Last week I was coaching someone from Prague and at the end of the session we were discussing the situation in Ukraine and how to deal with Putin. He felt that it was naïve to suppose that Putin would stop at the Crimea and that we needed to be strong in Europe to deal with him. He was influenced by the experience of being under Russian domination for many years. This week I was running a programme with someone from Russia who explained that the number of people who were in favour of Putin in Russia was very high and that she was in a very small minority of people who did not like what Putin was doing. She pointed out that her parents like the way that Putin is operating like a new Tzar and creating a more old style powerful “mother” Russia.
It does all sound very worrying and my friend in Prague was worried. From his perspective, the possibility of war and the danger of Russia and Putin were not to be underestimated. However, he did get me thinking about the issue more deeply. He felt I was in danger of taking a naïve western European view.
So how did we get here and how does the West (are we still the West if it includes a lot of Eastern Europe now?) respond? My friend in Prague felt we needed to show our strength and stand up to Putin. Yet, as we discussed it, it occurred to me that we in Europe had much more responsibility for the situation than perhaps we were conscious of. If I had a close and old friend who lived next door to me and someone else came along to my friend and said “I am a much better friend than Nick, why don’t you come and be part of my gang? Everyone is deserting Nick and we are a much better bet than him – look at all the friends from Nick’s circle who are now part of our gang”, I think it is likely that I might not respond terribly well. Do this to a country that feels that it is losing all its former power and influence in the world and sees all its former allies deserting it and it would be wise not to expect a positive response, particularly if you have a leader who feels so vulnerable and fearful of being seen as weak that he has to compensate by trying to prove to everyone how strong and powerful he is.
Thinking back, it was obvious that our thoughtless and emotionally unintelligent response in the EU would produce this result. So how could we have dealt with it more wisely? Dealing with it more wisely would have involved caring just as much about Russia as Ukraine and talking to both of them and reassuring them that they were both important to us and that we didn’t want to do anything to damage their relationship (and of course acting on that).
All well and good to learn from our mistakes but what now? Now, we could take responsibility for our mistakes and the role we played so that Russia and Putin recognise that we are genuinely sorry for hurting them and making them feel insecure. I know that my Prague client might see this as weakness and point out that Putin would take advantage of this ridiculous naïveté and that he would see us as weak but this goes to the heart of what real weakness is.
It is clear at the moment that from my clients, my own experience and from the Putin example that we are learning how to deal with conflict, competition and revolutionary change (Mars-Uranus-Pluto-Jupiter grand cross) with compassion and understanding (Neptune-Chiron trine Jupiter) or at least, that is the opportunity.
In the client I was seeing today this is playing out very forcibly. My client is a large law firm and in one of their offices the performance has been particularly bad this year. The particular individual I am coaching is Moon-Uranus conjunct in Scorpio and also Sun-Venus-Mars conjunct in Scorpio with Saturn transiting it. This client instinctively (Moon) tends to fight people in authority (Uranus). The leader of the office has the Sun in Cancer and he is feeling very much under pressure but does not like conflict. My client arranged a meeting for many of the partners to address how to deal with the issue (mostly the partners were younger partners). My client’s approach involved a degree of self-abnegation for the collective good and so people listened. With two others, this client then went to see the managing partner. Unsurprisingly he did not respond well; here were the young bucks arriving to overthrow the old stag. When a meeting of all the partners next happened my client took the opportunity to attack the managing partner more aggressively, feeling, probably quite rightly, that he was in denial about the situation. In this equation he was clinging on to power and felt uncomfortable inviting in the new generation. The result of my client’s aggression was that they lost any support they had previously had, so they then went and apologised to the managing partner and at this point he began to listen. Navigating the current calls for change and revolution globally, locally and individually is going to be difficult. It requires a lot of sensitivity and emotional intelligence. If we are to play these current energies out instinctively or unconsciously then there is likely to be a heavy price. Yet it is worth recognising that this has been the same game we have been playing out and learning since the early days of the Pluto-Uranus square and the situation with Gaddaffi in Libya.
At a personal level, this is playing out for me in my relationship with my friend Steve. We have worked together for some twenty or so years and have a deep friendship and often run training programmes together. The main issues that play out for us are in terms of competition and Steve often feels frustrated that I overshadow him and am more confident in group situations (Steve has sun in Aries in the 7th and I have the Sun rising in Sagittarius). This has been re-inforced by the fact that until just recently, he would always be working together with me on my clients. Now, the tables have turned and Steve has asked me to work with him on a leadership programme for one of his clients. We talked about it and recognised it might be asking a lot of our personalities to navigate it successfully. Steve wanted me to shine because he was keen for the programme to go well but he did not want me to shine too brightly because he did not want it to lead to me taking over. Since I have a personality that likes to shine then this was going to be difficult for me. The programme went very well but there was some tension between us. I felt hamstrung because Steve had had all the conversations with participants beforehand and all the discussions with the organisation about the design. My Sun rising in Sagittarius was distinctly uncomfortable and feelings of resentment and jealousy bubbled up on a few occassions. When we discussed it, Steve, with typical Aries honesty admitted that he had kept the pre-programme conversations with individuals to himself to give him more opportunities to coach and that he had done the same with the design conversations since he felt otherwise I might overshadow him. He has nobly worked since to re-allocate these. I realised it was good practice for me to see how Steve might feel at times dealing with someone who is Sun rising in Sagittarius. What we then spoke about was the fact that it was important in working together that we were both sensitive to each others personalities and need to shine and express themselves and that it was also ok for us to conclude that operating as two suns in one solar system won’t work and to go our own ways open heartedly. This felt a valuable conclusion – we worked together for 3 days this week on one of my clients and it went very well and on Monday and Tuesday we work together on Steve’s client . The grand cross is hitting off Steve’s chart strongly and transiting Chiron is aspecting my chart strongly so we will see how we get on. Yet, the point for me is, can we play at a level of friendship beyond the promptings of the current astrological energies? If we do not know these energies it is unlikely since we will be blind to their effect. At the same time, it is only through consulting the I-Ching (and my training with Chrissy) that I have been able to gain sufficient perspective not to get caught and played by these energies or at least to play them more wisely. Once again, I have been struck how discussing and dealing with these uncomfortable conflicts has deepened my friendship with Steve rather than damaging it.
So now, in my normal style I want to go on to a related (I hope!) tangent. As part of the programme Steve and I were running this week we were discussing the real internal dialogue that is going on in our heads and the real emotions that influence our actions. The participants were struck by how much their internal dialogue and actions are dominated by defensive fears, needs, anxieties, neuroses. In particular we were discussing the Transactional Analysis Drivers of Please, Be Strong, Try Hard, Hurry Up and Be Perfect. The participants could not believe how much the drivers described their deepest motivations and actions. Yet at the same time, discussing all this childish emotional stuff had the effect of producing lots of laughter, insight and a strong sense of compassion for and understanding of each other – it broke down the barriers between us all. The programme included participants from across Europe and Russia and previous programmes have included many participants from Asia, the Middle East etc. The experience was the same on the previous programme. Over the last few weeks, I have been particularly watching my mind chatter and observing the sheer absurdity of my constant fears and neuroses. Steve and I noticed that the more open we were as facilitators about the reality of all the ludicrous antics of our own personalities the more everyone opened up and the greater the insights generated across the group.
So what does all this have to do with Putin? The connection is that in order to navigate successfully through relationships it requires a sensitivity to all the real emotions that we all feel and a care for this part of us. Instead much of our approach is to pretend that none of this exists and to be “grown up” – tough and logical. Yet, the situation in Russia is entirely about these emotions. I connect the situation in Ukraine with the Be Strong driver which I associate with Neptune (and Saturn of course). Russia in my mind has always been a country that I associate with Neptune as well – the drinking, the corruption, the idealism of communism, the literature and art, the music, the chaos and excesses. Neptune at its best is the source; the well of human love and understanding that connects us all. It is the recognition that we are really all one and the boundaries between us are illusions. Yet this lack of boundaries and empathy with others can make us feel so vulnerable that we have to hide this behind our defensive boundaries (Saturn). The Be Strong driver stems from a fear of weakness of being taken advantage of by stronger personalities. It is very much connected to the Karpman Drama Triangle of Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer. The only way out of the Karpman Drama Triangle is not to play any of the roles and not to see anyone as a victim – to be on everyone’s side. The irony behind Be Strong is that in true Neptune style it seeks unconditional love and merging. Sadly, the defensive driver achieves the opposite, often isolating the individual behind walls of cynicism designed to defend against the cynical unfeeling reality of others; thus it becomes the very thing it fears. It is very clear from Putin’s behaviour – the publicity photos of him bare-chested hunting and his desire to take on Tzar like status to protect Russia – that there is a Be Strong driver playing out. It is a compensation for a feeling of intense vulnerability.
(I suddenly had a twinge of anxiety and thought I had better look up Putin’s chart in case in turns out that he has no strong Saturn-Neptune influences and the astrologers who might read this would disown me! Looking at his chart I was stunned to find that he is Sun-Saturn-Neptune-Mercury conjunct in the twelfth house square Uranus. How amazing is astrology, who could possibly think that it does not work or it is vague and general??)
The danger with defence mechanisms in general is that they invite the very response which traps us down deeper in them. If we respond to Putin and Russia by demonstrating our power, we increase their insecurity. The paradox of Be Strong is that it takes real courage and strength to take responsibility for ourselves, to be vulnerable and to admit our mistakes. Yet when we do open up and admit to the vulnerability of being absurd emotional human beings, it creates a wonderful sense of connection with and empathy for each other. We realise we are all the same, that there is just “us” not “us and them”. If we take responsibility and apologise for our insensitivity it leaves Putin without justification for his response to our actions and when we can take responsibility for our own faults, it is harder for others to avoid responsibility for theirs. We tried to seduce Ukraine away from its friendship with Russia and this has been the result; it has split Ukraine apart and damaged our relationship with Russia. Now, we might suggest that Putin had a covert agenda to get the strategically important Crimea into Russian hands but then how is that different to our agenda to get the Ukraine to join the EU? If we take responsibility for our motives then if Russia has ulterior motives these become exposed. It also means that if we criticise Russia it is not from a point of hypocrisy that they can justifiably ignore. Perhaps if we can see this situation clearly we won’t repeat the mistake in the future.