Monthly Archives: July 2012

What is changing?

I promised last blog to continue the theme of what we can change.  My conclusion is that we cannot change the things that many people suppose are ours to change –  for example, our own personal destiny.  But we can change the mindset or attitudes that we hold and this in turn has an impact on how much we learn and therefore collectively evolve.  It is worth nothing that evolution seems to be a process of accumulation of knowledge, personally and collectively; if I understand it correctly, most scientists believe that the universe is in a state of continuing entropy with the prospect that all exchange of energy will over time will be dissipated until the universe reaches a state of equilibrium (or stasis).  This looks like a pretty depressing prospect, however many billions of years in the future this eventual scenario might be.  However Tom Stonier (Information and the internal structure of the universe) points out that this process creates information, which exists independent of energy or mass.  If this is true, then our journey is towards creation of information.  Our structures for storing and accessing information have become far more sophisticated over time and since the internet is like a huge brain our capacity has increased exponentially over recent decades.  Yet, if we are not in control of this, and research tends to suggest that we are not (a relatively recent article that I mentioned in a blog some months back showed that distribution of wealth across the globe closely mirrored biological systems, not something that each individual with their “free will” could possibly imagine to be the case)  then it is intriguing to wonder what Life is up to now and what we are being prompted to evolve?

One thing that occurred to me through the auspices of a frustrating four or five hours on the phone to Vodafone’s call centre, with an increasing sense of powerlessness enveloping me, was that our organisations, our technology and the crises we currently face in terms of ecology and financial systems are all trans-national.  They cannot be solved at a local level; they somehow force us to come together collectively in some way to address them.  It occurred to me, that for most of us, what is frustrating about this process is that we feel we are increasingly facing impersonally large organisations or issues which we feel powerless to influence.  I also hear people of my own generation and younger (I was talking to an interesting fellow consultant at a meeting of John Lewis Learning and Development suppliers who seemed my age but on reflection I sadly realise was probably ten years younger) lamenting the fact that our children seem to relate to a wider and wider group of people virtually (as if they are real friends, when they have had no direct contact with them).  Is this entropy – many people seem to think so – a genuine degradation and slipping backwards, dissipating our collective evolution.  Yet, I suspect the reverse is true.  I suspect that the reason we are dealing with more and more impersonal large organisations, trans national issues and virtual forums for meeting people, is so that we are able to evolve beyond the interpersonal level relating to tribe and family.  If we can recognise that someone we have never met is as much “us” and as close to us as a human being as any member of our family, we might begin to see an evolutionary shift taking place on a collective level.  It strikes me we are at the early stages of this (and that it might be connected to the Aquarius-Leo paradigm – discovering collectively (Aquarius) that we are all individuals with a heart (Leo).  It is frustrating to be at the early stages of this, yet without these frustrations, how would we be motivated to evolve?  At the same time, the current scandals hitting us financially, demonstrate a concern born of our treatment of each other and our governments without the understanding that it is all “us”; that if we exploit others for our own advantage as if they were objects then in the end it impacts us all.  This came home to me in a conversation I was having with close friends about tax.  Both individuals were expert at playing the system and genuine and lovely individuals, generously committed to others, but somehow the government seemed different.  Thinking of the government impersonally creates strange effects in our morality.  Most people know that the government is funded by all of us but few relate to that on an emotional level.  For the most part, we feel it is ok to take advantage of big businesses, of the government.  They are so large they can be treated impersonally.  Yet, we all dislike the impersonal world that this creates and feel oppressed by it.  What is the answer?  The only answer is to stop treating people impersonally at a personal level.  I notice the impact when my friend Chrissy suggests to people that the fiddling of the government they are doing is being paid for by the hard work and taxes of the other individuals in the conversation it has a significant impact on shifting how everyone sees and feels about it.

In this respect, it was a shock to discover that, on auto pilot, I had set up a company because it was more advantageous from a tax perspective and from the point of view of any financial meltdown (limited liability).  Yet hearing the mayoral debate for London, I was brought up with a jolt to hear Ken Livingston being accused of being two faced and unethical because he had set up a company for his private affairs in order to pay corporation tax rather than personal tax.  I immediately rang my accountant to ask not what did I need to do to pay as little tax as possible but rather to be as ethical as possible.  It will cost me £7,000 per year but I think at the moment the government needs it.  It is always easy to see what impersonal organisations such as governments, big business etc. – the great “they” – should change but I don’t think “they” ever change anything.  I think “we” can though.

What we can do is to change our mindset or attitude.  As a student of the I-Ching, I am conscious that the I-Ching’s primary focus is our attitude.  When coaching clients, I am often asked what they should do and yet they recognise when they change and develop, it isn’t about what they do but rather about what they choose to assume or believe that changes; the degree to which they are able to put themselves in the shoes of others and appreciate their position.  So we might not be able to change the incidence of large organisations, trans national issues, governments etc. but we can change how we choose to relate to each other.

I decided in the end (with suitable prompting from the I-Ching) to drop my power battle with Vodafone.  The reason being that I recognised that at the beginning I was so focused on getting the cheapest possible deal and pushing to negotiate the best result that I have had non-stop problems throughout the contract and it has backfired on me.  Vodafone have their part to play – but it isn’t mine.  My part is to do my learning and change my attitude.

There is huge outcry at the moment concerning the banks and their awful attitude, yet, in working with Lloyds TSB during the years preceding the crash, I was dismayed that even the most enlightened of individuals were primarily focused on achieving targets and the customer was seen primarily in terms of how much they could sell to them.  Even so, they were not and continue not to be, unique.  John Lewis, which was founded on enlightened principles seems to be struggling not to be like any other organisation, seeing their goals in terms of financial targets and commercial competition.  Its founder John Spedan Lewis, created the partnership concept and gave away the company to the workers, because he felt it was the right thing to do, rather than because it was to his own financial advantage.  The response to the current crisis among many organisations has been to see it as heightening the need to be competitive and “aggressive” in the market and focus people on being more commercial but this is, like any change, the response of those hanging on to the past paradigm and hoping that pedalling it harder will remedy the problems.

This transactional view of each other harms all of us; it is built on a notion of continuous growth (or greed to give it it’s less flattering name).  The idea is that we will all be happy by being wealthier and that it is worth exploiting others if it creates our own financial gain, also, the idea is that we can take on greater and greater debt to support the lifestyle we must have to be happy.  Oh dear; it is a big mind picture and it has gone crash collectively, but perhaps it might just cause us to become wiser and kinder.  Most of us would not dream of acting this way with close friends or family but we justify it as “commercial” and “professional” to do so with others.  I am currently challenging myself to consider every expense for clients and each interaction as if it were being charged to me by someone else.  On the whole, I tend to be pretty generous, yet, it has been amazing to see the justifications that my personality will come up with on small, “unimportant” trifles!

Whilst the current transits may not be comfortable (they are not really meant to be), they are breaking something outmoded down and preparing us for a new evolutionary step.  The generation born in the sixties under a Pluto-Uranus conjunction are at the height of their influence at a time when there is a Pluto-Uranus square.  It is another period of significant change, akin to the sixties; like that decade it will see significant changes, but with the Neptune-Chiron conjunction (which last was in evidence during and shortly after the war) it is a painful breaking down.  At a personal level, I have found these sorts of fundamental changes in my life to be very unsettling and uncomfortable but the periods which I look back on as having transformed my understanding and which I would not change because I learnt and changed so much.  The person I coached today who has been hit by both transits over the last few years has been transformed by them but would not go back to the sort of blind ambition which dominated her approach previously.  With the moon forming a t-square to Pluto-Uranus and Saturn-Chiron she is very much representative of her generation in starting to question the attitude which dominated her focus till now.

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What can be changed?

Before the Wimbledon Tennis Final last Sunday I was looking at the chart of Andy Murray with friends over breakfast.  They asked me whether Murray was going to win.  We had taken a copy of the Astrological Association journal with us to breakfast with our friends and it had an article about what it takes to be a great tennis champion.  This gave the exact time and date for Andy Murray’s birth and his chart.  Looking at the transits of Neptune and Chiron to his Mercury and given that the article had concluded that tennis was a game largely involving the air signs and the mind, I realised it was unlikely he would win, something my intuition had already suggested.  Indeed, I had been watching the way Life was setting the situation up for Andy to suffer the agony of defeat yet again with a degree of dread for the suffering it would cause.  Yet, noticing his Mars-Chiron conjunction in the tenth house in Gemini also got me thinking about something that has been affecting me when watching the occassional game of sport and parallels life in general, as sport has a tendency to do.  With Mars-Chiron in the 10th house opposite a Uranus-Moon conjunction in Sagittarius Andy is renowned for his taciturn Scots personality (very much Mars-Chiron in the 10th), and as a whinger who lacks charm.  His family contest that we don’t see the real person (hence the opposition to the Moon-Uranus).  Furthermore, Andy attracts with his public 10th house Mars-Chiron in Gemini, voluminous amounts of journalism analysing his lack of mental toughness and his inability to win at the highest level.  No-one can talk about Andy Murray wihtout opining on whether he will win a Grand Slam tournament and what he needs to do to overcome the best.  He is also seen as having the misfortune to be playing in era when arguably three of the best players ever to play the game are playing at the same time.  In any other era, people say, he would have won.  Yet all this is to miss the point of the real game that Andy Murray is playing.  He is not meant to win; it is not part of his game in life.  With Mars-Chiron in the 10th house his game is not about success but rather coming to terms with and understanding the nature of losing where it matters most to us.  Over the last few years, as this has intensified, he has employed Ivan Lendl – someone who understands his predicament having lost four grand slam finals himself before going on to be successful.  During this period, Murray has learnt to control his emotions and to stop beating himself up and blaming his own coaching team during matches – all good Mars-Chiron stuff.  Had he been winning, would he have learnt so much or developed or changed?  The thing he thinks he is changing is whether he wins a Grand Slam tournament, but this is just the fuel that makes the real game of growing and evolving through the pain of not winning work.  Indeed when Andy Murray choked back the tears, paid tribute to the support of the crowd and expressed the pain of his disappointment, he won the hearts of everyone.  It was such a beautiful expression of humility and genuine sadness that all our hearts went out to him.  This was Mars-Chiron expressed with such humility and vulnerability that it opened all our hearts.  So did he lose?  Not at the real game he was playing, as far as I can see.

And what of Roger Federer?  Roger Federer’s game involved winning, he was always going to beat Andy Murray.  Yet watching his face when Andy Murray was expressing the pain of losing, one could see the conflicting emotions playing out.  What is it like to always be winning when it means others are losing around you?  Had he learnt or changed as much as Andy Murray over the last years?  Indeed Federer himself could not but help being swayed by Andy Murray’s speech and his tributes to Federer.  Federer responded in like kind with generosity towards Andy and perhaps everyone won.  It was somehow showing us with this current painful Neptune Chiron conjunction and Pluto-Uranus square, how to respond to the transits.  There is something about Chiron which while painful in the vulnerability and direct pain it brings has the potential to be the key in opening our hearts to others and causing us to deepen and grow.  We might never chose it ourselves or choose it for others, yet it is difficult not to recognise the impact in terms of our development or evolution.

I was thinking about this when I went on a business trip to Bratislava to coach two close friends, who had both been through the selection process for partnership at a large law firm which is one of my clients.  Like I did with Andy Murray, I experienced a sense of slight dread when I went to coach them both for the first time some four years ago.  They were both interested in the I-Ching and keen to learn more about it and also receptive to Astrology.  I was intrigued to see what Life was up to taking me to Bratislava to meet two such wonderful people so keen to take a wise approach (it was not necessarily the norm in a major global law firm!).  Yet my dread stemmed from my intuition about what Life might have in store for two such close friends, I suspected it was going to test the friendship and see how it responded to competition.  This was not what I wanted, I loved these two wonderful men and the last thing I wish for any of the people I coach in these situations is for them to be unsuccessful, yet often those who are, are the ones who learn and grow the most. When we did the I-Ching at the end of my first visit, one threw Oppression on its own and the other threw the The Preponderance of the Small.  I could see that for the one who threw The Preponderance of the Small, he was such a big personality and so full of confidence that the I-Ching was warning him to be careful (he had the Sun rising conjunct Venus in Virgo and according to Chrissy Philp’s model Virgo equates to Preponderance of the Small – cf. http://www.chrissyphilp.com) that he didn’t get carried away with himself.  This proved prophetic on the I-Ching’s part because he failed the first time round at the event but then passed the next year.  His friend threw Oppression on its own and Chrissy reminded me that according to the stages of development outlined in The Great Treatise in the I-Ching this stage is one where we are tested to come to terms with our fate no matter what life throws at us.  Given this it was clear that the experience for him was not going to be an easy one and indeed he did not get put forward the following year and the year after that, last year, he failed again.  Over the last year I had been coaching the one who made partner each time I came and he told me that the one who had failed was fine and was concentrating on his family and the birth of his third child.  It is an irony here that the two’s peronsalities are in direct contrast to their physical appearance.  The one with the big, confident and dominant personality is physically small and slim, whilst the one with the more naturally modest, receptive personality stands at six feet five inches tall with a large muscular frame.  I could see that the temptation was for both to put the disparity in their positions under the table now and the bigger personality wanted very much for the one who had failed to be fine with it, but I could see this was dangerous, that the sadness he felt at not being successful and the difference now in their roles needed to be aired or it would undermine their friendship.  For the one with the larger personality he felt uncomfortable, like Roger Federer, it was no good pretending that he had not been successful or stopping being such a big personality so that his friend did not feel hurt, he wanted to somehow “solve” it and coach his friend into what he needed to do to succeed, yet from my own experience of being a big personality (I have the Sun rising in Sagittarius), I suggested that all he could do was empathise and be aware of the impact of his personality.  It was no good suggesting that he change.  Instead could their friendship encompass the potential difficulty of the situation? At the same time for his friend, we talked about recognising that his was not a personality that could dominate or lead but instead was a quite beautifully kind and receptive personality.  He also needed to see that being a partner, like Andy Murray, was not his game at the moment, instead he was learning, like Andy Murray how to express his disappointment and to come to terms with not succeeding.  Thus it was possible to provide the opportunity for their friendship to encompass the awkward situation of their different positions and be able to take the learning for both of them, rather than to deny the painfulness of the situation and risk the friendship.

I realise that when watching sport now, I have lost some of my sense of anticipation of the event.  I recognise that it is more akin to watching a film, where you know the ending is pre-determined.  Most matches turn on small incidents of luck or sometimes inaccuracy by officials or technology.  Were we skilful enough astrologers or scientists we would be able to predict the outcome if we could see all the variables.  Yet, we write and think about sport and many other aspects of life as if the individuals involved are affecting and controlling the outcome.  If the latest scientific thinking that we are living in a hologramatic world is right, and given that Astrology is in many ways a hologramatic framework, it is more like we are watching a 3D film.  I suppose that, as with films, we get emotionally involved with the action but yet we know that we cannot influence the outcome and neither can the actors, the script is already set.  Thus in sport, much is written about the reasons why X team won by the smallest of margins over Y team analysing the qualities that brought it about but it seems like an illusion, like Andy Murray, his script never included winning Wimbledon this year.  I suppose that we have to be conned into playing the game of life and learning our lessons through the motivations of our personalities but I am interested in seeing and playing the game of consciousness that the motivations of our personalities serve rather than get stuck in taking too seriously the game of personality.

At the same time as these events I was also attending my last meeting as Chairman of trustees for the Steiner School that I have been involved with for the last thirteen years.  When my fellow trustees and staff were thanking me at the end for all I had done, I noticed that they described the way I had been able to lead the school to a position where the relationship between the staff and trustees was one of complete trust and openness.  The Chair of College (the closest equivalent to a Head teacher) described the fact that having worked in many Steiner schools (as she is now approaching retirement age), she had never worked in one where she felt she could be completely open about her views without having to be careful in anyway and where she also felt able to hear others views without feeling criticised or defensive.   What it prompted me to question was “what can we change?”.  The school still faces many of the same challenges and themes, with powerful personalities, difficulties over organisation, wavering numbers given the economic situation, yet what struck me was that the school cannot escape its chart, or personality, it regularly attracts similar characters and painful situations, yet the relationships, co-operation and goodwill and the ability to learn have all transformed dramatically.  Applying this to business or to the many challenges facing the world at the moment, I realise we cannot escape these challenges, or perhaps ever escape them, yet somehow we can change how we as human race work together to respond to the challenges; the tolerance we have for each other, the goodwill, the commitment to learning together.

The painful myth that business is exploding is that somehow, we can control our material success, that if we work hard enough, manipulate others, manipulate the system we can become rich and that will make us happy no matter what the means we used to get there, but more on this next blog (hardly a cliffhanger more a pause!).

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Using Astrology as a stepping stone to wisdom

Astrology provides an extremely sophisticated framework for understanding ourselves, others and the patterns inherent in the world around us.  Often when presented with a chart, it is difficult to know where to start to describe the complex and overwhelming information to someone who has no knowledge of it but is interested in understanding more about themselves.  It can be used simply to provide insight about the psychodynamics present in an individual’s personality but I also notice that its real value lies in shedding light on the dilemmas that face people and how to approach these dilemmas.  Today a client of Dawn’s arrived, a young man who was coming to the end of his Saturn return.  Saturn is currently at 23 degrees of Libra and his Saturn was at 15 degrees of Libra, but it was connected by a large stellium in Libra which extended to 24 degrees so in some ways his Saturn return was still active.  He had, in the last year, been through a divorce and had found this very painful but had concluded that he had no other option than to end the relationship because he and his wife simply could not operate together.  He had concluded that he had taken responsibility for the fact that he was so controlling – he had the Sun and Moon conjunct in Scorpio and Saturn, Mercury, Pluto and Jupiter in a stellium in Libra – by opting out of relationships.  Given that he also had Neptune and Venus conjunct in Sagittarius he could see clearly that he had chosen freedom with concomitant loneliness as a preferable alternative to commitment and the intense emotions this created.  Earlier in the day, someone else, who is currently struggling with some difficult transits had rung me to discuss a conflict over whether to go on holiday.  As part of the discussion he had also been discussing some differences of view between he and his wife over understanding of spirituality.  His wife, with Sun and Moon in Pisces with the moon opposite Neptune takes a very spiritual approach to life and advocates the necessity for belief and transcending one’s ego.  The person ringing me, a Sun-Chiron conjunction in Gemini in a t-square with Neptune and Saturn is somewhat more sceptical and requires a more intellectual approach through the organisation of a body such as the Anglican Church.

After speaking to my him, I consulted the I-Ching to understand its perspective on the situation and threw the beautiful 5th line of Fellowship with Men in a situation of Li (Clarity).  Whilst Astrology described beautifully the situations being faced by this person and by this young man who was Dawn’s client, how did this convert into something of pratical value and wisdom which would serve them in their dilemmnas?  To describe the dilemma has some value in reflecting back to us our situation, but more than that, for me, Astrology helps provide insight into what might block us and how we might wisely deal with a situation.  For the young man it became clearer as we looked at his chart that he was still dealing with his Saturn return and my experience of this is that it is a conscious choice that we make to come to terms with reality in some way and to let go of the dreams of youth.  In his case, with Saturn in Libra, it was about relationships and he began to see that in throwing away his relationship he had shied away from a commitment and gone for the Venus-Neptune in Sagittarius dream of some divine goddess who would fulfil his dreams and not taint them with being human and involving him in difficulty and problems.  In this context, the Astrology could be used practically; one of his main issues had been that his wife wanted them to sleep in the same bed but he found this all but intolerable.  Looking at the chart, we realised that for someone who was Sun-Moon conjunct in Scorpio he desperately needed control over his own bed.  He was amazed that the chart could describe how he felt so accurately.  Yet his conclusion had been that this made him incapable of sustaining a relationship and that he should get away from being so controlling.  We all explained that being a family with lots of strong Pluto aspects we were all very controlling in our own ways.  My daughter Ind was brilliant in pointing out with a broad smile that no-one else was allowed to ride her horses but her.  Our point was that he was not going to change his nature but rather needed to accept it and find a practical way to take responsibility for it.  Astrology’s ability to shed light on what can and cannot be changed in our own natures, what we have to accept we might never resolve or change is one of it’s greatest gifts.  In this instance it provided insight into the fact that he was unlikely to change having a controlling nature or having a need from freedom as well.  It had not occurred to him that it was ok to search for solutions such as having his own bed or having twin beds that could be moved together and apart.  His wife had also reflected that perhaps her insistence that he be contained was not accepting his nature.  At this point it is valuable to understand the I-Ching’s perspective.  The I-Ching’s perspective is that relationships are important and more importantly that loyalty is the key to this – as hexagram 37, The Family describes.  In Hexagram 53, the Marrying Maiden, the I-Ching also describes relationships and talks about the need to keep a long term goal in mind – the health of the relationship, so that we are not put off by short-term emotions or difficulties.  Yet the I-Ching is also interesting in suggesting in Duration (another hexagram about courtship and marriage) that the way that we embody our principles and keep them in mind is through a flexible approach.  As it states, this appears to be contradictory, but it is not, it is that we keep the long term goal in mind but are adaptable in how we respond in the present.  Thus, for this young man, he came to see that he had missed his Saturn return and thrown away a wife who, even when divorced, was still concerned to learn how she might have contributed to the difficulties in the relationship (a wife by all accounts well worth holding on to).  He could also see that to avoid difficulty was to avoid relationship and have to embrace loneliness; that the pursuit of some divine image of perfection and going for the drug of romantic love was never to make a relationship with a flesh and blood human being and live in the lonely world of dreams (to understand how to approach relationships and romantic love We – The Psychology of Romantic Love by Dr Robert A Johnson is required reading). In this sense, the chart’s value was in providing the keys for understanding his predicament and generating insight.  In the other person’s case, the dilemma he faced was a sense of disloyalty and the fear that the relationship might be broken or lost should he hold a different perspective from his wife.  Yet, the differences that charts highlight are not indications of incompatibility but just that: differences.  Most of the difficulty with soaring divorce rates, I can’t help feeling, stems from misconstruing difference for incompatibility.  But even if there are elements of incompatibility this does not preclude a relationship, rather these very elements are the work and growth that relationships entail.

In itself Astrology has no wisdom, it can be used to provide information which can then be translated into insight and used wisely and for me, this is it’s greatest value, otherwise it is like a mass of interesting data, fascinating in itself but of little direct value.  I have come across some people who are brilliant astrologers but whose interest is in the data and descriptive qualities not in applying the insights to help others learn and grow.  The I-Ching hexagrams I threw, I realised, were describing the relationship between Clarity and how to apply it to relationships so I leave the last words to the I-Ching:

 Nine in the fifth place means:
	Men bound in fellowship first weep and lament,
	But afterward they laugh.
	After great struggles they succeed in meeting.

Two people are outwardly separated, but in their hearts they are united. They 
are kept apart by their positions in life. Many difficulties and obstructions 
arise between them and cause them grief. But, remaining true to each other, 
they allow nothing to separate them, and although it costs them a severe 
struggle to overcome the obstacles, they will succeed. When they come 
together their sadness will change to joy. Confucius says of this:

Life leads the thoughtful man on a path of many windings.
Now the course is checked, now it runs straight again.
Here winged thoughts may pour freely forth in words,
There the heavy burden of knowledge must be shut away in silence.
But when two people are at one in their inmost hearts,
They shatter even the strength of iron or of bronze.
And when two people understand each other in their inmost hearts,
Their words are sweet and strong, like the fragrance of orchids.

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