I was born in 1947 and will be turning sixty this year. I was born towards the beginning of this generation of “boomers” and grew up in the 60’s when astrology was beginning to have a renaissance, and in the ‘70’s when books such as Gail Sheehy’s: Passages was making the best seller’s list. Many of us in this generation visited Paris and sat in the cafes where the existentialists such as Sartre and Camus debated existentialism, and where women philosophers such as Simone de Beauvoir, and journalist, Anais Nin, sought to have a voice. We sat there, drinking our espressos for the first time, searching for our own words and true voices, and writing in our journals. We were often desperate in both our need for relationship and in our over-idealism about what relationships and life owed us. We wondered what would hold us spiritually in the years ahead, for many of us were just rational enough to have tossed off the religion of our fathers. Yet for so many baby boomers, we got off the flight from Paris and from existential freedom and got tossed right back into a less than heady stew here in the US. It was a lot less about philosophy and more about finding a job. But even back then, we thirsted for a guide for conscious living through the turbulent uncharted waters.
These posts are a beginning of a possible guide for living, and though some of it will be framed by the astrological language of mid-life transits, it will also be ‘informed’ as we like to say, by insights from the first guru of aging: Carl Jung, and by a few of the great existential writers and philosophers who have gone before us. You don’t need to believe in astrology, existentialism, or Jungian theory to ponder the theories presented here. But I offer them to you simply as mid-life experiments and I encourage you not to take them on face value but to test this new slant on these ideas in your own life. My hope is that you take what works for you and leave the rest.
We’ve all been exposed to the same kinds of current events and cultural trends, yet what I’d like to give you, the reader, is a way to see three of the large ideas of our time in simple terms, and to see how they are can be used in your life to nourish you. Perhaps I’m writing this---the book I’d like to read--- in hopes that it will make me think deeper and connect the dots of half-forgotten truths. The large dots—the concepts of existentialism, astrology, and Jungian psychology, can be broken down into some very essential and basic ideas that are useful and soul nourishing. And hopefully I can offer you, the reader, a new perspective as to how they are intimately connected and supportive of each other.
Because I am a professional astrologer, the astrological world-view will be a theme as it gives us a structural pattern for what to expect at the turning points on our mid-life journey. The existential world view provides another base with its motivating impulse for making meaning out of even our littlest actions, and the Jungian world view pulls it all together by drawing our attention to the numinous Self—what some would call God—and shows how what is unconscious must be made conscious, lest we act out our unacknowledged fears and compulsions.
Essentially, I’m challenging you to become a ‘meaning-maker’ by seeing how these particular ideas weave together into an invitation to create and live in a meaningful world. It’s likely that you have some “pre-judices” about these ideas---ie: that “woo-woo vibrations” from planets don’t effect us at all---you’re right! That those French philosophers were pedantic and a little arrogant---you’re right! And that Carl Jung was a rich man who slipped into womanizing and anti-Semitic thinking at times---you’re right! But there is a way to see each of these traditions differently, and to see how their gifts to us now far out-weigh misunderstandings and occasional human mis-behavior.
I believe we live in a time when one of the greatest dangers is not only global warming but global cooling; the idea that we are becoming numb and cool to the sweet vulnerability of human life. I fear that we are losing our ability to see the meaningfulness within and around us, and that this de-sensitization of ourselves and the demonizing of the “Other” is dangerous. Violent acts of entertainment and reactionary aggression threatens our ability to ‘grow our Souls’. The despair and polarization that we immerse ourselves in through entertainment and religious dogmatism is filtering down to our children, and causes despair. It flies in the face of the new paradigms we’ve been discussing. Let me tell you why I believe this to be true…
This spring, my friend Henry jumped off the city bridge. His suicide was a shock to our community as he was not only a well respected professional man, but a father of three, and someone who seemed to really enjoy his motorcycle, his guitar playing, and his friends. Henry was a good looking man and admired for his gentle and humorous ways. What some of us didn’t know was what lay below the surface of his life that erupted that particular day last spring when he took his life.
The minister at his Memorial service was wise enough to say that Henry didn’t take his life; his sickness took his life. True. Henry hid a lifetime of dealing with intense inner struggle and anger mixed with vulnerability---those qualities we label as anxiety and depression. Was his death simply a medical casualty based primarily on his biology? What other factors were happening?
If Henry had come to me as an astrologer, I would have said that he was in the particular life passage called the Second Saturn Return and would have talked to him about the challenges of this frequently ‘melancholy’ time. Yet because I see astrology as "the meaningful contemplation of change"--a phrase my friend and fellow astrologer Greg Bogart has used to describe astrology--well, I would have looked at Henry's birth chart, and looked for the highest expression of this Saturn Return in his life. And I would have looked at the evolutionary journey of his Soul in terms of not only his age, but what I call the “family karmic inheritance” and asked if he had considered his current anxiety in terms of his parental inheritance and expectations. I would have looked at the North and South Nodes on chart and attempted to describe the metaphorical parable of the gifts and challenges that he was bringing over from his past lives, and looked to see how this might have contributed to an “emotional hangover” from unresolved Soul-issues. Most of all, I hope that I would have stressed the temporary nature of this passage, and that no matter how hard it was for him to feel good right now, that there would be many more chances to make it right and feel better.
Henry’s situation was undoubtedly more complicated than I know, and I don’t think a few sessions with an astrologer/counselor would have made a huge difference. We don't know. I’m sure his friends tried to help him many times and in many ways. Yet still, if I had a chance for a time together with him, I would have encouraged him to read about the psychologist Carl Jung’s nervous breakdown and what Jung did to come out of it. We might have talked about how unconscious separation anxiety and rage can act out in destructive ways, and if there were any ways that following “doctor’s orders” sounded too close to following “father’s orders”? We might have talked about what Henry truly valued in his life and if there were ways he could make his ‘existence’ more meaningful by being more present both to himself and others. Did he feel responsible for anyone or anything? What would it take for him to be responsive to his deepest needs? These are the kinds of questions that would have woven together the astrological, the existential, and the Jungian language into a meaningful conversation. I never did have a chance to have this conversation with him.
However, no matter how well intentioned I might have been, the biological effect of accumulated stress and anxiety does not easily respond to ‘talk therapy’ of any kind unless it is consistent and accompanied by a change in life style and medication. Having experienced stress induced anxiety and depression myself, I have great empathy for Henry’s struggle, as well as the similar struggles of Vincent Van Gogh, William Styron, Hemingway, and many others. It doesn’t seem to matter if we are prolific and unseen in our creativity—such as Vincent Van Gogh, or prolific and acknowledged---like Hemingway. Perhaps what matters most is that we attempt, like the writer William Styron, to wrest meaning out of our experience, rather than grasping for quick and literal solutions to unconscious problems of meaning and psychological pain. For many of us, we simply use distraction, addiction and rage to make our way through hard times. We get divorced, start a fight, drive too fast, buy more ‘toys’ or worse. This writing is an exploration of other ways to approach all this. It is an attempt to entice people like Henry into “tasting” other ways of creating meaning, and reminding ourselves that we have innumerable chances to reach for meaning and joy in our lives. ~elizabeth spring www.elizabethspring.com