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).