Keep taking a stand against racism – practices for a turning world, week 3

I keep thinking about the people who raised Derek Chauvin, killer of George Floyd, and I keep thinking about the friends that must have affirmed him. I keep thinking about what messages his community must have sent him over and over again to make him think that kneeling on a man’s neck for nine minutes until he died was okay. And then, I have to think about how am I raising my own son, what tacit support do I give to racism in my own family and friend groups, and what messages are going out in my community?
Last year in November, the Social Justice Agency at the University of the Western Cape hosted a dialogue moderated by Asanda Ngoasheng where Robin DiAngelo presented some of her work on structural racism. Ngoasheng ended the session by asking white people not to burden black people with our guilt and to go to do some work on our own. Ventriloquist Conrad Koch does exactly this in his theatre show entitled “How to end racism” where his puppet Chester asks him some confrontational questions. I can highly recommend the show, but in the meantime a few things for whiteys to keep going on:
– As people who have emerged after 350 years of colonisation, like alcoholics who no longer touch a drop, we are nevertheless recovering racists. We need to recognise how we have benefited from and participated in centuries of privilege and continue to do so. We can become more aware of the implicit and subtle ways we are racist every day and stop doing it.
– Get that racism is systemic and take an active stand against this system. Having black friends, asserting that we don’t see skin colour, or adding black people to our teams doesn’t do anything to change the systemic nature of racism. In fact, it can be a way to further deny the experience of black people in a racist society and shut down the conversation about racism.
– Be curious, be open, and listen. This conversation is not about us. Glamour magazine quotes the Ugandan organisation called “No White Saviours’: “We just know you shouldn’t be the hero of the story. If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not listening”. For more on how to be a white ally go to…/how-to-be-a-white-ally…

The Enneagram in Autobiography

Take a look at these covers of different autobiographies and see how the nine personality styles of the Enneagram allow insight into their famous authors. Of course, these are guesses into these authors’ Enneagram styles, but they are guesses that could lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of them. Just like knowing your own Enneagram style can lead you into knowledge of yourself. Perhaps if you don’t know already, you can read with even more discernment to find your own Enneagram style amongst the 9.

The “nine points” of the Enneagram have become popular, not just with coaches and other mental health professionals, but also with groups of friends at dinner parties and weekends away.  The Enneagram helps figure out where others are coming from and can give us more patience and respect for each other.

Each of the 9 different Enneagram personality styles view the world with a particular lens coming out of their own core fear or motivation. Enneagram practitioners can be skilled at guessing the style someone resonates with using very little information. For example, if you had to write the story of your life, what title would you give it? Just looking at the front cover of your printed book could reveal a lot more about you than you think.


“Dreams of My Father” suggests someone who might dally in flights of fancy and in the foregrounding of someone else, even in their own autobiography. The cover picture shows not just the gentle-eyed Barack looking away from the camera, but also other family members suggesting their perspectives in this autobiography are also present. The Enneagram 9 will often rather take the perspective of others, rather than claim their own. Of course this can be unhealthy, making them fall asleep to themselves, or healthy in leading to the peace that is a central motivation of their type. As Obama himself concluded in 2009 in his remarks to a student roundtable in Turkey: “Learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins.” Barack Obama is American politician who served as the Democratic president of the United States from 2009 to 2017.


“Not Without a Fight” makes it pretty clear that the author is not willing to let things go and is ever prepared to take a stand on what she believes in. In the photograph, Helen Zille makes direct and challenging eye-contact with her photographer as if looking down or away could be a sign of weakness.

The Enneagram 8s are known for their need to be strong and their appetite for battle. In fact, Enneagram 8s often intentionally try to provoke people, especially those unknown to them as a way to get a measure of their mettle, and bring authenticity into the encounter. Helen Zille is a South African politician who served for 2 terms as premier of the Western Cape. She is known for her tough stances, for example on cracking down of crystal meth and her incendiary tweets which have led her into infamy.


“When I stop talking you’ll know I’m dead: Useful Stories from a Persuasive Man” is a long-chewing mouthful of a title presenting a dazzling raconteur on the run from time itself. Indeed, in the picture Jerry Weintraub is on the move, dressed with all the glamour of a tuxedo but with the bow tie undone as if ready for a party or informal encounter. Enneagram 7s pack their already full lives, forever with a fear of missing out and avoiding any kind of pain, especially the pain of boredom. Jerome Charles Weintraub was an American film producer, talent manager and actor who got himself out of the mail room with “the life changing magic of acting “as if,”” and the willingness to be lucky (Awosika, 2019).” Enneagram 7s are known for winging it and their assurance of their seat at the table of abundance.


“My point and I do have one” as a title asserts something, the “having” of a point, and the possibility of not having a point in the same seven words.  The very young Elllen Degeneres with a disarming smile, looks at the viewer intently as if to try and discern whether they can truly be trusted. Enneagram 6s are known to be contrary: Whatever is true about them, so is the opposite. Warm and loyal to their people, they are also wary and sceptical. Perhaps something of Ellen’s coming out as gay illuminates the style of the 6: Ellen DeGeneres was starring as “the girl next door” in the Ellen show, sweet and compliant. Then in what was seen as a rebellious move in 1997, Ellen came out as gay. Now “the lesbian next door” (Weaver, 2017 Vanity Fair), a year later the Ellen show was canned and Ellen called “degenerate,” a scapegoat for a truth about human sexuality mainstream society was not willing to accept.


“Alone on the Wall” is almost startling in the way it foregrounds being, well, alone – without company. And there, contextualized by the massive rock face and mountains is the picture of the solo climber Alex Honnold, climbing not only without a buddy but also without any kind of gear or ropes. This kind of scenario really works for many Enneagram 5s as they minimise their needs in order not be dependent. Dependence could lead to being coerced and coercion they hate.  In his camper van, Alex lives a minimalist lifestyle eating cans of beans for supper. Then there is the wall. Literally a massive kilometer high slab of rock which keeps Alex separate from the world. Walls work for Enneagram 5s: They often have a place to retreat with a sturdy door behind which they are very comfortable saying “no”.


The title, “I know why the caged bird sings” is first a reminder that a caged bird will hanker for that absent freedom, will hold it like a lost symbol, as depicted by the brilliant gold bird on the cover. In fact, American singer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou selected the title of her book from a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar where the caged bird sings not from “joy or glee, but a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core”. Enneagram 4s often hunger for a vanished time when the world was whole and are forever yearning for something that they don’t have. It is also typical for an Enneagram 4 to create meaning out of painful experiences and turn them into art as Maya Angelou has done with her 7 autobiographies. “Caged bird” is the first of these where she refines and distils her experiences of rape and racism into a creative work.


“Simply Rich” is a title that not only emphasises Rich DeVos’s wealth, it makes him synonymous with that wealth. Indeed, Enneagram 3s are known to be manifesters – they set big goals for themselves and focus on looking good and being the best. With the values of our society, this often means being the richest. Rich DeVos is the self-made billionaire and was the co-founder of Amway, the company that uses “multilevel marketing techniques” to sell cosmetics and household products. The smiling casual DeVos on the cover implies that the acquisition of his money was as uncomplicated and as simple as he is himself. Less healthy Enneagram 3s can be known to overlook some of the “short cuts” or not-quite-so-honest-dealings that have led to their success. There are for example, many criticisms of Amway, specifically that it has duped and swindled ordinary people. Whether true or not, there is something disingenuous about the “simply” in Rich deVos “Simply Rich.”


The Enneagram 2 is devoted to meeting the needs of others. In this autobiography Zelda la Grange describes how she came to be the one to anticipate and fulfil the every need of the world statesman and South African liberation president Nelson Mandela. There are many twos sitting just behind the throne, grooming and soothing, nurturing and caring.  “Good morning, Mr Mandela” is a fitting title for the autobiography of a two whose first thought is to keep “the other in their life” happy and served. The photograph of Nelson talking into Zelda’s ear also works well for an Enneagram 2 for 2s are about closeness and love, and always ready to hear the needs of the other they are dedicated to serving. In the book Zelda describes her rage at the way the Mandela family treated her after his death, quite justifiable of course, but also typical of the Enneagram 2 who can sometimes feel unappreciated and unacknowledged for all the work that they do for others.


“An Orderly Man” is an apt title for the autobiography of an Enneagram 1: Ones pursue perfection and order, they seek detail and completion. The cover design of precisely placed type writers speaks to this orderliness. Dirk Bogarde was an English actor and writer, born in 1921 and dying 1999. He came to prominence in films such as The Blue Lamp and Death in Venice. When he was appointed Bogarde’s official biographer, John Coldstream discovered that the actor’s many memoirs served only to obscure the truth about his life. This may have been because Dirk was gay in a time when homosexuality was deemed by society to be illegal and immoral. This puts an Enneagram 1, who must always be right, into a terrible predicament. Coldstream writes that Bogarde had a terror of losing control: “In discarded notes for his first book he wrote of this dangerous, detestable thread in his make-up that might one day do him harm: “I judged it to be a form of weakness, femininity, softness. Abhorrent.” This kind projective identification is a common defence mechanism for Enneagram Ones. Dirk never came out.

At the least, the Enneagram gives a glimpse into why we love these recognizable characters and an appreciation of our diversity. What is really tempting, however, is that the Enneagram can offer a short cut for growing up and getting out of our own personality “boxes.” And we can guide our clients to do the same. Certainly, in knowing the Enneagram, coaches and psychologists, and anyone working with people development, have gained a powerful tool for assessing and mapping a way to work with individuals and the diversity in groups.

Jo Monson is an Enneagram Practitioner and Professional Certified Coach with the ICF.

(This article was first published in a slightly different version in SA Coaching News, Volume 1, Issue 9, September 2019)

Practice for moving into flow

This practice is adapted from the work of Wendy Palmer.

It is a way of re-centering the body and coming back into a place of flow.


Into flow


Sit comfortably and gently close your eyes

Notice your breath


As you inhale imagine your breath is a spiral column connecting to the lightness of the heavens

As you exhale imagine your breath is a spiral column rooting you into the ground

Inhale to the heavens

Exhale to the ground

Inhale to the heavens

Exhale to the ground


Notice the energy field around your body

  • is it even front and back? even it out
  • is it even on either side? even it out
  • is it even top and bottom even it out

Place your hand on your belly, imagine your hips are your favourite mountain

Place your hand on your heart, imagine your heart is your favourite ocean

Place your attention on your mind, imagine your mind is the wide blue of the sky


Consciously relax your shoulders and jaw

Find one quality that you would like a little more of to take back

Ask your body “what would it be like if there was just a little more……” (ease, confidence, stillness…..)


Coaching and art

I am frequently asked to describe what coaching is. It can be summed up by a line from Leonard Cohen’s well known song, Dance me to the End of Love: “Show me slowly what I only know the limits of.” The lyrics of the song were published together with a selection of paintings by Henri Matisse and the page inserted in this post remind me of the often circuitous and iterative way that coaching brings about its results. Through practice, through the mind and also working with body, coaching brings us into a way of being that seemed impossible before.

Coaching takes a heuristic approach. It is discovery through experimentation. In this way it can be like an artistic process, creating space for the linear and objective-orientated as well as the creative and flowing. Writes Diane Lennard in Coaching Models: A Cultural Perspective (2010): “I believe there is a strong relationship between the arts and the cognitive process of inquiry. The artistic process of experimenting with word images, sound, and movement is a form of heuristic inquiry. It involves exploring new combinations of these elements, investigating how they interact with one another, what responses they evoke or don’t evoke in others. Discovery, trial and error, observation, and evaluation are essential throughout.”

Death and dying

How do you view your own death? I was impressed by this delivery on the subject of death by Steven Jenkinson, ceremonialist and author of the book “Die Wise” (2015). He talks about how as a culture there is death phobia and that there is poor grief literacy. “That people’s right to die badly is routinely defended.” It touched on something that has long made me uneasy: this relentless quest to “not die,” to prolong life no matter how poor the quality of that life is, a denying of dying. Jenkinson invites his audience into a different relationship with dying. He talks of “dying well” as a responsibility to our ancestors and our heirs.

I shall be open now to making death my trusty companion, a daily reminder of my mortality, so that perhaps I might seize the day more fully. Embracing mortality is well supported by the spiritual traditions and some measure spiritual development by how welcome death is to the individual. In the “Book of Joy,” the Dalai Lama describes how he practices a meditation five times a day that takes him through death and rebirth and reminds the reader how “it is the nature of all things that come into existence to have an end.”

And of course, symbolically, without death, there cannot be something new. In “The Mythic Tarot” written by Juliet Sharman-Burke and Liz Green with cards illustrated by Tricia Newell, Death is a black figure in a cloak, a symbol of the experience of mourning and the necessity to prepare for a new cycle. “… Death, represents that in-between state where we are brought face to face with the complete irrevocability of our loss, before the sense of new growth has begun.” In the image, the figure of Death receives gifts from tiny people, these are the seeds that will grow in the new dawn on the horizon, on the other side of the river.

Educated by Tara Westover

This quotation sums up the book for me. It is about the choice and the cost of following our own truth:

“I will offer, one final time, to give you a blessing,” he said. The blessing was a mercy. He was offering me the same terms of surrender he had offered my sister. I imagine what a relief it must have been for her, to realize she could trade her reality – the one she shared with me – for his. How grateful she must have felt to pay such a modest price. I could not judge her for her choice, but in that moment I knew I could not choose it for myself. Everything I had worked for, all my years of study had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self–create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.” From Educated by Tara Westover, 2018

Deep work by Cal Newport

Adapted from a post in Smarter Living on the New York Times on 14 January 2019

Deep work is the activity of focusing without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It describes, in other words, when you’re really locked into doing something hard with your mind.

In order for a session to count as deep work there must be zero distractions. Even a quick glance at your phone or email inbox can significantly reduce your performance due to the cost of context switching.

Every time you switch your attention from one target to another and then back again, there’s a cost. This switching creates an effect that psychologists call attention residue, which can reduce your cognitive capacity for a non-trivial amount of time before it clears. If you constantly make “quick checks” of various devices and inboxes, you essentially keep yourself in a state of persistent attention residue, which is a terrible idea if you’re someone who uses your brain to make a living.

Two rules for “Deep Work:”

  1. Don’t get distracted by the internet and social media. People need to be way more intentional and selective about what apps and services they allow into their digital lives.
  2. Drain the shallows. “Shallow work” is anything that doesn’t require uninterrupted concentration. This includes, for example, most administrative tasks like answering email or scheduling meetings.

If you allow your schedule to become dominated by shallow work, you’ll never find time to do the deep efforts that really move the needle. It’s really important to aggressively minimize optional shallow work and then be very organized and productive about how you execute what remains.

It’s not that shallow work is bad, but that its opposite, deep work, is so valuable that you have to do everything you can to make room for it. Instead of focusing too much on what’s bad about distractions, it’s important to step back and remember what’s so valuable about its opposite. Concentration is like a super power in most knowledge work pursuits. If you take the time to cultivate this power, you’ll never look back.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

Marie Kondo says that we should hold each item in our home and allow it to speak to us, we should ask ourselves the question: “Does this spark joy?” If not we should acknowledge and appreciate the purpose of that object in our lives and let it go. Kondo writes in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying:”

“Sort by category, in the correct order, and keep only those things that inspire joy. Do this thoroughly and quickly, all in one go. If  you follow this advice, you will dramatically reduce the volume of things you own, experience an exhilaration you have never known before and gain confidence in your life.”


If you sit still….

All that you are seeking, is also seeking you. If you sit still, it will find you. It has been waiting for you a long time.”


Zen Practice

Watch your mind, how it comes into being, how it operates. As you watch your mind, you discover yourself as the watcher. When you stand motionless, only watching, you discover your self as the light behind the watcher. The source of light is dark, unknown is the source of knowledge. That source alone is. Go back to that source and abide there.