Category Archives: Cosmology

Greece vs. the EU: recreating democracy and openness

Last week’s shocking interview with Yanis Varoufakis about the reality of the Eurozone’s core management structures has awoken me to the fragility inherent in democracy.  Varoufakis reports that the meeting of Eurozone finance ministers absolutely refused to discuss finance or economics. The main power-brokers centring on Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble did not need to discuss anything of substance or engage in order to find common ground.  Instead they went ahead and bulldozed the Greek team.

To have very powerful figures look at you in the eye and say “You’re right in what you’re saying, but we’re going to crunch you anyway.” … there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. …

As an Australian brought up on the anglophone view that political deliberation means adversarial competition between two simplistically opposing views, the Europe project has long fascinated me with its admirable struggle to find ways of living together on the basis of accepting difference.

The continent’s terrible history has awoken Europeans to the obvious fact that we are all here together, and we have to find ways of living co-operatively with each other.  We might not like our neighbours; indeed, we might hate their guts, and that might have been mutual for generations. But if we start fighting, we all know where that leads – and definitely none of us want to go there. So we’ve got to find a way to do it without fighting. Which, over the last 60 years has meant engagement and discussion and, above all, respect for differing views and the differences in situations.

Sure, the current EU as it currently stands is incredibly messy.  Sure, many people do still feel excluded. Obviously the project is not finished.  It took Europe several hundred years to start a democratic process – and it is not quite there yet.

Indeed Varoufakis reports that one of the EU’s core governance functions – management of the Euro – has no connection with democratic values or democratic processes at all. Varoufakis found that the Eurogroup, the Euro currency’s governing body, is

… a non-existent group that has the greatest power to determine the lives of Europeans. It’s not answerable to anyone, given it doesn’t exist in law; no minutes are kept; and it’s confidential. So no citizen ever knows what is said within. … These are decisions of almost life and death, and no member has to answer to anybody.

It often happens in new situations that new processes and governance systems simply emerge. At one level this is legitimate since newness is, by definition, unknown and so it’s not possible to plan every little detail of something that is not yet fully in existence.  A new system created on the fly can work out well when it stays close to the project’s original values, remains transparent, and is soon formalised once its shape becomes clear.

Clearly this has not occurred with Eurogroup governance. What was a democratic space has become closed out and replaced by a static and opaque power structure.

Varoufakis’ revelations alert me to a core quality of democracy, and in fact of any spaces in which respect, openness, transparency and acceptance are core values:  democracy and openness must be actively created and, once created, must be actively recreated against attempts to silence, to obscure, and to close down the space.

Doing nothing allows the forces of closure, injustice and domination to fill up and choke our communal space, our relating-space.  As Edmund Burke said in 1795:  “All it takes for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing.”

So we must do something – but what might that be?  It is common to claim that democracy must be fought for.  This perhaps has been true – maybe.  But I am increasingly of the mind that, as they said in the 70s, fighting for democracy (or peace, or openness) is like fucking for virginity. Indeed, I would argue that fighting is precisely the thing which Europe has collectively learned actually doesn’t work.

What’s the difference between fighting and active recreation? Fighting is driven by anger, which is a reaction to forces of closure.  It’s a very natural, sensible and at one level wholly rational reaction to closure.  It’s a necessary reaction too, since anger is an energizing emotion which moves us to break free of restraints.

But when we engage by bringing anger we are also bound to the source of our anger, since without that source our energy evaporates. So we are reliant on the closure or tyranny continuing.  This is why so many protest movements eventually evaporate:  their driving energy actually comes from the existence of a specific situation. Once that situation changes the protest movement has no cohering focus. So protest movements do not continue for long enough to shape new realities or bring new forms into being.

Anger in response to tyranny or closure is natural and inevitable. But rather than use our anger as our driving force, we can use it as a very reliable telltale that something else needs to happen. We can rely on our anger to alert us to the need for affirmations of values, affirmations of goals, affirmations that democracy, openness, transparency are possible and are more important to us than the present forces of closure.  In this way we actively recreate what is of value to us, and actively recreate the future we want in the present.

It is very sad that Varoufakis resigned.  He has a richly elaborated vision of what is possible and a considerable skillset to enact that vision.  Despite the support of millions of people both in Greece and in many other countries, he was undermined by the large group of people who are cowed by the forces of closure and who would rather accommodate the pain of tyranny than affirm the possibilities of openness and democracy.

Money and the Spiritual Path: Being a bridge

Abandoned_Railway_Cutting_in_OtleyFor many people who are committed to spiritual growth, a major question is how to combine spiritual path with generating an income.  This is often a tricky area because many people who seek to integrate path and income also seek to bring something new into the world. So, almost by definition, what we seek to bring into the world is not widely recognised as valuable or useful – otherwise it would already be in existence!

It’s easy to go into despair about money and our spiritual path – or go into anger and resentment.  These two common emotional responses keep us focused on money as a stumbling block.  But what if our struggles around money are trying to tell us about something else?

I think of us ‘spiritual activists’ as being a bridge between social life as it is now, and another reality where beauty, love and similar non-material forces hold sway. Our work is to bridge those two worlds, and to bring more of love and beauty into current social life.

Bridges have the extraordinary quality of being anchored in two places at once.  Each end of the bridge rests solidly on the ground in each place – these resting points are called the abutments.  Without both abutments, the bridge is not actually useful – it doesn’t stand and gramlins.netdoesn’t do its job of being the passageway from one place to the other. It ends up looking like this bridge: well-anchored at one end, but it leads people straight into the water.

Both abutments have to be present. One abutment anchors the bridge in the spiritual world – the world-yet-to-be. This anchor emerges from our knowing that our gift is right and true – and for those of us active in our paths this anchor is usually very solid and vivid.

The other abutment anchors the bridge in the social here-and-now, in existing social arrangements and conventions: the language we use to communicate about our gift, and the structural and organisational things we have in place which allow people to come into relation with our gift.  When these concrete things are solidly in place then people’s energy can flow from the existing social world across towards the yet-to-be and help to bring it into being – including financially supporting us to be that bridge.

In this picture money is like a glue that sticks our bridge solidly onto the ‘society’ abutment.  Without money then the bridge just sits there by chance – it stays only so long as everything else is stable, only as long as our life circumstances allow us to give our gift for free.    Without the glue of money, life’s normal circumstances can disrupt the bridge: changes our relationships, our health, our community, our home.

This analogy suggests that money is a result of us being very grounded in society as it is.  So problems with money can prompt us to look at how we are engaging with existing society.  Even though we may believe we are doing our best around integrating money with our path, society is so various – so multi-faceted – that there are always other ways to engage with it.

If we are trying to run a business then there’s some good basic places to start looking at how we can do things differently:

  • language: how do we describe what we offer? The phrasing and terms we use may make sense to us, but how do we describe something we know about from our own experience to someone who has never experienced that? It’s obviously not possible.  But many people have a yearning for what we offer – and they can’t put that yearning into words.  So maybe we can put it into words for them… because we know what it’s like on the other side of that yearning…
  • where we are looking for the people? Because we’re offering something new, our potential clients are seldom clustered into established demographics or familiar marketing groupings.  It’s likely we’ll need to contact people through groups which have a different-but-related interest.  For instance a tantra practitioner has a profile in the nudist community and picks up people who want to go deeper than just physical nakedness. Part of my target market is healers and therapists – people who recognise and value presence and deep communication.
  • What form are we offering our gift in?  We might offer one-to-one sessions, or weekend workshops. Or we might deliver classroom programs. Or write a column.  Or consult to organisations.  We might do several of these things.  Often the form we offer is driven by our own ideas about our gift, what sort of lifestyle we want, what we believe our strengths and weaknesses are, and so.  All these are valid considerations.  And also we can ask: what form(s) might work well for those we want to reach? Maybe introductory talks are what’s needed. Maybe a book is important.

Doing things differently to how we’ve done them is very challenging. The areas I’ve discussed above are generally called “publicity”, “advertising” and “marketing” – for many people very confronting to get involved in.  Yet if our priority truly is our path and not protecting our ‘small’ self then when we engage with challenges amazing resources emerge to help us on our path.

We don’t have to frame these challenges as advertising or marketing – labels which keep us thinking in conventional social terms.  We can think of our activities in these areas as enhancing our capacity to be that bridge – by learning to reach across and anchor ourselves even more firmly in the social here-and-now.

Related Links

Money as a Spiritual Asset

Money and Spirituality

Money and the Tao

Practicing Spirituality with Money

Seasons of the Accountant

fourseasonsIn the Accountant’s Cycle of the Seasons, there’s four distinct seasons.

The hottest is the long 4 months from October til 31 January – the Tax Season, when many people not fortunate enough to have a loving relationship with their accountant become gibbering wrecks, haunted by the ghastly spectre of the Tax Man. The Tax Season can be capricious: an apparently comfortable situation can suddenly be devastated by a looming tax bill. Or the gloom of a huge tax burden can suddenly evaporate when the error in the spreadsheet is located.

The Tax deadline of 31 January passes.  And then … suddenly … on 1 February comes Winter. For 2 whole months all accounting dies a death while the polite world heaves a sigh of relief and catches its breath, in preparation for…

The End of Year season – that slightly sweaty period of a month either side of the 5th of April, the end of the Financial Year. This has 2 halves: the first half is all about “OMG have we done what we needed to before the end of year?” While the second half is all about “ah – a fresh start; let’s make good resolutions!”

And last in the Cycle of the Seasons comes Summer – not only does accounting stop but most commercial activity stops too. My clients find their turnover reduces to a trickle, our attention is taken up with festivals, our bodies cry out for sun. Greenery triumphs, and we gambol and carouse for weeks…

… until about now, when once again the Tax Season is upon us, and the cycle starts all again.

Relationship wisdom we can learn from Accounting

Accounting systems make the very sensible assumption that we are human – which means that mistakes are inevitable.  No real human ever does things perfectly. Entry errors, mis-readings, absent-mindedness, distraction all actually happen – not because anybody intends to make mistakes but just because Life is Life and shit happens.

So one of the most powerful steps in the accounting cycle is to check for errors.  The process of “reconciling the accounts” or “doing a reconciliation” involves using a third party’s record of transactions to cross-check your own records.  Most commonly the third party’s records is a bank statement, but accountants will also use the records of customers, staff and suppliers – any party which has dealings with the business and which has a separate or ‘third party’ accounting system.

The reconciling process allows us to locate mistakes, identify how they arose and then fix them.  Because accounting systems get reconciled there is no penalty for mistakes. People don’t get blamed.  Mistakes just get located, identified and fixed.

The same pattern is relevant in relationships as well.  Relationships involve humans, and so inevitably mistakes will be made.  I will hurt you, you will invade me, I will disregard you, you will insult me. Very seldom are these things intended. Mostly we intend to do the best by the other person.  So when I make a mistake it’s not because I’m stupid, or I intended to hurt you, or I don’t really care about you, or any one of the million reasons you can make up.  I made a mistake because I’m a human.

What Accounting teaches us is it’s not important that the mistake has been made.  That’s just inevitable.  What’s important is that there is a system in place to catch the mistakes and fix them.  In other words what’s important is doing the reconciliation.

The reconciliation process involves a third party to me – which in the case of our relationship is you.  You, or your actions, alert me to a mistake having happened. Something’s off in our interacting, and that’s a signal that stuff needs to be attended to.  So we need to identify what the mistake is, and then fix it.  We can do this without blame for the mistake happening in the first place.  Removing blame is a hugely freeing step, which allows us to have much more clarity, and to work together to identify the mistake and to work out ways to fix it.

There’s another possibility here, though: it might not be my mistake.  I’ll use Accounting again to clarify.  Those third parties whose records we rely on to reconcile our own accounts also have their own accounting systems, and so they also make mistakes.  Most banks put a little notice somewhere on your bank statement saying something like “please check all these transactions to make sure you agree with them.”  This is not just marketing fluff – it’s a core part of their own accounting system.

So when I’m doing my bank reconciliation I’ll find a mistake. I check and re-check my own system, using the bank’s records, and after a few iterations I find that the mistake is not mine but the bank’s.  Bingo – I have to tell the bank.

The same possibility occurs in a relationship.  I may feel you’ve done something terrible: I feel really hurt, and so on.  But the only thing we can say with certainty at first is that a mistake has been made.  If I’m reconciling my accounts I tend to assume that the mistake is made by me.  When I’m feeling hurt in a relationship I tend to assume the mistake has been made by you.  But this may not be so.  It takes the first step of a reconciliation process – a back-and-forwards of active listening without blame – to identify exactly what the mistake is.  Only then is it possible to agree on how to fix it and carry out the fix.

Not only does Accounting show us that mistakes are inevitable.  It also shows us that reconciliation is normal.  It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong in a relationship. Reconciliation is just a normal, routine and standard part of any good relationship.

I love it that there is such similarity between accounting systems and human relationships.  It affirms to me that The World is a fractal pattern, which occurs everywhere.  We are inside the pattern, the pattern is inside us, and the pattern occurs in its entirety in every single aspect of what exists.  Everything is intimately connected.