"If there's so much meaning in it",
said the King, "that saves a world of trouble, you know,
as we needn't try to find any. -- Alice in Wonderland
There is some soul of goodness in things
evil would men observingly distill it out. -- Shakespeare
One of the great tragedies of modern civilization:
the tragic view of life. -- James J. Donahoe
A quarter of a picture is worth 250 words.
-- George Carlin
I don't believe in aging. I believe in forever
altering one's aspect to the sun. -- Virginia Wolff
The only way to strengthen one's intellect
is to make up one's mind about nothing. -- Keats
Someone's last little mundane actions no longer
seem ordinary in the stunned retrospecting that follows a sudden
death. When a friend spends what turns out to be the final few
hours of his life with you, pieces of that time come back to you
later with a changed meaning. Scraps of conversation take on poignant,
even cryptic, meanings; the memory of a dinner at his favorite
restaurant acquires the ceremonial overtones of a Last Supper,
even up to the seating arrangements at a long table that night.
Riding with him to his house becomes the final he drove the familiar
route home. A good-night hug becomes a last embrace, and "See
you in the morning" really means" Never again in this
lifetime." Instead of the memory of an ordinary evening in
the ongoing course of your continuing days, the time unwinds and
I suppose It's a matter of contrast. Daily
life revolves within a mostly predictable frame of reference colored
by our identities, beliefs, and little cherished habits of being
in the world. A sudden death within our orbit ruptures the picture,
dissolves its frame, and staggers the ceaseless flow of assumption
and activity that we engage in without so much as questioning
It's like what war veterans have wistfully
told me: that they have never since lived with such clarity and
presence, with such total immersion in the momentary, as during
the sustained contact with imminent death they felt while at war.
At the very least, your friend's last act has you staring at your
own habits of being, wondering just how much you, too, take for
It's ironic that my friend Philip and I discussed reframing that
last night. It's a NLP technique for changing the experience of
clients. To reframe is to alter and expand the meaning of a client's
problem in such a way that it is no longer perceived as a problem.
"If you had known then what you know now,"goes the saying,
and common wisdom allows that events--even catastrophes and losses--
seem different in retrospect.
The aim of reframing is to turn losses into
gains, stumbling blocks into stepping stones, walls into doors,
catastrophe into opportunity. "Make the most of any conceivable
situation," as Philip was fond of saying, and it is the essence
Consider, for example, the following instances
of how a therapist might respond to a client's stated complaint,
"I procrastinate too much."
(a) "That's good. Procrastination is a
form of caution, after all, and if you're cautious about taking
action, it really means that you care about spending your time
and energy in the most effective way possible."
(b) "That's good! Think of how many rash,
impulsive actions and awful situations you've avoided down through
(c) "That's interesting. I once looked
up the original meaning of the word. It means 'that which is to
come tomorrow.' So to procrastinate is not to try to do something
today that, properly speaking, you really have no business even
attempting until tomorrow."
(d) "How much time do you have left to
Therapeutic reframing makes practical use of
what everyone somehow knows: that things mean largely what we
think they mean. We never deal with reality per se but rather
with our images and descriptions of reality. In the same way,
money in our culture is just paper and metal. Even when it stood
for gold, that had only the value that we gave it.
Consider rain. It may come at the end of a
drought, refreshing all that grows, or it may be a week-long deluge.
The same rain can fill a dry river bed and provide irrigation
for nearby farms, but if the rain continues, it will just reliably
flood the buildings on the same farms. In all cases, the rain
is just rain. Whether we see it as bad or good depends on the
frame through which we see it.
Our images and descriptions of "reality"
make up our own personal daily frame of reference. This frame
contains our entire history--personal, familial, and cultural--and
functions as a grid through which we interpret events and create
meaning. Just as the frame around a photograph or painting can
greatly affect the way we perceive it, so our personal daily frames
around experience can largely dictate our behavior and responses.
I remember once going on a plane ride with
my godson. He was very excited about the prospect of flying over
his own town, waving to his parents and so on. When we actually
boarded and were strapped into our seats, he turned pale with
fright as the engines revved up. "Joshua, what's wrong?",
I asked. He responded, "Are we going to get smaller and disappear?"
Every plane he had ever watched from the ground had done that...
While the range of interpretations and meanings
available to us in daily life is utterly open, most of us tend
to render a vast world of possible choices down to a certain narrow
few. To reframe is to expand, to reopen those possibilities by
changing the way in which they are perceived. When your meanings
change, so does your behavior. "Make the most of every conceivable
So... procrastination is a form of caution;
a river is rain in transition; war is a poor man's mysticism.
A fish is really a filter for sea water; a chicken is just a pause
between two eggs; and one woman's ceiling is another's floor.
Pain is proof that you're alive, less is often more, catastrophe
is an alarming word for challenge, and a man's death offers gifts
and unprecedented opportunities to those who survive him.
Three months before he died, Philip wrote in
a letter to me:
Doing a death exercise suggested in a book. It involves going
to each person involved--gathering loved ones and talking to them
one by one about my impending death--exploring how it would be
without me--getting things straight between them and me...
MY GOD, this is the ULTIMATE release, Tom.
It pogo-sticks far beyond confession, itself a blessing for a
troubled soul in transition. AND TO DO IT WHILE STILL ALIVE--heaven
on earth, for it draws consciousness to appreciating essentials--and
the nicest thing of all is that the loved ones are all here!
Uwais, a contemporary of Mohammed, was asked,
"How do you feel today?
"Like one who has risen in the morning
and does not know if he will be dead in the evening."
"But," responded the first man, "this
is the condition of all people."
"Yes," Uwais replied, "but how
many of them feel it?
* * *
There are several types of reframing:
involves directly changing the meaning (content) of a belief.
Of the examples given above, (a) and (c) did that: procrastination
was reframed as caution and trying to do too much to day. Some
other examples: indecision is choosiness, mistakes are creative
acts, evil is warped love, glasses of water are half full rather
than half empty, your current limitations were once the best choices
Another kind of therapeutic reframing is situational.
It assumes that the client's undesirable behavior problem might
function as a resource. In example (b), the therapist pointed
out that procrastination had, in fact, been useful in avoiding
certain "awful situations" down through the years. Situational
reframing assumes that different situations require different
responses from us and that the meaning or value of something is
often dictated by the context in which it occurs.
I was once in a gym, getting dressed next to
two men who had just come off an obviously satisfying game of
handball. One asked the other, "Which would you rather do:
make love to your wife or play handball?" There was a frowning
silence as the man thought over the question. Finally, he said,
"I think that would depend entirely on what I had just done
Think of a situation in your professional or
personal life in which it would be disastrous to be completely
honest. Now think of what you describe as your "worst"
trait, your biggest fault, or a way you sometimes behave that
breaks through to the surface despite your best efforts to suppress
it. Scan your imagination for any context--past, present or future--in
which this trait could function as an asset and an ally.
In a workshop once, an elderly, mild-mannered
Jewish man raised his hand and said, "I have a part of me
that is a Nazi. How would you reframe that?" He was asked
to think of any situation, real or conceivable, in which he would
want to have a part like that. After a time, he replied, "Yes,
I think that if the social order as we know it breaks down, I
would want at least to be capable of that kind of aggression."
My friends as a rule are gentle people. Through
the years, each of them has separately confided to me that they
were capable of violence if someone tried to harm one of their
children. Under the extreme circumstances of a plane crash in
the Yukon, perfectly civilized people will practice cannibalism
to survive. Sometimes there is even talk of prosecuting them after
they have returned to civilization...
is not situational ethics. It simply makes constructive use of
the fact that most of us vary our behavior from one context to
the next. You are a different person professionally than you are
personally; different with your parents than with your children;
different in your behavior toward a cashier than toward a close
friend. And certain traits--even your "worst"--might
be appropriate and useful somewhere or sometime. A Dervish saying
echoes this point: "When it is time for stillness, stillness;
in the time of companionship, companionship; at the place of effort,
effort. In the time and place of anything, anything."
Another way to reframe is through time. It
is often very important in therapy to get clients to forgive themselves
for past actions or get over something painful that they lived
through but never integrated. As everyone knows, things look different
in retrospect--you have lived longer than your memories. A child's
broken Christmas toy is a major tragedy at the time, yet we look
back on such things and smile. Events experienced as losses at
the time can later seem like blessings. A once painful divorce
made way for other, more fulfilling relationships; a professional
calamity led to a better job. There is absolutely no way of knowing
what a present loss or catastrophe will yield.
In retrospect, it was obvious that we both
"See that avocado tree over there?",
Philip asked as we walked through his yard to the hot tub. "The
tree doctor told us that it died six months ago, but it's still
yielding fruit. It's so sturdy that none of us can believe that
it's already dead."
After a couple of years of phone calls and
letters, being in each other's presence again was an odd letdown.
I thought it was probably the circumstances: Philip was deeply
involved in the Southwestern Anthropological Association conference
that had begun that day. As President of the Transpersonal Anthropology
Association, he was responsible for the logistics of the transpersonal
part of the conference and was to deliver the keynote paper at
a day-long symposium the next day. Many of the conference participants
were also friends of his, so it was not surprising to find him
scattered and preoccupied.
At dinner, he sat in the middle seat at a long
table surrounded by friends. Occasionally, we would make eye contact,
and a warm burst of recognition would follow. But then his eyes
drifted past me and fixed somewhere in space. At one point, he
said, "We've talked so much over the phone recently, maybe
there's nothing else to say." I nodded. It was difficult
to connect. I noticed a mounting tension in my abdomen, which
I monitored as the evening progressed.
Philip loved words and loved to play with language.
He usually had some phrase that he would weave through a conversation,
returning to it when the silences got long. The phrase would be
a kind of litany, a theme for the day or week. "Love time
bombs, Condor, love time bombs," he kept saying that evening.
I would nod good naturedly as though I understood. His calling
me Condor was another example of the word play. It was only later
that it occurred to me that "love time bomb" was a poetic
way to say heart attack.
On the way home from dinner, we stopped at
a traffic light directly in front of the gym where he would die
12 hours later. He turned to a friend in the back seat and said,
"Oh boy, have I got a love time bomb for you tomorrow!"
Later, in the hot tub, our conversation seemed
to skip around: we talked of how illness sometimes marks a major
transition in people's lives, how collapses in health sometimes
signal the end of a phase in a person's life. "These phases
are sometimes misunderstood," he added. We talked about the
language of illness. Philip made a joke about the phrase "heart
attack", about how absurd it was to talk of your heart attacking
For a time, we sat in silence. I watched the
steam rising into the night sky. Earlier he had shown me a skylight
he and his wife had made above their bed. It had a sliding cover
which he opened with a hand crank as I lay on the bed for full
effect. As the night sky was revealed, I joked about being sucked
up out of bed and into the void of deep space.
Abruptly, Philip began to recite a list of
the most important dates in his life. He mentioned his discharge
from the Army, when he got his Ph.D., the birthdates of his children,
when he became tenured as a professor, when he met his wife Jenice.
"And tomorrow is the highlight of my career." I stared
at him, puzzled, and said nothing. The tension in my abdomen was
back; his eyes had strayed past me again. Only later did I think
of this peculiar recital as a summing up.
"Let's get some sleep," I suggested.
Walking back through the yard, I noticed how
fit he looked. He had been fasting and had written me about wanted
to lose 55 pounds in 11 weeks--his target date was the conference.
He had certainly done it; his trunk was fatless, the muscles transparent
and visibly detailed. He looked great.
I heard later that everyone had warned him
that losing that much weight was hard on the heart. In his letters,
I came across references: "eighth day of fasting. Today I
felt apathetic and assumed it's because I'm not eating. But sometimes
what we feel is a reaction to things to come--I try to remember
during negative physical times to think, 'Hmmm, I wonder what
this is going to herald?' An excellent reframe."
"This fasting has brought about a whole
invigoration of consciousness in me. It's opportune as this is
the last fast ... the good feelings have been strong, constant,
relieving. It's as if I have this final opportunity to do the
fast to end all fasts ... each of the three previous fasts were
practice shots for this FINAL fast."
As we said goodnight, he gave me a strong,
encompassing hug which seemed to last for minutes. I felt awkward;
the strength and obvious emotion of the parting only increased
my sense of alienation.
I settled into bed. The lights came back on.
"Oh, Condor! I almost forgot--you have to read my paper!
It must have your approval!" It was on reframing, a subject
I had introduced him to. Earlier in the evening, he had tried
to read it aloud for a group of us. After a few sentences, he
said he couldn't go on because he felt panicky and too self-conscious.
As he said this, he kept touching his chest.
"Do you want the lights out?", he
"Yeah, I'll read it in the morning."|
I awoke from a dream in which I was sailing over long, cascading
streams of light. The sense of release and euphoria was overwhelming.
I coasted onto the shore of the day savoring a wonderful sense
of expansion through my chest and abdomen. Then I heard the news.
The words "I've been set up" kept
coming to mind. I felt like an inadvertant escort, a player in
some unseen drama who was shocked to find his part was not unlike
Charon's. Only later did I feel honored.
I also wound up reading his paper--in memoriam--to
a stunned gathering of Philip's friends from all over the country.
Even by ordinary standards, his timing was spectacular.
I flew home from San Diego the day Philip died.
Across the aisle on the plane, a man was carrying a box containing
a small appliance. Across the front of the box in a rainbow of
colors was the brand name "Condor" printed out seven
times. Mail began to arrive misspelled "Tom Condor".
A magazine at the dentist's office had a condor on the cover.
A friend I had not seen for months gave me a book called Predatory
Birds of the Americas. Acquaintances would mispronounce my name.
Meaning conversation would often be punctuated by the sight of
a hawk circling overhead, even amid skyscrapers. At the beach,
a hawk's wing washed up in the surf at my feet. One night, I flipped
on television and found "Three Days of the Condor" playing.
Out bicycle riding one day, I stopped and talked to a friend on
the street and leaned my bike against a parked car. As I turned
to ride off, I saw that the custom license read "Condor".
It was only later that I realized that two baby
condors were born in the San Diego Zoo the same weekend Philip
The following exercises assume that your participation in your
Enneagram style is something that you do rather than who you are.
What you might call your compulsion is almost like a skill that
you practice at an unconscious level. One of the best ways to
learn more about an unconscious habit is to determine its physiology.
1. Think about a recent time when you were
stuck within whatever you call your Enneagram compulsion. Contemplate
the experience for a moment and begin to try to recreate it in
the present. If you can see an image of yourself being compulsive,
try to bring the image close to you and step inside of it. Sense
the way that you feel when you are most within your Enneagram
style. How do you hold your body? Your head? Your hands? Your
How does the world look to you when you are
in this state? How does it sound? Are there any words that you
associate with being here? Any sounds or tones of voice? Any things
that you typically say?
And are there any smells or tastes that you
associate with being in this state? or any other feelings or memories
that are connected?
2. Now begin to move around and give this Enneagram
state some physical expression. Try to intensify your feelings,
really be your Enneagram style as you move about. How does it
affect your walk? How are you in or out of your body? What is
your relationship to space? What parts of you are relaxed? What
parts of you are tense? Really exaggerate this state for as long
as you can stand it.
3. Write down your experience noting anything
you learned or most want to remember.
4. Now take some time to consider what in your
experience is the opposite of being deeply caught in your Enneagram
style. When are you the most yourself, the most free of compulsion,
the most in touch with your true nature, individuality or soulfulness?
Begin now to recreate this experience maybe drawing on several
examples in your memory or just one in particular.
Sense the way that you feel when you are most
within your Enneagram style. How do you hold your body? Your head?
Your hands? Your posture?
How does the world look to you when you are
in this state? How does it sound? Are there any words that you
associate with being here? Any silence or sounds or tones of voice?
Any things that you typically say?
5. Now begin to move around and give this soulful
state some physical expression. Try to intensify your feelings,
really be your true self as you move about. How does it affect
your walkthis time? How are you in or out of your body? What is
your relationship to space? What parts of you are relaxed? What
parts of you are tense? Really exaggerate this state and stay
in it for as long as you enjoy it.
6. Write down your experience noting anything
you learned or most want to remember. Later take some time to
read through your writings and compare these two states.
Do the exercise in an Enneagram study group
or with a friend and include a step where you interact with each
other while in the two separate states. First you and another
interact purely as your Enneagram styles, then later interact
as your true selves.
Write a 3-5 page biography, the story of your
life, entirely from the point of view of your Enneagram style.
Try to focus, tune in and sense your history solely from the compulsive
inner state you contacted in the above exercise. Leave out jargon
and official descriptions of your Enneagram style and simply write
with that voice and point of view from inside your internal experience.
Later, write another 3-5 page biography entirely
from the from the standpoint of your deepest most truthful sense
of yourself. Later still, compare the two autobiographies.
Object : Write a story about a house for each
Enneagram style. The purpose of each story is to address the basic
trap of the style, access appropriate resources and help the person
change and grow.
Problem state might be:
Rigidities, limits, beliefs or conflicts intrinsic to the Enneagram
style. "Unhealthy", compulsive expressions of the style.
Basic perceptual habits that run without choice.
Resource states might be:
Healthy side of their Enneagram style.
Highside of stress point, security point, primary wing, latent
Plus : personal strengths; what motivates the
person; what they love; how they have changed in the past; when
they are already free of the problem state and what that is like;
when they are most authentic. Also useful : their sense of humor;
good role models; their ability to learn; their ability to self-observe.
Also: discerning hidden drives and symbolic functions behind compulsive
Goals might be:
Choice. Flexibility. Freedom to be "easy in your harness."
Conflict resolution. Understanding of symbolic functions and replacing
compulsive behaviors with up-to-date ones. Pattern interruption
of basic perceptual habit.
A house has :
& many rooms with different functions
Clinton's Enneagram Style
by Thomas Condon
Bill Clinton displays a plethora of confusing
behaviors and attitudes that he has been variously described by
Enneagram writers as a Nine, a Three and a Seven. I've been
confused too - Clinton's childhood descriptions initially read
strongly like those of a Nine but during his first presidential
campaign, I originally thought he was a Three (until I realized
that all presidential candidates act like Threes when campaigning.)
I've also heard Clinton described as a male Two. All of these
interpretations have merit and I think are accounted for in the
* Clinton is a Nine with both wings though he mainly displays
his 1 wing in public. He's idealistic, was a Good Child,
wants to do right by people in the terms of his history. Yet,
he also has a flaring temper and aggressive determination. Nines
with both wings are also frequently torn between good child/bad
child roles. Model behavior is followed by episodes of acting
* Clinton's connection to his security point (3) is strong,
bringing Threeish focus and ambition plus a love of administrative
thinking. He can also delude himself, especially in the service
of Niney placating, i.e. during attempts to meet the needs of
opposing groups. He routinely goes through cycles of grandiose
ambition and wilting compromise; he's also very image-conscious.
* Clinton is an eldest child. In Nines, especially, this
strengthens the connection to Three. Oldest children generally
have Threeish orientations towards achievement and try to live
up to higher expectations than, say, middle children. Since Clinton
specifically lacked a father, he had to assume an extra mantle
of adult responsibility and step into a childhood role of too-early
adult competence. Clinton also had a violent alcoholic stepfather
and seems, at times, to engineer clubbings from older males. Six
years ago it was Bob Dole; more recently it's been Henry Hyde.
* Clinton is an extrovert and a Social subtype. In Nines
this is expressed by a love of groups and group energy or an ambivalence
about same. Social Nines tend to gravitate toward groups and then
have conflicts about joining or staying apart. When immersed in
a group, social Nines can lose themselves, trying to become all
things to all people. They enjoy group energy and interests but
may be also aware of the group's expectations. These the Nine
will both accomodate and subvert, as they sometimes secretly resent
that the group doesn't really care who they are.
Clinton clearly loves group process and his sense of leadership
is tied to the goals of his like-minded friends. He's also a compulsive
empath and merges in a Niney way with the needs of whomever he's
with. This plus his hugging sometimes makes him seem like a Two.
* Clinton is a particular kind of Social subtype, one I
call "Prince and Princess Nines." They are generally
more cheerful and extroverted and are frequently confused with
Sevens or Threes. Often their childhood was similiar to Twos and
Threes in that they were mainly recognized for the roles that
they played and their function to others. They were usually celebrated
by a parent who needed them to be a little adult. They can act
spoiled and broadcast an implicit attitude of priviledge. Underneath
the pseudo-adulation they received as children was a deeper (Niney)
feeling of being ignored for who they actually were.
* Clinton's late mother was a cheerful, resilient alcoholic
Seven. We all carry and express our parental Enneagram styles
even if they have no relation to our own core style. This is partially
why Clinton acts like a Seven even though his core style Nine
has no intrinsic connection to Seven. If a child has only one
parent, the mark of the parent's Enneagram style will always be
stronger. Clinton's younger brother Roger is also a Seven.
Thus Bill has appetite problems, gets grandiose and caught
up in plans. He's also has a pull towards exciting sleaze (reckless
compulsive sex) and he can rationalize nearly as well as a Seven.
He's flexible, curious and a quick learner. An optimistic sunnyness
is obvious although cheerful busy Nines often seem like Sevens
at first glance. Clinton sometimes displays the Seven tendency
towards planning without follow through. This intersects with
cycles of Threeish ambition and Niney compromise. Many of the
above qualities are also typical of Adult Children of Alcoholic
* Clinton's mother was also a Social subtype, which strengthens
the tendency in Bill and makes him even more gregarious. Virginia
Kelley as a Seven also had an active connection to One, specifically
preaching an ethic of personal service to others by way of doing
the right thing. But she was also a victim, a rationalizer who
took little personal responsibility for her behavior.
* As a long-married Nine, Clinton would have internalized
the Enneagram style of spouse Hillary - a One with a 2 wing.
This would strengthen Bill's connection to both of those Enneagram
styles as well. Also: the public often underestimates how much
they are a team. By most accounts, Hillary taught the young Bill
how to fight. Over and over, his friends describe him as having
"the passivity of a Buddha" and as someone who "likes
to talk and think but doesn't like to decide." Even Hillary
is on record as saying, "I have to kick his ass every morning
for him to get anything done."
About the scandal:
* Monica Lewinsky is a Two with a 3 wing who displays evidence
to two subtypes: Social and Intimate. Social Twos are notable
for their ambition, particularly as it leads to public recognition.
They generally confuse being needed and noticed with being loved.
Some seek attention for their own achievements, while others through
their affiliation with accomplished or powerful people. If a Social
Two expresses their ambition through others they might marry someone
influential and concentrate their energies on the spouse's ambitions.
This subtype also goes with classic social climbing.
Intimate Twos tend to act seductive and aggressive by turns. They
seek romantic union and generally confuse being sexually desirable
with being loved. Some are proud of their seductive power and
the status of who they seduce. Famous Social Twos include Mother
Teresa and Desmond Tutu. Famous Intimate Twos include Eva Peron
and the singer Madonna (who played Peron in a movie.)
* Kenneth Starr is a Social One with
a 2 wing, characterized by an inflexible preoccupation with the
rules. "Perjury is perjury," is his rumored mantra when
asked privately about his investigation of Clinton. Social Ones
are often preoccupied with rules and how they apply to (other)
people's behavior. They tend to apply the same rigid standards
to each new situation. When confronted with the unknown they will
ask "what is the rule" rather than "what is required
or necessary or sensible."
Social Ones may believe they are representatives of a larger social
order or tradition. They're not, of course - acting as if they
represent the rules is a psychological defense. The police inspector
Joubert in Victor Hugo's Les Miserables is a Social One.
He pursues protagonist Jean Valjean for thirty years because a
young hungry Valjean once stole bread from a bakery. Other famous
Social Ones include Mario Cuomo, Nelson Mandela and, ironically,
* Linda Tripp is a part phobic/part counterphobic
Six who justifies betraying her friend Monica as something Tripp
had to do because she was frightened of what could happen.
Tripp consistently portrays herself as a victim although the act
of audiotaping her friend is widely viewed as an act of breathtaking
treachery. People sometimes struggle to understand the difference
between aggressive counterphobic Sixes and Eights. One key is
that Sixes are often "victimizing victims"- they blame
the occasion for their aggression on others. While Sixes see themselves
as victims Eights almost never do.
By the way:
* The ex-presidents Bill Clinton has said he is most like
in temperament are Ronald Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. Both were
* Interviewed by Charlie Rose, Al Gore
explained the chemistry between the first couples by saying that
he and Hillary had the same "personality type" and that
Tipper Gore and Bill Clinton also had the same personality type.
Al and Hillary are both Ones. Tipper is a Nine with a 1 wing.
I don't know whether Gore knows the Enneagram but that's what
* You can easily find Clinton's Enneagram
style in two books, First In His Class and The Clinton
Copyright © 1997-2010 The Changeworks