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Recent studies show that the stories we tell ourselves become so enmeshed with our cognitive functions, that they – and not any accurate assessment of actual experience –  underpin 80% of our actions.

images.pngAccording to ‘attachment theory’, the majority of these stories are formed during infancy, when we are first bonding with ‘mother’. Not only are our stories archetypal in nature (i.e. common to all humankind), but they are so deeply imbedded in our psyches that, without us even realising it, they play out over and over again. Worse, these stories are so important to our perceived safety, that they engender a whole host of defence mechanisms.

Narrative coaching provides a safe space for clients to revisit their stories – to understand how they impact their lives. Once this is process is underway, clients can rewrite their stories and/or create alternative stories – stories, which are specifically framed to promote happier, more unified lives.

Astrology can speed up this process.

For example, your rising sign and its rulers, symbolise how you’re most likely to frame your worldview. I have Cancer rising and so I tend to frame my world through emotional experiences.  It would help if I were able to more easily get in touch with my emotions but my Moon (ruler of Cancer) is in Gemini where relates not through feelings but through ideas. Indeed, taken as a whole, my chart suggests that once activated, my emotions are a loose cannon on deck. Worse, this is odds with who I essentially am (i.e. rational and balanced) as shown by my Sun (in Libra).

Frustration and anger (my Moon is in square aspect to Mars) are the result and I will admit that I have a tendency to remain emotionally isolated from others just in case (as I thoroughly expect) all goes wrong. I can further relate that my personal experience with ‘mother’ as an infant was similarly frustrated. It took years for me to understand how deeply frustrated and angry she was with my very existence. There are reasons that I was an only child.

Whenever I’m trying to get emotionally close to someone, my habitual narrative pattern of anger and frustration kicks in. Little surprise (that just as I expected) their reciprocal anger and frustration keeps us from forming a bond. Sadly, I will keep re-enacting my same story again and again until I can gain enough distance and perspective to rewrite it.

For example, I might ask how I’d like my new story to end. Assuming that it is in increased intimacy rather than in a fight, then I’ll ask myself what kind of person would enjoy such a happy ending and how might that person differ from me? The point is that although I will never be able to make my Moon/Mars and Cancer Ascendant go away, once I learn how they are running the show, I can purposefully find healthier and more satisfying ways to express them.

 

In just a few days, I’ll commence my program in narrative coaching. Exciting times. To kick things off, I’ve been asked why I want to be a coach and why I’m chosing narrative coaching.

I’ve studied psychological astrology for many years and have come to appreciate how much it can help us navigate our lives. The problem was that if I were going to share my insights on a wider scale, I would need a platform through which to deliver them. I’d toyed with becoming a therapist or counsellor but unfortunately, because I was working full-time as a lawyer, I didn’t have the time.

Finally, I’ve retired from the practice of law and free to pursue other goals. In addition to writing novels I am reconnecting with those ideas of taking astrology to a larger audience and after much research, I have decided that narrative coaching is the best medium for accomplishing just that.

I’ve long been convinced that we are driven more by our perceptions (i.e. the stories we tell ourselves) of reality rather than kind of objective reality. Astrologically, this is because our view of the world is filtered through our rising sign (the zodiac sign on the leading cusp of the 1st astrological house in our charts).

Ariel_disneyFor example, I have Cancer rising and so I view my world through a Cancerian lens. Hence the myths and deities associated with zodiacal Cancer (mermaids and sea-based shape shifters) map my life and define the types of experiences I will encounter along the way.

The more I understand how I see the world differently than do others, the better placed I am to develop this to my advantage. Although I will never be able to change the types of stories defining my life, I can provide them with new and happier endings.

In Scarlett Thomas’ novel, Our Tragic Universe, heroine Meg concludes that self-help books succeed by first making us feel bad about ourselves and then giving us the perfect fix.   It’s rather like Humpty Dumpty being pushed off a wall and purposefully broken so someone can make a fast buck putting him back together again.

According to Meg, the arenas in which we need help are endless:

“You could learn, from a book, how to snare someone with an ‘exclusive smile’, how to set the agenda for any conversation you wanted to have, how to be the ‘chooser’ rather than the ‘choosee’, how to become ‘magnetic’ and attract the people and objects you want, how to harness the power of ‘Screw you!”, how to read other people’s minds via their body language and also use your own body to communicate, and how to use ancient secrets of creativity to give your PowerPoint presentations more ‘zing’.”

th.jpegApparently this approach works so well because we’re all so eager to be ‘perfect’.   Just like a character’s situation at the end of a novel, we insist on our lives being as emotionally, aesthetically and psychologically neat and tidy as a ball of virgin yarn.

“The whole of Western society seemed to be turning itself into a reality TV show in which everyone was supposed to want to be the most popular, the most talented, the biggest celebrity.”

But what if this wasn’t what you really wanted?

What if instead of being a cultural King Midas, you wanted to be an anti-hero?  What if you did not desire riches, success, and syrupy romance straight from a fairy tale?   What if you just wanted to be a nice person – a good friend?  What if instead of spending your time making zingy PowerPoint presentations, you took up bird watching or knitting?

“…people who wanted to reject these ideas of perfection and individualistic heroism should get a pile of books that help them learn a new skill, or perhaps another language, not in order to become successful or fit or better, but just for the hell of it.”

If you did this, undoubtedly societal movers and shakers would write you off as hopeless – just not ‘with the program.’

But might some want more from  life than to be ‘programmed”?

I suggest that underneath our glossy exteriors a good many of us do.  Indeed fiction writers know their heroes and heroines can’t be too ‘perfect’.  Some flaw or weakness is mandatory for them to be lovable – to be someone with whom readers wish to relate.

So why do we want  fictional heroes to be imperfect while at the same time insisting on perfection for ourselves?

self-help.jpgThis is something that all coaches and coaching clients need to carefully consider.

It wouldn’t do, as Meg suggests, to become little more than a fictional character for the entertainment – and profit –  of someone else.

Performance optimisation remains a popular goal in coaching. On the surface, this sounds great. After all, who wouldn’t want to become a self-confident and successful individual  – i.e. to be ”all that he or she could be’?

But in reality, such striving for excellence does not come without its dangers.

Throughout history, there have been plenty of examples where hubris (i.e. excessive self-confidence, OED, n) has been the cause of a disastrous fall. Check out The Icarus Syndrome by Peter Beinart for insight into how hubris has shaped what he argues have been some disastrous American foreign policy decisions.

So where ought we to draw the line between well-deserved success and hubris?

Meditations on the Tarot (A Journey into Christian Hermeticisim) provides a thoughtful answer:

Every Christian has been taught that man was ejected from the Garden of Eden for desiring more ‘knowledge’ than God wished to reveal.

Yet why was it so important for man to have such knowledge?Meditations on the Tarot

Origen (circa AD 185) suggests this is hard-wired in our souls – i.e. we are built to push the boundaries of nature with the purpose of breaching them – i.e. for example through scientific research.

According to the Hermetic tradition, this is dangerous. If God had wished us to have such knowledge, he would have provided  it.

Does it mean that we should never strive for more than we’ve been given?

Of course not.
According to Hermetic wisdom, pushing the boundaries is absolutely necessary for us to work and grow – to think and await the ripening of our thoughts – to cultivate and maintain ourselves much as we would care for our garden – i.e. all shall grown and harvested in accordance with the laws of nature.

So why would we push ourselves more than we push our gardens?

Hermetic wisdom suggests that (through ignorance), we identify ‘self’ with ‘ego’ – ‘I’ must have this or that because ‘I” want it (not because I need it or because it is good for me but because I WANT) – and such behaviour is further fueled by advertisements suggesting you should want whatever is for sale for no other reason than because ‘you’re worth it’.

Danger – danger – danger !!!!

What will you be ‘worth’ after your personal fall?

Whenever you’re tempted to push beyond the bounds of your own nature and, like Icarus, fly too close to the sun then stop, sit back, and be heartened.

Coaching is not just a process by which you can achieve your wildest dreams but also it provides a time and space in which you can find much-needed equilibrium and balance.

Not long ago, I was privileged to participate in an academic conference, The Talking Sky, hosted by the University of Wales and The Sophia Centre. The purpose of the conference was to explore the cultural aspects of diverse myths inspired by the heavens.

Whilst many important points were made, one surfaced time and time again – i.e. although we are fascinated with the sun (ever-popular Celtic fire festivals come to mind), we also fear it and for good reason. Although a source of life, the sun is also deadly dangerous. Myths such as that of Phaethon, son of the Greek solar deity, Helios, who was killed when he foolishly drove his chariot too close to the sun, illustrate this.

** Equally dangerous, perhaps, is our cultural preoccupation with empowerment of the (solar) self? **

320px-Heroesjourney.svgConsider the work of Joseph Campbell and his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which explores the culturally recurring mythical motif of the hero’s journey. Not only was this motif popularised by films like Star Wars, but it also forms much of the basis of Jungian psychology, the centre-piece of which is ‘individuation’, or the transformational process whereby the (lunar) unconscious is melded into the (solar) consciousness to achieve an integrated personality and (alchemical) psychological growth.images

 

As Liz Greene acknowledges (The Luminaries), the hero’s journey is a solar process wherein the individual actively and  consciously  drives to develop his worldly goals. Having studied with Liz, I’ve never questioned the value of using this motif in my astrological work; it ticks all the boxes necessary for survival in western culture. But apparently, the well-respected psychologist, James Hillman, has questioned this and, it would seem, with good reason.

Hillman argues that not only is (1) Jungian ‘individuation’ a ‘developmental fantasy’ but also that (2) the solar focus of the hero’s journey is dangerously reductionist. In his book, The Soul’s Code, Hillman promotes what he considers to be the healthier, more holistic (pluralistic) ‘soul-making’ to be our psychological aim. Not only is this in keeping with the cosmology of the ancient Greeks, who saw numen, or the divine, in everything, but also in line with Platonic ideals (Myth of Er), which still underlie so much of western culture.

Arguably, as the speaker at the conference pointed out, contemporary natal (psychological) astrology does not look solely at solar functions. We leave that to the popular Sun Sign columns in magazines and newspapers, which, as another speaker at the conference has suggested, have become a myth in their own right.

images-2Whilst I agree that responsible astrologers do honour the entire natal chart (along with its multitude of inherent mythologies), I acknowledge that Hillman makes valid points which ought not to be ignored.

As I’m about to embark on a new career as a ‘coach’ (utilizing astrology), I worry about the stated goal of contemporary coaching – i.e. empowerment of the individual.

If, as a coach, what I will be empowering is solely the client’s solar self (or ego), then if Hillman is right I will be doing him or her a huge (reductionist) disservice.

 

 

A few weeks ago, I joined the first in a series of webinars about the future of coaching.

Some of the ideas expressed were music to my ears.

1317552776The primary point, from which all else flows, is that the environment in which coaches practice now is not the same as it was forty years ago. Sports-based coaching models such as T-GROW still have much to offer, but they can no longer be our end game.

Although the implementation of change remains the primary purpose of coaching, it must be accomplished on a whole new level. No longer is it enough to pander to a client’s desires for increased personal performance. As coaches, we must accept that we now have a deeper and wider social responsibility than just catering to a single individual or organisation.

While it is true that the world has always been chaotic and confusing, it is even more so today not the least because technology reinforces this 24/7. If I’m sitting in New York during a terroist attack in Paris, I can experience Paris in real time from the mobile phone footage and the concurrent tweets of others. The resulting increased levels of stress and anxiety from this sense that no place is safe, ignites the need to control my environment.

If unchecked, such an intense focus on control leads to unsustainable levels of increased reporting requirements, accountability, security checks, validations, and authoritarianism. Feelings of lack of control and the unarticulated fear stemming from it, leads to increasingly divisive thinking – we are good and you are bad and so let’s build that wall ASAP!?

Yet this is not our reality. As technology makes our world smaller and smaller, we become more and more (not less) connected with each other. Although we like to believe ourselves to be throughly independent, we are not and can not be. That old adage that no man is an island has never been more true.

The great thing about coaching is that many of our clients are themselves in positions of tremendous power; movers and shakers, the initiators of change at every level. Instead of standing by the side lines and coaching these powerful men and women on how to become even more powerful, why don’t we partner up with them so as to better a more encompassing, ultimately more important, global  game?

All very well and good, you say, and of course you’re right. Lofty ideals such as were expressed today are for the most part, well… lofty. However, I’m willing to give Hetty the benefit of the doubt at least through the next three webinars.

Stay tuned – more later.

Recently, a friend told me how she’d hurt her back after a difficult week. Not only had she been exasperated with her aging mother but she’d had a nasty argument with her partner. Playing the astrological angel, I relayed ‘important’ information about how transiting Neptune was setting off her natal T-Square – Saturn (backbone), Moon (mother), and Mars (anger).

  • “All very interesting”, was her response. “But what am I to actually make of it?”
  • Good question and one that I’d failed miserably to answer.
  • Apologies to my friend & let’s try again, shall we?

23e77a95ea2c4f562629a250b9c9f7b4.jpgA T-Square is an astrological configuration involving at least 3 natal planets locked in ‘conflict’ of some sort – the component parts of my friend’s T-Square break down as follows:

  • Mars/ Moon – a strong personal will intensified by emotions and an inclination to sincerely act on those emotions. This tends toward being involved in quarrels whether or not of her own making.
  • Moon/Saturn – self-control in regards to emotions – as well as a tendency toward being circumspect, considerate, and conscientious. This can, however, lead toward feeling inhibited and lonely.
  • Mars/Saturn – military endurance coupled great powers of resistance. Concentrated bursts of energy to meet specific challenges that overtime will drain overall vitality.

Put these all together and we find a recurrent theme of inhibition, repressed feelings, constant underlying state of dissatisfaction. This is overlaid by intermittent bursts of energy to overcome difficulties that deteriorate back into an overall lack of determination. Drained vitality manifests in illness or injury.

In this T-Square, Mars and Saturn are in opposition to each other and both are in square to the Moon. This leaves the Moon as the ‘release’ valve for the compressed energy generated by the aspect as a whole and given that the astrological Moon represents the body as well as the ‘mother’, it’s understandable how my friend sustained personal injury in conjunction with frustrations involving her mother. That Saturn rules the bony structure (i.e. backbone) only makes sense – my friend’s injury was in her back.

The remaining piece of this astrological puzzle –and perhaps the most important – is what transiting Neptune has to do with setting this all off. After all, couldn’t it equally have been a different planet involved by transit and/progression?

Astrological Neptune represents the urge to transcend our separate self and merge with something greater. This something ‘greater’ can be society at large, the cosmos in general, or one’s personal sense of the divine. The idea is that Neptune urges us to ‘lose’ ourselves, dissolve ego boundaries and return ‘home’ – in this sense, ‘home’ might taken literally as returning to the ‘womb’ (where we had no separate sense of self) or more metaphorically as the ‘Garden of Eden’.

th.jpegBy transit, Neptune blurs/dissolves the boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’ in order to show us another way of ‘being’ in the world. It does this through dreams, deceit, deception. I liken this to the tarot trump card, The Moon, which depicts a desolate landscape that is both dreamy and eerily scary. In the Marseilles Deck, the picture includes murky waters in a moat complete with two barking dogs guarding the gate to a castle and a crawfish (symbol of the subterranean depths) with outstretched claws.

Undoubtedly this is an irrational world where the rational boundaries between past, present and future fail to exist. One might choose to look at the journey through this world as either a spiritual adventure or a philosophical consideration of  meaning of Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave. I prefer to look at this psychologically – in the sense that there is something about the unconscious dynamic of her T-Square  friend cannot face or otherwise does not wish to see.

Transiting Neptune has delivered my friend some much needed breathing space to come to terms best she can with issues regarding ‘mother’, ‘mothering’, repressed feelings and/or anger. Doubtless any insight garnered during this time, will benefit her relationship with both her mother and her partner. I also hope that it will help prevent further illness and injury.

We tell stories to make sense of our world.

Sometimes these stories serve us well and sometimes, they don’t.

Narrative coaching provides time and space to examine your stories in detail, especially with regards to how they relate to your issues and goals. By adding astrology to the narrative coaching model mix, you can more quickly get to grips with how your stories impact your life.

For example, last night at dinner my husband mad a remark about wanting white wine instead of red.  Since I’d planned both the meal and the wine with care, I took this as his being snarky. Feeling attacked and unappreciated, I lashed out at him and not surprisingly, he returned the favour. I would rather have enjoyed that meal together instead eating in silence, nursing recriminations. CoupleFight-1024x576.jpg

Assuming (as he later claimed) that he’d not meant to attack either me or the meal, then what had made me hear his words in that way? Worse, why had I escalated an already volatile situation? It all happened in a split-second! I didn’t have time to think.

Luckily, however, I do now.

And the first thing I think about is my natal Mercury.

Astrologically, Mercury is the agent for communication. My Mercury is in Libra, the zodiac sign associated with partnership. So, whenever anyone says anything to me, my first impulse is to convert whatever was said as having to do with ‘our’ relationship.

Virgo-on-a-bad-day-very-nasty-attitude-and-overly-sarcastic.pngBecause Venus is the natural ruler of Libra, she is also implicated in all this. My Venus is in Virgo. OK,  so it’s true that I am constantly  analysing all my relationships. Dissect and analyse is what Virgos do. Virgo is fussy and insists on everything being  ‘just so’. With Virgo and Libra together, the story I am most likely to tell myself about all my relationships that if everything isn’t perfect then something must be wrong.

Now, it only makes sense that if I’m always looking for a problem then eventually,  I’ll find one. Little wonder the moment that I hear anything said that could be taken as a criticism, I seize upon it with relish. When that happens, then without even thinking, my Mars (astrological agent for self-defence) is engaged and because my Mars is also in Virgo, I lash out with a criticism of my own. All this is trigger-happy, unconscious response to something that in and of itself should have little meaning. But the key point here is that I have assigned both meaning and value to it and that is because of my Mercury and Venus.

Could I reframe my story re: relationships so that I don’t react  like this in the future?

You bet.

That’s what narrative coaching is all about.

I’ll need to think about how this will work in my situation, but my guess is that it will have something to do with the signs opposite to Libra and Virgo – after all, they would be the natural balance – much like the balance that can be achieved by two sides of a see-saw.