Economic Hardship – A Contribution to our Evolution?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Myth of Limitless Potential

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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





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In defence of Chiron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Further thoughts on the laws of probability and their impact on our approach to life

Having had a series of stimulating email exchanges with my friend Ali since my last blog on probability, I am venturing out again, despite the possibility of a fatal ambush from him!  What it has prompted to think about further is what the impact is of the concern I raised about probability.  I have also had time to refine my thinking about probability and tested it out with a client who is paid for his expertise in Economic statistical modelling.  He admitted he could find no flaw in my reasoning – carefully staying neutral on whether he actually agreed with me or not!  What I am concerned with is the fact that the laws of probability state that when you have a choice or roll a die, there is a definite and indisputable level of chance that a particular outcome will occur.  So, as per my last blog, if you roll a die, you have a one in six chance that you will roll a particular number, eg. six.  Now, this is not stated as an approximation or even as being probable.  It is stated as absolute fact.  It is so much part of our paradigm of thinking that we do not even question this, it seems so self-evident that we have a one in six chance, it would seem perverse to question it.  However, as Edward De Bono has pointed out, creative thinking comes not from thinking logically from your existing premises to arrive at a new conclusion or insight, but rather from thinking asymmetrically, ie. changing the perspective or paradigm from which you are thinking.  This ability to “switch” our perspective we describe as “insight” – in that it is to do with seeing something (internally) in a different way.  More recently this has been associated with the parietal lobe in experiments on the brain.  This is the section of the brain that my friend Chrissy’s model associates with Mars.  I have long considered Mars (or Aries) to be the seat of creativity.  The reason for this is again connected to Edward de Bono’s work.

De Bono suggested that our modern thinking tools are dictated by the Greeks and in particular by Aristotle, Plato and Socrates.  In his view they created our first thinking tool – critical thinking.  The purpose of this tool was to eliminate everything that was not the truth and thereby ascertain what was the truth.  De Bono felt that whilst critical thinking (Black Hat thinking according to his model) was valuable it had a flaw which was that it was not creative and that, whilst it could establish what was not the truth, it was not very effective at establishing what was the truth or generating new insights or understanding.  He described this type of thinking as logical negative thinking.  What he observed was that in any exploration of a subject, exploration and insights would rise to a certain point until individuals became attached to their position, at which point they would lock into their viewpoint and the person who was the most competitive and had the greatest ability to employ Black Hat thinking would generally win.  This did not necessarily mean their idea or position was any more valuable but simply that they were better at picking holes in other peoples, either because they had more motivation (competitive drive) or were better at logical negative thinking (what is generally measured as IQ).  In many cases, he observed, the result of this approach was a stalemate if the opponents were sufficiently good Black Hat thinkers and sufficiently competitive.  Thus for the Greeks, dialectical thinking, based on knocking down the other person’s argument, became prevalent and is still part of our political and judicial systems to this day.  Thus most of us realise that in law courts, the focus of lawyers is less on finding the truth and more on beating each others arguments, similarly in the parliaments, there is often little genuine exploration of the truth and more focus on opposing and trying to pick holes in each others points of view.  With this in mind, De Bono invented a word – po.  A po was a “provocative operation”.  It’s purpose was to block or prevent the current assumptions and paradigm of thinking from applying.  Thus a provocation operation might be to suggest something which was manifestly ridiculous but might lead to new insights (Green Hat or creative thinking).  One of the examples of this was to explore the idea of putting the cockpit on the bottom of a plane instead of the top.  Immediately our mind grabs for the Black Hat to point out that this is an absurd idea and it is dismissed.  However, if we suspend our Black Hat thinking and instead use what De Bono called Yellow Hat thinking – exploring an idea by looking for the logical positive – the benefits, value and feasibility of an idea, we arrive at a very different place.  Suspending the problems, difficulties and objections to the cockpit being on the bottom of a plane, we come up with the fact that it would be easier for the pilots to see the runway unobscured by the nose of the plane.  It would also mean that the pilots could see the wheels of the plane as they make contact with the runway.  Suddenly, our assumptions, based on the familiar practice of placing the pilots on top of the plane begins to shift and our mind opens to exploring the genuine advantages of placing the cockpit elsewhere on a plane.  We are in open-minded exploration which will no doubt lead to new insights and ideas.  We might then apply black hat thinking again to our new ideas to make sure we understand the difficulties or problems we might encounter with them.

What De Bono recognised was that it is the mind’s ability to think asynchronously which allows us to make breakthroughs and that this required a provocative operation to shock us into moving away from our current habit of thinking.  The I-Ching calls this Shock (a hexagram which correlates on Chrissy Philp’s model with Mars).  Critical thinking is valuable because it prevents us from falling prey to all sorts of distorted and unfounded thinking and it foresees the problems and difficulties associated with an idea.  On the other hand it is also dangerous because it cannot break away from the premises of our current assumptions to open-mindedly explore a new angle.  This brings me to De Bono’s Red Hat.  De Bono identified another mode of thinking and he called this Red Hat thinking, this type of thinking was gut feeling or intuition.  De Bono was astute in noting that much Red Hat thinking posed as Black Hat thinking.  For intelligent people saying that they do not like an idea – which might imply emotions like jealousy, close mindedness or competition – is not comfortable so they dress up their Red Hat thinking with apparently Black Hat arguments.  Yet, the purpose of their Black Hat thinking is not to genuinely raise problems or difficulties but simply to try and destroy the idea because they do not like it or it does not fit with their view.  To counter all of these problems De Bono invented the Six Thinking Hats in order, primarily, to get people thinking in parallel rather than in opposition.  Thus when a new idea is presented, everyone thinks together about the logical positive – the benefits, the value etc. as well as declaring their gut feelings, adding new ideas to it (green hat thinking) etc.  This bypasses the stifling of new insights and ideas created by oppositional thinking and allows for greater open-mindedness and new perspectives.

De Bono also noted that our tradition of thinking since the Greeks has been predominantly Black Hat.  If you think about Universities, you can see that traditionally one studies Literary Criticism, Art Criticism etc. There is no emphasis on creating art, literature, etc. in the traditional academic institutions.  Thus the most intelligent people tend to be those most skilled at deconstructing the ideas of others rather than creating.  Creative people tended to avoid universities or fail at some point along the academic system.  Interestingly this is beginning to change but in the UK it is the former polytechnics who are leading the way in offering creative courses.

So why have I devoted so much time to detailing De Bono’s insights on creative thinking?  The answer is no doubt obvious to anyone with psychological insight.  It is that I am putting in place a defensive justification for my ideas which is constructed in such a way as to render anyone who tries to criticise my ideas as petty or unenlightened and probably both.  Indeed even to venture criticism of this defence is to fall into the trap of being seen as petty and competitive.  Sadly, I suspect there are probably such clever players of this particular game that they will still outwit this defence so I will give up at this stage and get on with explaining my idea.

My idea is to create a po to examine probability as my perspective from another paradigm – that of the I-Ching and my own learning about Life – suggests that Life does not operate on random chance and I therefore want to provocatively throw the assumptions behind the world view of life as random, meaningless chance into the air.  I also think I have good grounds for doing so (one thing I have never lacked is the arrogance to challenge prevailing views long crafted and researched by experts who know a zillion times as much as I do about a given subject.  I like to think of it as an endearing quality, strangely others seem to think of it in quite different terms and are often incadescent with offence at my perceived insolence and temerity.  I have still to fathom why, when I am being so irreverently provocative about people’s deeply cherised beliefs, some people seem to react so badly – it is a mystery!

So here we go.  Probability states that it is a fact that when rolling a die you have a one in six chance that you will throw any particular number.  Yet, while this is self-evidently true, so was the fact that the earth is flat.  I think that this law of probability might be an assumption, ie. it might not be true.  To prove these laws, people would look to research and in particular statistics.  But I do not think that statistics back up this fact, far from it.  In small amounts of throws, statistics suggest that the distribution of numbers will not come close to conforming to this distribution (one in six chance of any number).  There might only be a 10% confidence level that this will be the case.  Even with multiple throws that take you to a 99% confidence level, it still means that 1% of times the data will fall outside this distribution.  It is only at a hypothetical infinity that it conforms perfectly to this distribution of a one in six chance for each number.  So in practice, you do not have a one in six chance, nothing so certain or precise.  It could vary enormously, capriciously and unpredictably so (ok, ok, so I am attributing human qualities to non-human objects, but this is a po, so I am allowed to – ha! ha! and also who made the assumption that dice and the rolling of them do not have human consciouness involved?).  It reminds me of the conflict between Einstein’s theory of relativity and quantum mechanics.  The quantum world does not appear to conform to the Einstein’s theory and yet the Einstein’s theory works very effectively for everything beyond the quantum world.  Thus despite the strange happenings at the quantum level, when you aggregate all of them at a sufficiently large level, it all seems to conform to our expectations – which I am grateful for or I wouldn’t be able to write this article.  If this is true also of rolling die then it would mean that in large quantities of dice rolls a familiar pattern of distribution tends to get stronger but beware if you think this tells you what is going on at a singular level or in a small set of data.  From my perspective, it strikes me that life has plenty of wiggle room to avoid our pre-concieved notion of a world based on uniform, knowable and predictable rules of chance where all outcomes are equally probable over time.

Why is all this of any relevance to our daily lives?  For me it is relevant because I think it is informing our view of the world and causing us to fall into some dangerous traps.  One main one I see is the fear of missing the boat.  This fear dominates bright, ambitious, professional people and particularly has begun to predominate when it comes to sales.  People in professional services firms see themselves as competing for a limited market of clients.  The logical argument, based on this paradigm of chance, is that the more people you meet and make contacts with the greater the chance that you will make a sale and get clients.  This has led to the phenomenon of “networking”, the idea being, the greater the number of people I network with the greater my chance of being successful.  Since the world according to this paradigm is random and without design or meaning, then this probability approach prevails.  Yet, this approach leads to a paranoia, deeply prevalent, of missing the boat.  Since the number of potential contacts (and clients) is limited then if someone out there is meeting more people and has a larger network, they are likely to get more of the clients and I will get less.  Oh no, oh no, I had better push harder and meet more people, keep up, keep up they are going to overtake you….!

My experience is that this premise is false.  When I ask people where their work comes from, they invariably tell me that a large proportion comes from sources that they could not possibly have predicted nor does it always relate directly to any efforts they have made to network or contact people.  When I set up my own company, I wanted to put what I had discovered into practice, so I avoided doing any networking or selling to see whether the work and people would find me.  This allowed me to relate to people because I wanted to and liked them not because they were one of my “chances” or die rolls.  I find I can tell when I am one of someone’s die rolls and there is nothing more off-putting.  Taken to it’s extreme we all suffer from the assumptions behind this paradigm in terms of junk and spam emails, phone calls from call centres trying to sell you things you do not want etc.  Yet, we have created this world, based on our paradigm that all outcomes are based on probability which is based on chance – a meaningless, all possibilities are equally likely, universe.  Critically this is a universe where there are also no consequences to our actions.  How could there be if life is random and based on chance.  If the chances are there will be no consequences, why not do it?

My own experience refutes this notion.  My colleagues who have run around networking with literally hundreds of people have been no more successful in getting work.  I am always amazed at where my work pops up from – some is predictable, some comes from places I could never have predicted.  Yet, it remains remarkably constant and at a level that suits me and has done so for some nine years.  When I observe the experiences of my clients lives I see that the black holes they fall into are brilliantly constructed to surround them with people who reflect back to them their own personality.  I also notice, that when I think something, or I hear others say something, it regularly comes to pass (although often in a form that provokes them to examine if they really want it!).  I am not suggesting that we do not need science, but rather that we need a grand theory of everything.  Ie. we need a theory which brings together the different modes through which we understand the world – our rational mind, our intuition, our feelings, our senses, our ability to make meaning etc. etc.  I do not think that the grand unifying theory will come from our existing paradigm, indeed like most breakthroughs, I suspect it will come from a place which is wonderfully asynchronous with our current prevailing view and no doubt will act as a po to this prevailing paradigm.  I don’t suppose it will explain everything but I think, given that we are entering the Age of Aquarius it might marry together all these elements in a conceptual framework.  My own view is that we already have it but sadly this thought is so preposterous it might take us hundreds of years to accept it.

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Do the laws of probability work?

In writing my last blog, I started to think about the laws of probability.  Having done A level Maths with Statistics at Sixth Form College, I am familiar with the laws of probability but I have always been conscious that life does not seem to conform to these laws in practice.  However, when I began to really think about the laws of probability I began to see that they do not even stack up logically as a framework.  They purport to describe the way that life operates in terms of describing the likelihood of any given event.  They describe the likelihood of something happening and the average times that event will happen given any number of operations.  Take the situation of a die and the probability of rolling a six.  I have watched in many games that I have played that when I am most concerned or attached to rolling a six it does not happen.  I have watched the same happen to others, indeed when I began to record this phenomenon for me and for others I began to notice that some people would throw considerably more sixes when they needed them and others could go for sequences of up to 12 or more turns (in some cases it might have been more but for the fat the game ended) without rolling a six.  Now the laws of probability would say that chances like this can occur but over time these will average out.  Yet if this is the case, then what the laws of probability are really saying is that taken at a sufficiently large sample level this is how life is working, which means that at any smaller sample level it is not how life is working.  In this sense the laws of probability have to discount the reality that unusual and unexpected things happen which are counter to these averaging laws.  In effect it means that the laws of probability do not describe how life is working at all since there is no guarantee that even in large sample sizes they will fully conform to the average.  Indeed most statistics are expressed in the form of 95% or 99% confidence levels, ie. that we can be 95% confident that a particular outcome will fall with certain parameters.  Yet even here, I was conscious that completely anomalous data did occur which were completely outside these parameters but since they were the exception rather than the rule they were discounted.  From this perspective, the laws of probability are based on the assumption that life is dictated by random events and “chance”, further than this, it is an entirely hypothetical construct.  In life, a coin does not have a 50% chance of landing heads or tails, it is definitely going to land whichever way it is going to land.  Since the future is a construct of the human imagination (the only moment that actually exists is now), so is the idea of probability.

Taking two practical examples of this; the recent article in the New Scientist about the Financial Crisis described a network of relationships between key companies involved in the crisis which closely mirrored that found in natural biological systems.  It was this dependency on key companies which sat at the heart of the network which made the financial crisis possible, because this small group of companies was so disproportionately significant in the economic structure of the world.  Looking at probability, it would be clear that each individual involved in these companies.  The individuals operating within these organisations would no doubt suggest that their lives were governed by chance and a series of probabilities about which they made choices, yet the reality is that their actions collectively aligned to natural systems, ie. it was only going to play out that way and there wasn’t really choice. Now, I accept that it might be possible to construct the probabilities for their individual actions to create or mirror this eventuality but this feels like retro-fitting the maths to the facts.  Of course, this brings us into the realm of free will and fate.  Our probability construct assumes that our existence is predicated on free-will with a range of possible avenues available at any point in time.  I also recognise that at a broad general level, probability has it’s value as a model but only in so far as we recognise it is a construct based on certain assumptions and that these assumptions have limitations and may not be an accurate reflection of reality.

I remember a project that I undertook whilst studying a module for my Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development exams, itwas on regression analysis which takes trends and then applies them to data and smooths out anomalies.  I had decided to do my project on the link between unemployment and inflation.  It was a generally understood rule at the time that in order to control inflation one had to have high unemployment and similarly that lower unemployment came at the cost of high inflation.  Whilst there did seem to be some inverse correlation between the two there were certain spikes in the data where there was no correlation at all.  This troubled me at the time because I felt that this was indicative of the fact that there only appeared to be a correlation between them.  As it turned out, this later proved to be the case.

The laws of probability, it strikes me, are simply generalisations.  Most of us are aware that generalisations can be helpful but only to a limited extent and with many dangers if you think they apply to the individual or particular.  The famous notion that if you gave a group of monkeys a keyboard and infinite time the chances are that they would come up with the works of Shakespeare I do not believe to be true.  If we are not careful then Maths (in itself a construct for reality rather than reality itself) becomes like counting the number of angels on the head of pin.  The chance of any event in our lives happening is both infinitely improbable given the other possible alternatives and highly probable (given that we have to be or do something and it did happen).  Yet really there is no chance involved, it simply did happen.  In this sense, I suspect that we may well find that the laws governing quantum mechanics are not made up of uncertain, chance probabilities in the way modern physicists currently suppose, but rather that we do not have sufficient ability to see the detail which we currently generalise through probability.  I do not think that we will find that there are multiple other realities happening concurrently with our current one (this. for me, is a fallacy based on not separating imaginative constructs (chance and probability) from reality). In this sense I think Einstein’s famous quote that “God does not play dice” might yet prove to be true.  In fact, at a broader level, I’m not sure that God plays dice at all.  Most of our current models such as evolution are based on this notion that the universe is both random and dictated by chance.  These are interesting assumptions but we forget at our peril that they are not external objective (external) facts, but rather internal subjective constructs.

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Principles for life and coaching others

Over time and particularly as a student of Chrissy’s I have amassed certain principles to bear in mind when dealing with this experience of life and for coaching others.

  1. Keeping an open heart and mind.  This is our primary responsibility as far as I can see.  As long as these are open we can trust our intuition.  If they are not open, I’m afraid it is no-one’s responsibility but ours, no matter how awful other people are.
  2. Life is perfect.  This does not mean that life is nice or even fair.  It is perfect in that it is imperfect (typically paradoxical like most wisdom), ie. it is all the frustrations and black holes that we come across that provoke us to think more deeply and evolve.  When you look from this perspective all the suffering and chaos suddenly seems quite stunningly and brilliantly orchestrated for everyone to learn exactly what they need to learn.  It is also worth noting that this could be entirely untrue but it is still a good perspective nonetheless since it allows us to manage our own motivation and learn as much as we can.
  3. You are never in someone else’s black hole, if you are in a black hole, it is yours.  Much of the time we think that the problems we face and the black holes we are stuck in are caused by other people; that they are to blame for how we feel yet cf. 1 above.
  4. Trust other people to be who they are not what you want them to be.  Chogyam Trungpa had this one right.  Don’t give anyone else responsibility for your heart, expect them to be exactly as they are and you will be able to keep your heart open to them even if you don’t like what they do.  People often complain that this sounds as if you are letting other people get away with being terrible and condoning it, but it doesn’t.  It means that you are not shocked or offended by others actions even if you are hurt and this leads on to the next principle.
  5. The only thing you can control is you.  Indeed even here it is debatable how much of ourselves we control, certainly many things like our body, our personality and our fate seem beyond our control.  The main thing we seem to control is our attitude to things but this is much more powerful and important than most people are aware – in fact it is the key.
  6. You do not have to enjoy or like life as long as you are managing the five above.  Life is not always enjoyable or likeable, as long as you are not expecting it to be and you are not attached to being happy then you are not going to have an unrealistic picture which would cause you to suffer unnecessarily.
  7. You cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away. This comes from the I-Ching and I have found it to be true.  Of course, this cuts both ways, in that if you are going to have a crap time you are going to have a crap time and there is no getting away from it.  Death truly belongs to us and there is no getting rid of that one.  At the same time, it is nice to know that we needn’t worry about losing other people or things, if they belong to us we can rest assured we won’t lose them.
  8. To go one’s own way with sincerity, how could there be blame in this? This also comes from the I-Ching.  Shakespeare said something similar – To thine own self be true.  If we follow our own hearts we will end up in a place which reflects our heart.  The rest is fear.
  9. Exercising controlled folly.  Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda books points out that when we reach a certain level of wisdom we look around and see that we are surrounded by folly including our own.  He says that the only way to live when we see this is through exercising controlled folly.  That is we recognise that nothing we do will make any difference since we are infinitesimally small in the grand scale of life.  Therefore we live our lives with complete commitment and responsibility doing everything in our power but we are completely unattached to the outcome.  I often think of this in terms of living life as an experiment or a series of experiments.  Ghandi called his autobiography The Story Of My Experiments With Truth.
  10. You cannot avoid pain and suffering in life, only the indulging in it is what Don Juan taught in the Carlos Castaneda books.  We can try and live life serenely never feeling any fear, anxiety, neurosis etc. etc. but I haven’t found that it works.  We are human and we are going to experience the whole gamut of human experience and emotions, however, we can become less identified with these emotions so that we see them for what they are and have a sense of perspective and that brings me to the penultimate point.
  11. A sense of humour is imperative for playing the game of life.  If we take life or ourselves too seriously it just isn’t funny.  Life is not quite how it appears. In this respect it does not conform to the laws of physics, as most people believe.  For evidence of this just take the example of the Heathrow Express train which I frequently catch from Heathrow to Paddington, mostly late in the evening, when I am tired and have a connecting train to catch.  This train is officially timetabled to run every 15 mins but actually runs between 13 and 15 mins after I arrive on the platform and no matter which train I catch it will always arrive at Paddington at the same time that the hourly train to Kemble is just leaving.
  12. It’s ok to lose the plot, life isn’t easy.

What does this mean when coaching people?  What I notice is that coaching like any other subject of study is succumbing to the difficulty of being taken over by people who want to measure, quantify and apply rules to it.  With this it is losing its flexibility and applicability and becoming instead a set of rigid rules.  People are also contrasting it with other things like mentoring and counselling and appraising and saying that it must be different so applying rules to try and make it different.  Most religions fall into a similar trap of taking a valuable truth and turning it into a set of rules.  Therefore the principles above are just working guidelines and I am sure there will be exceptions to them.

When working coaching people I am most interested in helping them to see. That is, I am concerned with helping them understand the other people they describe in the context of being characters in their drama or evolution and looking at what they are learning from them.  I am not really interested in deciding what to do about these other people in the sense of changing them or how to succeed or win.  Most people present themselves as the victims of other people and situations.  The game is to get you to identify with their position that other people are awful and something must be done about them.  Now other people are frequently awful but since we are all “other people” that includes us too.  With this perspective we can have more tolerance and empathy for others rather than judging them.  People are very clever so they know how to present their situation in such a way that we rush in to protect and help them but re-inforcing them in the position of victim negates any possibility of them taking responsibility.  Having been taught according to these principles over the years has meant that I coach people from the position that the problems they face are entirely their conundrum to solve and I am not interested in trying to come up with strategies for how to manipulate these other people to be more the way the individual wants them to be.  As far as I can see the only issue is helping people to see, ie. to recognise and take responsibility for themselves and to understand their own journey of development so that the other people (particularly the ones they find difficult) become a rich source of learning.  Everything else follows from that.

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The moral of the Pluto-Uranus square

Reading Glenn Perry’s excellent article in the recent AA Journal about interpreting the chart as a story line with a moral challenge or conundrum (or multiple moral challenges or conundrums) at it’s core, prompted me to think about how our storylines converge or interplay with the greater storyline at a Cosmic level.  This notion of interpreting the chart in the light of being designed to create the conditions for a particular part of our evolutionary journey is not new to me, having been at the heart of my teaching from Chrissy on the Black Hole Game of Life.  In my own life, Astrology has provided the detail of the plot for the story and the I-Ching guidance on the moral conundrums that the storyline provides.  I have long been awe-struck by the way that the cosmic storyline so intricately weaves together individual storylines so that their plots are perfectly intermeshed to provide fuel for each others storyline and also for the collective one (at a family, group, organisational, national etc. etc. level).  We seem to all be part of a game designed to provoke evolution and each of us plays our small part in the greater process of evolution.

I was wondering therefore what the plot line and moral conundrum at the heart of the current Pluto-Uranus transit is?  Indeed I know there are multiple moral conundrums but they are meshed together within the archetypal parameters of Uranus in Aries and Pluto in Capricorn.  In turn these two giants play out a storyline with other characters in the plot in the form of the Neptune-Chiron conjunction and faster moving and more dynamic characters who pop up on the stage for more rapid cameos such as Mercury, Mars and Venus.

It strikes me that within business (since Capricorn rules business) there is a transformation taking place.  Within the legal profession, I am watching the fact that there is a breakdown in hierarchy and traditional modes of business bought about by innovations in technology.  Work is being outsourced to other countries at an ever increasing pace and what was once highly paid work being done by specialists is being commoditised and performed by lower paid workers.  Even the elite law firms are having to adapt to greater pressure on price and commoditisation and the entrance of new adaptable players on the market (firms like Axiom offer flexible models of working and interesting projects to bright young lawyers which challenge the traditional model of the “magic circle” firms).  The current financial crisis is adding impetus to this by focusing organisations on cost and efficiency with even greater ruthlessness.  Within the EU it is causing conflicts in terms of budgets and whether we want to continue to pay for expensive European administration.   Anything which has grown fat and decadent is the subject of pressure to be pruned back.

At the same time, there are programmes being instituted to breakdown the elitism of “The City”, to bring in people from less privileged backgrounds and to encourage a less “privileged” mindset. More than this, the normal parameters of business are shifting, with technology playing a greater and greater role in day-to-day business, perhaps on the scale of a new industrial revolution.  My father, currently suffering Uranus opposite his Mars and Pluto square it, who is no slouch in IT terms, feels distraught at being excluded from a whole world accessible only by the technologically savvy younger generations.

In the West, our companies are increasingly dependent on and starting to be underpinned by finance from Asia, as is the American economy.

Trying to look from a broader perspective, what is the moral conundrum that we are solving or being challenged to look at here?  What I see is that there are a number of threads to this.  Part of it, is the acceptance of change.  Pluto has always had the idea of “thy will not mine” to me.  The sense that we cannot fight with Life; it is ultimately far more powerful than us and while we might be sure that we have a better idea of how life should be, we are not in control and we have to sacrifice our most cherished notions to this reality.  While Pluto, in my view, often grinds us down over time like a relentless steamroller, Uranus in Aries brings quick, shocking and sudden changes.  Those in power, whether it be Assad in Syria, Gadafi before him or Angela Merkel in Europe are like King Canut trying to hold back the waves; you sense that their efforts are ultimately doomed because they are fighting a battle against forces beyond their power to control.

It is the same for my father who is struggling to come to terms with old age and the changes this is bringing.  Activities like looking after the lawn and clearing the garden of leaves have become symbolic of his inability to hold back the process of aging and the changes it is bringing in his ability to cope.

Glenn Perry described the moral conundrums or black holes that sit at the heart of our evolution as being “insoluble”.  Chrissy’s work on black holes suggests that the solution is always concerned with “giving up” or “letting go”.  What is it we are giving up?  We are giving up our attachment to a mind picture of how we want our lives or the world to be to accept the reality of the way that the world actually is or is changing to be.

In the case of Europe there is a very strongly held collective mind picture that Europe is important, that it must survive; that it is the only way the nations within it can survive.  Yesterday, in running a training programme in Frankfurt a German woman I was talking to, was horrified to hear that there were people in Britain who could consider leaving the European Union.  She was vehement that Britain could not possibly survive outside the EU, even when I pointed out that Norway and Switzerland have done so very successfully, she was horrified at such heretical thinking.  Yet there is something similar in the notion of Europe and what I am seeing in the law firms.  The old elite (Capricorn) is under threat.  Europe used to be the aristocracy of the world; wealthy, politically powerful and used to being at the centre of world affairs.  Yet now there are parvenus appearing at every corner.  The nouveau riche of China, Brazil and India threaten to overwhelm the established order and we are having to get used to our new role in the world and also to the economic pressures to compete that this will bring.  For many, our purses have tightened and the days of largesse feel behind us.  In business the wind of competition on price and value is blowing hard and most are having to cut their cloth accordingly.

At another level, there is little that is new in this cycle.  Life is manipulating us through fear and greed (another form of fear) to change.  We are caught by the fear that unless we develop our technology and find new ways to compete we will be left behind; that we must streamline our processes or jump on the bandwagon of outsourcing  or we will be shipwrecked by the economic times.  This is a con, we are being manipulated into change for life’s ulterior purposes of evolution.  Yes, it has its purpose in challenging where we have become flabby and decadent and at another level of evolution I can only speculate that this is part of the ongoing development of shedding unnecessary elements of our existence; more and more of the manual or routine in our lives is being mechanised or computerised.  Perhaps we have to feel we will be left behind or miss the boat or why would we bother to evolve?  Since this similar process has been going on for eons – the Normans defeated the Saxons largely due to their ability to harness horses in warfare, Stone Age man was outmoded by Iron Age Man and so on.  It is very much like Groundhog day, as Glen Perry noted in his article.

Yet, perhaps we are missing the point.  The point is not that we can control these events.  The point, as in our personal lives, is how we deal with these events, in our attitude or response to them.  I have always felt a certain sympathy for politicians, because it strikes me they are at the forefront of the con of life.  They are voted into power with the explicit expectation that they can do something about the mess, that they can influence, shape and change things.  Yet, as I notice in coaching leaders in large business, they find themselves powerless to control forces that everyone expects them to control.  So how do we deal with these forces?

The I-Ching talks about change in the hexagram Shock.  Its counsel is that such times of Shock are times when we “examine our heart lest it bear any secret opposition to the will of God”.  That is we have to embrace and open our mind and heart to the change, to accept it, no matter how much we may dislike it or it may not fit with our picture of how things should be.  Yet it also suggests that these external factors are not the key but rather our inner attitude; “When a man has learned within his heart what fear and trembling mean, he is safeguarded against any terror produced by outside influences. Let the thunder roll and spread terror a hundred miles around: he remains so composed and reverent in spirit that the sacrificial rite is not interrupted. This is the spirit that must animate leaders and rulers of men-a profound inner seriousness from which all terrors glance off harmlessly.   So the I-Ching is suggesting that we must develop our inner nature.  This is the message of the film Groundhog Day, that at first Bill Murray’s character rages against life and fate, trying to push against it and change it.  Yet as it repeats he comes to accept it and attends instead to what is important, his own attitude and the way he is treating others around him and the external events become less important to him than his own inner life and approach.

The I-Ching also says shock comes oh!oh! then laughing words, ha!ha!  The fear and trembling brought by shock have their value in waking our consciousness but once we see the game we can laugh and regain our perspective.  We can laugh at how Life is playing with us all.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all laugh at the current economic crisis and at the way we have all been conned?  We really thought we had broken the cycle of boom and recession – ha ha!  Look, we think Europe is so important – ha!ha!  We thought we were so brilliant as big law firms, or consultants – Ha! Ha! We bankers thought we ruled the world, ha ha!  The wonderful woman I met in Germany who was so horrified by the thought of leaving the European Union, had in general a very wise perspective.  She thought that life had a very British sense of humour, a sense of the absurd and an irreverent enjoyment of playing with our expectations and wishes.

Humour, I think, tells us that we are ok, no matter how bad the situation.  As the Irish rugby team always used to say “the situation is critical, but not serious!”.  It tell us that we can have the sense of perspective to see the game but not be caught in it and take it and ourselves too seriously.

I was talking to someone at one of the large firms I work for about the process of change going on and the need to be more efficient (they were a Capricorn).  Their perspective was that it was a good thing as everything had become too flabby and inefficient; it was a reassuring return to good business precepts.  My heart didn’t like this.  I could appreciate the truth in some of it, but it had no heart, no compassion for those around them who were being made redundant.  It was cold and uncaring.  Life is ruthless, there is no question about that, it wants evolution and it doesn’t care how it gets it; it is manipulative and brutal and whether we suffer or die does not appear to concern it; it is operating at a vastly greater scale.  However, I don’t think we have to be brutal or if we are, that it diminishes us.  I think we can care for each other.  The sort of humour I describe has warmth and connection in it.  It brings us all together.  The I-Ching says that “we are all one in our hearts”.  We might not be able to prevent the events of life or its demands but we can choose our attitude towards them and not lose sight of the hearts of those around us.  I wonder if Life is presenting an opportunity to bring us together;  it certainly seems that it is spreading organisations across the globe so that people from different cultures have to get to know each other and work together and with outsourcing and commoditisation it is bringing the mighty down to earth somewhat to remind them of their humanity.  This is not to say that new winners and elites will not form, that appears to be part of the cycle and parameters.  Yet we are now questioning these things, being forced to bring them to consciousness.  We are in a pruning phase of life and while painful, it is necessary.  We cannot avoid this cycle but we are responsible for our attitude and how we play it out.  Bashar Al-Assad is an example of this Groundhog Day phenomenon – it is another chance to decide how we play the same situation as Libya.  It appears insoluble.  That the current elite must fall and reconnect with the common humanity of the masses seems a given, yet how to do it?  It is Groundhog Day, in that this was also the situation with Saddam Hussein.  I wonder how many times we will need to repeat this plot before we evolve to playing it with real compassion and consciousness?  At the moment, there is a stalemate and it appears insoluble.  No-one wants to allow a peaceful transition where Assad leaves because we want him to be punished for his sins.  Yet what is more important, that he is punished or that the violence and deaths stop and Syria can make a peaceful transition?  We like to think it is not really our moral conundrum but it is.

We can deal with these situations more consciously; we did it in South Africa, we did it in India and in Northern Ireland, but we had to let go each time, of the desire for revenge or retribution, of violence as the means for achieving transition.  I wonder how we will play it this time?  Can we bring Neptune-Chiron compassion for the mess and suffering to bear in this situation and in the economic mess we find ourselves in or will Neptune-Chiron play out in an orgy of avoidance of responsibility, dissolution, scapegoating and suffering?  Do the changes in power (Pluto) lead to a deeper understanding of life and a recognition of what we truly control?  Is Uranus played out with cold brutality and violence or its higher level of enlightened consciousness and a break with old approaches? The parameters of the plot or storyline are clearly delineated by the planets and their aspects but we can choose how consciously we play and do we bring the best of the planets or the worst?  That is our moral conundrum to solve.

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Jimmy Saville and John Terry

These two names might seem odd bed fellows but they share a connection in being the object of much hot debate in the media currently.  The two are connected for me because they are reflective of issues going on currently in terms of those thorny subjects of racial prejudice and sexual abuse.  With Saturn moving into Scorpio and forming a trine to the Neptune-Chiron conjunction in Pisces it is not altogether unexpected that taboo areas of race and sex are prominent.  The Sun-Moon trine across this aspect on 24th October seemed to bring these issues into the full glare of the public consciousness; there were reports on Saturday of Rio Ferdinand, whose brother was the subject of the racism issue with John Terry refusing to wear a t-shirt advocating the kick-it-out campaign for getting rid of racism in football and Jimmy Saville revelations popping out left right and centre.  At the same time, at a personal level, I was dealing with two issues in separate client situations relating to women’s issues.  It was a full week in terms of prejudices!  I was reminded of the lecture that Lynn Bell gave at the Astrological Conference about Saturn in Scorpio and in particular those people she quoted as having Saturn in Scorpio prominent in their chart.  One of these was J Edgar Hoover.

J Edgar Hoover’s wikipedia entry says:

John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 aged 77. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.

Late in life and after his death Hoover became a controversial figure, as evidence of his secretive actions became known. His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.[1] He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,[2] and to collect evidence using illegal methods.[3] Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power. Said one journalist in the 1960s, “Hoover does not have to exert pressure, he is pressure”.[4]

Pluto has the densest mass of all the planets, Saturn is associated with lead, another very dense material.  It is a lovely image for someone with Saturn in Scorpio to describe them as pressure.  Saturn in Scorpio holds back dense and powerful forces.  Anyone who has put a lid on a pressure cooker or held on to someone transported with rage will know what this feels like!  Dealing with issues like sexual abuse, abuse of power and fame, racism and sexism is like handling very dangerous nuclear forces – one false step and you are splattered all over the place.  I wonder why these issues are so dangerous for us?  What is it that makes them nuclear?

Going back to my client situations, one of the things I was doing was running a programme about coaching.  As we went round the room doing introductions, one of the women said that she was very interested in women’s issues and wanted to focus her time on supporting female colleagues in being successful in the workplace and dealing with prejudice.  As she said this I was just playing in my mind to see how this would sound if it were reversed, if a man were saying I’m very interested in men’s issues and I want to support male colleagues in being successful in the workplace and dealing with prejudice.  I could not help laughing at the thought of the reaction it would get.  When we were later involved in a coaching session she described the issue she had at work.  It was with a male colleague, this colleague she found overbearing and dictatorial, constantly interfering and telling her what to do.  What emerged further was that she was determined not to report to this man and that there was a power struggle going on over who had control.  I asked her to describe what she really felt about him and she explained that she thought he was an anachronism, someone hopelessly out of touch, arrogant and old school.  She felt that he was counter-cultural and did not fit with the E&Y values and that the firm should get rid of him.  Her solution was that she should just give him the feedback very bluntly and not worry about him since he was not the way forward for the firm and didn’t fit with the firm’s values.  I asked her what the firm’s values were and she told me that they were about diversity, inclusiveness and respect for people.  I then asked her to score her respect for this man on a scale of 1-10 and being wonderfully open and honest (she was a pleasure to work with because she was so open) she admitted it was in minus figures.  Her conclusion at this point was since she did not respect him, why bother concerning herself with how he felt?  I then asked her whether the values applied only in cases where people were worthy of the values or whether they applied in all cases.  She thought deeply about this and you could see that her perspective was shifting.  As an interesting side point here, her background was as a qualified psychotherapist, which made it surprising for me that she should not see such an obvious projection or shadow.  We talked further about shadows and particularly the Karpman Drama Triangle of Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer.  She particularly liked this and we had great fun and a source of entertainment for the rest of the course with her pointing out whenever we talked about the triangle that she did not like the word “persecutor” but preferred the word “assertive” for her approach!  What was clear in her situation and she was good at seeing was that because she felt like a victim of this man, she felt justified in persecuting him and treating him ruthlessly as if he did not deserve any care or empathy. He was very clear in being a reflection of her own shadow and prejudice.

J Edgar Hoover felt that the forces he was dealing with were evil, that he was the last bastion in defending the good of America against the threat of communism and the forces of evil with which they were identified.  Arthur Miller’s Crucible chillingly recreates this rampant pressure of accusation, blame and scapegoating.  A crucible seems such a fitting image for Saturn in Scorpio, containing heat and pressure with no release possible.  Yet the idea of a crucible is inherent in the process of alchemy.  Here the role of the pressure and heat of the crucible is to transform lead (Saturn) into Gold (the Sun – clarity, understanding).  So what is really going on and what is being transformed?

What makes us most frightened and angry in this situation is our own impotence, our own identity and our own fear.  Taking impotence first, we are outraged and angry that things such as the accusations against Jimmy Saville could take place; it rocks our sense of control and free will; somehow we should have been able to prevent these things happening.  Our rage and indignation reflects our feelings of impotence and anger that the world has managed to perpetrate such atrocities right under our noses and we could do nothing to prevent it, indeed we were entirely hoodwinked.  It is a cry of unfairness and hurt at the painfulness of the world.  Yet, we have to find some legitimisation of this anger and so we look for someone to blame, to pass responsibility to.  If only we can find who was to blame, we can prevent this ever happening again by eradicating them and all they represent.  And here we come to the issue of identity, who among us wants to be identified as the perpetrator?  Who would wish to be seen as the holder of socially unacceptable qualities that might be vilified by the herd (the rest of society)?  We must dis-identify from these uncomfortable feelings, we must identify with the good and to do that we must condemn the bad.  The harder we condemn the bad, the “gooder” we know we must be!  It must not, in any way be something that we could identify with because then, horror of horror we could identify with the monster and we could be subject to the wrath of the mob. And here, lastly we have the fear which causes us to join with the mob in vilifying the perpetrator.  Yet as Stephen Karpman was so adept at pointing out with his triangle, the three roles of victim, persecutor and rescuer are interchangeable, once we play one, we play all three.  So in coming in to rescue the victims of Jimmy Saville, we must become the persecutors attacking him and anyone else in anyway associated with him; we justify this by also seeing ourselves as victims of those who told us he was a hero.  In turn we then make them the victims, blaming the BBC and everyone associated with this time.  Thus the cycle shifts through all roles.

So how could we approach Jimmy Saville?  I suspect the real issue at the heart of the Saturn in Scorpio trine Neptune-Chiron is how we transform ourselves and our own emotions into a vehicle for deep understanding and compassion.  I remember some years back a conversation with my friend Sam where we were considering the concepts of heroes and what really took courage in Life.  It was at the time of the ship that sank off the coast of Italy where the captain fled to shore.  I have a memory I even wrote a blog at the time about it prompted by an article looking at the fact that our moral outrage was based on the assumption that we would have done the right thing and questioning on how many small occasions we fail to live up to our own standards, or avoid responsibility.  In the case of Jimmy Saville, was he a fantastic hero before for all the charitable work he did on behalf of children or the programmes like Jim’ll Fix it?  With hindsight we now say no, he was a monster, it was all a sham.  Yet, the danger is that our black and white picture previously was just as inaccurate as our black and white picture now.  Which of us is completely black or white?  All of us contain shades of grey.  Which of us has not given into compulsive feelings only to be riddled with guilt and then tried to make atonement only to be overwhelmed by them again.  The internet figures for porn would suggest that there are very few men who are not subject to the temptation of strong sexual feelings.  Who knows what it was like to be Jimmy Saville?  Perhaps we can have compassion for someone who had such strong sexual urges.  Our compulsions and obsessions are not easy to deal with and whilst for many of us they do not extend to paedophilia, how would we feel and cope with it if they did?  None of us consciously choose such feelings and which of us would like to struggle with them?  So we need a response based on empathy for Jimmy Saville.  This is not to condone his actions – whatever they turn out to actually have been.  In the Crucible, the key to the story is that John Proctor was guilty of giving in to his sexual urges in having an affair with Abby yet this did not make him a bad man in total or worthy of persecution and execution.  It made him human.  It does not help Saville’s victims to cast him as a monster.  When bullied at school and beaten up it did not help me to see the perpetrators as monsters or label or vilify them, putting myself in the role of victim.  I wanted to understand what caused them to bully me, to understand them more deeply so that I could make sense of it.  Once I understood the feelings that were driving them and could make sense of them, I felt differently about the situation and I no longer felt like a victim.  The real emotion sitting behind a trine like Saturn in Scorpio trine Neptune-Chiron is grief; grief that the world could be so painful, grief for those people abused by Saville and grief for the man himself and the tortured life he must actually have led that would have caused him to act as he did.  This is not to condone his actions or even understand how we allowed them to take place, but to do this in order to understand and learn to prevent, as far as we are able, such events in the future, not to be stirred into a vengeful wrath that seeks to destroy everyone and everything associated with him.

At the beginning, I linked John Terry and Jimmy Saville together because they both seem to be vehicles at the moment for carrying the collective projections and being scapegoats.  John Terry’s case has intrigued me for different reasons in terms of this debate about prejudice.  The court case brought against him rested on whether he abused Anton Ferdinand racially.  What was interesting about the case is that it was not in dispute as part of the case that Anton Ferdinand had been abusing John Terry and trying to provoke him.  Nor was it in dispute that John Terry has black friends and colleagues as part of the Chelsea team who were willing to testify for him.  What was isolated as the key point was whether his response contained the word “black”.  I was thinking about this from the point of view of resolving issues between children or between adults.  Each time, the key has been to listen carefully to the full context.  If we took race out of this equation we would probably decide that Anton Ferdinand abusing John Terry and John Terry responding and abusing him back didn’t reflect terribly well on either of them.  Yet start to  look through the lens of race and divide people on that basis and we see instead Anton Ferdinand as a victim and John Terry as a persecutor.  Yet which of us can reflect back on no situations where we have been deliberately and continuously provoked and lashed out saying things we might later regret?  And did we feel the recipient was a poor victim after having provoked us so mercilessly?

How we look is the interesting part for me.  My second female client had been invited to be part of a process to promote female partners and wanted to know what her approach should be and how I would deal with it.  My own personal experience is that I am confused by the identification with culture, race, gender etc.  These are all veneers, like the clothes we are wearing.  I don’t see them as any more fundamental to human nature than veneers.  Once we identify with them then they separate us into different species.  Women talk about men as if they are an alien species and men about women in the same way.  I was taught that two wrongs do not make a right so I struggle to understand how “positive” discrimination is any different to discrimination full stop.  Fortunately my client agreed with me, but then she is very wise! When we separate people out on the basis of their race, sex, culture we re-inforce their identification with it and so re-inforce pre-judice and separation, the very thing we wish to overcome.  For me, the only way to deal with prejudice and the separation it brings is to come from a position of “us”, a deeper level where these distinctions are not important, where we are all one.

I am told constantly that the Chinese are different from “us” and do not think like “us”.  Were this the case I would be at a loss as to how to coach my many Chinese coachees.  Seeing them as fellow human beings, I don’t notice any difference between us, I feel no closer to my friends in Britain than I do to them.  Whilst I recognise that these veneers exist I do not think they are terribly deep or profound and I think we share so much in common that I find it hard to remember that we are supposed to be different. I think Jimmy Saville and John Terry are just as much “us” and I don’t liked to be judged without empathy and understanding or to be scapegoated so I don’t think I want to do it to them either.

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Ouranos and his ugly children

Speaking to a colleague recently who was suffering in terms of a huge, family destroying, competitive battle with her sister I looked at her chart and saw that Mars was conjunct Uranus (and widely Pluto as well).  I had been giving some thought to the myth of Ouranos and the fact of banishing his ugly children (the Titans).  Ouranos (Uranus) is Square my own Sun and trine my Mars and it is conjunct Pluto.  For many years I considered myself a detached and disinterested observer of life, that somehow I was not engaged in the way other people were, I stood separate.  I could analyse others with their emotions and activities but I did not suffer from having an individual subjective ego.  Quite a feat given the Sun on the ascendant!  I ventured tentatively that when Uranus was conjunct or in aspect to a particular planet that there is a tendency to dissociate from that planet – that she dissociated from competition – and she readily agreed with this.  It was curious since a Pluto-Uranus conjunction with Mars will clearly be very competitive but the Uranus causes us to dissociate.  I had always considered that my own blindness to my competitive nature and large Sagittarian personality came from the Moon being opposite my Mars thus making it unconscious but I am wondering whether it is more the Uranus that creates this.  Uranus is the sky god untouched by the ugliness of corporeal existence with its messy emotions and human vulnerabilities and limitations.  Uranus at its best does seem to give us the ability to be conscious (it is the planet of enlightenment) and disassociate in a positive sense of being self-aware and able to see our personalities from a disinterested and more objective standpoint but it also can create a very strong rationalisation and justification of ourselves and the genuine sense that we are somehow not a player in the game (Sun/Leo) in the way that others are.  We position ourselves in the sky as being unconnected with earthly events and our actions, who knows, perhaps on some level it is partially true particularly given some of the research on near death experiences.   Given that Uranus is the first of the transpersonal planets I wonder whether it might be that this is a first intimation of a consciousness beyond our personal realm – enlightenment and god consciousness; an ability to be conscious and separate ourselves from our own personalities.  This though is a double edged sword.  We cannot bear to admit to the ugliness of our own emotions and human behaviours – to let it in is so abhorrent that we must construct an analysis in which there was no emotion in our actions; they were the actions of a separated impersonal being (for more on this cf. Jonathan Haidt – The Happines Hypothesis).

I have been noticing in my recent coaching how our defence mechanisms defend us against the core fear that we are not in control of our lives, that we might be subject to a malign fate that we cannot prevent, something that no actions on our part can ward of.  Thinking of the sequence of the planets and Saturn’s clear role in our defence mechanisms, you can see this last personal planet as the bastion against the uncontrollable power of the transpersonal universe represented by the outer planets.  Saturn is concerned with trying to create systems and structures which somehow encapsulate and quantify our lives so that they are not subjected to unexplainable and uncontrollable forces.  Saturn wants a causal relationship – if I do X I mitigate the chance for Life/Fate to do Y.  Chiron sits between these two planets spanning the bridge between the personal and interpersonal realms, mediating between our ability to control and determine our lives and the great forces of the cosmos.  It represents the pain of knowing that life is not fair and will not conform to our attempts to control or manipulate it to fit our fixed pictures of how we feel it should or ought (lovely Saturnian words) to be.  It will not be tamed, controlled and quantified in the way that Saturn wants in order to limit it.

This sense of unfairness seems to be embodied in the Chiron myth.  It feels wrong that it should have been his friend Herakles who by accident brushed his thigh with the arrow tipped in the Hydra’s blood.  It seems unfair to us that we should suffer when we do not feel responsible for the people or factors that cause our suffering.  The Uranian response is to live in the stratosphere where we are not subject to these earthly experiences, where they are impersonal and therefore not subject to personal things like suffering.  Suffering and emotions are unnecessary, personal aberrations which apply to others but not ourselves.  To allow the personal is to open oneself to suffering.  Thus Uranus is happier with the cool analytical world of redesigning the framework or process to eliminate any possible cause of future ugly personal issues.  The search for enlightenment in many ways can be a defence against the ugly limitation of being human and subject to suffering and discomfort.  I remember Ram Dass relating that after spending time in India he began to notice that he had a series of people/events that “bought him down” – cities, his parents, certain people.  In the end he realised that he was getting caught by the things he was avoiding getting caught by.  He decided that  he might as well take the curriculum and be human.

Much of the issue that Uranus has with his ugly children is his distaste for the fact they are not perfect. Virgo is generally associated with perfectionism, but Virgo seems more concerned with the physical environment and also in some ways (being ruled by Chiron) with what is already disordered and how to mend it again – think of the environmental movement with its focus on all the damage and our responsibility to clear it up.  My experience is that Uranus is concerned with the perfection of the mind.  The values/principles/ideas which are not tainted by the earthly reality of messy human existence or even practical implimentation.  Yet these ideas and this interpersonal realm can only be manifested through the material realm and the shock of reality always shatters even our strongest principles.  The perfect principles of the French revolution became dominated by rampaging mobs; the perfectly conceived processes and ideas founder on anomalies and practicalities, always Saturn (Kronos) castrates his father.  Even the defence mechanisms of independence and dissociation founder on the reality of painful isolation from others and lack of development.  Yet reversed, somehow coming to terms with reality and accepting it, including it’s disillusioning ugliness does bring enlightenment, does bring insight and awareness.  If we can look at the ugliness of life just as it is and accept it, something magical happens; something in us shifts. Somehow, the depressing and disillusioning coming to terms with reality brings us genuine fire from the gods and allows us to turn reality into a universal understanding.  The fact we all suffer and are mortal is the universal element that binds us all together and helps us to see beyond our individual limits and develop an understanding which truly is enlightened.

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Do as you would be done by

I recently went to board the Eurostar to Paris only to find out that I had made a mistake and that my ticket was for the next day.  When I went to change it, they told me they could not exchange it and I would have to buy a new one, so I wrote them the letter below about the experience.  My reason for writing the letter was two-fold.  Firstly, it was to turn the experience from frustration into something productive so that I could let it go or turn it into learning and and be able to keep my heart open and secondly because I thought, if Life has gone to the trouble of manipulating me like this, I might as well do the work it is prompting.  It also got me thinking about why we are failing to understand how to treat each other with empathy and consideration in large business contexts.  It is something that no-one is enjoying yet everyone is perpetuating.  My experience in business has provided me with a number of contrasting examples and their impact.  One time on a heavily delayed flight back from Prague on British Airways, I mentioned to cabin staff that I was in danger of missing my last train home to Gloucestershire and was their anything they could do to help.  They came back and asked where exactly I lived.  I explained that my car was parked at Kemble station and that I lived close by in Minchinhampton.  They came back to say that the captain lived close to Kemble station and that he would drive me to Kemble and he did, all the way back to my car.  This had a considerable impact on me and from then on I flew BA wherever I could, they felt like my friends and my family.  I also did not fail to share the story or to feedback to them the impact it had on me. Some years later, I was late for a flight in Luxembourg (the first time ever that I had missed the boarding time – I did so by 5 mins).  The Luxembourg airport staff were very helpful and said to me that they would ring the BA rep who could come back and check me in.  They rang her but she refused.  I then had to buy another ticket costing me over £400 to get home.  I had enough time to get through security and to the gate before the BA flight had even boarded and I asked the BA attendant why she had not allowed me to check-in.  Her attitude was one of “that is the rule, you are a frequent flyer you should know that”.  My sense of connection and trust in BA was shattered.  This might seem childish, but then when it comes to our emotions we are all children, we get more sophisticated at hiding our emotions but they do not change.  I still fly BA but my loyalty to them is severely dented.

At one of my clients, John Lewis, they introduced a new policy which one of my coachees was explaining having to persuade partners (all staff are partners at John Lewis) to adopt.  The new policy was to accept items for refund even if customers did not have a receipt.  Staff were understandably concerned that a small minority might well take advantage of this and return items they had not purchased from John Lewis.  Yet my coachee won the argument by pointing out that they did not want to design the policy around the minority who might take advantage but around the majority who were trustworthy.  They would have to accept some might take advantage but they would be serving the majority who didn’t.  Now that struck me as enlightened thinking.  Strangely though, people seem to lose sight of this in business.  One would think it would be blindingly obvious but often the reverse applies.  A number of years ago, I parked my car at a Great Western station with APCOA parking.  When I came to get my car some 3 days later on a Saturday morning I realised I had got confused over the days and so was £1.50 short on my parking fee.  The ticket was for £50.  I wrote to APCOA parking explaining my mistake and that I was absent minded and that I had no intention of trying to avoid £1.50 and was very happy to pay that “would they be willing to waive the fine?”.  Hearing nothing in response I assumed they had decided to waive it.  Four months later I received a notice from the bailifs demanding £160.  Being worried by this I paid it but then wrote to my MP to explain the situation who then wrote to the Managing Director of First Great Western.  I received a very aggressive response from him, where he detailed the several times over a period of fifteen years of commuting when I had a received a notice as if this was damning evidence that I was sort of trouble maker or fare dodger, despite the fact I had paid each of these fines.  Even my MP was astonished that he should be so aggressive towards a customer. He seemed to be suggesting that I had deliberately tried to avoid paying a £2 parking fee on each of these occasions, something utterly non-sensical.  I responded to the letter by explaining that I was absent minded and that on each of these occassions I had paid the fine involved despite the fact that I had probably ended up paying more than 3 months worth of parking and that this could make no sense even if I were trying to avoid the fine.  I also explained that I was not asking them to refund the money, but that I wanted to avoid someone else receiving such a shock and such an aggressive bailifs note; I said that if my money meant that no-one was treated the same way again it would be worth it.  I received a response which stunned me, saying in effect, that they did not believe me and trusted APCOA parking (who responded to none of my letters even though I sent them recorded delivery).  How could a managing director treat a customer like this as if they were an enemy?  The issue is that large companies hold the danger of focusing on their own success without considering the paradox that their own success is entirely dependent on empathising with their customers and genuinely putting them first.  They are more concerned with protecting against being taken advantage of than they are treating people well; it results in them treating customers impersonally at best and cynically and in a hostile fashion at worst.  The I-Ching says to rule truly is to serve.  I think in the current economic crisis this is at the core of what we are learning, that without morality business acts in a short term and cynical way which ends up ironically harming all of us and taking years to put right.  There are no large scale solutions to the economic problems we face only individual and personal ones.  When we start treating people the way we would wish to be treated, with heart and genuine empathy, then business will serve us all.  Capricorn rules business in general and with Pluto there at the moment it is being transformed.  Do as you would be done by feels a very Capricornian maxim of cause and effect and responsibility.  Perhaps with the square from Uranus we are relearning this at a global, group level.

So much of my coaching with business leaders is to stop them thinking about the business and people as a whole.  This is a dangerous focus; when they do this they think impersonally.  I am working on getting them seeing that their role is an illusion and no different to how it has ever been.  Instead of trying to impact the business (which they don’t control even if they lead it), which causes them to focus on numbers and processes, I challenge them to see that they can influence no more people than they ever could, that instead their focus is on working on themselves and helping develop the the individuals that they are directly responsible for.  Instead of rushing round madly trying to influence “the business” they only need to focus on treating each individual that they interact with and particularly those they are directly responsible for with as much integrity as possible, in this way this influences how these people respond to those around them and so on throughout the organisation.  Research shows that we are separated by seven degrees of separation but that our influence extends to three degrees of separation, ie. that the people we interact with are heavily influenced by our attitudes and behaviours, that the people they then interact with are heavily influenced by our attitudes and behaviours through them and even the people they then interact with, after that it falls of a cliff.  No wonder the I-Ching is so pedantic in focusing on having the right attitude and behaviour in every interaction as Confucius comments in Inner Truth (the hexagram about how we influence even impossibly difficult people):

The superior man abides in his room. If his words are well spoken, he meets 
with assent at a distance of more than a thousand miles. How much more 
then from near by! If the superior man abides in his room and his words are 
not well spoken, he meets with contradiction at a distance of more than a 
thousand miles. How much more then from near by! Words go forth from 
one's own person and exert their influence on men. Deeds are born close at 
hand and become visible far away. Words and deeds are the hinge and 
bowspring of the superior man. As hinge and bowspring move, they bring 
honor or disgrace. Through words and deeds the superior man moves 
heaven and earth . Must one not, then, be cautious?

And finally, in true Sagittarian style, many paragraphs after announcing it and following much pontification, here is the letter:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am a frequent traveller on Eurostar and a Eurostar Carte Blanche holder.  I travel regularly as I have my own business working in Leadership Training and as an executive coach for senior level individuals at a range of companies.  My work regularly takes me across Europe.  With this focus in my work, I have spent a lot of time considering what makes business effective and particularly how to act with integrity and create a genuine customer focus in business.

Today, I arrived to catch the 9.17 train to Paris.  When I arrived I discovered that I had booked for tomorrow by mistake.  I went to the Business Premier office who were very helpful and booked me another ticket to travel on this train.  They said that since I had booked a non-flexible ticket they could not refund the original ticket but to check with Customer Services because they might be willing to consider my case.  They also said to make sure that at least my points for Carte Blanche were credited for tomorrow’s journey.

When I rang customer care I explained that it was my fault but asked if they could exercise some discretion given it was a genuine mistake and I had paid twice to travel once.  I was told that the rules were the rules and that they were not prepared to do so.  I then asked them about the points being credited for tomorrow’s journey but was told that whilst I would get status points for the journey, since I was not travelling I would not get any points for the journey itself.  I explained that this seemed particularly unfair and like a double punishment, not only had I paid for my journey twice but I wasn’t even going to get the points for doing so: they were immovable.

Much of what I am teaching in terms of leadershp is emotional intelligence and empathy; to treat others, and customers particularly, as fellow human beings and to understand the emotional and long term impact of individual actions rather than focusing on short-term gain.  Living in a global, large business environment makes it easy to treat people in an impersonal way but the emotional impact of this is severe and has business implications.  At a personal level, I am left with a feeling of resentment.  I know plenty of fellow coaches and businesses who are very strict in their approach to charging people, but I notice that while they may be successful in the short-term, the long term impact is usually detrimental and their client relationships suffer even if the clients appear to understand and they are following the legal contract.  I have always aimed to treat my clients as individuals and adopted a high degree of flexibility.  My colleagues ask me how I have remained so busy and successful despite the crisis and I can’t help wondering if this is one of the key factors.  My fellow coaches feel they have to charge because they are worried about their revenues, which are under pressure, and because their clients will take advantage and not respect them if they don’t, yet the result is that their clients don’t respect them, they feel taken advantage of.  Like most wisdom it is can feel counter-intuitive.

I think collectively that we are learning about this with the current financial crisis.  Focusing on short-term gain at the expense of others and without looking at the long term impact of our actions has created the financial mess we are in now and it will take a long time to deal with the consequences.  My loyalty to Eurostar stems from the excellent customer service I receive generally and in particular when I went to Paris some months back with friends to attend an exhibition. They were elderly and one was disabled with a severe back problem.  When we went to the business lounge we were told that because it was midweek I was only allowed one guest not three as per weekends but they generously waived it.  My friends and I have never failed to tell this story to everyone and it gave us all a sense of warmth and goodwill towards Eurostar.

The decision to travel with Eurostar as opposed to flying, given I live in Gloucestershire, is marginal.  I save time (and probably cost) by flying but I prefer the experience you have created on the train.  I can’t imagine that I am greatly different to other human beings in feeling resentful when I pay twice for something (it just doesn’t feel fair no matter how many rules are put round it) or for feeling goodwill and loyalty when I am treated with human consideration.  I also can’t imagine that I am the first person to make a mistake, as the saying goes: To err is human to forgive is divine.  I also can’t imagine that I am different in sharing my experiences with friends and colleagues, the only difference might be that I am a professional story teller, using my experience to teach leaders in business.  I also write a blog that is followed by many of my clients and friends.

Most of my clients worry about how to manage the perception of their brand in the marketplace and to attract more customers; l work to help them see that it is more impacted by individual interactions than large marketing campaigns.  It is not easy, but small acts of human consideration have a huge impact. Working as a coach in John Lewis, this principle is ingrained in their approach and training and it has been the cornerstone of their success rather than a burden or financial counterweight.  I always go to John Lewis and buy from them, because I trust them to treat me humanly and fairly should anything go wrong and I am not alone.

In this instance I am sure I will continue to travel by train, but I think there is a strong possibility that I will probably choose to fly more regularly.  Ironically the loss to Eurostar of one or two journeys would outweigh the cost of an act of flexibility and consideration and this would probably multiply considerably in terms of recommendations and goodwill.

Beyond all this though is a more important thought; what kind of world do we all want to live in and create?  I haven’t met anyone yet who wants to be treated without kindness, fairness and empathy.  There is a simple test, would you be happy to be treated the same way as you are treating your customers?

Yours faithfully

Nick Oakley-Smith

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