Episode #40   Hero, Sleepwalker or Manipulator? Our Choice in the Game of Life with Gill Coombs

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Gill Coombs is a facilitator, coach, peripatetic counsellor and an elder of Extinction Rebellion. Of her three books to date, The Game is the second. In it, she outlines the powers of the Dark Four: The Dark Media, Dark State, Dark Finance, Dark Corporations – and the ways they battle the generative forces of light.

And in her game, we can each choose to play one of seven avatars. We might choose a different one in each moment. We might play them so close together as to be indivisible. But it is the thesis of this podcast that meta-awareness is one of the core requirements of humanity and that if we understand what’s possible, we can gain agency. With Agency, we can choose to be different. If we choose to be different enough, we become different.
So let’s play in the seven avatars and see what we’d like to become.

In Conversation

Manda: [00:02:39.23] I gather you’ve moved since the last time you have such an interesting, peripatetic lifestyle. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you’re living at the moment?

Gill: [00:02:48.50] Yes, I’m housesitting my way around the country at the moment. My partner and I sold the house last November and decided that we would just float for a bit. It felt intuitively right in a time that feels very fluid and unsettled. So we weren’t anticipating that, of course, but then nobody was. Since then we have been mostly house sitting our way around the Cotswolds in the southwest. And right now I’m in Blackmoor vale in Dorset.

Manda: [00:03:15.83] And you’re finding the places to house sit on a on a website that does long term house. It’s for people who want you to come and look after the dogs and the cats and the chickens and the bees and anything else that they have rather than just leaving the house empty.

Gill: [00:03:28.46] Exactly that. There are almost always animals of some sort involved. Unfortunately, they’re not always long term sits. They can be anything from one night up to three months typically. Getting long sets at the moment is a challenge, as you can imagine, people and also sits are appearing at very short notice. So fortunately, both Peter and I have a very high tolerance for uncertainty, which is useful at the moment

Manda: [00:03:51.86] And leaves me shaking with terror, very low tolerance for uncertainty. So I’m very impressed.And during lockdown, people were away and just chose to stay away so that you had somewhere to live?

Gill: [00:04:03.56] At the beginning of lockdown before it locked right down, we stayed in the house of a French couple who just about managed to make it to France and back to see family before total lockdown. And I was very fortunate during actual lockdown that a dear friend said, they had have a house that’s empty at the moment because we’re locking down with my mother in the north of the country. So if you want to use it, just use it for as long as you want to. Which gave be two months to just relax and be there. I was so grateful for.

Manda: [00:04:32.51] We’re recording now middle of September. We had a conversation with someone who involved with Price Waterhouse Cooper, strangely enough, and they are completely closing their entire Manchester multiple huge, big super luxury tower block at a saving of half a billion pounds. I don’t know over what time span. This was in the context of trying to find somewhere for a relative to live in Shrewsbury.

And the estate agents that normally have 200 to 300 houses on their books have six. Because people from Manchester are looking at Shrewsbury as if it were rural. ‘We’re all going to move to the country.’ And house prices are doing weird things. People are buying things unseen off the Internet. In normal times you would consider to be functionally insane, frankly. And it’s going to change the whole nature of our culture. So being peripatetic at this point and and presumably if you found somewhere you wanted to buy, you would buy, it seems to me a very interesting and flexible. And you can float on the surface of all these changes and then settle when when the time is right, because who knows what’s going to happen?

I think the person we were talking to said the the inner city housing problem is going to be solved because there’s going to be so much office space which will have to be turned into housing because frankly, what else are you going to do with it? So that’s an interesting thing. But it does mean that the people with money who have been living in cities but not wanting to are all moving to more rural places. There’s going to be a kind of centripetal effect, I guess, as people just move steadily outwards. So Shetland, I think, might be a good option. It’s probably a little beyond the ripples.

Gill: [00:06:32.39] Who would have anticipated that? Things are changing all the time and changing so fast that it’s impossible to predict what’s going to unfold even tomorrow, let alone in a month’s time. So, feeling fluid at the moment feels like feels at a deep level, the right thing to be doing.

Manda: [00:06:50.42] And the thing is I think all of the spiritual paths tell us that it is impossible to predict that uncertainty is the only certainty. And yet we managed to sell ourselves the fantasy that we can plan ahead and that everything will be as it was. And what’s becoming clear now to everyone is that that’s not true. I think possibly excepting a few core people in government who think they can cling to life as it was, but everybody else is realizing that there is no normal to go back to, which hopefully will open up whole areas of possibility.

So let’s talk about those areas of possibility, because following our first podcast, I wanted to look at the remaining books that you’ve written, which are The Game and The Trembling Warrior. And having explored both as you and I have discussed, it may be that we end up doing a third podcast. But to begin with, we want to look at the metaphor of life as a Game. So before we get into the metaphor explicitly, can you give us a bit of background as to how you came to write this and the context in which you came to have the ideas that seemed to me really a very interesting structural metaphor for the times that we’re going through now. But you wrote it three, four years ago?

Gill: [00:08:06.50] So when I was writing my first book,’ Hearing our Calling’ and researching that, I became aware of what felt like an increasing sense of control, dominance and harm. It felt like an energy that was rising and gaining strength. But what I also saw was almost in response to that, humanity doing something beautiful, which was increasing creativity, collaboration, spirituality, a new level of consciousness.

And it felt to me as I saw both of these increasing that there was indeed a game playing out, or a dance, playing out here between those two forces, those two energies. And I don’t mean to say that any individual is on one side or the other. I think the lines run through all of this and it’s quite complex. But I wanted to convey this what I could foresee and these two themes emerging in a way that, because it’s so utterly and extremely complex that would do its complexity service, but also explain it and articulate the things I felt it was so important to articulate. So I came up with the idea of The Game.

Manda: [00:09:14.36] And this must have been around the time of Donald Trump’s election?

Gill: [00:09:19.71] It was actually published on the day that he was confirmed as the next president, not by not by choice or design. But that’s what happened.

Manda: [00:09:27.50] Because synchronicity is a thing! Certainly I have felt a similar sense that within myself, there are the two warring sides. And the old story of the Native American grandfather telling his grandson about the two wolves, and there’s the wolf of compassion and the wolf of hate, and they’re constantly fighting and whichever wins is the one that you feed. That’s not quite the story. I’m sure it’s got a bit more depth to it than that. But that’s the basis.

But you’ve become much more nuanced than that. So without dwelling on it too long, shall we look at a little bit of the energy of control, dominance and harm because you split it into four interconnected but distinct sections.

Gill: [00:10:15.99] I’ve split it again for the sake of simplicity, and it is more complex, but they are all interrelated. So first of all, Dark Media, which is the underbelly of all of the media, newspapers, the Internet, advertising, everything that communicates en masse to people, but not with the benign intention or creative intention purely. But rather rather with the intent to manipulate people’s behaviours.

Another is Dark State. So this has really become apparent. I was writing this in 2014 15, but now Dark State is so evident. The aspect of governance, of world leadership that again is out to manipulate, to exploit, seeks wealth and power and plays power games really convinces people to to go along with that and to support it.

Manda: [00:11:18.87] And often uses Dark Media as a tool in order to do that, I think let’s go through the four and then let’s talk about the ways that they interplay.

Gill: [00:11:28.14] So another is Dark Corporation. So Dark Corporation is using advertising primarily to convince people that they need a whole bunch of stuff they don’t need by playing into insecurities and using very sophisticated psychology to drive a kind of extractive capitalism and and also employing a whole load of people. We talked last time about joyful work and bullshit jobs.

And Dark Corporation, of course, this is where most of the paid slavery is putting money in other people’s pockets. And the fourth is Dark Finance. So again with the Panama Papers, this really hit the public awareness in a way that it probably hadn’t done before. Although we knew about the banks, we knew what happened in 2008 with financial collapse. And to be honest, it’s most of the big finance in the country of moving money around. So it’s no longer that kind of pounds and pence, but it’s abstract, huge sums of money being laundered, people buying bad debt from each other.

So all of those those four very closely linked. Dark Media publicizes them all and Dark State and sees to it that we all live our lives in a way that supports that system. Of course it’s more complex than that, that those are the four entities, if you like, the dark aspects of all of those institutions that I call the Dark Powers in the book.

Manda: [00:13:02.22] I remember memorably back in the 2008 crash, somebody described Goldman Sachs as the giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity. And it seems to me that these are these are kind of the limbs of the squid, because there’s a very free flowing, revolving door between government and corporations and between finance and the media. And all four of them seem to me to be more openly connected than they were. But I’m not certain if that’s simply because I have become more politically aware and I’m seeing that. Or whether they’re being more blatant. We now live in a country with a government that is openly choosing to break the law rather than pretending that it isn’t breaking the law, which up until now they have done.

They are perhaps being more open about it because they can? Because they own the media in ways they didn’t possibly? I don’t know, is it your sense that the agglutination of these four is stronger than it was, or is it just that we’re noticing it more?

Gill: [00:14:06.05] I think it’s both. I think it’s stronger and it’s more overt. And my guess is that there’s been a deliberate strategy. It may not have been entirely deliberate from the beginning or it may have been. Who knows? But there’s a strategy here, it seems to me, to become more and more outrageous, more and more blatantly corrupt. I think this has happened in other cultures and it’s been tested psychologically. And if people accept that and don’t bat an eyelid, then they know they can get away with it. Something like David Cameron and Pig Gate was a moment for me. So we can be outraged for a day or so and some people can laugh about it and then he can just carry on doing his job. Everything has changed. I think when we saw that.

Manda: [00:14:45.77] Although for me that wasn’t so much a threshold as the MP expenses scandal because that was uniformly and through the political class total corruption. And Cameron’s was was just horrendous. But it it was one of those things that we kind of knew they did in the background. I suppose the corruption was, too, is that we could we could demonstrate that every single one, pretty much with a few notable exceptions, normally Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott and John McDonnell (and Caroline Lucas) were using the system to enrich themselves illegally. And it caused a flurry for a couple of weeks. And they went, ‘Ooh, nothing to see here, guys.’ And everybody looked the other way. And I was just totally gobsmacked by that.

Gill: [00:15:32.66] And this is what Dark Media and Dark Corporation have played a part in creating a reality where that’s just the norm. When you think about some of the programming, it’s been fashionable for the last few decades to show the dark side of life, to explore seediness, and it’s almost become normalized. So this does feel as if, consciously or not, there’s been a collusion in normalizing this kind of behaviour.

Manda: [00:15:56.19] And I grew up thinking that the BBC was a beautiful, wonderful, glorious, balanced even place full of good, decent people. And lately I am realizing the extent to which, if that was ever true, it isn’t anymore. And there’s a wonderful book by a man called Tom Mills, who’s an academic who specialises in studying the BBC, and it’s called ‘BBC: Myth of a Public Service’. And I read that when I was doing the Masters that Schumacher and discovered the fact that I hadn’t realised, which was that the BBC was instrumental in breaking the General Strike of 1926. They wrote everything that was broadcast at that point, and they brought the ministers in and told them what to say and how to say it and then broadcast it to the nation.

So the myth was always a myth, but I think again, until this last election, I don’t think they would have dared to have edited out a section in which one candidate for prime minister put the wreath at the Cenotaph upside down, which apparently is considered completely and wholly unacceptable. And everybody thought it was Jeremy Corbyn and there was incandescent rage in newsrooms around the country. And then they discovered it was actually Boris Johnson who’d done it. And the BBC edited out that segment and edited in a bit from 2016 that looked better. It Had a different colored wreath. But, hey, nobody was going to care about that. And that kind of level of utterly blatant manipulation of of an election I don’t think would have happened before.

Gill: [00:17:29.95] And yet they’re still able to do it. I don’t know how widely publicized that was and how many people knew about it. The BBC certainly didn’t make it into news.

[0They apologized as if they were terribly sorry. It was a mistake. But, you know, this is the kind of mistake that involves somebody going into the archives. Spending many hours searching for the right bit and editing it in place of the other bit is quite a mistake. But nobody chose to notice.

And you and I know that’s not true and a lot of other people do. And yet again, it’s more complex than the BBC, particularly BBC News, I think has been corrupt for quite a long time, using corrupt to mean a tool of manipulation.

And in the programming, I don’t know about you, but I listen to Radio4 quite often I partly for The Archers, which to me remains pure. But but there’s a lot of programming which we might consider progressive programming. There are some wonderful things happening with costing the Earth and, you know, various other documentaries and sometimes things on Woman’s Hour. So you can hear that there is a strong progressive element. And often people complain about the BBC being too left wing. So I think there’s a lot of good progressive programming going on. But where it matters in the news, I think we’re being utterly, utterly manipulated.

Manda: [00:18:50.71] And we don’t want to turn into a conspiracy podcast. I think one of the interesting things particularly obviously is the rise of citizen media, so there are things like Byline Times which recently took on John Sweeney who used to write for The Observer and was then 17 years on Panorama and got sacked for not being politically what they wanted. But he is now writing for Byline Times and the Internet has allowed the rise of things that might not otherwise have been possible, I think. Because within media, we have to look at Facebook and Google and Amazon and their role in the political process, but in the shaping of the narrative of who we are and where we’re going. And yet, it has also allowed people like Tristan Harris, who used to work for the ethics department of Google until he discovered that it really wasn’t what he wanted it to be. And he left and he has now set up his own podcast called Your Undivided Attention, which I wholly recommend to anybody who’s into podcasts. And if you’re listening to this, you are into podcasts. Your Undivided Attention is well worth listening to.

So, that thing that you said about creativity and collaboration and consciousness rising in balance does seem to me to be true. So within that, you created seven avatars of who we can be in any given moment and accepting that we flow between these, but that they give a level of self-awareness, if we can begin to become aware of what stance we’re taking, then we gain that meta-awareness that is part of then having choice. So let’s go through the seven avatars. Let’s start with The Manipulator, because that’s the one that we’ve just been discussing most recently, I think, in terms of the media.

Gill: [00:21:05.91] I’m glad you said that all of these are ones that we can all play and do, that we flow through them. So we’re not describing people here or even institutions were describing this avatar called The Manipulator, which knows full well the game that’s being played, the capitalist heist for power and money and is one of the top players of that game. This avatar will manipulate politics, will manipulate the media, will manipulate people and their work in order to extract from them whatever it is it needs to gain power and control.

Manda: [00:21:49.85] And so when people are in the grip of this – I’m curious from a kind of spiritual/energetic sense of how many of the people, when they take on the Manipulator Avatar, know consciously that that’s what they’re doing? And how many of them think that what they’re doing is for the greater good of humanity and the planet? Have you any sense of the divisions there?

Gill: [00:22:17.92] I’m often astonished that from where I stand, people can describe, for example, running the country as a business. I heard this described and it wasn’t by a manipulator avatar, but I heard somebody describing that as a good thing the other day. And to me, that’s astonishing. But to the people who are running the country as a business, who I would see as manipulators in the harm that they’re willing to cause in order to be profitable or to attempt to be profitable and effective, efficient – they think they’re doing a good thing. I don’t know. It’s a whole complex topic, isn’t it? We could probably talk for an hour about what does that actually mean?

Manda: [00:22:57.89] Because there’s the flipside of even having this discussion and putting it out. We are doing this, possibly not to manipulate, but certainly to influence how people think and feel. The whole of the accidental gold project is there to bring people towards conscious evolution, and that requires an awareness of where we are and what we’re doing and a different vision of the world.

And I reading your book, I wondered whether, at the points when I am most embodying the Accidental God’s thesis, is that a form of manipulation? And then we have to look in to.’what is the energy behind that?’ I mean, let’s go through all seven avatars, because then I think there’s quite an interesting discussion I would like to have on on the energy and intent of what we’re doing. But let’s go through them so we have the Manipulator who is the one who, for whatever reason, is aiming for power first. And I think because in our system, money and power are pretty much equivalent, that they’re going for money as well. And presumably they’re also going for hearts and minds because that gives them power. Is that fair?

Gill: [00:24:09.73] That’s fair. Yes. We can come back to the discussion, as you said later, but I think values are at the bottom of this and intent. Why are we doing this? And consciously or unconsciously is a big factor, too.

So the next avatar is The Cynic and as a bit of an overlap with the manipulator. The Cynic knows full well what harm is being done in the world and yet goes along with it because they see opportunities for themselves. So this may sound this does sound similar to The Manipulator, but The Cynic isn’t such a big player as the manipulator. The Cynic is, if you like, carrying out the work of the Manipulators. Might be instructing police to arrest peaceful protesters or for example. Or might be overseeing an intensive factory farm where certain animal welfare practices are removed. But to keep the targets met or to keep efficiency high, is willing to go along with that. So basically, The Cynic is cynical, as the name suggests, though not really believing in or caring about values in the way that some of the other avatars are doing, but rather willing to engage in a bit of a cliche. But the ones who are willing to sell their Granny.

Manda: [00:25:30.25] And they’re doing it again for personal advancement, but – iss the manipulators and more of a believer, do you think? And the Xynic isn’t a believer, is more agnostic, but is riding the coat tails as a way of enriching themselves?

Gill: [00:25:45.52] Riding the coat tails? That’s exactly it.

Manda: [00:25:49.69] I’m thinking of the conversations that I have with our local MP and my feeling that that’s it exactly. He doesn’t really believe in what the administration of the governance is doing. But on the other hand, he’s not going to raise a fuss because he has effectively got a promise of, I don’t know, the chairmanship of various boards when he retires, if he keeps his mouth shut and keeps voting the way he’s told to vote.

Gill: [00:26:15.88] Exactly that.

Manda: [00:26:18.01] OK, so that’s we’ve got the Manipulator and the Cynic What comes next?

Gill: [00:26:22.72] So next comes the Traditionalist. And I have got rather a soft spot for the traditionalist avatar. There is a kind of a stiff upper lip avatar. So when we’re clinging to what we know, we were talking earlier about the illusion of certainty. My goodness, that’s really important to the Traditionalist avatar. When we’re in that one, we’re clinging to an idea of whether it’s a political party or the paper we read or the soft furnishings that we have for our house, it’s as if there’s a right way of doing things. And as long as we just stick to that, then we’ll be fine.

Manda: [00:26:59.11] And is it age related or is it that all traditionalists are over the age of, let’s say, five decades because they’ve had that long or other youthful traditionalists to do you think?

Gill: [00:27:08.77] I think is more of a personality trait? We talked earlier about the media and how social media has really made it possible to to acquire different norms. So I think people on the whole are a lot more nuanced in their thinking, in their approaches to things, and also able to kind of cut through the bullshit better in the younger generation who are more social media savvy and get their news from different sources than the establishment.

We talked last time about generational things. And I think there possibly is something coming out of the post-war time where it was very comforting to have adverts that sold you an idea of a very safe and stable life and a Government who said that as long as you did what you were told and went to work or you were a good housewife, then everything would be fine. So I think both. I think there’s something generational about it. And there are certain personality traits which lead people to ant and to seek and to feel comfortable with certainty rather than uncertainty.

Manda: [00:28:13.81] My tendency is to assume that these are readers of The Daily Mail and The Telegraph in the U.K. and whatever their equivalents are in other nations around the world. But I’ve also sat on the streets of London with people in Extinction Rebellion, who seem to me also to be traditionalists in terms of this is traditionally how we rebel. Or this is traditionally how we are activist. Or this is traditionally, how we believe the government is. And it’s got a similar sense of ‘I want the world to be coherent and constructed in a particular way, and I don’t have the resilience to step outside of that’. Is that your experience also that there are traditionalists on on all aspects of the political, multifaceted diamond?

Gill: [00:29:01.15] Yes there are traditionalist activists to it is probably a residue of childhood. When we were very small, we made sense of our world by splitting it into good and bad and splitting it into compartments that helped us to make sense of it. And there’s something about resourcefulness or courage.

I think sometimes it’s so hard wired that people find it incredibly hard to step out of that and to imagine everything that they believed or the value sets that they held might be shaken up and disrupted, feels potentially catastrophic for some people. And they just don’t get that go there. And I’m noticing that I’m using and we’re both using the word say. So I just want to own the traditionalist part of my soul.

Sometimes the traditionalist part of myself gets challenged when I have my very fixed opinions example for about some of the the places I’ve been staying and what the people might be like who live in some of these houses and have been proven wrong in all directions.

Manda: [00:30:05.13] And and my sort of internal panic at the idea of of changing my home every every once in a while and not even knowing when that’s going to be and the unpredictability of it is huge. So I definitely have that kind of bricks and mortar around me as a requirement for my internal emotional stability. And who knows how long that stability will last, to be honest.

Gill: [00:30:31.99] We’re in very fast-changing times. I would say I’m a traditionalist where technology is concerned. So I find it quite hard to adapt and keep up with a lot of technology. And so I find myself almost moralizing in a kind of pre technology time, which I know it’s ludicrous. That’s my inner tradition.

Manda: [00:30:50.47] A whole 20 years ago, the world was so much better. Yes, but you are the one who fixed our issue with ZenCastr, so there we go.

So then we go on to the Sleepwalker Avatar, which is the midpoint in our balance of the seven.

Gill: [00:31:04.13] As I was reading this, stepping back into The Game again, preparing for our conversation today, I realized just how many people have moved out, almost by necessity, from sleepwalker Avatar. Loads and loads of people were in this Avatar when I started writing the book, and it was mine and many other acts of this frustration that we would keep shouting out about the corruption, environmental damage, social inequality. Most people just didn’t want to hear it and were kind of seduced by the idea that everything was fine and as long as we just went shopping and socialized and got drunk and things, everything would be hunky dory.

I think we all have this. We can all sleepwalk in certain areas: not being aware of the story behind an item we might buy or the corruption in a particular industry, something that we might think is fine and isn’t. It’s almost like layers being peeled away. And I think the last few years have just ripped off the layers for so many people. And we’ve been confronted with the shocking reality of impending climate crisis and and political corruption.

And coming out of the Sleepwalker avatar that we were seduced into during the eighties is giving people an opportunity to do something creative and to respond. So really, coming out of Sleepwalker, we have the choice to to jump either way.

Are we going to be different? Or are we going to maybe cling on and be traditionalist and say, ‘No, nothing’s happening. It’s all still fine in my valley here?’ Or are we going to jump one way and say, ‘Well, the world’s going to hell in a hand car? I might as well just play Cynic and get what I can from it?’ Or are we going to, as I see so many people doing, say, ‘Right, OK, I can’t be an Sleepwalker anymore. It’s not an option. I can’t unknow what I know. Therefore, I’m going to commit myself to some degree or other to doing what I can about this.’

Manda: [00:33:13.30] And then it’s up to us to find out what to do. Because you’re right. So many more people are choosing to change. I still come up occasionally against people for whom Sleepwalking is a choice. Or then we come on to the Avoider Avatar. It does strike me that it was very hard to Sleepwalk through the pandemic you could not pretend business was usual at all.

And so then people had to change. And I’m wondering if the Manipulators were so desperate to get us all back to work, to get us all back, to buy our sandwiches from Pret a Manger and eating out at McDonald’s again and all of the things that they seemed desperately to want to happen. ‘We’re going to fund the airline businesses so you can keep taking a week’s holiday in Spain’ – all of which is sleepwalking behavior. And it’s just not happening. But they needed us back in the Sleepwalk because otherwise we might look at the bullshit jobs that the late, very great David Graeber wrote about or any of those things. Does that seem like a reasonable assessment to you? That they were trying to push us back into sleepwalking?

Gill: [00:34:23.55] Absolutely. Go out and shop for the country and eat for the country. And it’s then what is it? Bread and games? Bread and circuses. That scenario. And keep people happy. Keep them entertained.It’s a little bit like when you think about it, it’s a little bit like industrial factory farming. Give them the minimum they need to live.And and assure them that that’s all they need. That’s fine.

Manda: [00:34:55.56] Keep them just the right side of of actually dying. I when I was a veterinary student, we were told that that Danish factory farms for pigs had discovered the level at which pigs would actually just die. And then they levered them out as small an amount above that as they could to keep them alive long enough to kill them, to eat them, which was the point where I stopped, just stopped. I guess that’s cynics and manipulators working together. But the fact that anybody could do that is unreal.

Gill: [00:35:27.06] I would suggest that people are playing Cynic Avatar when they’re willing to take this salary, to come up with the science that tells you at what level you can just keep the pig alive. And the Manipulators are the ones who are going to be making themselves extremely rich from an industry that profits from so much suffering.

And the Sleepwalkers are going to be the people who trustingly walk down the supermarket aisle and pick up a lovely packet of bacon with a picture of a smiling pig on the front.

Manda: [00:35:59.43] And cheap. This week’s deal is is much, much cheaper than last week’s deal.

Gill: [00:36:05.76] And for some people, there isn’t a choice about that. I think it’s important to get real about that. Or they feel there isn’t a choice.

Manda: [00:36:16.56] And some people can’t. Food banks are massively on the rise. I don’t listen to radio for anymore because I couldn’t bear it. But I overheard a program where the interviewer was talking to a young man who just walked an astonishing like half a day to get to the food bank. And he hadn’t eaten in almost a week. And the interviewer was in tears and and yet nothing changed.

This was three or four years ago. And so we live in a situation where the the cheap food is the empty food that is utterly addictive and yet has virtually no nutritional qualities and is damaging our health. And the food that actually would give us nutrition is priced beyond the reach of the people who either have the bullshit jobs or who have no jobs at all. Sorry, I’m talking to you as if this is your responsibility and it’s so completely isn’t. I’m just gobsmacked that the Dark Media manages to then blame the people coming in on inflatable rafts for this situation rather than the people running the newspapers who are profiting from it.

Anyway, let’s let’s look at the next one on the list, which is the Avoider. I think now there are more Avoiders than Sleepwalkers.

Gill: [00:37:41.82] I think so, too. I think people have jumped into various avatars and I think Avoider is one that a lot of people are probably currently jumping into. We were talking about the BBC. I didn’t watch it because I couldn’t. But apparently last night there was a David Attenborough documentary about extinction.

And they already know because the last few years it’s in people’s awareness and you can’t pretend this isn’t happening anymore. But faced with something stark like that, what are your options? Psychologically, you can either suppress it and pretend that you didn’t see it. But at some level, internally, of course you did. And your soul knows that or you turn that grief and that fear into energy and do something as creative as you can with it.

OR do you just put your hands over your eyes, put your fingers in your ears and just kind of keep pretending that, yes, I know this and it might keep me awake at night and it might bring me to tears, but I still feel unable to change my behaviors for various reasons that I describe in the book. And people feel too invested in their current life or their current belief system to actually acknowledge that the system is totally fucked.

Manda: [00:39:03.97] Or they don’t feel empowered to do anything. I was really surprised. Last week the Citizens Assembly finally reported the one that was brought together by various committees of the House of Commons. This is in the UK, a citizens assembly looking at climate change specifically. And it came up with a number of what to me seemed staringly obvious and very mild things. You met for a total of 6000 hours and this is the best you could do? But leaving that aside, one of them was stop the sale of our SUVs. And I put that up on my Facebook wall. And within minutes, because I had quite a lot of horsey people on my Facebook wall, there was a flame war going on about ‘I live in a remote part of the country with my horses. I am not giving up my SUV.’ And the conversation became ‘Actually, I think you’ve got a 4×4. SUVs, the things that you can park seven kids in, four people who actually only have two and drive round cities, I think you probably have a Discovery or something. It’s not an SUV.

Gill: [00:40:07.03] So holding onto that level of wellbeing or luxury is one of the kind of motivations for being an Avoider. And as you suggested, overwhelmed. Just the sense that this is all so immense, so terrifying, so heartbreaking that I just can’t bear to look at it. And so I’ll carry on doing what I normally do and just hope that it goes away or that somebody will sort it out or the technology will sort it out.

Manda: [00:40:40.10] And the other conversation I found myself having a lot last week was ‘It’s it’s all the fault of the population. There’s far too many people. And until the population drops, there’s nothing that can possibly happen.’ Which is very interesting. It’s somebody else’s problem because all of the people having this conversation were beyond childbearing age. So they’ve had two kids. Therefore, you know, what’s done is done. They can’t be asked not to have them. And God forbid that you should suggest that there would be a limit on how many children people have. But that’s a separate question because it’s not a question of human population. I genuinely don’t think that our problem is the number of people. It’s the consumption that attends a particular subset of those people.

But it’s a very interesting way of going. ‘Yes, there’s a problem. Yes, I care about it deeply, but I’m terribly sorry there’s nothing that I personally can do to make a difference.’ And so it seems to me that we have to see those parts in ourselves. I only find that deeply, deeply distressing because it must be triggering a part that I recognize and don’t like inside myself. And then what do I do about that is to try and find ways to be empowered to actually make a difference.

And Miki Kashtan talked about the the central wounds of the patriarchy:separation, powerlessness and scarcity. And finding ways not to be powerless seems to me absolutely crucial. Because if we’re looking at the world through the lens of this particular metaphor, then the Dark Four together are working very hard to ferment that sense of powerlessness amongst the rest of us. If we found that we were empowered, if we found that there were things that we could do, then their hold on power diminishes. And so it seems to me that the last two of our avatars are the ones who are the parts of ourselves where we begin to find the ways that we can find empowerment.

So shall we look at the the Altruist, which is the next on your list?

Gill: [00:43:00.35] Yes, indeed, yeah. And for me, this is humanity at its best in some respects, when we’re playing the Altruist avatar. And no matter how many of us there are, if we’re all playing the Altruist avatar all the time, which is a dream, maybe not an impossible dream, but it’s a dream that there was no need to play the Hero of Avatar, which we speak about at the end.

But if we’re all playing our Altruist all the time, overpopulation wouldn’t be a problem because we would be finding ways to live in the world that were harmonious with one another and harmonious with our ecosystems and all the other species we share this lovely planet with. So it’s a contributing Avatar. When we’re playing this, we’re contributing to well-being, creativity and a mutual, reciprocal kind of sense of collaboration and enhancing one another’s lives, including all species, rather than detracting from or doing harm.

And you mentioned population earlier. And I do think that, you know, along with consumption, it’s a problem. But there’s a boom and bust in populations of any species: rabbits or lemmings or turtles or whoever. Sometimes the population does get very big and it’s not sustainable and then it just naturally shrinks again. And of course, no turtles or lemmings are to blame for that. They’ve simply responded to their context. And in times of plenty they’ve had large families and the population has boomed and then something has caused it to bust. And maybe that’s what we’re seeing now.

But nevertheless, there is a kind of carrying capacity that the world has. It’s very rich, an abundant world, absolutely full of resource, but it’s down to how it’s distributed so incredibly unequally around the globe and between individuals at the moment. Whereas playing the Altruist avatar, we’re living in a reciprocal way that makes sure that everybody has enough. Because there is there still is plenty to go around to feed and nurture everyone and every every being.

Manda: [00:45:01.46] And part of the central finding is that sense of scarcity. That narrative that we’re given, that there isn’t enough and that we have to cling on to the little bits that we have because otherwise ‘bad people out there’ are going to take them. And I wonder to what extent that is a tribal instinct that is part of our hard wiring and how much is something that we can learn to overcome?

Because clearly with my current understanding of the evolution of humanity to where we are now, it was our ability to cooperate within tribes and then later between tribes that were considered allies that gave us the edge that got us to where we are. And somehow we have to expand our sense of ‘tribe’ to be the whole planet: humanity and the more than human world. The whole of the living planet that we call Gaia or Pachamama, or whatever else. Somehow we need to be able to expand that sense of selfhood so that there are no others. I don’t know how we do that.

Gill: [00:46:16.14] Well, I think we’re doing it. And the Dark Four are doing all they can to prevent that happening. But when you look at the Extinction Rebellion, protests on the street, for example, now you see that lovely collaboration, creativity, energy.

And you imagine that aspect of Extinction Rebellion, protests as not only is showing how to do protest, but showing how communities could be and could live together. Of course it’s possible. We’ve had philosophers studying this for thousands of years in terms of how we can live well and live with one another. And so we have the level of consciousness within humanity. And I don’t know how this will play out, because we also have this dark, destructive force that seems to be turning humanity as a species in on itself and and threatening its imminent demise potentially.

It feels to me as if these two forces that I speak about are coming to a bit of a head at the moment. These things that have all been rapidly accelerating in the last few years, we now find ourselves really kind of poised and balanced in terms of two ppossible futures, but broadly speaking, a future where we managed to transcend the harm we’ve been doing ourselves and each other and the rest of the living world and managed to live harmoniously. And in a future where we don’t do that, where the future looks a lot bleaker and possibly doesn’t include humans and lots of other species. So there’s really there’s everything to play for.

Manda: [00:47:58.32] There is a which is where we get to our final Avatar of the hero avatar. Watching the the seeds of Extinction Rebellion these last couple of weeks, I have just been so struck by the courage, the absolute raw courage, of most of these actions. So let’s talk a little bit about the Hero Avatar.

This is the one that I said that if everybody was playing the Altruist avatar all the time, there would be no need for the Hero. Avatar. Because the Hero Avatar is the one that is prepared to speak truth to power, is able to confront the Dark Four, to risk arrest, to start a risky new venture.

It might be some high profile activity like dangling from a crane somewhere or going on hunger strike. But it doesn’t have to be that. When somebody walks away from their mainstream job because they know that it’s harming human souls or environment or other the species or whatever and starts up or takes a risk and starts up a new venture that will create something more positive in the world, well, they’re playing the Hero Avatar.

And even when somebody is in a group of people and there’s a kind of a collusion around the elephant in the room – in which everyone is laughing about their SUVs or something else that becomes a bit of a theme. And somebody dares to be the one who actually speaks up and challenges the dominant paradigm and is prepared to be the first person to say, ‘Actually, I don’t agree with that. I can’t do that anymore. I can’t go along with that anymore.’ Even though they might be ridiculed or excluded in the moment, there are seeds that go out when people speak in that way that gradually, gradually shift consciousness to potentially do the kind of consciousness we do need to to go forward as a species.

Manda: [00:49:50.16] I’m reminded of a book that was current in the 80s called ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’. Which is not a bad aphorism by which to live that sense of. Because, as I understand it in this framing, one becomes a hero, not in spite of the fear, but almost because of the fear, it’s being able to act in the face of fear that makes on a Hero. If we did these things and there was no fear, then, it’s not so much heroism as just following an obvious path. The heroism is ‘I am really quite afraid of where I’m going, partly because I don’t know where it’s going to lead, but I’m going to do it anyway’. Is that a fair assessment?

Gill: [00:50:33.74] That’s perfect. And that could be, as we’ve said, some very obviously scary to, I don’t know, join a direct action or blockading the road…

Manda: [00:50:45.53] Take off all your clothes in front of parliament and stand there with a colored flare in your hand. It really is just amazing.

Gill: [00:50:53.42] And those are the very obvious kind of actions. ‘This is obviously quite scary and am I going to be brave enough to do it or do I have enough people to stand with?’ Or ‘Can I sustain the kind of comments I might get at work or in my family?’ Those are quite obvious ones. But others can feel less obviously scary, such as starting a new venture.

In some ways, if when people are following their dreams, as we talked about in the last podcast that I did with you, Hearing our Calling’, when people are starting to edge towards what their souls really want to do, and then think they can’t because some kind of fear pops up and says, ‘No, you can’t because this or you can’t because that’

That’s the kind of fear that when people recognize that as a discomfort on the way to actually unfolding something fantastic that they need to pass through, that becomes a whole different story to see it as a rite of passage, to pass through the fear of doing it and just forward into a new phase.

Manda: [00:51:59.69] So often with the shamanic work that we do, people come, and their core question is, ‘I want to find my my heart’s true path’ – or words to that effect. And they wait and they wait for absolute certainty. And one of the things that we need to do on the way through is let them know that if they wait for absolute certainty, they will be dead before they get there, because death is the only certainty.

If they are prepared to take that Empty-Handed leap into the void and go with it, then the world opens up in ways they could not possibly imagine. And this is the whole emergence from complexity. If we could imagine where we were going, it wouldn’t be emergence from complexity. That feels to me very much the energy that we need just now. We have no idea what the future holds, except that it cannot be iterations of the past. And that together we need to step into that place where we can expand.

Gill: [00:52:55.06] I was just thinking how beautiful that is and I was wondering how many of your participants, if when they really get that and get to a deep level and reach a place of knowing that it’s is quite natural, that the fear they’ve been feeling or the uncertainty and feeling and managed to reframe that. You must see some amazing transformation/realisations.

Manda: [00:53:16.87] Absolute transformations. Yes. And the ability to listen to that very small nudge that comes from inside and trust it and go with it in spite of absolute terror. There’s not many, but the ones that do – watching the flowering that happens as a result is is what keeps me going. It’s amazing.

[So we have, as I thought, pretty much used up a podcast time. And I think we will wait to talk about the Trembling Warrior another time.

But what I would like to do with last few minutes is explore without moving into conspiracy theory territory, but a felt sense that I have that I’m not able to explore with many people, that outside of these Avatars which live within all of us, there are energetic forces at work. And I don’t know whether I am paranoid, I wrote a paper recently describing what it called the Wentiko as a virus.

And this is a concept that was prevalent in certain of the first peoples of the Americas, the North American native tribes, that this virus would inhabit certain people and that if it wasn’t contained and I think encouraged to leave in the way that we would do extractions in shamanic healing, then it would spread.

And that that if it took over a critical mass within a group of people, then it would basically hold sway. And this is equivalent to the Four Dark Horses of the Apocalypse that you are describing, all harnessed to it in a way. And the paper was exploring the ways we can see this within ourselves, because I think everybody who looks at this knows that the line between good and evil passes through every human heart.

But how can we make the change? And one last thing, I would say that one of the elders in the group that I that meets occasionally said that his native teachers had said that this is the decade that really matters. And that at some point everything will come down to a balance point where the weight of one heart on one side or the other will make a difference.

And I find myself really pushing against that because it feels very judgmental. It feels like some of the old Christian teachings from my past of, you know, everybody will be judged by the weight of a feather on one side of the scale. And I don’t like the idea of being judged at all. And yet it does feel to me as if there is that pull towards wanting to manipulate, or being cynical or just thinking there’s nothing I can do, let’s just immerse ourselves in hedonism like the last days of the Reich as the armies move into Berlin where it’s all pointless, so, let’s eat, drink and let’s be merry.

And on the other side is the part that thinks there is still hope. There must still be hope. And we are being given so much help. And I choose not to believe that we are being given help in order to collapse into this. And yet it feels as if the the dark side is so much more powerful at times that it’s really hard to feel that there’s any possibility. So I just want to open up that series of doors with somebody who gets it and see where it takes us.

Gill: [00:57:07.91] There’s something so much in what you’re saying that is very rich and there’s something about the yes, the Dark Forces are so very powerful. And for me, it’s not so much about going into battle and opposition, although that is an element of what needs to happen. But rather, we spoke about the next generation and some of the wonderful things happening there.

Thus, rather, I see it almost as if there’s a game where you kind of jump over somebody else’s pieces and they change color as you jump over them. I imagine it more like that than a kind of face to face combat. So of course, there’s hope. And of course, there is a possibility still of an even more beautiful future than we can imagine to very loosely use Charles Eisenstein’s words.

You spoke very eloquently about the judgment and the Christian teachings, which I grew up with, too.But I wonder what happens if we take out the judgment that became such a Manipulating aspect of religion, using that judgment to control people’s behaviors. And it’s very difficult to take it out because, you know, we grew up with it and as a culture, it’s deeply embedded. But if we can manage to step back from the judgment and say perhaps it is just true that what will make the difference is one person’s action. We don’t know who that person will be. We don’t know what they’ll do. And carrying it lightly, just as they that perhaps that’s true, then. There need be no judgment on me. I can live as I live and do my thing. I was going to say I can do my poor best, but that’s not really true, I can do my good and imperfect best. I know that it might be my action that tips the scales. It might be yours. It might be somebody who isn’t born yet or somebody who who’s about to die. And it may be that that’s a metaphor, actually.

The themes of the the Dark Four horsemen of the Apocalypse and the the theme of the light and the dark and the theme of the feather, you know, they’re all in some ways allegorical, don’t you think?

Because maybe they’re not quite literal. Because it is so much more complex than that. But they are, again, just ways to describe the dance and that there’s this epic time. Actually, let’s not make a mistake about that. We’re in epic, legendary times and they’re a way of systematizing and just describing what’s actually, you know, the complexity of what’s happening.

Manda: [00:59:43.70] Yes. When I’m getting really tired of it seems to be happening quite a lot lately, it does keep me think feeling that rather than just curl up and go to sleep, I could meditate a bit more, I could I could be doing something to be doing the work on myself that eases me, eases that line in my heart a little bit more fluid, a little bit more flexible.

My current work is is definitely on understanding that if I cannot find total compassion for the people onto which I project all of the Manipulator stuff, then I may as well give up, frankly. And that’s hard. But I suppose I find it useful as a metaphor because it stops me sinking into inaction and despair. I would rather be acting and feel that I have some agency and that my current agency is definitely that ability to expand the circle of my compassion wider and more true.

What I’m really discovering recently is there’s a way of thinking about feeling compassion and there’s a way of actually doing it. That difference between declarative and performative knowing is huge in my understanding at the moment. So. Yes, I hear you. I will go and think about that and see where it takes us.

So I think if you’re up for it, we will definitely come back for a look at the Trembling Warrior, because I think that is an extraordinarily rich dive into the Altruist and Hero avatars together. And I’d really like to do that partly to give everybody more of an uplift than perhaps I have managed to do today. So we’ll do that at some point. But in the meantime, thank you so very much for coming back onto the Accidental Gods podcast.

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