Monthly Archives: October 2012

Ouranos and his ugly children

Speaking to a colleague recently who was suffering in terms of a huge, family destroying, competitive battle with her sister I looked at her chart and saw that Mars was conjunct Uranus (and widely Pluto as well).  I had been giving some thought to the myth of Ouranos and the fact of banishing his ugly children (the Titans).  Ouranos (Uranus) is Square my own Sun and trine my Mars and it is conjunct Pluto.  For many years I considered myself a detached and disinterested observer of life, that somehow I was not engaged in the way other people were, I stood separate.  I could analyse others with their emotions and activities but I did not suffer from having an individual subjective ego.  Quite a feat given the Sun on the ascendant!  I ventured tentatively that when Uranus was conjunct or in aspect to a particular planet that there is a tendency to dissociate from that planet – that she dissociated from competition – and she readily agreed with this.  It was curious since a Pluto-Uranus conjunction with Mars will clearly be very competitive but the Uranus causes us to dissociate.  I had always considered that my own blindness to my competitive nature and large Sagittarian personality came from the Moon being opposite my Mars thus making it unconscious but I am wondering whether it is more the Uranus that creates this.  Uranus is the sky god untouched by the ugliness of corporeal existence with its messy emotions and human vulnerabilities and limitations.  Uranus at its best does seem to give us the ability to be conscious (it is the planet of enlightenment) and disassociate in a positive sense of being self-aware and able to see our personalities from a disinterested and more objective standpoint but it also can create a very strong rationalisation and justification of ourselves and the genuine sense that we are somehow not a player in the game (Sun/Leo) in the way that others are.  We position ourselves in the sky as being unconnected with earthly events and our actions, who knows, perhaps on some level it is partially true particularly given some of the research on near death experiences.   Given that Uranus is the first of the transpersonal planets I wonder whether it might be that this is a first intimation of a consciousness beyond our personal realm – enlightenment and god consciousness; an ability to be conscious and separate ourselves from our own personalities.  This though is a double edged sword.  We cannot bear to admit to the ugliness of our own emotions and human behaviours – to let it in is so abhorrent that we must construct an analysis in which there was no emotion in our actions; they were the actions of a separated impersonal being (for more on this cf. Jonathan Haidt – The Happines Hypothesis).

I have been noticing in my recent coaching how our defence mechanisms defend us against the core fear that we are not in control of our lives, that we might be subject to a malign fate that we cannot prevent, something that no actions on our part can ward of.  Thinking of the sequence of the planets and Saturn’s clear role in our defence mechanisms, you can see this last personal planet as the bastion against the uncontrollable power of the transpersonal universe represented by the outer planets.  Saturn is concerned with trying to create systems and structures which somehow encapsulate and quantify our lives so that they are not subjected to unexplainable and uncontrollable forces.  Saturn wants a causal relationship – if I do X I mitigate the chance for Life/Fate to do Y.  Chiron sits between these two planets spanning the bridge between the personal and interpersonal realms, mediating between our ability to control and determine our lives and the great forces of the cosmos.  It represents the pain of knowing that life is not fair and will not conform to our attempts to control or manipulate it to fit our fixed pictures of how we feel it should or ought (lovely Saturnian words) to be.  It will not be tamed, controlled and quantified in the way that Saturn wants in order to limit it.

This sense of unfairness seems to be embodied in the Chiron myth.  It feels wrong that it should have been his friend Herakles who by accident brushed his thigh with the arrow tipped in the Hydra’s blood.  It seems unfair to us that we should suffer when we do not feel responsible for the people or factors that cause our suffering.  The Uranian response is to live in the stratosphere where we are not subject to these earthly experiences, where they are impersonal and therefore not subject to personal things like suffering.  Suffering and emotions are unnecessary, personal aberrations which apply to others but not ourselves.  To allow the personal is to open oneself to suffering.  Thus Uranus is happier with the cool analytical world of redesigning the framework or process to eliminate any possible cause of future ugly personal issues.  The search for enlightenment in many ways can be a defence against the ugly limitation of being human and subject to suffering and discomfort.  I remember Ram Dass relating that after spending time in India he began to notice that he had a series of people/events that “bought him down” – cities, his parents, certain people.  In the end he realised that he was getting caught by the things he was avoiding getting caught by.  He decided that  he might as well take the curriculum and be human.

Much of the issue that Uranus has with his ugly children is his distaste for the fact they are not perfect. Virgo is generally associated with perfectionism, but Virgo seems more concerned with the physical environment and also in some ways (being ruled by Chiron) with what is already disordered and how to mend it again – think of the environmental movement with its focus on all the damage and our responsibility to clear it up.  My experience is that Uranus is concerned with the perfection of the mind.  The values/principles/ideas which are not tainted by the earthly reality of messy human existence or even practical implimentation.  Yet these ideas and this interpersonal realm can only be manifested through the material realm and the shock of reality always shatters even our strongest principles.  The perfect principles of the French revolution became dominated by rampaging mobs; the perfectly conceived processes and ideas founder on anomalies and practicalities, always Saturn (Kronos) castrates his father.  Even the defence mechanisms of independence and dissociation founder on the reality of painful isolation from others and lack of development.  Yet reversed, somehow coming to terms with reality and accepting it, including it’s disillusioning ugliness does bring enlightenment, does bring insight and awareness.  If we can look at the ugliness of life just as it is and accept it, something magical happens; something in us shifts. Somehow, the depressing and disillusioning coming to terms with reality brings us genuine fire from the gods and allows us to turn reality into a universal understanding.  The fact we all suffer and are mortal is the universal element that binds us all together and helps us to see beyond our individual limits and develop an understanding which truly is enlightened.

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Do as you would be done by

I recently went to board the Eurostar to Paris only to find out that I had made a mistake and that my ticket was for the next day.  When I went to change it, they told me they could not exchange it and I would have to buy a new one, so I wrote them the letter below about the experience.  My reason for writing the letter was two-fold.  Firstly, it was to turn the experience from frustration into something productive so that I could let it go or turn it into learning and and be able to keep my heart open and secondly because I thought, if Life has gone to the trouble of manipulating me like this, I might as well do the work it is prompting.  It also got me thinking about why we are failing to understand how to treat each other with empathy and consideration in large business contexts.  It is something that no-one is enjoying yet everyone is perpetuating.  My experience in business has provided me with a number of contrasting examples and their impact.  One time on a heavily delayed flight back from Prague on British Airways, I mentioned to cabin staff that I was in danger of missing my last train home to Gloucestershire and was their anything they could do to help.  They came back and asked where exactly I lived.  I explained that my car was parked at Kemble station and that I lived close by in Minchinhampton.  They came back to say that the captain lived close to Kemble station and that he would drive me to Kemble and he did, all the way back to my car.  This had a considerable impact on me and from then on I flew BA wherever I could, they felt like my friends and my family.  I also did not fail to share the story or to feedback to them the impact it had on me. Some years later, I was late for a flight in Luxembourg (the first time ever that I had missed the boarding time – I did so by 5 mins).  The Luxembourg airport staff were very helpful and said to me that they would ring the BA rep who could come back and check me in.  They rang her but she refused.  I then had to buy another ticket costing me over £400 to get home.  I had enough time to get through security and to the gate before the BA flight had even boarded and I asked the BA attendant why she had not allowed me to check-in.  Her attitude was one of “that is the rule, you are a frequent flyer you should know that”.  My sense of connection and trust in BA was shattered.  This might seem childish, but then when it comes to our emotions we are all children, we get more sophisticated at hiding our emotions but they do not change.  I still fly BA but my loyalty to them is severely dented.

At one of my clients, John Lewis, they introduced a new policy which one of my coachees was explaining having to persuade partners (all staff are partners at John Lewis) to adopt.  The new policy was to accept items for refund even if customers did not have a receipt.  Staff were understandably concerned that a small minority might well take advantage of this and return items they had not purchased from John Lewis.  Yet my coachee won the argument by pointing out that they did not want to design the policy around the minority who might take advantage but around the majority who were trustworthy.  They would have to accept some might take advantage but they would be serving the majority who didn’t.  Now that struck me as enlightened thinking.  Strangely though, people seem to lose sight of this in business.  One would think it would be blindingly obvious but often the reverse applies.  A number of years ago, I parked my car at a Great Western station with APCOA parking.  When I came to get my car some 3 days later on a Saturday morning I realised I had got confused over the days and so was £1.50 short on my parking fee.  The ticket was for £50.  I wrote to APCOA parking explaining my mistake and that I was absent minded and that I had no intention of trying to avoid £1.50 and was very happy to pay that “would they be willing to waive the fine?”.  Hearing nothing in response I assumed they had decided to waive it.  Four months later I received a notice from the bailifs demanding £160.  Being worried by this I paid it but then wrote to my MP to explain the situation who then wrote to the Managing Director of First Great Western.  I received a very aggressive response from him, where he detailed the several times over a period of fifteen years of commuting when I had a received a notice as if this was damning evidence that I was sort of trouble maker or fare dodger, despite the fact I had paid each of these fines.  Even my MP was astonished that he should be so aggressive towards a customer. He seemed to be suggesting that I had deliberately tried to avoid paying a £2 parking fee on each of these occasions, something utterly non-sensical.  I responded to the letter by explaining that I was absent minded and that on each of these occassions I had paid the fine involved despite the fact that I had probably ended up paying more than 3 months worth of parking and that this could make no sense even if I were trying to avoid the fine.  I also explained that I was not asking them to refund the money, but that I wanted to avoid someone else receiving such a shock and such an aggressive bailifs note; I said that if my money meant that no-one was treated the same way again it would be worth it.  I received a response which stunned me, saying in effect, that they did not believe me and trusted APCOA parking (who responded to none of my letters even though I sent them recorded delivery).  How could a managing director treat a customer like this as if they were an enemy?  The issue is that large companies hold the danger of focusing on their own success without considering the paradox that their own success is entirely dependent on empathising with their customers and genuinely putting them first.  They are more concerned with protecting against being taken advantage of than they are treating people well; it results in them treating customers impersonally at best and cynically and in a hostile fashion at worst.  The I-Ching says to rule truly is to serve.  I think in the current economic crisis this is at the core of what we are learning, that without morality business acts in a short term and cynical way which ends up ironically harming all of us and taking years to put right.  There are no large scale solutions to the economic problems we face only individual and personal ones.  When we start treating people the way we would wish to be treated, with heart and genuine empathy, then business will serve us all.  Capricorn rules business in general and with Pluto there at the moment it is being transformed.  Do as you would be done by feels a very Capricornian maxim of cause and effect and responsibility.  Perhaps with the square from Uranus we are relearning this at a global, group level.

So much of my coaching with business leaders is to stop them thinking about the business and people as a whole.  This is a dangerous focus; when they do this they think impersonally.  I am working on getting them seeing that their role is an illusion and no different to how it has ever been.  Instead of trying to impact the business (which they don’t control even if they lead it), which causes them to focus on numbers and processes, I challenge them to see that they can influence no more people than they ever could, that instead their focus is on working on themselves and helping develop the the individuals that they are directly responsible for.  Instead of rushing round madly trying to influence “the business” they only need to focus on treating each individual that they interact with and particularly those they are directly responsible for with as much integrity as possible, in this way this influences how these people respond to those around them and so on throughout the organisation.  Research shows that we are separated by seven degrees of separation but that our influence extends to three degrees of separation, ie. that the people we interact with are heavily influenced by our attitudes and behaviours, that the people they then interact with are heavily influenced by our attitudes and behaviours through them and even the people they then interact with, after that it falls of a cliff.  No wonder the I-Ching is so pedantic in focusing on having the right attitude and behaviour in every interaction as Confucius comments in Inner Truth (the hexagram about how we influence even impossibly difficult people):

The superior man abides in his room. If his words are well spoken, he meets 
with assent at a distance of more than a thousand miles. How much more 
then from near by! If the superior man abides in his room and his words are 
not well spoken, he meets with contradiction at a distance of more than a 
thousand miles. How much more then from near by! Words go forth from 
one's own person and exert their influence on men. Deeds are born close at 
hand and become visible far away. Words and deeds are the hinge and 
bowspring of the superior man. As hinge and bowspring move, they bring 
honor or disgrace. Through words and deeds the superior man moves 
heaven and earth . Must one not, then, be cautious?

And finally, in true Sagittarian style, many paragraphs after announcing it and following much pontification, here is the letter:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a frequent traveller on Eurostar and a Eurostar Carte Blanche holder.  I travel regularly as I have my own business working in Leadership Training and as an executive coach for senior level individuals at a range of companies.  My work regularly takes me across Europe.  With this focus in my work, I have spent a lot of time considering what makes business effective and particularly how to act with integrity and create a genuine customer focus in business.

Today, I arrived to catch the 9.17 train to Paris.  When I arrived I discovered that I had booked for tomorrow by mistake.  I went to the Business Premier office who were very helpful and booked me another ticket to travel on this train.  They said that since I had booked a non-flexible ticket they could not refund the original ticket but to check with Customer Services because they might be willing to consider my case.  They also said to make sure that at least my points for Carte Blanche were credited for tomorrow’s journey.

When I rang customer care I explained that it was my fault but asked if they could exercise some discretion given it was a genuine mistake and I had paid twice to travel once.  I was told that the rules were the rules and that they were not prepared to do so.  I then asked them about the points being credited for tomorrow’s journey but was told that whilst I would get status points for the journey, since I was not travelling I would not get any points for the journey itself.  I explained that this seemed particularly unfair and like a double punishment, not only had I paid for my journey twice but I wasn’t even going to get the points for doing so: they were immovable.

Much of what I am teaching in terms of leadershp is emotional intelligence and empathy; to treat others, and customers particularly, as fellow human beings and to understand the emotional and long term impact of individual actions rather than focusing on short-term gain.  Living in a global, large business environment makes it easy to treat people in an impersonal way but the emotional impact of this is severe and has business implications.  At a personal level, I am left with a feeling of resentment.  I know plenty of fellow coaches and businesses who are very strict in their approach to charging people, but I notice that while they may be successful in the short-term, the long term impact is usually detrimental and their client relationships suffer even if the clients appear to understand and they are following the legal contract.  I have always aimed to treat my clients as individuals and adopted a high degree of flexibility.  My colleagues ask me how I have remained so busy and successful despite the crisis and I can’t help wondering if this is one of the key factors.  My fellow coaches feel they have to charge because they are worried about their revenues, which are under pressure, and because their clients will take advantage and not respect them if they don’t, yet the result is that their clients don’t respect them, they feel taken advantage of.  Like most wisdom it is can feel counter-intuitive.

I think collectively that we are learning about this with the current financial crisis.  Focusing on short-term gain at the expense of others and without looking at the long term impact of our actions has created the financial mess we are in now and it will take a long time to deal with the consequences.  My loyalty to Eurostar stems from the excellent customer service I receive generally and in particular when I went to Paris some months back with friends to attend an exhibition. They were elderly and one was disabled with a severe back problem.  When we went to the business lounge we were told that because it was midweek I was only allowed one guest not three as per weekends but they generously waived it.  My friends and I have never failed to tell this story to everyone and it gave us all a sense of warmth and goodwill towards Eurostar.

The decision to travel with Eurostar as opposed to flying, given I live in Gloucestershire, is marginal.  I save time (and probably cost) by flying but I prefer the experience you have created on the train.  I can’t imagine that I am greatly different to other human beings in feeling resentful when I pay twice for something (it just doesn’t feel fair no matter how many rules are put round it) or for feeling goodwill and loyalty when I am treated with human consideration.  I also can’t imagine that I am the first person to make a mistake, as the saying goes: To err is human to forgive is divine.  I also can’t imagine that I am different in sharing my experiences with friends and colleagues, the only difference might be that I am a professional story teller, using my experience to teach leaders in business.  I also write a blog that is followed by many of my clients and friends.

Most of my clients worry about how to manage the perception of their brand in the marketplace and to attract more customers; l work to help them see that it is more impacted by individual interactions than large marketing campaigns.  It is not easy, but small acts of human consideration have a huge impact. Working as a coach in John Lewis, this principle is ingrained in their approach and training and it has been the cornerstone of their success rather than a burden or financial counterweight.  I always go to John Lewis and buy from them, because I trust them to treat me humanly and fairly should anything go wrong and I am not alone.

In this instance I am sure I will continue to travel by train, but I think there is a strong possibility that I will probably choose to fly more regularly.  Ironically the loss to Eurostar of one or two journeys would outweigh the cost of an act of flexibility and consideration and this would probably multiply considerably in terms of recommendations and goodwill.

Beyond all this though is a more important thought; what kind of world do we all want to live in and create?  I haven’t met anyone yet who wants to be treated without kindness, fairness and empathy.  There is a simple test, would you be happy to be treated the same way as you are treating your customers?

Yours faithfully

Nick Oakley-Smith

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Corrections to and reflections on my last blog

Having had some feedback on my last blog I wanted to clarify my thinking.  I realise that having the Sun, Ascendant and Mercury in Sagittarius with Jupiter in Gemini I can fall prey to enthusiasm.  My Mars in Capricorn was not comfortable about publishing my last blog but I was tired and my Sagittarian personality, impatient with details like revision and editing, wanted to press the publish button and have done.  The unease I felt revolved around the feeling that in my enthusiasm I had come across as having taken sides between the mind and the heart or between an earth-air perspective and a water-fire one.  Being so Sagittarian there is always a danger of being too zealous and the irony of having been too zealous about the danger of being zealous is not lost on me!

What is it then that is important to recognise or differentiate when we talk about religion?  I am certainly concerned by organised religion because of the tendency it can have to say that “this is the only truth”.  In this sense it looks like Science at its worst, which says as well that “this is the only truth”.  For me, the heart (fire and water) is indivisibly connected to the mind (earth-air).  What closes the mind, closes the heart and what closes the heart, closes the mind.  What is dangerous is not that we have models or theories about the way the world works, but that we become attached to these models or theories and forget that they are models and theories.  Whilst my heart hurt in my recent experiences coaching people who had become overwhelmed by a very air-earth utilitarian view of the world, where there was no sense of religion (re-binding, that we are all connected and no sense of empathy or compassion for others, or morality), my mind was equally uncomfortable on recent occasions in being asked to uncritically accept very “new age” perspectives.  In explaining to a friend a while back where I was coming from when they challenged me about my own beliefs in astrology and the I-Ching and why I was not uncritically accepting of all other occult or “new age” thinking, I explained that I wanted to stand in the middle.  I have to work hard to stay open minded, like all of us, and I do not want to be dismissive of that which I do not understand or know for certain but at the same time, I value my critical, sceptical mind and I think a degree of healthy scepticism and testing and tempering my understanding against the facts is important.  In this sense, I realised I am natural scientist.  I love the experimental attitude that tests our theories critically against reality.  This is healthy, otherwise we can delude ourselves (and others) and distort reality to fit our predilections.  At the same time I naturally have faith in our connection to each other and the universe (re-ligio), I am a natural psychologist, a natural…. (you get the picture.  Any of the signs/elements/triplicities at the expense of the others is dangerous.  The I-Ching advises us to stand in the middle (I think this is where consciousness is).  My mind and my heart hurt when I am asked to identify only with a limited perspective or a single truth.  I recognise that at the heart of most approaches there is a truth.  The scientific kernel of open mind and critical testing of our theories against the reality of experience is a beautiful and important contribution.  It provides astrology with the astronomy and maths necessary to operate, at the same time, there is a beauty and importance in the religious perspectives which provide the intuitive wisdom of knowing that we are all interconnected.

All of this was summed up for me at a funeral for a close friend this week.  The person officiating at the funeral put it very eloquently and accurately for me when our friend was lowered into her grave.  “None of us can know for certain what lies beyond death” she said whatever our beliefs might be.  I realise that for me, the humility that recognises that there is so much that we do not know or is still a mystery to us protects us from the hubris of claiming that there is only one truth and that we have it.  Whilst I notice some of the hubris of modern day science, I am loath to throw the baby out with the bath water, in the same way that whilst I notice the hubris of many religions I am loathe to dismiss religion altogether.  Perhaps what really re-binds or re-unites us is the fact that we all share the common experience of knowing only a limited amount.  Yet this can keep us from falling prey to the illusion that we have the truth.  As a friend pointed out, the signs ruling religion – Sagittarius and Pisces are mutable, once you define them you have moved away from mutability into fixity.  Robert Pirsig in Lila – an enquiry into morals described this as the difference between static and dynamic truth.  Most religions, he suggested, were started by people who embodied a dynamic truth which responded and adapted to each moment, their followers then turned this into a static truth which lost its adaptability and relevance.  His metaphor was that of music.  When you first hear a song you like, it has dynamic quality and you cannot get enough of hearing it.  Yet after some time, it becomes stale and has lost its dynamic quality.  You would still say it was a great song and recommend it to others, but it has lost its dynamic quality for you.  It is so frustrating that we cannot once and for all define religion but rather reassuring too!  As the Tao-Te-Ching says “He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know”.  This lovely paradox says it all really.

As astrologers I think we have what is a rare privilege in that we have a framework that embraces the full spectrum of human perspectives.  The anima mundi or cosmic mind/spirit is reflected in this full spectrum of archetypal energies.  I realise that I have hit an impasse in finding the appropriate words for what we have, because they are so universal in nature they defy full description – astrology is a symbolic language for describing something archetypal but what exactly these archetypes are is tricky and therein lies its value in that we continue to elucidate and find greater and greater meaning in these archetypes.

I noticed, while at the astrological conference, that one great advantage that we have as astrologers, in that it is a discipline that by its nature causes us to stand back from and be less identified with our own personality.  When we say, I am Pluto rising in Cancer conjunct Uranus, we have a language for describing our own subjective vehicle for relating to the universe.  This is not to say that it automatically makes us wise or always conscious of our own subjective biases but it gives us a very strong potential to be by providing an objective framework for understanding our own personalities.  We are able to say, I see the world in this way, but then I would because I have Jupiter in Virgo in the 9th house.  Yet, at the same time, astrology is only a framework and it does not describe the consciousness or owner of the vehicle.  None of us when presented with a chart would know whether it was the chart of a tree, a car, a country, an idea or a human being.  Paradoxically it requires us to stand back from identification to describe it.  We lose this value when we identify with any one part of it over another.  Although it has to be said that Sagittarius is clearly the best sign (but that’s probably my Mars in Capricorn that’s saying that, and my Venus in Aquarius thinks that’s very unfair and my Cancer moon wonders if I really ought to be saying that – what will people think?……..)

For the last word on religio I think this article says it all (www.chrissyphilp.com)

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Religion and our world view

At the Astrological Association conference at the beginning of September, Chrissy and I attended a lecture by Nick Campion who was presenting his findings from research conducted amongst astrologers.  A very high percentage of astrologers did not consider astrology to be a religion (around 85% from memory).  This had remained stable over a number of years and also across different nationalities.  Yet Nick’s challenge was that perhaps we should be considering Astrology to be a religion, since it is clearly a belief system and that our distate for religion stems from our association of it with organised religions.  I did not really pick up on this until prompted by Chrissy to think about whether Astrology really is a religion or whether we need one.  Her perspective was that whilst we both shared a distate for the word religion based on our experiences of organised religion this was not the same as dismissing the idea of religion.  She thought that we did need religion; that those like our friend Ali, who was one of the first to come to see Chrissy, were suffering from the lack of religion and no sense of magic (meaning wonder and awe at something we cannot fully explain) or meaning and purpose.

All of this got me thinking further about religion.  I was coaching a number of people who were seeking promotion to leadership roles at a client and in coaching them, I was struck by the fact that the clear focus of their approach rested on proving that they would be profitable and that they understood how to make the firm a financial success.  I could not help but notice that this was pre-eminent.  The more I thought about this, the more I noticed that this was the case for many people that I coached.  Personal ambition and success were primary and personal ambition and success meant financial success.  There was a pervasive cynicism that what really matters is whether you make a financial success.  All the rest is just fine words.  This growing question mark culminated in coaching a man who has become a firm friend and who is learning about the I-Ching and astrology.  He was wrestling with the difficulty of having set about acting with empathy and compassion to others, helping others where they come on to his agenda and need his help and energy and generally focusing on being more self-aware.  Yet he could not shake the sense that he might be the mug who misses out in the real game of personal ambition and success.  That in sharing his own contacts and clients with others and being collaborative, in taking time to help others who were struggling, others might take advantage and he would be left an unsuccessful dupe.  In essence that even a more spiritual perspective was only in service of the ultimate goal of personal material success.

The key theme of the session was shifting this perspective to look at the reality of this assumption.  We examined the fact that those he watched playing the ambition and personal success game, were not in the end successful and he would not want to swap lives with any of them.  We also looked at the black hole he was in from the perspective of outcomes.  The danger was that he was hoping that taking this wiser approach would still lead to the same result of personal glory.  He realised that he would have to take this approach (if he chose to) simply because it was what his heart prompted him to do, rather than because it would lead to any particular result.  We also talked about the fact that he was not responsible for anyone else’s approach or behaviour, only in being true to his own values and heart no matter how others behaved.  To digress (as I love to do) for a moment here, I have often noticed that people talk strongly about their values mostly in the context of other people they deem to be not living up to these values.  In this way, most people make their values relative not absolute, in that these values apply when others are behaving in a way which is conducive to these values but do not apply when they are not.  So if someone behaves badly, they do not deserve to be treated according to our values.  I was suggesting that the point of our values is that they count specifically when others are most testing or challenging – any idiot can behave well when others prompt them to.  I also suggested that his only concern therefore should be his own values, being true to his own heart and not being concerned how others chose to behave.  My client/friend was struck by the paradoxically selfish nature of this approach.  Surely, acting simply to follow our own hearts, working on ourselves and not worrying about what others did was inherently selfish?  I agreed, but pointed out that I thought this was what was known as “enlightened self-interest”.

One of the characteristics of my client’s dilemma was the schism between his mind and his heart.  This has been a continual journey for him, as it is for all of us.  I am also conscious that this sits at the heart of the issue about religion.  The mind sees the world in terms of objects that it can manipulate to achieve it’s end.  This is the front half of the brain (according to Chrissy’s model of the brain), which governs the senses (or earth for Astrologers) on the left side, and the intellect (or air for Astrologers) on the right.  The combination of the two is the empiric scientist, considering only those things which can be verified empirically to be true.  Yet this view is an inherently unsatisfying one.  If the world is simply utilitarian; if there is no connection to anything beyond ourselves, then the selfish pursuit of material gain becomes the logical outcome.  Attempts (and there are many) to argue that morality can be derived from a set of well argued precepts fail to ring true at the emotional level.  To take an example, if we were able to cheat to our own financial advantage and there would be no negative consequence to doing so, why would we not do it?  Indeed I was struck during all my discussions that without any sense of being connected to something more than ourselves, this view has pervaded the world (mostly the western world, but increasingly the entire world).  The word religion comes from the latin re and ligio.  It means to re-bind or re-unite.  It is about our connection to something broader, bigger, our connection to the universe.  Without this sense of connection to something bigger, which our heart seems to feel intuitively, we are stuck in a cold, grey world without meaning or purpose, where we might as well grab what we can to satisfy the senses.  This was further brought home to me by coaching a bright man as part of a group of senior individuals in one of the world’s largest luxury empires.  He presented himself as someone only concerned with results and the bottom line.  From his perspective, people were simply the means to achieving financial results.  What is perhaps bizzare is that this is increasingly the norm and that caring about people has to be justified by the notion that it is a better means to achieving the ulimate goal of financial results.  Is this really the world we want to inhabit?  All of us hate it when we are cynically used by others to achieve financial profit, yet most of us espouse it as the primary object of our work lives.

So back to the split in the brain; what we think of as the heart is the back of the brain (according to Chrissy’s model), it governs the emotions (on the left side) and the intuition (on the right).  It is not more important than the front of the brain but it provides our sense of connection to something larger, our intuitive faith in a meaning to our lives and the intuition that they are connected to something larger.  What always amazes me, is that no matter how strongly people might subscribe to a rational, material view of the world, our everyday language is infused with phrases which validate this intuitive sense of connection – “ah you were riding for a fall”, “what goes around comes around” etc. etc.  Everyone seems to recognise the truth of this level of life no matter how strongly attached they are to a purely material view of the world.

Astrology is perhaps a unique discipline in explicitly describing through symbolic language (and with a degree of objectivity or systemisation not found in many other mystic views) our intimate connection to the cosmos.  It provides a framework for understanding our connection to the universe, for re-binding or re-uniting us.  How, therefore, could it not be a relgion?  So what is the distaste that many of us feel for the word religion?  It seems to be a distate for organised religion which focuses more on rules and traditions than on the sense of re-binding or re-uniting.  Somehow many organised religions seem to embody the opposite of re-uniting or re-binding which implies inclusivity and instead practice exclusivity, where theirs is the only answer or way and all other approaches are wrong or false.

Discussing this today with friends and colleagues on a programme we were running together, they all shared this distaste for religion yet recognised that much of their role running programmes in business was about helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives beyond the pursuit of material gain.  It is as if we have thrown the baby out with the bath water: religion is not the issue but rather the way it has been used – as most people point out, it seems to be a source of conflict and war rather than a source of binding or uniting us.

Science is also part of the picture here.  While some scientists are religious in outlook, many (as a perusal of the New Scientist will indicate) are vehemently atheist.  Yet, here it is valuable to notice that this vehemence is no different from that of the fundamentalist preacher.  They are not content to allow room for others to believe differently; they are as bent as a Jehovah’s witness on forcing others to adopt their belief that there is no God or religious element.  There is a belief that only matter exists or is of relevance.  Like most belief systems, it is close minded or exclusive; those who believe in homeopathy are deluded, astrologers are charlatans because there can be nothing other than the material world.  It is not an open-minded state embracing the perspective that it is a belief and that according to the current evidence they do not believe there is anything in these subjects but this might change with further evidence.  Even the language of modern environmentalists betraying the religious nature of their beliefs with “deniers” and the judgemental division of the world into good and bad people.

Part of the dilemma stems from the post-modernist view that there is no absolute truth and that therefore all perspectives are equally valid.  This view leads towards this same individualistic material view, since there is nothing greater than the view of the individual.  Yet, at its heart is a paradox (as Chrissy Philp points out), that the view that everything is relative is an absolute position.  A truly relative perspective would have to allow that there might be absolutes!

So what can we conclude?  Without a sense of “faith” (faith that our lives have a meaning and purpose and connect to something beyond our individual lives) we are reduced to a purely material view of the world.  This view impoverishes us and traps us in a utilitarian approach to the world and the universe.  It is an illusion that we can operate without belief in some objective, material world – all of us hold belief systems which support and give meaning to our lives and express our view of the way the universe works.  We are at the end of the age of Pisces (a Yin or material sign), we are entering the age of Aquarius (a Yang or energetic sign).  Matter and energy are indisolubly united (as Einstein posited E=MC2), a body might be able to contain the exact components for life but without energy it is not alive.  Disciplines like Astrology provide information on our energetic connection to the Universe.  A Universe with energy is alive and our interaction with it has consequences and ramifications.  To suppose that our lives and the universe consist only of lifeless discrete material is as inaccurate as supposing that you could step out of the window without falling to the ground.

We need a new paradigm for religion which encompasses both the scientific perspective and the anima mundi.  Which make sense of these paradoxical contradictions in our human nature – which encompasses all these perspectives that we express.  This would be a truly integrated and genuine religion (which would bind us all together), the scientist, the astrologer, the environmentalist, the mystic, where each was equally valid in its value to our world.  I wonder if that will be the blueprint that we will discover in the age of Aquarius (and ludicrous as it may sound, I think we might already have discovered it).

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