A recent book review in the Times was discussing the de-skilling taking place in Modern Society. It occurred to me that there is a black hole operating here (a place we get stuck where reality does not meet the picture we have of how it should be). I regularly hear people decrying the changes that are taking place in society. The sense is that the world is going to hell in a handbasket with the breakdown of communities, increased violence, focus on electronic communication as against personal interaction, obesity etc. The list is endless and there are overwhelming amounts of people who clearly believe in the truth of these pictures. Yet is this the reality? Whilst we were on holiday in France, a friend of my son’s that we had invited along with us, was reading a book called The Spirit Level. The thesis of the book was that inequality was bad for society and that equal societies were always more effective. This thesis was extended to all areas of life. Yet, I noticed that there were certain widely held beliefs that were referred to as evidence of this effect. One was the increase in violence and disaffection of youth. As someone who has been a student of the I-Ching for many years, I am wary of those holding strong pictures about how society should be. The Tao-Te-Ching famously says “He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know”; when we hold strong models and pictures about how Life should be we create a closed heart which ceases to feel the flow of child like wonder and love that an open heart experiences. The danger is also that we fail to experience the reality of life but filter it through our expectations and assumptions. The beauty of the Tao-Te-Ching’s advice is that even my perspective here is undermined since in writing this article I am expressing my own view on how we should be approaching life – so we are all undone. I therefore put my views forward with the strongest conviction that I might or might not be proved right in the fullness of time.
Since the myths or beliefs that pervade our view are so strong, they become almost invisible and are re-inforced by repeated reference. We all know that we are living in a society where people are becoming alientated and increasingly violent, where communities are breaking down. Or do we? The facts are always valuable so far as they can be ascertained to help us challenge our beliefs. The facts on violence are that violent deaths per head of the population globally were in severe decline throughout the 20th Century and this has accelerated further in the 21st Century. We are becoming increasingly less violent. What is intriguing here is that since the population is becoming increasingly urban, it would suggest that becoming more numerous and living more closely together is decreasing our preponderance for violence, not something we might expect. So where does this overwhelming sense that we are all going to hell in a handbasket come from? I wonder if it comes from the fear of change. The recognition that we are not in control. I was struck by the fact in a recent newspaper article the death of a woman whilst skiing was described as a tragedy. The woman was an apparently healthy forty-five year old who had died from a heart attack whilst on a chair lift. The tenor of the article was that this somehow should not have happened. Indeed death is continually described in newspapers as a tragedy. What makes death so shocking for us, is it reminds us of the fact that we are not in control and that change is inevitable in ways which we do not necessarily want and cannot always predict. I suspect that it is this which creates the perception that the world is on a course of decline towards some terrible end. We feel impotent in the face of a world that is so much bigger than we are and over which we can have so little influence. Yet paradoxically this very element that makes many feel that we are slipping backwards in terms of evolution is the very thing that is fuelling evolution. Without death there can be no evolution. Death, both physically and psychologically is often shocking and upsetting. I am at the age now where my children are old enough to be leaving home. The same is true for many of my peers. Someone I was coaching recently reflected back to me that a relationship that had been extremely close over the years they had worked with the individual was now changing. The person I was coaching felt somehow guilty about this and said the other person described it in terms of betrayal. Yet really the betrayal was generated by a change in the person I was coaching in that they were opening their heart to other people in the organisation and becoming less identified with the clique of their own department. The sense of betrayal on the part of their colleague was really saying do not change or grow. Since they had responsibility for developing this individual as part of their team, we talked about the role of betrayal in terms of evolution. I have mentioned elsewhere that my son is currently abroad in France for the first time. As I pointed out to the person I was coaching, my son has to betray me if he is going to grow and become an independent adult. Similarly I have to betray him, if he is to evolve; I have to push him out of the nest. It was upsetting for both of us – him leaving home behind and me leaving my son behind but without this “death” how can there be evolution? It is tempting then to look back on the past through rose-tinted spectacles, to feel sentimental for a past that perhaps never existed. Thus we watch Jane Austen films and pine for the nobility, simplicity and civility of such times. Yet even Austen herself was writing through rose-tinted spectacles about a time twenty to thirty years prior to the time of writing. There is little mention or recognition on our part of the fact that slavery was an accepted fact, that disease and poverty were rife or that children were used and regularly died supplying gunpowder for cannons on board naval ships.
Given all of this, it is difficult to separate out and understand what we should be working to change – because it is an old unconscious way of acting that we need to evolve beyond – and what is misplaced nostalgia about the past. With this in mind, I want to look at how we see the modern world and where we might be evolving since this gives us a lens through which to decipher this. So back to the original article about de-skilling; it is clear that humans are changing. Physiologically, our bones are becoming more gracile since we do not need the bone density to support muscles at the level that we did when we were hunter gatherers. The article also referred to de-skilling generally. It is clear, given the increasing mechanisation of our lives, that part of our evolution is away from manual activities to more cerebral ones. It occurred to me during the late eighties and nineties, with divorce rates rising and an increase in redundancies that something was shifting in terms of the way we understood the concept of work and relationships. I was conscious that the relationship of loyalty between employer and employee was breaking down – on both sides. What might this mean? What I realised was that in the past individuals were defined by their physical capacity for work. Many jobs that had required physical effort were now being mechanised and, increasingly, computerised. This meant that the need for physical labour had reduced significantly. There was a movement away from the manufacturing sector with a huge growth in the services sector. We were less concerned with earning our money through serving each other’s physical survival needs and more concerned with serving each other personally. Indeed, much of the manufacturing sector does not produce goods that are essential to our needs but rather add to our lifestyle. There was a growth in the whole notion of work-life balance. It dawned on me that what people had become loyal to was their career. Previous to the nineties, the concept of career had much less currency than the term job. A job is about economic survival; a career has a very different notion which carries the sense of personal fulfilment and achievement. As a Human Resources manager during this period, it was clear to me that a fundamental change was taking place. Individuals were becoming loyal to their own development not the organisation. The psychological contract had changed to one where the individual would be loyal to the organisation as long as it provided opportunities to grow and develop and the organisation would remain loyal to the individual as long as they grew and developed their skills and abilities. It is easy now to forget how radically the work place has changed in the last twenty to thirty years, but there really has been a seismic shift and I think we have changed the concept of work from being a physical activity to a mental one. Work now means work on ourselves to develop our potential – to become more conscious.
When my friend Chrissy asked the I-Ching what we were doing here it gave her the hexagram 14 Possession in Great Measure and 2 lines from Hexagram 18 Work on What has been Spoiled. Possession in Great Measure is about consciousness and the lines from Hexagram 18 were the first line:
Six in the beginning means
Setting right what has been spoiled by the father
If there is a son,
No blame rests upon the departed father.
Danger. In the end good fortune.
Rigid adherence to tradition has resulted in decay. But the decay has not yet penetrated too deeply and so can still be easily remedied. It is as if a son were compensating for the decay his father allowed to creep in. Then no blame attaches to the father. However, one must not overlook the danger or take the matter too lightly. Only if one is conscious of the danger connected with every reform will everything go well in the end.
This suggests that the game of life we are playing is set up to be spoiled but that our work is to take responsibility for this and put it right. In order to do this, we have to work to become more conscious, indeed the fact it is spoiled creates the conditions for us to become more conscious. The next line she threw was the fourth line:
Six in the fourth place means:
Setting right what has been spoiled by the father.
One meets with praise.
This shows the situation of someone too weak to take measures against decay that has its roots in the past and is just beginning to manifest itself. It is allowed to run its course. If this continues humiliation will result.
It is clear from this line that the I-Ching is saying that if we do not take responsibility for sorting out the challenges life brings to become more conscious the decay is perpetuated (until we do?). This very much ties in with the notion of karma. Although, I must admit that I am wary of much of the unknown mysticism that has become attached to this term. It is impossible to know whether there is such a thing as past lives or re-incarnation (there may or may not be, but we do not know). I do not subscribe to the notion of being good because of some unknown future reward, but rather because it is important here and now. One has only to look at the situation with Israel and Palestine to see the dangers of not putting things right at the beginning or tackling decay and instead allowing it to run its course.
So I think that we are bringing a different consciousness to our concept of work. If, according to Chrissy’s pattern, Chiron rules Virgo and the asteroids (fragments that did not coalesce into a planet – permanently fractured and not whole – very much Virgo detail and Chiron woundedness), then the discovery of Chiron in the late 1970s would have coincided with a shift in our understanding of work and a move towards a service (a very Virgo word) based economy. Indeed, the facts about the nature of jobs that I saw presented some four or five years ago, showed that two-thirds of jobs that are advertised did not exist ten years ago. We have had an explosion of growth and creativity with a potential in the future for each person to find their own personal expression of work – their own particular work to do on what has been spoiled.
So perhaps our de-skilling, is really re-skilling. We are evolving towards a more cerebral life as our physical bodies become less important to the work we are doing. With our move to the age of Aquarius it feels collectively as if we are teenagers and so challenging the received notions of our parents. With this in mind, I wondered whether the high rates of divorce were representative of this change, ie. that staying in a marriage simply because it was the right thing to do was not good enough, each individual is challenging this for themselves to discover the value of loyalty and work on relationships for themselves consciously as a choice. There is very much a sense of individuals wanting to test things out for themselves rather than simply accepting the wisdom of others. Thus all previous structures and forms are being challenged and thrown out. It suggests to me that we are shifting towards an era of individual responsibility and consciousness. This has some consequences which are uncomfortable; an internet filled with everything one can imagine including pornography and all sorts of wierd and wonderful cults, niches etc. Yet the explosion in creativity is also quite incredible. Each individual is determined to find their own expression and, interestingly, with the internet now, each individual is able to find people who share their interest or approach. Trying things and learning for ourselves is a slow process, filled with pitfalls yet it is the only route to consciousness. Even religion, as one religious leader recently complained, has become a do-it-yourself affair operating in people’s homes!
I have mentioned before that Chrissy prompted me to consider the internet as a large brain that we evolving on a planetary scale. For many this is scary and there is a desire to label such things as facebook, television, computer games, as dangerous. Yet this is symptomatic of the fear of change. These things are neither good nor bad, they are simply different. How humans use them determines whether they are used for negative or positive ends. The ability to interact with others and live in a more transparent way strikes me as having a value. I wonder if we are evolving towards a global community, a global brain to which we are all connected? Certainly it seems that with the internet, the need for individuals to retain vast quantities of data or to travel the world to make contact with others is receding. I wonder if we will laugh in years to come at the way we now fly all around the world, instead of connecting virtually with each other? The brain has played a fundamental role in our evolution, what if we are now evolving a collective brain which will help us evolve to a new level? As someone who is now 46, the idea that my body will be less important in the future and that I can connect with friends and colleagues world-wide who share my interests is a reassuring thought, rather than a sign of our moral and physical turpitude. The end is of course is always nigh, but then so is the beginning – alpha and omega are two faces of the same moment of now in which we all reside. It is easy to judge the world and its changes, to see ourselves as unnatural but it is driven by fear, a fear of change.
I do not think we are evolving away from nature, I think evolution is our nature. I leave the last word to the Tao Te Ching:
Do you think you can take over the universe and improve it?
I do not believe it can be done.
The universe is sacred.
You cannot improve it.
If you try to change it, you will ruin it.
If you try to hold it, you will lose it.
So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.
The master sees things as they are,
Without trying to control them.
He lets them go their own way
And resides at the centre of the circle.