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Striking a Balance: the Astrology of Positive Thinking

With four planets in Libra in my natal chart, including Uranus and Mercury in my 9th house of philosophy, I often have a 'knee-jerk' reaction to any statement that appears to be an opinion stated as an absolute. Mars leads my Libra planetary pack so perhaps it's no wonder that I often defend anything by starting my argument with "Yes, but on the other hand…"

So when I was introduced to and began reading Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book: Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America, I was excited to see that the chronic "flight into light" behaviors that sometimes accompany 'new age' thinking and the (in my opinion) misuse and misunderstanding of the Law of Attraction being argued. But would she do it in an intelligent and even-handed way, I wondered? Or was this going to be a pessimist's manifesto, just as extreme as its opposite argument?

To my surprise and enjoyment, I think she argued intelligently and fairly, with the overall message of grounded optimism, not pessimism and also not empty-headed positive thinking. But this isn't exactly meant to be just a book review, so let's get on with the astrology.

As soon as I saw Barbara's interview on The Daily Show, all kinds of astrological possibilities entered my head. This book's appearance seems to be synchronistic with the ushering in of the Pluto in Capricorn period, particularly coming from the Pluto in Sagittarius period. Pluto has been in Capricorn for a good while now, but it is still in the beginning stages of entry and the effects are not yet fully shaken out. Barbara's subtitle about "undermining America," though I think a tad dramatic (yay, marketing), got me to thinking about the United States' chart and the recognition of Sagittarius, the sign of optimism if there ever was one, is the United States' Ascendant. And then, of course, I wondered about Barbara's own chart.

How Pluto Works in the Collective

The outer planets, usually referring to Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, are sometimes called 'generational' because they are in the same sign for such a long period of time that they can affect an entire generation collectively. I think the mistake in that perspective is in thinking that the generational effect is their only relevance. These planets matter greatly in a personal natal chart, but they also function on a larger scale. Pluto especially, staying in a sign for at least 10 years but sometimes more than 20, can reflect an entire generation.

Pluto affects the collective in two ways. First, events that take place during any given period, such as when Pluto was in Sagittarius from 1995 to 2008, will reflect what we all are learning about that sign, both it's blind spots and negative qualities as well as its possibilities and positive qualities. Second, the generation that is born during that time not only lives through it but carries the energy of it throughout their life, which then ripens when those children become adults, entering the work force, establishing and changing laws, and shaping culture.

Pluto in Sagittarius: Bigger is Better

In a nutshell, Sagittarius rules things like expanding one's reach through travel, crossing boundaries of race and country for multi-cultural experiences, adventure, the quest for knowledge and discovery through (sometimes naive) experimentation, faith and optimism. Here are a handful of things that happened during Pluto's journey through Sagittarius:

  1. The Euro began circulating, making travel through Europe easier through standardized currency

  2. Dolly the Sheep was cloned

  3. Construction started on the International Space Station

  4. Internet use ballooned, as well as development of faster ways to access it and it became easier to purchase things from other countries through e-commerce

  5. GPS (Global Positioning System) became fully operational

  6. Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa

  7. Terrorist attacks on September 11th in New York

  8. Credit over-extension grows as do examples of economic balloon and collapse, such as the 'dot-com' cave in

The new age movement did not start during Pluto in Sagittarius by any means, but it continued to grow. The idea of the Law of Attraction regained popularity through the introduction of The Secret book and movie, and while the idea of visualizing what you want is a great one, since thoughts can lead to actions, the way it was popularly received seemed to be not "you can become what you imagine" but "you are what you think."

Pluto in Capricorn: Bursting the Bubble

It is during the shifts from one sign to another that the contrast between them can so easily be seen. One of the most obvious differences is the increasing realization of the need to live within one's limits: especially financial and environmental – the management of one's resources. As Pluto has entered Capricorn, the over-extension behaviors, especially financially, of the previous years has collapsed on itself, and a majority of people are dealing with the reality of this cave-in. Moving from Capricorn to Sagittarius feels like everything is being condensed, refined, and pressed into a much smaller but more solid form. Sagittarius was about possibility, Capricorn is about reality.

When we pass from spending a lot of time in one sign to another, there seems to be a readiness to move into the new energy, often showing up as a backlash from the negative qualities that permeated culture in the previous sign. No doubt we will be fed up of being ruled and regulated to death once Pluto enters Aquarius, but for now, many of us feel ready to 'come down to earth' and get a handle on things that have run away from us (or at least, the necessity is certainly presenting itself).

Capricorn is no better than Sagittarius, just different and with a different purpose.  Perhaps we must take the "anything is possible if you only believe" optimism of Sagittarius and push it through the translation process of "everything is possible just not all at once and with no money or time or plan" ideology of Capricorn. I think this book is a great example of this process, moving from Sagittarius to Capricorn specifically. Barbara is expressing something I've heard from a lot of clients, disappointed that the thinking of The Secret and similar philosophies did not work like the magic trick it seemed to be.

Striking a Balance

My interpretation of Barbara's argument is that it's not that one shouldn't be hopeful or positive at all, only that in overdoing it as a philosophy, it has become its own oppressive 'religion'. I don't feel that thinking positively is a bad thing, and in fact my own philosophy with my clients is geared toward empowering them to respond to their situations in a way that helps them participate in intentionally crafting their life rather than feeling powerless or victimized. I do think, though, that there is a huge difference between that and telling ourselves that "Happy feelings will attract more happy circumstances" and expecting that our thoughts alone are all that are required. Interestingly, Barbara pointed out that when measured, Americans don't seem to be any happier, despite our "vaunted positivity." One can see how the Sagittarian shadow of more, more, more might leave one never satisfied.

In my attempt to show the Sagittarian shadow, I am not trying to ridicule it's purpose nor am I making an argument against the power of our own willingness to risk and have the faith and confidence in ourselves to step into our potential. I'm also a huge fan of humility in the face of the Unknown, and am not a fan of those who would assume that nothing unseen or unproven is real (I'm an Astrologer for goodness' sake!) But my early experiences with religion left me with a bad taste in mouth, specifically the tendency to attribute all good things with God, and all bad things with our weakness in succumbing to the Devil, which I think leaves us with the 'catch 22' of blaming ourselves only for the bad things we do and never being able to take pride in or credit for the good things we do. This is more an interpretation by those who practice religion rather than the fault of the system itself, but nonetheless, it was a cultural perspective I could never swallow.

Sometimes our misuse of positive thinking can show up as merely suppression of negative thoughts, not the successful management of them. Anger, fear, and sorrow are just as natural, though not nearly as comfortable, as joy, excitement, and contentment. I think it's important that in our attempts to empower ourselves with one hand, we not disempower ourselves with the other hand by shutting down the parts of ourselves and our responses to life that are uncomfortable (is my 8th house stellium showing?) Hiding our darkness behind "love and light" can be almost as damaging as drinking ourselves to death in order to numb the pain, and our growing chronic use of anti-depressants, while beneficial to many, can also be (and in many cases has been).

It's probably not a very good idea to quote someone who was paraphrasing another someone, but it was such a striking example of this that I'm going to allow myself this faux pas. Several years ago I was in a class and one of the participants in the class was a licensed psychotherapist. She related a story to the group about a recent event she'd been to where the speaker was discussing the benefits anti-depressants and the like, and at one point he apparently stated that with these drugs, 'no one would ever have to have a bad day again.' Of course, we all gasped in horror, but when we are responding in an unconscious way to the philosophy of positive thinking, I think we can be quite vulnerable to living and acting in a way that attempts to prevent ever a 'bad day' from happening, even if consciously we would never claim that as our philosophy.

I think the concept of responsibility is woven in to these positive thinking philosophies, but can be skewed in a poisonous way in much the same manner as I described above while discussing religion. In a well meaning attempt to empower ourselves and not respond to life as a victim, we are also vulnerable to inflating our own sense of power, which not only leads to a let down when reality doesn't reflect that, but can be an insidious way to punish ourselves and others. One example I've heard, unfortunately much too often, is the idea that any disaster or upsetting circumstance in someone's life, from a business failure to a car crash to a health concern, has been brought on by the person themselves. Sometimes the more gentle theory is proposed: "because they needed its lessons." However, all too often there is the judgment projected that the person somehow failed the Law of Attraction test and this is their result or even their punishment. This perspective does nothing to empower someone to respond positively, but  simply to suppress natural feelings of fear, anxiety, or sorrow out of a sense of shame that  they would even be feeling them in the first place, and allowing themselves to behave like a, gasp, victim!

Sagittarius does not like to feel trapped, and feeling a victim is certainly a  way one can feel trapped, but Capricorn doesn't like to play victim either. They both combat that thinking through very different methods. I think it is the Pluto in Capricorn period and the children that carry the stamp of that period forward that can marry the idea of positive thinking with the actual setting of realistic but ambitious goals. During Pluto in Capricorn, we'll see plenty of Capricorn's dark side, such as examples of the cruelty that can come with "ends justify the means" thinking, often in the name of trying to respond to the realistic limitations in resources we find ourselves dealing with, and possibly a lot of examples where value is placed on justice, but perhaps not balanced with mercy.

Barbara's Natal Chart

I won't spend too much time here because more than one blog entry can always be written about the fascinating world of one person's natal chart. However, I did find it personally amusing when I saw that the planet Jupiter was squaring her nodes, indicating, among other things, that the attitude of hope, confidence, potential, and, gasp, even positive thinking, represent an evolutionary rite of passage in getting from her south node to her north node (although it's in Gemini, which certainly speaks to clear thinking and using one's voice and mind to communicate a message  – something she clearly seems to be doing vigorously and successfully in her life).

Her north node lies in Virgo, along with her Sun and Mercury and Neptune. Speaking from an Evolutionary Astrology perspective, Neptune opposed her south node and yet it's ruler, would seem to reflect a feeling of being oppressed/opposed by the things Neptune in Virgo represents, such as spirituality delivered in strict rule and ritual, right and wrong fashion (among other things). In working toward her north node, I would imagine she would need to learn to make peace with that oppression and move beyond it, to embrace her own truth. Is this book accomplishing that for her? Who can say, but as it is a book that was, in part, born out of her struggle with breast cancer and the frustration she felt with the positive thinking overload which left no room for sorting through anger or fear, I would speculate that it's an excellent step in clearing the debris.

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