Monthly Archives: February 2013

Identity and Consciousness

There have been a number of instances which have got me thinking about this subject recently.  One was that I was asked to address a group of women a couple of times recently as part of programmes looking to promote more women into senior roles in organisations.  The other was listening to a debate on the radio with two Jewish British authors about Jewish literature.  The focus of this was talking about Jewish identity and what it means to be Jewish and British.  Another was a discussion with friends about a relative of theirs who identified so strongly with her son that it was impossible to relate to her and the fact that she treated her step daughter quite startlingly cruelly because she could not identify with her.  The last was a facebook dialogue between friends about living in a patriarchal society prompted by an article by Chrissy on isms.(http://www.chrissyphilp.com/heart/What_we_need_to_know_%28I_think%29….html)

What struck me was that we all want to have a sense of identity, to belong.  It is very uncomfortable and lonely being an outsider – even those who are more comfortable with being outsiders are so because they identify with being an outsider.  Yet what is this sense of identity?  Most of us have a name which we give our consciousness; we address other people’s consciousnesses by these names as well.  Yet, when I examine my consciousness and that of other people’s it appears to sit outside identity.  Certainly it is not in our bodies: they age, they decay no matter how beautiful, fit or strong, yet our consciousness does not seem to age.  “I don’t feel any older than I did when I was ten or twenty years younger” we say.  “I can’t believe I am thirty, forty, fifty, seventy” etc.  Consciousness seems to sit outside time or space in this regard.  Similarly, I travel all over the world and meet people from different cultural backgrounds, different nationalities, different cultures, different races and when I talk to them about their consciousness it doesn’t seem any different to mine.  Similarly when I am talking to men or women, I don’t notice any difference in their consciousness.  Everyone says it is important to have a strong sense of identity, yet I remember being on a programme some fifteen years ago and as part of an exercise being asked,  “Who are you?”.  The facilitator had picked me deliberately as a fellow facilitator to demonstrate the value of the exercise in helping people understand the various roles and identities they had.  I was a disaster, because when they asked me and I reflected I realised I did not have a clue.  I could only answer that I didn’t know, much to everyone’s amusement.  But I realised I really did not know, it was like trying to define a void or everything.

So I have been wondering, if we identify with consciousness then we identify with everyone or everything since we do not exist in time and space and all life has consciousness in some form.  I notice that if I identify with my consciousness, then I can identify with anyone/everyone.  It is always a surprise to me when people identify with things like being male, female, black, white, French, Italian, Chinese etc. because it creates a separation, a sense of “us and them”.  I think having this vast timeless and spaceless (I know that is not a word but you will have to forgive me) consciousness which is boundless is frightening.  We prefer to give ourselves an identity so that we feel a bit more solid, so we know who we are.  But the trouble with this is that it then means that some people have to not be “us” they have to be “them” and we can then talk about how they are different so we can cement our sense of togetherness.  Mostly people seem to want to identify with being special.  But perhaps there is the opportunity to be part of a very special tribe, a tribe called humanity?  I think all life seems very special to me.  I want to be very special but I am also happy for everyone else to be very special too.  I wonder if this might be at the heart of the new age of Aquarius and Leo, that we identify with everyone, with consciousness itself, so that everybody’s individual consciousness is very special and no more special than anyone else’s?  Then we can all identify with each other.

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Economic Hardship – A Contribution to our Evolution?

Yesterday I undertook a workshop for an international customer relationship team at one of my main clients.  Personally, I have always had an ambivalence about sales and business development.  In my own work, my approach, which I have documented in previous blogs, has been one of “not selling”.  In this, I mentioned the story that Ram Dass tells of being on a meditation retreat and sharing a room with someone who was vice-president of industrial loans for a major bank in San Francisco.  This individual had originally been a vice-president of industrial loans at this bank but had given it up because the pursuit of wealth and ambition had become unsatisfying.  He had left and gone to India to seek a guru and some form of enlightenment.  He had returned to San Francisco some years later and bumped into the President of the bank who offered him his old job back and he decided he might as well accept.  “Was it different?” Ram Dass asked.   The man responded that it was completely different; that before he had been busy being a vice president of industrial loans at a bank but now he went to work and got to hang out with these other beings and the work they did together was industrial loans.  I meet many people who are dissatisfied with their jobs and feel that they are not making a contribution to people and that their work has no purpose or meaning.  How can being a lawyer, marketing director, etc. etc. contribute to humanity?  Of course, ironically, this is the right question if asked as a genuine question – how can my work contribute to humanity?

So how does this all connect to doing a session for the Client Relationship Management team at a client?  I was there running a session on Appreciative Inquiry for the team, looking at how they could work in the current environment to support the leaders of the business in working with clients.  I started by getting them to look at the reality of the situation through 4 different lenses.  This is adapted from a model by Tim Galwey as below:

Slide02

What Tim observed was that when we interact with the world around us we are operating in 3 main contexts which overlap and interact with each other.  The first is our individual world, where our internal dialogue is running all the time, trying to make sense of the world around us (in practice there is more going on at this individual level as it is also informed by our emotions, our senses and our intuition.  It is only through this individual level that we are able to process changes in the other environments or change and adapt.  The Immediate Environment is all the people we are interacting with day to day who provide us with awareness about the world immediately around us.  The third circle is the broader environment of all the unwritten rules, values and assumptions which permeate the broader environment.  Since these three contexts provide information which is intangible it is difficult for us to create accurate pictures of them and they are also continually in flux which means that we are always updating these pictures or at least, we need to in order to be able to relate effectively to our environment.  Tim Galwey’s point was that the greater our awareness of these three environments the more skillfully we are able to respond to them.  It is obvious that if we are unaware of something then we cannot respond to it.  The last sphere is Nature and this comes from an essay by Chrissy Philp where she put forward a model similar to Galwey’s but which included this sphere of Nature and a further sphere of Cosmos beyond Nature.

Since the sphere of Nature is already challenging enough in a business environment I have not expanded the model to include Cosmos thus far!  For me, the way I have interpreted this sphere of Nature is in terms of examining the nature of life and the nature of the three other circles, ie. the nature of organisations and cultures, the nature of other people around us and our own nature.  The more accurate our picture of these the more effectively we are able to interact with them.  There is an added dimension to the nature part for me, which is to try and determine those deeper laws or cycles which are not as changeable as cultural and personal phenomena.  One example I tend to use is the fact that it is in the nature of organizations and cultures to be messy and imperfect.  Once we recognise and expect organisations and cultures to be messy and imperfect we might chose to act to make aspects of them less messy or imperfect but we do so without the false expectation that we can permanently affect them or change their nature.  It is the same with people around us: once we accept their nature we are no longer attempting to mould them into a shape we believe they should be and instead are free to work with their nature.  This is the key to the Nature level for me; once we understand the nature of something we can work with its nature rather than wasting our energy fighting against its nature.

And still, in typically Sagittarian style, I haven’t got to my original point, but am still busy on tangents to fill in the threads of the story!  What was it then that struck me at the workshop I was running for the Customer Relationship Management team?  What struck me was that the focus on relationships in business these days, particularly in an environment where business is tough and winning work has taken on a greater premium, might well be part of an evolutionary shift, a shift towards putting the individual human being first and the technical elements of the service you are providing second.  That is, that we are learning to value other people as human beings first and then to consider the transaction we are having with them as secondary or in service to the vehicle of the relationship or common humanity.  Thus the role of relationship managers and sales people, is actually to help people learn to be interested in others and put the relationship and interaction first rather than seeing them as objects that serve our transactional commercial needs or vessels for the fulfillment of our need to be an expert.

Whilst I recognise that, at this stage, much of the focus on developing relationships in business is still somewhat mechanical and self-serving, it is nevertheless an evolutionary step from the previous focus on putting the transaction first and the relationship or human being second.

Is it possible that we are evolving to a point where all our interactions with each other will be closer to Ram Dass’s room mates approach, where the various talents and practical skills that we have are in the service of our common humanity?  It puts me in mind of one of my favourite series, Star Trek, designed by Gene Roddenberry to act as modern parables.  In Star Trek, we get a picture of what an evolved human race could look like, where each individual still brings their individual talents to bear and plays their role but in the service of a common humanity and with a respect for the humanity of each individual, and with the attitude towards alien species, a respect for life itself.

I was even intrigued to hear a view voiced among the Customer Relationship Management team that there had been too much focus on profit and this had been dangerous and damaging, that the current environment was a re-balancing, forcing individuals to respect the relationship (and thus individual).

Could we envisage a future where everyone; the plumber, the lawyer, the shop assistant, the car salesman meets you as a fellow human being first and then puts their expertise in the service of that common humanity?  I think in many instances we already do this; one has only to look at the response to disasters such as the Tsunamis in Asia and Japan to see our ability to put our common humanity first. Yesterday I was going through security for the Eurostar at St Pancras and the man at security took time to smile and talk to me as a fellow human being.  The effect on my heart and his stayed with me and passed on to others I met like a ripple in the pond for some hours.  Perhaps if we evolve beyond money we can redefine this as “profit” a contribution to our common human wealth – the wealth of our hearts.

Back to the CRM team and my earlier point about how to find a job which contributes something to our common humanity. Given the difficulty of the current environment with the pressure, fear, emphasis on profitability, it is difficult to feel that there is any evolution; things feel tougher and less inspiring; a return to the material realities of cost-cutting and treating people like objects.  Yet, see this as a person challenge not to be overcome by fear and an “everyone for themselves” survival mode and rather as an opportunity for intense learning about ourselves and how to remain true to ourselves and transform these negative emotions and a huge opportunity to contribute to our common humanity and evolution appears – in fact almost the perfect one.  In Star Trek, there are constant complex and difficult challenges which look black and incapable of solution.  What I love about it is that these challenges are transformed into deep learning which advance us as a race (and Universe).  So it is not a question of searching for a worthwhile or valuable job but searching for how we can transform ourselves and what we do to be of value and purpose.  To paraphrase the peerless Don Juan Mateus in the Carlos Castaneda books “It is only when our backs are against the wall that it brings the best out of us and personally I wouldn’t have it any other way”.

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