Monthly Archives: January 2013

The Myth of Limitless Potential

I have to start this blog by admitting that I do not know what potential is.  So perhaps my title is unfair as a claim.  Since I do not know yet what I am going to write I am going to let this blog emerge and fulfill whatever potential it has!  My own experience of working on potential owes much to Tim Galwey’s work.  Tim Galwey coined a formula: Performance=Potential-Interference.  His point was that in order to realise potential we need to reduce interference.  Yet what do we mean by interference?  Tim Galwey’s view was that it was the doubts, fears, limiting beliefs that we hold that cause interference.  I would largely concur with this although I would add to it, from my experience of working with Chrissy, and include inaccurate assumptions or mind-pictures about ourselves and the world around us.  Tim Galwey observed that much of interference, or doubts, fears etc. come from a judging voice.  Tim Galwey called this self one, as opposed to self two.  Self one is the internal conscious voice which judges and criticises us and tries to take over our actions and complete them consciously.  Coming from a sporting background Tim Galwey was looking at this particularly in the context of sport, where when the conscious mind tries to take over doing something physical it simply gets in the way since it is completely incapable of calculating the complex variables involved in even simple actions.  It is the same in everyday aspects of life; when we are fearful of being judged, our mind chatter takes over and tries to consciously relate to people.  The result is a very wooden, or forced way of being.  I notice that generally when things are going well in any given interaction with someone, we do far less judging of ourselves and them and far more noticing.  When they are going badly we do a huge amount of judging.

So far, so good, however, I notice that this has led to a current vogue of believing that we have limitless potential if only we could get rid of this judging voice; that we can become whoever we want to be, if we can overcome our limiting beliefs and be more confident.  Advocates of NLP seem to be particularly susceptible to this belief.  Whilst I have worked with some very wise advocates of NLP, it nevertheless seem to be a popular myth for proponents of NLP who seek to be free of limitations or weaknesses in anyway.  Recently friends of mine were advocating (somewhat humorously) that I listen to the wisdom of Arnold Schwarzenegger on the internet and he is perhaps not untypical in that one of his mantras was not to listen to others and believe in your ability to achieve the impossible.  The celebrity lifestyle that captures many of our global projections is infested with this notion that, if only you can overcome your limiting beliefs, you too can become whatever you want to be.

One of the values of astrology is that it gives us an objective framework for understanding our personalities and therefore our limitations.  Recently, I was on the Eurostar going to Paris and I was held up 5 mins outside Paris.  Given that I had left at four-thirty in the morning to try and get to Paris as early as possible to see a client this was frustrating since I was already not going to manage a full session.  I consulted the astrology programme on my phone and was amazed to find that the ascendant was exactly between the Neptune-Chiron conjunction.  The message that came over the tannoy was that the train in front had “hurt” something on the line and they were now investigating.  This could not have been more clearly described by Neptune and Chiron rising especially since over the coming minutes there were confused announcements about what was happening and how long the wait would be.  Neptune-Chiron was also square Jupiter in Gemini – ruling travel to foreign countries but also information about foreign journeys on the train network.  The Neptune-Chiron was square my Mercury in Sagittarius ruling travel and foreign countries and also the confused emails I was sending to my client having to correct earlier incorrect ones based on the confused messages from the train staff.  At the same time Mars in Aquarius was square Saturn in Scorpio hence delays due to having “hit” something.  As it turned out, it had been a suicide – sadly apt for Saturn in Scorpio trine Chiron and also the Neptune-Chiron rising.  The Saturn-Mars square reflected what turned out to be a very long delay of over two and a half hours.  There were further aspects which linked to my own chart, but the thing that struck me most was how perfectly everything fitted the chart and the relationship to my own chart.  It was a moment of awe at the sheer accuracy of Astrology.  What I realised was that the problems we have being able to see clearly what a chart is showing or to divine it’s meaning are not down to the inadequacies of Astrology but rather to our own limitations in understanding.  Most astrologers experience that moment when it is like the veil is drawn back and we see everything the chart is saying with a sense of wonder and awe at how accurate and precise it is.  I have experienced a similar phenomenon with the I-Ching where the hexagrams and lines are so absolutely apposite that it is quite stunning.  Indeed, I find as I study it more and learn from others, it becomes clearer and clearer.  I even have occasions when I am talking to someone about a line or hexagram and they throw that line or hexagram.  I also keep a diary of what I throw in the I-Ching and on occasion look back on what I have thrown.  Each time I have done this, it has made me aware of the fact that whilst I was unclear what the I-Ching was saying at the time, with hindsight it could not have been clearer or plainer.  These events make me realise that this accuracy exists all the time but is limited by my own inability to see clearly.

If this is true and tools like Astrology and the I-Ching can reflect, down to pinpoint accuracy, what is going on, then that suggests that our lives are not limitless in potential, as the the I-Ching itself says:

Unlimited possibilities are not suited to man; if they existed, his life 
would only dissolve in the boundless. To become strong, a man's life needs 
the limitations ordained by duty and voluntarily accepted. The individual 
attains significance as a free spirit only by surrounding himself with these 
limitations and by determining for himself what his duty is.

Charlie is a twenty-four year old who is autistic.  He came to my wife five years ago to work with horses.  Since then Charlie has, with help, bought his own horse, Spirit, and started to do his own demonstrations and talks, including talking to the Education sub-committee about autism.  He has also written his own book which he is looking to publish.  Recently Charlie was asked by his great hero Monty Roberts, the Horse Whisperer, to talk at a demonstration with Monty.  Charlie was ecstatic and when it came to the show he took over, which went down well with everyone.  Monty and his main representative in the UK, Kelly Marks, suggested Charlie could work further with them.  Charlie is also an ardent facebooker with over a thousand friends.  Everything on the surface seems great, people on facebook continually encourage Charlie with his plans and ideas, telling him to have confidence in himself, not to listen to others who doubt him because of his autism and take his side unstintingly in all his problems or difficulties.  The difficulty with all of this, is the impact on Charlie has been to spin him into a big black hole.  Carried away with his dreams and plans he became agitated and angry with the limitations of his current situation and very disturbed indeed.  He wanted to throw away all that he had actually achieved and was feeding himself on a diet of imagined future fame (working with his hero Monty) and prosperity which did not match the reality of his situation or capability.  I have noticed a similar, paradoxical element in coaching others and my own development.  It does not seem to be that we develop our potential by bursting through limitations but rather by accepting and coming to terms with the reality of who we are and the limitations of our nature and situation.  For Charlie, understanding his own Icarus like nature, his own tendency to extreme anger and frustration and accepting the reality of his own nature and autism seem to be more productive in terms of his development than being told that he can break through or break away from this.  I think that are our limitations in terms of context and personality are perhaps the key to developing our potential rather than the obstacle.

I have always considered the Icarus myth to be concerned with fulfilling our potential.  The flight from being locked up in a tower – at first we are blind and have little knowledge or ourselves or the world around us, the flight away from the tower symbolises our journey towards knowledge and wisdom and fulfilling this potential – we want to fly, to grow, to expand.  Too much focus on the Sun (the vision of our own potential and all we want to and think we can become) derails our journey and causes an uncomfortable collision with the reality of the ground (or sea) below.  On the other hand, not to aspire or to have some vision of becoming more than we are, means there is no movement and we cannot fly, we are stuck in the current or past, unwilling to move beyond our present position.  Whilst the myth focuses on Icarus, perhaps the more interesting character is Daedalus whose instruction to Icarus is not to fly too close to the sea, lest the foam from the waves should wet the feathers and drag him down nor too high lest the heat of the sun melt the wax binding his feathers.  We can see that too negative a view of ourselves holds the possibility of drowning in our fears and negative emotions, however, too glorious a view of potential and too much praise holds the danger of melting the solidity of that groundedness in reality which holds us together.

The I-Ching talks about how to develop our potential in Gradual Progress, it says:

A tree on a mountain develops slowly according to the law of its being and consequently stands 
firmly rooted. This gives the idea of a development that proceeds gradually, 
step by step. The attributes of the trigrams also point to this: within is 
tranquillity, which guards against precipitate actions, and without is 
penetration, which makes development and progress possible.....
  Within the personality too, development must follow the same course if 
lasting results are to be achieved. Gentleness that is adaptable, but at the same 
time penetrating, is the outer form that should proceed from inner calm.
  The very gradualness of the development makes it necessary to have 
perseverance, for perseverance alone prevents slow progress from dwindling 
to nothing.


	On the mountain, a tree:
	The image of DEVELOPMENT.
	Thus the superior man abides in dignity and virtue,
	In order to improve the mores.

The tree on the mountain is visible from afar, and its development 
influences the landscape of the entire region. It does not shoot up like a 
swamp plant; its growth proceeds gradually. Thus also the work of 
influencing people can be only gradual. No sudden influence or awakening 
is of lasting effect. Progress must be quite gradual, and in order to obtain such 
progress in public opinion and in the mores of the people, it is necessary for 
the personality to acquire influence and weight. This comes about through 
careful and constant work on one's own moral development.

To develop, it is a question of self-knowledge rather than just aspiration; the more we know ourselves the more our development is in accordance with our own nature and successfully rooted in our own being. This requires that we know ourselves, including the limitations of our own nature and the nature of our environment.  Like most wisdom, I have found it bafflingly paradoxical; that inquiring more deeply into our own nature gives us insight into the nature of others and our environment which allow us to see possibilities and opportunities to grow and develop and achieve our potential.  This does not then mean that we should dismiss or deny limitations but rather embrace them as part of our journey into understanding our own and others natures and differentiating real limitations from self-constructed ones in order that we can accept these limitations without necessarily being dominated by them.  After all, like Icarus, seeking to fly beyond our limitations or become limitless is really to be dominated by a fear of them.






Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

In defence of Chiron

Most of the material about Chiron rightly focuses on the pain and suffering that Chiron causes, on the wound that it represents in our personality.  It is the part of our life that will not work, or causes us continual pain.  I do not demur from this view or from the notion that Chiron is connected to the painful aspects of our life, but I would like to examine its attempts to bring something of value to our lives beyond just the grace of suffering and in this sense I want to act as defence counsel for this small planetoid.  I respectfully submit, my lord, that this planetoid, due to its diminutive size and reputation for scapegoating has been the victim of some scapegoating itself and being a small object easily picked on, I intend to stand up for it.  Rumours that I have Chiron closely square my Sun and Ascendant and therefore have a vested interest in defending this planet are completely without foundation; it is an act of pure compassion on my part.

Chiron in myth was the trainer of heroes and I notice that, while this is often mentioned, it is not always focused on in terms of what this tells us about Chiron.  In myth, Chiron was immortal and this was part of the central tension inherent in his myth, in that when he is accidentally wounded by his friend and student Hercules, whose hydra poison tipped arrow brushes his thigh, he is in agony from the wound which cannot be healed (due to being the hydra’s poison) but from which he cannot die because he is immortal.  We can all identify with Chiron in the sense that there is always some part of our lives that does not work for us, that causes us pain or fear, and which we worry away about, like a nagging tooth pain without ever resolving it.  I was recently looking at the chart of a friend who was in the midst of a relationship dilemma.  She was in her early fifties and involved in an on-off relationship with a younger man.  Her dilemma was whether to stay or leave someone who appeared to be so difficult to relate to.  She herself had given up altogether on relationships for many years because they were so difficult.  Her focus was on the difficulties in the personality of this man and the dilemma of whether to give up or not was almost overwhelming her.  Yet it was clear standing back, that whichever way she turned relationships was where her black hole game was playing out.  They were not going to be easy in her life.  Whether she chose the pain of loneliness, because relationships were too difficult and painful or whether she chose relationship and accepted they were painful and frustrating was the real choice.  In typical Chiron terms, the blame went on the other person.  Why was he so difficult and why was she wasting her time and yet she could not let go either.  The presentation of herself as the victim in the story invited all her friends to tell her that this man was worthless and she should give up on him but this advice didn’t resolve anything.  On this evidence, Chiron looks guilty as a bringer of pain and irreconcilable difficulty.  Yet if we look more deeply, this man, who entered her life and whose Hydra like poison was causing her continual pain which she could escape, was really her training about relationships.  This was someone whose role involved coaching people in leadership positions.  Really it was key to her learning and her teaching of others.  This man reflected many of her own personality traits and the only solution was to work on herself and give up blaming him or thinking she could change him.

I am conscious that the part of Hercules in the myth, is rarely focused on, but I wonder if it is worthy of more exploration?  When Hercules injures Chiron it is not intentional.  This seems pivotal and traditionally the focus is on the unintentional nature of this incident, it is just an accident and that is as far as Hercules’s role goes.  Yet I wonder if there is more to it than this; what is the Hydra’s poison? And what is it about Hercules that causes him to be the person transmitting it?  Everyone has presumed Hercules innocent, yet looking at the detail of the myth, Hercules’ arrow tips are poisoned and on a symbolic level arrow tips seem quite clearly Mars and therefore are redolent of competition; Hydra’s poison has more of a Pluto quality and thus power and jealousy rear their heads.  Looking further, Hercules’s poisoning of Chiron is a direct consequence of one of his greatest triumphs.  This is a familiar thread for me.  Having the Sun less than half a degree from being exactly conjunct the Ascendant, I am a big personality and with Mars in the first in Capricorn trine Pluto-Uranus a competitive one too.   It was a shock to me to discover that this big personality could wound other people who felt small by comparison.  I did not feel like a big personality (I have a Cancer moon) but this did not stop my personality making other people feel small in comparison.  Thus they were wounded by personality, especially when I was doing a good job of shining brightly and confidently and so they would poke me, anticipating that my big personality needed a barge pole to poke with to get it to notice, whereas with my Sun square Chiron in Pisces it needed only the lightest of touches.  Thus for my friends it was painful to have me around at times and for me, it was painful too.  I can’t help feeling that a similar thing is at play in the Chiron myth.  There is no-one to blame but everyone ends up hurt. It is an accident, which no-one intends.  That is the most frustrating part of the myth, that Chiron cannot really blame his friend Hercules, yet Hercules’s brilliance in the world (conquering the Hydra), does wound his friend.  Yet what is the result of this wounding?  The result is that Chiron has to deepen, to evolve and learn about himself.  So his friend is both the source of his suffering and also his evolution.  There always seem to be people in the world who just by their existence make us feel inadequate in some way, and yet in most cases it is not intentional.  Somehow it this which makes it so unfair, that really no-one is to blame and yet nevertheless it is painful.  Our parents, doing their absolute best and loving us enormously somehow manage to wound us.  They don’t mean to but they do it nonetheless.  Can we really blame these poor human beings who were doing their best? It is the inequality of life which seems so unfair; some are beautiful, some are talented, some are rich, some intelligent, the list goes on and on.

Yet, there is something curious at work here.  This black hole game, where life is imperfect and full of painful situations is also key to our evolution and growth.  This is something I have detailed before which is described by Chrissy Philp’s book about the black hole game, One Way of Looking at Man.  Even more than this though, Chiron is somehow critical in bringing us together.  Expressing our pain and vulnerability and the aspects of our lives that don’t work, somehow tempers the discomfort of solar energy, where everyone is shining.  Who likes the individual who seems to have it all, or has no vulnerability?  Somehow we identify with vulnerability and imperfection, it brings out our empathy and compassion for others.  Where would stand-up comedy be without the collective recognition of our neuroses and inadequacies?  Hearing comics reflect our own neuroses brings a relieving laughter that brings a sense of unity about the state of being human.

This tiny planetoid, situated between Saturn and Uranus mediates the connection between the individual and the collective.  We cannot truly enter the realm of the gods, we are none of us immortal; we are all subject to decay and death, yet somehow this is the point and perhaps the very thing which does make us immortal – our acceptance of these painful limitations (Saturn) which brings us an enlightened perspective (Uranus).

Many astrologers now give rulership of Virgo to Chiron (and according to Chrissy Philp, the asteroid belt and perhaps Kuiper belt as well – this would certainly be fitting in terms of the wounding and Virgo’s constant war to bring order to their environment without ever fully succeeding – the asteroids never quite got cleared up into a planet!) and this fits with the notion of neuroses and the imperfection/perfection axis.  Yet it also suggests another element of the Chiron myth, that of modesty.  Hercules the great hero returns in triumph from defeating the Hydra, only to wound his best friend.  How must he have felt?  His greatest success turns into shlick in his hands.  He must have felt dreadful.  Oh no, now both friends feel awful, Chiron for the pain he feels and Hercules for having unintentionally hurt his friend.  Ow, ow, how awful.  Those who have been wounded by painful misunderstanding will recognise that the only way out of this dilemma is profuse apologies, tears and genuine empathy for each other (as the I-Ching says Men bound in fellowship first weep and lament, But afterward they laugh.  After great struggles they succeed in meeting).  Somehow this messy painful process also has unexpected benefits.  We are currently on a ski-ing holiday in France with friends, including many of my son’s friends and some of my daughter’s.  One of the grown up friends of our son Luke, said that he thought we were the most dsynfunctional family he knew and this hurt Luke particularly and the rest of us, an argument followed between Luke and Rafe and then eventually Luke and I explained the real issue was that we felt hurt.  Rafe instead of continuing fighting with Luke, gave him a big hug and then each of us a big hug in turn.  None of us could help smiling and laughing and all our hearts opened.  Rafe is a big personality and apt to make tactless remarks or simply to be overwhelming and boundary less – he has Mars conjunct Jupiter in Libra in the first house.  Yet he is brilliant also at knowing how to bring everyone’s hearts together and he explained that he has been with us so much as a family that he feels part of the family and that with us, our dysfunction is out in the open and expressed.  These experiences of overcoming hurts and misunderstanding deepen friendship and often the outcome is laughter and a sense of warmth and open hearted goodwill when it is resolved.  Laughing with our friends about painful and embarrassing mistakes is one of the ways of sharing mutual vulnerability and absurdity which brings down barriers and cements the sense of goodwill.  All the best storytellers tell stories against themselves and this often grants us access to new groups.

Chiron also seems to play a critical role in teaching and learning.  My own learning has been mostly influenced by storytelling, that of my friend Chrissy and also such people as Milton Erikson another quite brilliant storyteller and Ram Dass, the ultimate raconteur.  Yet, it is not just that these people tell stories; it is the stories that they tell and what these stories contain.  In the Carlos Castaneda books, particularly Tales of Power, Don Juan relates stories to Carlos full of power.  What he meant by power in this sense was stories with the power to transform our understanding.  They were critically stories about learning.  The key to all these storytellers is that their stories are about their own solar process of clarity and enlightenment gained through the mistakes and difficult experiences of their lives.  It is their ability to use these stories creatively which allows them to teach others to fulfill their potential and become heroes (full expressions of themselves).  The point about these stories is that they are full of the vulnerability and reality of human life yet redolent with the process of having turned these experiences into wisdom.

In Greek myth heroes such as Oedipus were undone by a fatal flaw, Hardy continued the theme in his novels.  There was always the sense of misunderstanding and human flaws piled atop each other to create an inevitable denouement.  It is always Hubris routed in the individual’s personality which brings their downfall.  In Tess of the D’Urbevilles Angel Clair cannot accept that Tess is not the virgin of his dreams, in Oedipus, his rage and ambition cause him to kill his father and sleep with his mother.  Yet it is intriguing to then watch what happens to these characters following their demise.  Oedipus is consulted for his experience and wisdom despite his downcast status, in Hardy, Angel Clair period of separation and reflection causes him to understand his flaw and return to Tess.  They may not be happy stories in terms of events but they are stories about suffering turned into wisdom.

At a personal level, with my Chiron in the second house, I was struck the other day by a response from someone to a comment I made about my luck that my work has continued to come despite the economic downturn.  They found it amusing that I should suppose it was good luck and not down to ability.  A sense of neurosis about work drying up has been a fairly constant companion which I have played with throughout my career owning my own business and before that I was nagged by a sense of being unemployable beyond the job I was in.   Yet, I am conscious that it is luck.  While it is a neurosis on my part there is also a truth to my neurosis that has its value.  In this sense I think Chiron has a role in keeping us safe from hubris, in staying modest (a very Virgoan virtue).  Our difficult experiences, our neuroses have their value in preventing us from taking our good luck or our solar shining for granted.  Had Oedipus been more neurotic and had more modesty and less confidence he might not have so impulsively killed his father and married his mother.  At its best Chiron brings humility which allows us to shine without the hubris and arrogance which brought about Icarus’ demise.  Our current vogue is to see our neuroses and frustrations as the elements getting in the way of fulfilling our potential.  Yet, what if they are the key to training our solar energy to shine without self-combusting, to temper our immortal side with the humanity and modesty of mortality?

Thus I rest my case for Chiron, a poor misunderstood planetoid, who isn’t really meaning to hurt anyone but rather to teach them.  His sacrifice in the end to release Promotheus, tell us about this relationship between the Sun and Chiron.  Chiron’s modesty and willingness to suffer, released Promotheus from his continual pain (in the end, if we can see that our suffering is key to our evolution we transform it into something which nourishes and enlightens us allowing us to fulfill our creative potential).


Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything