Frederick Woodruff: When Worlds Collide

“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

“Two agendas are prevalent in your life: Heaven’s and yours.” — Chin-Ning Chu

“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 mature and ‘individuate’, as the Jungians call it. 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. This 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.

“One attribute of the human being is the potential to keep on growing, to keep on developing. And I think there’s room in each of us. I hate to hear someone say, oh well, that man or that woman is sixty or seventy or eighty or ninety or a hundred, so he’s finished. There’s always something that can be transformed on the upward spiral.”
–William Segal

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 pocketbooks–one for each Sun sign–scattered around the house. I started collecting them like baseball cards. Astrology was mesmerizing–I mean psychology as typology made 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 places the world within a cosmic framework, an interconnected system, the all-inclusive matrix of the universe. This was the first time the idea of meaning, a ‘meaning to life’ touched me. (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 an ad hoc stand-in for me.

To this day I consider Gurdjieff my “second father,” a testament to his timeless, near-nuclear soul force. Gurdjieff’s Capricornian emphasis on developing will, the ‘ability to do,’ and a grounded connection to one’s body seemed like concepts from another planet to a free-flowing, Sun in the 12th native like me.

“It can be said still more precisely that a man cannot awaken by himself. But if, let us say, twenty people make an agreement that whoever of them awakens first shall wake the rest, they already have some chance. Even this, however, is insufficient because all the twenty can go to sleep at the same time and dream that they are waking up. Therefore more still is necessary. They must be looked after by a man who is not asleep or who does not fall asleep as easily as they do…They must find such a man and hire him to wake them and not allow them to fall asleep again.”
–Ouspensky quoting Gurdjieff from In Search of the Miraculous

Not long after my first Saturn return, I realized that I needed to find an actual Work school, to align myself with like-minded souls who, with a teacher’s assistance, could work to sustain attention and presence; to hopefully 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 left the Ridhwan School just as the Saturn return for the date I’d joined the school became exact. Again, Saturn with his initiations and closures.

I finally settled in Washington State in 1996 where I resumed work with clients and students.  My latest book: Notes on Modern Astrology was completed in 2016.

What am I working on presently?

That’s a good question. I’ve two projects in the mix, one related to the questionable influence of social media and how astrology might curb the urge to become lost in hive mind.

And the other a collection of notes related to my decade-long process of untethering from various teachings, philosophies and spiritual institutions.

I’ve titled the book, The Mindfuck: The Escape From How-To Culture. I hope to have the book completed in late 2021.

Portrait photograph by Steven Miller Photography, Seattle Washington
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