstance, I now have a lot of time on my hands. I thought I would use the time productively and write, part of why I’ve written more in the past week than I probably did in the month and half prior. This will be a sort of psycho-biography on Dylan through an Enneagram lens. I am not sure how many parts it will have.

Bob Dylan was born in Hibbing, Minnesota, a middle-class town in middle America known for its coal mining. Dylan’s 4-ness was evident from the start. In most of the Enneagram books, the author explains how childhood events lead to the forming of a certain Enneagram type. I’m of the opinion, though I have no evidence to back it up other than personal experience, that people are born with an Enneagram type and childhood experiences are only used in order to explain the way we already were before the experiences occurred. For the Enneagram 4, the childhood story is usually some sort of abandonment, whether physical or emotional, some sense of not being understood, of being disconnected. “Fours are disconnected from both parents. As children, they did not identify with either their mother or their father” (Riso 1988). This is a massive generalization and cannot possibly be true for all 4’s. However, the generalization does seem to ring true for Dylan. He was not physically abandoned—In fact, he left his family and hometown at 18—but he did have the felt sense of not being understood. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dylan says, “Sometimes your parents don’t even know who you are. No one knows but you. Lord, if your own parents don’t know who you are, who else in the world is there who would know except you?” And in his autobiography Chronicles Dylan writes, “My father was the best man in the world and probably worth a hundred of me, but he didn’t understand me.” There could be few clearer expressions of the Enneagram 4 stance. ‘Worth a hundred of me’ hints at the distinctive 4 self-renunciation and ‘he didn’t understand me’ directly states Dylan’s feeling of being different from others and misunderstood.

Because 4’s feel some sort of disconnect with their parents—or unrelated to their parents—some sort of disconnect in general, the main goal of 4’s becomes to understand themselves, to turn “to themselves to discover who they are” (Riso 1988). Or, as Sandra Maitri puts it in her insightful book The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, “Like a boat loosed from its moorings, the inner experience of a Four is of being a separate someone who is cut off from Being and set adrift…at root is loss of contact with Being. What is left is a sense of lack and of lostness…There is a great longing to reconnect, to become anchored again in the connection that has been lost” (Maitri 2001, p. 139). In understanding themselves, in reconnecting, the Four hopes to “not feel so different from others in the deep, essential way that they do” (Riso 1988). Introspection is necessary for self-understanding but it can also result in excessive self-consciousness, which further separates the 4 from other people. In time, the 4 begins to “develop a sense of ego identity based on their difference from others”; They begin to focus on how they are unique and ignore or simply do not notice the ways they are similar to other people. “Being ‘unique,’” Riso writes, “feels like one of the only stable building blocks of their identity.”

Dylan’s obsession with uniqueness is evident in interviews and songs. Unlike some 4’s, Dylan succeeded in an impressive way with this primary 4 goal. No one who listens to his songs can say he is ordinary. In his autobiography, Chronicles, which is apparently not an altogether truthful account of his life (not exactly a rarity for a 4), Dylan writes, “Billy [From Columbia] asked me who I saw myself like in today’s music scene. I told him, nobody. That part of things was true, I really didn’t see myself like anybody” (Dylan 2004, p.8). Whether or not this conversation actually occurred (Dylan wrote the book more than 40 years after the fact), it is a striking example of the 4 stance: ‘I didn’t see myself like anybody.’ And it was probably true that Dylan didn’t see himself like anybody in popular music. He ended writing songs like no one else was writing or could write and playing music in a way no one else was playing.

Even the way Dylan (born Robert Zimmerman) decided on a name fit with the viewpoint of the 4. “There already was a Bobby Darin, a Bobby Vee, a Bobby Rydell, a Bobby Neely and a lot of other Bobbys. Bob Dylan looked and sounded better than Bob Allyn.” There were already a lot of Bobby’s, so Dylan chose Bob. To make a probably harsh and fictional comparison, this is the same thinking a certain Tom Riddell had when he changed his name. There were already so many Toms. The name was so…common, so ordinary. Most likely Voldemort had a 4-wing; but his drive for power, notorious fame, and recognition are closer to the viewpoint of the pathologically unhealthy 3. I will save that for another post, however. It would be interesting to look at Harry Potter through an Enneagram lens.

In the next post, I’ll continue discussing Dylan through an Enneagram lens, getting into his early career and his struggles with identity, a 4 preoccupation.

And here is a song by Dylan that beautifully expresses aspects of the 4 I haven’t touched on yet: pain and melancholy. The lyrics also speak of disconnection:

“Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don’t see why I should even care
It’s not dark yet but it’s getting there”