Monthly Archives: May 2012

Unconditional love

The current t-square with the sun coming up to square both the Chiron-Neptune conjunction and Mars has been creating a lot of painful situations and a lot of blaming and scapegoating for people around me.  For me, it has generally been my old chestnut of an ailing body.  However, I decided to try a new experiment.  My knee has been bad for a couple of months now and this has prevented me going to the gym and doing any exercises using my legs but I have still been able to do exercise for my upper body.  However a few weeks back, my shoulder started playing me up badly in a way it did some years back and from which it had recovered sufficiently (it’s never going to be fully right again) to not be much of an issue.  Since this blocked me fully from exercise I decided on this new experiment.  So I said to Life that if it was the case that it wanted me to give up on the gym, then I would do that but could my shoulder stop being a problem.  Since I knew my shoulder was pretty bad and that it was unlikely to recover for some time (last time it had taken two years to settle down), I was quite shocked to see that within days it was almost back to normal.  I realised that ever since getting involved with the I-Ching some twenty five years ago (and before that even), my body has been blocking me from my natural love of sport and physical activity generally) and I have vacillated between semi accepting it and fighting it. Perhaps it was time to finally give up this fight?  I am fully aware that a large part of my desire to go to the gym is governed by vanity and fear (fear that I will become fat and more incapacitated).  Watching my body a bit more carefully, I noticed that on Wednesday this week it was a nice day and having worked very long and hard on Monday and Tuesday and being due to do so on Thursday and Friday I decided that I would spend a large chunk of the day gardening.  However, pretty much from the moment of waking up my back was on the verge of spasming and I was barely capable of bending over let a lone gardening.  I decided that Life clearly did not want me to spend my time gardening.  As it turned out, I had work that needed to be done and also much of the day was spent helping friends and family with black holes they were in.  At the end of the day, I went to the Chiropractor who sorted out my back so that it was not a huge problem.  I couldn’t but notice how beautifully it had been crafted, stopping at the beginning of the day, being able to get an appointment at short notice but not till the end of the day.  So what does all this body stuff have to do with unconditional love you might ask, and that is a very good question and one I am wondering about too!  It just sort of crept in there…!  However, it is connected because giving up on being concerned with my body and instead simply seeing it as directing me, linked into the transit in my chart but also to a video I watched the following morning on my iphone whilst setting off for Luxembourg at twenty past four in the morning.  This video was of an interview with a cardiac surgeon called Pim van Lommel (this is the link to the interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOeLJCdHojU).  The interview describes the work he did in researching the near death experiences of a number of his patients.  The interview had a profound effect on me since it described his discovery that consciousness is not a product of the brain but rather the brain is a transceiver or interface for consciousness.  He described the fact that these people who had had near death experiences described the same experience of connectedness and no longer feared death, that it had been like a coming home to somewhere they already knew and that this experience existed outside space and time.  On coming back, they trusted their heart and intuition more, experienced a sense of compassion for others and a greater willingness to help others.  Since my friend Chrissy had had one of these near death experiences, I was already familiar with all of this, yet somehow, in this instance, it bought a number of things together and a pressure was released.  Before this on the Wednesday, I noticed in dealing with my family and a young student of mine how much I loved people and cared about their black holes.  It seemed easy to express this and it seemed to make a big difference to them (although it didn’t feel very unusual to me).  I have learnt about wisdom all my life and particularly as student of Chrissy’s over the last twenty-five years, whilst I seem very able to help people, I have often wondered whether it might not be a fraud who has just learnt the form and intellectual structure of it so well that it is almost a perfect act.  The reason for this, is that I have never really felt the level of love of people (or only from time to time) that I notice very wise people expressing.  Suddenly, on the Wednesday and then particularly after the Pim Van Lommel video something seemed to have shifted.  What seemed to have shifted was the culmination of some months or years.  Somehow none of the normal pre-occupations or worries seemed important.  There was just people and trying to help because I really did love them.  Since death was nothing to be scared of and since we only have a limited amount of time, wasting it on anything other than this simply did not seem important.  I had been noticing for a while that giving up on my body and sliding into old age where there is no pressure to be anything or get anywhere has been seeming an increasingly attractive proposition.  Somehow, watching the Pim Van Lommel video was like a final bursting of this and I realised that none of it mattered anymore – all the pre-occupations that people generally concern themselves with; the sense of looking for something that will make them happier, more fulfilled, less anxious, more confident etc.  I realised that I did not care anymore.

At the same time, I am sufficiently well versed black hole game player that I realised that this was probably just a transit and would not last.  This evening came my first obstacle as I went with my daughter to get a chinese take-away.  I was feeling particularly full of love for humanity and there in the chinese take away were three late middle aged me who had been drinking all day and could barely speak or prop themselves up on the counter.  The chinese woman behind the counter had to beckon me round them to the other side of the counter since they were clearly incapable of moving.  They were all heavily tatooed with various piercings and were busy talking to each other and chanting songs in a bleary-eyed way whilst they tried to hold on to the the spinning bar and focus on each other.  They were even talking to the young chinese girl about why she wouldn’t marry them.  All my prejudices were beautifully stacked up and I contented myself with watching the cricket on the small tv screen at the end of the counter whilst noticing how cleverly life had caught out my new found unconditional love!  As they attempted to banter with the young chinese girl behind the counter and started singing racously she told them to shut up and be quiet, but I noticed that she did it with humour and a smile and genuinely engaged them good naturedly, laughing at their responses.  I felt very small hearted in comparison.  At this point one of the drunks turned to me and said that he thought that I looked like a cricket man and started asking me questions about the cricket and I began to answer as I realised that even in his drunken stupour he was somehow picking up on my frosty lack of engagement and suddenly I could hear the child like desire in him to make a connection and when we came to we wish each other goodbye we did so with genuine warmth.  Life had come as a tatooed drunk to teach me the real meaning of unconditional love.

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The pursuit of happiness

In discussions with a friend recently we have been talking about the nature of happiness.  He has recently been on a meditation retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh where the focus was on being happy.  This happiness was focused on the present moment and on being.  I was also pondering this when listening to Ram Dass a few months ago discussing his experiences with his guru Neem Karoli Baba.  I was further prompted to think about this during a discussion with friends on a journey back from Oxford.  I ought to point out that this experience was an interesting one in this context.  I had just finished four very long days in London running programmes and fitting in some informal coaching in the evenings with people who were stuck and wanted help.  The last day finished at just after five o’clock and I calculated that I might just be able to make the 5.47pm train to my home station of Kemble in Gloucestershire.  I got to Paddington station at 5.42, just in time to catch the train to Kemble.  Rushing through the ticket hall of the Underground I squinted at the screen showing departures and platforms (the world has become noticeably hazier over the last 5-10 years and everything seems to be in smaller and smaller fonts, a fact attested to by everyone of a similar age to me but strangely rebuked by the younger generation) and could not see the train to Cheltenham Spa.  However, on further squinting, I noticed the train to Worcester Shrub Hill (the final destination is always changing over the years as they play with trains going via Cheltenham Spa on to Worcester).  I noted the platform and headed for the train, making it with a few minutes to spare.  Once settled on the train, I requested an upgrade from the ticket inspector who seemed a bit surprised but provided me with one.  After some time reading I looked up to check where we were.  I assumed that we were somewhere between Didcot Parkway and Swindon and looking out at the houses I assumed it must be Swindon, although, as I pondered I began to think that the houses did not look familiar.  A dawning sense of dread came over me as I realised that somehow I had been tricked and I wasn’t on the train to Kemble.  I asked the person sitting opposite me where we were to hear that we were just coming into Oxford.  Suddenly my sense of relief at heading home after a tiring week had been replaced with a new adventure.  How on earth was I going to get back home from Oxford?  Fortunately, the guard told me that a train was departing for Didcot Parkway from the opposite platform in 15 mins so I crossed over and began to wait.  At the same time, I began to question why Life might have arranged for me to end up in Oxford.  I was due to meet my friend Mario the next day and it occurred to me that he often works in Oxford so I texted him to ask if by any chance he might be in Oxford and heading home soon (since it was 7pm and Mario works less and less in Oxford, I was dubious that this was likely).  The train to Didcot Parkway was leaving in 5 mins time.  I received a text back from Mario to say that he was indeed in Oxford and was at that very moment just coming out to head home.  On our journey home with another friend of ours we were discussing taking leadership in situations.  Both my friends noticed that they were in positions were they were taking leadership but they were left with a discomfort about the implicit immodesty and power of doing so, who were they to lead?  And yet, the situations they were in demanded leadership and nobody objected to them taking it, indeed they welcomed it.  Our discussion explored what it was in my friends that caused their discomfort and for one of them it was having been bought up in a spiritual tradition where to put oneself forward and to try to lead is seen as egotistical.  I offered the thought that perhaps it is the reverse and not to lead for fear of appearing egotistical is egotistical because one is more concerned with creating the right appearance (of being “good”) rather than responding to what the situation demands or others need.  We then went on to discuss what it is in us that causes this and were talking about the pictures we hold and the attachments to being seen in certain ways.  My friend Claudi, suggested that the real issue was resistance – we all agreed with this.

Spiritual disciplines and practices are concerned in many ways with conquering the ego.  Certainly for my friend who had been on retreat with Thich Nhat Hahn, he was engaged in trying to be in the present moment, where, as he points out, there is no worry.  Worry is only generated by thoughts about the past and the future.  Yet, in a review of a book in New Scientist there was reference to someone whose hippocampus had been badly damaged and who had no memories from early childhood onwards and who could not envisage the future.  The individual had lived in a mental institution unable to cope with life, which as the writer concluded, put paid to the notion of “living in the present”.  As I reflect on this, it also occurs to me that almost all animate life, lives in the present without an ability to conceive of the future or the past, indeed we often curse our fate as humans and wish we were more like other animals in not having to worry about the future or past.  Yet, do we really want to give up on being human?  I have to admit, that I think there is something special about being human and I do not want to give up this curriculum and become a dog instead.  However, when I look around me, I do not see that life seems to be about happiness, or at least, it seems to be one factor among many.  I remember coaching someone who was going through a difficult stage at work.  She was in a very precarious role, with lots of very powerful figures and in the end was asked to leave.  She had a tricky personality to contend with and various sadnesses including loving children but being unable to have them.  She had explored adoption but for a variety of reasons had been unable to adopt.  She said to me that her focus over the coming year was going to be on being happy.  When I enquired, she admitted that this had been her focus for most of her life yet that she had been far from successful.  The concern I expressed for her was that I wasn’t sure that focusing on being happy was a very valuable goal since I wasn’t sure that she controlled this.  As I pointed out, what if Life had an agenda next year for her of her husband dying? She was hardly likely to be happy.  My concern for her was that she might be caught, as she had been so far, in setting up an opposition to the way her life actually was to try and control things she could not control.  Her picture was of herself serenely floating through her life untroubled by any difficult emotions.

So if we are not in control of happiness and if we look around life does not seem to be composed of events designed to facilitate our happiness (death, violence, arguments etc., aging) what is it designed for?  As far as I can tell it seems to be designed as a learning experience. Thus I am not sure that trying to control an ephemeral emotion like happiness is likely to be terribly successful.  I think perhaps how we feel is not important per se.  It is only part of the data in the game.  So it does not matter if we are depressed, angry, sad, happy but rather that we are not resisting these emotions or thinking that they should not be there.  Instead, I think perhaps we are learning instead to understand these emotions and not be so identified with them.  Much of time, working with people seems to consist of simply reassuring them that whatever they are feeling is normal and ok.  Particularly when they are having difficult transits – paranoid? – yep Pluto on your Mercury I remember that one, yes paranoia is pretty normal then.  Something about sharing our experiences allows us to step back from identifying with them, we see that everyone else has similar feelings.  We are all in it together, wrestling with these problems and difficulties.  Indeed one of the biggest indicators that it is all ok is that we can laugh together at the absurd experience of life.  I found myself the other day meeting up with a client who asked me how I was.  I thought about it and I told her I was depressed.  She was immediately worried and asking me what was wrong and what she could do to help, I explained why I was depressed; it was cold, my joints were hurting and something else I can’t now remember had happened but I told her not to worry it wasn’t important it was just how I was feeling and it would probably be gone fairly soon (as it turned out, within a few hours).  I told her that I thought Life was pretty depressing at times so it seemed fairly normal to be depressed about it.  Don Juan says that the only enemy of wisdom is self-importance and indulgence: taking our emotions (and ourselves) too seriously and I think he is right.  The trouble I realised with the pursuit of happiness is that it makes us think that any other emotion we are feeling is somehow wrong and then we have set up an opposition to our life as it is and we are truly stuck.

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Notes to a friend

Following a request to help a friend of mine whom I having been coaching and who felt well and truly stuck, we met up to discuss his situation and to do the I-Ching.  He asked me to summarise in a email what I had been saying to him about his situation so I thought I would share these:

 

Don’t count on the harvest while ploughing.  That is, do everything for it’s own sake because it is the right thing to do, not with an eye to where it will lead.

The people on your agenda are there not to get in your way but for you to learn from and work with.  They will often reflect your own shadow and so working with and aiming to help them (without being attached to the idea that they will change) is worthwhile because you will learn from it and you will transform them in your own mind from obstacles to challenges.

When you are stuck the mind isn’t to be trusted in saying that if you provide me with all the data I will provide a solution.  Often it just chatters and analyses us deeper into a black hole.  Distracting it onto worthwhile activities is often a better route (as the I-Ching says – the best way to develop is to make energetic progress in the good).  I notice that my obsessively analytical mind works better thinking about other people and helping them with their black holes and this has the advantage of using up all the energy so there isn’t much left to obsess about myself.

The value of the Astrology is that it helps us realise that we cannot escape our fate by changing our external environment.  Our personalities are our fate in that sense, we cannot escape them.  At the same time they are not “soluble” as such.  All we can do is learn to develop our owner (the conscious part of us that is less identified with them).  The astrology also shows us that everything is perfect, our personality and all that we are currently experiencing as part of a transit – there is nothing wrong.  You are coming to terms with your fate and realising that you can’t escape it, any more than you can escape yourself.

Accept and expect that you will “lose it” (your current clarity) but just recognising this means that you will not get stuck and attached to keeping your clarity which means that it will come back again.

I have had a lot of people talking to me with difficult Pluto transits recently.  In each of their cases, they are struggling with a battle within themselves, almost as if their own personality is at war within them, engaged in a power battle to the death.  Any attempts to gain peace simply fuel the battle.  How do you cope with this – it can be very distressing and debilitating?  My own experience (and it is only that, others may have better ideas) is to expect to get stuck and to go with it.  That is, if you are awake for 2-3 hours in the night, then instead of fighting, be awake and do something else with your time – write or do some activity.  Most of all, expect to be awake and consider that “normal”.  The second thing I find helps is distraction, each person I’ve worked with has noticed that they are stuck or getting into a negative spiral, only when they have time to, so getting the mind involved in something else prevents it from focusing on trying to “solve the emotion”.  My own experience was that I realised that my mind was a liar when it said that if I thought about the problem it could review everything and provide a solution.  Instead, thinking about and analysing it simply heightened the emotion, which made me think there was a bigger problem which my mind really had to solve and so on ad infinitum.  The only way out was to take my mind off the situation until my emotions calmed down again.  Now, I tend to just notice that I am stuck and assume that I have a few days or weeks of a bumpy ride without thinking that I am going to solve it, but rather just, like a plane ride, to let the turbulence come and go again.  Once I have let it pass, I find whatever realisations were important tend to arise naturally of their own accord.  The illusion is that if our mind can just find the magic bullet the emotions will be dispelled in one fell swoop.

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Don’t mention the war…!

Recently I was running a programme in Frankfurt and over lunch on the second day I was chatting to one of the participants and asked them where they had learned their English since it was particularly good.  She replied that she had been an au pair in her late teens in Ireland.  I asked her about this experience and how she found Ireland.  She said that she had very much enjoyed it.  I commented that the Irish had a reputation for being very friendly and she agreed with this, but added a proviso that sometimes she had encountered people who reacted very strongly against her because she was German.  In one instance, she and her young German friends had been refused entry to a pub and suffered some pretty strong verbal abuse on the grounds of being German.  Following this theme, I asked her if this was common and how people in Germany felt about this.  She replied that young German people were fed up with constantly being blamed and stigmatised for something they had not been involved in or responsible for (the war).  I recognise that many people say we must not forget the holocaust.  Yet, I have always felt uncomfortable with the constant focus on Germany’s role in the war and the continuing emphasis on the holocaust.  I do think that recognising our capacity for appalling treatment of each other is valuable to remind us all of how terrible we can be, but I am wary of the implicit assumption that it is not us but others (the Germans) who are capable of this.  It smacks of dividing the world in a very black and white way into us and them.  It seems to me that it was this type of thinking that caused events like the holocaust.  I also feel that looking on the war in such a black and white way fails to really take responsibility for events.  Our story in Britain is that the Germans were evil and we were the brave good guys along with our gallant allies yet I wonder how much the crippling and inhuman reparations that were imposed on Germany by the allied forces following the first world war contributed to the seeds of the second world war?

If we look at the situation in relationship terms, how might any of us feel about a friend who continually brings up past mistakes and parades them in front of us and everyone on a regular basis?  If the past were germain to some current argument or discussion we might accept it but if it were for no other reason than to parade it in front of us we might wonder about the friendship – particularly if it were the mistakes of our grandparents for which we were being held accountable?  In friendships and relationships, I have found it valuable to cultivate a poor memory for hurts on the basis that the relationship is not then weighed down by the baggage of the past and I am able to keep my heart open.  I wonder if perhaps it is time to forgive and forget?  Certainly it would be very hard to find any people who had not been guilty of past atrocities – most European countries held colonies which treated indigenous people appallingly.  All countries have their past of violent tribal conflict or conflict between ethnic groups and how far back should we go in apportioning blame (the Celts drove the indigenous British to the edges of Britain and were then themselves driven to the fringes of Britain by the Anglo-Saxons, who were conquered and oppressed by the Normans).  Indeed the history of man is riddled with violence.  The danger is that we use past hurts as justifications for current violence and oppression. Perhaps it would be more valuable if we wish to commemorate past events for us to be sad for everyone who has died or suffered and remind ourselves collectively that the capacity to hurt and kill resides in all of us.  I remember being struck a few years ago by a young woman in an Amish community who was raped and killed by a man who then killed himself.  The parents of the young woman invited the parents of the man who had killed her to the funeral of their daughter, for, as they pointed out, they had lost a son as well and were in grieving.  It struck me that if we could evolve to this level of common humanity the world would truly be a compassionate and enlightened place.

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A short tale of synchronicity

Whilst in Prague recently I was talking to the managing partner for one of the european regions at one of my main clients.  She was interested in being coached by me and I had agreed to send her a document that we had been discussing on the five drivers from Transactional Analysis (Be Strong, Be Perfect, Try Hard, Hurry Up and Please).  Yesterday evening I sent this through to her.  At the same time, I sent a document on how to consult the I-Ching to another client whom I had been working with the day before.  In general, whilst I use astrology and the I-Ching regularly with my clients I am very careful about how open I am in terms of my approach.  I recognise that such things as Astrology and I-Ching are taboo in society and in business.  Whilst I receive little opposition to them, indeed most people are very receptive, I am careful to wait and see if the conditions are right to be open in using them with my coachees.  Some I use them openly with, others are completely unaware that I use them.  I also like to give the I-Ching space to decide who it wants to work with.  It was with something of a slight gut wrenching shock that I received an email from this managing partner to say that she had opened up the document that I sent but it seemed to be the wrong one.  I was bemused, I could not remember attaching anything in my email late last night, so I assumed it must have been that my logo had come across as an attachment.  When I checked, I realised that on automatic pilot and without the awareness of my conscious mind, I had sent her the guide to using the I Ching as well as sending it to my other client.  I hurriedly sent her the right attachment and hoped that the guide to the I-Ching had made little sense and she had not thought much of it.  I was therefore intrigued to find a second email from her telling me that she had consulted the I-Ching when a teenager about her decision to apply to University and that her sister had been involved with eastern religions for some forty years and it had had a very formative impact on her teenage years.  I realised that everything was being arranged beautifully with the complete lack of awareness of my conscious mind.  Indeed, it was interesting that I had been particularly careful not to disclose my use of the I-Ching with coaching clients in this managing partner’s region so that my cover would not be blown.  This experience was particularly apposite for me, as my work seemed to have been hitting a point where a number of things were falling away.  Instead of becoming fearful and panicking, I had been practicing waiting to see where Life was going to direct me next and holding back from fear and the temptation to push.  As usual, it came from a place I was not expecting and where I had been avoiding disclosing my approach.

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