These days I’ve got a good working relationship with my inner gremlins. They come and whisper to me and MOST of the time I move over, make some room, and invite them to a cup of tea or a salad with edible flowers.🌸 I give the gremlins my ear and attention in soft ways so that they don’t run wild, trampling on my inner garden.

I have been working with the Enneagram for over 14 years now, with amazing teachers and guides who show me the way. And one of the most beautiful fruits of this process has been a slow growing inner kindness. I recognize, more easily, when I have turned against myself and begun to believe those inner ego voices that are rooted in what I call the “push” “prove” or “gold star economy.”

😈  But sometimes they come up with a sneak attack. And they get me. 😈

On those days I don’t listen gently and then send the gremlins back to nap in the hammock while I move about my day. Instead I actually BELIEVE them, and let them influence how I feel about myself and my choices. And it hurts.

There is a particular kind of pain that comes when we turn against our authentic self. When we fall in line behind inner Enneagram type voices which are rooted in and reinforce the idea that we are somehow faulty, inadequate, or unlovable which of course sets us up to overcompensate and try REALLY, REALLY hard in all our doing.

To feel better or to prove something to someone, and to ourselves.

I write about this concept in my book The Flourish Formula (including how to identify your Enneagram type and painful gremlin thoughts). The book gives me a chance to share the specific awareness tools that help us tend to our inner lives in fresh and sustaining ways plus many more examples from my life and women I have supported. You can order your copy here. 

For today I want to share a bit more about a particularly tricky gremlin that showed up in my life over the past month. Here is what it said:

“Courtney, it isn’t OK for you to play, have fun, relax, dance whatever because the world is in terrible shape and you HAVE to DO something.”

That was my Type 3 or “Achiever/Organizer” personality gremlin that was blocking me from receiving or enjoying and from discerning what was my own AUTHENTIC way to contribute to social/racial change not from a place of overwhelm, guilt or over-responsibility but from a nourished place of inspired action.

It has a sister thought/gremlin “Social Change is WORK and it is a SLOG so you can’t have any fun doing it.”

Now this is my gremlin but I wonder if you can relate to it or anything similar?

I have seen so many examples in my life of burned out activists or cynical and jaded change makers.  

And I think it is an archetype or approach to change whose time is UP! Instead I think we need nourished, resourced women and men stepping into leadership and showing us how to live whole, integrated lives.

As I moved through my own process to unhook from and metabolize this gremlin I came to see more clearly the model of sustainable resistance provided by so many communities of color and their commitment to and appreciation for art, restoring relationships, and rest.

As one small example, The Highlander Research and Education Center, weeks after George Floyd’s murder, organized a virtual cultural bazaar full of joyful dance and powerful music and film. (The Highlander Center, previously the Highlander Folk School, provides training and education for emerging and existing movement leaders throughout the South, Appalachia, and the world. You can watch their cultural bazaar fundraiser here on their FB group.) The Highlander Center has an amazing and long history. They helped to train and equip civil rights leader Rosa Parks prior to her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. My friend and author Kim Ruehl has a new book coming out about the Highlander Center’s legacy of potent protest music, which I’ll share once it is published.

In addition to the Highlander Center I wanted to share some other current inspirations, ranging from an INCREDIBLE tap dance by Chloe Arnold and The Syncopated Ladies performed for incarcerated men to Justina Blakeney of Jungalow and her home decor infused with consciousness.

There is such wisdom to be found now in leaning on the arts, and a reminder that cultural change can be beautiful.

When I listen to antiracism thought leaders and black coaches I am also hearing their request, that as a white person with many privileges in this society, I spend time doing anti-racist work and grieving and learning on my own time and within my white relationships. So that when I show up in shared spaces, I can do so with resiliency and an openness to listen first, to be uncomfortable, to stretch and to use my voice and energy to work toward needed structural reforms.

From this perspective, listening to my old Enneagram type 3 gremlin telling me to DO more, only keeps me from the rest I need to do the emotional work so that I can show up with presence at this time. When I am in burn out mode – my own emotional pain takes center stage. This is called empathetic distress and it keeps us stuck. I wrote a whole blog post about it, which you can read here.

So how did I ultimately emerge from the jaw of this gremlin? By adjusting my daily flourish formula. I needed more time to grieve the clean pain of waking up to another layer of social injustice in which I am embedded. I need time to feel more feelings as I read and learn. I also needed to recognize that as a parent and someone homeschooling three children over the Spring because of COVID (and who knows what the fall will bring?) that I was coming into this moment already on the verge of depletion.

So I added in more support, meeting with my body-based therapist, two coaches, and my Enneagram teacher to really aid me in turning the corner. I also tweaked my spiritual practices, which often stop working for us when we are growing. Silent sitting meditation, which I love and write about often, wasn’t the right container. I have needed something more embodied to support me during this time so I’ve added in five rhythms dancing, as well as immersive time in nature and yoga nidra. (It’s amazing, you get to REST and MEDITATE at the same time. #win)

And what are the gifts of doing this inner Enneagram work?

Freedom. Safety. A lightness of being. A feeling of coming home to myself. Of once again trusting my own heart to guide me.

I really hope this gremlin case-study is helpful for you.

The path of spiritual growth is one of forgetting and remembering, but each turn takes us deeper, like a spiral labyrinth back to essence.

And I would love to hear from you. This challenging time of Covid and social change is the PERFECT opportunity to clear out old gremlins and to grow in our capacities.

What gremlins are you unearthing? What resources do you need in your formula so that you can flourish in this season of life?

Love and all the good, Courtney


Courtney Pinkerton is a certified holistic life coach and the author of the Amazon bestseller, The Flourish Formula: An Overachiever’s Guide to Slowing Down & Accomplishing More. Courtney is a student and a teacher of the Enneagram who has helped hundreds of conscious women, and a few inspiring men, pursue their most salient goals and discover more pleasure in the everyday. She has dual master’s degrees from Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Kennedy School, is the creator of the flourish coaching methodology and the Flourish Formula for Families. After selling their house and all their belongings and spending a year adventuring in Nicaragua tutored by their neighbors in the art of slowing down and living more, Courtney and her husband Richard Amory and their three children are making their new home in a co-housing community in Asheville, North Carolina.





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