Monday 16 November 2015

How to react to the Paris bombings?

How to react?  This is difficult because it is raw so I apologise in advance, particularly to those directly affected, if it feels presumptuous to be discussing this and putting forward a view on how to react (I am presumptuous, I have been since birth so I hope I will be forgiven).  I have been thinking about this and talking to others about it since Friday night.  First for me is compassion for those who have been hurt or shocked by this.  How could it be otherwise?  My heart goes out to those who have been so shocked and to those who have lost loved ones.  I can understand that they will be feeling shocked, hurt, angry, distraught.  I am with them, who would not understand such feelings?  It needs a lot of love and a lot of compassion for those hurt.
Then my heart says, how do we stop anyone hurting each other like this again?  Our natural reaction is to try to prevent being so hurt again.  Here, I think reflection is important - as Einstein said, "we cannot solve the problems of today at the level of thinking that created them".   So something must change.
The I-Ching likes reflection and sees it like being on the top of a mountain - that is being an example that others can see from afar and also getting a wider view.  It calls it Contemplation (Hexagram 20) and the first line says:
Six at the beginning means: Boy like contemplation. For an inferior man, no blame. For a superior man, humiliation. This means contemplation from a distance, without comprehension. A man of influence is at hand, but his influence is not understood by the common people. This matters little in the case of the masses, for they benefit by the actions of the ruling sage whether they understand them or not. But for a superior man it is a disgrace. He must not content himself with a shallow, thoughtless view of prevailing forces; he must contemplate them as a connected whole and try to understand them.
We can all identify with having acted in a child like, impulsive way (boy like contemplation) and then had the wiser side of ourselves regret it (For a superior man, humiliation).  So how do we contemplate things as a connected whole?
Well, here is my attempt at this.  If we are all connected as one whole, then we cannot separate ourselves; it is all us.  Looked through this lens the Paris attacks take on a different meaning.  I think it might be that Life is provoking us to be more conscious about how we are all connected.  Paris in the last few days has been experiencing what it is like on a daily basis to be in the Middle East.  I think we in the West, through the immigration and the bombings are having to come to terms with the fact that we cannot separate and isolate ourselves from our actions in the Middle East.  If we bomb other people and kill them, then they are going to want to do the same to us.
In the hexagram Conflict (Hexagram 6) the I-Ching says:
Nine at the top means:
Even if by chance a leather belt is bestowed on one,By the end of a morningIt will have been snatched away three times.
Here we have someone who has carried a conflict to the bitter end and has triumphed.  He is granted a decoration, but his happiness does not last. He is attacked again and again, and the result is conflict without end.
Violence does not solve violence, it causes more pain and hurt which creates more anger and desire to hurt and so on.
So what can we do?  None of us would choose such situations and yet, we can all look back on our lives and see that the experiences we would never have chosen somehow changed us.  It takes huge emotional courage, but to choose not to respond by hurting others but instead to turn the challenge to change back on ourselves we can transform the situation so that it creates a greater consciousness and allows us to evolve as humanity.  This is very hard work but it seems to be the only way to transform rather than perpetuate the problem.  It requires a lot of compassion for those hurt.  If we do not react with more violence we create the possibility for the end of conflict.
This is difficult to do because it requires us to challenge ourselves and see our contribution to the situation and to take responsibility for that.  The fifth line of the Hexagram Contemplation says:
Nine in the fifth place means:
Contemplation of my life. The superior man is without blame.
A man in an authoritative position to whom others look up must always be ready for self-examination. The right sort of self-examination, however, consists not in idle brooding over oneself but in examining the effects one produces. Only when these effects are good, and when one's influence on others is good, will the contemplation of one's own life bring the satisfaction of knowing oneself to be free of mistakes.
I wonder what those killed would like their legacy to be?  I cannot say because I am not them but I think if I was killed by someone, I would not like my legacy to be more violence and killing.  I would feel my death had served a purpose if it led to greater awareness and a reduction of violence.
If someone is angry with us and we respond with anger and hurt, they continue to be angry and justify their anger.  However, if we don't respond with anger, they lose the fuel they need to justify their anger, it means they cannot blame us and they have to reflect.  I think it is the same with countries.  As long as we are bombing and killing people in the Middle-East if fuels the belief that we are the problem.  If we stop and act peacefully then in the end, the problem is thrown back on the country and it creates the conditions over time for the country to change itself.  This requires patience but in the end it is a lasting change.
If these events provoke us to greater consciousness, to recognise that we are all the same and to take responsibility for our part then that would be a remarkable reaction.
The top line of the Hexagram Contemplation says:
Nine at the top means:
Contemplation of his life.The superior man is without blame.
While the preceding line represents a man who contemplates himself, here in the highest place everything that is personal, related to the ego, is excluded. The picture is that of a sage who stands outside the affairs of the world. Liberated from his ego, he contemplates the laws of life and so realizes that knowing how to become free of blame is the highest good.
I think most of us can now see the impact of the way we reacted to the 9/11 bombings by invading Iraq and Afghanistan, we have taken many years to reflect and collectively we are beginning to take responsibility for our "boy like" reaction.  The same is true of the migrant crisis with our initial refusal to accept or have compassion for the migrants.  No-one wanted the little boy to drown but it woke up our hearts and changed our approach.  Can Paris wake up our hearts to the suffering violence causes?  I hear more to suggest we might respond differently this time I hope it will not take more pain to wake us up.

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Back to probability

A recent article (New Scientist 3rd of October - Definitely Not Maybe) by David Deutsch, a researcher in fundamental aspects of quantum information at Oxford University, opined that Probability "is as much use for explaining how the world really works as the flat-Earth theory".  This article surprised me since I had written about the same thing in this blog, using the same language and arguments, some three years ago and here was someone (with a lot more academic credibility!) saying the same thing.  It particularly surprised me since I had been revisiting it when talking to people recently and the synchronicity was particularly strong.

The second surprising thing about the article was that we were both using our conclusion about probability to examine the theory of multiple worlds.  However, whilst someone thinking the same way as me is clearly someone who should be listened to with great respect (just ask my son and daughter for their concurrence on this point!), what was curious was that we had come to opposite conclusions about parallel universes.  In his argument, Indeterminism - the idea that events happen by chance not from deterministic causal events - "is an absurdity introduced to disprove the multiple universes implied by Quantum Physics".  However, he posits that by accepting the multiple universes implied by Quantum Physics, a deterministic, non-probabilistic world view can be upheld, whereas to deny multiple universes implies either a probabilistic world or an indeterministic one.

I agree with his final conclusion that:
"It is easy to accept that probability is part of the world, just as it's easy to imagine Earth as flat when in your garden. But this is no guide to what the world is really like, and what the laws of nature actually are."

Yet, I do not concur about the theory of multiple universes and it seems to me that the arguments lead towards the conclusion that our understanding of what is happening at a quantum level is flawed rather than the notion that there are multiple universes - an explanation that seems to me to be the one that is "an absurdity introduced to prove" our current limited "personal garden" understanding of quantum physics.

So let me step back a bit.  What is invalid about probability?  The core of my argument (and Deutsch's) is that probability is a human construct which we have confused with reality.  Like many models of reality it has its advantages, but it fails when we assume that is actually the way reality works.  In probability theory, if something is repeated an infinite number of times then it will conform to certain "laws" if the conditions are equitable.  Yet in reality nothing can be repeated infinite times and so we can only deduce that something is, for instance, 99% probable.  In order to operate our models we have to assume that saying something is 99% probable is equivalent to saying that it will happen.  However, as Deutsch points out, saying that the weather was 99% likely to be sunny yesterday does not meant that it was sunny yesterday.  You can attest from your own experience that events do not 60%, 50% or 40% happen; they either happen or they do not.  We are so ingrained in thinking that the world is a result of our choices and that events happen a certain way but could have happened another way that we forget that all this takes place in our imagination and requires another human construct - time - in order to make any sense.  Chrissy Philp's presentation on time ( ably shows how time does not exist other than as a human construct.  The level of approximation inherent in probability means that we become blind to the normative aspect and begin to think that probability is real.

This all sounds very abstract but, for me, it has profound practical implications and goes to the heart of the question as to whether we have free will or to what extent we have free-will.  But before I going on to these, I want first to deal with why I think that the flaws in probability lead to the conclusion that multiple universes do not exist and why that is important.  David Deutsch's analogy for probability is that it is like flat-Earth theory; it works well when considering your garden but is disastrous if planning how to avoid an asteroid strike on the earth.  Taking this analogy further, I think it worth considering quantum theory on this level.  Flat-Earth theory can operate as a view of the world when you have not travelled far enough outside your back garden to be able to establish that the world has no ends off which you could fall.  In the past we did not have the understanding or technology to circumnavigate the world and establish that if we journeyed long and far enough we would end up back in the same place again.  Now that we have the technology to leave the Earth and view it from space, any individual can prove to themselves that the Earth is a sphere.  I actually think Deutsch's analogy is a good one for thinking about Quantum Physics.  The technology we have at our disposal and the limits of our senses make it impossible to accurately see or determine what is happening at a quantum level.  We are speculating, in the same way that philosophers of old might have speculated about what happened at the end of the world if the world were flat.  Modern research suggests that flat-Earthism died out among scholars around the 3rd Century BC in Europe but took longer to do so in other cultures, indeed there is still a flat-Earth society today, so even with evidence it takes us time to relinquish our world views.  We know that our current model of quantum physics presents us with problems, such as the fact that it does not tie up with the theory of relativity at levels beyond the quantum but it is our best guess so far (the current thinking seems to be that relativity may also have to change).  To suggest it is more than a guess is dangerous - as per the quote "if you think you understand quantum don't understand quantum theory" attributed to Richard Feynman by Richard Dawkins in his book God Delusion.

In the same way, I strongly suspect the concept of multiple universes (like Ptolemy's attempt to explain the retrograde motion of the planets by attributing multiple interlocking circles to the planets' motions or more recently the concept of time moving backwards to explain Ben Libet's research on the brain and free will) exists to justify our current model of quantum physics because our understanding is too limited to allow us to see the full picture.  In this sense, I think that Deutsch's assertion that probability is flawed, and that the mysteries of Quantum Physics will be solved by a deterministic model is accurate.  Like Einstein, I do not believe that God plays dice.  I also recognise that to suggest that the world is not random and probabilistic is currently a dangerous heresy and that Einstein is seen as outmoded and consigned to scientists of the past who have been superseded.  Yet, while there may have to be revisions to the theory of relativity, Einstein's views on Indeterminism may yet prove to be more valid than we currently suppose.  David Deutsch's use of multiple universes to get round the difficulties of the indeterministic view implicit in Quanutm Physics is clever, but is it clever rather than necessarily valid?  His points about probability seem far more convincing - to me at least (as another person speculating and of course agreeing with him!).

I suspect that, in time, this will all be unravelled by improvements in technology that allow us to understand in more detail what is happening at a quantum level, although I recognise that will probably just present us with new conundrums to solve. However, let us return to the practical implications that I put to one side as I think they are at least as relevant and may well prove another route or mode of thinking to consider this topic.  The practical implications of our current belief in parallel universes and a random, probability driven world is that meaning has been driven out of our model of the world.  A world that is random and driven by probability implies that there is no inherent meaning in our lives and that any meaning that we attribute is illusory or only for our own sakes.  This may possibly be the case (I am keeping an open mind on that). However, it is leading us to some destructive behaviour.

In Deutsch's article he pointed out that Probability theory did not evolve as a scientific discipline but rather out of the gambling fraternity's desire to beat the system and find foolproof ways to make or maximise the chances of making money.  Game theory has evolved out of this.  This belief sees the world in terms of probabilities and statistics.  It is a very material view of the world - the primary motive was the making of money (presumably in the belief that this would make one more happy?).  It also has inherent within it the notion that one can control the future and outcomes by playing percentages - that one can beat the system or maximise one's opportunities and this belief seems to underpin our approach to many aspects of life.

Secondly, if multiple universes theory is true then, as people love to point out, you could be prime minister or president in another world, implying you could be more successful than you are now.  The obvious conclusion this leads to is that we can be anything we choose to be and the only thing determining that is us and the only thing standing in our way is making the right choices and maximising our chances. So we must compete to win and the harder we work, the more we push, the greater the probability that we will be one of the material winners.  Ambition and fear of missing the boat become dominating drivers.  This world view is deadening and heartless, because it denies anything spiritual or any belief in intuition or the heart.  Also, if there are multiple universes then this one we live in, is not in anyway special or meaningful, it is one of many.

Thirdly, if there is nothing numinous then you are entirely responsible for your fate and you better do everything you can or you might miss the boat and, lets face it, you in one of the parallel universes is bound to be doing better than you are in this one, which leads to dissatisfaction and more material ambition.  More importantly if there is nothing numinous then what happens to you is random and to do with percentages so virtues such as patience, kindness etc. have no value unless they allow you to manipulate others to your advantage.  It is interesting to note that almost everywhere in the world currently, any good qualities or acts are always justified with the proviso that they will provide a material reward.  Being kind to others, emotional intelligence, mindfulness are subtly justified with the notion "and you will be more successful (materially)".  Even more spiritual or psychological approaches such as NLP are predicated on the notion that you will be more successful materially and that there is no inherent meaning or morality in life; you can be whatever you want to be.
The overall effect of this world view is to create an overwhelming pressure that we are responsible for creating our lives and the perception that we must do everything to maximise our chances.  This looks a pretty bleak outlook, and it is.  It is a game called "survival of the fittest" and finds its apotheosis in the concept of 'the selfish gene".

There are a number of areas of life where this world view has been particularly destructive.  I work coaching business leaders and this world view has resulted in an increasingly frenzied fear of missing the boat and the belief that there is a relationship between the number of people you meet and network with and the business you win.  The pressure and fear of missing the boat is intense and if you are not playing the game of trying to manipulate and push and network then you are clearly a failure - the notion that you can trust or have faith that work will come is meaningless in this world view.  Material measurement has become god, with profit and numbers ruling business management and league tables set up in every area to identify the winners and losers.  The mindset is that if you work extremely hard you maximise the chances that you won't have the bad luck of being someone who can't keep up and is rejected.

I also see a similar world view dominating our approach to education where exam success and league tables dominate our approach to education.  Attending a recent final stage interview for a Steiner School application to be an Academy was very shocking.  The questioning was ferocious and pointedly about exam achievement to the exclusion of all other factors.  It was a mathematical exercise about proving that the school would "add value" to children - meaning increase their grades.  Globalisation only adds to this fear of missing the boat since the number of participants for global resources has increased and so have the winners and losers.  Better make sure you and your children are "winners" and maximise their chances.  Indeed the government had better make sure that our children are trained to fill the gaps in our economy so they and we don't get left behind and we maximise our collective chances of winning.

The third area where I have watched this play out is in working with young offenders.  For these young offenders, they reject the pressure to conform to this model and they know that their chances of winning in the system are poor from the start.  So why play at all? Also, if there is no moral consequence to our actions, they are simply random or chance, then why not play the probabilities and steal and deal in drugs and do your best not to get caught?  If you are smart, you might get away with it and then you've won; if you get caught then be smarter next time and play the probabilities so you are less likely to get caught.  The saddest part of this is that there is no personal growth or learning in this world view, or only how to be cleverer at playing the percentages next time.  It does not encourage moral responsibility since any belief in anything larger than ourselves is delusionary.

This leads me to the next point about the probability/random view of the world.  This concerns the belief in individual agency that accompanies it.  In her recent series Genius of the Ancient World, Bettany Hughes explored the lives and philosophies of three key individuals all born within a hundred years of each other who have shaped the world's thinking for the last two-thousand or more years - the Buddha, Socrates and Confucius.  I wondered, watching the programmes, if the world view they ushered in has become distorted.  All three believed in human agency - that we could use our free-will to choose our approach to the phenomenon of life.  They believed that we had choice about how we approached life and they brought forward the idea that we could use our free-will to determine our actions - that we were not determined by the events around us.  This individual separation of our consciousness from the world around us had benefits; we had choice in how we responded.  However, none of them suggested that we were not subject to fate or that we could control the material world around us. Where they seemed to me to co-incide in their view was in the idea that we have agency to decide our response to the world.  This has evolved to make us now believe that we are separate from the phenomena around us (first God was abstracted) and now we believe that free-will and human agency is all there is, that there is no limit to our individual free will.  However, in believing in our free-will above all else we hold a terrible danger of hubris.

This desire to feel that we, at an individual level, are completely free and that we are in control is a strong desire, but that does not necessarily mean it is true.  In choosing our attitude or response, we are completely free (and this seems to be the message of the three) but that does not mean we have complete control over the world around us, or that it does not exist separately from our free-will.  There is a simple thought experiment to test the limits of our free-will.  Try using your free-will to change the fate of your body - see if you can use it to create a third eye or three working legs or to become cat-shaped.  If there are limits to our ability to change our own material form, what makes us think that our individual free-will is not subject to limitations?

A recent study of the global financial collapse suggested that the interlinking business networks and dependencies that created the collapse mirrored those of biological systems and that the same patterns of collapse were evident.  We can all accept that this might be the case, but the individuals who were part of those businesses would baulk at the idea that they were not making completely free and individual choices, unaffected by any larger forces or "fate".  Yet all their individual actions conformed to a pattern inherent in other systems.  The suggestion of Buddha, Socrates and Confucius was that if we are aware of the deeper nature of life and our existence we can have agency in how we choose to respond to it - that we can be virtuous if we choose to be.  Thus, the idea of multiple-universes is attractive to our concept that it is our free-will and choice which is determining the universe - in the same way that we are concluding that our acts of observation influence the outcome of quantum events, yet that does not necessarily mean that it is true.  It might be, but until we know, it strikes me as wise to keep an open mind and be aware of what is driving our speculation.  Rejecting any notions other than the material has become a cause celebre for many scientists, including separating, and rejecting any role for, Philosophy in modern scientific thought.  Yet this rejection of any other mode of thinking or existence other than the material creates dangers for us in failing to remember that our models are just that.

On that note, I am conscious the same is true of this article and I reserve the right to be completely and utterly wrong - even as I write I am wondering if it might all be created by our imaginations.  It will be interesting finding out - whatever the outcome, large amounts of humble-pie are likely to be on the menu.  In that respect, I realise my obscurity could be a distinct advantage in a personality prone to large-scale speculation.

Friday 27 March 2015

Ceres, Neptune and the dark side of the Pluto-Uranus square

Ceres has just passed its conjunction with Pluto but Dawn (the unmanned spacecraft) is now orbiting the planet.  Given this and our previous experience with the correlation of physical insight into planets coinciding with a similar shift in our collective psychological insight into the planet, I have been thinking more about what Ceres represents.  At the same time, given it has been conjunct the planet Pluto at a time when it is making a close square to Uranus, it is hard to separate out the Pluto-Uranus issues from Ceres.  Indeed, given the Demeter myth (Demeter was the Greek name for Ceres) and the association with Pluto, it seems difficult to separate the two.  This prompted me further to think about the way we interpret charts on a mundane level versus individual birth charts.  It occurred to me that when we look at a birth chart we synthesise how all the planets are working together to create the overall personality of the individual whereas with transits we tend to look (or perhaps I do..!) at individual transits more.  Thus in considering the current world situation I am interested in the interconnectedness of the outer planets and also Ceres and Chiron.

So let me explain my thinking on one point which I think the Pluto-Uranus square is picking up.  In terms of Ceres and interpretation generally, I am wary of attributing planets (and asteroids) to either men or women exclusively.  I am more in line with Jung’s interpretation (informed perhaps by his interest in astrology) that men and women contain both masculine and feminine natures.  Indeed one has only to look at a chart to see that both men and women’s charts contain all planets and all signs.  There isn’t a greater preponderance of male signs and planets in men’s charts or female planets or signs in women’s charts; we cannot tell by looking at a chart whether it is a man’s or woman’s chart.  There are just as many women with strong or dominant Jupiter or Mars as men with strong or dominant Moon or Ceres.  Thus the archetypes might express male or female energies but I do not think that means that they “belong” or are “exclusive” to men or women.  I think for the world in general, without the benefit of Astrology, this is causing significant confusion and is part of Chiron in Pisces and the Pluto-Uranus square.

Back to Ceres/Demeter; I think that a key part of the Demeter myth is that it provides a key to Pluto which echoes other myths such as the Sumerian myth of Ereshkigal In this very Plutonic myth, Inana descends to Ereshkigal’s realm where she usurps Ereshkigal’s throne. There are multiple versions of the myth and in some Ereshkigal is in mourning already for her husband whom Inana is partly responsible for sending to his death.  They also suggest that Inana went to ursurp Ereshkigal’s throne through a lust for more power.  However most versions are clear that once the judges of the underworld have decided against Ereshkigal she is hung up on a hook like a piece of meat to rot.  The key to the myth is that Inana has agreed in advance with her servant that, should she be unsuccessful, he/she (depending on the version of the myth) is to approach a number of gods for help. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts to persuade other gods, Enki, the god of wisdom, agrees to help and fashions two mourners to go down to the underworld to grieve with Ereshkigal. Ereshkigal is so moved by the mourners willingness to mourn with her that she grants them whatever they wish and they ask for Inana and restore her body. There are also parallels in that the Descent of Inana into the underworld links to the notion of fertility and the cycle of the seasons as well as the movement of Venus (with whom Inana is associated) from morning star to evening star.

There are strong parallels between this myth and the Ceres/Demeter/Isis myths.  In the Isis and Osiris myth Isis weeps and mourns and eventually is able to heal and restore Osiris and in the Demeter myth she weeps and mourns and eventually Persephone is allowed to return from the underworld.  Yet in each there is nevertheless a price to pay; in the descent of Inana, her husband replaces her in the underworld; in the Demeter myth, Persephone spends half her time in the underworld and half above ground and in the Isis myth Osiris is restored to life but not fully.  What I am wondering is whether the asteroids in general deal with the fact of being human in a world of powerful transpersonal forces – Neptune, Uranus and Pluto. It is about our ability as separate vulnerable individuals to come to terms with the powerful forces that interact with us and render us at times powerless.  The inner child in us rages against the unfairness of these events.  Yet, these black holes (cf. One Way of Looking at Man by Chrissy Philp) where the universe refuses to conform to our picture of how we think it should be are also the engines for our growth and development and for the evolution of our individual and collective consciousness.

On this level, I think the asteroids are a collective – a planet that did not form – and I also think with their sense of vulnerability, woundedness etc. they are linked to Virgo.  Think of trying to keep a house clean – it is a never ending wound.  It is the same with the body.  All our efforts at good health cannot hold back the process of decay.  It is the same with our neuroses; however much we try to work on ourselves our inner-child remains perpetually insecure because it has the consciousness that we are mortal.  Yet this constant wounded quality is also the prompt for us to evolve.  We work and work to stay alive and to maintain our survival in the face of a world which is in a process of entropy.  Yet the product of entropy according to Tom Stonier (Information Theory and the Internal Structure of the Universe) is information.  My friend Chrissy’s model of the brain has on the left brain side Scorpio, followed by Taurus, followed by Virgo as you work forward towards the front of the brain.  This is a pattern of evolution as it follows our evolutionary consciousness discovering Pluto in the 1930s then Taurus (ruled by the Earth according to Chrissy’s model) when we first ventured into space in the 1960s and then Chiron in 1979.  Again according to this pattern the signs link to I-Ching hexagrams and Taurus and Scorpio create the hexagram 18 – Work on what has been Spoiled in the I-Ching.  Work on what has been spoiled is about consciousness and the next evolutionary step leads back to Leo or the Sun. In the myth of Chiron, Chiron was the trainer of heroes (Leo).  I think we are in the midst of a transition where work is changing from being a means of survival to meaning work on ourselves, on our own development and evolution.  Certainly in the formal work context it is now seen less as a job which provides the monetary means for survival and much more as a creative expression and being about the development of our potential.

All the Ceres myths have the ideas of life and death plus mourning and the cycle of the seasons and fertility woven together in them.  Taurus and Scorpio bookend the seasons in terms of being the centre of Spring in all its beauty and life and Autumn in all its death and decay.  So I think a recognition of the cycles of young life being overtaken by decay and then regeneration to be the fertilisation of new life is central to Ceres.  For all of us, these cycles of nature are disturbing and anxiety provoking.  For we humans with our self-consciousness which involves knowledge of our own mortality and the mortality of everything in the world it is a painful place to live.  We live surrounded by the knowledge of the inevitability of decay and death.  Yet also at a subtler level, we have to acquiesce to the pain of life and our inability to prevent suffering since it is the fertiliser of our development and growth.  We do not necessarily like this experience – we are like Persephone being led down into the underworld and Demeter grieving her loss.  It all seems so unfair and so unnecessary.  We are appalled at the current level of death and destruction of the planet yet it seems to be necessary for us to evolve.  Darwin, in very Virgoan style, went around the world, studying and cataloguing animals.  His discovery was the evolution of the species but it was as much about constant death of species and physical adaptation (Virgo again?).

So how does this apply to our current situation and the Pluto-Uranus cycle?  The last major aspect between Pluto and Uranus was the 1960s conjunction with all the upheaval and change that that brought about.  The Pluto-Uranus generation are now in their mid 40s to mid 50s and therefore quite dominant in society.  The Pluto-Uranus in Virgo conjunction brought a revolution in attitudes towards sex with the stigma of birth outside marriage eradicated and class, gender and race boundaries being brought down.   Interestingly Chiron was also in Pisces in the middle of this as well as it is now and so for many of those with the Pluto-Uranus conjunction, they also have Chiron in Pisces.  The question of the morality of war was also challenged with protests over the Vietnam war and the first shocking footage of the reality of war (Chiron in Pisces).

Uranus as a planet seems to involve inevitable separation – a splitting.  If it is the Creative in I-Ching terms then it can only manifest through the Receptive which creates a binary pair.  It allows us to become less identified with things – particular the material (Saturn) – to dissociate.  It also allows us to create the duality between subject and object.  Uranus is also about enlightenment and the cosmic mind.  It is collective awareness.  It is no surprise that with the square to Pluto being exact recently the results of a study at Southampton University were published 

This study’s implications are that awareness is not localised within the body.  If this is true and judging by the experiences of those who have experienced Near Death Experiences (NDEs) then awareness is a shared and collective phenomenon which is separate from our physical existence (

So what is the relevance of all of this?  Since Uranus separates us from things it has a rather nasty shadow or side-effect.  When Uranus was first discovered in 1781 revolutionary energy exploded into the collective consciousness.  There was the French Revolution, the American war of Independence, the declaration of independence, the Industrial revolution and many more.  However, since Uranus separates it also has the danger of polarising.  It rules Aquarius and it is very uncomfortable with water (emotion) because it is messy and subjective.  Uranus dissociates but in doing so it is unable to recognise its own subjectivity.  Hence the Sun is in detriment in Aquarius because Aquarius struggles to see itself as individual and subjective (the essence of the Sun).  This is a paradox since it is the fact that we all feel like individuals that makes us the same.  Uranus instead identifies with the group.  This is fine as long as we identify with the whole of humanity or with consciousness itself, then we are part of everyone.  But if we identify with part of consciousness then there are huge dangers.  Thus the mob in Paris identified with being the proletariat and it wasn’t interested in how individual aristocrats (or later anyone opposing the revolution) had behaved, anyone it disliked was condemned by the mob and their head was chopped off.  At its worst Uranus is this mob mentality, quick to judge and condemn others on principle and concerned with equality above all.  Communism was concerned with this notion of equality and human rights and principles yet it became stiflingly grey and repressive of individuals, whilst at the same time covertly creating huge differences between people.  Beauty, freedom of individual expression and any questioning of the party was quickly punished.  Talking openly and questioning the ideology was dangerous in the extreme.

Many of the things which came to prominence under the Pluto-Uranus square are now reaching a point of crisis.  In the 1960s, there was the rise of feminism, greater social mobility, sexual freedom, a move away from the stigma of birth out of marriage, the human rights movement under Martin Luther King, challenging of the Vietnam war etc.  It was a like moment of adolescent freedom when the rules laid down by parents were there to be challenged and the dominant models demolished.  Yet where are we now with all these issues?

In myth Ouranos fathered children with Gaia the Earth, yet he found these children abhorrently ugly and imprisoned them in Tartarus deep within the earth where they could not be seen.  At the prompting of Gaia, Kronos (Saturn) finally castrated Ouranos and ended his reign.  The fact that Ouranos imprisoned his children deep within the Earth and that they finally erupted to castrate him tells us something important about Uranus.  Uranus in its process of separation and its dislike of the earthy or emotional side of nature holds the danger of repressing those sides of ourselves and others it finds ugly or distasteful.  It condemns these sides and they become demonised, but above all it distances itself from them.  It creates “us” – good, untainted by emotion and “them” – corrupt, bestial, inhuman, irrational.  It is no coincidence that Ouranos is castrated.  The very violent and sexual nature of this act tells us something about what Ouranos represses and is undone by.  Liz Greene associates Uranus more strongly with perfectionism than Virgo.  Uranus’s idealism and desire to live in the nice clean world of ideals and concepts rather than the messy world of biological nature gives us a clue about this perfectionism.  With the current Uranus in Aries square Pluto in Capricorn we can see this phenomenon at work.  Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Gary Glitter, Dave Lee Travis, all these old plutonic “satyrs” have become representative of Pluto.  In the recent case of Ched Evans the footballer, the mob through its new Uranian medium of the internet became prey to the mob.  Anyone who spoke against this mob reaction was trampled and scapegoated in its wake. In this respect, one can see that it is difficult to separate out the effects of the outer planets when talking about what is happening in the world – Chiron in Pisces and Neptune in Pisces have the danger of seeing the world in terms of victims and scapegoats.  It is interesting to note that since discovering Uranus in 1781 we have quickly cantered through the discovery of Neptune, Pluto, Chiron etc.  It seems like we have reached adolescence as a collective and are now having to take greater conscious responsibility for collective forces.  Getting our approach right to these collective forces seems to be the evolutionary stage we are collectively involved with.  Yet to handle these forces wisely it seems it is important that we understand the implications of these collective forces getting entangled with individual energies.  In themselves these transpersonal forces are collective – consciousness (Uranus) , uninterrupted flow of the heart (Neptune) and our collective inner child (Pluto) yet when we distort them to personal ends and forget it is all us they become very dangerous.   Currently with the square, there is a danger that we play out Uranus tension with Pluto through a desire to eradicate the bestial in human nature.  Yet, in this division and separation there is tremendous shadow at play.  It is as if, through these collective scapegoats, we can eradicate our own biological natures, we can become pure, free, rational beings, who are separated from our biology.  It is also a war on horror and the reality of the world.  Can we really eradicate Pluto and Capricorn from the world?  Would we want to?

Looking at the issues we faced in the 1960s (and it is no coincidence that this generation are now at their most influential in society), war still haunts us in the form of Afghanistan, the Middle-East and Ukraine.  In these situations we have ready targets for scapegoats in Putin, the Taliban, ISIS etc.  Yet, have we learnt from the conjunction?  Do we see ISIS, Russia, Afghanistan as “us” or “them”?  The danger is that we are still caught in separating ourselves and seeing “them” as “bad” rather than recognising the gift of Uranus – that consciousness is a shared phenomenon; that it is all us.  Alan Curtis’ brilliant documentary Bitter Lake was a fantastic example of the Pluto-Uranus square and Neptune and Chiron in Pisces with Ceres mixed in.  It highlighted the dangers of failing to see our own Pluto in the form of the inhuman brutality dished out by our own troops and drone warfare; that, as the army captain pointed out, their simplistic view of Taliban as “badies” and them as “goodies” meant that they could be manipulated by local warlords into killing rivals simply by the warlords labelling their rivals as “Taliban”.  To see the world through the Karpman Drama Triangle lens of victims and persecutors and get sucked into a saviour role is to fall prey to Neptune at its worst.  It is as if under the current transits we are being given the chance to see the dangers of responding like puppets caught in the Pluto-Uranus crossfire and Neptune mob victim mode, reacting instinctively as if we want to root out and destroy Pluto but in the process becoming the very thing we are seeking to eradicate – our testicles are being castrated.  Thus programmes like Alan Curtis’ give us a chance to really see ourselves and our potential to be corrupted.  It is the same with our greed and social mobility.  The dream was that society would become more equal if we eradicated the older generation’s notions of hierarchy and class privilege.  However, there is greater polarisation of wealth than before and greed runs rampant.  It is easy to blame the bankers and to separate ourselves from them but this misses the point of Pluto.  Pluto prompts us to look more deeply, to confront our deepest nature and transform it.  At this point I have to own up to the fact that I am not describing the Pluto-Uranus opposing Chiron in Pisces generation from a detached standpoint – I am the Pluto-Uranus opposite Chiron in Pisces generation – indeed the aspect is very tight and closely square my Sun on the ascendant in Sagittarius.  Oh no – that means it is me too!  It is; I recognise the fear and greed in me that prompted the bankers and I recognise the tendency to disgust at the manifestations of Pluto.  Perhaps this is only my own realisation that I am projecting on to the collective?  No, no, I I am sure it is safe to assume that I am the only one who is capable of Uranian, god like detachment from subjective involvement in these issues!  Sadly, my own journey has turned out to be more about seeing my own flawed humanity on a grander and grander scale than achieving the god like detachment that the Uranian side of my personality might desire.

It seems futile to attempt to eradicate deep biological reality (Pluto in Capricorn).  By separating ourselves from it we only deepen it and castrate our ability to be conscious of it.  It has taken me until this last square between Pluto-Uranus to fully understand what it is going on but I often notice that this is often the case with transits.  I see a very similar theme with the issue of human rights and feminism.  The current focus on diversity with its emphasis on the biological differences between people has increased the focus on our difference so that individuals genuinely believe that others are alien but more importantly it holds the danger of people identifying more strongly with their sex, their ethnic background etc.  If we are not careful in trying to eradicate prejudice we define and identify people more strongly with their gender, racial background, as if this was the sum of who they were.  It is a pernicious form of prejudice and it is Uranus shadow at its worst, creating separate groups and a tribalistic identification with that group.  It is isolating and depressing to be with men who talk about and treat women as if they were alien but it is equally isolating and depressing to be among women who treat men as if they are alien. That anyone should be dismissed simply because of their biological features is a denial of our common humanity, yet I think the solution to this is greater identification with our common humanity and shared consciousness rather than greater focus on and identification with our differences.  This is the problem of the conscious mind separating itself from nature.  In trying to be “rational” we become deeply “irrational”.  Like Ouranos, banishing his ugly children to the underworld, we will not rid ourselves of anything distasteful and irrational, instead we hold the danger that we are castrated by it.   The idea that we will eradicate sexism or racism by getting everyone to say the right words, or quotas or statistics is similarly “irrational”.  This is not the role of the conscious mind.

The current square is really challenging us to bring Uranian awareness and insight to Plutonic issues rather than attempt to imprison them deep in the earth.  Uncomfortable as it always will be Pluto’s role is to face us into deep truths and to transform our lives.  This is where I think Ceres is key.  Ceres is the ability to mourn and grieve with others about the pain and horror of life and it’s biological imperatives.  Who can grieve with and have deep compassion for the paedophile – perhaps the legacy of this period will be the bravery of programmes like The Paedophile Next Door with it’s protagonist Eddie’s bravery in admitting to his tendencies and asking for help before acting on them.  This is Uranus and Pluto at their best.  Uranus enlightening and unorthodox seeing our shared consciousness and Pluto forcing us to confront and transform our deeper natures.  Neptune and Chiron in Pisces is not easy identification with victims or one-sided compassion.  It is genuine compassion for us all without excluding any part of humanity.  How do you have compassion even for those who have murdered or committed atrocities towards us or represent all that might disgust us?  Yet our most inspirational figures do just that – The Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa.   A recent study on those who commit extreme acts of heroism on behalf of people they do not know concluded that the difference was that those who do not act see a “stranger” whereas the individuals who act see a fellow human being.

Can we see everyone as us? Can we accept even the horror of death and devastation, pain and grief as part of life and allow it to deepen us?  There are wonderful things coming out of the Pluto-Uranus cycle and more still to come, we are only beginning to take our first steps towards understanding ourselves collectively.  I leave the last word to Tich Nat Hahn because he expresses it so beautifully:

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my
hands, and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain if like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh

Wednesday 4 February 2015

A few thoughts on Ceres

Alison Chester-Lambert in writing about Ceres mentions that she was worshiped in Greece as Demeter but before that as Isis in Egyptian myth. The spacecraft Dawn is due to go into orbit around Ceres on 6th March when Ceres is in Capricorn widely conjunct Pluto and square Uranus, although this is an approximate date and if it arrives earlier it will be closely conjunct Pluto and square Uranus. So with Ceres about to be more closely scrutinised, a conjunction coming up with Pluto (significant given the myth of Demeter) and a square to Uranus, we would expect a breakthrough in our awareness of Ceres. At the time of writing this Ceres is widely conjunct Pluto and making a square to Uranus and Dawn is winging its way towards orbit with the Planet.

Chrissy Philp and I run a bi-weekly session for young students and last weekend she chose to present on Ceres. This got me thinking about Ceres and what it represents and particularly (on reading Alison Chester-Lambert’s article from her book) about the fact that Ceres was first worshipped as Isis. I am aware that ancient symbolism often crops up unconsciously in the modern world yet clearly with a purpose. Thus astronomers, whilst in many cases rejecting Astrology nevertheless stick assiduously to names from the ancient mythology when naming planets/asteroids etc. They even act on these planets in symbolically appropriate ways (hence banishing Pluto to the underworld of sub-planets) where he is hidden away and not referred to consciously. I even amusingly worked on a Human Resources IT system for Ernst & Young which was called EYSIS (Isis) and ran on a server called Nile!

So the fact that ISIS is in the news at the moment and that it is the name that has finally stuck to this group is, I think, no coincidence given the approaching conjunction of Ceres/Isis with the Pluto-Uranus square. It also tells us something about this asteroid and its symbolism. The myth of Isis is that she was the sister and the wife of Osiris. Osiris was tricked by his jealous brother, Set, and murdered. Isis was so upset that her tears of grief were said to be what caused the Nile to flood each year. Indeed Plutarch’s account of the story is full of descriptions of Isis weeping and mourning for her dead brother/husband Osiris, but also tellingly Plutarch admits that he deliberately excluded the parts about Isis being beheaded and Horus dismembered – Isis and beheading is therefore, whilst shocking, not a new phenomenon. In the Greek version of the myth, the rape and abduction of Persephone causes Demeter to lament so deeply that the earth itself was barren throughout until a compromise was reached. Both myths have the idea of fertilisation and crops in them but also of healing – Isis’s tears cause the flooding of the Nile which irrigated the fields and crops of Egypt and Demeter is associated with the cycle of the seasons – her lamenting with autumn and winter and her reunion with Persephone bringing Spring and Summer.

What are we to make of this and why is this relevant now as Dawn approaches Ceres? In talking about Ceres Chrissy was illustrating through very exact transits of Ceres her grief and constant weeping at having discovered two baby greenfinches and then losing them a year later when they chose to fly away. At the same time she recently wrote about War and the need to understand the grief of our own “3 year old” inner child if we are to act with compassion rather than judgement towards each other and hence understand how to avoid the sort of judgemental, rational mindset that ignores people’s hurt and instead judges them and decides they must be “dealt with” which means more bloodshed, more hurt and more war and so on in a vicious cycle.….html

So Ceres seems to be to do particularly with mourning or grieving, yet the mourning or grieving is important and to be respected since it gives birth to new life or restores life energy. It is the inconsolable weeping grief that we feel which causes us to be desolate. Rationality makes little impact on this state. Certainly, telling people that it is childish and they should stop it, does not work. Persephone or Proserpine was raped and taken to the underworld by Pluto, so this is a deeply primal part of our nature, it is not a part easily understood or dealt with by the rational “adult” mind. It is dismissed as indulgent or childish. Yet, failure to grieve represses this emotion and breeds further destruction. In our modern happiness obsessed world where anything other than happiness is seen as depression and therefore an abnormality and a problem, we even medicate grief. In the myth of Isis she searches for Osiris and eventually finds him and hides him only for Set to find him again and cut him into fourteen pieces and scatter him. Isis is again distraught and sets out to restore him once more.

Like the tale of Demeter there is a sense of a constant cycle of mourning and grieving, followed by restoration. Some commentators identify this same mythology with the Virgin Mary cradling both the infant Christ and then the crucified Christ in her arms (there is a painting in the National Gallery where Mary is depicted cradling the infant Christ in her arms yet his face prefigures the scene of his death when Mary again cradles his dead body in her arms).

On September the 1st 1939, at the outbreak of the second world war, Ceres was conjunct Pluto in Leo. Pluto was symbolically taking Persephone down to the underworld and a whole cycle of devastation, mourning and wailing was being initiated. On September 11th 2001 (the destruction of the Twin Towers) Ceres was in Capricorn squaring the exact Mercury rising in Libra and opposing Jupiter in Cancer to form a t-square. It was also opposing America’s sun and conjunct the UK 1801 Sun. It is a shame that America rather than grieving and weeping, chose instead to act on their grief and enlist others in attacking Iraq and Afghanistan. Thus the cycle of destruction and grief was reinitiated. It is the evolution of this that has led to the emergence of ISIS and it can be no coincidence that she is associated with beheading and terrible Plutonic revenge if not respected. Thus Ceres and Pluto seem to be eternally connected and perhaps can only be reconciled if we can respect both.

Milton Erickson, a master of understanding emotions, tells the story of his young son falling down the stairs and cracking his head open. Erickson, instead of reassuring his son that he was ok, told him that it deserved a good cry and sat with him as he cried. When he had cried, he then got him interested in whether it would require more stitches than his brother’s cut and by the time he got to the doctors he was more interested in how many stitches he would get than any concern about the cut. Milton Erickson’s point was that we must first acknowledge people’s emotional reality if they are going to trust us. If we are hurt and upset and someone tells us we are ok, as is the reflex of most parents, then we have to conclude either that we cannot trust ourselves or we cannot trust others since they are telling us we are ok and we don’t feel ok. Erickson had Ceres sextile Neptune in a finger of fate with Mercury.

So could it be that Isis is visiting us in the guise of an opportunity to re-examine our approach to grief? If we respond to ISIS with little emotional intelligence we hold the danger of more death which will lead to more grieving parents and relatives, which will lead to more desire to unleash Plutonic vengence which will lead to more grief etc. With Dawn approaching Ceres/Isis and with a conjunction in Pluto conjunct the Twin Towers chart Ceres and square Uranus in Aries there is an opportunity to wake up to the real meaning of Ceres and to allow her waters to feed a new birth of understanding and empathy and to nurture and sustain life.

My wife has Ceres in Pisces in a close t-square with her Sun in Cancer and Mars in Virgo. With the Moon in Taurus in the 11th house she is a natural earth mother, working out in nature everyday using horses and animals for therapy with autistic children. With Mars opposing Ceres she hates the notion that she is in anyway an earth mother, but acknowledges wryly that it must be the case.  Horus the son of Osiris and Isis in many versions of the myth was wounded or damaged. At the same time, four years after our son was born and a year before our daughter’s birth we suffered a still-birth that went to full term.   At the funeral my son who was four at the time, was curious to know why the baby’s coffin was being cremated rather than cut into lots of tiny pieces.   Perhaps as Isaac’s (our still-born baby) brother he felt like Set (Osiris’s brother) that this was a much better solution to grief – it certainly shifted us from tears to barely muffled laughter.

The chart for Issac had Chiron rising in Scorpio in a close square to Ceres conjunct Uranus. As we begin to learn and integrate the asteroids more, I can’t help feeling that Chrissy is right when she attributes them to Chiron and Virgo. Certainly, the cutting up of and searching for the parts of Osiris to make him whole again echoes the Chiron myth of a wound that cannot be fully healed. The asteroids represent a planet that never formed and remained split into many tiny pieces (very Virgo with its dissection and analysing and its reputation for being unable to see the wood for the trees). The asteroid belt, Chiron, the Kuiper belt and beyond that the Oort cloud seem to represent boundary points – between the inner planets and the social planets, between the social planets and the Transpersonal planets and between the Transpersonal planets and the Cosmos.

In myth, Mercury was the messenger of the gods, the only one able to travel between gods. He rules Gemini – one immortal twin and one mortal wounded twin (thoughts are immortal (Gemini), physical bodies (Virgo) are very mortal). Perhaps the asteroids represent the physical interactions and exploration of our world? Chiron was discovered only a month after the launch of Voyager in September 1977 and now the Universe is littered with unmanned spacecraft and probes (including the first one to land on an asteroid) winging between the Planets sending us back pictures at a time when astrologically we are waking up to the asteroids and their symbolism. Is it possible that the asteroids might also play some role in the brain? Perhaps as physical links between parts of the brain? Only speculation (I am Sun rising in Sagittarius so I think I am allowed to speculate; I am very grateful to leave it to more adept earth signs to verify and research things).

Ceres is very much associated with Virgo and with the idea of planting, Demeter was the goddess of germination. The polarity of Virgo is Pisces and as we all recognise no plant or seed can grow without water. Perhaps this is the point, that the solution to the Plutonic side of Life is that we need grief and tears, because they actually nurture life.  I recognise that we are at the early stages of understanding the meaning of the asteroids but it will be interesting to watch as Dawn approaches Ceres what further clues it might reveal about the nature of Ceres.

Monday 19 January 2015

Letter to Astrological Association on professionalisation

Letter sent in response to article in the Astrological Association about qualifications:

I followed with interest the debate about qualifications and “professionalisation” of Astrology in the Journal. It occurs to me that as Astrologers we are in a unique position to consider this topic given our astrological knowledge. Professionalisation and qualifications are very much the realm of Saturn. In myth, Saturn castrated his father Uranus and threw his testicles into the sea and from the waves Aprhodite (or Venus) was created. This myth seems to me to be central to the debate. Uranus is original and inventive; it brings new ideas and revolutionises the existing structure (Saturn). In turn each new idea takes form and structures are built around it until it becomes the established norm and eventually calcifies (Saturn castrating Uranus), at which point Uranus arises to break through the calcification. It is an eternal cycle.

I understand the desire to legitimise Asrology and I am a big fan of the work Nick Campion and others have done in infiltrating the academic world, but I am wary of aping the Saturnian traps that bedevil our current materialistic world view. I think the point of the current Pluto-Uranus square is to cause us to become more conscious of these dangers and to break down some of the Saturnian calcification that has taken place. Chrissy Philp’s work links Saturn with The Receptive or Yin in the I-Ching and links Uranus with The Creative or Yang. The I-Ching is very clear in stating that when the Receptive tries to lead rather than serve it is destructive to both. The fact that Venus was born of the battle between Saturn and Uranus is interesting in that Venus rules balance, awareness of others and relationship. The fruit of this battle between the masculine (yang) and feminine (yin) principles in Greek society gave rise to democracy and civilization, which at its heart recognises the value of each individual and their importance to the whole. It requires compromise and a willingness to see others’ point of view and thus avoid individuals imposing their views on others (tyranny).

I work in the business world using astrology (and the I-Ching) to coach leaders in major international organisations and I have seen first hand what happens to organisations when Saturn leads rather than serving. I was at Ernst & Young when the accountancy profession lost sight of the fact that its primary purpose was to serve the public by providing independent opinions on the accounts of companies. The result was Enron and the collapse of Arthur Andersen. The same thing happened when banks lost sight of the fact that they had a duty to the public. In Science, forgetting that Science is about open-minded enquiry and instead focusing only on that which can be measured or quantified tangibly has been deadening and had a damaging effect on disciplines like Astrology. I have also worked in Education as a chair of governors and here too the focus on ambition, qualifications and standards has been lopsided and very damaging to genuine education to the extent that it is no longer about education but rather about teaching to pass exams.

Astrology has survived precisely because it was studied by those with a genuine interest in all that it offered and a desire to understand, not because it conformed to societal norms and regulations. I am all in favour of those who have a natural preference for Saturn being good at organisations and wanting to gain qualifications. I am also in favour of structure, organisation, hard work and experience to serve the development of Astrology (big thumbs up for all that Saturn offers). Yet, I am also on the side of those who are more Uranian or Jupiterian not wanting to be part of organisations or pursue qualifications. In turn I am also in favour of those who are more Neptunian being more mystically minded. I am not in favour of exclusivity because that seems anti-astrology. I don’t think any planet or any chart is any better than any other planet or chart. Personalities that like don’t like qualifications are just as important as those that don’t - I am not in favour of any planet or chart dominating. It is perhaps no coincidence that this debate has been sparked more broadly as Saturn moves into Sagittarius and squares Neptune. My own experience working as a coach (using Astrology and the I-Ching) to senior leaders in Business is that the myth that qualifications and regulations and standards prevent incompetence is precisely that – a myth. I have friends who are heads of some of the most respected psychology schools but while they have a huge amount of knowledge and much as I love them, I would not recommend them to others who were in need. Similarly I have friends who have no formal qualifications in psychology yet are the wisest people I know and would be the first people I would send those in need to. Most religions are created by figures who have a dynamic enlightened perspective. These people embody an inclusive approach, yet those who follow them soon create structures and rules around them and before long the rules have become more important than the truth or heart and they have become exclusive while preaching inclusiveness.

The debate in the Journal described those who did not have formal qualifications as self-taught which struck me as odd, implying that they had a subjective and one-dimensional view of astrology. Those I know who do not have formal qualifications are far from self-taught, they simply have charts that do not do exams yet they are often avid learners from others. When I look at the astrological community I love the fact that it includes formal learning for those whose charts like formal learning; informal learning for those whose charts embody informal learning, mystical crystal ball gazing people, scientific rational leaning people. Can we stay in the middle and value everyone’s charts or will we be tempted to try and control Astrology? If we do, I fear we will destroy a very beautiful inheritance and we will have missed the central point of the subject we study.

Sunday 28 September 2014

The threads of thinking

Lyn Bell’s excellent address to the Astrological Association centred on the fact that in Islamic State we have an organisation that fundamentally rejects our current mode of thinking in the west. She pointed out that this feels like a shock to us because we assume that everyone thinks like we do; that everyone shares our view that others are entitled to their opinion even if we might not agree with it. She pointed out that this focus on empathy, compassion and kindness, Nietzche and Hegel described in terms of a slave or servant mentality because a servant or slave is dependent whereas a master mentality, with its indepdendence encompassed values such as nobility, pride, strength. Her main point was that ISIS considered our western offer of democracy and freedom as a form of slavery and that ISIS could be seen as a provocation for us to consider where we had become enslaved. She linked this to the current mutual reception of Pluto in Capricorn and Saturn in Scorpio and also the 6th and 12th houses. She noted that our current economic system built on huge debt, where young people are faced with the choice of going to University and thus incurring immediate enslavement to paying off debt or not going to University but thereby being limited in terms of career opportunities does look like slavery.

This got me thinking about the difference in viewpoint that Lyn was describing. My friend Chrissy Philp outlines the great ages in her book The Golden City as being more like tree rings emanating from the centre rather than bookends with fixed start and finish points. She also sees them as having a masculine and feminine polarity – thus we are on the cusp of the Aquarius-Leo age and the age of Pisces-Virgo came in about two-thousand years ago with the birth of Christ.

What struck Lyn Bell very forcibly was the way that ISIS was rejecting our modern western thinking – the notion of empathy, kindness, compassion – the right of others to hold a different view from us. She said it was easy for us to assume that everyone holds this same way of thinking, yet it is shocking to find that an organisation like ISIS completely rejects what feels to us like an obvious shared mindset. Yet, when viewed through the lens of the great ages this starts to make some sense.
If we start with the age of Pisces-Virgo, it is easy to see that the qualities of kindness, empathy, the right for others to hold a different view are very much Pisces-Virgo age values – which is very fitting. What also fits is the fact that Lyn Bell associated these values with the 12th – 6th house of slavery and servitude. Yet, if the idea of tree rings is right then we are constantly dealing with thinking from previous ages – it has not gone away. That is what is confusing; that we are dealing with a jumble of thinking from previous ages, rather than a straightforward collective shift to a commonly held view.
It is easy to see that in the new Pisces-Virgo thinking the issue of master-slave relationship takes on a shift. Perhaps some of the more notable expressions of this collectively come in the form of Ghandi in India – non-violent resistance, the Dalai Lama in his response to China and Nelson Mandela in South-Africa.  All these individuals echo the response of Christ in the original symbolic story which began the Pisces age – a willingness to suffer personally in order to transcend the current conflicts and oppositions – note the physical element to the suffering – Virgo does rule the body (“take, eat: this is my body which is given for you…”).

In thinking about this I was also drawn to consider whether there might be a link between the physical location of the issues and the great ages. So with Islamic State in Iraq (former Babylon) Taurus-Scorpio issues are playing out. Certainly, many commentators point out that the real motive for the wars with Iraq are more to do with oil (Scorpio) and money (Taurus). In similar fashion, the recent conflict in Israel/Palestine echoes the themes of the Cancer-Capricorn age with arguments over homeland, who has the historical right (Cancer) and the relationship between state (Capricorn) and homeland (Cancer). Again this takes place in the very area in which this age’s central themes and history may well have taken place if dating of the Old Testament is accurate.

So, when we look at a challenges we face in a chart from a mundane perspective, is it possible that the transits of the outer planets confront us with thinking emanating from different ages? Is it also possible that the Earth is the physical matter on which the energies of the heavens are reflected much like a hologramatic representation – a 3-D screen?  Astro-locality suggests that our individual charts are triggered in particular locations and if so, then this suggests that the Earth may be the physical entity on which the influences of the heavens take form – a true marriage of Heaven and Earth.
In the current conflict with ISIS it is possible to see the jumbling of the different ages in our thinking. The Aries-Libra age seems particularly embedded in the myths of the Trojan wars – heroes fighting over a beautiful maiden taken from her rightful husband to form a love triangle. The only response to such despicable action was war – the enemy clearly needed to be taught manners. One can see this theme of a war to civilise others and bring justice continuing through the Roman Empire, then passing on the baton to the Byzantine Empire, the crusades, the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire and now the USA’s crusade to bring democracy to heathen countries. Perhaps each age brings a new level of consciousness which is provoked by the previous age? Certainly in the Arthurian myths (a very Aries-Libra myth with it’s knights, courtly love and central love triangle), the holy grail – the cup which caught Christ’s blood from the spear wound of the Roman soldier, has a suitably Pisces mystical and purifying quality which transcends the quest for honour through battle.

Listening to Afghanis and Iraqis that I have met and soldiers returning with PTSD, it is clear that while we may see ourselves as espousing very different values in the west, the reality could not be further from the truth. The actions of ISIS are no more brutal than those of our own soldiers. Yet we continue to believe that we have justice on our side much as the middle age amalgam of Christian countries justified their wars against the Arabic states.  Perhaps the global nature of the challenges we now face and our discovery of the outer planets will sow the seeds for a global consciousness where we recognise our common humanity? It would be nice to think that even if it takes thousands of years we will become more conscious of these collective forces and play them out with more wisdom.  If the AA conference talks reflected our potential we certainly have the ability!

Friday 1 August 2014

Israel, Palestine and morality

I was prompted to write about these themes by a programme I was listening to on Radio Four called the Moral Maze.  The subject of the programme was the conflict in Gaza and the participants were attempting to construct a moral platform for understanding and resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.  From my perspective the programme was a very dispiriting affair.  There were a lot of personal insults flung between the participants and little tolerance or genuine enquiry into morals.  At one point, one of the panel suggested that the historical context should be left out of the debate and that the only question was whether it was morally acceptable for Hamas to be launching rockets at Israeli citizens.  The host of the programme Michael Buerk also quite rudely silenced one of the participants saying that they did not have time to listen to a theory of morality from them - this rudeness and lack of desire to take time to understand seemed to me the antithesis of morality.  There was talk about who started the recent conflict and also questions about proportionality - is the Israeli response proportional to the provocation from Hamas?  There was also talk about the right to defend oneself.  The programme ended inconclusively and unsatisfactorily from everyone's perspective. So I would like to conduct my own exploration of this moral maze.

At this point I would like to pursue what I hope is a relevant tangent.  Much of my work involves coaching would-be partners for large law firms ( not on the surface an immediately promising line of enquiry I grant you!).  Key to this is their performance at an assessment centre.  As you would expect, much of the candidates' focus is on trying to work out the right answers to the questions they might be posed by the panel.  However, much of my work is to help them see that, no matter how hard they work on finding out the "right" answers to give, this will not guarantee their success, indeed it is likely to make them unsuccessful (as experience has demonstrated to me over the years).  Why should this be the case?  The reason for this, is that in making the process like an exam where they have to find the right answer, the individuals aim to avoid the personal dimension which could be risky - what if they say something people don't like? - and stay on the safe ground of the impersonal.  To do this, the individuals construct a careful and safe persona which they hope will provide all the "right" (socially acceptable) answers.  The result is that the panel get frustrated because selecting whether you want someone to be a fellow partner is an intensely personal affair.  They want to know whether this is someone they can relate to and, above all, trust and they quite rightly want to know what the candidate really thinks and believes.  There is also the danger that in attempting to espouse impersonal views, what people really feel and think always leaks through unconsciously, no matter how careful they are.  So the real preparation for the candidates becomes one of understanding what they really think and feel.  Yet further than this, they also want to know that the candidates have an accurate understanding of how others think and feel.  This requires the candidates to be able to stand outside themselves and their own context and describe it from others' perspective.  As I point out, the partners assessing them would have to conclude that if they cannot see their own and their own offices difficulties and weaknesses they will part of perpetuating them rather than resolving them.  Yet, again, simply being able to describe this perspective impersonally is not convincing because it does not engage the listeners personally.  If they can describe themselves and their own office in a way which details the emotional reality for others then the partners trust them - because they feel that the individuals are genuinely objective and also they trust them because what they describe reflects what the partners really feel and believe.

So why is the work I am doing with candidates at law firms relevant to Palestine, Israel and morality?  The reason it is relevant for me is that, for the partner candidates I am concerned with, the key issue is trust and the question of morality strikes me as being bound up with the issue of trust.  Certainly what exists between the Israelis and Palestinians is a situation of profound mistrust.  What I see is that the more we subscribe to the game of rationality and impersonality the more people distrust us.  What makes a profound impact on us is when people take the risk to be open and reveal who they really are and what they really believe.  Yet, this is only part of the equation, the second is the depth of our understanding of our personal views and what causes us to hold them.  If we are unaware of these real views and what sits behind them then taking a risk to share them is dangerous.  Would we trust someone who has not thought deeply about the real views and beliefs they hold and why they hold them?  So, while the first part of my work is to get candidates to think more deeply about the real feelings and beliefs they hold, the second part is to encourage them to reflect more deeply on these beliefs and to share them with others so that they can test their own thinking and understanding.  The effect of these two is that the individual's awareness increases - of themselves and others and also their personal perspectives deepen.  In terms of the assessment centre, they are less defensive and more able to have an objective discussion about the reality of their situation and their own views.  Yet how can it be that by being more concerned with theirs and others subjective reality they become more objective?  It is definitely a paradox.  Yet I watch time and again how this becomes the case.  They also draw more on their own personal experience and are able to relate it to the questions and concerns existing in the wider firm rather than talking theoretically and impersonally.  I know that the panels at the Law firms are not necessarily aware of the basis on which they make their judgements and what causes them to trust candidates, but it does not stop these being the criteria even if they are unconscious. At the same time the panels at law firms are not necessarily concerned with morality or wisdom, yet they are still affected by those who show it and particularly by those who show a high level of self-awareness and awareness of others.

So my conclusion is that people tend to trust each other if there is a correlation between what they hear someone saying and the reality they experience.  I think this is what caused the Moral Maze to descend into personal insults and angry exchanges.  Everyone was attempting to play the game of "I am being objective and rational" and each distrusted the other because they sensed the gap between what was being said and the emotional reality.  This brings us to another paradox, that we trust people more who are honest even if their actions may not be trustworthy.  If you say to someone that they are being selfish or feeling jealous and they admit it is true, then you tend to trust them more than someone who says they are trustworthy but you suspect the opposite because there is a correlation between what you are experiencing and what they are saying.  To start telling people what our real emotional motives and beliefs are seems intuitively to be dangerous; our usual mode is not to let any of this out of the bag in case it makes us vulnerable.  If we admit we are wrong or acting on emotions then we fear others will take advantage or not trust us.  Yet my experience in practice has been the opposite.  My friend Steve and I are very good friends yet there is always a level of competition between our personalities - we both want to shine and when the other shines our personalities can feel competitive and eclipsed.  We are like two silver back gorillas in the same troop when we work together - which is very frequently.  Yet, we are deep friends because all this is out in the open between us and we can even manage being two silver back gorillas together and allow for the fact that each of our personalities will not like it at times.  While our personalities are bound to be in conflict at times (that seems to be inherent in the nature of personalities), we recognise that we are each others shadow and that we are involved in the same dynamic so we can empathise with each other.

Now I recognise that I am not providing a nice pithy and satisfying principle for morality, instead I am rambling on about personal and subjective experiences.  The reason for this is that I became aware, listening to the Moral Maze, that it was not going to find its way through the moral maze of the situation in Gaza because it was searching with the wrong tools, ie. it was trying to find an answer with the rational mind when, as far as I can see, morality is an issue of the heart.  I also realised that morality is by its nature inherently personal and subjective; that it is about how we feel, indeed it is about understanding our own heart, since our own heart is like every other heart (the I-Ching says that we are all one in our hearts).  Treating situations affecting others like they are personal to us is really the only way we can operate morally, otherwise our judgements and actions are too impersonal and inhuman.  "Do as you would be done by" might be one way of expressing this, although, while this is a good approximation, there are even dangers in this since we might not be bothered about certain things which really mattered to others or we give others what we would need and it is not what they need.  So we can only come up with approximations  for our heart.  Yet, at the same time, if our hearts our open to those involved, we can always feel in our hearts when something is inhuman or immoral.  Einstein said that the mind makes a lousy master but a good servant.  From my perspective the role of the mind in morality is to try to elucidate the heart not to supplant it with impersonal principles or processes or analysis.  A mind which seeks modestly to understand and respect the heart, is a very valuable servant.

My experience with the wisest and most moral people I have met and read is that they use a lot of stories and analogies.  The reason for this is that analogies and stories are the best way to make morality personal.  I was recently running a programme in India for one of my clients.  During the programme, which was for the senior leadership team of a large Global Shared Services Centre, I was asked to give a demonstration of coaching.  This is not always comfortable or easy to do, especially with an audience I did not know.  I asked for volunteers and after a few minutes silence someone volunteered.  I began coaching the individual and I had agreed with my colleague Steve that we would break the session at a suitable point, which we did after about 5 minutes.  I broke it at that point because we had begun to make a breakthrough, but also so I could use the opportunity to describe the individual's situation to him without him being aware I was still coaching him.  The audience could see the situation and were intrigued so they asked me to continue.  With some dread as to whether I would make any further progress I continued.  Really I was playing around until I could find some hook to make a further breakthrough.  Suddenly I saw how to do it by getting him to look back from the current frustrating impasse he found himself in to the past when he had set up the division he was responsible for some ten years ago.  He saw that many of the obstacles that he now faced in terms of the lack of control he felt were mirrors of the situation he had faced in the past and that while he could not change the situation, he could at least see it as a challenge so that there was learning in it for him.  I could tell from his reaction that it was a moment of genuine insight on his part and the audience saw it too.  In the following break a number of people came up to me to explain that they had been amazed that he had volunteered since he and the people in his team (who were also there) were one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the overall leadership team and that this had been a seminal point for the programme.

As usual, Steve and I had had no idea about what was going on except for realising that, against our wishes, we were going to have to go with the flow and see where it took us.  However, despite this success, it was not the end of the situation.  At the end of the programme, when we were completely exhausted, the managing partner came to talk to us.  He spent some time explaining that he did not think that the individual I had coached would make any change and that coaching was a waste of time for him.  Steve and I, exhausted as we were, did our best just to be polite.  Yet, as the time ran on and on and everyone left, we realised we were going to have to engage with him more seriously and deeply especially as he made it abundantly clear he was not going to let us leave!  We tried all sorts of rational advice but he was adamant that we did not understand just how awful this man was and how appallingly he was behaving.  So I listened carefully and it became clear that the reality was that he had taken this other man's division ("his baby") that he had spent ten years building into a division of a thousand people, and he had outmaneuvered him so he was completely uninvolved in the decision process and then annexed his whole team.  I was stunned.  So I thought carefully about how to help the managing partner see this  - I was aware that I needed to use "cunning wisdom" because any other approach was going to continue his defensive rationalisations so I told him that I thought he should poison this man because that way he could get rid of him and no-one would ever know he had done it.  He could not help grinning.  I then said that perhaps he could have a series of rings on his fingers (I took this from an old Asterix book - Asterix in Switzerland) full of different poisons and every time anyone behaved in a way he didn't want he could poison them.  He half-heartedly attempted to continue to engage us in a rational discussion of how awful the other man was but I just took it a stage further and told him to blow him up or perhaps (having watched a historical Indian film the night before where the young victorious new king cruelly beheaded his rival) I said he could have him ritually beheaded like kings of old because he and this man were rival kings and he had won but his rival king (very unreasonably, I added) wasn't taking defeat very nicely and needed to be got rid of.  Once he knew what his real motives were I knew that he could no longer pretend to himself that he was acting rationally in trying to manipulate everyone into getting rid of this man, even if he continued to do it.

My reason for telling this story is because of the parallels with the situation in Israel and the Gaza strip.  Having taken over someone's land and won and now blockading them into a tiny strip it is easy to play the game of rationality - look how awful the Palestinians are, firing rockets at us, they are not civilized people.  Yes, we are all being rational and they are behaving so badly, like terrorists - we are just defending ouselves.  This without any acknowledgement of how it might feel to have had one's country annexed or the provocations that had led to them behaving in such an extreme way.  How might we feel if the Germans had won the second world war and annexed Great Britain and asked us all to live in Slough while the Germans ran all our former country?  I think there is every likelihood we might behave very badly.  My son has Mars in Cancer and my daughter is Sun-Mars in Gemini in the seventh house opposing Pluto on the Ascendant.  My son did not want a second child around, thank you very much, so his tactic was to provoke my daughter who was very volatile and, being five years younger, could not verbally compete until she had no option but to explode.  "Look", my son would say, "she is so awful and badly behaved, you are too lenient you can't let her behave like that, she needs to be punished".

Now, as long as the situation is seen in rational terms as a question of what to do, it is unlikely that anything much will shift and the actions taken are unlikely to resolve the situation.  Instead, it needs a different type of intelligence which sees the connectedness in the situation.  There were two recent examples of this, a jewish woman who is questioning the interpretation of the Torah and a wonderful holocaust survivor who is appalled that the Palestinians are being treated like he was  Both of these are wonderful examples of using the situation to see the common links and connections and bring us back together again.  What do I mean by "back together again" - I mean back to the fact that we are all one in our hearts.  Morality seems to me to be about those things which bring us back to the awareness that we are all one.  Israel has an inconvenient people making a fuss, claiming their right to exist in what they now see as their land. This sounds a familiar story; which people would understand being an inconvenient people making a fuss in other people's lands and claiming a right to exist?  When you appreciate the symmetry and connectedness of the situation it belongs to all of us and Israel and Palestine simply have a role in helping us all to understand and learn from this painful black hole.

I think that we all have a role in this black hole because whenever we fail to honour and consider the hearts of all those involved we end up splitting apart and then acting immorally (justifying killing each other).  I was in Prague again last week and being asked by the friend who prompted my blog on Ukraine what I now thought about Putin and the Crimea.  His aim was to suggest that I couldn't possibly have any sympathy or compassion for Putin now and must see that he should be put in his place.  Yet, far from this, the impact it actually had was to help me see the dangers when we forget morality (that we are all one in our heart and that we treat all parties with equal heart and compassion as if they were us) - that it leads to splitting apart.  Thus we have split Ukraine apart (literally) by our insensitivity to Russia and by Russia's fear and insensitivity to Ukraine - both sides have forgotten to consider each others hearts.  I wonder if places like Jerusalem (and Israel as a whole), Northern Ireland and the Crimea are astrological hotspots where we learn about the dangers of splitting apart and losing our sense of being one in our hearts.  If we come from the place that we are all one in our hearts then we are coming from a moral place.  Once Israelis and Palestinians realise they are one in their hearts then almost any solution could work, as long as they don't, almost none will.  I know there are many wonderful Palestinians and Israelis who already know this, let's hope more and more can see it.