Image: The author, about 55 minutes into a demanding test on a hot night in September
I have been thinking for some time about how I use astrology, and how I counsel others with it. And the thing I keep coming back to is an important feature of aikido training. Traditional aikido training happens with little to no climate control. If it’s 97 degrees and humid, you put on your twelve or so pounds of heavy cotton clothing and you train in an unairconditioned room with a bunch of other sweaty, hot mammals. If it’s the dead of winter, you put on your gi in a chilly dressing room and eagerly await the bell that starts class so you can get moving. It’s helpful to train this way because the conditions of life are as inconstant as the weather. One day, you might meet the world with a huge smile on your face and notice all of the magnolia blossoms as you enjoy a delightful walk to work, school, or your next errand. Another day, you wake up late, after sleeping poorly. Perhaps the day is cold and gray, and you do not like your first destination so you’re grumpy about getting there. By doing the same training through all this inconstancy, aikido practitioners build an inner constancy–an ability to be less trampled by the lame, difficult day, and remain grounded and focused on the lovely day. This inner constancy became a real blessing during the pandemic, when my dojo effectively moved outside. We trained in snow, rain, hail, with frigid fingers and toes, soaking wet masks plastered to our faces, or baking in the summer sun with bits of dirty astroturf stuck to the sunscreen on our arms and faces.
What I am looking for as a consulting astrologer is opportunities to help clients build exactly that kind of inner constancy. And I am using strategies that are similar to the strategies I use to train when it is hot or cold. Not all consulting astrologers are going to have this approach! Many are going to identify areas that could use remediation, and will prescribe things like mantras or materia that magically shore up what isn’t working. Some engage in narrative work that allows you to decide how you are framing what is coming at you–what kinds of life stories you are making. Others are grounding their counseling in psychology, or psychic mediumship. Others feel that their role is simply to give you a forecast, and not have any sense of how you might respond best to it. I am going to help you train. I’m more interested in giving readings that identify the parts of the life that are sunny and nice, as well as the parts that are too hot and the parts that are icy cold, and then deeply and collaboratively consider how to show up fully, with a sense of inner constancy, to this full range of stuff life throws up.
Finding that inner constancy is interesting and nuanced work. During an aikido class when it’s ninety-plus degrees, very few people are going to be able to simply power through, and successfully show up exactly as they do when it’s fifty degrees. And even those who can do that will eventually find that they are exploiting a finite resource like youth, or a temporary circumstance like the ability to nap after class. I would never, therefore suggest that anybody power through a difficult patch of their lives. It’s not sustainable. But I would suggest the simple and profound act of acknowledging difficulty, and then deciding to move forward anyway. In an aikido context, there’s this incredible beauty in simply saying to yourself that it is hot as you are getting dressed. Maybe noticing the way you walked in sweaty, or are already feeling depleted from walking to class. And then you get dressed, and bow, and get on the mat anyway. For me, this was anxiety producing for a long time. I would wonder if I had consumed enough water, worry about what I had to do after class, make plans about who I would train with and how I would survive. But by continuing to do it, and not really needing those plans, and experiencing walking out of class ready for the next activity, I slowly learned that I am simply capable of doing more than I thought I was.
There’s something really wonderful about giving yourself an opportunity to rise to an occasion. I do believe that anybody can choose to meet a challenge that presents itself in their chart in a similar way. Sometimes finding that ability can come down to pointing out the strengths in a chart, asking about times when a similar situation has been encountered and how it was dealt with, and otherwise inventorying resources. But because a reading is a conversation and not a practice, it winds up being on the client to keep making that choice to do the difficult thing anyway over time. My job in a reading is to draw out the reasons it is likely okay to do so.
Another thing that builds inner constancy is appropriate preparation, and practical forms of remediation. Bringing electrolyte tabs, drinking enough water, packing the underwear that breathes, and having ingredients to make a smoothie because it’s hard to eat after exercise when it’s hot are all good ways to take care of oneself when you’re training in the heat. Similarly, hard transits benefit from preparation. Anybody who has Mars Saturn action will benefit from physical exercise. Anybody who has Uranus transiting parts of their chart that signify the body should be taking care of their nervous system. Anybody who is having big 10th house transits could take a nice long look at their resume. Anybody who does aikido who has bad knees should “remediate” by regularly doing squats and wall sits. Similarly, someone facing a difficult Mars year who struggles with their own Mars might want to decide to do a martial activity in advance, so that Mars is productively occupied. My Sun is a really important part of my chart, and it’s just a little afflicted. I have absolutely benefitted from giving myself extra practice at solar things like performing. This works exactly the same way in aikido. You do the things you hate or are bad at more, so that you can grow. I can identify these opportunities with you.
There is a difference between this kind of practical or behavioral remediation and mantras and materia, which I would call “magical remediation.” There’s a place for this stuff, and I know it works, frankly, because I have made mistakes electing times to make my own talismans, and felt those mistakes. But I do not make it part of my own practice because what I am fundamentally trying to communicate is that my client is already whole, and has got this. You will do your life and your karmic lessons–you can’t really do anything else! That is the ultimate lesson of astrology. I don’t believe that anybody has anything in their chart, or their fate, that they cannot handle. Can we choose between doing our actual, legitimate best, and muddling through in a way that our adult children will grow up and call “our best” through tears in therapy? Yeah, often I think we can. I can help clients both discern and enact that distinction. But we are all fundamentally okay, even when we muddle through.
There’s one last thing about training in all kinds of weather. You do have to modify what you are doing somewhat, sometimes. Even if you are young and have no other obligations, if you approach a day in the nineties exactly the same way you approach a day in the fifties, you might throw up or faint. But this is a very small part of aikido training, and it is a huge feature of astrological advice. In an aikido context, someone like me, who is fit, experienced, and in their early fifties should expect to tone it down about five to ten percent on a really hot day. But the goal in an aikido context is to listen deeply to what is truly going on, and meet that moment! Legitimately give it everything you can! This is what it means to train with real martial spirit. There’s something to be said about approaching life this way! But it’s easier to write likable astrological content that promotes rest, or even sitting out big transits than it is to say something like “Make sure you are in the right fight, consider how you are going to fight fairly, and then go ahead and get in that fight!” or “You are having eclipses across your home life and your career. You are probably not going to be able to rest!” One of the biggest gifts we get from astrology is a heads up that it is time for us to be fully participating. And when it is time, I will often counsel going ahead and doing that! Even when it means fucking up. Even when it means making a mess. Even if it’s scary. Life is complex and full of good and easy times. And it is also true that some of the best things that have happened to me were kinda ugly and born of mistakes. Looked like ridiculous risks. Required significant courage. That’s part of life too. Astrology can help discern when that’s happening, and when you should actually flee or wait.
Fundamentally, what I can give my clients is what has worked for me. My life works best when I show up to it, ready to give myself over to it pretty much fully, every day. It works best when each day I am just a little bit better prepared to do that. A little bit more confident that I can handle whatever comes up. A little bit more discerning about what giving oneself fully means. This is a tall order! And what astrology can do is provide confirmation that we are taking the right risks, seeing the actual problems. It can reassure us that we have the tools to deal with what comes up. And it can put us in conversation–with one another and with a wonderfully mysterious universe that gave us this awe inspiring window into ourselves and our karmic homework.