“I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals. I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”
– Brendan Behan
“It’s only when you realize that life is taking you nowhere that it begins to have meaning.”
– P. D. Ouspensky
My father was a scientist and my mother was a musician. Being a Cancer, I felt a stronger alignment with my mom. Fortunately I did bring along the mental skills I inherited from my dad, a vigor for study and a desire to question and probe. Combined, my gene pool gave rise to a mystical impulse. Or an impulsive mystic. Something like that.
When I was fourteen I concluded that consensus reality, what consensus ‘life’ had to offer, was lacking. What did it all mean? And why were people so dissatisfied? Studying the script — birth, childhood, school, graduation, marriage, holidays, babies, divorce, old age and then moving to Florida, brought no consolation. The entire trajectory seemed designed by nature as a way to simply perpetuate the species. Who could possibly be enthused about following a path like that? A cow I suppose.
Sure, religion was supposed to be a touchstone that imparted meaning, a connection to something higher. But the hypocrisy of religious folk killed off what little joy I experienced via the Catholic Church. It felt like most everyone at church was pretending. In the end my impressions fit perfectly alongside H.G. Wells‘ quote: “Confession on Saturday. Absolution on Sunday. At it again on Monday.” Talk about a buzz kill.
My situation isn’t unique. Think back to when you were a teenager. Didn’t you feel the same impulse to question and revolt? Maybe you couldn’t articulate it, but the line in the sand was drawn. For each of us, around the age of 14 — when Saturn, the planet of initiation, opposes its position in our birth chart — there is a seminal moment where the pressure to differentiate clashes with the womb-like safety of our family. “Mom and dad want me to be a doctor, but I feel like joining the Peace Corps.” And so it goes. Or should go.
Saturn plants the seed to individuate. Imagine someone passing you a file baked into a cake, while still living within the dictates and pressures of your family paradigm. Were you able to escape? Or at least imagine escaping? If you didn’t begin to register your inner tension, the double-nature of most adults, it’s a sign that the overwhelming spell of your family matrix got the upper hand. Which means, in present time, you might have to work that much harder to unravel the trance of living the “unexamined life.” But don’t worry. It’s never too late.
For me, the methodology of my escape arrived when I discovered astrology.
My mom and grandmother both ‘consulted’ astrology magazines regularly. And so I grew up with those little Dell pocketbook Sun Sign books scattered around the house. I started collecting them like baseball cards. I found astrology mesmerizing — psychology as typology made perfect sense to me. Put people into a large group and immediately one experiences the phenomenon of ‘types.’ Here was a way to possibly understand behavior, to weave one’s way forward — and out — by having a sort of inner-knowledge, an owner’s manual for the human condition. This appealed to my persistent, slightly wary Moon in Scorpio.
I also appreciated how astrology placed the world within a larger framework, a more interconnected system, the all-inclusive matrix of the universe. This was my first sensing of a meaning to life, or at least a path towards meaning.
I spent most of my free time reading books on horoscopes, magic and the Tarot and finally, while in junior high, I made the dogged effort to write to as many astrologers in California as I could find, seeing which, if any would take me as a student. I lucked out with my teachers Ivy Goldstein Jacobson and Margaret Latvala, and worked with them through my high school years.
Out of high school I became a member of Llewellyn George’s Educational Astrology organization in Los Angeles. I helped write, edit and publish the group’s quarterly newsletters, overseen by Shirley Stringer and Robert Jansky. Bob went on to write many excellent books on the relationship between astrology and health and the impact and importance of eclipses. He was a great mentor, too.
I eventually moved to Honolulu Hawaii and began working with clients and teaching astrology. I lived in Hawaii for close to twenty years.
Also in Hawaii, I encountered the Fourth Way teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff (right) and studied his cosmology in earnest. Lacking a strong bond with my father, Gurdjieff’s teachings became a sort of ad hoc stand in for me.
To this day I consider Gurdjieff my “second father,” a testament to his radiant, near-nuclear soul force (and ability to transcend time). Gurdjieff’s Capricorinian emphasis on developing will, the ‘ability to do,’ and a solid, grounded connection to one’s body seemed like concepts from another planet to a free-flowing, Sun in the 12th, Mars in Pisces native like me.
Not long after my Saturn return, I realized that I needed to find an actual Work school, to align myself with like-mined souls who, with a teacher’s assistance, could awaken, sustain attention and presence. Could turn knowledge into understanding. Qualities that are impossible to develop by studying books and concepts. Gurdjieff impressed this point often: “Change depends on you, and it will not come about through study. You can know everything and yet remain where you are. It is like a man who knows all about money and the laws of banking, but has no money of his own in the bank. What does all his knowledge do for him?”
In 1988 I joined Hameed Ali’s Ridhwan School, a spiritual Work school that involves Fourth Way principals, eastern philosophy, meditation practice and insights gleaned from modern depth psychology. I have been a student of the school’s Diamond Approach group for 20 years. When people ask me about working with Gurdjieff’s system I recommend Hameed’s school because the Diamond Approach is a dynamic, living teaching, the Logos of which is continually developing and unfolding in our time.
Many of Gurdjieff’s principals are present within the Diamond Approach, but they are aligned with the insights of psychology — contemporary perceptions that inform skillful means of working with the personality; modern techniques for living one’s essence and the embodying reality, or as it’s also known: True Nature.
I finally settled in Washington State in 1996 where I resumed work with clients. I also write books and plays and make abstract art. My last one-person art show was in 2012. Buy a painting today!
The fun never stops!
I live on Vashon Island, on the water, with a Pisces Bengal cat named Lili.
Opening photograph by John Calendo.