I have been contemplating Nature recently and our relationship with her.  When I work with clients I work on the basis of a model I adapted from Tim Galwey’s work and Chrissy Philp.  This model has four concentric circles with the individual in the middle, the immediate environment around them and the background cultural conversation around that.  This is then all encompassed by Nature.  What I am interested in doing is helping the individual understand their own nature, the nature of the people they interact with, the nature of the organization and society in which they operate and the nature of life itself.  I explain that the reason for this is that we are much more effective when we work with the nature of things rather than against it.  Yet this seems oddly against the grain of modern thinking.  In the modern Cartesian world of “I think therefore I am.”, nature and reality are there to be defined, created and controlled by man.

Looked at another way, it is possible to see these concentric circles as being about personalities; our own personality, the personalities of others we interact with, the personality of the organisations or societies we are part of and the personality of life or nature itself.  This came home to me strongly recently in coaching two people at one of my largest clients – an international law firm.  The first was a new partner in his first year.  He was in a somewhat vulnerable position in that his path to partnership had been forged by working very closely as the right-hand man to a very successful partner but he was now tasked with building his own practice.  His approach to this had initially been to treat it as a task and set objectives for it.  On this basis, he needed to go and target clients and decide on the practice areas he wanted to focus on.  Instead we took an approach based on the idea that he was discovering the nature of his practice and the people he was going to work with and that instead of worrying about all the things that he should be doing to achieve his goal, he focused instead on dealing with the day to day challenges that Life brought him and reflecting on the emerging insights in terms of the relationships he attracted, the work that came his way and most importantly, managing his fears that got in the way of this and caused him to push.  For most of my clients this is initially counter-intuitive since it is so much against the prevailing model of seeking to impose our picture on the world and control it.

I have recently been reading Philip Pulman’s reworking of Grimm’s fairytales.  In this nature is a key component.  This can be in the form of animals, trees, plants etc.   The key is always in the patience and character of the protagonists; it is a kind hearted act or morally upright one which causes animals, trees, birds to help them.  Those not in harmony with nature or who treat small apparently insignificant aspects of nature cruelly or indifferently are always repaid for their actions.  These days we would see such stories as naïve or rationalise them as having direct causal impacts – ie. if you treat someone well they will be kindly disposed towards you and might tell others etc.  We distrust the notion of anything beyond causality.  Recently, I was coaching an aspiring partner at a client who had been told that he needed to develop his ability to win work to stand a chance of becoming a partner.  Indeed, the pressure from senior partners above him was intense in terms of being more “aggressive” in building relationships.  He was very nervous about his ability to do this and the need to compete with others.  Like most before him, his fear was of ending up lacking integrity in his relationships with others and finding himself making friends with others simply for the purposes of winning work.  He also could not imagine how to fit this in around the huge volume of work he was already doing or where these people would come from.  I realised that the main work I could do was to reduce the pressure this mad approach was causing and to help him examine the truth of this view of the world.  When we examined how many client relationships people actually had in the firm, it became clear that most, even the most successful, only had a couple or even one main relationship.  When I asked him to look at where this had come from the answer was that it never seemed to be one that they had consciously cultivated initially.  To relieve the pressure he was under, I suggested instead that he drop any focus on relationships and instead just focus on the work he was doing and see what relationships naturally developed without his conscious effort.  Within a couple of months, a friend of a friend in a social context asked him about some of the work he was doing.  This person turned out to be working in a company that my client had been targeting for many years without success and as result of his conversation they were asked to pitch to go on to the panel of advisors for the firm.

At our subsequent coaching session we involved the senior partner who was sponsoring this individual.  He adamantly put forward the view about having to work hard on building relationships and being more aggressive in the marketplace but when I began to carefully challenge him about this view and the way relationships actually developed, he agreed that he was very uncomfortable with it and it didn’t reflect his experience.  Yet, when it came to talking about the opportunity that the individual had just created, he went back to trying to describe it in terms of a conscious and systematic effort which demonstrated the need to work hard at cultivating relationships and turning one’s network into potential work opportunities, even though it was clear that he did not really believe what he was saying either.

Both these people were highly intelligent, so how could they and most of the rest of the people I encounter subscribe to such a distorted view?  Do we really want to create a world where we see each other only as objects to be manipulated to achieve our own ends?  Yet, this is endemic in much of our current way of thinking.  The natural sciences were originally studied from the perspective of understanding nature and the nature of reality.

In a recent article entitled Dragon Kings in the New Scientist the author was describing the work being done on extreme events in systems, like the stock exchange or weather systems.  They had called these sudden and extreme events Dragon Kings to distinguish them from “Black Swans” (events which happened infrequently but could not be predicted).  These Dragon Kings were more frequent but equally disruptive.  Being able to model them, meant that it might be possible to predict them and control and prevent them.  The article concluded with the thought that controlling and preventing them was the point of science.

In the past, our attitude towards Nature has been that our role is to cultivate it, ie. to understand and work with it in order to bring out the best of it.  Instead our focus is on subduing and controlling nature to harness it to achieving our own ends.  In the past, in fairy tales and stories, morality and nature were closely linked – unnatural was a term for describing someone immoral and most evil characters in fairytales were undermined or found out through the auspices of nature.  Part of the issue seems to be that we no longer have any awe for nature or her laws.  The world is seen in terms of inanimate matter.  Once we see nature as inanimate, it is only a resource.  Our conversation reflects this, talking as we do about the Laws of Physics or Biology or Science rather than the Laws of Nature or the Anima Mundi.  I think our religions have failed us in this regard.  Growing up as a Christian, I was always troubled by the way that people around me would turn up at church on a Sunday, be holy and “good” and then carry on in quite appalling ways during the week having done their moral bit on Sundays.  They seemed to divorce spirituality and morality from their day to day lives.  Yet in many ways this was understandable in that it was something we had collectively done.

What do I mean by this?  What I mean is that we had made religion and nature abstract concepts, connected to good and bad and also with consequences that only applied outside the realm of nature.  So, the enticement to good behaviour arose out of the concept that you would go to Heaven if you behaved well and to Hell if you behaved badly.  These moral inducements were entirely abstract and had no real basis in the day to day reality of people’s lives.  God himself became divorced from nature and lived in some abstract world separate from direct human experience.  I think this is pertinent to the debate over the climate.  I am wondering whether the more violent natural episodes we are experiencing in terms of extreme weather reflect our repression of nature, that we are attempting to pave over the world, light the nighttime, control and bend nature to our will and she is responding by rebelling. This came home to me in a small way with my father when he came to visit us for Christmas and with my next door neighbour.  My father had brought wellingtons with him to wear when we went for walks so that he could keep his other shoes and clothes clean.  Yet, when we arrived back from our walk my father was in a big condundrum because now his wellingtons had mud on them.  He found it difficult to resolve his dilemma or be able to let go of the fact they were now muddy, even though he had brought them specifically for this eventuality.  I will return to this after my neighbour as there is more to this anecdote.  My neighbour has spent all the time we have known him fighting a constant battle with nature.  His personality is very fastidious and his house and garden, like my father’s, is kept to an extremely high standard.  Yet, this is the source of difficulty for him, because nature is forever intruding on his perfect environment no matter how hard he tries to control it.  He has even gone to the length of buying coyote urine as a deterrent for the deer that come over the garden wall and eat his roses.  The very day after he told us that he had started to use this in his garden, my wife and I opened our bathroom window, which overlooks his garden, to see a deer only yards away contentedly chewing his flowers!  We also installed a cattle grid on our shared driveway to prevent the cows that roam freely from our common damaging his garden, only for the cows in the field behind to push down his garden wall and run riot on his garden.  Even with the cattle grid, we are the only house in the neighbourhood where the cows walk over our cattlegrid and still invade the garden.  It sounds like a tale from Grimm about the man who wanted to keep his perfect garden and for me, it is exactly that.

So, back to my father.  My father has been suffering from a severe depression for the last eighteen months.  This has involved psychosis, delusions, being committed to a psychiatric unit and almost dying.  He has been given ECT, anti-depressants, anti-convulsive drugs etc., etc.  I was discussing this with friends over lunch one day, who described that their parents were similar and talked about the fight to keep them on their drugs in order to control the problem.  “Why wouldn’t you take your medicine if you knew it was making you better, I just don’t understand it?” the other one asked.  The first friend said it was because they didn’t like the drugs, they said they made them feel disconnected and drowsy as though they weren’t really alive.  The discussion got me thinking about depression and how we define depression and mental illness generally.  Most of our definitions of mental illness and certainly of depression are that you do not conform to the current norms within society.  The doctors who treated my father did so from the point of view of seeing someone ill.  According to the current definition, he was unnatural, there was something wrong with him.  Yet, for me, I struggled with this.  The reality for my father was that he felt he could no longer cope with running a large house, the day to day demands of the world overwhelmed him and he wanted out.  Yet at the same time he was frightened of his desire to leave; death terrified him, he did not see the point of old age.  His personality was well and truly split apart.  The effect of the ECT and the anti-depressants was not to solve these issues – they persist to this day – but simply to dampen down the level of agitation he displayed about them.  With other friends who are depressed I notice the same phenomenon, the anti-depressants and diagnosis of illness render them unable to move forward in their situation, they feel there must be something unnatural happening to them.  How does this connect to nature?  I think it is part of the difficulty we face in having relegated nature to a material source.  It is like a teenager who sees Mum, not as a human being to be respected but just as a provider of material resources!

Where does this all leave us in terms of Nature?  I think the difficulty in our current approach to the climate is that the rationalist viewpoint achieves very little.  We all know rationally that smoking is “bad” for us, similarly we all know we should be polite, respectful, kind etc.  Yet knowing these things rationally does not translate into a change in our attitude.  It is like a toothless religious inducement to be good or not be bad.  They remain abstract concepts requiring conscious effort.  On the other hand, a respect and awe for something monumentally powerful and intimately part of our lives, produces a different response.  When we reconnect with the beauty, wonder and sheer aliveness of nature; the integral relationship between matter and spirit, that life and consciousness could not exist without matter and vice-versa then there is balance in our approach.  When we separate them or relegate one aspect we are lost.  I am an advocate of Science, an advocate of curiosity, wonder and awe.  I am not an advocate of imposing our notions of nature and reality on nature and reality in a fixed way.

Finally, I recognise that it is in the nature of things for us to be dealing with the world this way currently, so in that sense there is nothing to be done about it.  We are learning just what we need to learn and who I am to think it should be different?  What would I have to write and think and learn about and what clients would I have to coach?  As the Tao Te Ching says, “Do you want to change the world?  I do not think it can be done, the world is already perfect.”  Perhaps we are going to have to suffer for our hubris; as the saying goes, “Pride comes before a fall” and if my individual experience is anything to go by, leads to a fair bit of valuable learning and a greater level of humility!  My own rational plan was that I was going to be spending my time this week skiing; the forces of matter decreed that the nature of my experience would actually be haemorrhoids which took skiing off the agenda.  A literal pain in the backside but then I would not have written this blog otherwise.

I think this way of looking at the world is causing a huge amount of disease, but not the disease that most of us think.



Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything


Is evolution really connected to survival of the fittest?  I have been thinking a lot about evolution recently.  The first thing which sparked my interest was an interview with Richard Dawkins on the radio.  As a young student at Oxford University, he described how he felt he had fallen into the most wonderfully rigorous and challenging environment, where seminars with his tutor exemplified this notion of survival of the fittest.  Each individual’s ideas would be subjected to rigorous challenge to test their validity and one visiting expert who came to address them got no further than his opening sentence before being challenged about his assumptions and did not get any further during the ensuing hour of debate.  With Dawkins Sun exalted in Aries, it is easy to see how this environment felt like manna from heaven.  He went on to explain that he had developed his theories contradicting Group Theory when realising that animals or insects (as vehicles) are working on behalf of genes which seek to replicate themselves.  Thus a gorilla might fight or kill to ensure the survival of his genes over those of unrelated rivals.  As Dawkins talked I was struck by the fact that our theories and our view of the world are strongly informed by our pre-dispositions.  Without the value of a tool like Astrology, which unlike other tools posits variations in the way we think without judging other positions to be simply wrong or misguided, it is difficult not to get trapped by the bias of our own pre-disposition or to allow for it in our thinking and so step outside its prejudices.  For Dawkins, with the Sun in Aries, it has to be about survival of the fittest and what better depiction of Aries could there be than both the environment he was informed and attracted by with its intellectual rigour and his book, The Selfish Gene.  The presumption was that since this held in a number of instances it applied to all instances.  Everything was about the selfish gene.

Now this is not to denigrate Hawkins work, which has clearly been of great value but only to suggest that it is not the only way of looking at the world and it holds dangers if it dominates.  This is what I want to talk about in terms of evolution and the current square between Pluto in Capricorn and Uranus in Aries because I think that evolution and “survival of the fittest” are at the heart of this square and what it is prompting us to become conscious of.

I want first to talk about a few other factors that have prompted me to be thinking about evolution over the last year or so – no self-respecting Sagittarian jumps straight to the point without telling all the fascinating (for me anyway) threads that led to this point.  So, after listening to Dawkins, I was prompted to think about my own perspective.  Was it true, I wondered, that I would act or would be prompted to act, as a vehicle for my DNA, to preserve my genes?  I had to conclude that I would not.  Whilst I love my parents, my sister, my nephews and nieces and my own children, I would not necessarily prioritise them over others.  In many cases, I put time, energy and my resources at the disposal of complete strangers.  This is because, for me, it feels like we are all family, like there is only one of us.  So, traveling as much as I do across the world and encountering people from different cultures and backgrounds, I feel just as strong a connection with them as I do with my own family. Indeed, my money, my energy and my actions don’t tend to be exclusively dedicated to promotion of my genes, even indirectly through group or social structures.  Similarly, I might also prioritise animals or nature on a parallel footing with human beings, so it is not just species prioritisation.  Now, this is not to suggest that Dawkins is not right; it is clear that at an instinctive and practical level, a significant proportion of my time, energy, resources etc. are dedicated to my family, it is rather that this is not the only truth and nor am I, like a rat say, limited by instinctive responses, I can choose to use my consciousness to inhibit my instincts (if I am aware of them).

Some months after the Dawkins interview, I was reading an article in the New Scientist about Hipster toads.  The article explained that these Hipster Toads grow spines during the mating season and fight each other, but the winner then protects the eggs of its rival as well as its own.  The article went to convoluted lengths to attribute this to Darwinian evolution and the selfish gene paradigm.  This is not an isolated example; I have seen many convoluted attempts to bend reality to fit the paradigm of natural selection rather than keeping an open mind.  This is not to say that Darwinism is necessarily wrong, but only that there may be other factors at play that we do not yet know.  I would advocate the same open-mindedness towards Astrology.  Astrologers like Ptolemy were clearly wrong when they went to great lengths to defend the idea that the Sun revolved around the Earth and this involved convoluted explanations to justify the prevailing paradigm.  Again this is relevant (I am just reassuring non-Sagittarians/Jupiterians) since it caused me to think about the real nature of evolution and how we challenge our own thinking about it.

Continuing this theme of evolution, I was also considering something which has held question marks in my mind since I was very young and that is the process by which we select our partners in life.  The research suggests that there are key traits that we find attractive and that the basis for this is because they are key to evolutionary fitness.  So we tend to find people with symmetrical faces attractive since this suggests the fittest genes and best DNA, also we tend to find slim people attractive and in some cultures well covered is attractive etc. etc. Yet, it is clear that it is not only symmetrically faced, slim people who mate and have children.  Indeed it seems to be the case that physical features are only part of the story.  When we dig more deeply it is clear that many psychological factors play a role, as do the charts for those who know astrology, so the picture becomes more complex.  Now this might be a case for the selfish gene playing out its own selfish agenda except for the fact that the propagation of the human species does not seem to be on the basis of only certain people having children so that only a certain “fit” proportion propagate, or we evolve towards certain physical characteristics.  Is it perhaps that we prioritise the human race as a whole?  Some of our actions towards other species would tend to suggest so, except that there are clearly people around who are willing to prioritise animals/insects/trees etc. over humans.  This suggests to me that the picture is not quite as simple as a case of the selfish gene and this is central to my thinking.  I do not think we are the empty vehicles of DNA as Dawkins suggest.  I think we have choice, choice to be conscious of our instincts and choose how we act on them. Or, if there is a selfish gene operating then this gene seems complicit in creating the provocations for us to evolve consciously.

The last factor I want to talk about with regard to evolution is that of tool making.  Most scientists concur that the differentiation of modern man, came with our ability to create and use tools.  Indeed, each evolutionary step in human history is associated with technological breakthroughs.  To this day, there seems to be a dominance of market forces which dictate that any human activity that can be automated will replace the need for humans to continue to labour at that task.  In response to this the bones in our bodies have become more gracile and much of the physical activity/labour undertaken by modern humans comes from choice rather than necessity.

So far so good, but what does this mean for the current Pluto/Uranus square?  One last (I promise) example of what jogged my thinking on evolution further (I like to think of this blog as an evolutionary blog – perhaps eventually as long as human history!).  I recently ran a programme on change for a leading global law firm which is one of my clients, as part of this we were asking the participants, who were support staff (administrative rather than dealing directly with clients) about the current environment in the firm.  What came out was that they felt that there had been and continued to be constant change.  On the whole, these were not changes they liked.  They felt that the firm had lost its interest in and care for staff.  It felt more impersonal and people felt there was no sense of personal loyalty or care.  The key driver was reducing cost.  As a result individuals felt they were in an increasingly pressurised environment with more expected from fewer people and interactions felt less personal and more transactional.  At the same time, they recognised the pressures on the firm as a whole of competing in a global environment where there was pressure on fees for the firm and clients were driving down costs themselves.  The leading law firms were paying higher and higher fees to partners and so the fear of missing the boat had become enormous, the fear that the firm would not be able to compete and attract talent was driving cost reductions further and further – the justification was cited regularly as the “war for talent” (despite the main research for the concept of the “war for talent” coming from Enron – a spectacular example of short-term profiteering at the expense of the company survival and the wider economy).

It is easy to feel, and many people do, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that we are all doomed.  Yet, each generation has seen the next generation as having lost touch with human values and being on a race to the bottom so I do not subscribe to this doomed picture of the world.  Yet at the same time, who or what is this monster that seems to be eating us all up against our will at such a rate of knots?  Can its rampaging appetite never be sated?  Stand up and take the applause Mars and its veiled partner Pluto (oh and with Capricorn and Uranus thrown in to flavour the dish).  What I began to see today was that this monster eating us up that nobody likes but everyone feels powerless to alter is none other than fear of missing the boat;  the endless, timeless pressure to compete to survive – the selfish gene.  What occurred to me is, are we really powerless to prevent this?  Well yes and no.  It is clear from history that we cannot rid ourselves of Mars or Pluto or any planet for that matter.  In that sense, ruthless and destructive as it is, we are constantly born and being killed off in a continuous cycle of death and rebirth.  In many ways it is the same for the Earth hurtling round the Sun in a manic cycle with no pause, going from Spring to Autumn – Aries to Scorpio.  On Chrissy Philp’s model of the brain she calls the Aries-Scorpio complimentary connection Time since it is a continual process of birth, of a new moment “now” and then the death of that moment.  So no, I do not think we are going to escape this cycle.  However, I have written before about the fact that I think aspects in astrology are a focus for consciousness.  What I see is that the Pluto in Capricorn – Uranus in Aries square is a focus for consciousness and what is being asked of us is how do we want to deal with competition and fear – can we bring a new consciousness (Uranus in Aries) to this age old primal urge for survival and tool making (Pluto in Capricorn)?  Wherever it is being expressed in the world, the fight is about survival of the fittest and the fear of being obliterated (of dying).  This plays out in the Middle East where those who were the most powerful (the winners of the survival of the fittest contest) cling precariously to power in the face of new combatants who want to supplant them and now feel they are fitter to run things.  Each side fears that if they do not win the result will be disastrous – they will die.  In Europe, the banks were driven by fear of missing the boat – keeping up with everyone else making profits.  In the UK ocal councils invested in Icelandic banks to keep up and get the best rate of interest, in turn Icelandic banks took on monumental debt beyond their means because they wanted to be able to compete with their bigger cousins, the global banks.  At the same time, people took on unrealistic debt to buy houses they felt they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford and so on.  It is a constant selfish gene stuck in a cycle of racing for survival.  Yet, do we have to play it this way?  At an individual level we know that our personal development rests on our ability to become more conscious of our own instincts and emotions because by doing so we have choice about whether to act on these instincts – we can inhibit them (that is choose not to act on them rather than repress them).

So if we are able to exercise consciousness we can examine our instincts and choose whether to continue to be dominated by playing them out.  In fact everyone of us has choice.  This work is what the I-Ching calls “Work on what has been spoiled”.  I was discussing this with a partner in Germany at my global law firm client who felt very much overtaken by the monster of “the system”.  He described how prison guards at the concentration camps felt the same way – that they had no choice; the system demanded it and no doubt they thought they were doing the “right thing”.  I had been reading him a quote from Viktor Frankl, which was topical given his comment about the concentration camps, since Frankl had been a survivor of the Auschwitz and Dachau.  The quote was from the book he wrote – Man and his search for Meaning.  Frankl’s great discovery, during his experience of concentration camps, was that there was one great freedom that could not be taken away from human beings no matter how appalling the circumstances and that was to choose their attitude towards the experience.  He noted that all in the concentration camps faced the same situation (the guards included) but that as humans we are not unconscious victims of our circumstances, products only of our environments, we have choice.  This is not control over our environment or circumstances but rather choice over how we respond.  The implication for Frankl was that the very worst of human experience in the concentration camps could be turned into something meaningful through our consciousness – Work on What Has Been Spoiled indeed!

When I was twenty-three I was caught in a black hole about “missing the boat”.  I was so confused about what to do with my career and there was the pressure of watching peers “catching the boat” and starting to build their careers and the weight of expectations of parents and others.  Now, I had the great good fortune to be in wise company (the I-Ching and my friend Chrissy’s input).  As a result of my great good fortune, I took to heart the I-Ching’s perspective that “you cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away”.  I sat down to do a visualisation; I got nice and comfy sitting on the bank of a river, doing nothing and admiring the beauty of the river.  Then I imagined a boat moored by me with all the people I knew on it – friends, family etc.  After contemplating it, I then unmoored the boat, threw the mooring rope to all my friends and family on the boat and watched it sail away down the river whilst wishing them all well.  I consciously set about missing the boat.  I gave up on getting a career, getting a girlfriend and set about dealing with what was in front of me – sorting out my finances and taking responsibility for myself.  This involved applying for jobs and giving up on being in film and TV work (which only sporadically paid and did not seem as fulfilling as I had hoped).  Each day I applied for three jobs.  After a week of this, I received a phone call out of the blue from a temping agency I did not know I had signed up with.  They said they had a semi-permanent job doing time-sheet reconciliations for a firm of accountants.  It sounded the antithesis of any career aims but just what I was looking for financially.  So for ten months I did time-sheet reconciliations.  Unbeknownst to me, my career had begun.  My job was in a department run by Administration and Personnel at Ernst and Young where I was to work in Human Resources (a fancy new term for Personnel) for the next thirteen years.  So when I was fretting and worrying and trying to catch my boat, I was busy missing it, when I decided to give up on my boat I was busy catching it.  I realised there was a different approach to take to Life and it was not one dominated by fear and competition but it took courage to hold one’s fear back and not act on it.  Viktor Frankl reached a similar conculsion:

Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run—in the long-run, I say!—success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.

Looked at through this lens, the current situation we find ourselves in – increased focus on cost and competition and a widening gap between rich and poor where the rich bankers, accountants, lawyers, consultants (oh no that’s me…!), are just as caught by fear and feel they have no choice – is a set up.  It is a set up to provoke us to become more conscious, to consider our instincts and their consequences.  Personally I am noticing a similar pattern at the Law firms to that which I have seen before in the Accountancy sector and in the Banking sector.  I was at Ernst & Young when I saw the profession lose sight of being independent accountants and decide they were businessmen and their aim was profit.  In vain, I asked partners at Ernst & Young why they did not value Ernst & Young’s qualities of modesty, integrity and friendliness but saw themselves rather as a pale shadow of the more aggressive and confident Arthur Andersen.  The result was Enron and the collapse of Arthur Andersen.  The government had to step in to regulate an industry that could no longer regulate its own self-interested greed.  Indeed, when I asked at a workshop shortly after how the environment had changed the accountants described that their profession had gone from being one viewed with respect by the community to being seen as something corrupted and close to the worst double glazing salesmen.  Some years later (about ten years ago) I was working on a leadership programme with Lloyds Bank.  We ran a workshop where we were asking them to think about the broader environment and market place and where they found themselves.  In the discussion during the programme they were obsessed with HBOS and how they needed to change away from their current focus on service, ethics and their current strategy of not overextending themselves which came from their experience of having been burned by third world debt lending in the past.  I challenged them, saying, what if your current strategy proves to be the right one in the long term – I even used the example of Ernst & Young but no-one wanted to listen.  They were a business they said and over the course of a few years working with them I noticed that it was more and more difficult to focus them away from targets, profits and sales.  They talked about the customer only as a means to the end of increasing their “share of wallet” – a hideous term meaning, that customers were only of value as a means to line their pockets.  In the end the government (us, since what else is the government and where else does it get its money from) had to step in to regulate an industry which had become obsessed with its own self-interest.  I notice a very similar pattern now with the Law firms.  As one of the partners I spoke to described it “a once noble and important profession has become all about profit”, I see that the same is also true of sport – many now positively value aggression and a “winning mentality”, yet we all feel that something has been lost and very topically, newspapers.  Where organisations and individuals put their own self-interested greed first they assume they can do so without repercussions.

In talking to a taxi driver going between clients recently,  I was mentioning the Jeremy Paxman interview with Russell Brand.  We were talking about the fact that neither of us fully agreed with Brand but that he had hit a chord when talking about the polarisation in society.  It was clear Paxman seemed to feel the same way.  The taxi driver said that he was not against capitalism but it had now become too dominant and it needed balancing – he agreed with me that we had become too polarised in the gap between rich and poor.  We talked about the fact that much of this is to do with competition and fear of not surviving or keeping up.  The trouble is that this is a vicious circle, the bigger the gap, the bigger the fear of not keeping up and the fear of loss so the gap widens. and the more we are in survival mode, the more short term and cynical our approach becomes. Yet, I am also conscious that most new awareness or consciousness comes in the form of polarisation which forces us to examine the situation more closely.  Perhaps there is an opportunity to evolve here; to use this evolutionary provocation to examine evolutionary provocation and take more conscious responsibility for it.

According to Chrissy Philp’s model, the 6 lines of the Creative (the 1st hexagram in the I-Ching) relate to male signs in the Zodiac ascending according to her model of the brain and the 6 lines of the Receptive (the second hexagram in the I-Ching) relate to the six female signs in the Zodiac.  Looking at the I-Ching lines correlating to Pluto (or Scorpio), Capricorn, Aries and Uranus (or Aquarius), we get the following four lines:


Hidden lines. One is able to remain persevering. If by chance you are in the service of a king, Seek not works, but bring to completion. If a man is free of vanity he is able to conceal his abilities and keep them from attracting attention too soon; thus he can mature undisturbed. If conditions demand it, he can also enter public life, but that too he does with restraint. The wise man gladly leaves fame to others. He does not seek to have credited to himself things that stand accomplished, but hopes to release active forces; that is, he completes his works in such a manner that they may bear fruit for the future.


Dragons fight in the meadow. Their blood is black and yellow. In the top place the dark element should yield to the light. If it attempts to maintain a position to which it is not entitled and to rule instead of serving, it draws down upon itself the anger of the strong. A struggle ensues in which it is overthrown, with injury, however, to both sides. The dragon, symbol of heaven, comes to fight the false dragon that symbolized the inflation of the earth principle. Midnight blue is the color of heaven; yellow is the color of earth. Therefore, when black and yellow blood flow, it is a sign that in this unnatural contest both primal powers suffer injury.


Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent. When a man seeks to climb so high that he loses touch with the rest of mankind, he becomes isolated, and this necessarily leads to failure. This line warns against titanic aspirations that exceed one’s power. A precipitous fall would follow.


All day long the superior man is creatively active. At nightfall his mind is still beset with cares. Danger. No blame. A sphere of influence opens up for the great man. His fame begins to spread. The masses flock to him. His inner power is adequate to the increased outer activity. There are all sorts of things to be done, and when others are at rest in the evening, plans and anxieties press in upon him. But danger lurks here at the place of transition from lowliness to the heights. Many a great man has been ruined because the masses flocked to him and swept him into their course. Ambition has destroyed his integrity. However, true greatness is not impaired by temptations. He who remains in touch with the time that is dawning, and with its demands is prudent enough to avoid all pitfalls, and remains blameless.

All four lines contain important warnings about the dangers we face.  When I look at the four of them they seem very pertinent to our current world view and its dangers.  When Pluto moves into a new sign it is calling for transformation in that area of life.  We are invited to drag up from the underworld all that has been unconscious and become putrid.  When Pluto was in Sagittarius, religious fundamentalism and the role of religion and the way it had become corrupted from something which inspires us to a universal, loving acceptance of each other, had become distorted into something which separated and divided us.  As Pluto has moved into Capricorn from 2007 we have been invited to look at the corruption in government and business.  With Uranus in Aries squaring this, it has been a major call for new consciousness since Uranus in Aries rules violent shifts and revolutions.  The top line of the Receptive is key here.  Tools and structure are here to serve us, as is business.  In most businesses profit has become the driving motivation.  It has usurped the the true role of businesses, which is to serve us and their customers.  Indeed, business is extoled and seen as the model for every area of life.  Modern business leaders are consulted on every subject; Education, Sport, Government, Architecture and cost and profit have become the dominant factors, yet each of these areas is corrupted if the dominant focus becomes money.  This is the point that the I-Ching is making, that Capricorn (embodying the Receptive on Chrissy Philp’s model) must serve rather than lead.  To see the results for our wider society of putting profit first we only have to look at the collapse of the banking system, where a focus on profit as the guiding principle and competition as the guiding instinct impacted us all.  In the same way, we can see the impact of our modern approach to building houses, where estates of low cost, uniform housing create ugliness all around us.  We are being challenged to see that we cannot escape the broader responsibilities of our actions.  That lining our own pockets on an individual basis creates consequences for all of us, including ourselves.  Big businesses have lost sight of morality or their broader responsibilities to society.  The recent scandals in terms of the evasion of tax on the part of large businesses demonstrated that they do not view tax as a contribution to the societies they gain their profits from.  But they are not alone.  Businesses reflect our individual attitudes.  Like the prison guards at Auschwitz and in any similar situation, there is always individual choice.  It happens because we are all unconsciously acting in our instinctive self-interests.  How has this state of affairs come about?  How have we become so detached from the consequences of our actions?  For this, I want to refer to Rick Tarnas, who describes the way that we have lost touch with the Numinous.

Our current dominant Scientific paradigm is one which sees the Earth as inanimate and discreet.  Religion is dismissed as unscientific (Dawkins God Delusion is symbolic of this trend).  Many cannot conceive that the world is alive or that there are repercussions to our actions.  Our dominant philosophy is one which sees the world in terms of a random series of cause and effect, with no sense that our actions have wider or more universal repercussions.  Only one mode (for all that it is important) of understanding the world is seen as valid, instead of integrating that powerful and important mode as part of a number of modes of understanding the world.  Science and technology along with business has fallen prey to the dangers of leading rather than serving us.

How do we change all this?  Paxman asked Russell Brand what the new model was.  Brand was unable to respond and where he did, his responses mirrored age old political dividing lines rather than genuinely new models.  Yet, Paxman’s demands reflected the difficulty of the situation.  When I worked at Ernst & Young and in the work I did at charities and other institutions, I began to see that replacing one system with a new system does not work.  That only a shift in consciousness creates change.  Once individual consciousness shifts then new systems and structures to serve that end emerge.  This is the point, that Capricorn (systems and structures are there to serve us not to lead).  It is the age old battle between Uranus and Saturn.  Saturn or Capricorn solidifies and serves new ideas and concepts (Uranus) but over time these gradually stifle and calcify, until they become an impediment to progress.  At this point Uranus is needed to bring new energy and revolution.  Yet, if Capricorn resists and fights, there is damage to all, as the I-Ching describes.  It is easy to see this in the Middle East where there is damage caused to everyone by the fights going on.  Instead, what is needed is a shift in consciousness, an awareness that the universe is alive, that there is a consequence to our actions beyond our full understanding.  We need to be shaken by the awe of knowing that we do not know and guided by our intuitive connection through our hearts to the whole universe.  Above all, we need to become conscious of our fears and instincts and to choose whether we want to act on them – to work on what has been spoiled in us.  We are entering a new phase where the companies we operate in and the challenges we face transcend our local and national boundaries.  With this new challenging environment, comes greater competition, greater fear, greater impersonality, yet we do not have to fall prey to fear and to the pressure of fear for survival that this new context brings.  We need instead to focus on that which is universal to all mankind.  The language of “winners”, “ambition” and “aggression” which has become so prevalent in business is a language of division and isolation.  The I-Ching says instead that “you cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away”.  Only when we realise this and we realise that we are all one in our heart can we move away from the idea that we can profit at the expense of others without hurting ourselves as well.  It is called enlightened self-interest.  I think it is time for an enlightened selfish gene!  I leave the last comment to the I-Ching:

Thus the superior man reduces that which is too much and augments that which is too little.  He weighs things and makes them equal….in this way he establishes order in the world: he equalises the extremes that are the source of social discontent and thereby creates just and equable conditions.

1 Comment

Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

Are we our fate?

My friend Chrissy in her book on the black hole game – One Way of Looking at Man – says that there are three key misconceptions that we suffer from as human beings: that we are our personalities, that our mind pictures are real and that we know what we need.  In my own experience and in terms of other people I have found these insights to be true.  Many people identify completely with their personalities.  The result is that they are not able to stand back from their own perception of the world and their own reactions to it, to be able to consider their emotions and reactions more objectively.  They are also not able to see the world through others eyes.  Sadly, we all fall into this trap to greater or lesser extents, but when we do so, we are unable to learn because we cannot reflect clearly on our own point of view to see it as just that.  The second point that we think our mind pictures are real is a tricky one.  Even scientists espoused to view that they perceive the world open mindedly on the basis of evidence get caught on this one.  Only by realising that all our perspectives are just that, including what we determine to be real or true can we keep an open mind.  Of course, paradoxically, the perspective that all truth is relative is also a mind picture – it might not be…!  Humour seems the best response to this one – not taking ourselves too seriously.  Lastly, if I look back at my own life and reflect on the experiences that have been most valuable and which I have learnt most from, I have to conclude that I do not know what I need, since I would never have chosen these experiences for myself at the time!

As well as these three misconceptions applying to ourselves they also apply to our view of others.  We tend to identify other people with their personalities; we can get caught in thinking other people’s mind pictures are reality and we tend to think we know what other people need.  Talking to people that I have met over the last few weeks about Syria and reflecting on my own and others black holes recently (I have Chiron conjunct Saturn) I realised that there might be a fourth common misconception and this is that we are our fate – we also assume others to be their fate.  It is Bashar al-Assad’s fate to be a tyrant killing his own people in Syria.  It is easy to identify him with his fate.  Fate and personality are intimately connected here.  To a large extent our personality is our fate (as most astrologers would recognise); we do not consciously choose our charts but we cannot escape them either.  Since we tend to treat other people as if they were their personalities – if they are abrasive or awkward we dislike them or avoid them – we in effect treat them as if they are their fate.  In this respect again Astrology is so valuable.  Once you know they are Venus-Saturn rising in Aries for example, you immediately appreciate the difficulty the human being has being landed with this personality.  Similarly, we cannot escape our transits.  When you look at poor Bashar al-Assad’s chart, you can see that he was born on 11th September 1965, with the Sun exactly conjunct Pluto-Uranus opposite a Saturn-Chiron conjunction in Pisces (with his moon probably involved as well).  He is also born on 9/11, the anniversary of the Twin Towers.  At the moment Chiron is conjunct his Saturn-Chiron and probably his Moon opposite his Sun-Pluto-Uranus conjunction and it is only going to tighten again in the coming year.  What a fate!  It would be very easy to identify the poor man with his fate.  This is perhaps the dangerous side of Saturn – that we judge others and measure them according to their fate, rather than seeing them as human beings with a particular fate.

Personally, I think Bashar al-Assad deserves our compassion – who would swap places with him?  That is not to be naive about his personality but to be compassionate to the human being.  I have a particular vested interest in this compassion on the basis that I think all those poor people born with the Sun tightly aspecting this extreme and uncomfortable opposition in 1965 deserve our sympathy and understanding, particularly those born exactly 3 months later with the Sun on the ascendant t-squaring this opposition – imagine how difficult that must be!  Especially when you know you should be working but you’re spending your time writing a blog….

1 Comment

Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

How do you solve a problem like Syria?

I have been thinking about Syria and how to resolve the situation there in a way that does not repeat the mistakes of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

My own personal experience of dealing with conflicts both in my professional work as a coach to leaders in businesses across the world and as chairman of a charity is that the resolution of situations like these takes a shift in perspective that is counter-intuitive.  By this I mean that our key concern is not about how to we resolve Syria but rather how we choose to respond without falling into the traps that Syria represents.  If we see it as a test of our ability to show a different model for using power then we enable everyone to make a transition and we become a role-model for a different approach.  In this sense the question is not how to deal with Bashar al-Assad or what he is doing but rather how do we want to exercise power?  Since we cannot ultimately control how he chooses to respond, or all the other various parties included, we can only choose how we want to act.  Why this is counter-intuitive is that our natural inclination is to focus on how to control the other parties involved and the danger with this is it sucks us into putting control as our primary objective and attempting to control something you cannot ultimately control leads you to force.  This is the position that Bashar al-Assad is in and the Rebels.  Everyone is seeking to use force to control each other and achieve their will.

So how do we respond differently and break this cycle?  There are two things I think are important to bear in mind.  Firstly, it is possible to break these cycles and there are examples around that provide confidence that this is the case.  South Africa is one example – who would have thought that it could be resolved without bloodshed and that the white minority government would hand over power as part of a peaceful transition? Northern Ireland is another example; no-one would have envisaged Martin McGuiness, Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley working together to share power, nor would anyone during the cold war have believed that Russia and the USA would talk or that the Berlin wall would come down.  On a smaller scale, my own experience also reflects this; I have watched individual leaders shift destructive cultures and transform apparently insoluble conflicts.

What is behind the conflicts and what resolves them?   Behind each of these conflicts is an identification with “us and them”.  The parties involved forget their common humanity and become lost in identifying with the veneers of culture, nationality, religion.  They start to see the other people not as fellow human beings but as being odd, wrong, bad, monsters etc. etc.  Once the other parties are “them”, we do not have to make the effort to understand them and we can treat them in inhuman ways.  In South Africa, the white minority government genuinely thought that blacks were different, that they were from another species that they could not live alongside.  In Northern Ireland, the protestants thought the catholics were so different they could not live with them and vice versa and the Eastern bloc and the West thought they were different beings.  In each case, once they saw each other as fellow human beings the divisions and conflicts were put in perspective – the perspective that we are all human beings feeling the same emotions and suffering the same hurts, misunderstandings etc.  It is difficult for anyone to conceive now that the South African government saw Nelson Mandela as a dangerous terrorist who must be imprisoned.  Similarly it is difficult for us to see the firebrand that was Ian Paisley as the peacemaker.  The only way to resolve the issues effectively is to be on everyone’s side.  If we take sides we are lost because any action we take will contribute to “us and them” divisions that will increase conflict.  Similarly, if we act unilaterally it will create further division and tension.

The second thing that is critical is that it takes time and a long-term perspective to shift these issues.  If the culture is one of power used violently then the temptation is to use power violently to attempt to resolve it.  Even if you are successful then the culture of “might is right” is re-inforced.  The situation has to be transformed and the first transformation is not to respond in the same way.  One obvious short-term solution is removing the individuals who are causing the problem but this is rarely successful.  This is because of a misconception that it is these individuals who are causing the problem, when usually they are symptomatic of the problem.  In fact these individuals are key and understanding and working with them usually provides all the answers to shifting the underlying culture.  In this sense these individuals are like a masterclass in understanding the nature of the issues and how to resolve them.  Getting rid of them is the equivalent of chopping a head of the mythical hydra, two more crop up in its place.  The more attempts to use violence to solve the conflicts, the more new hurts and anger are bred.  A long-term commitment to a positive goal allows the flexibility not to get caught by short-term frustrations.

So what should the goal be?  Personally my goal would be to help Syria solve its own internal conflicts without the need for outside intervention and critically to involve other nations like Russia so that they start to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the problem rather than feeling they are being railroaded.  To do this the first step would be to win the trust of Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin.  Without trust it is impossible to influence people except through coercive force and this always has a cost, mostly in terms of others’ seeing that your modus operandi is force and fear.  Nelson Mandela took a different approach and created the conditions in himself to overcome “us and them”.  He did not fall prey to the desire for retribution or revenge despite twenty-seven years of provocation.  Instead he worked on staying open to all sides.  When he was released he spoke of love and reconciliation not force.  His power came from the fact that everyone trusted and respected him not from fear or coercion.  When in prison he refused to see the guards as “them”; they had to be part of the solution no matter how badly they were treating him and his comrades.  Forgiveness is very hard but without it the cycle of conflict continues and if the aim is to prevent further violence then someone has to stop and let go of past hurts.  Nelson Mandela’s approach of truth and reconciliation was key because it allowed room for people to express their pain and be heard without further retribution which would create new hurts and pain.

It takes true courage not to resort to fear and coercion because everyone around is inciting us to react and punish the perpetrators.  We fear that it will be interpreted by others as weakness but the paradox is that it takes strength to forgive and it is weakness to use force.  In psychological terms it is a classic Karpman Drama Triangle of Victim, Saviour and Persecutor.  If we come in as saviour to help the victims, we easily become the person who ends up persecuting the persectutor and they become the new victim.  To play any of the roles means to get caught in all three and then there is an endless cycle.  By being on everyone’s side and refusing to be drawn into one-sided action we can resolve it.  But, it takes real strength of character to achieve it; we have to resist the temptation to respond to provocation.

The key to the situation, in my opinion, is Bashar al-Assad.  He is in a dangerous and difficult position and is no doubt very frightened and paranoid.  When I worked as Chairman of a Charity that ran a Rudolf Steiner school, the relationship between the staff and Directors was entrenched in a damaging “us and them” culture with both sides mistrustful of each other.  The incumbent Principal of the Charity had been elected by the staff against the wishes of the board and set about firing staff and fighting the directors.  Most of the directors felt that we, as the directors, needed to assert our power and sack him and install a new Principal.  The argument of many of my fellow directors was that it would be irresponsible not to sack him, since he was committing such atrocities.  Yet, I could see that this reactive approach, whilst it might afford some short term satisfaction for the directors, would achieve nothing and result in a situation where the staff trusted us even less because they could see we would use our power to enforce our will over theirs.

To address this, and in opposition to the wishes of a number of my fellow directors, I chose instead to work with the incumbent principal.  He made it very clear that I was the last person he was interested in listening to and that he was going to fight me for power every step of the way.  I realised that the only way forward was to give him the power and to build a relationship with him where he trusted that I had his best interests at heart.  This was far from easy work.  The last thing I wanted to do was support him or spend more time with him.  Yet I considered that I was doing work to help transform these emotions and to do so I would have to transform them in myself.  I also tried to view it as work on myself – learning how to use power wisely and to transform the sense of “us and them” in me.  After two years there was a seminal moment when my fellow directors turned to me at a key meeting with staff and remarked that they would not choose anyone else to be Principal and I realised that neither would I.  Indeed he became the key to changing and overcoming the whole “us and them” culture within the charity.  In addition to this, as our relationship grew (and that of my fellow directors with him too) the level of challenge he would accept from us grew too, to the point where I was able to challenge him to an extent that I have rarely challenged anyone and he listened and responded beautifully honestly.  By the end he had become a very genuine friend and someone I had deep respect for.  Part of the key to shifting the relationship with him was to recognise that his very strong desire for power came from a feeling of deep vulnerability and powerlessness and that this was the thing to focus on.

I was thinking about this during a recent visit to Northern Ireland and was keen to ask the people I met about what had been the key to the peace process.  The unanimous verdict from Catholics and Protestants alike was that it was Ian Paisley.  Initially people had seen him as the main obstacle to peace.  Who at that stage could have imagined him working hand in hand with Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams and charming Bertie Ahern?  Situations like South-Africa and Northern Ireland look insoluble.  The temptation is to use power to remove the ringleaders of this but, as I mentioned earlier, my experience throughout organizations is that leaders are often representations of something endemic in the culture.  Remove them and replace them with new leaders and nothing changes because the underlying culture which spawned them has not changed.  What is required to change cultures is a shift in consciousness.  This requires an individual who can embody this change through their personal transformation.  Powerful individuals have the capacity for deep transformation.  It is easy but specious to make the leader the scapegoat and simply remove them hoping that the whole culture will change. Even the revolution which promises to bring relief often achieves little because it is usually based on the very power and violence that it is supposed to replace.  So it needs a fresh approach, one based on the positive use of power to transform rather than force.  This achieves real change.

In the context of Syria it requires a long-term perspective and to build a relationship with Bashar Al-Assad and to win his trust.  As a powerful man he is cornered and deeply vulnerable and his natural response is to defend himself wildly and forcefully like a cornered rat.  He knows that if he loses power and control he will be annihilated, similarly, so do the Sunni business leaders who support him.  He can see no options – no foreign power appears willing to help him.  To change this requires the building of a relationship of trust.  Putting further pressure on him without any sense of relationship simply increases his fear and willingness to go to any length to protect himself. At the charity, I took the responsibility and apologised – I explained that it was our fault as directors for not understanding the Principal and staff.  This was not what they were expecting so it surprised them.  We then worked on giving them responsibility for the challenges of the situation and making it clear we did not want to take over the power or responsibility.  Bashar al-Assad needs a motivation to change his approach.  My instinct would be to provide him with one that positions him as the potential transformer of the situation – an opportunity to leave a positive legacy.  In this I would offer him my full support (and mean it).  I would appeal to his desire for power but in such a way that he uses it positively.  I would explain that he might never be understood but he would have the satisfaction of knowing his real contribution and I would explain that if he could do it, we would know and understand the nature of his contribution.  I would also tell him (and mean it) that we would look after him and protect him but that this would rely on him working to help transform the situation and bring about a peaceful transition in Syria (this might be that he lives under house arrest but in comfortable circumstances for the rest of his life or lives in exile).  Unpalatable as this solution is, it is better than further violence and conflict.  I would challenge him to take responsibility for how to solve Syria and involve the rebels or bring together the rival factions.  I would also make it clear that we would be prepared to involve peace keeping forces to support this but only on the grounds that the focus is achieving peace and reconciliation.  This would be a long-term project – he would be deeply mistrustful and suspicious at first – and it might take many years but this gradual change is far more stable than short-term revolution or violent intervention.  It would take creativity and wisdom to do it successfully but the results would be worth it in terms of our evolution and learning about dealing with international conflict and for the Syrian people it would create the opportunity to break the cycle of power and violence.  It sounds simplistic to give Bashar al-Assad responsibility for finding a way to involve the rebels who clearly hate him and want to destroy him, yet, as I mentioned earlier who would have believed that the white apartheid government would ever sit down with and trust Nelson Mandela or that Ian Paisley would work in partnership with Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams?  Bashar al-Assad would need our help to appoint and involve people from across the spectrum in Syria.  Once the majority supports the process of transition and feels it has a stake and involvement then those who still insist on violence become a minority that all sides want to contain, rather than the default leaders for an unrepresented faction.  I mentioned at the beginning that the key misconception is that we are not fellow human beings.  In all my work, I have noticed that people use culture, race, nationality as an excuse to perpetuate mistrust and an “us and them” approach.  Work to understand and empathise with them as fellow human beings and these divisions fade away.  At the charity I mentioned, staff said that we, as directors, could not possibly understand them because we were not spiritual enough and did not follow Rudolf Steiner.  Once they began to trust us all these supposedly irreconcilable differences disappeared.  Who now says that difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland are irreconcilable or that blacks and whites in South-Africa cannot live together peacefully?  Yet, we somehow still get caught thinking this way over Islam, Israel, China.  I work regularly with leaders in business who are based in Asia who describe their Asian colleagues as if they are from a different species; that their culture is so different we in the west cannot understand it.  It is a wonderful excuse to justify their frustrations but once they see their Asian colleagues as fellow human beings and work on understanding them they realise it is an illusion; that culture, race, religions are veneers; get caught in these veneers and you miss the deeper level at which we are all the same.

I can hear the objections, indeed, in my experience of the Charity there were fervent objectors among the directors.  One was obsessed with the fact that we were letting the Principal get away with his behaviour and the hurt and pain he had caused staff.  He was determined that he should be bought to account for his actions and that we were setting a precedent for further transgressions among staff; that we must be tough and show that such behaviour would not be tolerated.  This comes to the nub of the difficulty in Syria.  Can we forgive?  In dealing with the situation I faced at the charity and coaching leaders in business this is the most difficult issue.  Yet, when examined honestly it is key.  The real objective of our actions has to be to prevent further transgressions; to contain dangerous or harmful elements and to transform them to prevent them spreading.  I have rarely seen violence or force achieve this.  The real emotion behind “justice” is often revenge and retribution.  Labeling people as tyrants or monsters might allow us to feel justified in treating them as if they were not fellow human beings but it does not break the cycle.  The cycle can only be broken by creating a new approach that transcends the current mode of operating.  This is what Ghandi, Mandela, Gorbachev all achieved.  On a smaller scale I have seen many others do the same throughout organizations with similarly impressive results.  Interestingly, the one director most fervent in his objections at the charity wrote to me many years later to thank me and express his gratitude that the charity had been able to make such a remarkable transformation.

It may be we are not ready to change our approach in Syria yet.  If so, I strongly suspect we will get further opportunities to practice!  There is a collective hesitation and unwillingness to step in where angels fear to tread following the experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Everyone is hesitant but no-one can see an alternative.  I am suggesting that there is one and it is a positive thing that intervention is being blocked as it is forcing us to think more deeply.  I could be wrong.

However we act in the situation will send a message about how to use power.  If we use force then the message picked up will be that power is about force.  Our choice concerns how we want to use power and we have responsibility for the consequences of that.  Paraphrasing Ghandi; we must be the change we want to see in the world.


Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

Further thoughts on aspects of consciousness

In talking to my friend Steve about my previous blog (I know I mention my friends a lot in blogs – this is to give them credit and also with Saturn currently transiting my 11th house to reassure myself that I do have friends despite the way it feels at times!), I began to think further about the connection between our chart and the universal background of energy that astrology represents.  At the moment, with transiting Chiron conjunct my Saturn and widely conjunct my natal Chiron setting off my t-square with Sun on the Ascendant in Sagittarius and Uranus and Pluto in Virgo, I have been realising more fully the nature of this t-square.  It has made me aware of the fact that the nature of the square between the Saturn in Pisces with its fear of loneliness and of financial loss and the Sagittarius sun on the Ascendant is irreconcilable.  If I go for financial security then my Sun on the ascendant and Uranus-Pluto feels it has lost its freedom, self-determination and integrity.  Yet, if I go with my need for freedom and self-determination (a polite euphemism for good old Pluto control and power) then my Saturn/Chiron in Pisces ends up feeling lonely and disconnected.  Similarly, if I am approached by people needing me and wanting me as a friend, my Pisces longing to be needed feels fulfilled but my Sagittarius and Uranus gets itchy feet about the responsibility and possible limitations it imposes.  Relating this to the chart, it is clear that the focus of my consciousness is entangled in the nature of the square/opposition between Pisces, Sagittarius and Virgo and the creative tension between the natures of Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto and Uranus as well as the nature of Chiron.  It is clear that in this respect my consciousness is entangled and so I am forced to grapple with these energies.  Complex stuff.  Yet we are complex beings so no surprise there. It is possible to see that my particular chart is set up to be entangled in these energies in order that through experiencing them and grappling with them I have the opportunity to contribute to the collective evolution of consciousness.  Indeed one can see that every individual’s chart is created with a particular set of entanglements with which their consciousness is forced to grapple in order to contribute to our collective evolution.  A recent argument between two close friends illustrated this.  One had Venus square a Saturn/Uranus conjunction, the other had the Moon in Taurus and transiting Chiron conjunct her Venus in Pisces.  The one with Venus square Saturn/Uranus was debating whether to accede to their partner’s request to come with them to a family event they did not want to go to.  With a powerful Saturn/Uranus conjunction they were debating whether in principle they should be doing something they did not want to do.  Yet, it was clear that the question was not as it appeared.  The question was not about them doing something against their will but rather whether they wanted a relationship with the commitments and compromises it entails or whether they wanted to be single with ultimate freedom.  In the latter case, they would have to accept the accompanying sense of loneliness that their decision entailed.  It felt on the surface like it was a question of doing something against one’s will forced by another person, but the dilemma was an internal one, for which their partner was a catalyst – the question being did they want a relationship?  For the friend with Venus in Pisces, the question was how far were they prepared to sacrifice in order to preserve relationship, since this was against a long-term background of sacrifices made on their part to accommodate the other’s need for freedom.  This also got me thinking about my own relationship since I have Venus in Aquarius and transiting Saturn in Scorpio is making a square to it.  This has been hitting me over the last 6 months and I have been coming to terms with the reality of our relationship and the consequences of my independent nature, in that my wife has built a largely independent existence and I have to take responsibility (typical Saturn) for the fact that this is in many ways in response to my own independent nature.  Since transits provide an idea of the journey of our consciousness, I wonder whether their effect and duration are in line with the time we need to come to terms with and understand them (to the extent we are able?).  I also wonder whether it is less the case that they are ephemeral (ie. that we can wait for a transit to pass and are no longer affected by it) but rather that their effects are permanent and cumulative in terms of our learning.  If Astrology is accurate then it describes the fact that our personality does not change but our level of understanding of it, through the journey of our consciousness (transits) does.

What got me thinking when discussing this with Steve was the fact that my own experience is that it is possible to empathise with everyone and all human experience.  Often when I am coaching people, they describe to me, for instance, that because they are French/German/introverted/male/female/a lawyer etc. etc. that they cannot understand the English/German/extroverts/men/women/accountants etc.  This always baffles me, because they seem to be just like me and I don’t sense any separation from them, indeed whenever I am coaching people I find myself able to relate to their experience as if it were my own, even if I have not experienced directly the exact circumstances they describe.  I wonder if this is something that is germane to us all?  I suspect that it is, but it takes work to unlock it because we get trapped in our own particular identifications.  Could it be that the reason we can understand everyone’s internal world if we choose to do so is that each individual chart contains every sign, every planet and every house?  That in this sense we are all pieces of the one and our separation is an illusion of identification (bear with me I have transiting Neptune square my Mercury in the 12th house at the moment!)?  While our chart may not contain every aspect, since it contains all the planets, houses and signs it contains the potential for every aspect.  So while we may have no planets in Sagittarius and Pisces they are, nonetheless, still square in our natal charts (or any combination of square through to out of sign trine at their extremities).  In this sense our chart contains the whole spectrum of possible energies.  Yet, perhaps the aspects in our own charts are showing us what we identify with and filter that experience through, our particular construction of “me”: our sense of identity.  So the aspects show us what our consciousness identifies with and forms a sense of individuality from.  Thus, while we all might be able to understand someone else’s struggle with the concept of the tension between our individual desires and our need for relationship – Aries opposite Libra – how strongly this figures in our own particular identities will depend on the planet placements and houses of Aries and Libra.  It is clear that some aspect of our lives will reflect it but the degree of intensity and work it creates for us will vary.  “Yes”, we might say, “I can see what you mean”, yet for the other individual, while they can see that we understand, they know that it is not the burning foreground issue which dominates their consciousness but rather a background hue which exists in our life but which does not figure prominently in our conscious awareness.  Thus it reflects (if you will excuse the pun) the way that light works.  Each object in the world reflects the visible spectrum, yet depending on the way it reflects (or in the case of black does not reflect) the visible spectrum we see a different hue, be it green, blue, red etc.  If we imagined each of the signs (or planets/houses) as different hues, we could recognise that they are part of the whole spectrum of light (possible energies) but that each sign only reflects a certain hue.  Combine these together and you might get very subtle variations of hue and indeed complex filters which reflect different hues at different times (like a more complex constellation of aspects).  In this sense our individual personalities are reflecting the entire spectrum of possible energies but filtered through a particular lens (so to speak).

Most of the wisest people that I have encountered and read seem (reassuringly) to be saying the same thing in different words and forms, namely that the path of wisdom is to separate out our identity from our personality; to identify more with the part of us that is just conscious of the whole spectrum and can see more broadly the interconnectedness of life and the true nature of our experience.  This allows us to be able to recognise our particular pattern or filter but be less identified with the dramas and problems that it creates.  Thus for someone who has filters with heavy Scorpio and Capricorn, they might see the world as truly black.  It appears to them from all the multiplicity of possible experiences in life that the outlook is pretty negative.  Similarly, a particularly Sagittarian or Libran lens might reflect the world through rose tinted spectacles.  The difficulty is that each particular lens would be accurate in its reflection of that part of the visible spectrum and yet it is not the whole spectrum.  Once we step back from identification with our own personalities we are able to see the whole of the nature of human experience.  This can at least give us the perspective to see, for instance, that what appear to be our irreconcilable and painful tensions between Pisces and Sagittarius are not soluble – Pisces and Sagittarius will not stop being square each other – but rather once we separate our consciousness out from its identification with this tension we can appreciate it’s nature (as part of life) rather than attempting to change it – in effect to try to force Sagittarius to become trine Pisces.

I often feel that astrology’s greatest gift to us gets underestimated.  Namely, that it affords us this privilege to be able to step back from identification with our own individual personalities and journeys in life (as delineated by the transits we experience) to keep our consciousness open to all life.  It is what gives us our unique ability to laugh at ourselves and life and not to take ourselves and our dramas too seriously, so that, like Viktor Frankl or a Nelson Mandela , we can find meaning and remain open even in the most extreme of human suffering or circumstances.

PS. Apologies for any mistakes in terms of typos or grammar but with Mars in the first house and the Sun in Sag rising square Pluto and Uranus in Virgo it feels like death having to go back over something and, if I do, I generally end up going off on some new interesting tangent anyway which defeats the point of checking it!

1 Comment

Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

Transits and Aspects of consciousness

Having just arrived in Dubai, I spent seven hours on the plane with a young man who was keen to start a conversation which evolved into me looking at his chart.  He had just moved to Dubai and, by his own admission, whilst he didn’t want to be critical of England he couldn’t help but be.  He was finishing his Saturn return and with a stellium in Cancer he had been going through the Pluto-Uranus t-square at some length which was no doubt part of the reason for his move to Dubai.  As part of discussing this, I was describing how Pluto brought out was corrupt when it moved into a sign in order to create a transformation, so I was describing how when Pluto was in Sagittarius it had been religious fundamentalism and religious divisions which had surfaced, when it moved into Capricorn it had played out and continued to in terms of the financial world, governments and states etc.  He asked me how much longer this would last and I explained probably another ten to twelve years yet.  He asked me where it would go next and what I thought that would represent and I said that it would go into Aquarius and that I thought it might well be about the internet and social networks, perhaps also our ideals about government of society and where these had been corrupting.  What occurred to me when I thought about it was that of course, whatever corruption might take place in these areas was already happening but that it is just not going to come to consciousness until Pluto moves into Aquarius.

Thinking further about this, I could see that the transits are more like epicentres with shock waves emanating into the past and future.  I know that in past Astrology courses aspects have been described like this with the closeness of the orb mirroring the power of the aspect which fades as the orb widens.  Also the aspect itself is described in terms of being separating and applying which mirror this epicentre effect with past and future shock waves.  Yet what I realised was that it might be more the case that these elements are omnipresent and the aspects of our charts and transits represent peaks of consciousness.  So every chart contains every sign, which will be operating in that person’s life, it is just that the aspects show you where their consciousness is most intensely focused.  It is like a pond (an undifferentiated body of water) with droplets causing ripples that spread out across it (dying in intensity as they spread).  Thus each chart contains all the archetypal energy of the universe but the planets and aspects show where the consciousness of that individual will be focused.  Similarly, the chart of the moment shows us where the collective consciousness of the universe is focused and its interplay with a particular individual chart shows where the consciousness is being triggered for that individual in relation to the universe.  Hence there will be things happening that may yet be going to come to consciousness and continuing effects from transits which have passed.  In this sense, it is as if each transit does not disappear, but rather gets added to consciousness and continues, in the same way that our modern cities are often built on the foundations of older buildings and settlements.


Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

Shifting Perspective

I have written before about the purpose of coaching not being about actions or solutions.  This seems counter-intuitive to most people involved in coaching who seem to focus on coaching in terms of taking actions to achieve goals.  Talking to my friend Steve today he was reminding me of this having just read the work of Sydney Banks.  He felt what he was expressing about the principles of mind, consciousness and thought fitted closely with what he had learnt and shared with Chrissy and me over the years.  Our conversation moved on to talk generally about coaching and the issue of not focusing on action.  This also got me thinking about a model I came up with seven or eight years ago for thinking about what is going on when we are trying coach people or trying to help them.

In 2001/2002 I was working for Ernst & Young at the time that Enron collapsed, Andersens folded and the Dot com bubble burst.  As the impact of this hit the accountancy industry I was in a prime position to watch how Ernst & Young reacted.  What I noticed was that the focus on control increased greatly, with leaders throughout the business keen to measure everything that they could as often as they could.  I also watched the way that the focus went very narrow and very short term.  People also started to talk about things in a very black and white, judgmental way.  Thinking about it I began to see that the impact of fear was to make our focus go very narrow and short term and to reduce our options to one of two variables.  It occurred to me that if you are about to be attacked by a tiger you want a very narrow focus – you don’t want to be distracted by things in your peripheral vision or to be considering what a beautiful little bird there is on the branch up there, I haven’t noticed that before – not much use to you when you are about to be eaten.  At the same time, carrying on the tiger theme, you also don’t want a long term perspective, it really isn’t helpful to be considering what you will do once you have dealt with the tiger and perhaps planning for your next holiday.  Lastly you don’t really want a range of complex and interesting options to consider, you want as few as possible, in essence fight or flight.  So the core brain, being geared up for survival takes over whenever we feel under threat and puts us into survival mode.  This is fine for a situation of real physical danger, however, it doesn’t help in most of the situations that we face where our physical survival is not threatened and critically it does not allow us to learn, only to react instinctively.

My experience is that when we are stuck in a black hole or grappling with a difficult conundrum, it tends to trigger this survival response.  We find ourselves thinking narrowly, short term and in somewhat black and white ways.  We generate a tunnel vision and since none of us like negative emotions we want to get away from whatever is causing them as fast as possible.  Most of us experience the fact that when we share our situation with others and they help us, we say it is back in proportion or perspective.  What does this mean? As far as I can see, it seems to mean that our perspective has broadened out to see the situation more fully or clearly.  Edward De Bono talked about the fact that the creative faculty of humans is centred in their ability to think asymmetrically.  He described the way that we make breakthroughs.  His premise was that we do not make breakthroughs by continuing logically from our current premise.  The only way we make breakthroughs is by shifting our perspective to a new position.  In order to do this De Bono felt we needed a PO – a provocative operation.  This provocative operation prevents us from being able to think about things in our habitual way and causes a shift in perspective.  His point was that once we see a situation from a new perspective, we can immediately see how it links to our current perspective but we cannot get to this new perspective by starting from our current one.  He used our sense of humour to illustrate this.  When we tell a joke, the punch line isn’t obvious to us, indeed we might struggle to have any idea what the punch line will be, yet when we hear it we can immediately link it back to the thread of the joke.  It is the same with a riddle.  It seems to us impossible to answer, yet once we hear the answer to the riddle we can usually see immediately how it connects.  At the same time it requires a leap or shift of perspective to make the connection.

An article in the New Scientist last year linked this switching mechanism to the parietal lobe.  This part of the brain on Chrissy’s model links to Mars or Aries.  Aries and Mars have long been associated with creativity, the ability to see things afresh, to challenge, to see things anew.  I often link this to inspiration – breathing in.  In the spring (Aries) animals are taking their first breaths and jumping around with new fresh energy. At the same time, De Bono’s provocative operation sounds very much a Mars or Aries phenomenon.  Since Aries is a fire sign, it fits with the idea of “seeing” the situation differently (the imagination) and also with the idea of a new perspective.  On Chrissy’s model of the brain, Aries is linked with the I-Ching hexagram Shock.  Again, a very Mars phenomenon.  The I-Ching hexagram Shock  says:

Shock brings success.
Shock comes – oh! oh!
Laughing words – ha! ha!

The shock that comes from the manifestation of God within the depths of the earth makes man afraid, but this fear of God is good, for joy and merriment can follow upon it.

So like De Bono, there seems to be a humour connected to this.  Initially when events do not go the way we planned we are shocked or frustrated, often full of fear but then once we have composed ourselves we can manage to laugh at our discomfiture.  My son Luke is an Aries; it is to his eternal credit that he seems to have a wonderful natural ability to laugh at his own discomfiture.  When he finds that events or situations have confounded him a grin spreads naturally and easily across his face (I am similar, a grin spreads across my face too, but mine is the result of years of hard won practice!).  When we watch people struggling blindly in a film or book and then suddenly being confronted with the consequences of their blindness we laugh.  Much physical humour and slapstick is based on this premise, the greater the contrast, the greater the humour – a pompous man in an impeccable suit, slips on a banana skin or farts by accident in an important meeting and we are amused.

In coaching, I notice that when we get to the real issue for an individual, or they see what they are really stuck on, they can’t help grinning, even if they try not to.  It is connected to Mars again because when you get to the truth of the real emotion we can’t seem to help smiling.

Humour is also interesting in that it is only possible to have a sense of humour when we are less identified with our personalities and their dramas; when we are taking ourselves less seriously.  This is not possible when we are in the grip of our fears and our focus has become very narrow.  In many coaching situations or in helping people, the point is not to solve their dilemma but simply to help them to see it differently; to become less identified with it.  When we are stuck in a situation, we are in a black hole, there is a gap between how we want things to be and how they are.  In this pass our mind tends to circle endlessly round the same options.  Simply developing the ability to laugh at our situation and how we are stuck is often the most valuable starting point and may be enough.  The I-Ching hexagram Shock says that the superior man examines his heart lest it bear any secret opposition to the will of God.  I don’t know whether the Chinese original actually talks about God.  This may be Richard Wilhelm’s interpretation as a Christian missionary.  It might be more literally translated as the Universe or the cosmos.  In this sense, the I-Ching is describing shock as being a situation where we are fighting against the nature of life, ie. we have a fixed picture about how we want things to be or think they should be which is opposed to the way that things actually are.  Seeing this means we can shift our frame of reference to accept the nature of reality rather than seeking to impose our own frame of reference.

And finally, for those of you still with me (I have Neptune square my Mercury in Sagittarius in the 12th at the moment so an already circuitous and tangential Mercury is struggling to coalesce into a coherent thread), back to the model I was indicating earlier.  This model was about the process of helping people make shifts in awareness or change perspective.  What I was thinking about was that there are four different ways (there are almost certainly more) that we can shift people’s focus.


One is to change the time-frame.  For instance, where people are struggling with a new role or change of job, I ask them how long they think realistically it will take them to make the transition.  Often, they respond by saying eighteen months or a few years.  Simply realising this puts all the anxiety and pressure to perform and prove themselves into perspective and they become aware that the problems they are currently facing are not of such importance or scale of impact as they were thinking.  Their focus and perspective broadens out and they relax.  Thinking about our death as Don Juan advises in the Carlos Castaneda books or keeping the long term goal in mind in relationship as the I Ching advises in the Marrying Maiden (Hexagram 54) – the superior man understands the transitory in the light of the eternity of the end (by anyone’s reckoning the eternity of the end is a pretty long time frame!) . The next dimension is depth.  Here it is often about exploring more deeply what people are learning or is really going on in the situation.  Usually this shifts the focus away from other people and events to the individual themselves and the external factors become catalysts or challenges for their own learning.  I find that almost any situation can be seen differently once we see it as a challenge from which we are learning.  Thirdly is detail; when we are stuck in a black hole, we tend to generalise or distort experience and so we lose sight of indicators that things might be different.  We use words like “always” and “never” and make definitive statements.  Often it will be about other people, e.g. he is always criticising me.  Often asking people questions to get under the generalisation helps shift their perspective. “So when you say he always criticises you, have there been any times when he has been positive?”  “What exactly does he say?  Give me an example.”  “What do you think he is thinking or his intention is?”  Suddenly the fixed or closed picture shifts to a richer one with more possibilities and options.  Lastly, there is position or perspective itself.  This entails helping people put themselves in other people’s shoes to see the world through their eyes so that they are able to see themselves or other people differently.  It might also be imaginary positions – “What does the wisest part of you say?” “What is your heart telling you about this situation?”  It might be describing or reflecting back to the individual how the other person could be feeling about the situation, eg. “It sounds like they are worried” or “It sounds like they are under pressure” or “It sounds like they are anxious about how to respond to you”.  You can also use stories or experiences from your own learning as a different position.  I think one of the most valuable here is to consider what the Universe or Life might be teaching them.  The point is not necessarily that we know, but for the individual to see that there might be more at play than only themselves and considering a broader perspective puts their own drama in context.  We can even be very clever and creative in the way we manipulate others into breakthroughs using these dimensions.  Of course one word of warning in this context; it goes without saying (well clearly not since I am saying it…) if you are going to manipulate others, you had better be sure it is genuinely for their benefit rather than to satisfy your own agenda.  In any event the important and lovely paradox here is that you cannot shift anyone else’s perspective, only they can shift it.  So providing individuals with lots of solutions and actions to take or your own insights is of no value unless it generates an insight for them.

The key for me is that if there is no shift in the way someone sees their situation then nothing will change.  In this sense focusing on action or options is of little value, similarly once someone’s perspective has genuinely changed you can trust that they will act differently without having to do anything further.  From my experience working on coaching programmes, what trips people up in coaching or in trying to help others is that the person trying to help or coach the individual accepts the picture or frame of reference that the person presents.  If you do this, then you can be of no value to the individual, you will be as stuck as the individual and the solutions you try to generate will leave them as stuck as they already are.  This has always been my concern with NLP practitioners.  In many cases their focus is to use techniques to help people achieve their goals without questioning whether their initial assumptions or picture behind these goals or even the goals are valid.  This certainly seems to be the opposite of what Milton Erickson was doing.  His whole focus was on shifting people’s perspective, not so they could achieve the original goals of their personality – wealth, ambition, everlasting happiness, faultless brilliance, in essence becoming a super being who can get whatever they think they want or need but rather shifting their perspective so they became more aware of themselves and their true motives.

The more I think about this, the more I see this issue is Mars and how we use it.  If we use Mars to see creatively and gain perspective then the actions we take will bring fresh, positive energy from the heart into the situation.  It will open up and expand the creative possibilities.  If we simply focus on action without the creative work to see differently then our actions are likely to lead to frustration and further complications.

In the third line of Shock the I-Ching says:

In such times of Shock, presence of mind is all too easily lost: the individual overlooks all opportunities for action and mutely lets fate take its course.  But if he allows the shocks of fate to induce movement within his mind, he will overcome these external blows with little effort.

In the hexagram 52 Keeping Still the I-Ching says:

When a man has thus become calm, he may turn to the outside world. He no longer sees in it the struggle and tumult of individual beings, and therefore he has that true peace of mind which is needed for understanding the great laws of the universe and for acting in harmony with them. Whoever acts from these deep levels makes no mistakes.

Leave a comment

Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

A revolution on the scale of Stone Age to Iron Age or greater?

In talking to my friend Matthias recently while staying with him in Luxembourg, I was thinking about the scale of change we are going through.  He was describing the approach his daughters take to learning.  His eldest daughter is only 11 and her sister 9 yet already they take learning into their own hands, practicing new languages using tutorials on the internet.  In a similar way, if my own children (some 4 and 9 years older) want to find out about something new they look it up on the internet, as most of us do.  Much of the learning for the younger generation is done through peers using social media.  Matthias was also telling me about a series of wonderful tutorials that are freely available from universities in the USA  that his eldest daughter was going to look at.  Teachers now suggest that they are more like facilitators helping kids to understand where to access knowledge rather than the providers of it.  If their facts or presentations are wrong then the kids will look it up on the internet and correct them.  I wonder if in the future, education will shift to be more self-directed rather than controlled by an educational establishment.  In fact, I think it is already happening, it’s just that the formal systems have not caught up with it yet.

My own generation has lived through the introduction of these profound changes, perhaps this is the continuing impact of the Pluto-Uranus opposite Saturn generation of the sixties which has taken social revolution to a whole new scale.  I remember being at school when the very first computers came out and my family buying a sinclair programmable calculator which took an age to do relatively simple sums.  Yet within years Casio were making sophisticated calculators which we were using in Maths lessons.  When I entered the world of work, computers had still not really arrived and electric typewriters and word processors were the norm.  The phenomenon of email began to take hold over my early years of work and I remember the first brick sized mobile phones.  Now companies are virtual, employees often work from home or in multiple locations etc.

I suspect Historians might look back in the future and see this period as one which involved a scale of change for humanity like potentially no other period before it.  There may be others, for instance when we finally set up colonies off the Earth, but, with the first man in space and on the moon having happened in the last fifty years perhaps the seeds of this have already been sown.  I think there are many areas which will change.  Education appears to be one which is already changing, as is social interaction and the way we do business, shop, watch video, access music.  In fact everywhere we look there is quite seismic change taking place.  Looking back on my own life, I find it hard to imagine what it was like before mobile phones, the internet et al.  I know I lived through such times, but even in such a relatively short period, it is difficult to remember or imagine.

I suspect that I am already a fossil compared to the younger generation that have grown up immersed in this new world and cannot remember a time before the internet.  Before I pop off though, it is going to be interesting to watch how the next few steps evolve.

Leave a comment

Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

Self Righteousness – am I the only one who can see this??

In my last blog a few days ago, I was alluding to self-rigtheousness and our need for a sense of humour in this regard.  This is something I have been giving thought to over the last few months and it cropped up again this evening in a conversation with my friend and colleague as we were dining together.  In watching Have I Got News For You recently following the death of Maggie Thatcher and with public attention on her funeral and legacy, I was horrified by the tone.  The whole programme was devoted to vitriolic attacks on almost everyone and everything including Margaret Thatcher.

Self-righteousness and it’s bedfellow hypocrisy seem to be topics which are particular favourites of ours as human beings.  We all seem prey to this and it produces some pretty horrendous results.  We poke fun quite cruelly and incredulously at what we see as other people’s hypocrisy, safe in the knowledge that we would never suffer from such weaknesses.  How do we get away with such hypocrisy?  Jonathan Haidt describes this brilliantly in his book The Happiness Hypothesis where he uses the analogy of a small human rider sitting on top of an elephant.  The elephant, he says, is the mammal brain – sophisticated, millions of years old and operating almost exclusively unconsciously.  Atop this sits the rational brain, like a small human rider; this brain is only thousands of years old, but it is convinced that it is running the show and making decisions.  In reality, the elephant is making all the decisions – imagine a small human rider trying to control an elephant should it decide it is going to move in a particular direction…

However, as Haidt points out, the rational brain wants to maintain the illusion that it is in control and running the show so it indulges in rationalisation and justification to maintain this illusion.  Haidt’s point was that this creates the sense for all of us that we are the only rational being in a sea of irrationality.  We can see the way that other people act on jealousy, fear, anger, competition; the ways in which they are hypocritical or corrupt but we cannot see this in ourselves (other people can see it in us but we are blind to it).  What Haidt challenges us to see is that the role of the rational brain is actually to turn it’s conscious awareness on ourselves and that it is only through this that we can truly “tame” or influence our elephant.  I recognise that self-righteousness is a step on the way to self-development, in that seeing things in others is at least part of the stage of recognising it in ourselves.  What appalls me is that other people cannot see their own self-righteousness and hypocrisy when it is so glaringly obvious, what idiots………..oh dear!

In discussing this this evening with my friend, we were discussing the topic of bankers.  My colleague felt there was a line that he would not transgress and that what saddened him was that they did not even see the anger people felt but dismissed it as jealousy.  I was suggesting that I could understand how they would feel like that and that, in our case, since we both ran training and coaching businesses which had as clients, banks and professional advsiors who had profited from banks we were complicit.  I was arguing that I could see it was a matter of scale – we might think nothing of not correcting a petty amount of money or paying someone in cash on the odd occasion without seeing ourselves as being corrupt, yet if our actions were subject to the scrutiny of the media and spun in the right way we could easily be accused of being corrupt materialists out for ends.  He could not help but smile and agree at the fact that the temptation was there to fiddle the expenses slightly for clients who had messed us around, or taken advantage of us and that we have to challenge ourselves at times to think “would we be happy to be charged this”  to prevent us unconsciously justifiying these temptations.  Somehow though, in our minds, our deviations from our good intentions are small justifiable affairs; we are convinced we are intrinsically good.  The more we got into the argument the more it emerged how easy it is, if we identify with being good, to feel that our actions are different, that others simply aren’t motivated by the same quality of “goodness” that we are.  In the end he accepted the point I was making (difficult to do otherwise as he was arguing on his unconscious emotions and I don’t suffer from competition and self-righteousness) but challenged me by asking how we then deal with the dangerous actions of others; he felt we had to draw a line.  This reminded me of a hexagram I had recently thrown in the I-Ching – 61 Inner Truth which says:

Thus the superior man, when obliged to 
judge the mistakes of men, tries to penetrate their minds with understanding, 
in order to gain a sympathetic appreciation of the circumstances. In ancient 
China, the entire administration of justice was guided by this principle. A 
deep understanding that knows how to pardon was considered the highest 
form of justice. This system was not without success, for its aim was to make 
so strong a moral impression that there was no reason to fear abuse of such 
mildness. For it sprang not from weakness but from a superior clarity.

I was struck by the fact that we need to deal with such corruptions and hold people accountable at times, but if we are aware of our own fallibility it does not mean we do not act but allows us to do so with compassion and understanding rather than self-righteous judgement and moral pomposity.  In watching Having I Got News For You and the vitriol poured out towards someone who had died (Margaret Thatcher), the lack of humanity was deeply saddening and shocking for me, yet, whilst I might be saddened and not wish to condone the lack of humanity, I could not but help recognise that in my late-teens I felt exactly the same way and at the time of the IRA bombing remarked to my then girlfriend that I wished they had succeeded in killing Maggie.  Her disgust at my comment made me feel more ashamed of myself than I think I have ever felt since.  I still wince now to think I could have been so heartless and inhuman, whether I liked someone or not.

If my friend Chrissy’s model of the brain is correct (and the evidence from the New Scientist seems to support it more and more strongly) then the rational brain (or pre-fontal lobes) is represented by Uranus (Aquarius) and Saturn (Capricorn) and these in turn correlate to the top lines of Hexagram 1 (The Creative) and Hexagram 2 (The Receptive).  Given the dangers of self-righteousness and judgmental enforcement of rules without “penetrating their minds with understanding”, perhaps this is why the I-Ching provides such strong warnings in these lines.  For Aquarius:

Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent.

When a man seeks to climb so high that he loses touch with the rest of 
mankind, he becomes isolated, and this necessarily leads to failure.

for Capricorn:

Dragons fight in the meadow.
Their blood is black and yellow.

In the top place the dark element should yield to the light. If it attempts to 
maintain a position to which it is not entitled and to rule instead of serving, 
it draws down upon itself the anger of the strong.

Lastly, I can only say that I am glad, having understood all this, that it has freed me from ever falling prey to hypocrisy and self-righteousness as so many other less enlightened people seem to do.

Leave a comment

Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything

Who debunks the debunkers?

Watching TED talks yesterday evening, I came across a talk by someone called Michael Shermer.  He is the publisher of Skeptic magazine and he was illustrating the way that people are taken in by people claiming knowledge or products that do amazing things when there is no scientific evidence to support them.  He illustrated this by bringing along a device which claimed to be a modern dowsing device for detecting whether students had cannabis in their lockers.  This device cost $900.  He pointed out that if you go to enough student lockers you will find cannabis, so that the device is bound to work on some occasions.  He went on to say that it is the times that it doesn’t work that are critical and he and people like him are out to count these and debunk these myths.  So his point was that in examining sweeping claims we need to be very careful to look at the detail to ensure that we actually weigh and sift the facts to ascertain whether grand claims are accurate.  What was surprising was that he went on to say that this is the way that psychics and astrologers work – but that they were there to count the times it does not work.  Now, this is a very grand and sweeping statement.  Applying Michael’s own methods of skepticism, I would like to understand where the factual data lies to make such a sweeping statement.  There might be one or two cases where Michael might be accurate with this statement but, following his methods, I would like to count the times where this is not the case before taking such a grandiose claim at face value.  He is right we must be careful when people make large claims based on untested beliefs and he is also right to assert that it pays to be skeptical.  These people who make such claims with little evidence or direct research to back them up should be debunked.  So I would like to ask – who is going to debunk the grandiose and sweeping claims made by debunkers?  Whether astrology is true (personally I find it difficult to disbelieve given the overwhelming data I have that suggests it is accurate but I may be deluded) or not is not the point.  The point is that we cannot have double-standards.  Either we really do keep our statements accurate and factual (which means we are careful to acknowledge how little we know for certain) or we accept that we do not, but then we cannot accuse others of being inaccurate.  When I described this to my friend Sam this morning, he pointed out that I was lumping all debunkers in together in a sweeping generalisation – damn!  I think we had all better have a very good sense of humour about how we are all hoist by our own petards otherwise our self-righteousness is going to explode in our faces.


Filed under On Life the Universe and Everything