Sunday, 27 November 2011

Science vs. the rest of the world

On Friday evening I was flying back from Amsterdam to Bristol and reading the New Scientist.  There was an article in the magazine about the fact that in America there is a growing anti-scientific sentiment particularly in the Republican party but also among Democrats.  The article explained that presenting people with arguments and facts had not been persuasive and the article writer's view was that anti-scientific feeling had increased.  The article pondered what to do when faced with people who do not base their life on reason, rationality and evidence based policies. The author of the article put forward the idea that Science should learn from its opponents and started to use their tactics of persuasion to win the argument in favour of evidence based policies and rational thinking in fighting the forces of unreason and emotion.

In parallel, as I was reading this, I was engaged in my own private battle of unreason with the person in the seat in front of me on the plane.  This man, immediately following take off, thrust back his seat, put his earphones in and his blindfold on and thumped back against his chair bashing my knees.  I decided not to say anything but simply moved my legs to the side as far as I could.  Whilst not overly tall at six feet one inch, my legs are long in proportion to my height which is a disadvantage on cramped planes like this one.  On this plane the space between the seats was particularly narrow and the seat leaning back was a matter of inches from me.  After trying to sleep, I decided to read my copy of the New Scientist and started reading this article.  My only real option was to prop my New Scientist against the seat back of the man in front.  In doing this it touched the back of his head.  He kept feeling back with his hand to see what was touching his head and trying to push it away and I stubbornly pushed it back each time.  Eventually he looked round a couple of times to try without saying anything to signal that I should move my magazine but when he sat back down again, I repositioned it and made sure it was pushing slightly against his head.  Eventually he turned round and irritatedly asked me to move it.  I snapped back that I had no space to read since he had inconsiderately pushed his chair so far back.  After this exchange, we continued to fight a battle for the last 20 mins of the flight.   He thought about moving his chair forward but decided against it and I continued to push my New Scientist against his head.  Each of us made slight gestures – he moved his head forward slightly and I moved my New Scientist back marginally.

Where is the link between this mini war and the article in the New Scientist?  The link is that I realised that the New Scientist article was busy turning this issue of Science and its acceptance or non-acceptance into a war with sides.  The assumption was that Science was the only source of truth, knowledge or reason.  It also made the assumption that scientists are a homogenous group of people all wedded to these things.  Furthermore it made the assumption that those who do not classify themselves as scientists are wedded to ideology, emotion and irrationality.  Whilst many of the points raised were valid, the theme reflected a polarisation into “us and them”.  It is clearly disturbing for those who classify themselves as scientists that they do not feel that they are being listened to but there seemed to be nothing in the article to suggest that science or scientists should examine themselves in looking for where the problems might lie.

Back to my war with the man in front of me on the plane; what might the parallels be?  I was well aware that my position was unreasonable and that I was being provocative.  By the end of our small war, though, my heart was full of misgivings about my action and prompted by the article, I reflected on what my approach was contributing to division between people. When I looked at the man in front I could see that perhaps he felt some sadness at the situation.  Certainly I saw a fellow human being and my heart was sad at the discomfort and it resonated with how his might be feeling.  I realised I had a chance to change things: to apologise.  My rational mind told me that he had been selfish and that he might think twice before being so again but my heart was having none of it and was not comfortable.  My moment passed as people moved between us in the queue to get off the plane.  As I got off the plane and began walking to passport control there was no sign of him, but, some spirited walking later, I saw him ahead of me and after some reluctance I caught up with him, clapped him on the shoulder affectionately (I hope he thought it was!) and apologised to him, saying that I was sorry that I had snapped at him and that the airplane seats were so small it was that I didn’t have much room.  We chatted very aimiably all the way to Passport control.  He explained that he had been working away for three days and was worn out and having been away from home for five days, I commiserated.  The intriguing thing was that our hearts were more open to each other than if we had never talked or met.  I felt my heart warm completely to this amiable and open hearted man.

What intrigued me with reference to the article was that my heart had been far better at reasoning than my “rational” mind  and that he was an engineering consultant – a scientist!  In this situation, I had not found a way through by trying to identify what was wrong with this man’s approach however unreasonable I might have found his actions to be, but by examining my own unreasonableness.  In the hexagram conflict, the I-Ching says that we must come to meet others halfway, even if we are in the right.  The rational mind, concerned with facts and logic, has trouble understanding emotional realities such as the dangers of pushing an argument to the bitter end and the destructive effect this might have on the relationship.  In order to reason well we have to include the heart and the emotions.  As Albert Einstein observed "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
Most astrologers would realise that Scientists identify very strongly with the empirical thinking mindset of earth (senses) and air (thinking) and project as their shadow fire (intuition) and water (feeling).  On my friend Chrissy's pattern of the elements described in her book The Golden City she describes the opposition Truth which has intuitive-feeling Pisces at one end and empiric thinking Aquarius at the other end of this opposition.  She labels this opposition Truth.  Both the scientist and the mystic seek the truth and both are equally condemning of the other.  Where science triumphs, there is the danger that there is no heart.  Where the intuitive mystic triumphs there is the danger of delusion.

The writer of the article described the foundations of American science as lying in the influence of Locke, Bacon, Jefferson and the principles of egality and liberty.  He quoted Jefferson's declaration of independence: "all men are born equal."  I wonder if this notion might be at the heart of the issue, since there is a misconception based on this that all men are equal and all men must be equal.  Perhaps if we rephrased it "all men are born unequal" we would have the inclusive and paradoxically wise notion that the way we are all the same is that we are all different, thus we could respect different viewpoints more easily.  As Einstein also said "Science without religion is lame, Religion without Science is blind".

The American war of Independence was fought and won at the time that the planet Uranus was being discovered.  When a planet is discovered, it’s properties shift from operating unconsciously in the collective to operating consciously.  Uranus is the planet that rules Aquarius and its energy was that of revolution.  It is also the planet that rules science, principles and independence or freedom.  The French revolution which was happening contemporaneously was also based on very Aquarian principles of egalite, fraternite and liberte.  There have been many experiments based on these principles over the years; communism was very much an expression of this.  Yet each time, the effects have been deeply impersonal and oppressive of individuals as the French revolution was with the mob running rampant and as the Industrial revolution was with individuals organised in large masses to serve technical breakthroughs.  The same themes persist in modern culture with global organisations whose call centres and activities ignore the individual hearts of those interacting with them.  Yet unbridled intuitive/feeling, with religious wars over the truth (think of the crusades and the Spanish inquisition), has been no better.  It is interesting to note that, as with all extremes, the two sides begin to resemble each other very closely.  On Chrissy’s pattern which she correlates to the I-Ching, Aquarius is the top line of the hexagram the Creative: “Arrogant dragon will have cause to repent”.  There was something of this in the tone of the article: science was the only route to the truth.  It sounds somewhat religious in nature.  On Chrissy’s model she posits the position in the middle as being key – that the truth, as the I-Ching so often advises us, lies in holding to the middle way.  This is where the Tao lies.

My own experience in organisations was that the approach of leaving aside emotion and making decisions based on policies rationally decided was a disaster because it lacked any heart and so decisions which looked fine on paper ended up being put into practice in inhuman ways in the name of consistency and equality.  Similarly, a chaotic approach based on individual whim was equally ineffective.  The only way was to think and reason with the heart.  Ie. to reason including all four elements of feeling, sensing, intuition and thinking.  It was ironic that a later book review in the same New Scientist describing fifteen scientific breakthroughs suggested how effective the author had been in capturing the perseverance, the willingness to follow hunches and the overcoming of jealousies, personal ambition and rivalry of fellow scientists that had been necessary to achieve these breakthroughs.  So, no irrational emotions at play among scientists there then!

Perhaps we are ready collectively in this age of Aquarius to step away from getting caught by polarities and instead to work constructively with these creative tensions, these polarities.  Can we embrace all four modes of being; sensing, thinking, feeling and intuition without polarising into camps of "us" and "them"?  Certainly it will require us to have the humility to put our own house in order rather than demanding others put theirs in order.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Fate and Free Will

One of the concerns that many people have about Astrology is the notion of fate.  People find the notion that we do not have free will uncomfortable.  Similarly, modern science is very uncomfortable with this notion and the notion that there are universal laws applying to human beings or to life other than the mechanistic laws of science.  Yet what if all of these are one in the same?  Scientists prefer to think that life is randomly generated and most people prefer to think of themselves as in control of their lives and choices.

A recent article in The New Scientist detailed research into the world's financial network and uncovered the fact that less than one percent of the network of companies were able to control forty percent of the entire network.  It went on to say that "One thing won't chime with some of the protestor's claims: the super-entity is unlikely to be the intentional result of a conspiracy to rule the world. "Such structures are common in nature," says Sugihara....The Zurich study..."is strong evidence that simple rules governing TNCs (Trans National Corporations) give rise spontaneously to highly connected groups".  Or as Braha puts it: "The Occupy Wall Street claim that 1 per cent of people have most of the wealth reflects a logical phase of the self-organising economy."

If each individual is a fully independent and autonomous being making their own choices and following their own direction, how is it possible that their collective actions are mirroring natural systems?  Recent research on the brain takes this even further: "With contemporary brain scanning technology, scientists in 2008 were able to predict with 60% accuracy whether subjects would press a button with their left or right hand up to 10 seconds before the subject became aware of having made that choice" (Wikipedia).

This would suggest that individuals and collective systems are subject to natural laws or systems that play out.  If this is true at the level of organisms, individuals and the collective, it would seem clear that it is also true beyond the earth, in the solar system.  Astrology is a system which describes these natural laws or systems at an individual and collective level with reference to their manifestation at the larger level of the solar system.  Taoism described these laws as The Tao - the eternal nature of things and Plato described them in terms of a priori existing forms.  Whilst modern science does not believe that there is sapient life more intelligent than human beings, this might simply be a failure of conception or perception.  In his book, Lila - An Inquiry into Morals, Robert Pirsig (of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fame), posits the idea that such being exist in many forms, some of the most common being cities.  Most cities have a lifespan long beyond that of their individual cells (human beings, animals etc.).  Indeed the individual cells all die out and yet the city continues.  No one cell is capable of conceiving the complexity of running the entire city yet it continues to run.  This is not dissimilar to the individual cells in our bodies, all of which die out and are replaced within our lifetime without us ceasing to exist.  We have personalities and preferences and what is more we have a consciousness that exists and is able to conceive of itself.  Yet if you were able to interrogate the individual cells in our body and suggest to them that there was this mystical "Joe Bloggs" which was conscious and could conceive of the whole entity and reflect on it's actions and purpose and loved and cared for it all, the individual cells would no doubt think you deluded and ask you for the proof.  It would be difficult to supply and no doubt there scepticism would be compounded.

This does not mean that this consciousness does not exist but it clearly has an interdependent relationship with the cells and the body.  Cities die if all the individuals die out and leave them.  Human beings cease to be conscious if you kill them.  We have come up with many descriptions for this collective consciousness that might exist at the level of the collective consciousness - Multiple Gods, Tao etc. etc.  Not to be able to point to it consciously (as we still cannot in human beings) does not mean that it does not exist.  Anima Mundi - cosmic mind, seems to describe this awareness aptly.

Another recent New Scientist article described an experiment done into modelling wolves hunting in packs.  This modelling had demonstrated that if you created a simple command for Wolves to keep a certain distance apart from each other, then it replicated the way that Wolves can appear to successfully drive animals into an ambush by other members of the pack.  The implication was that wolves might not be nearly so intelligent or capable of strategy as we had previously supposed.  If this implication is accurate it would only be logical to think that humans are clearly not that intelligent since their financial systems simply follow natural laws similar to simple organisms!

What if it is paradoxical.  What if both exist at the same time, ie. that it is all fated and yet we have free-will and choice?  I have lived my life on this basis that everything is fated (as the I-Ching says, "you cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away") and that also I have complete freedom and choice and am responsible for all my actions and this seems to work very well.  In the same way, I suspect that all the people in the financial world were all making individual choices for which they were responsible and yet it was always going to work out according to natural laws. Perhaps the point of the game is that we are the agents for the anima mundi (the cosmic mind) and our free will is important.  If, as the experiments on the brain back in the 1970s showed, consciousness operates 0.5 seconds behind reality and we act and then become conscious rather than choosing consciously and then acting, it suggests that the role of consciousness is as an observer. Perhaps our role is to be the consciousness function for the anima mundi; that the collective mind only evolves, learns and becomes more conscious as a product of our individual work on becoming more aware of ourselves.  Perhaps our free-will is how conscious we are or how we learn?  Could it be that each movement we make in consciousness allows the game to play out in a more evolved way?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The Rules of the Game?

There are a number of interlinked elements that have conspired to be causing me to write this article at 4.51am on a Monday morning.  One is that my son is currently reading The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy books and had left The Restaurant at the end of the Universe lying around so I read 3 or 4 chapters before I went to bed.  The second is that I am currently wrestling with a small but interesting part of the game of Life called "buying a car".  Like all parts of the game this has some interesting parameters and as usual looks like it should be pretty straightforward until you start to try and master it.  I had asked my mind to think about what sort of car I should go for overnight and it did think about this but with the usual twist that the unconscious is so good at. The third was that my son and his friend were playing a new computer game (one where your view is from the perspective of your character). The third is the set of circumstances that caused me to be up and at my computer at 4.51am.

Let me start with the set of circumstances described through the lens of the game of Life:

Unit Nick Oakley-Smith's engine started into life at around 3.20am.  This was odd as the engine had been closed down to recharge the batteries (although it must be admitted that this unit has been having some battery recharge malfunctions over the last months, mostly due to overuse and this means that the battery rarely seems to be fully charged).  Why this unit's engine was on at 3.20 am on the surface appeared to be down to some of the glitches normally associated with this aging 45 year old unit.  One was the difficulty this unit has with its nose which has never functioned normally, the second was the unit's propensity towards an immune system malfunction commonly known as "mild asthma".  One of the software design elements in this particular unit, described in the astrological user guide as "lots of planets in Sagittarius" was about to enthusiastically get going on a tangent but this has been overidden by the "Mars in Capricorn" sub routine which feels it is more important to get on with point and not be longwinded or you will lose everyone.

What made this particular night different was that the landing light was on (something which caused the irritation sub-routine to consider activating in this unit), however this was overriden by a minor on-going malfunction in this unit's hardware which caused it to go downstairs to the toilet.  On doing so it became aware that one of the newer units created by this unit had its engine running.  There was an interchange and the younger unit described that there had been a malfunction and it had not been able to continue recharging its batteries.  When the older unit went back upstairs it attempted to recharge its batteries but discovered that a download was taking place.  It fought valiantly against this and tried to recharge its batteries but to no avail.  It did begin to suspect something out of the ordinary when it realised that this download seemed to be coming through very strongly and fully.  At this point the player responsible for this unit began to use the unit's review and meaning functions because it had been alerted that there was an interesting part of the game playing out.  It tested this hypothesis by seeking to interact with the consciousness of the larger game.  If my engine is still running in 5 mins time at 4.36, I will assume that this download needs to be acted on now rather than waiting till morning it said to itself.  At 4.36 the unit's engine was still running and, ignoring the battery not fully recharged warnings, got up.

The more the player riding in the unit reviewed the situation the more it began to see that the game had conspired to cause its engine to be running.  The younger unit had suggested the concept of being active at night (it's role over it had returned to recharging its batteries!), the chance book had combined with the buying the car sub-game and the computer game to create the framework for the download and it only required a set of circumstances to prompt the unit to start it's consciousness engine to allow the download to take place.  The player could only appreciate the brilliance of this amazingly sophisticated virtual reality game he was playing.

Returning to the vehicle of the game (the first person), I am conscious that we have attempted throughout our history to develop user manuals for this game of Life.  Mostly these come in the form of religions and figures who have provided some insights - Christ, Buddha, Lao-Tze, Mohammed but also through Philosophy, Science, homespun wisdom etc, etc.

It was my friend Chrissy Philp who introduced me to the idea that the analogy of a sophisticated virtual reality game might be the best analogy to describe this game of life that we are playing.  Reading most of the wisest people I could from many different traditions, both eastern and western, they all seemed to be saying a similar thing: you are in a game but do not be too identified with your character - you are not actually your character.  Whilst my son and his friend were playing their game they could do so only through the form of their controllers and within the parameters of the game and the particular view they had on the screen.  However, if I had asked them if they existed separately from their characters they would have been able to step back and tell me it was just a game.

For most of us though, in the game of Life, this is very hard to do.  Certain very shocking parts of the game seem to prompt this in us on occasion - death, severe injury, major loss.  At these points we talk about a change in perspective.  This intrigues me because it has become clearer and clearer to me that we are confused about the components of this game.  We currently seem to be caught collectively in wrestling with the notion of what we control in the game.  There has been some good work done on this by the likes of Stephen Covey in his book "The 7 habits of highly effective people" where he talks about differentiating between what concerns us (but over which we have no control) and those things we control.  However, this still begs the question of what we do control.  My friend Chrissy described a metaphor she had come up with recently for this.  Her view was that if we take the metaphor of a car on a journey for our individual lives then we do not have any choice over the type of car (our bodies and personalities), interestingly her perspective was that we do not have responsibility either for our journey: it is pre-programmed.  What we do have responsibility for is the quality of our driving - do we stop if someone else has broken down? how do we respond to a traffic jam?

Most of us feel that certain elements of the game (mostly other people!) are the things that are getting in the way of us playing our individual game because they assume the aim of the individual game is happiness.  The more I have examined the game, I have begun to see that we have little control over external factors - other people, the world around us.  If tomorrow an out of control bus runs me over, there will be little I can do to stop it.  Indeed if there is subsidence and my house falls down and kills me, there will be little I can do about it either.  We get very frustrated by this notion that we are not in control, people do not like this one bit; they work very hard to get their control sub-routines to work in ways that they are simply not designed to operate.  This usually causes frustration sub-routines to work overtime!  Again, most people seem to think that we are in control of ourselves (ie. we can do or be whatever we want) but I am unconvinced by this too.  What I have begun to see that we seem to have most control over is our ability to switch perspective.  This switching of perspective has a direct link to our motivation and our emotions.  When we change perspective it changes our motivation and emotions.  I think the element we have real responsibility for is the openness of our hearts and minds.  When we switch our perspective we tend to switch from achievement mode (where we are seeking to control the game) to learning mode.  The key is that we "see"things differently.  Recently scientists have identified the part of the brain that has this ability as being the parietal lobe.  We call this changed perspective wisdom.  At a recent lecture I attended by Edward de Bono, a renowned guru in creative thinking, someone asked him what wisdom was.  He replied that it was having multiple perspectives from which to view life and the situations we encounter.  In the Carlos Casteneda books, the "brujo" Don Juan describes this as "seeing" and he says it is the ultimate achievement of a "man of knowledge".

So going back to user manuals, it is clear that Douglas Adams was highly connected into the Game in describing The Hitch Hikers Guide (since we are all hitch-hiking a ride in these bodies and personalities) for Life, the Universe and Everything and his vision that the Earth was created by Deep Thought a computer which was tasked with providing the Question for the answer to Life the Universe and Everything.  Having read Douglas Adams biography, it is sadly clear that his deeply connected writing did not come from a conscious wisdom or understanding but rather he was an unconscious tool of the Universe.  One can only appreciate his genius in being this tool.  So let us review the user guides we do have.  For the purposes of this, I am going to use the car analogy that Chrissy provided (it is limited but analogies seem to be one of the best vehicles (no pun intended) for describing our world in ways others can understand so I crave your indulgence for the limitations).

Most religions do seem to have some valuable guidance on driving the car.  Clearly the people around whom they were created seemed to be excellent drivers (Buddha, Christ, Lao-Tze etc.)  However, these manuals seem to suffer from the problem that like a manual for driving a car they describe that at times you need to turn left or right, or sometimes put on the brakes and describe some of the situations where this is the case, but they are not dynamic.  It is like having a manual for driving the car, rather than a driving instructor with you as you drive who can comment on your actual driving or even to use a more modern analogy, a hologram that can interact with you.  So they remain of some value but limited.  Over the years they also seem to have lost touch with the changing roads and come up with a lot of prohibitions about what you should and shouldn't do when driving.  They also become overly attached to the style of driving of their particular originator - he wore driving gloves and held the wheel with both hands at all times; there were no motorways in his day so driving on motorways is bad and musn't be done.  You must seek to drive like him and if you are not then your driving is wrong.  In the end many of these become so restrictive that they are rejected by many people and would probably be unrecognisable to the fluid drivers whom they were built around who were responding dynamically to the road conditions in front of them.  Imagine trying to write a manual which sought to describe every piece of road and circumstance you were going to encounter, it would be impossible and pretty much unusable.

At a meeting yesterday for the Steiner school I run, one of the people most steeped in the school and Steiner tradition was talking about how to help the school and the wider Steiner movement respond to change and begin to question its assumptions.  He recognised and advocated that sacred cows were challenged as part of this, yet his conclusion was that we had to go back to Steiner's teaching and be guided by his perspective and that we musn't lose that or the school wouldn't be a Steiner school.  This was a trump card, who could argue with that!  But it was a sad one too; one I suspect would have frustrated Steiner.  I suspect he wanted brilliant drivers not adherents to the Steiner school of driving.  As Monty Python brilliantly lampooned in Life of Brian: "Go and be individuals" - "We'll all be individuals with you Brian".  The identification with the school of driving becomes more important than the driving.  The difficulty with many of these religions is that they are also limited by focusing on an individual driver with their subjective perspective (however brilliant) rather than driving and the game itself.  The aim becomes driving as much like a particular driver rather than driving as well as you can.  Nothing can be changed and there is no recognition this driver might have been wrong in any respect.  It is the ultimate sacred cow and sacred cows tend to get in the way when you are trying to drive.

One of the other user manuals currently very much in vogue and, like religions, with much of value to offer is Science.  The difficulty with this user manual however is that it is brilliant at describing the component parts of the vehicle in great detail and to some extent mapping the roads and terrain over which we drive but it is very dubious about the fact that a driver exists or even that the roads lead anywhere - they are described as if they are just random features of the landscape so that it is a very erudite and technical tome which is of great value to expert drivers but it doesn't provide much dynamic information for driving.  Indeed it even goes as far as describing the act of driving in great detail but with the caveat that a driver is still a questionable premise and that even if it does exist it is probably just part of the car which we will in time be able to describe.  Who knows, it may yet get there with this approach?

There are then various manuals which do not seek to describe how to drive but give you information about what type of car you have and how it is likely to respond and function.  This type of information is contained in personality and psychometric tools and in psychology.  These are very valuable but in my own experience there is an even more valuable tool which  The only tool which provides objective data on the type of car you are driving which is Astrology.  Interestingly it is the only one which also provides data on the game/roads as well.  This map is extremely valuable, it tells you what is coming up in terms of terrain and how your particular car might respond to it.  It is frowned on by the Science user manual because the Science user manual does not accept that there is a driver or even particular roads which lead anywhere.  However, I am more interested in driving well than being adhering to only using the Science user manual.  My interest is in gleaning as much information about driving well and the terrain and roads from every source I can.  I think that makes me eclectic and probably heretical as well!

Whilst astrology is enormously valuable in describing the car and the terrain it does not, however, give instruction on how to drive like religions user manuals do.  In this respect the most valuable user guide for driving that I have found is the I-Ching.  The reason I think it has an advantage over religions is that it is dynamic.  It is like having a hologram driving instructor with you as you drive.  Careful here it says, there is a road block, rather than smashing against it repeatedly, you are going to have to reverse and take the diversion.  It is like having access to the designers of the game - a short cut to understanding their design and so invaluable for navigating.  Unfortunately, however good the user guides and manuals it is still dependent on us to use them effectively - I don't suppose we will ever get round this work.

Lastly, I think we are developing computers, the internet, films etc. - a technological revolution, not (as most religions suppose) as a corruption which is taking us away from the source of life but rather as a further evolutionary step towards it.  We create programmes about the future like Star Trek and other science fiction programmes and it is uncanny how many of the things they invented get translated into our everyday lives.  When I was young, my friends and I used to pretend to have mobile communicators like Captain Kirk's for talking to people far away.  Now most people have mobile phones and we take it for granted.  We have reality TV programmes and the individuals become stars.  We are blurring the edges of the game and seeing that what we imagine with our software becomes hardware.  In the past, we used stories, fairy tales and myths which were also valuable guides but now we have hardware which allows our software (the imagination) to take different forms at a virtual level.

Taking the computer game analogy further, I realised recently in coaching someone who was very stuck that our computer games might be describing reality more than we are conscious of.  This individual had been going through a very difficult time at work in a small firm.  Unbeknownst to them, they had been getting stuck in jealousy, blame and scapegoating and because they were unaware of it, it was still playing out.  I had to be very creative to find a way to help them see this.  What struck me though was that they described the fact that they could not get out of the situation; they had tried to look for other jobs and whilst others around them had been successful in leaving they could not find anything.  I thought about this and then reflected back to the individual that when you are playing a difficult game, no matter how frustrated you get, you cannot unlock the next level until you have completed the current one.  Her situation seemed exactly like this.  Indeed I have watched that even when people change the external environment by leaving a job, moving etc. they often find after a few months that the game is so cleverly constructed that they realise that they thought they had found a route out but it led back to exactly the same dead end (much as in a fairytale where characters get lost in a forest). It is only through magic (a shift in perspective) that they find a way out.

The Buddhists say that "Life is suffering".  Astrologers would interpret this as Chiron.  Chiron is the key.  The key to the game is suffering because it prompts us to evolve and unlock new levels of the game.  I think (and it is ridiculous hubris to say so but then I have the sun rising in Sagittarius so hubris comes built into my car) that we are unlocking a new level at the moment as part of the move to the age of Aquarius and that there is an individual who is the midwife for this.  She is my friend Chrissy Philp and the reason I make such an outrageous claim is for a number of reasons which I have outlined in this article.  The scientific community believes we are on the verge of finding a blueprint for the Universe.  I think they might be right but sadly not in the way they think or at least they might not be happy with the form as they are certain it must come through the scientific user manual.  I think for any blueprint to emerge it would have to synthesize all the current user manuals I have described - religion, science, the I-Ching and astrology otherwise it is incomplete.  Someone who is going to do this would have to be a key in some way in order to be the midwife and unlock this.  Chrissy began to develop her ideas about the black hole game of life back in the mid to late 1970s.  For a description of this work see Chrissy's book "One Way of Looking at Man".  When I asked Chrissy the timing of her discovery of the black hole game (with a strong suspicion already in my mind) we traced it back to being around 1977.  This was the date that the planetoid Chiron was discovered.  For astrologers this is significant because with each new planet comes a shift in collective consciousness.  Chiron in astrological circles is seen as "the key" and its symbol resembles that of a key.  Each new planet is assigned rulership of a sign.  Whilst there is some dispute over this it seems clearer and clearer that it is Virgo that is ruled by Chiron.  In a survey in the Guardian many, many years ago, the profession most common for those with Virgo was Nursing.  I think Chiron is the midwife for collective consciousness becoming incorporated at a personal level, its medium is suffering because this prompts consciousness and evolution.  Its orbit moves between Saturn, the last personal planet and Uranus the first collective planet.  It is the key to game consciousness becoming conscious among us at a personal level.  It is the key to game breaking.  Interestingly Saturn-Uranus symbolically represents game-breaking, ie. breaking through to a new level of consciousness and I think Chiron is key to this.

Chrissy's book The Golden City, describes her discovery of a pattern of the universe embodied (or embedded) in our brains which is described through Astrology, the I-Ching, Science and interestingly Revelation from the Bible.  In Revelation the marriage of Heaven and Earth is brought about through a midwife who labours to give birth to it.  Despite the alarm bells in this unit's scepticism sub-routine which points to the sheer preposterousness of the possibility that this midwife could be Chrissy, the intuition sub-drive is pretty clear in thinking it is.  Since, if this is true, these ideas are unlikely to take hold for another 1500 years - the time taken for each age to fully flower - the game seems to have any dangers of ego and hubris covered off and, if it is not, then an interesting game of cultism and disillusionment opens up with myriad possibilities for learning so it doesn't really matter either way!

I also think that the game is getting pretty ridiculous in offering us clues which would cause us to see that it is a game.  For instance there has been an absolute explosion in my profession of coaching.  Coaches help people play games better.  In the latest edition of New Scientist there was an article describing how babies came ready supplied with stem cells in the amniotic fluid which would allow us to repair many of the defects that affect babies.  Can we still still refuse to think there is some conscious design at play?

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The art of not selling

Since setting up my own business eight years and before that whilst working for Ernst & Young I became more and more interested in the art of what I now call "not selling".  During my early career at Ernst & Young, marketing and sales began to be introduced to the firm.  This was a breakthrough which came to dominate professional services and many other service sectors.  Since I coached many partners I was interested in their reaction to this.  Many were resistant, feeling that they had signed up to be Accountants not sales people.  But they were brushed aside by the wave of sales and marketing professionals and the exhortations of the senior management of the firm.

For my own part I had reservations about this wave.  In particular I had a partner that I coached.  He was someone who always took everything very seriously and worked extremely hard at doing what the firm considered important (mainly because of personal ambition!) yet no matter how hard he tried nothing quite went right for him.  His black hole game (the archetypal learning pattern of his life) was to constantly try hard and yet always been thrown back or rejected or meet insuperable obstacles.  Since sales was now the most important thing in the firm, the highest currency, he was determined to have a bit of the action.  He set about selling with absolute determination at every opportunity.  He attended all the courses and knew all the technical elements of selling yet he was spectacularly unsuccessful!

I asked him who he thought the most successful "rain makers" were in the organisation and he gave me two names.  I said that I was going to go and talk to them because I wanted to find out what they were really doing to be so successful.  So I went and spoke to one of them that I knew.  I asked him what it was he was doing that made him so successful.  At first he talked about building relationships, targeting clients etc.  Then I asked him what he really did.  He thought for quite a while and then he said that the truth was that he knew three or four people that he genuinely got on very well with as friends and that the work came through that.  I asked him about winning a recent very high profile piece of work and he described the fact that he had been given a half hour meeting with the client and had decided that there was nothing he could do in half an hour so decided instead just to find out about him and his business since it would be interesting to find out his approach.  He explained that after a fascinating discussion which went on for about 2 hours the client effectively asked him if he would do the work which took him by surprise.

I relayed this to the partner that I was working with and he was amazed.  So we set a target for him not to sell for 3 months but just to talk to people about what he was interested in and find out what they were interested in.  After 3 months of giving up on sales, he was surprised to find that clients were starting to give him work.  His was an interesting story because after many years of trying to do everything he could to be valued and appreciated by the firm with little success he was finally summoned to the management of the firm and told that they had decided that he could either take on a very unappealing part of the firm or they would have to ask him to leave.  He came to me and we debated what to do.  In the end, I suggested to him that he take the role as an experiment but this time give up entirely on the idea that the firm would ever recognise or value him and just do it because he chose to do it.  I did not see him again for a number of years but when we did meet up, he was full of amusement at his circumstances.  He explained that he had won a major national prize, he had been head-hunted by various different firms and Ernst & Young had told him he was one of their most valuable partners.  The biggest irony for him was that he had genuinely, in his heart, given up on it all, and he recognised that in giving up caring he had put all his effort and energy into supporting and developing the people in his team.

I have tried this approach of giving up as an experiment and just being interested in the work that comes with many people who are pushing and selling for all they are worth and the results have remained remarkably consistent.  In my own work for the last eight years, I have adopted the same approach, deliberately setting about not selling anything or even trying to "network" with people.  I adopt the approach that Life is deciding who I am going to be working with and I am simply finding out.  I notice that work has always kept coming.  I have only failed twice early on and in fear tried to contact two people I knew who were in strong positions to give me work and in both cases nothing came of it.   Recently someone asked me about this and wanted to know what the work was if it wasn't selling and I realised it was holding back the fear that would cause us to push.

Since starting my own business, I have helped many others set up theirs and my advice is always the same; namely that the work will come and that unfortunately they will have to trust this.  If the work doesn't come then there is a reason for it.  Some have been mistrustful of this and found it impossible not to push and turn their work into a desperate scrabble to sell and push and manipulate, but they also have acknowledged each time that the work they did get wasn't in anyway connected to any of their pushing.

What I have begun to see is that most organisations are operating on a large but comforting myth.  The myth is that they control the work and its flow.  They are very uncomfortable accepting the reality that they are not in control so they convince themselves that there must be a correlation between effort in selling and pushing and work won.  Even if there is no work won, there is a comfort in feeling that you have made a huge effort.  Sadly, this comforting myth is so well established that everyone now believes it.  Yet we all hate the results.  None of us like being pushed or manipulated into buying yet we all believe that you must push to sell things to people.

Could focusing on diversity be re-inforcing prejudice??

Diversity is a term that is commonly used throughout business these days.  Much of my work is in Europe and further afield such as Dubai and Hong Kong and I regularly coach people from all across the world as part of the programmes I run and follow up coaching that I do.  Many people are passionate about diversity as an issue or a value.  Yet something troubles me about diversity.  What I notice is that in identifying diversity with ethnic background, gender etc. we have fallen into the trap of re-inforcing people's identification with their gender, ethnic background etc.  The assumption is that one woman speaks for all women, or one Chinese, Italian, Black, Indian, English person speaks for all.  It makes someone's viewpoint synonymous with their gender, ethnic background, race.  We are defining people by these elements.  Surely, paradoxically, this is the very thing that we are trying to get away from?  If we identify people with these things then it does divide us completely into separate beings with nothing in common, it divides us into us and them rather than just "us".

I do not think that diversity of viewpoint is synonymous with these things; I have met Chinese people who are very similar in their viewpoint to English people; I have met men and women who share very similar prejudices and views about the world.  This is not diversity.  The aim behind the focus on diversity is that it is the antidote to closed mindedness; that it fosters an open mind.  Yet my experience has been that this is not the case, I have noticed instead that what fosters open-mindedness is open-mindedness.  If we become fixed and rigid about what constitutes open-mindedness then we are being closed-minded.  At the moment, if a group is composed of mostly men it is immediately seen as closed minded or lacking breadth of perspective.  If a group is composed entirely of women, or one ethnic background the same is assumed.  Yet my experience is that it is not about the background or gender of these groups but rather the open-mindedness of the individuals within them.

This paradox seems to lie at the heart of many issues.  Those who are most fanatical about racism are often full of prejudices; those who are anti-war are often some of the most aggressive people, prepared to fight warmongers to the death!  I am not against diversity; the fact that we are all different is paradoxically what we all share in common, it is a point of unity not of division.  At a recent lecture by Edward De Bono, someone asked him what wisdom was and Edward De Bono replied that it was the ability to have multiple perspectives through which to look at the world.  This strikes me as the real heart of diversity; the ability to hold multiple perspectives.  It has always saddened my heart to be with men when they talk about women as if they are a foreign species, similarly being with women when they describe men as a foreign species is equally sad for my heart; it diminishes us all when we are identified only with the superficial level of our skin, gender, cultural background.  I am not suggesting that these differences do not exist, indeed I notice that when people are not identified with them then they assume their proper place and we can laugh and play with them and be interested in them in a way which re-inforces our common sense of humanity.  I listen to colleagues tease each other about their nationality, background etc. I also hear people ask each other about how things are seen by others in different parts of the world, but behind these questions there is a warmth and interest which says - we know that we are fellow human beings beyond all these superficialities and this warmth of the common heart melts away the barriers or divisions.

When I worked at Islington Local Education Authority I was intrigued by the perspective of a woman on the senior management team; what drew me to her was her open-heartedness and open-mindedness.  She was wonderfully insightful.  She would tell me that I needed to be more Nigerian (she was from a Nigerian background), more assertive and less concerned about being tactful and diplomatic and she was in many ways right.  What intrigued me was that she told me that the private sector would be much quicker in getting past prejudice than the public sector because the public sector was too concerned with race.  In the private sector she noticed, companies were so obsessed with making money that they tended to pick people on the basis of their competence rather than their race.  She felt the public sector in its focus on equality and race re-inforced the emphasis on race as being the determining factor.  My own experience was that I noticed that the emphasis on being politically correct encouraged people to be more offended and take their nationalities, race and gender more seriously to be more stuck in identifying with it.  The result was that everyone played a game of competing to be the most politically correct and scapegoating anyone who made a mistake.  There was a wonderful man who came to speak about working creatively with children and addressed the whole conference of Islington staff.  He started by relaying his fears about coming to address Islington people and how scared he was about being politically incorrect and what would happen if something politically incorrect popped out of his mouth from his unconscious without him being able to stop it.  I looked around at everyone laughing and smiling at each other; in one brilliant stroke he had burst this awful bubble of fear which separated everyone.

As we become more global, companies are having to grapple with becoming international.  Life has set the game up very cleverly so that their ambition to be successful means that companies have to embrace other nationalities and break down barriers to be successful.  It makes me wonder how Life is going to cope and motivate us to evolve if we lose our greed?  Yet on a very regular basis the question I get asked by participants is, yes but how do you coach or lead someone who is from a different culture?  The Russians, the Chinese, the Malaysians, the Italians, the English, the Americans are different you can't coach them in the same way!  Ironically I am often being asked this by each of these nationalities about each other.  People are adamant that in these cultures people really are very different and alien, yet it is a nonsense.  Businesses' perpetuate the same myths - that only someone with industry expertise can understand their culture and the issues that people face but it is complete bunkum.  It is a myth perpetuated because people want to identify with being special or different in some way; they want a clique or club to belong to - the club of men, women, city traders, lawyers, Chinese, Italian etc.  It makes us feel insecure not to belong yet I think we are in the process of learning that we do belong.  We belong to the human race, to Life, to the Universe.  If we know we are part of the Universe we don't make the mistake of settling for anything less or creating barriers against others.  It is hard for us clear away the illusions that get in the way but I think it is our work so that the universal flow of our hearts (love) can freely flow out to everyone.

Perhaps I have got to work on my prejudices about people who are prejudiced?!

The New Organisational Model?

When in Warsaw recently I was talking to one of my clients about what the organisational model of the future might look like.  It is clear that we are becoming more interconnected economically, something the current financial crisis is highlighting, and that we are learning how to manage this local and global world that we live in.  The internet has allowed us to conduct business in a more connected or networked way and there seems to be an increase in people working in a more independent relationship to organisations.  People no longer have the loyalty to organisations that used to prevail.  Instead they are loyal to their own development and to their particular skills, talents or needs and this journey is central rather than the job or organisation as used to be the case.  Indeed organisations are less loyal to individuals if they no longer require their skills or talents.  Organisations are also increasingly shedding the need to be master of all skills and instead hiring other firms to provide services that are not their core ability.  The large global law firms now have "best friend" relationships with local firms in jurisdictions where they cannot practice.  Out sourcing is a regular part of business life and my own experience is that free lance consultants form an increasing part of the marketplace.  Organisations are realising that they do not need such a tightly controlled relationship with individuals so there is an increase in interim working, flexible working etc.  Also individuals work often from home or across different countries.  This does not apply only to those in more privileged jobs but across the spectrum; for example Taxi drivers now regularly hire their car on a lease from a company which specialises in maintaining the car and will provide a new one if your current one needs work, thus even this is fragmented and specialised and taxi drivers are often part of federated syndicates which provide some independence but the value of a network.

Where is all this heading?  I am looking at the new age of Aquarius-Leo (cf. The Golden City by MC Philp) and realising it is about this very phenomenon of how we arrange the relationship between individual talent and the broader group or global society.  Europe is wrestling with this question; how do you network a group of individual countries together to the benefit of each of the individual countries?  Sadly, I'm not sure it is working because it is trying to go for the Aquarian end of the spectrum and Leo is popping up as the shadow, with each individual nation state secretly looking to its individual interests. 

What occurred to me when I thought about this new networked world of linking individual talents is that Life is already designed this way.  Each of us has a unique contribution that we are making as an individual to the collective society and its evolution.  Perhaps with the advent of the age of Aquarius-Leo this will stop operating unconsciously and we will become more conscious of it so we will actively look to work out how we bring out the talents of the individual and network them into the collective.

Reflecting on this, I realised it very much reflected what I am trying to do in terms of schooling.  How do we move away from the model of restrictive school institutions to a more virtual, networked relationship to schooling where each individual can flourish and develop their unique talents?  When I worked in Islington Local Education Authority, I ran into trouble because I was unhappy with the measurement system.  I was told that since I was on secondment from business I should be happy with measurement and that the point of the measurement was to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds.  I pointed out that I wasn't against measurement but rather against narrow measurement which distorted things.  If they could measure the value for me of kindness, friendship, modesty etc. then I was very happy to measure but if it is was only a narrow set of criteria like academic subjects then the effect of measurement was not to help children but rather to cement their sense of failure and rejection.  I wanted everyone celebrated for who they uniquely were.

I wonder if this age of Leo-Aquarius is the seed point for a collective consciousness where we begin to see the workings of Life and how it is organising us and the world and we have the opportunity to work more consciously with this.  Certainly Chrissy Philp's work on the model of the brain suggests so.  We are beginning to get a glimpse of the programme which is embedded in our brains.

I also wonder, as we move from a feminine age to a masculine age, whether we are beginning to shift away from the material to the intangible or creative.  It is like we have exhausted for now the possibilities of the tangible and its promise that we will understand the world and everything by breaking it down into its smallest components and now we need something more.  Business is shifting away from simply manufactuing goods to looking at brand, value, social networking, software as being the currency.  Indeed organisations like Wikipedia which is supported entirely by voluntary contributions have grown up.  I also notice that individuals are spending more and more of their personal money on those things which contribute to their individual growth - physical activities like yoga, self-development programmes and activities, education etc. in a way which is unprecedented.  I don't suppose we will ever escape the need for physical resources but one could envisage a society of the future where our knowledge, wisdom and understanding represent our main currency and wealth.

At the moment the pursuit of money is dominant in society and even noble actions for our collective benefit need to be justified in the name of making money - "We should do charitable work, because it's a good thing and it will raise our profile in the community, our market presence and revenue".  In a conversation with my friend Steve, he pointed out that one of the UK's biggest businesses he was working with was putting major pressure on suppliers to cut their rates because it was having such a bad year.  What came out was that the bad year was still going to be 2% better than last year which was 14% better than the year before.  The reason it was seen as such a bad year was that it was so far behind the budget.  My friend Steve wondered why nobody was questioning whether the budget was at fault rather than the performance of the business?  I think the current economic crisis is really a re-adjustment.  It is the exhaustion of money as the object - a disease which has been allowed to run its course.  We are all complicit in this, yet I wonder what is behind this disease?  It is taken for granted that money is the purpose of any business activity and we are all busy trying to manipulate and sell to each other.  We all recognise that we would not want others to treat us this way and would be horrified by it yet we all subscribe to the importance of marketing, selling and getting the best price we can.  If there is just us, then manipulating and selling and marketing is manipulating ourselves.  What if, we conducted business as if everyone we were interacting with was our best friend?  The current crisis is very much about this.  Everyone has been trying to make money out of everyone else and now the losers like Greece, Ireland and Italy are going to cause everyone to lose.