Why Dan Stevens Left Downton Abbey

Image from telegraph.co.uk. 

Image from telegraph.co.uk. 

I admit, I'm writing about this three seasons too late, but I'm still reeling from Dan Steven's decision to leave Downton Abbey.  His character, Matthew Crawley, was killed in a car accident at the end of the 2012 Christmas special, the very day his long-awaited baby boy was born, and I just watched the offending episode last week.  In my horror at seeing one of my favorite characters crushed beneath his vehicle, I googled him immediately to find out why he decided to leave the show.  I had suspected he was an antsy, change-craving Enneagram Type 7, and what I read, I believe, has confirmed my suspicions.  Citing his need for freedom, Stevens followed former co-star's footsteps, Jessica Findlay Brown, by pursuing other acting opportunities so he wouldn't get typecast as a TV actor.  Speaking to The Telegraph, he reveals the key Type 7 motivation, freedom.

This ambition to do something different is what has spurred him on. “It is a desire for freedom really,” he says. “I don’t see money or a particular status as an actor as a goal but I want to do the best work I can in as interesting a range of roles as I can.

In times like these, I turn to Sandra Maitri, whose lucid and brilliant understanding of the nine types casts a light on what makes Sevens so uncomfortable with sticking with one project, one marriage partner, one religious affiliation, one hobby, or one conversation topic for very long.

I think this is an important place to start: Maitri quotes one of her teachers as saying that “Our real age is measured by how much time they have spent in real time, since this indicates the maturity of their soul.”  This is obviously true for all the types, but is of particular relevance to the Seven, whose ego clambers to be ever more in the future.  Describing Sevens as upbeat, perky, optimistic, youthful in spirit, Sevens "seem always one step ahead of themselves".  They are known to always be planning.  I can’t remember who said this, but it makes me laugh when I remember it.  "They may spend six months planning their trip to France, but as soon as they set foot in Paris, they're already planning their next vacation."

This skipping ahead in time- or at least trying- is owed to their inclination to "generate schemas about how things work, [therefore] they get so caught up in representation that they lose sight of the actual territory.  Once they can see where things are going”, Maitri explains, “they have little patience for the actual work it takes to get there.”  There's a need to always have a "next" activity.

So let's look at this "confusing the map for the territory".  Throughout her book, The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram, Maitri uses the metaphor of a fountain constantly pouring out water to illustrate how life unfolds.  "The universe is a constant arising, a continuous act of creation", she says.  So the healthy development of a soul is going to be based on a basic trust that life will unfold as it should. 

Because our souls follow an organic unfoldment, we cannot plan our development or predict where we are going.  The unfoldment of our souls must be greeted on its own terms, as a mystery ready to reveal itself constantly.  This unfoldment will be blocked if we try to think our way through it by mapping and charting it according to information we have about the various dimension and states of Being.

Which is just what Sevens do- mapping and charting.  As meditators know, in order to stay in connection with Being, we need to live our lives in the present moment or we lose connection with Being.  “Being, whose central characteristic is presence, can only be experienced by being in tune with that characteristic- by being Present, in other words.” 

When Sevens lose their connection to presence at a young age (like we all do), they invariably go into what Buddhist teachers call monkey-mind, trying to predict where that unfolding process will take them.  Maitri explains the frenetic energy under their obsession with planning.

A Seven feels that he has lost his place in the vast pattern of unfoldment in the universe, and has he matures, the more he loses trust in his soul's capacity to unfold naturally.  With this blind spot, it seems to him that reality does not support him in naturally developing and fulfilling his potential.  His solution is to take matters in his own hands and to try and figure out how things work-- what the plan is, and to try to make his process fit into it.  Mapping and planning for the future, then, become his personality's imitation of [being connected to Presence], and become a substitute for full engagement in the present.

This leads to what Enneagram teachers describe as an approach to life as if it were a buffet.  "I don't know what the best decision is, so I'll try a little bit of everything."   Sevens famously flit from activity to activity, avoiding deep engagement, and as Don Riso and Russ Hudson explain, this results in the Seven going through life not being touched deeply by anything, thereby avoiding any real chance at true transformation. 

Maitri’s understanding of the spiritual dimension of early human development is so fine, her explanation of how the infant breaks from presence is worth quoting in full.  At some point in early childhood,

... his experience becomes that of paradise lost.  It may be that he never actually experienced blissfulness in his early months with his mother or that there was a period of fulfilling and supportive contact, only to be interrupted for one reason or another.  If there was an initial period of closeness, circumstances such as mother returning to work, illness, the birth of another sibling, or a sudden change in the family’s fortune may have severed it.  If there was no such period, it is likely that his soul unconsciously intuitited what might have been and so what was missing.  In either case, what remains in a Seven’s soul is the imprint of losing the breast- whether actually or metaphorically- and so losing his source of nourishment, love, warmth, and safety, as though he has lost the juice of life itself.

This sense of the source of life drying up and disappearing on him forms an inner desolate wasteland that feels unbearable.  … This core state of deficiency feels dry, parched, and empty, an inner wasteland devoid of life.  Emptiness, barrenness, and lifelessness in any form that they take, whether physical, emotional, or mental, become the primary thing that he avoids since they remind him of his early loss of mother and, through her, of Being.  His whole personality becomes geared toward avoiding this dry pain. 

So next time you're at a party and you see your Type Seven putting on her coat to leave as soon as the party flatlines for a full second (I exaggerate), you can understand her need to find another party or simply another activity, and practice more compassion than I was prepared to offer Dan Stevens last week.