Tuesday, 18 December 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Do the laws of probability work?

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

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

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

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

Monday, 19 November 2012

Principles for life and coaching others

Over time and particularly as a student of Chrissy’s I have amassed certain principles to bear in mind when dealing with this experience of life and for coaching others.
  1. Keeping an open heart and mind.  This is our primary responsibility as far as I can see.  As long as these are open we can trust our intuition.  If they are not open, I’m afraid it is no-one’s responsibility but ours, no matter how awful other people are.
  2. Life is perfect.  This does not mean that life is nice or even fair.  It is perfect in that it is imperfect (typically paradoxical like most wisdom), ie. it is all the frustrations and black holes that we come across that provoke us to think more deeply and evolve.  When you look from this perspective all the suffering and chaos suddenly seems quite stunningly and brilliantly orchestrated for everyone to learn exactly what they need to learn.  It is also worth noting that this could be entirely untrue but it is still a good perspective nonetheless since it allows us to manage our own motivation and learn as much as we can.
  3. You are never in someone else’s black hole, if you are in a black hole, it is yours.  Much of the time we think that the problems we face and the black holes we are stuck in are caused by other people; that they are to blame for how we feel yet cf. 1 above.
  4. Trust other people to be who they are not what you want them to be.  Chogyam Trungpa had this one right.  Don’t give anyone else responsibility for your heart, expect them to be exactly as they are and you will be able to keep your heart open to them even if you don’t like what they do.  People often complain that this sounds as if you are letting other people get away with being terrible and condoning it, but it doesn’t.  It means that you are not shocked or offended by others actions even if you are hurt and this leads on to the next principle.
  5. The only thing you can control is you.  Indeed even here it is debatable how much of ourselves we control, certainly many things like our body, our personality and our fate seem beyond our control.  The main thing we seem to control is our attitude to things but this is much more powerful and important than most people are aware – in fact it is the key.
  6. You do not have to enjoy or like life as long as you are managing the five above.  Life is not always enjoyable or likeable, as long as you are not expecting it to be and you are not attached to being happy then you are not going to have an unrealistic picture which would cause you to suffer unnecessarily.
  7. You cannot lose what truly belongs to you even if you throw it away. This comes from the I-Ching and I have found it to be true.  Of course, this cuts both ways, in that if you are going to have a crap time you are going to have a crap time and there is no getting away from it.  Death truly belongs to us and there is no getting rid of that one.  At the same time, it is nice to know that we needn’t worry about losing other people or things, if they belong to us we can rest assured we won’t lose them.
  8. To go one’s own way with sincerity, how could there be blame in this? This also comes from the I-Ching.  Shakespeare said something similar – To thine own self be true.  If we follow our own hearts we will end up in a place which reflects our heart.  The rest is fear.
  9. Exercising controlled folly.  Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda books points out that when we reach a certain level of wisdom we look around and see that we are surrounded by folly including our own.  He says that the only way to live when we see this is through exercising controlled folly.  That is we recognise that nothing we do will make any difference since we are infinitesimally small in the grand scale of life.  Therefore we live our lives with complete commitment and responsibility doing everything in our power but we are completely unattached to the outcome.  I often think of this in terms of living life as an experiment or a series of experiments.  Ghandi called his autobiography The Story Of My Experiments With Truth.
  10. You cannot avoid pain and suffering in life, only the indulging in it is what Don Juan taught in the Carlos Castaneda books.  We can try and live life serenely never feeling any fear, anxiety, neurosis etc. etc. but I haven’t found that it works.  We are human and we are going to experience the whole gamut of human experience and emotions, however, we can become less identified with these emotions so that we see them for what they are and have a sense of perspective and that brings me to the penultimate point.
  11. A sense of humour is imperative for playing the game of life.  If we take life or ourselves too seriously it just isn’t funny.  Life is not quite how it appears. In this respect it does not conform to the laws of physics, as most people believe.  For evidence of this just take the example of the Heathrow Express train which I frequently catch from Heathrow to Paddington, mostly late in the evening, when I am tired and have a connecting train to catch.  This train is officially timetabled to run every 15 mins but actually runs between 13 and 15 mins after I arrive on the platform and no matter which train I catch it will always arrive at Paddington at the same time that the hourly train to Kemble is just leaving.
  12. It’s ok to lose the plot, life isn’t easy.
What does this mean when coaching people?  What I notice is that coaching like any other subject of study is succumbing to the difficulty of being taken over by people who want to measure, quantify and apply rules to it.  With this it is losing its flexibility and applicability and becoming instead a set of rigid rules.  People are also contrasting it with other things like mentoring and counselling and appraising and saying that it must be different so applying rules to try and make it different.  Most religions fall into a similar trap of taking a valuable truth and turning it into a set of rules.  Therefore the principles above are just working guidelines and I am sure there will be exceptions to them.
When working coaching people I am most interested in helping them to see. That is, I am concerned with helping them understand the other people they describe in the context of being characters in their drama or evolution and looking at what they are learning from them.  I am not really interested in deciding what to do about these other people in the sense of changing them or how to succeed or win.  Most people present themselves as the victims of other people and situations.  The game is to get you to identify with their position that other people are awful and something must be done about them.  Now other people are frequently awful but since we are all “other people” that includes us too.  With this perspective we can have more tolerance and empathy for others rather than judging them.  People are very clever so they know how to present their situation in such a way that we rush in to protect and help them but re-inforcing them in the position of victim negates any possibility of them taking responsibility.  Having been taught according to these principles over the years has meant that I coach people from the position that the problems they face are entirely their conundrum to solve and I am not interested in trying to come up with strategies for how to manipulate these other people to be more the way the individual wants them to be.  As far as I can see the only issue is helping people to see, ie. to recognise and take responsibility for themselves and to understand their own journey of development so that the other people (particularly the ones they find difficult) become a rich source of learning.  Everything else follows from that.

Monday, 12 November 2012

The moral of the Pluto-Uranus square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At another level, there is little that is new in this cycle.  Life is manipulating us through fear and greed (another form of fear) to change.  We are caught by the fear that unless we develop our technology and find new ways to compete we will be left behind; that we must streamline our processes or jump on the bandwagon of outsourcing  or we will be shipwrecked by the economic times.  This is a con, we are being manipulated into change for life’s ulterior purposes of evolution.  Yes, it has its purpose in challenging where we have become flabby and decadent and at another level of evolution I can only speculate that this is part of the ongoing development of shedding unnecessary elements of our existence; more and more of the manual or routine in our lives is being mechanised or computerised.  Perhaps we have to feel we will be left behind or miss the boat or why would we bother to evolve?  Since this similar process has been going on for eons – the Normans defeated the Saxons largely due to their ability to harness horses in warfare, Stone Age man was outmoded by Iron Age Man and so on.  It is very much like Groundhog day, as Glen Perry noted in his article.
Yet, perhaps we are missing the point.  The point is not that we can control these events.  The point, as in our personal lives, is how we deal with these events, in our attitude or response to them.  I have always felt a certain sympathy for politicians, because it strikes me they are at the forefront of the con of life.  They are voted into power with the explicit expectation that they can do something about the mess, that they can influence, shape and change things.  Yet, as I notice in coaching leaders in large business, they find themselves powerless to control forces that everyone expects them to control.  So how do we deal with these forces?

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Jimmy Saville and John Terry

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

John Edgar Hoover (January 1, 1895 – May 2, 1972) was the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States. Appointed director of the Bureau of Investigation—predecessor to the FBI—in 1924, he was instrumental in founding the FBI in 1935, where he remained director until his death in 1972 aged 77. Hoover is credited with building the FBI into a large and efficient crime-fighting agency, and with instituting a number of modernizations to police technology, such as a centralized fingerprint file and forensic laboratories.
Late in life and after his death Hoover became a controversial figure, as evidence of his secretive actions became known. His critics have accused him of exceeding the jurisdiction of the FBI.[1] He used the FBI to harass political dissenters and activists, to amass secret files on political leaders,[2] and to collect evidence using illegal methods.[3] Hoover consequently amassed a great deal of power. Said one journalist in the 1960s, “Hoover does not have to exert pressure, he is pressure”.[4]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 22 October 2012

Ouranos and his ugly children

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

I have been noticing in my recent coaching how our defence mechanisms defend us against the core fear that we are not in control of our lives, that we might be subject to a malign fate that we cannot prevent, something that no actions on our part can ward of.  Thinking of the sequence of the planets and Saturn’s clear role in our defence mechanisms, you can see this last personal planet as the bastion against the uncontrollable power of the transpersonal universe represented by the outer planets.  Saturn is concerned with trying to create systems and structures which somehow encapsulate and quantify our lives so that they are not subjected to unexplainable and uncontrollable forces.  Saturn wants a causal relationship – if I do X I mitigate the chance for Life/Fate to do Y.  Chiron sits between these two planets spanning the bridge between the personal and interpersonal realms, mediating between our ability to control and determine our lives and the great forces of the cosmos.  It represents the pain of knowing that life is not fair and will not conform to our attempts to control or manipulate it to fit our fixed pictures of how we feel it should or ought (lovely Saturnian words) to be.  It will not be tamed, controlled and quantified in the way that Saturn wants in order to limit it.
This sense of unfairness seems to be embodied in the Chiron myth.  It feels wrong that it should have been his friend Herakles who by accident brushed his thigh with the arrow tipped in the Hydra’s blood.  It seems unfair to us that we should suffer when we do not feel responsible for the people or factors that cause our suffering.  The Uranian response is to live in the stratosphere where we are not subject to these earthly experiences, where they are impersonal and therefore not subject to personal things like suffering.  Suffering and emotions are unnecessary, personal aberrations which apply to others but not ourselves.  To allow the personal is to open oneself to suffering.  Thus Uranus is happier with the cool analytical world of redesigning the framework or process to eliminate any possible cause of future ugly personal issues.  The search for enlightenment in many ways can be a defence against the ugly limitation of being human and subject to suffering and discomfort.  I remember Ram Dass relating that after spending time in India he began to notice that he had a series of people/events that “bought him down” – cities, his parents, certain people.  In the end he realised that he was getting caught by the things he was avoiding getting caught by.  He decided that  he might as well take the curriculum and be human.

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

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Reflections on and corrections to my last blog

Having had some feedback on my last blog I wanted to clarify my thinking.  I realise that having the Sun, Ascendant and Mercury in Sagittarius with Jupiter in Gemini I can fall prey to enthusiasm.  My Mars in Capricorn was not comfortable about publishing my last blog but I was tired and my Sagittarian personality, impatient with details like revision and editing, wanted to press the publish button and have done.  The unease I felt revolved around the feeling that in my enthusiasm I had come across as having taken sides between the mind and the heart or between an earth-air perspective and a water-fire one.  Being so Sagittarian there is always a danger of being too zealous and the irony of having been too zealous about the danger of being zealous is not lost on me!

What is it then that is important to recognise or differentiate when we talk about religion?  I am certainly concerned by organised religion because of the tendency it can have to say that “this is the only truth”.  In this sense it looks like Science at its worst, which says as well that “this is the only truth”.  For me, the heart (fire and water) is indivisibly connected to the mind (earth-air).  What closes the mind, closes the heart and what closes the heart, closes the mind.  What is dangerous is not that we have models or theories about the way the world works, but that we become attached to these models or theories and forget that they are models and theories.  Whilst my heart hurt in my recent experiences coaching people who had become overwhelmed by a very air-earth utilitarian view of the world, where there was no sense of religion (re-binding, that we are all connected and no sense of empathy or compassion for others, or morality), my mind was equally uncomfortable on recent occasions in being asked to uncritically accept very “new age” perspectives.  In explaining to a friend a while back where I was coming from when they challenged me about my own beliefs in astrology and the I-Ching and why I was not uncritically accepting of all other occult or “new age” thinking, I explained that I wanted to stand in the middle.  I have to work hard to stay open minded, like all of us, and I do not want to be dismissive of that which I do not understand or know for certain but at the same time, I value my critical, sceptical mind and I think a degree of healthy scepticism and testing and tempering my understanding against the facts is important.  In this sense, I realised I am natural scientist.  I love the experimental attitude that tests our theories critically against reality.  This is healthy, otherwise we can delude ourselves (and others) and distort reality to fit our predilections.  At the same time I naturally have faith in our connection to each other and the universe (re-ligio), I am a natural psychologist, a natural…. (you get the picture.  Any of the signs/elements/triplicities at the expense of the others is dangerous.  The I-Ching advises us to stand in the middle (I think this is where consciousness is).  My mind and my heart hurt when I am asked to identify only with a limited perspective or a single truth.  I recognise that at the heart of most approaches there is a truth.  The scientific kernel of open mind and critical testing of our theories against the reality of experience is a beautiful and important contribution.  It provides astrology with the astronomy and maths necessary to operate, at the same time, there is a beauty and importance in the religious perspectives which provide the intuitive wisdom of knowing that we are all interconnected.

All of this was summed up for me at a funeral for a close friend this week.  The person officiating at the funeral put it very eloquently and accurately for me when our friend was lowered into her grave.  “None of us can know for certain what lies beyond death” she said whatever our beliefs might be.  I realise that for me, the humility that recognises that there is so much that we do not know or is still a mystery to us protects us from the hubris of claiming that there is only one truth and that we have it.  Whilst I notice some of the hubris of modern day science, I am loath to throw the baby out with the bath water, in the same way that whilst I notice the hubris of many religions I am loathe to dismiss religion altogether.  Perhaps what really re-binds or re-unites us is the fact that we all share the common experience of knowing only a limited amount.  Yet this can keep us from falling prey to the illusion that we have the truth.  As a friend pointed out, the signs ruling religion – Sagittarius and Pisces are mutable, once you define them you have moved away from mutability into fixity.  Robert Pirsig in Lila – an enquiry into morals described this as the difference between static and dynamic truth.  Most religions, he suggested, were started by people who embodied a dynamic truth which responded and adapted to each moment, their followers then turned this into a static truth which lost its adaptability and relevance.  His metaphor was that of music.  When you first hear a song you like, it has dynamic quality and you cannot get enough of hearing it.  Yet after some time, it becomes stale and has lost its dynamic quality.  You would still say it was a great song and recommend it to others, but it has lost its dynamic quality for you.  It is so frustrating that we cannot once and for all define religion but rather reassuring too!  As the Tao-Te-Ching says “He who knows does not speak, he who speaks does not know”.  This lovely paradox says it all really.

As astrologers I think we have what is a rare privilege in that we have a framework that embraces the full spectrum of human perspectives.  The anima mundi or cosmic mind/spirit is reflected in this full spectrum of archetypal energies.  I realise that I have hit an impasse in finding the appropriate words for what we have, because they are so universal in nature they defy full description – astrology is a symbolic language for describing something archetypal but what exactly these archetypes are is tricky and therein lies its value in that we continue to elucidate and find greater and greater meaning in these archetypes.

I noticed, while at the astrological conference, that one great advantage that we have as astrologers, in that it is a discipline that by its nature causes us to stand back from and be less identified with our own personality.  When we say, I am Pluto rising in Cancer conjunct Uranus, we have a language for describing our own subjective vehicle for relating to the universe.  This is not to say that it automatically makes us wise or always conscious of our own subjective biases but it gives us a very strong potential to be by providing an objective framework for understanding our own personalities.  We are able to say, I see the world in this way, but then I would because I have Jupiter in Virgo in the 9th house.  Yet, at the same time, astrology is only a framework and it does not describe the consciousness or owner of the vehicle.  None of us when presented with a chart would know whether it was the chart of a tree, a car, a country, an idea or a human being.  Paradoxically it requires us to stand back from identification to describe it.  We lose this value when we identify with any one part of it over another.  Although it has to be said that Sagittarius is clearly the best sign (but that’s probably my Mars in Capricorn that’s saying that, and my Venus in Aquarius thinks that’s very unfair and my Cancer moon wonders if I really ought to be saying that – what will people think?……..)
For the last word on religio I think this article says it all (www.chrissyphilp.com)

Regligion and our world view

At the Astrological Association conference at the beginning of September, Chrissy and I attended a lecture by Nick Campion who was presenting his findings from research conducted amongst astrologers.  A very high percentage of astrologers did not consider astrology to be a religion (around 85% from memory).  This had remained stable over a number of years and also across different nationalities.  Yet Nick’s challenge was that perhaps we should be considering Astrology to be a religion, since it is clearly a belief system and that our distate for religion stems from our association of it with organised religions.  I did not really pick up on this until prompted by Chrissy to think about whether Astrology really is a religion or whether we need one.  Her perspective was that whilst we both shared a distate for the word religion based on our experiences of organised religion this was not the same as dismissing the idea of religion.  She thought that we did need religion; that those like our friend Ali, who was one of the first to come to see Chrissy, were suffering from the lack of religion and no sense of magic (meaning wonder and awe at something we cannot fully explain) or meaning and purpose.

All of this got me thinking further about religion.  I was coaching a number of people who were seeking promotion to leadership roles at a client and in coaching them, I was struck by the fact that the clear focus of their approach rested on proving that they would be profitable and that they understood how to make the firm a financial success.  I could not help but notice that this was pre-eminent.  The more I thought about this, the more I noticed that this was the case for many people that I coached.  Personal ambition and success were primary and personal ambition and success meant financial success.  There was a pervasive cynicism that what really matters is whether you make a financial success.  All the rest is just fine words.  This growing question mark culminated in coaching a man who has become a firm friend and who is learning about the I-Ching and astrology.  He was wrestling with the difficulty of having set about acting with empathy and compassion to others, helping others where they come on to his agenda and need his help and energy and generally focusing on being more self-aware.  Yet he could not shake the sense that he might be the mug who misses out in the real game of personal ambition and success.  That in sharing his own contacts and clients with others and being collaborative, in taking time to help others who were struggling, others might take advantage and he would be left an unsuccessful dupe.  In essence that even a more spiritual perspective was only in service of the ultimate goal of personal material success.
The key theme of the session was shifting this perspective to look at the reality of this assumption.  We examined the fact that those he watched playing the ambition and personal success game, were not in the end successful and he would not want to swap lives with any of them.  We also looked at the black hole he was in from the perspective of outcomes.  The danger was that he was hoping that taking this wiser approach would still lead to the same result of personal glory.  He realised that he would have to take this approach (if he chose to) simply because it was what his heart prompted him to do, rather than because it would lead to any particular result.  We also talked about the fact that he was not responsible for anyone else’s approach or behaviour, only in being true to his own values and heart no matter how others behaved.  To digress (as I love to do) for a moment here, I have often noticed that people talk strongly about their values mostly in the context of other people they deem to be not living up to these values.  In this way, most people make their values relative not absolute, in that these values apply when others are behaving in a way which is conducive to these values but do not apply when they are not.  So if someone behaves badly, they do not deserve to be treated according to our values.  I was suggesting that the point of our values is that they count specifically when others are most testing or challenging – any idiot can behave well when others prompt them to.  I also suggested that his only concern therefore should be his own values, being true to his own heart and not being concerned how others chose to behave.  My client/friend was struck by the paradoxically selfish nature of this approach.  Surely, acting simply to follow our own hearts, working on ourselves and not worrying about what others did was inherently selfish?  I agreed, but pointed out that I thought this was what was known as “enlightened self-interest”.

One of the characteristics of my client’s dilemma was the schism between his mind and his heart.  This has been a continual journey for him, as it is for all of us.  I am also conscious that this sits at the heart of the issue about religion.  The mind sees the world in terms of objects that it can manipulate to achieve it’s end.  This is the front half of the brain (according to Chrissy’s model of the brain), which governs the senses (or earth for Astrologers) on the left side, and the intellect (or air for Astrologers) on the right.  The combination of the two is the empiric scientist, considering only those things which can be verified empirically to be true.  Yet this view is an inherently unsatisfying one.  If the world is simply utilitarian; if there is no connection to anything beyond ourselves, then the selfish pursuit of material gain becomes the logical outcome.  Attempts (and there are many) to argue that morality can be derived from a set of well argued precepts fail to ring true at the emotional level.  To take an example, if we were able to cheat to our own financial advantage and there would be no negative consequence to doing so, why would we not do it?  Indeed I was struck during all my discussions that without any sense of being connected to something more than ourselves, this view has pervaded the world (mostly the western world, but increasingly the entire world).  The word religion comes from the latin re and ligio.  It means to re-bind or re-unite.  It is about our connection to something broader, bigger, our connection to the universe.  Without this sense of connection to something bigger, which our heart seems to feel intuitively, we are stuck in a cold, grey world without meaning or purpose, where we might as well grab what we can to satisfy the senses.  This was further brought home to me by coaching a bright man as part of a group of senior individuals in one of the world’s largest luxury empires.  He presented himself as someone only concerned with results and the bottom line.  From his perspective, people were simply the means to achieving financial results.  What is perhaps bizzare is that this is increasingly the norm and that caring about people has to be justified by the notion that it is a better means to achieving the ulimate goal of financial results.  Is this really the world we want to inhabit?  All of us hate it when we are cynically used by others to achieve financial profit, yet most of us espouse it as the primary object of our work lives.

So back to the split in the brain; what we think of as the heart is the back of the brain (according to Chrissy’s model), it governs the emotions (on the left side) and the intuition (on the right).  It is not more important than the front of the brain but it provides our sense of connection to something larger, our intuitive faith in a meaning to our lives and the intuition that they are connected to something larger.  What always amazes me, is that no matter how strongly people might subscribe to a rational, material view of the world, our everyday language is infused with phrases which validate this intuitive sense of connection – “ah you were riding for a fall”, “what goes around comes around” etc. etc.  Everyone seems to recognise the truth of this level of life no matter how strongly attached they are to a purely material view of the world.
Astrology is perhaps a unique discipline in explicitly describing through symbolic language (and with a degree of objectivity or systemisation not found in many other mystic views) our intimate connection to the cosmos.  It provides a framework for understanding our connection to the universe, for re-binding or re-uniting us.  How, therefore, could it not be a relgion?  So what is the distaste that many of us feel for the word religion?  It seems to be a distate for organised religion which focuses more on rules and traditions than on the sense of re-binding or re-uniting.  Somehow many organised religions seem to embody the opposite of re-uniting or re-binding which implies inclusivity and instead practice exclusivity, where theirs is the only answer or way and all other approaches are wrong or false.
Discussing this today with friends and colleagues on a programme we were running together, they all shared this distaste for religion yet recognised that much of their role running programmes in business was about helping individuals find meaning and purpose in their lives beyond the pursuit of material gain.  It is as if we have thrown the baby out with the bath water: religion is not the issue but rather the way it has been used – as most people point out, it seems to be a source of conflict and war rather than a source of binding or uniting us.
Science is also part of the picture here.  While some scientists are religious in outlook, many (as a perusal of the New Scientist will indicate) are vehemently atheist.  Yet, here it is valuable to notice that this vehemence is no different from that of the fundamentalist preacher.  They are not content to allow room for others to believe differently; they are as bent as a Jehovah’s witness on forcing others to adopt their belief that there is no God or religious element.  There is a belief that only matter exists or is of relevance.  Like most belief systems, it is close minded or exclusive; those who believe in homeopathy are deluded, astrologers are charlatans because there can be nothing other than the material world.  It is not an open-minded state embracing the perspective that it is a belief and that according to the current evidence they do not believe there is anything in these subjects but this might change with further evidence.  Even the language of modern environmentalists betraying the religious nature of their beliefs with “deniers” and the judgemental division of the world into good and bad people.

Part of the dilemma stems from the post-modernist view that there is no absolute truth and that therefore all perspectives are equally valid.  This view leads towards this same individualistic material view, since there is nothing greater than the view of the individual.  Yet, at its heart is a paradox (as Chrissy Philp points out), that the view that everything is relative is an absolute position.  A truly relative perspective would have to allow that there might be absolutes!
So what can we conclude?  Without a sense of “faith” (faith that our lives have a meaning and purpose and connect to something beyond our individual lives) we are reduced to a purely material view of the world.  This view impoverishes us and traps us in a utilitarian approach to the world and the universe.  It is an illusion that we can operate without belief in some objective, material world – all of us hold belief systems which support and give meaning to our lives and express our view of the way the universe works.  We are at the end of the age of Pisces (a Yin or material sign), we are entering the age of Aquarius (a Yang or energetic sign).  Matter and energy are indisolubly united (as Einstein posited E=MC2), a body might be able to contain the exact components for life but without energy it is not alive.  Disciplines like Astrology provide information on our energetic connection to the Universe.  A Universe with energy is alive and our interaction with it has consequences and ramifications.  To suppose that our lives and the universe consist only of lifeless discrete material is as inaccurate as supposing that you could step out of the window without falling to the ground.
We need a new paradigm for religion which encompasses both the scientific perspective and the anima mundi.  Which make sense of these paradoxical contradictions in our human nature – which encompasses all these perspectives that we express.  This would be a truly integrated and genuine religion (which would bind us all together), the scientist, the astrologer, the environmentalist, the mystic, where each was equally valid in its value to our world.  I wonder if that will be the blueprint that we will discover in the age of Aquarius (and ludicrous as it may sound, I think we might already have discovered it).

Thursday, 20 September 2012

The purpose of coaching

In undertaking a programme on coaching recently for a client, I was caught reflecting on what the real purpose of coaching is.  I am aware that coaching has become very popular and I suspect this is part of a shift generally towards self-development.  We are starting to redefine the concept of work in terms of work on ourselves or to raise our consciousness.  It is not that self-development is a new concept, it is deeply embedded in most religious and spiritual thought.  However as part of secular thought, it has replaced the notion of character formation as Stephen Covey describes in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  It seems to be part of a move away from a collective religious approach to a more individualistic one and reflects the more humanistic approach to development.  In quite a rapid space of time, coaching has become integrated into almost all facets of life; you can be coached on almost any activity these days.

What struck me though, is that there are myriad views on what coaching actually entails and I was struck, as I am whenever training on this, how much people struggle to coach others effectively.  This prompted me to wonder what the blockage or misunderstanding is.  What occurred to me (in the middle of the night as my unconscious mind had obviously been processing this) was that the issue is to do with the purpose of coaching.  The strongly held belief seems to be that coaching is about finding solutions to problems and taking action.  The unfailing reflex among people coaching is to provide solutions for people.  Most people (and coaches) conclude that the key to coaching is to avoid the instinct to look for solutions or to impose them and this is partly right.  Yet, I realised that this misses the point, in the same way that teaching people to ask open rather than closed questions misses the point.  To consider questions for a moment, teaching people to ask open rather than closed questions is not the issue.  It is actually to do with what prompts open and closed questions, what sits behind them.  What I have observed is that when people are sure they have the answer for an individual they are coaching they asked closed questions – because they are not interested in the answer, they are interested in confirming their solution.  Thus, making people aware of what causes them to ask open or closed questions allows them to be more skilful in their use of questions.  This is not to say that closed questions are wrong or that questioning is the end of coaching in itself.  No, the issue behind both is to do with the purpose of coaching.  As far as I understand it, the purpose of coaching is to facilitate learning, not action.  Most solution providing is not helpful because it focuses on action rather than learning, ie. here’s what you should do.  The proposed solution can happen by chance to provide learning, but that is not its intention – it’s intention is about what to do not learning.
 So if the purpose of coaching is learning, what is learning?  For me, learning is connected to seeing a situation differently.  We describe this as insight.  Without new awareness or insight (literally inward sight), there is no learning.  So the purpose of coaching is to generate insight.  If there is no new insight, then any action taken will not change the individual’s position.  If there is new insight, then the actions taken by necessity will not be the same.  People seek coaching where they have a challenge.  If they have the insight to deal with the challenge they do not need coaching.  If they do not have the insight then the purpose of coaching is to facilitate it.

Much of the difficulty in coaching is that it focuses on the outputs (action) without an awareness of the inputs (insight).  What often happens in practice is that the coach accepts the situation as related by the individual (their picture of their situation and others in it) and seeks actions or solutions based on this picture (in Karpman Drama Triangle parlance, they accept the coachee’s position as victim of their situation and others).  For the coach, they often find themselves identifying with the issues that the individual faces and taking on the emotions so they propose actions to relieve these emotions – “go and tell them”, “talk to HR”, “sack them” etc. etc.  The object is seen as taking action to deal with the issue.  Once the individual has agreed to an action, the coach feels they have done their job.  Even the individual may feel satisfied but the result is likely to be that nothing changes despite these actions they are now going to take because there is no change in how the individual sees the situation.
 So how do you help individuals generate insight or learn?  As I have coached people and taught coaching, I have reflected on this and realised that the role of the coach is to focus on the person being coached, not on the all the individuals they present as the issues to be solved (since they are not present and cannot learn or change).  Instead the focus of the coach is on how the individual is seeing the situation and critically what they might be learning in the situation.  Coaching is the then the art of helping them play with their awareness to shift it and generate new insight.  In order to do this, I notice the key components are to do with changing the nature of the individual’s picture or perception of the situation.  I have come across five broad ways of changing the way that people perceive their situation – deepening, broadening, increasing detail, changing the viewpoint and disentangling.
 Deepening is to do with looking at why the individual finds themself in the position they are in; what is purpose behind the situation and what are they learning from the situation?  If someone is frustrating or annoying them, what might that person be a provocative agent for learning; what is it triggering in the individual?  Deepening is about seeing the situation as having meaning and learning and it invites the individual to explore the situation from this perspective without seeking to change the situation or the people within it.

 Broadening seeks to change the parameters of the picture.  For instance, time is one valuable parameter to shift.  Have you been in this type of situation before or faced an individual like this before? If you look around you at others who have faced this situation or dealt with this person, how long has it taken to change it or build a relationship?
 Increasing detail challenges the generalisations that we often make in our pictures, eg. When you say that they always react this way, has there ever been a time when they didn’t?  What do you mean when you say they are hopeless?  In what way? What are you expecting exactly from them?
Changing the viewpoint, shifts the standpoint through which the individual sees the situation – “how would they describe the situation/you?”.There might also be creative ways to do this: “what does the wisest part of you say?”

 Disentangling, seeks to separate out the threads in a situation so that they do not obscure each other, e.g. What do you control here and what don’t you control? Who is really generating the issue here?
 When we are about to be attacked by a life-threatening creature (like a lion) our defensive mechanisms are set up to protect us.  To do this, they narrow our focus so that it is not distracted by irrelevant awareness, they also shorten our focus so that we are not distracted by long term considerations that are hypothetical should we not survive this situation.  They also reduce our options to as few as possible so that we do not have to waste precious time sifting possible courses of action.