Tag Archives: Carl Jung

Night Sea Journey – and Return

“One does not discover new land without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time”

Andre Gide

It is 530 am: birds are singing their hearts out in the park near our home. I can hear the river running. It’s been a wonderfully warm, sunny summer in Glasgow. Usually the rain capital of Scotland, we are being granted heat and warmth for what promises to be a joyous, welcoming Commonwealth Games here in the city.

 I feel vital, alive, engaged – full of gratitude for my sense of well-being. So my wish is that those of you out there currently going through dark times may take heart from what I write today. Life has its profound rhythms and cycles, which at times clash brutally with how the Ego thinks it should be.

Going through my “night sea journey”, to use Jung’s terminology, took seven long years. I have referred to this 2001-8 period in several different articles on “Writing from the Twelfth House” : check out ‘Just let me get old, ok?’ if you wish to find out more.

At several points I very nearly drowned – symbolically speaking –in darkness without any apparent navigation points. But the steadfast love of those closest held my head just above the cold dark sea, and I called for aid to that level which I have learned to trust, but which I cannot name. Every time, my call was answered, one way or another. Every time, the deepest message was  ‘Hold on. Try not to be afraid. Be patient. This is necessary – but it will pass. You will be all right’. And I am all right, all right and deeply enriched.

Night Sea Journey

Night Sea Journey

Perspective on a prolonged ordeal which removed me from the world shifted and changed as the journey went on. I reached the heart of my own darkness, understood it, accepted how my life had been both blighted and enriched by conditions in place from the beginning. Quite quickly after that act of acceptance, I returned to being well again.

I recognise now that a lengthy retreat from the world was requisite for the kind of person I am – it is not necessary for most people to go through a mid-life summing up of such drastic dimensions, thank goodness! Periodic bouts of retreat seem to be part of my necessity. One of the great advantages to being an older person is that one has several decades to look back on, in attempting to make sense of one’s own patterns.

Gradually regaining the strength, energy and inclination to lead a “normal” life , along with a profound sense of gratitude that my good health has returned, I am left awestruck at the sheer power, depth and mystery of the human psyche.

The sense I already had of being woven into a meaningful cosmos – tiny thread though I am – has been amplified and deepened by many of the experiences I had whilst on my ‘night sea journey’. These experiences certainly challenged my rational, sceptical self. The added perspective gained by wide reading in spirituality, religion, mysticism, science and cosmology enables me to sum up what I now believe in one sentence:

We live in a meaningful, multi-dimensional cosmos where anything is possible.

The last couple of years of the retreat were spent in a state which I recognised from before, which one might call liminal: not quite having emerged from one life phase, not quite having entered another. This felt uncomfortable and frustrating at one level. But at another, it offered an opportunity to practise the art of trusting to the unfolding process of life, or Spirit’s call, to put it another way; knowing that, in due course, the shape of the next phase would become more clearly defined, the time to take action become evident. As indeed it has. I have been back at work now, part-time, for over two years. But I’m still writing!

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700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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“…. the miracle of the living soul ….”

All my life’s work has been with people: as an adult education teacher in many settings, as a psychiatric social worker, as a private counsellor, trainer and supervisor of counsellors – and as a professional astrologer and astrology teacher. At the core of this apparent vocational diversity has been, I now understand, the same drive. It is that urge to find meaningful contexts for my own tiny, ephemeral spark of life, whilst offering some affirmation to others that their tiny flame matters too: it is worth struggling to get our light to burn with a purer and brighter radiance.

Something ineffable and charged can on occasions arise in deep communication between one person and another – those in the helping professions and their clients are by no means the sole partakers of this context. There is a moment in which the feeling of safety, intimacy, trust, empathy and openness of exchange becomes so intense that the level on which two people are interacting shifts from ‘ordinary’ to numinous.

The Diamond Soul

The Diamond Soul

In that moment, (to my subjective recollection) both souls are held, in a state of grace, in the palm of some vast invisible benevolent Hand. Both sparks of life are suspended in a sense of the sacred….

Such a state can never be evoked. It can only be bestowed – fleeting, memorable, perhaps life changing.

Coming across the following quotes recently thus struck a profound chord:

first, from Carl Gustav Jung

“ That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide.”

Carl Jung from “Contributions to Analytical Psychology”quoted in Self and Society Vol 27 No 1 March 1999, p 22.

second, from ‘Gilead’by Marilynne Robinson, p 51 –

“ When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want’, and whose object can be ‘someone’ or ‘nothing’ and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else …. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.”

(‘Gilead’, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a wonderful novel in which, towards the end of Rev John Ames’ life in 1956, he begins a letter to his young son, setting down all that he wishes to communicate which impending death will otherwise render impossible.)

I urge you to read it for its humanity and its wisdom.

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450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Holy Dharma with Heron

Thanks to Linda Leinen over at Shoreacres, for providing the inspiration – via her wonderful piece on herons and poetry – for re-publishing this post. Enjoy!

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I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.

We live in Glasgow, Scotland UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.

Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the newly-refurbished Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.

We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning  is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!

Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.

Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!

I  stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight.  “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.

The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along  extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.

The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.

Japanese Heron Painting

Japanese Heron Painting

Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….

The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up,  I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.

In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..

….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in  places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008/12
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

What is astrology? And – never say ‘never’!

Some years ago I closed down my astrology practice. I shredded all my case files and notes, chucked out all my leaflets, packed 18 years’ teaching notes into a large box and sent them off to an Eastern European astrology group who were looking for English language teaching notes. To my not inconsiderable surprise, I have found myself in recent months gradually feeling drawn back to practice as an astrologer after a very long sabbatical. “Never say never” strikes again! 

To this end I have been busy re-contextualising myself professionally: re-reading my favourite astrology books (which I had the sense NOT to give to Oxfam! ); organising supervision with a highly experienced and trained psychodynamic therapist who is also an astrologer; arranging membership of professional bodies,  and insurance; compiling refer-on practitioners’ lists for clients needing more support than a one-off horoscope reading can provide; learning to record on MP3 files using recording software instead of the old battered hand tape machine I used to use; setting up different payment arrangements now that cheques are no longer guaranteed – 

and in my view the most important thing of all, ie composing a leaflet which tells prospective clients what astrology is, what the limitations of ‘Sun Sign’ astrology are, what a horoscope is, what an astrology reading can offer, and what my approach is, as well as clear statements of fees, times, and the all-important disclaimer now advisable in these litigious times. It is very enjoyable and quite demanding, doing all this. 

I started off with writing the section of the leaflet which sets a background context. It is far too long for a leaflet and will need to be considerably shortened. So I thought I’d publish it as a blog post. Any feedback welcome – but anything rude or offensive will get binned!

What is Astrology?

“Six thousand years ago, when the human mind  was still half asleep, Chaldean priests were standing on their watchtowers, scanning the stars.”

 (Arthur Koestler from The Sleepwalkers)

This wonderful universe

This wonderful universe

The story of humanity is one of an unending attempt to create some recognisable order from the chaos of our earliest origins. In order to survive and evolve as a species, we have  created contexts for ourselves over many millennia from our interpretations of the world around us. Modern science has shown us that we are part of an interconnected universe of mind-boggling complexity, in its minutest essence a vast energy field, ever moving and changing to the shifting dance of waves and particles – chaos and order forever interweaving, forever returning to and arising from the Quantum Vacuum, or in Buddhist terminology the Void, or in Western spiritual terminology, the Ground of our being.

The vivid quotation from the philosopher Arthur Koestler illustrates the origins of the ancient art and science of astrology – literally ‘the study of the stars’, whose basic precept “as above, so below” demonstrates that our modern understanding that we live in an interconnected cosmos is not a new idea at all. It has been around ever since we fragile humans, vulnerable to the vagaries of a tempestuous earth with its storms, earthquakes and floods, began to evolve a context of meaning by plotting with increasing sophistication as time went on, the movements of the heavenly bodies in the starry skies above us.

From observing the regular patterns and cycles followed by those heavenly bodies, and recording with care what links there seemed to be between such movements and the ebbs and flows of human life, the early astrologer/priests began to be able to determine (with varying degrees of accuracy – prediction in any field of endeavour has never to this day become an exact science!) the fate of the king and the nation according to the movements of the planets. Personal horoscopes plotting the patterns of individual life were unheard of until the first century or so AD.

Modern-day astrology is very different from the fate-ridden pronouncements of the past. The twentieth century saw big shifts in our understanding of science, history and culture which moved us from the Modernist era of  ‘grand narratives’  describing with confidence and conviction the way we are as humans, to an altogether less certain set of perceptions.

Just as modern science has shown us that there can be no absolute objectivity since the presence of the observer can be shown to influence the outcome of the experiment, so we now live in a Postmodern era where we understand that we are embedded in the unfolding action of the plot of life on Earth. Thus we shape our ‘reality’ even as we are living it – and indeed recognise that there are probably many ‘realities’. Absolute truth is not what it once was!

Astrology, too, has moved with the times although there are still many reputable and respected practitioners who stick closely to traditional methods of interpretation and prediction rooted in antiquity. Knowledge of astrology doesn’t result in harmonious agreement – even if it is to differ! – amongst astrologers. Far from it. In that respect, we are just as riven with conflicts and disagreements as any other human group.

Modern psychology, rooted in the great insights of Freud and then Jung who was basically a mystic, more eclectic and open minded in his knowledge base than Freud, has had considerable impact on how astrology is now taught and practised.

In antiquity, the planets were seen as gods whose interaction with and action upon humans’ lives determined their fate. Jung’s great contribution to the modernising of astrology in the 20th century was his formulation – from the study of universal myth – of the concept of the collective unconscious, an updating of the ancient idea of the World Soul. This collective unconscious comprises a group of energy patterns or archetypes, an idea taken from the Greek philosopher Plato, which are present in all cultures across the world and which shape every aspect of human behaviour.

Jung’s view was taken up by the first of the great psychological astrologers Dane Rudhyar in the middle decades of the twentieth century, and further developed by other astrologers, most notably well-known Jungian analyst, astrologer and author Liz Greene whose fusion of mythology, Jungian psychology and astrology further shaped the model known as Psychological Astrology which has become very influential in the thinking of many contemporary astrologers, myself included.

To be continued….

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1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

Second Saturn Return and beyond: The Cycles of Saturn part 4

To read Parts 1,2 and 3 of “The Cycles of Saturn: forging the “Diamond Soul” click HERE

Second Saturn Return: Ages 58-59

By the second Saturn return, we can see what our lives have become — and we can see what it is too late to change. This is one of the most fundamental differences in perspective between the second and the first return. At age 30 we have probably still to sow the most productive seeds of our lives — what we have already sown is still only germinating. But by the approach of 60, we are reaping the harvest and are confronted with the stark Biblical words, “As you sow, so shall you reap.”

Saturn is the planet of strict justice. Blind, stubborn, arrogant, or fearful refusal to face certain basic realities in life, as the second cycle unfolds, skews the life path further and further away from who we could become – were we able to acknowledge and accept who we actually are rather than try to be who we are not. This can bring increasing pain, dissatisfaction, emptiness, and depression as the second Saturn return approaches.

Facing the Final Cycle of Saturn: 60 +

Franz Hals: an image of serene later life

Franz Hals: an image of serene later life

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frans_Hals

At one end of the spectrum are those who arrive at this stage feeling that their time on this Earth has not been wasted. They have very few regrets and are prepared to face the final cycle of life with equanimity, perhaps rooted in great spiritual depth. These people usually retain a zest for life and its remaining possibilities.

At the other end are those who have sown meanly, poorly, or fearfully, and are reaping a harvest of regret, bitterness, loneliness, physical ill health, and fear of the waning of physical power and attractiveness in the inevitable decline toward death.

Most of us will arrive somewhere in the middle range: satisfied with some aspects of our achievement and disappointed by our areas of failure — or those things that fate appears to have denied us without our having had much option for negotiation.

I see the main challenges of this stage as follows:

* first, to value what we HAVE been able to do

*second, to come to terms with and accept those failures or disappointments that it is now too late to change

* third, to find, within the limitations and constraints imposed by our state of mind, body, spirit, and bank balance, some further goals that are realistically achievable, which bring a sense of meaning and enjoyment to whatever time we have left.

Recommended book: 

Saturn A New Look at an Old Devil

  Saturn: A New Look At An Old Devil
by Liz Greene
.

  Info/Order book.

( NOTE: The full text of this article was first published in the UK’s ‘Astrological Journal’ (Nov/Dec 1996), and subsequently in ‘www.innerself.com’ and ‘The Mountain Astrologer’ (Feb/Mar 1998)

It was recently included in  The Mountain Astrologer’s “Editor’s Choice” : 43 previously out-of-print articles from TMA in the 1990s, available on CD from the autumn of 2010.“The Mountain Astrologer” is recognised as the world’s leading astrology magazine.)

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500 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2012
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page


Granddad the Bold: Swimming in a secret sea (ii)

During 2006-8, in the final stages of my recovery from a long bout of  burnout and retreat, I wrote a short memoir recording some of the early influences – via significant people and experiences up until the age of thirty – which had been important in determining the direction of my particular spiritual quest. I’d like now to share some of those episodes, which might very well trigger my readers’ own reflections on the early influences shaping their spiritual lives. If they do, it would be great to hear from you either via comments or email!

(i)

Grandpa Donald

It was a very stormy day, as is frequently the case in the Outer Hebrides in winter. The ferry was tossing alarmingly, the passengers were very scared. Some were lying being sick in the toilets. Others, white faced, were on the cafeteria floor, clinging to the table legs for comfort and support.

Grandpa Donald’s nerves were steady. Despite being over seventy, he was  dapper, and had never lost the sea legs he developed sailing between South America and his native island before the First World War. He made his way with a calculated stagger into the cafeteria full of screaming children and whimpering adults, serenely advancing to the serving area. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a cup of tea?”

He was on his way to South Uist to do a spot of lay preaching, and saw no reason why a force nine gale should come between him and his afternoon cuppa.

Donald died when I was eleven and he was eighty three. Typical of the man, chasing hens up the street was the last thing he did before taking his leave of this world, serene in his faith that he would be re-united with his departed loved ones in the Life to Come.

He used to babysit for me. I have no memory of those occasions, but according to my mother he used to say, every time my parents returned home, “My goodness, that child. What questions she asks, what questions!”. About the stars, and God, and where we all came from, and what life was for, apparently.

I do remember his serenity and good humour, and his kindness. I adored him and was devastated when he died. Donald had always made me feel safe, secure and valued. No one else in my childhood years had done this for me in quite the same way, as I struggled to grow up and get away from my parents. They loved me, but were too damaged in themselves and their unhappy relationship to support me in the ways that I needed.


After Donald died, I asked questions only of myself and my books.

Night Sea Journey

Night Sea Journey

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The next episode will be

(ii)

Seeking

Where does the longing come from?

Early memories may carry clues – tucked up in bed, cosy and warm, safe and sound, I would listen to the winter North wind tearing the world apart. This could go on night after night after night. Other nights were clear – cold and still. I would stand on the concrete garden path, gazing at the luminous  sky above the roofs of the houses at the top of Anderson Hill, awestruck with delight at the blaze of radiance dancing in the heavens. The Northern Lights, heavenly dancers….

to be continued

(note: inspiration for the title of this series of posts was taken from a book which I read a very long time ago but whose haunting title I have never forgotten: “Swimmer in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle)

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600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2010
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Briefly – points to ponder: Jude Cowell on astrology – is it a belief system?

September’s Guest on Writing from the Twelfth House is that prestigious and prolific blogger from Georgia, USA  – Jude Cowell - and very popular she has proved to be with her Mercury article  ‘Unruly Tricksters of the Twelfth House’! Jude is an accomplished encapsulator : great at pithy summings-up. Here she is on that very old chestnut: is astrology a belief system, or is it not? Over to you, Jude….

Recently  USA’s Late Late Show host, the Scot Craig Ferguson….” stated on air that he doesn’t believe in Astrology. Or that he doesn’t use it, or something like that (it was a while ago, and late – very late.)

….Now this is where I point out that Astrology is not a belief system so it’s impossible to ‘believe in’ it. One may believe it works or is a useful tool or language with which to understand the world and our own psyches, but a faith-based system it is not.

Craig ’s natal chart is quite interesting – and I assert that his self-revealed visits to a therapist would go even better through the use of Psychological Astrology, if the option is available to him.

After all, no less than Carl Jung used Astrology for diagnosing his patients, you know. Of course, it’s impossible to get an appointment with him these days….”

To see the full post, check out Jude’s Threshold September 6 2009


200 words copyright Jude Cowell/Anne Whitaker 2009

“…. the miracle of the living soul ….”

All my life’s work has been with people: as an adult education teacher in many settings, as a psychiatric social worker, as a private counsellor, trainer and supervisor of counsellors – and as a professional astrologer and astrology teacher. At the core of this apparent vocational diversity has been, I now understand, the same drive. It is that urge to find meaningful contexts for my own tiny, ephemeral spark of life, whilst offering some affirmation to others that their tiny flame matters too: it is worth struggling to get our light to burn with a purer and brighter radiance.

Something ineffable and charged can on occasions arise in deep communication between one person and another – those in the helping professions and their clients are by no means the sole partakers of this context. There is a moment in which the feeling of safety, intimacy, trust, empathy and openness of exchange becomes so intense that the level on which two people are interacting shifts from ‘ordinary’ to numinous.

The Diamond Soul

The Diamond Soul

In that moment, (to my subjective recollection) both souls are held, in a state of grace, in the palm of some vast invisible benevolent Hand. Both sparks of life are suspended in a sense of the sacred….

Such a state can never be evoked. It can only be bestowed – fleeting, memorable, perhaps life changing.

Coming across the following quotes recently thus struck a profound chord:

first, from Jung –

“ That is why I say to any beginner: learn your theories as well as you can, but put them aside when you touch the miracle of the living soul. Not theories but your creative individuality alone must decide.”

Carl Jung from “Contributions to Analytical Psychology” quoted in Self and Society Vol 27 No 1 March 1999, p 22.

second, from ‘Gilead’ by Marilynne Robinson, p 51 –

“ When people come to speak to me, whatever they say, I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the ‘I’ whose predicate can be ‘love’ or ‘fear’ or ‘want’, and whose object can be ‘someone’ or ‘nothing’ and it won’t really matter, because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else …. To see this aspect of life is a privilege of the ministry which is seldom mentioned.”

(‘Gilead’, winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, is a wonderful novel in which, towards the end of Rev John Ames’ life in 1956, he begins a letter to his young son, setting down all that he wishes to communicate which impending death will otherwise render impossible.)

I urge you to read it for its humanity and its wisdom.

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450 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2009

Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

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Holy Dharma with Heron

I love herons. Their elegance: long, lean, streamlined curves over water, poised, waiting. Their focus: totally in the moment, poised, waiting….to strike sharp and swift. I love their languid flight: long wings lazily beating, slow concentrated strength and grace.

We live in Glasgow, Scotland – UK city with the most green space. Our flat overlooks the river Kelvin which flows through the West End’s Botanic Gardens. On the riverbank, throughout the Gardens, all kinds of wildlife abound: amongst the over-fed pigeons and importunate grey squirrels the occasional kingfisher, an otter once seen on Boxing Day, sometimes a cormorant or two – and several herons taking up favourite positions along the river bank. The fish ladder by the weir is a choice spot of theirs. Another pitch is partly concealed by vegetation, right below the Humpbacked Bridge leading to steep steps rising to the upper, more cultivated part of the Botanic Gardens.

Most days, I take a well-travelled route down from our house – crossing the Humpbacked Bridge, up the steps, through the Botanics past the newly-refurbished Kibble Palace. This splendid circular, domed Victorian glass house hosts fine sculptures, elegant glass panels, a well-stocked pond – with some very old fishy friends adept at dodging the coins and wishes raining down on them on a regular basis – and a wonderfully displayed selection of plants and flowers from many parts of the world. It is a local jewel.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

 

Strolling around those familiar, well-loved landmarks, I always enjoy occasional sightings of the heron. We can never decide how many herons there are of the same age and appearance. Maybe we are seeing the same one, over and over? Conversations like this weave together a very disparate, loose group of park regulars of all ages with a variety of views and opinions about the Botanic Gardens’ wild creatures. But the heron is a favourite; we always report sightings to one another.

We are inured to plentiful rain and bad weather as the default position for our local climate; stepping out into a pleasant, crisp, sunny morning  is therefore an immediate delight, especially with the Botanics in full autumn colours, carpets of leaves everywhere – if you get out early enough, before the park attendants with their noisy leaf-blowing machines get going!

Whilst appreciating this beautiful autumnal morning, my head was also full of the usual thought traffic as I contemplated the day ahead. The Buddhists speak the truth: we are only ever partly here. In each waking moment of our short, precious lives, we are usually distracted by something or other from being fully present. Thus we rarely savour fully the Holy Dharma of this very moment which will never come again.

Suddenly, my attention was totally focused on a sight I had never seen before. The heron was perched in full view, half way along the left-hand side of the Humpbacked Bridge!

I  stopped dead. Most unusually at half past nine on a weekday morning, there was no-one in sight.  “Should I stay watching right here, or try to creep closer?” I wondered, full of excitement and apprehension. Deciding on the latter option, I tiptoed very very slowly onto the eight-foot wide bridge, veering to the right in order to edge along the opposite side of the bridge to the heron.

The wild creature seemed absorbed in his own surveillance operation, long elegant neck moving slowly from side to side, eyes glinting in the morning light reflected off the quietly flowing river. Whether he had spotted me or not, he was paying me no attention. Barely able to believe my luck, I inched along  extremely quietly until – to my great amazement – I was level. We were only a bridge width apart. Never in my life before had I been so close to such a large wild bird.

The morning was still. The heron, briefly, was still. I was still. The Holy Dharma moved with the air currents across the bridge, the heron and me. All was One.

Japanese Heron Painting

Japanese Heron Painting

Hours might have passed. It was probably less than a minute. I caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of my left eye. A slender young man dressed all in black, carrying a rucksack, i-pods in his ears, was rapidly approaching the bridge. Stealthily, I crept forward a couple of feet, heading off the bridge toward the steps, still hugging the side opposite the heron. He still didn’t budge. For a fleeting moment I thought “Anne, that wild creature is tuned to you. He can feel your goodwill….” Then the rationalist dismissed such a thought. Still….

The young man was about to step through the gate onto the bridge. I held my finger to my lips, indicating silence; with my other hand palm up,  I signalled to stop, waving him over to my side of the bridge – hoping this unknown young man might share a rare experience. But he ignored me. As he marched past us the heron took off, winging his lazy languid way downriver. Waving goodbye, I stood for a moment – partly watching the heron, partly watching the young man’s back as he tramped up the stairs.

In that moment I truly felt the force of life’s duality: on the one hand, such gratitude and joy that the heron and I had shared a pure, holy moment of Oneness. On the other, deep sadness that the young man, shut in with his technology, had missed it. Carl Jung’s comment, which comes to me often, came to me then: “Our task in this life is to reconcile the opposites”…..

….and a ps to this story….a couple of weeks later, I was strolling home through the Botanics by the river Kelvin on my way home, having spent the afternoon at my office writing the first draft of this article which was in my bag.There on the riverbank, in  places where I had never seen them before, were – to my amazement and delight – two herons….

1000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

An astrologer at work: Part Two

(This is an edited version of a longer interview, published in Connections magazine,
Scotland, UK  in February 1996. It appears on the website in three parts – click An astrologer at work: Part One to read the first part.)

extract from Part One….” The purpose of the “Not the Astrology Column” theme on this website is to introduce open-minded readers to the in-depth astrology which lies behind the entertainment facade offered by the Sun Sign columns. We are living in a time where awareness of the ‘interconnectedness of all things’ is fast returning to the forefront of public consciousness across the world. The evidence is piling up increasingly starkly: what happens in one part of our biosphere impacts everywhere.

The ancient maxim ‘As above, so below‘ has thus never seemed more relevant. The art and practice of astrology has been based on that maxim for at least six thousand years. Astrology links what happens in the individual and collective lives of human beings to the movement of the planets through the solar system of which we are part….”

Now read on!

The Principles and Practice of Astrology

“Connections” Editor Ian Holland interviews Anne Whitaker

Part Two:

IH: A series of interviews were  done with members of the public who came to our last Alternative Health exhibition, asking them their views on New Age matters, and whether they had any negative comments. The main criticism was of the relentlessly positive way of putting things which new age practitioners tended to adopt. Telling someone who has been through absolute tragedy that this is perhaps something that was meant to happen, and presented an opportunity to grow….I feel that attitude shows great insensitivity to a person devastated by brutal experience.

AW: I would entirely agree with you here. I think that life has always been a difficult process for everybody, and as far as anyone knows it will probably continue to be so. I have now had my fair share of experience of people coming to me who have had terrible trauma, and I think that it’s extremely disrespectful, insensitive and glib to tell somebody who is in pieces that this is a learning and a growing experience. I don’t think that I have the right to say that. And I certainly wouldn’t say it.

However, if they were trying to grope for some sense of meaning and understanding in order to cope better, then I would very gently and tentatively attempt to help them to do that. But it is not my job to tell people how they should receive their personal experience. And I’ve been through sufficient personal and family tragedy of my own to respect people’s struggle to come to terms with life’s brutalities in THEIR way.

IH: I was reading a book a while back on medical astrology . Can you predict physical illnesses or ailments that a person may be subject to ?

AW: I think it’s enormously important to work within my levels of  competence. If anyone ever contacts me specifically re health advice, I always refer them on to my colleague who is a recognised authority in this field. What I would do, since I consider myself absolutely no expert in medical matters, is to confine my comments to areas I feel confident enough to comment on.

You can tell for example when a person is temperamentally quite highly strung, and likely to express their nervous tension in physical ways – and advise them to take up things like meditation, or yoga, to help relax them.

Mythological Saturn/ Saturn's Symbol

Mythological Saturn/ Saturn's Symbol

The planet Saturn is particularly connected, in physical manifestations of its symbolism, to bones and skin ( what holds us up, and what holds us in! ) –  if this planet is prominently placed in the horoscope, especially close to the Rising Sign, and has tense rather than flowing links with other planets, this is a pretty clear indicator of a predisposition to skin and/or bone problems as a way of expressing held-in fear, anger or frustration. Since a progressed horoscope can provide specific timings, it is very helpful for individuals prone to such difficulties to be alerted to periods when these problems might be more likely to manifest than others. Thus they can take some kind of prophylactic action through physical and or emotional work in advance – or during the time period where their horoscope indicated them to be at risk.

It is important for astrologers to have confidence in their own competence,  otherwise they are not going to do a good job for their clients. But it’s also important for them to be honest and clear about their own limitations, especially in areas like health.

IH: Where do you think that these predispositions indicated in the Birth Chart come from ? Is it an accident of birth, or….

AW : I think we’re back here to the fate/free will question. As I said earlier, the symbolic map of our point of entry into this world powerfully suggests that we bring in certain qualities and themes, from family inheritance perhaps, to be lived out and hopefully worked with. But at the heart of the question regarding the primary origin of what we bring in, lies a great mystery. Perhaps only the Deity can answer that question….

IH : Are we into the past life issue as well ?

AW : I prefer not to comment on the past life issue – although I’m interested in it, and I’ve had some experiences which I can only usefully explain to myself in terms of reincarnation, being a pragmatist I consider that my job is to live this present life as well as I can….so if someone wants to have this kind of astrological discussion specifically rather than tangentially, I will refer them on to a practitioner who has a particular interest in that area.

IH: What about the wider social and political context ? What does astrology have to say about that ?

AW:  A great deal. On the 17  January 1995 a major planetary event occurred – the planet Pluto, which had been travelling through the 30 degrees of the sign of Scorpio since 1984, moved into 0 degrees of the sign of Sagittarius. On that day a major world event occurred – the Japanese earthquake which devastated the city of Kobe and killed thousands of people. The horoscope for the start of the earthquake is very powerful and has very strong links with Japan’s horoscope. This is just one example of a fascinating area of study  – Mundane astrology, the study of the links between planetary movements and world affairs. There are always striking planetary patterns to be found symbolically reflecting  major events in the world.

(note: see‘ Interesting Times – an astrologer’s view’ for some comments on the recent shift of Pluto from Sagittarius into Capricorn at the end of November 2008) )

IH: I notice that the Abbey National Building Society have started publishing their guide to investment –  it ‘s done tongue in cheek – but do you believe that astrology can be useful in planning investments ?

AW : I don’t think that popular sun sign astrology is useful in any specific way to any individual person or business, because it only takes one feature, the sun’s position, into account. But there’s a whole branch of astrology which looks at the charts of companies, and these charts’ links with overall market cycles. Business astrology is widely used though very few business people would admit it! There’s a very good book out called ‘Money and the Markets’ by Graham Bates and Jane Bowles which deals in detail with this topic. My husband works in the investment field and wishes I’d take up business astrology – but I’m more interested in the spiritual, psychological and educational dimensions, to his chagrin !

So astrology can be used for a range of different things.  Mundane astrology concerns national and world affairs – from the Latin mundus, meaning the world. There is business astrology, and then you have personal or natal astrology which is largely what I do; synastry which brings the charts together of eg parents and children, friends, lovers, business partners; and  horary astrology  which asks a question at a particular moment in time like ‘should I marry Fred ?’ and from the chart cast for the time of asking, a series of complex rules of interpretation are followed which come up with an answer.

There is medical astrology which we’ve touched on, and then there is electional where you choose a favourable moment for launching an organisation or a ship, getting married, etc. If you wanted to launch another magazine, Ian, you could get me to do a chart for you to select a good time. Inceptional astrology looks at the chart to determine conditions in force at the outset of a venture– eg for the launching of the Titanic – so that we can all be wise by hindsight !

IH: There was an amazing story on television recently concerning a young woman who had been adopted and wanted to find her birth mother. Apparently her letter of enquiry to the adoption agency arrived on the same day as a letter from her birth mother wanting to trace her! Is that an example of the heavens at work ?

AW: I suppose that’s an example of what Carl Jung called synchronicity – where things occur in the same moment in time and are thereby held together in significant interrelationship. To a member of the public the story you have just related looks like a fascinating co-incidence. To an astrologer, if you were able to look at both the girl’s chart, the mother’s, and the chart of the day of overlap, you should certainly be able to see in symbolic terms a powerful inter-relationship between the individuals and the overlapping day – and perhaps some clues regarding the nature of the significant event. But I doubt very much whether you could describe the exact event.

Part Three follows shortly

1600 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page