Everything Is Okay, And Not Okay, At The Same Time
A detail of Gaia, Goddess of the Earth, from the Ara Pacis Agustae, or Altar to Augustan Peace, 9 BCE
A big part of my astrology practice is, obviously, about looking ahead and helping people relate productively to future or past events. And if I’m honest, this act of looking toward the future and considering the storylines through time is an uneasy fit with the rest of my spiritual life, which is about cultivating presence right now. This is a little essay about how those two things work together better than they should. For me, maintaining both a fiery focus on this moment and a curiosity about what might happen later and how to best show up for it is a way to live with an important Buddhist principle–the constant, churning co-presence of both absolute and relative truth.
Meditation, yoga, contemplative prayer, some kinds of martial arts practice–these can all be ways to directly experience absolute truth, or the ineffable sense that this, what’s happening right now, is whole. It is enough. You’re worthy of experiencing it. All else is an illusion. Call it what you want–seeing your true nature, feeling the presence of god, having an epiphany. These indescribable moments in which the absolute truth of existence is comprehended can be something you work toward or something you’re just open to, and they are worth any effort and openness you’re willing to give. But they will never displace all the relative truths of your life, from your bills or the people who depend on you to big problems like late stage neoliberal capitalism or the way we are baking the planet. Meditation can change how you experience your family karma, but you’ll never meditate your family karma away. You’ll never do enough yoga to even make even a tiny dent in any form of structural oppression. You can live in a dojo or dedicate yourself to a sangha for decades and your relationships will not stay where you left them. Rather, your people will respond to that decision to withdraw, and you’ll have to work with that. To try to stay in the absolute truth and avoid or dismiss all that relative truth as unimportant is just spiritual bypassing. The real work is in holding the paradoxical nature of reality, never resting in either the relative or absolute truth, and letting that keep you taut and alive. A favorite teacher once described this situation so clearly and plainly that I say it to myself all the time:
Everything is okay, and not okay, at the same time.
That’s right. God, or the universe, or this perfect moment, is holding you with a more pure and unconditional love than even an imaginary perfect parent. Right now! All you have to do is really be there for it. And we also have to hold one another! Ideally we do that with this absolute love in mind, but with far more conditions because we are not absolute beings. We are relative beings. We have things like resources, deadlines, to-do lists, bodies, ambitions, tempers, perspectives, histories, and traumas that we are all loving (or forgetting to love) through.
I like the way astrology both illustrates this paradox, and can help anyone enact it. Astrology is a roadmap that provides actionable insight into what our relative truths are throughout our lives, and a good consultation can be an effective brainstorming session for navigating these relative truths with skill and care. After all, every natal chart has twelve houses, and only one of them is about the person represented by the chart–that leaves eleven houses that are about other people and circumstances. I cannot think of a clearer and more useful way to see and feel the way we are relative beings that are interdependent. And the chart itself can also be imagined as an unconditionally loving gift that was given to us by an ensouled universe or loving god or whatever entity is holding us in this absolute truth. You could go so far as to say that it comes from that place of absolute truth.
At heart, I am a practical person. I want to know how to walk a spiritual path every day and apply more wisdom and skill to my life in all its entanglements more than I want to escape anything. Seeing these two types of truth as fundamentally linked helps me remember my spiritual task, which is to embrace the absolute truth with every fiber of my being, and at the same time turn toward my own unique circumstances and relationships with a heart full of love and a drive to act with grace. And this perspective helps me navigate the strangeness of these times. Astrology is definitely having a moment, and this popularity is absolutely driven by the perverse incentives of social media. We live in an attention economy, and we are wired to pay more attention to things that make us feel anxious than things that are true, or that make us feel worthy or whole. This issue around where humans naturally put their attention is going to be a feature of the next five years or so. It takes regular effort to behave in a way that feels right, and not in the way our brain wants to and the way everybody else is behaving. And I think that seeing the chart as a nondual reminder that we are both being held and responsible to our relationships and commitments can help make that work a little easier and more joyous.