The First Agreement: Be Impeccable with your Word

We make agreements with ourselves and with others all the time, explains Don Miguel Ruiz in his book “The Four Agreements.” We also make agreements with ourselves around who we are, what we believe and how to behave. Often these agreements don’t serve us and indeed, many of our agreements come from fear and work to take away from our personal power. In his potent little book Ruiz sets out four new agreements to break those that deplete our energy and transform our lives. The first and most important of these is to “be impeccable with your word.”

Ruiz explains that your word is the power that you have to create and the most powerful magical tool you have as a human. “Every human is a magician, and we can either put a spell on someone with our word or we can release someone from a spell. We cast spells all the time with our opinions.” Distilled to its essence being impeccable with your word means “you speak with integrity. You say only what you mean. You avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. You use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”

What’s still unclosed for you?

I have a friend who inexplicably broke up with me. There’s something in this that still feels open and charged. Maybe if I knew the reason why I could close this chapter. But right now it still hurts. And it takes from my energy. It’s common for us to use this language of “putting to bed” and “closing this chapter” but recently I read some Gestalt theory and I understood it even more.

“We are compelled to complete the picture of an experience… We need closure in any interaction in order for it to be satisfying and complete,” says John Leary-Joyce, Gestalt Practitioner and author of The Fertile Void. The theory goes that we are hard-wired to recognise a whole or meaningful pattern – a Gestalt — rather than see the bits it’s made up out of.

What still feels unclosed for you? Chances are its dragging at something in you, slowing down however infinitesimally your own flow. Sometimes just naming these things can help a lot. Write down as many as you can. Write down the ones that intrude into your thoughts. Or the ones that you remember at 3 in the morning. Or the ones that turn up in your dreams.

Once you have a list, think of how you can bring them to closure. Sometimes it’s as simple as crossing off something on a to do list. Either doing it or deciding that this is something you’ve decided not to do. To complete the picture with my estranged friend for now I have a smooth stone on my window sill. It is to mark the place, to remember what was, and to maybe hold a space for a future conversation. Sometimes closure can be about letting go or throwing out stuff. I’ve done special walks and final dinners, I’ve written poems and burnt objects. And of course completing the pictures of our experiences is where coaches can help a lot too. So start with any item on your list, and be sure you will have your own creative way of closing off and freeing yourself for the big stuff in your life.

Are you ready to do the hard stuff?

Are you ready to do the hard stuff?   Apparently Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. Brian Tracy has written a time management book using this idea called “Eat that frog.” He writes that “Your “frog” is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it.”

I am grateful every day for what I have created in my life but I know that this has come out of continually generating in myself the capacity to do the hard stuff — and then to do it. I also know that the things I have been putting off, the things that are hard for whatever reason, are the things that are dragging me down and getting in the way of my fabulous life. So today I’m writing down a list of frogs, and I’m going to swallow one whole every morning this week.

Christmas Letter

It’s coming to a close, for better or for worse.  Here’s a little wrap from me and how I want to integrate this big and wild and crazy year:

When the world locked down, we were asked to show up on social media and video chat platforms. I was one of the many in a maddening maze of navigating new tech. I facilitated my first series of online workshops, I attended at least ten online courses and a dozen webinars. Best of all, I loved the “inner sight” art course run entirely on WhatsApp. Each day a new assignment designed to tap into intuition and elicit messages from the sub-conscious. I was amazed at the guidance I received. In the picture below the message was: “Follow the bridge to a ring of collective calm.” So I’m going into 2021 even more curious about other ways of knowing.

Most of all I coached online. I coached in Sao Paulo, in Toronto, and in Blantyre. I coached in Mexico City and Johannesburg and in London. I coached in Geneva and in Amsterdam and Singapore. Every session had a thick under-layer of heart and connection, decency and kindness. While it seemed there was so much craziness (misinformation, polarisation, isolation), my coaching clients held me steady, and I was connected across the world in a ring of collective calm. For 2021, I’m affirming the power of online connection.

 

And then we were warned of the algorithms manipulating our beliefs and our behaviour and encouraged to turn off our phones and feel again the ground beneath our feet. My family tallied up 16 trips away in 2020, mostly hiking and camping. We walked where there are more waterfalls per square kilometre than anywhere else on earth. I knew again the thrill of the summit, of having conquered fears and fatigue to stand at the top and look out and beyond, to where our worlds meet. To drink from the stream and later to see the river joining with the ocean, to be aware of the natural rhythms of the earth and to know my sunrise is your sunset. I’m going into 2021 aware of the interdependence of everything.

And now, with the summer wind blowing for me, and maybe the nights even darker for you, my hand is on my heart, and I’m thinking of you who have been present with me in this year. I’m grateful to you and I’m wishing you the best of this season…. peace, love, abundance.

Jo

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Grow by giving – practices for being in the world

For some of us it comes easy, and for others, like myself, giving sometimes feels awkward. I worry about the power issues, the “how much is enough” issues, and then there are the “is this really wanted” thoughts. It’s no wonder that learning to give is associated with the development of our intuition and also our spiritual growth.

Giving is prescribed by almost every religious tradition and expresses a fundamental aspect of our interdependence and need for each other.  Not only that, in learning how to give, we accelerate our own physical and emotional health. As if we needed proof, science has shown that generosity is one of the four fundamental brain circuits that map with long term well–being.

So here are some ways to get started:

  1. Hold a door open
  2. Smile
  3. Offer a kind word and encouragement
  4. Give a compliment
  5. Listen without interruption
  6. Make a call when your intuition tells you to
  7. Donate or support an organisation doing good work
  8. Forgive others and yourself
  9. Prepare a meal for a friend
  10. Don’t judge someone harshly
  11. Keep your power and attention in present time

We can give as part of being well-mannered and we can also come to an experience of the mystery. As Caroline Myss writes: “I think it is the invisible power of grace, moving between the open hearts of the giver and the receiver. The action itself, may be small, but the energy that is channelled through the action is the high-voltage current of grace.”

For more see “The book of Joy” by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams or “Invisible Acts of Power” by Caroline Myss.

 

 

 

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Keep taking a stand against racism – practices for being in the world

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 https://www.glamourmagazine.co.uk/a…/how-to-be-a-white-ally…
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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.

9

“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.

8

“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.

7

“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.

6

“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.

5

“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”.

4

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.

3

“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.”

2

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.

1

“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.