Sunday, 28 September 2014

The threads of thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 1 August 2014

Israel, Palestine and morality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Leaving the Garden of Eden

I have been baffled by a number of threads for some time that I cannot quite reconcile. These are as follows:
  • Why are we so obsessed with profitability and business and also with the cult of personality and individualism rather than “character” and the common good?
  • Why are so many people turning agnostic or atheist?
  • Why is there a lauding of science and a denigration of other modes of knowing?
  • Why are we building such ugly houses and buildings?
  • Why is morality almost a dirty word, something seen as old-fashioned and like a fairy-tale from a more primitive superstitious past?
What has dawned on me recently is that it is down to the fact that the planets we have discovered are collective planets. For the first time we are dealing more consciously with collective forces. But, we are not only dealing with one or even two collective forces, we are dealing with a downright deluge of collective energies.

I think the result of this is that collectively we are like adolescents, suddenly faced with responsibility for ourselves and let loose in the world. Watching my son and daughter and their peers as adolescents and young adults, it is not an easy time and the social forces and inner dilemmas create a somewhat volatile cocktail.

I am conscious in this regard, that the dilemmas we face have changed scale. We have multi-national organisations operating beyond the scope and jurisdiction of national boundaries and issues like climate change are truly global challenges that require collective co-operation. Similarly, the Internet is beyond the ability of any one country to control or regulate.

So we are being forced to grow up and take collective responsibility for ourselves, like adolescents moving out of home to become independent. From this point of view it is easy to see why there is such a querulous attitude towards God and morality – what adolescent wants their parents around telling them how to behave?

I think, since we are dealing with outer planets, we are fundamentally reassessing our notion of what ‘god’ is. Like most adolescents, we have to first reject that which has come to us from others and rebel. Also like adolescents, we are experimenting to find our collective boundaries and that requires extremities before a balance is found.

It is like the birth of a new collective identity. It is going to be accompanied by some uncomfortable pangs and some big mistakes till we get the hang of this scale of operation and awareness. One phenomenon that I think is part of this collective process is a feeling of inconsequentiality in the face of the size of the collective. Never before have we dealt with such unremitting awareness and media that bombards us with global events. In the face of this, it is easy to fall prey to the fear of being so tiny that our lives have no meaning or impact. I remember first coming across this at nineteen when travelling across the USA. I was struck by the fact that every family we met or stayed with would regale us with endless tales about the fantastic achievements and success of their children. The pressure to succeed, to become a “someone” was very high. In a world without global media, our character determines our reputation within the local community. In a world of global media where we are unlikely to directly encounter the individuals who judge us, even in a society which operates on a larger scale with many people not working in their local environment, job titles, media coverage and “brand” have become substitutes for direct experience of character. We want to believe that it is possible for an individual to be of such stellar importance that they can be significant on a global scale – hence the obsession with celebrity.

At the same time there is an incessant fear of “missing the boat”. We are driven by a collective insatiable need to keep up with the Jones’. Yet this is now on a collective level and there are not only the Jones’ to keep up with but a plethora of international equivalents. In major cities like London and Hong Kong the influx of wealthy people from abroad has pushed the value of houses beyond the means of many local people. Just earning a bit more is not enough; it feels like we have to earn more and more to survive. It is easy to see why this has driven a polarization of wealth far more extreme than previous generations. In the past, if people in our local community were poorer or needy we knew about it and our wealth stuck out to prick our conscience. Now, much of our sense of comparison comes from films and TV and there is much more migration of labour – we are just as likely to interact dislocated from our local community, mixing with people who are similar to us rather than experiencing a breadth of social interaction. It is not that any of the issues have not existed before but that they have not existed on this scale before.

At all my major clients there is a strong sense of operating in a global market and in a market that is so competitive and changing so quickly that there is a fear that if they don’t keep up they will not survive. This pressure leads to cost-cutting and to outsourcing work to the cheapest supplier (often abroad). It also results in the organisations believing that they will only retain the most talented people if they can keep up with their competitors in terms of profits. It is an endless cycle. It is very much a Plutonic cycle. It has kept us going and evolving throughout history, the deep primal urge to survive in the face of danger and competition for resources.

So following on in terms of the Plutonic side of the equation what else are we dealing with collectively and consciously in terms of Pluto? Resources and power are a key factor and oil and fossil fuels in general fall smack bang into this category. It is like we have created hell on earth with smog and carbon dioxide belching out driven by our insatiable greed and lust for more power driving us to oblivion and death of the planet. We are having to come to terms with our own shadow. Open war – the Aries side of the equation still exists but we are increasingly dealing with the Scorpionic, hidden side of war in the form of terrorism and cyber wars (which interweaves Pluto, Uranus and Neptune). It has also moved to an Uranian impersonal level where technology allows us to send unmanned drones in the form of “stealth bombers” to attack people (again this seems to link all three together).

So much for the destructive elements, what are the positive sides of Pluto? Pluto also rules psychology and it struck me the other day how much psychology is seeping into the workplace, into schools (through emotional intelligence) and society in general. Many people have been to therapists (something initially stigmatized but now almost de rigeur). We are more conscious of the psychological dimensions of our collective actions – the trauma caused to those involved in conflict, abuse etc. In Business emotional intelligence is regularly referred to and taught, coaches are omnipresent and sports teams employ psychologists.   I have been wondering recently whether the discovery of planets is not a fixed boundary point in our collective consciousness but rather an epicentre so that, for instance, the first world war and the horror it represented was a prompt to our collective consciousness which erupted with the discovery of Pluto in 1930 – so that the two world wars bookended the discovery of Pluto and through Jung the collective awareness of our shadow.
Neptune’s role seems to me to be to do with the media and more particularly our collective unconscious programming. Recently, my wife has been watching crime thrillers through Netflix – the more gore the better from her point of view.  With Pluto on her descendant in Capricorn and the grand cross to Mars, Uranus and Jupiter this seems a sensible way to let out some of these energies in her life.  On occasion watching these with her, it struck me how easy it is to fall into the trap of unconsciously believing that they present a view of reality, even if you are aware that they are in fact illusion.  Somehow, some part of us cannot help taking on unconsciously the feeling that it has some basis in reality.  I notice that everyone even discusses TV programmes and films with a feeling that they are part of real life.  Our thoughts engage with them discussing whether something was out of character or speculating on whether they really meant to do what they did, ie. we attribute motive and intention to them.  It has become a standard joke in our family when someone gets very carried away like this to bring them down to earth by saying “you do realise they’re not real don’t you?”  said with heavy irony (we are family united by 17-24 degrees of Cancer so teasing and  irony are two of the main modes of daily relating). In a similar way, we use Neptune consciously to manipulate each other through advertising and selling. Whether this is really for our collective benefit remains for us to determine. Certainly, the use of the media to make us aware of tragedy and difficulty in other parts of the world such as the Tsunamis in Sri Lanka and Japan bought the very best of the collective Neptune to bear with a tsunami of support and empathy.

A recent piece of research looked into attitudes towards torture and it’s acceptability in cases where you were dealing with terrorist activity.  One in six in the UK felt that torture was acceptable to obtain critical information – closer to the US levels but well above other European countries.  The article attributed this rise to the influence of programmes such as Homeland and the fact that scenes of torture had become commonplace.  I don’t normally buy a newspaper but my parents were around a few weekends back and there was an article interviewing Tyger Drew-Honey (he of Outnumbered fame) about a documentary he had compered looking into the influence of porn on the current generation’s attitudes towards sex.  Since both his parents had worked in the porn industry he was in a unique position to comment.  His conclusion was that the porn industry had normalised many aspects of sexual fantasy and aggression to the extent that many young people had completely unrealistic and illusory expectations about sex and in some cases violent and disturbing ones both for them and for their partners.

Much of our and particularly the younger generation’s day to day normalisation comes from the media of social networking, television, film etc. It is like our unconscious programming is being done by the collective rather than by interactions in our immediate environment.   Travelling regularly across the world in my work, I notice that shops, restaurants and food, clothing etc. are becoming increasingly uniform or at least global. In many ways, so are attitudes and behaviour. At the same time, on the positive side I notice that, for all the difficulties, there is greater empathy between people from different countries, that we are beginning to merge and to see that we are really all one despite cultural, racial or national differences. Humanitarian aid in the form of organisations like the Red Cross and Medicins sans Frontieres are now global phenomenon. The Media has also given us access to situations of conflict and we all feel involved and hurt by these events, we all feel involved in trying to resolve or transcend these conflicts.

Last week I visited India for the first time to run a workshop and I could not help noticing that the dialogues about personal development and spirituality were remarkably similar to those I have everywhere else in the world where individuals are discussing meditation, yoga, Bhuddism, the I-Ching, personal development etc. There still seems to be a dualism present where this somehow seems to be separated from day to day work but it is nevertheless a similar collective dialogue taking place around the world. The barriers created by entrenched views of formal religion are breaking down to a more common search for transcendence and an intuition of anima mundi and cosmic mind –or at the least a common recognition of our mutual interdependence.

Uranus has given us collective organisation and technology on a global scale, it has meant that large organisations thrive and we organise on a collective scale in a way we were never capable of previously. Yet, it has also given us a world of impersonal interaction where we relate to our phones and through email rather than the people we interact with, where we talk to call centres and feel powerless to influence or be treated as an individual with a human heart. Increasingly businesses have turned our interactions into processes which drive out personal response from the heart or individual consideration.   Large chains of housebuilders build standardised housing based on efficient uniform designs which render our environment ugly and impersonal with no individual flair or beauty. We flock on mass to places to beautiful parts of the world only to destroy the very beauty which attracted us – as I learnt recently in visiting Mallorca. We turn large businesses into impersonal generators of wealth based on numbers rather than vehicles for individual human recognition.

At the same time, social networking sites allow us to interact with fellow human beings across the world who share our interests, we are able to organise mass money for worthwhile projects, to bring aid to fellow human beings in remote locations. I can’t help feeling that we are in the process of learning to breakdown the barriers to our recognition that it is all us, that people in different countries and cultures are really no different to us – that as the I-Ching suggests “we are all one in our hearts”. The technology behind the Internet has given us the capability to create a collective mind. How well we use that mind (as with our own mind) lies in our own hands.

One aspect of Uranus is its ability to challenge and breakdown old structures. Our notion of work has changed dramatically; individuals no longer have jobs for life with one organisation where work meant largely physical activity to allow us to survive personally but rather we now think in terms of career and personal development. Work has come to mean work on ourselves and we stay with organisations as long as they provide scope for us to develop and we in turn choose to develop. We have also revolutionised marriage, attitudes to sex, culture and gender.   This seems to be part of a process of coming to all of these at a more personal, individual consciousness rather than simply conforming to collective norms. I wonder if we are in the process of rediscovering the value of long term commitment to relationship, tolerance etc. through conscious choice rather than because we have to in order to conform to religious or societal rules? Certainly I don’t think any of us would want to return to the pre-60s, pre Uranus-Pluto in Virgo opposite Saturn-Chiron in Pisces era where births outside marriage were a source of shame to be hidden away and child abuse operated undetected in the Catholic Church for fear of open challenge. Similarly, I don’t think any of us would wish to return to an era where work was hard, brutal and often short and where we could not work we relied on the charity or were sent to the workhouse.

So much for the outer planets, what about the discovery of Chiron and our toddler like steps to establish an independence from Mother Earth (we are off, having taken our first tottering steps away from mum and still very much dependent on her but nevertheless tasting a separation in identity and a sense of independence for the first time).   The discovery of Earth – in terms of seeing it independently for the first time in the 1960s seems very much connected to the discovery of the outer planets, in that we are establishing a conscious identity which is more global and less unconsciously identified with mother. We are realising that she has needs of her own and that we are responsible for our impact on her. We are also seeing that she may not always choose to support us, she might get fed up with us and this links us closely into Chiron. Chiron is the wound of incarnation, the pain that comes with consciousness of our separate incarnation. Thus, as we separate our identity from mum, we leave the Garden of Eden and come face to face with our own vulnerability, our responsibility for our own mess and our need to take responsibility for the suffering we cause. At the same time we come face to face with pain, the fact that all life involves suffering. The global dilemmas we now face in terms of pollution, global population expansion, loss of ecosystems etc., are the evolutionary prompts to evolve. We are now playing a collective black hole game and we are increasingly conscious of the mess that we have created and our need to take responsibility for that mess.   It is fuelling our growth collectively; how else would we address these collective issues or start to explore our next steps without the painful prompt to grow? Yet, there is a terrible sense of fear and grief at the loss of our innocence and the dawning realisation of our precarious situation and how we have contributed to it and also a grief at the very nature of life; that for life to progress and evolve there must be death and loss, that there has to be pain if we are to grow, species die out, habitats change etc.

Given our move into the Age of Aquarius, this all seems very fitting – that we should be forging a new collective awareness and identity.   But, where next? I wonder if there will be a new cycle, perhaps when we colonise the Moon and land on Mars we will begin a new cycle of consciousness relating to these archetypes? Certainly, we will need to draw up new charts once children are born on these planets and anyone from the 1960s onwards who went into space was operating with charts which were no longer geocentric. Could it be that if we finally harness the Sun as our primary source of energy this will dictate a different relationship with it? I think we are in a new phase of collective consciousness, once we are relating to people on the moon or Mars will our understanding of relationships change? Certainly the human race will no longer be synonymous with Earth.

We seem to be at the Epicentre of a major transition. I can’t help feeling that the recent grand cross and grand trine, linked together through Jupiter in Cancer are symbolising or reflecting the epicentre of this shift, in effect a new birth (or perhaps I would like them to and I am projecting on to them?).

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Our new friend Ukraine

Last week I was coaching someone from Prague and at the end of the session we were discussing the situation in Ukraine and how to deal with Putin. He felt that it was naïve to suppose that Putin would stop at the Crimea and that we needed to be strong in Europe to deal with him. He was influenced by the experience of being under Russian domination for many years. This week I was running a programme with someone from Russia who explained that the number of people who were in favour of Putin in Russia was very high and that she was in a very small minority of people who did not like what Putin was doing. She pointed out that her parents like the way that Putin is operating like a new Tzar and creating a more old style powerful “mother” Russia.

It does all sound very worrying and my friend in Prague was worried. From his perspective, the possibility of war and the danger of Russia and Putin were not to be underestimated. However, he did get me thinking about the issue more deeply. He felt I was in danger of taking a naïve western European view.

So how did we get here and how does the West (are we still the West if it includes a lot of Eastern Europe now?) respond? My friend in Prague felt we needed to show our strength and stand up to Putin. Yet, as we discussed it, it occurred to me that we in Europe had much more responsibility for the situation than perhaps we were conscious of. If I had a close and old friend who lived next door to me and someone else came along to my friend and said “I am a much better friend than Nick, why don’t you come and be part of my gang? Everyone is deserting Nick and we are a much better bet than him – look at all the friends from Nick’s circle who are now part of our gang”, I think it is likely that I might not respond terribly well. Do this to a country that feels that it is losing all its former power and influence in the world and sees all its former allies deserting it and it would be wise not to expect a positive response, particularly if you have a leader who feels so vulnerable and fearful of being seen as weak that he has to compensate by trying to prove to everyone how strong and powerful he is.

Thinking back, it was obvious that our thoughtless and emotionally unintelligent response in the EU would produce this result. So how could we have dealt with it more wisely? Dealing with it more wisely would have involved caring just as much about Russia as Ukraine and talking to both of them and reassuring them that they were both important to us and that we didn’t want to do anything to damage their relationship (and of course acting on that).

All well and good to learn from our mistakes but what now? Now, we could take responsibility for our mistakes and the role we played so that Russia and Putin recognise that we are genuinely sorry for hurting them and making them feel insecure. I know that my Prague client might see this as weakness and point out that Putin would take advantage of this ridiculous naïveté and that he would see us as weak but this goes to the heart of what real weakness is.
It is clear at the moment that from my clients, my own experience and from the Putin example that we are learning how to deal with conflict, competition and revolutionary change (Mars-Uranus-Pluto-Jupiter grand cross) with compassion and understanding (Neptune-Chiron trine Jupiter) or at least, that is the opportunity.

In the client I was seeing today this is playing out very forcibly. My client is a large law firm and in one of their offices the performance has been particularly bad this year. The particular individual I am coaching is Moon-Uranus conjunct in Scorpio and also Sun-Venus-Mars conjunct in Scorpio with Saturn transiting it. This client instinctively (Moon) tends to fight people in authority (Uranus). The leader of the office has the Sun in Cancer and he is feeling very much under pressure but does not like conflict. My client arranged a meeting for many of the partners to address how to deal with the issue (mostly the partners were younger partners). My client’s approach involved a degree of self-abnegation for the collective good and so people listened. With two others, this client then went to see the managing partner. Unsurprisingly he did not respond well; here were the young bucks arriving to overthrow the old stag. When a meeting of all the partners next happened my client took the opportunity to attack the managing partner more aggressively, feeling, probably quite rightly, that he was in denial about the situation. In this equation he was clinging on to power and felt uncomfortable inviting in the new generation. The result of my client’s aggression was that they lost any support they had previously had, so they then went and apologised to the managing partner and at this point he began to listen. Navigating the current calls for change and revolution globally, locally and individually is going to be difficult. It requires a lot of sensitivity and emotional intelligence. If we are to play these current energies out instinctively or unconsciously then there is likely to be a heavy price. Yet it is worth recognising that this has been the same game we have been playing out and learning since the early days of the Pluto-Uranus square and the situation with Gaddaffi in Libya.

At a personal level, this is playing out for me in my relationship with my friend Steve. We have worked together for some twenty or so years and have a deep friendship and often run training programmes together. The main issues that play out for us are in terms of competition and Steve often feels frustrated that I overshadow him and am more confident in group situations (Steve has sun in Aries in the 7th and I have the Sun rising in Sagittarius). This has been re-inforced by the fact that until just recently, he would always be working together with me on my clients. Now, the tables have turned and Steve has asked me to work with him on a leadership programme for one of his clients. We talked about it and recognised it might be asking a lot of our personalities to navigate it successfully. Steve wanted me to shine because he was keen for the programme to go well but he did not want me to shine too brightly because he did not want it to lead to me taking over. Since I have a personality that likes to shine then this was going to be difficult for me. The programme went very well but there was some tension between us. I felt hamstrung because Steve had had all the conversations with participants beforehand and all the discussions with the organisation about the design. My Sun rising in Sagittarius was distinctly uncomfortable and feelings of resentment and jealousy bubbled up on a few occassions. When we discussed it, Steve, with typical Aries honesty admitted that he had kept the pre-programme conversations with individuals to himself to give him more opportunities to coach and that he had done the same with the design conversations since he felt otherwise I might overshadow him.   He has nobly worked since to re-allocate these. I realised it was good practice for me to see how Steve might feel at times dealing with someone who is Sun rising in Sagittarius. What we then spoke about was the fact that it was important in working together that we were both sensitive to each others personalities and need to shine and express themselves and that it was also ok for us to conclude that operating as two suns in one solar system won’t work and to go our own ways open heartedly. This felt a valuable conclusion – we worked together for 3 days this week on one of my clients and it went very well and on Monday and Tuesday we work together on Steve’s client . The grand cross is hitting off Steve’s chart strongly and transiting Chiron is aspecting my chart strongly so we will see how we get on. Yet, the point for me is, can we play at a level of friendship beyond the promptings of the current astrological energies? If we do not know these energies it is unlikely since we will be blind to their effect. At the same time, it is only through consulting the I-Ching (and my training with Chrissy) that I have been able to gain sufficient perspective not to get caught and played by these energies or at least to play them more wisely. Once again, I have been struck how discussing and dealing with these uncomfortable conflicts has deepened my friendship with Steve rather than damaging it.

So now, in my normal style I want to go on to a related (I hope!) tangent. As part of the programme Steve and I were running this week we were discussing the real internal dialogue that is going on in our heads and the real emotions that influence our actions. The participants were struck by how much their internal dialogue and actions are dominated by defensive fears, needs, anxieties, neuroses. In particular we were discussing the Transactional Analysis Drivers of Please, Be Strong, Try Hard, Hurry Up and Be Perfect. The participants could not believe how much the drivers described their deepest motivations and actions. Yet at the same time, discussing all this childish emotional stuff had the effect of producing lots of laughter, insight and a strong sense of compassion for and understanding of each other – it broke down the barriers between us all. The programme included participants from across Europe and Russia and previous programmes have included many participants from Asia, the Middle East etc. The experience was the same on the previous programme. Over the last few weeks, I have been particularly watching my mind chatter and observing the sheer absurdity of my constant fears and neuroses. Steve and I noticed that the more open we were as facilitators about the reality of all the ludicrous antics of our own personalities the more everyone opened up and the greater the insights generated across the group.

So what does all this have to do with Putin? The connection is that in order to navigate successfully through relationships it requires a sensitivity to all the real emotions that we all feel and a care for this part of us. Instead much of our approach is to pretend that none of this exists and to be “grown up” – tough and logical. Yet, the situation in Russia is entirely about these emotions. I connect the situation in Ukraine with the Be Strong driver which I associate with Neptune (and Saturn of course). Russia in my mind has always been a country that I associate with Neptune as well – the drinking, the corruption, the idealism of communism, the literature and art, the music, the chaos and excesses.  Neptune at its best is the source; the well of human love and understanding that connects us all. It is the recognition that we are really all one and the boundaries between us are illusions. Yet this lack of boundaries and empathy with others can make us feel so vulnerable that we have to hide this behind our defensive boundaries (Saturn).  The Be Strong driver stems from a fear of weakness of being taken advantage of by stronger personalities. It is very much connected to the Karpman Drama Triangle of Victim, Persecutor, Rescuer. The only way out of the Karpman Drama Triangle is not to play any of the roles and not to see anyone as a victim – to be on everyone’s side. The irony behind Be Strong is that in true Neptune style it seeks unconditional love and merging. Sadly, the defensive driver achieves the opposite, often isolating the individual behind walls of cynicism designed to defend against the cynical unfeeling reality of others; thus it becomes the very thing it fears. It is very clear from Putin’s behaviour – the publicity photos of him bare-chested hunting and his desire to take on Tzar like status to protect Russia – that there is a Be Strong driver playing out. It is a compensation for a feeling of intense vulnerability.

(I suddenly had a twinge of anxiety and thought I had better look up Putin’s chart in case in turns out that he has no strong Saturn-Neptune influences and the astrologers who might read this would disown me! Looking at his chart I was stunned to find that he is Sun-Saturn-Neptune-Mercury conjunct in the twelfth house square Uranus. How amazing is astrology, who could possibly think that it does not work or it is vague and general??)

The danger with defence mechanisms in general is that they invite the very response which traps us down deeper in them. If we respond to Putin and Russia by demonstrating our power, we increase their insecurity. The paradox of Be Strong is that it takes real courage and strength to take responsibility for ourselves, to be vulnerable and to admit our mistakes. Yet when we do open up and admit to the vulnerability of being absurd emotional human beings, it creates a wonderful sense of connection with and empathy for each other. We realise we are all the same, that there is just “us” not “us and them”. If we take responsibility and apologise for our insensitivity it leaves Putin without justification for his response to our actions and when we can take responsibility for our own faults, it is harder for others to avoid responsibility for theirs. We tried to seduce Ukraine away from its friendship with Russia and this has been the result; it has split Ukraine apart and damaged our relationship with Russia. Now, we might suggest that Putin had a covert agenda to get the strategically important Crimea into Russian hands but then how is that different to our agenda to get the Ukraine to join the EU? If we take responsibility for our motives then if Russia has ulterior motives these become exposed. It also means that if we criticise Russia it is not from a point of hypocrisy that they can justifiably ignore. Perhaps if we can see this situation clearly we won’t repeat the mistake in the future.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The nature of reality and consciousness

I have been thinking about consciousness and reality stimulated by a programme on You Tube entitled The Holographic Universe.  Some of the experiments it describes I was aware of but not as fully as the programme describes.  The main tenet behind the concept is that reality is a hologram that is generated by the brain's interaction with or interpretation of a field that exists as potential in the universe.  This is based on the idea that electrons exist as a wave of potential until observed by a conscious observer, at which point this observer collapses the wave function into matter at a particular (in both senses!) point in time and space (the electron becomes a particle).  This in turn gives rise to the idea that the brain is actually a holographic generator; that what we experience as "reality" is a holographic projection from the brain based on information from this infinite field of potential.  There were three main sets of experiments quoted which gave rise to this notion.  The first was the experiments of Ben Libert at the University of California at San Francisco which first gave rise to the notion that brain activity to begin actions occurred before we thought we had consciously made a decision.  The second was the work of Dr Dean Radin at Saybrook Graduate School who was demonstrating an experiment that measured our physiological response to randomly generated pictures on a computer screen which were either emotionally arousing or emotionally mild.  The experiment demonstrated that our response began up to 6 secs in advance of the picture - before the computer had even generated the image.  The last was part of a BBC documentary in 2010 which echoed the Libert test and showed that monitoring brain activity allowed scientists to predict accurately a decision you were going to make about pressing either a left or right button around 6 secs before you pressed it.

As part of the first part of this Holographic Universe series an image was shown from an IBM film made back in the 70s that I remember from my childhood which showed a man on a picnic in Chigaco and focused on his hand.  The image then zoomed out at regular intervals to reveal the Earth, the Solar System, the Milky Way and finally the Universe.  It demonstrated that when you zoomed out from the man to the universe you got a constant pattern of space interspersed with tiny amounts of matter in the form first of planets, then stars, then galaxies.  It then zoomed in again to the man's hand and on down to the atomic level where the pattern appeared very similar with small electrons and protons with relatively large areas of space in between.  What occurred to me here is the implications for Astrology.  The point of the film was to show that what we think of a "solid" matter is not as solid as we think and is very similar to that which we see as the universe, ie. that matter is made up of mostly space with very small amounts of matter.  However, they did not really address the conundrum that even these small amounts of matter are themselves composed mostly of space and therefore really matter is energy as Einstein pointed out and the I-Ching suggested many years before with the concept of Yin and Yang.  But back to Astrology; if you link the notion of the field which is generating the holographic potentials which our brain converts or projects as the physical world then it is not difficult to suppose that the solar system and the Universe is representative of a field which exists at all levels and that this larger field influences our day to day activity - particularly if what we experience as the solar system is part of the hologram created by the field.  Secondly, the fact that we appear, from the experiments, to be reacting unconsciously to phenomenon up to 6 or 7 secs prior to becoming conscious of them might be no surprise to astrologers given that in Astrology all phenomenon have an orb where an aspect is apply and then separating - ie. that astrological phenomena have an epicentre to which they build and then from which they recede - much like ripples in a pond, or waves of potential.

I have suggested in a previous article that I think that the chart describes the nature of consciousness for each individual - the constellation of our particular consciousness given an overall background (wave?) of all potential astrological phenomena.  It is also easy to wonder whether the chart might not be describing in our natal birth chart our particular interference pattern (an interference pattern being the means by which holograms are formed) and the hologram that this will create.  Not only this but the transits would then describe the interference patterns that interact with this initial interference pattern (or hologram) to create further interference patterns - or at least, the play and dance between them.  Thus a square between Neptune and Mercury describes a particular interference pattern.  It is still a wave of infinite potential and specific to the individual because it in that it occurs in a specific time and place and no two charts or transits to a particular chart could ever be the same, ie. no chart is identical to another chart nor could the transits all be identical at any point to that particular chart - I think!  Since Astrology rests on archetypal energies (infinite potential waves) that then coalesce and are described by a chart at a particular time and space (this is the core of astrology), one can see that in drawing up a chart one is capturing the point at which the wave of astrological possibilities becomes particular or forms a holographic reality.

Yet, I wonder if there is also something more here.  This something more is the fact that consciousness might be more like an epicentre rather than cause and effect in a linear way.  I notice that we often don't understand or become fully conscious of what is happening in a transit until it is has built up to an exact aspect.  I also notice that it is not acting which seems to be key to our lives but what Don Juan in the Carlos Castaneda books called "seeing".  In my own life and coaching others, it is not the acting that makes any difference to our lives - since we are doing that all the time - but rather the reflection on our actions; that is just the act of becoming conscious or perhaps more precisely, "aware" that is important.  Don Juan suggested that "seeing" was the only important thing in the end.  Perhaps it is the case that our awareness allows us to adjust the lens on our interference patterns or at least our viewpoint so that we see a fuller picture.  As part of the Holographic Universe programme they showed an extremely realistic holographic image of a tiger's head with open mouth.  What was intriguing was that as the camera angle moved around the tiger's head we got to see behind parts of the image that initially blocked our view yet it was a projection on to a 2D screen!  Is it perhaps the case that the field is sophisticated enough that it is taking into account what we are learning? So that when we watch a film, we love to discuss the film and what is going on and what we thought of it and we are gripped by it when it is happening and often commenting on it - at least in my house that is the case!  We do not know the outcome or precisely what will happen (at least the first time we watch it) yet we would be aware that we cannot influence the outcome, however much we might identify with the characters or be completely involved.  Indeed we cry, get angry, grip our seats at key points, even though we know it makes no difference.  Yet it is possible that we might be able to change our angle of viewing the film (if it is a holographic film) and see it more deeply and be aware of completely different elements of the film that we would not otherwise have seen?  Most of the learning I have taken from the wisest traditions I have studied in terms of religions, philosophers and wise people, seems to suggest a similar theme and certainly my friend Chrissy has banged this theme into my head on a regular basis and that is not to identify with my personality or my story or drama.  This is not to say that we cannot avoid playing the game or the drama, any more than we can physically put our hand through a tree but that we are less identified with it, as we might be watching a film.  So is it possible that we have somewhat missed the point in thinking that the whole point of the drama is about acting (if you will excuse the pun) rather than awareness.  This doesn't mean that we don't act since this would be impossible (not acting is in itself an action).  No the point is that even if it is projection it is in effect "real" for us.

The deeper question is what sits behind all of this - how was this game set up and more pertinently why?  The answer to this is the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything which as fans of Douglas Adams know is forty-two.  However, if our experience of life is a projection of a two dimensional framework to appear three dimensional then 42 must be two dimensional.  This means the axes must be 6x7.  It is like a cryptic crossword - what could the answer to a 6 letter by 7 letter phrase be which supplies the whole framework of warp and weft for the three dimensional, cosmic mind that we experience?  Thinking very deeply about it, I realise that I have the answer.  The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is that it is a B-L-O-O-D-Y   M-Y-S-T-E-R-Y.  I think there is enough infinite interference pattern in these two 6 and 7 letter words to cover the entire field of Life, the Universe and Everything - or at least that is what my limited projector is telling me.

Thursday, 9 January 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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