September 22nd, 2015

How to Stop Self-Helping Yourself Into Oblivion


Yesterday public television in Seattle celebrated their decade-long relationship with the just-deceased self-help writer Wayne Dyer, and to honor the author the station was replaying one of his final talks.

The theme of his presentation alludes me; it was something about Five Steps to Something or Other, the secrets of which were contained in his new book, which was touted tastefully throughout his talk.

I decided to give the show a try, despite the fact that I’ve a strong aversion to listening to other people talk or write about ‘how’ life should be lived or experienced.

Prior to the advent of the Internet, this phenomenon of people giving advice about living was always buzzing in the background of life, but not in the omnipresent way it does now.

The Net has mutated what used to be a semi-contained industry (the self-help, how-to world) into a bacchanalia of yapping gurus and guides — billions of bromides pinging back and forth across blogs, YouTube and social media every hour.

The world, as the Net depicts it, is divided into distinct camps: Those with electronic devices doing nothing. And those doing nothing but writing or talking about doing stuff and then selling that information on an electronic device to people that aren’t doing anything.

While watching the PBS tribute to Wayne Dyer talking about Wayne Dyer and Wayne Dyer’s new book about doing stuff to be a better person like Wayne Dyer, my fascination and agitation landed not on Dyer, but on the audience.

Their eagerness and willingness to be told how they could improve their lives felt heartbreaking. Because the camera would periodically cutaway to random scans of the crowd, I was privy to dozens of eyeholes dilated in moist receptivity as Dyer spoonfed them a list of dos and don’ts for a ‘better life.’

Dyer had conveniently crafted these pointers into a list that was transformed into an illustration of a ladder with five distinct steps. And because our culture is obsessed to the point of mania with lists, the childlike image of the ladder remained projected behind Dyer as his proverbs tumbled forth.

I squirmed. Each ‘pointer’ or step on the ladder was related to Dyer’s personal existence — as if I were interested. (I write this flatly, not from a place of mean-spiritedness but fact, I wasn’t intrigued, though I’m sure many in the audience were.)

Dyer’s peculiar mix of humility and hubris was incredibly distracting. I kept thinking, “God, this is so brilliant. You missed your calling (and million$) by not starting a church or movement.” And yet my eyeholes were bone-dry.

Too, this interweaving of the promise of a secret to be revealed (to better oneself or reach a financial goal), with Dyer’s insistent desire to give it to me was just weird.

I’ve long suggested that no one follows the how-tos of self-help books. Books of this ilk are akin to talismans that people keep on their nightstand to remind them of something or other that is supposed to make their life better while they continue to do what they’ve always done because in the end the only person anyone is interested in hearing from is oneself.

Self-help books allow for a kind of deluded procrastination until you finally get your shit together and then act from your own gumption. Often this comes via desperation or eleventh-hour providence. But whatever: “Yay, you’re off of your ass!”

Moving in life, doing things, takes courage and I’m fascinated by how and why humans have lost so much courage, the scale of which you can track by watching the bestseller status of various self-help and how-to books.

Or just listen to the predominate message within politics, which goes something like: “Vote for ___ and she’ll guarantee that you and your family will survive this weird post-industrial society you’re struggling to survive in.” But why must I wait for Bernie Sanders to make my life better? (I think Bernie’s great by the way — but why displace my courage and faith unto him?)

So, the point of this post isn’t to make fun of self-help books but to act as a reminder or a spirited nudge. A reminder to pay attention to the impulse to buy books (or listen incessantly to TED talks about things you should be doing yourself) that are stand-ins for your goals and the kind of focus and exertion of will required to fulfill your purpose.

What is the solution to escaping the tyranny of the how-to-self-help-yourself stuff?

Well, if I told you that you’d be in the same cycle I’ve outlined above.  Instead, I’ll offer some insights and observations that seem closer to (and are germane with) the universal. These are suggestions for you to poke at and entertain in passing. Lightly. Read more

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September 20th, 2015

The Resilient Power of Bliss


You won’t find a more uplifting description of Saturn’s placement in Sagittarius (where the planet will transit until December of 2017) than astrologer Marcia Moore‘s:

This position of Saturn “gives the capacity to concretize ideas and to bring abstract concepts down to earth. In this respect, Saturn is like a crystal which concentrates the light of the Sagittarian mind into a flame that can start a fire. Sagittarius, in turn, warms the austere formality of Saturn with the genial glow.”

Rational optimism like this is a welcome shift after Saturn’s final pass through Scorpio which often felt like a cathartic slog: A Roto-Rooter attached directly to the collective’s unconscious.

Astrologer Michael Lutin aptly associated Saturn’s transit through the last degrees of Scorpio with “death anxiety.” He listed several markers that were particularly difficult to resolve during the last couple of months. I’d imagine that you can relate to:

“The feeling of helplessness while awaiting a decision, diagnosis, judgment, revelation, miracle, change, or new direction.”

He also mentioned: “The anger brought by having to accept enforced change.”

And probably most painful and confusing, a kind of sadomasochistic “…holding on to improper attachments.”

I think we’re all welcoming the new Saturn through Sagittarius transit. So let’s talk about it.

Saturn’s New Abode

But first:

Imagine listening to only the trombone section playing a Haydn concerto. How weird. Something similar happens when astrologers attempt to define lone planetary transits, detached from the whole. Like I’m doing here, with Saturn’s transit through Sagittarius.

You can’t really pull out a single planet from the pantheon and then describe the possibilities inherent the transit. All of the planets participate in the solar system’s symphony simultaneously. So, keep this in mind whenever you read about significant planetary shifts in astrology. Only a facet is examined, a facet that is removed from the totality of the cosmic field. It is incomplete.

That said, of all the planets Saturn is the easiest to form a distinct impression of when you consider the planet’s placement in any of the twelve signs.

Meaning, wherever Saturn moves in the Zodiac, the reality principle under which we all abide, shifts. So you sense it palpably. It’s like changing the lenses in your glasses. The effect is immediate. Various qualities of the sign Saturn transits are made distinct and specific, and, Saturn being Saturn, we’re pulled in — like Brer Rabbit with the Tar-Baby — until we decipher the code.

So, if Saturn in Scorpio is tied to “death anxiety,” will Saturn in Sagittarius involve life anxiety?

Not exactly. But kind of.

Sagittarius, of all the signs, is related to the flame of optimism, a faith in the ultimate good that resides within or beneath every experience in life. It sounds corny, but think of where you’d be in life if you didn’t have faith? (Not belief, mind you — but faith. Think about the two words and faith’s meaning will become emphatic; Saturnine).

So this is the promise of Saturn in Sagittarius: The realistic benefits of exercising faith. This might show up in your life (at least initially, on the heels of the Scorpio transit) as a super-effort to remember why life is worth living. Read more

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August 24th, 2015

Redefining the Oxymoron: Sex and Marriage


The revelations related to the vicious hack of the Ashley Madison website (the cheating spouses’ watering hole you’ve read about everyday for the past week) have — once again — shocked puritanical America. In the way puritanical America is always shocked whenever it discovers that people are having sex outside the confines of the missionary position (and sanctity of marriage).

Recently, several of the Scarlet-Lettered individuals — publicly exposed victims of the hack —  have committed suicide. I’m very sad about the suicides (I’ve experienced that shock first hand to understand the impact). These extreme reactions point to a gigantic schism within the culture’s attitudes about sex. Judeo-Christian prohibitions that inextricably link sex and shame, forever and ever, until the end of time.

To sustain porn star-like passion within a monogamous relationship is sorta oxymoronic. It’s not impossible (there is now Viagra and Addyi — female Viagra), but the misconceptions people project onto monogamy — the levels of romantic passion they expect to be constant, over time, aren’t germane to the natural arc of a relationship.

Those sustainablility dreams are borrowed from the realms of fairy tales and online porn. Symbolic idylls meant to instruct or entertain. But people being people, we literalize what shouldn’t be made literal.

This delusion hasn’t been helped by New Age, Oprah-esque goofiness: If you dream it — goddamnit you’re entitled to it.  Think hard enough about a new car and you’ll either win the lottery or the death of your spouse will free up his life insurance policy so you can buy one.

The Ashley Madison hack is throwing the epidemic of romo-sexual magical thinking into high relief.

Astrologically the events surrounding the Madison hack mirror the slow-building Saturn/Neptune square, to be exacerbated when Saturn finally moves into Sagittarius next month. This is an astrological wake-up call for each of us, but especially for the Neptune in Libra (1942 to 1956) and the Neptune in Scorpio (1956-1970) generations. They will feel the harsh light of reality the hardest. Why?

Both of those groups tend to project otherworldly expectations onto their interpersonal relationships. Dreams that flesh and blood people can’t realistically fulfil.

The Saturn Neptune square will highlight the psychological phenomenon of splitting. Splitting occurs when seemingly disparate parts of our nature come close to meeting or merging.

You have an image of yourself as being an easygoing, helpful fellow, but you also house a tyrannical control freak. These two parts of your nature are split apart, distanced from meeting. Gurdjieff called this ‘buffering.’

The Ashley Madison hack exposed the unrealistic hope and dreams that accompany matrimony.  On one hand, there’s the impulse to merge for the sake of secure companionship; but then, on the other, there’s the unfettered instinct for raw, lusty roaming.

Familiarity usually dents the libido and then the marriage goes missing in the forest of subterfuge … you can follow the breadcrumbs: Ashley Madison’s numbers? Over 39 million members.

For heterosexual men, this dilemma is also known as the Madonna/Whore syndrome. For straight women, I’m not sure what it’s called. Maybe something like: Protector/Gigolo? But you get the idea.

With the square planetary aspects in astrology, there’s the promise that after the shock of a revelation there might come the application of newfound wisdom. Regarding the Madison hack, I think it’s time for men and women to confront what the impact of pornography has had on the ‘sanctity’ of relationships. As online porn has fueled a new level of intensity for the erotic-exotic. Acts that would have been the (mental) craftsmanship of the Marquis de Sade.

Pornography as pagan art, has always been with us — will always be with us — but never to the degree that the human brain is now steeped in it. Kids as young as five are Googling ‘pearls’ and landing on images of nude women with their face and neck drenched in semen. How does a child’s brain process this sort of image?

Or never mind Google, perhaps the kids caught the Grammys on network TV. Porn creep is ubiquitous.

These are discussions the Saturn Neptune transit might broach. A reality check, a truth-telling about security and sex. Not an inquiry based on shame, but one of curiosity with, perhaps, the definition of marriage redefined — made realistic: Its limitations highlighted, its benefits celebrated.

And hopefully soon, before more people kill themselves because they were horny but also married.



Photograph: The Hamptons by Philip-Lorca diCorcia, 2008.

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August 15th, 2015

Astrology, Cycles, and the Active-Passive


“The future isn’t what it used to be.” –Yogi Berra
Human beings are funny.

We’ve had civilised cultures established on the planet for thousands and thousands of years — with our ability to self-reflect, gather information, theorize, analyze, etc. and yet we still write about the future as if it’s something that can be predicted.

And so data is gathered and compared and parceled out and cross-referenced to past events as if that cross-referencing will reveal something literal about how something will play out in the future — but it never does.

And yet we keep doing this. Why?

“The future” is just a term for utter unpredictability. And this makes people insane. Especially in a science-obsessed culture like ours that equates knowledge and information with the ability to classify and then predict. As if it were that simple and easy.

It is so funny.

After I posted this on Facebook my friend, astrologer Kate Petty commented: “But there are predictable cycles.”

And this is true.

Astrology as a spiritual path is a wondrous mixture of the mystical with the linear. I think this is why some astrologers attempt to make astrology into a science, but science is too limited to contain astrology. It’s like trying fit the ocean into a Dixie cup.

Usually, at least initially, when we consider the mystical we do so from a passive posture within the soul. And for this reason a lot of people don’t gravitate to a contemplative life. Read more and you’ll see why.

When you begin to sense and feel, in your bones, the ineffable presence, the totality of reality — or True Nature — as some traditions call it, you’re humbled to the point of obliteration.

Those same spiritual traditions call this obliteration process “ego death” and, as I’ve experienced that experience, it’s a fitting term. To soften it some and echo Jung, I’ll bring up one of his quotes: “There is no coming into consciousness without pain.”

More about obliteration:

Humans are a peculiar phenomenon because they are half-animal and half-human. Because we’ve become distanced from the natural expression of our instincts (the fallout from a psychic posture like the ego) we disconnect from our connection to the natural cycles and rhythms of nature and the heavens.

And this is where astrology, as a spiritual practice, offers us an opportunity to realign, reconnect and live as conduits of something much more magnificent and mysterious than the ego’s Hitler-esque, control freak tyranny.

OK, so hold on — I’m going to make a jump here: Read more

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August 02nd, 2015

Critter Rescue: Meditate Like a Mouse (or Lion)

Gone are the days of celebrities helping us reconnect to the necessity for some kind of connection to our bodies (and minds). (Remember Cher‘s workout video?… OK, nevermind.)

Cartoonist Katy Davis (AKA Gobblynne) has created this whimsical (but incredibly wise) animal-filled animation that just might bring you back to the meditation practice you abandoned years ago (or last week). Read more

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