Monthly Archives: November 2008

Writers !! Are you now, or have you ever been….distracted?

I can see you.

The spray can of heavy duty industrial oven cleaner parked on the kitchen floor is a dead give away. Peel off those rubber gloves, stop pretending that your family will drop dead of food poisoning tonight if you don’t clean those charred meal residues insulating the inside of the oven right away. Follow me. Yes, just as I thought. The study door is ajar. I can see the laptop screen from here. Closer….yes, that’s it. Don’t die of embarrassment, it won’t help. A new document  is open on screen. A title?

 

(NB – provisional ) Of authorship and toads….

" Of authorship and toads...."

And ?  I suspected this. One paragraph indentation, and the word  “The”…...can that really be all ? Oh. There’s a new line.

“ F— this, I might as well be cleaning the oven!!!!”

I have two words to say to you. Pay attention, they really will help, I promise:

Natalie Goldberg.

A few months ago, I visited Glasgow Buddhist Centre in search of a meditation stool. Yes, you’ve guessed, I had an article which had to be in the post by 5pm. I was distracted from the article by the stool, then distracted from the stool by Natalie Goldberg. Her book “ Wild Mind : Living the Writer’s Life” drew me like a lure. What a wonderful writer! What an inspiring book! Did the article get to the postbox? I’m not telling you.

Natalie Goldberg is an American writer  and creative writing teacher. She is sharp, witty, compassionate, lateral….and tough. She has bottom lines and is not afraid to state them. She has rules. My guess is, if you follow these rules on a regular basis, you’ll rarely be distracted by oven cleaning or any other form of housework ever again.

She is fanatical about writing practice. “ If you learn writing practice well, it is a good foundation for all other writing.” We need to do it as regularly as possible, she says.

“ When you sit down to write, whether it’s for ten minutes or an hour, once you begin, don’t stop. If an atom bomb drops at your feet eight minutes after you have begun and you were going to write for ten minutes, don’t budge. You’ll go out writing.”

In essence, writing practice is a technique for cracking open the confining grip of our conscious, rational mind – and flying free into the big blue sky of what Goldberg calls “ wild mind”.

Here, briefly, are Natalie’s rules:

(She also thinks they mostly work for hang gliding, tennis and sex.)

1. Keep your hand moving. If you stop your hand, you stop the creator’s flow and give the editor in you an opportunity to interrupt.

2. Lose control. Just say what you want no matter how inappropriate. Just go for it.

3. Be specific. Don’t write flower, write narcissus.

4. Don’t think. Stay with the first thing that flashes into your mind.

5. Don’t worry about punctuation, spelling, grammar.

6. You are free to write the worst junk in America ( or in your case, could be anywhere in the world ! )

7. Go for the jugular. Whatever comes up, no matter how frightening or disturbing, write it down.

There you are. Begin writing practice today. Next step, buy Goldberg’s books on the writers’ craft. They are a wonderful investment. I’m doing well with my writing practice, by the way. I’ve bought two new notebooks. Still can’t decide which one to start….

(slightly edited – first published in the Women Writers’ Network Newsletter June 2004)

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

An astrologer at work : 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. As contemporary astrologer and philosopher Richard Tarnas so eloquently puts it in “Prometheus the Awakener” (Auriel Press Oxford, 1993, page eight) :

“It is astrology’s extraordinary insight that these complex, multidimensional archetypes which govern the forms of human experience are intelligibly connected with the planets and their movements in the heavens, an association that is observable in a constant coincidence between specific planetary alignments and specific corresponding archetypal phenomena in human affairs.”

Within this current context I decided to re-publish The Principles and Practice of Astrology, which originally appeared in Connections Magazine, Scotland, UK in February 1996, as an interview between its editor, Ian Holland, and myself. Its account of an astrologer at work will, I hope, provide interested readers – astrologers and non-astrologers alike – with something of the flavour of professional, in depth astrological practice. Having a competent astrological reading done is a very useful way of gaining insights into one’s character and motivations – as I found out myself many years ago, when I certainly wasn’t looking for help from that quarter! Now read on….

 

IH :  How did you  get into astrology  ?

AW: I was very dismissive of astrology in my earlier years, wrongly believing like most people that the stuff in the Sun Columns was all there was to it. But in the mid 1970s I was in a launderette in Bath in England, where I became friends with a little girl – it turned out that her parents were astrologers. They invited me back for a cup of tea, and drew up a Birth Chart on a piece of paper which I still have. They did various ooings and aaings over it, then produced a description of the inner  workings and outer manifestations of my life  which stunned me with its accuracy.

My First Horoscope

My First Horoscope

“ You  may be dismissive now,” they said.  “But in your early thirties there’s going to be something arising in you which longs to connect with a more spiritual and a more esoteric dimension of life – you might very well end up doing astrology yourself.” I regarded this as nonsense, thinking I was a Marxist then. It’s only now in middle age that I realise how much I was at that time denying my own spirituality, my own need for relationship with the symbolic world. Then in my early thirties someone gave me a present of an astrology book. I was compelled by it, found out about the Faculty of Astrological Studies and did their Certificate Correspondence course. By that point I knew that astrology was a subject I wanted to pursue probably for the rest of my life.

But I think that it’s important for people who work in esoteric fields to have a strongly rational side, a sceptical side. One of the things I say to my students right from the beginning is, “look – I wear the sceptic on my left shoulder, where it will remain till the day I die.” I have a great respect for the rational dimensions of life. But also a great respect for the symbolic, intuitive, spiritual, non-rational dimensions. I think the point is to bring both those dimensions together  in mutual respect and equal balance.

IH :  When someone comes to you for an astrological chart reading, what can they expect to get from it?

AW: It’s important to mention here that popular astrology as found in the media can only give a very general picture of one dimension of the person. It’s simply NOT possible for popular astrology to describe in any detail  who you are, since it focuses only on where the Sun is (ie in Pisces, Aries, Virgo etc) on your birthday. It’s like trying to tell the story of a complex play with reference to only one character on the stage.

You  can only get a view of all the characters on the stage of a client’s life from the map which you draw of the heavens at the particular TIME and PLACE, as well as DAY, of their birth.

You then use this map or Horoscope or Birth Chart as a tool to mirror back to the individual, as lucidly as you can, with as much care as you can for their sensitivity and for their level of awareness, what the different characters are on the stage of their life and how they interact with one another.

After many years of doing this professionally, I think the central thing that an individual gains from a Birth Chart reading is confirmation of who they actually are: what their  strengths and weaknesses are, what their gifts and their difficulties are. It gives them more confidence and courage to be themselves. It is a very powerful and potentially spiritual experience to have a stranger, who knows nothing of you, describe your essential qualities accurately from a map drawn of the heavens.

The other great gift that astrology can offer is that of saying: this is your moment in time, through which you are connected to a process which was unfolding aeons before you were born, and will continue long after you have departed; you are a strand in the weave of life, you have a contribution to make, using the energy that you have been given as fully and as creatively as possible.

IH : In the late 20th century we’d like to believe that  we come into this world a tabula rasa, a clean slate – and yet I have known people who have gone for Readings, eg women who have been told that they may have a series of abusive relationships with men – and this has been the case. I’m just wondering to what extent astrology can put its finger on difficulties that are in the chart ?

AW : Well, I think that it can to quite a high degree, but the astrologer has a responsibility to be very careful. With experience you get to associate certain patterns which fit inner qualities of personality and outer life events …but branches of expression of the inner core in outer life vary from person to person. This is one of the reasons why astrology drives scientifically oriented people crazy ! You cannot always generalise from specific instances. Let’s put me on the line here – I have looked at horoscopes of both men and women which have made me strongly suspect that childhood sexual abuse could be a branch arising from the  particular core pattern I am looking at – but I would never say that initially to the person.

I would  outline issues of power and control revealed by their horoscope with which it appeared they would have to deal as their life unfolded; point out that the outer world might first present them with those issues via difficulties involving dominance and control in early life with important figures. I would thus give the person the opportunity to disclose or not to disclose what had specifically happened to them.

They might ask whether that pattern could suggest sexual abuse. Then I would say yes, but it could also refer to emotional abuse, eg a parent who never laid a hand on you but found ways of intimidating or humiliating you. Then I would go on to explore the whole issue of power and control, tracking how issues arising in childhood were now manifesting in the client’s adult life. My aim would be to help the client see that there was a connection between their relationship ( perhaps largely unconscious) to issues of power and control as revealed by their horoscope, and the kinds of experiences which seemed to come their way.

I’m sure you can appreciate that this is very sensitive work, and needs to be handled with great care if the client is to be empowered by your attempts at clarification of their life pattern. And I might suggest if it seemed appropriate, that the client takes this work further and recommend a reputable counsellor/therapist with whom they might work.

IH : What do you think your job as an astrologer is ?

AW: My  job as an astrologer is not to show how clever I am – but to help other people understand themselves more clearly. I don’t know what the balance is between fate and free will any more than any one else does. But the Birth Chart suggests strongly that we come into this world, not as tabulae rasae, but with certain characters on the stage poised to live out a complex drama as the process of our life unfolds from birth to death.  What astrologers can’t do is describe the whole range of possibilities of expression  which arise from each core character on the stage.

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

Astrologer at Work - Mediaeval Style!

There appears to be a dynamic relationship between what you have been given through family physical and psychological inheritance ( the Old Norse word for fate also means genitals!), location, social status, and your own choices  in what you do with what has been given. I think that effective astrologers in consultation are poised on the interface between fate and free will – on the one hand helping clients to confirm who they are, which they probably already know, if they are honest with themselves; but on the other hand helping them to see, and to broaden, the range of possible  expression of the energies they have been born with. My job is to send folk  out of my consulting room feeling more able to operate constructively and honestly in their world than when they came in.

The astrologer’s ego should have a minimum influence on the process. It’s impossible to keep ego completely out of it. It’s impossible to be completely objective, to avoid making mistakes; but what the person takes away should be as much theirs, and as little the astrologers, as is possible.

IH : I know that Carl Jung used to get patient’s birth charts done in advance of their visit to him – do you think all counsellors should do that ?

AW: ( (laughs) You’re asking me some very searching questions, Ian. I appreciate them though! I have an advantage in answering this. I work as an astrologer, but I also work as a counsellor. I keep the two activities separate. I work with what my counselling clients bring to me, and we gradually discover and unfold things, until that person is happy to go away with what it is they have discovered through the work we’ve done.

If a counselling client is  interested in the spiritual and symbolic levels of life, this usually comes out at some point in the counselling process……if I feel that person would be helped by, or open to an astrology reading, then I’ll  suggest it. I recommend from the very small group of astrologers in this area who have qualifications from the Faculty of Astrological Studies, as I do, and operate within the Faculty’s code of ethics and practice. The client can then bring back, if they wish, some of the clarification gained from their reading, and if appropriate we will work with that. So yes, I think astrology can complement the therapeutic process in some instances.

IH :  Could you  say more about how you work, and where you see the counselling dimension fitting in ?

AW : About half my  astrological work is with new clients, and half with people who return. Both counsellors and astrologers need good counselling skills, the counsellor using those skills in the therapeutic process over time with their clients; the astrologer certainly needs good counselling skills in the here and now, even if they never see that person again…. particularly if they never see that person again ! I don’t do ongoing weekly or monthly work with my astrology clients. We have an initial reading – then if the person wishes to take it further, I encourage them to go away and think about it, listen to the tape, and call me if they wish to explore some of the themes in more detail. Or the client may make a return appointment at the time of the initial reading.

So I sometimes do two, three or four sessions, spread over a period of months, with one person. I have a male client in his forties who refuses to go into counselling, preferring to come to me for some astrological work twice a year, identifying areas he can work with from one six month visit to another. He has found this way of working very helpful for him.

If it is evident at an initial reading that the client wants and needs to do some follow-up work on areas of pain or concern, I usually recommend them on – sometimes to counsellors, other times to an acupuncture therapist, a massage therapist, or specialists in homeopathy, herbalism, naturopathy, etc. It is important for astrologers to have a good referral system of reputable colleagues. I will do some follow-up work with astrology clients as already described – but if there seems to be a long-term therapeutic journey indicated, I prefer to refer them on.

IH : What are your reasons for doing that ?

AW:  One of the many things that astrology has taught me is respect for process. Any process has its own timing; it likes not to be hurried, pushed, or interfered with. Having an astrology reading done is such a radical and powerful thing that it takes some time to digest the implications of what’s been said and to incorporate some of it into one’s life. Having repeated astrological work  done – this is MY view and I’m not speaking for anyone but myself – can perhaps be too much, can overload the client…..and perhaps push the process on too fast. This is why I prefer people to go and work with other therapists.

Maybe once a year  or couple of years they can come to me, to take stock of where they are from a symbolic perspective. Also if they wish, to look at how the unfolding energy patterns of the coming year link with their particular Horoscope, so that they can gain some idea of what the main themes are for further work. It must be very evident from all I’ve said to date that I’m only interested in working with folk who are prepared to take responsibility for themselves. Astrology appropriately used  should enhance the sense of personal responsibility – not take it away and hang it on the planets, or even worse, on the astrologer !

I think it’s important for people not to become too dependent on a symbolic context – astrology and astrologers like relationships, drugs, sex, alcohol or the national lottery can become highly addictive. So I think it is important as an astrologer to support the other person’s courage to lead their own life, using their own judgement, with minimum help from outside sources. If any of  my clients consulted me to discuss when they should  get a haircut, or  whether to take their holiday in August or January, then my response would be to take myself immediately into therapy to examine why I was producing such a high level of dependency. The great symbolic arts, eg astrology, tarot, palmistry , I Ching, should in my opinion should be consulted with great respect, and with  considerable restraint.

Part Two follows shortly

2700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2008
Licensed under Creative Commons – for conditions see Home Page

 

Favourite Quotes: On Faith

Faith is not about belief in something irrational or about a blind connection to something unreal. It’s about a gathering, an accumulation of events and experiences of a different order. These experiences are gradually convincing enough, or you have paid them so much attention, they reach critical mass. The famous ‘leap’ comes at the beginning, when there is not enough experience to justify the effort. Even then, something begins faith – a memory of a reality or of an experience that doesn’t quite fit with everything else, the longing a soul has to find its shape in the world.”

by Nora Gallagher

from “Things seen and unseen A year lived in faith” pp78-79

whilst creating a link for this quote, I came across a beautiful site – explorefaith.org – which offers “spiritual guidance for anyone seeking a path to God “. Check it out !

Brief Book Review: “The Spiral Staircase” by Karen Armstrong

What a wonderfully well-written and stimulating read! “The Spiral Staircase” charts Karen Armstrong’s slow process of emerging from an alienating experience of nun-hood, with her human ability to relate damaged, and without a sense of connection with God as depicted by conventional Christianity.

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

This is a brave book: it is very honest, humorous, and inspiring. Armstrong also  provides a tough and unsparing critique of the structures of formal religion and conventional psychiatry. I particularly enjoyed her portrayal of an outsider, gradually finding her unique place in the secular world – in a career talking and writing about God….

We all struggle to a greater or lesser extent with the twin challenges of self-acceptance and finding our place. In concluding “The Spiral Staircase” , Karen Armstrong has this to say on those crucial topics:

“My life has kept changing, but at the same time I have found myself revolving round and round the same themes, the same issues, and even repeating the same mistakes. I tried to break away from the convent but I still live alone, spend my days in silence, and am almost wholly occupied in writing, thinking, and speaking about God and spirituality. I have come full circle. This reminds me of the staircase in (T.S.) Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, which I picture as a narrow spiral staircase. I tried to get off it and join others on what seemed to me to be a broad, noble flight of steps, thronged with people. But I kept falling off, and when I went back to my own twisting stairwell I found a fulfilment that I had not expected. Now I have to mount my staircase alone. And as I go up, step by step, I am turning, again, round and round, apparently covering little ground, but climbing upwards, I hope, towards the light.” (pp 341-2)

I derived great comfort, support and encouragement from this book – do read it!