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Life is a Laughing Matter

Malvin Artley
December 2009

Happy New Year Everyone!
I trust everyone had a happy Christmas season and is looking forward to the New Year. The ability to laugh at oneself and to see the humor in life is a great gift. On one of the morning radio shows here in Adelaide the presenters have a little segment they call the 'Woodduck of the Week' (Yes, that is how they spell it.). It is a segment where the listeners are encouraged to ring in and dob themselves or someone else in for something completely silly or klutzy they had done at some point in the past. Some of the responses get posted on the station's web site. The 'winner' gets a frozen duck to have for dinner, a tee-shirt advertising the segment and the dubious honor of having their 'brighter moment' broadcast all over the Adelaide area. Sometimes the person dobbed in is a good sport about it, sometimes not, sometimes the caller has a few things to answer for, but the segment goes to show that we are all a bit less-than-perfect at times.

I like wood ducks. They are beautiful, petite little ducks and I fail to see why the producers of the radio segment named it after such a graceful-looking bird. Maybe wood duck chicks are ungainly and klutzy. Perhaps I am not up on all the colloquial Adelaide humor. However, as a lad I was a very serious young man and took to heart too much of what came my way. I had not yet learned how to laugh things off, much less laugh at myself. That all came after I got out of school and out into the world. Like all of us, I have at times been, dare I say, less than perfect. Yes. Actually, I have had quiet a few opportunities to be reminded that the human ego, even mine at times, is fragile (and, no, I will not be giving examples from my life, thank you very much!). People who know me will know that I am being tongue-in-cheek here. When we were growing up one of my brothers and I would often be together when we ourselves or someone else would do or say something silly or just state a plain no-brainer, at which point we would look at each other, smile, shake our heads and say, "It is to laugh," and then nod in agreement. I have seen a lot of crazy things and done a few myself since those days but my ego, thankfully is much mellower now. Life is better that way. Capricorn rules over the growth and development of the human ego. With that, here is a look at what the sign holds for us this year.

Capricorn is the sign that holds hidden a great mystery. What part of our nature is it that persists from life to life and watches our lives and evolution here? What is it that puts on the mask that we call the human persona and lives and works on the outer planes, the three worlds of cyclic existence? One of the keys to this mystery is held in the rulerships of the sign - orthodox, esoteric and hierarchical ('hierarchical' referring to the great classes of lives represented) - and in the case of Capricorn, there are only two. Saturn rules at both the orthodox and the esoteric level, while Venus is what one might call the ultimate ruler of the sign, or its hierarchical ruler. The class of lives represented by Capricorn is 'The Crocodiles' (Actually, it is 'the great whale' or Leviathan, the vehicle of Vishnu - 'the One who enters into' or 'the One who pervades all'.) and the planetary ruler of that class of lives is Venus. Venus, as we know, is the planet that brings union between lives, to put it very simply, and in examining the relation between the two rulers of this sign we get a peek into the mystery surrounding it.

Venus and Saturn are seen to be antithetical in orthodox astrology. Venus is seen to govern love and femininity, whereas Saturn is seen to be male, hard and full of sorrow, at least in the older interpretations of the planets. Venus is seen to bring people together, while Saturn is seen to move people apart or to keep them together because of obligations. It is my considered opinion, however, that the two planets actually work closely together and that their meanings are only partly known in the West. In the East both planets are yang, or tending toward structure and method - 'male', to use a more understandable, but incorrect term. Yin and yang are actually genderless. In the East, Venus is the 'Minister of Justice', the 'Lord of the Western Direction', the direction of the setting sun with all of the symbolism attendant with that. It is the 'Metal Star', or the 'Great White' and it is said to watch over weapons, the administering of justice and governs the harvest. Saturn, in the East, is called the Regulator Planet or the Earth Star and it is said to govern the growth of virtue. In the blending of the effects of these two planets we get the clues to Capricorn that we need for this cycle.

Saturn, watching over the growth of virtue, is lord in Capricorn only at the lower levels, the worldly and on the path of aspiration. As Lord of Karma, which it is as well, Saturn acts as the 'Regulator Planet', but not in the sense the Chinese meant it (regulator of the year). Saturn regulates our relationships, to put it simply, and it is in the working out of those relationships that we work off or create karma, but hopefully grow in virtue as a result. Saturn offers up a choice in whatever sphere it operates, and dependent upon that choice, one's karma is set in place, sometimes for many lifetimes. Venus, as overlord of Capricorn, rules dharma, which is loosely translated as the Law (spiritual Law). However, that Law can be seen as the path which leads to the full expression of one's intrinsic nature, the dharmakaya, or wisdom-truth body - one's 'higher Self'. Dharma is thus the result and the path - the 'way of truth', the 'Just Way'. Venus is realized wisdom, and it is thus the wisdom realized as the results of spiritual practices, no matter what one's faith. Venus is both method and wisdom united.

So, we have two dynamics at work in Capricorn. Firstly, we have the path of worldly ambition and successes and failures, leading ultimately to one making proper choices about one's life and spirituality. That is the Saturn phase of Capricorn. The pain and restriction (negative karma) of life in the lower realms is usually what leads one on to the path of return - to the dharma, in other words. Secondly, the Venus dynamic leads one to seek and apply wisdom on the path and see oneself as one with or equal to others. Venus brings one a suitable teacher when the time is right (when karma dictates). One could say that Saturn propels or impels one into the bosom of Venus and thus to the feet of the master/guru/teacher. Saturn propels one out into the world and limitation. Venus governs the path of return, or the inner path. Venus governs the causal lotus - the soul in incarnation - the place where wisdom is garnered, the place of meeting and communion between the higher and lower aspects of ourselves. This is our own individual 'lotus garden' or mandala, the seat, until it is superseded, of meditative work and we are able to create our own celestial mansion, the nirmanakaya or perfected emanation body. That is a long way in the future for most of us, though.

A final point needs to be made here, and it applies specifically to this solar festival: There is a 'middle dynamic' with Capricorn in distinction to the two in the previous paragraph and it is involved with the interplay between Venus and Saturn. It is never 'either/or' in astrology, black or white. Boundaries like the cusps of the signs, for instance, are not clearly demarcated nor do planets stand alone in their function. Planetary and zodiacal energies blend and fuse and this is seen in the various rulerships for the signs. Once one has stepped onto the path of return (the spiritual path) one is immediately faced with new, higher energies. The esoteric ruler immediately 'kicks in' once the decision is made to walk the path and the two - orthodox and esoteric - rulers intermingle and blend for quite some time. That would make for a fascinating study. For those who are nearing the end of life in this world, that is to say the end of the necessity for cyclic existence or rebirth, the focus shifts yet again and the ultimate or hierarchical ruler makes its presence felt, blending with the energies and work of the other two rulers, for the orthodox ruler still has a sway until the cycle of lives is completed.

For those of us who are aspiring to a spiritual life and a life where one is 'in the world but not of it' Venus and Saturn are both very active. There are two strong efforts being made when one is consciously on the path. Firstly, one is working off karma in a greatly accelerated fashion. This is especially true if one is actively engaged in spiritual practice, and especially practices such as secret mantra (anuttara yoga tantra). Secondly, not only is one working off karma, but at the same time one is rapidly seeking to build in virtue, and thus gaining in wisdom. One is 'acting as if' as much as possible and within the constraints of life in this world. In other words, one is practicing and emulating their essence or true nature - the divine nature within each of us. What we gain in virtue, we lose in negative karma and the process could be said to increase exponentially over time. A virtuous life and a life of accelerated working off of karma is thus highlighted and challenges ensue along that line when Saturn and Venus are linked in a horoscope. You see the best and the worst in a person, especially if they are a Capricorn type, for Capricorn is said to exemplify the best and the worst in humanity. We have addressed this point in past letters.

Let's face it - it's not easy being virtuous in a world full of materialism, where vice is seen as pleasure, where happiness is equated with satisfaction instead of contentment, where escapism is the norm rather than facing one's personal issues at hand, where grasping at and for the self is the order of the day. For instance, I was speaking with a friend the other day and it was noted, for instance, that Christmas and the whole Capricorn (Christmas holiday) period is not at all about quiet and reflection, as it should be. Rather, it seems to be about having one party after the next and seeing how much new 'stuff' we can get. Yet, many people suffer through the holidays because their true needs are not addressed or met. Family and social karma is in our faces over that period. Instead of facing those things and growing in wisdom and love from that, we practice mega-retail therapy and then go out and 'Party hardy!' as we used to say when I was just out of school. What is the true meaning of the holidays - our 'holy-days'? What really gives meaning to life? We learn that most fully in Capricorn. With that, let's have a look at the New Year and solar festival.

We start the year with a couple of eclipses, with the eclipse on the day a South Node annular lunar eclipse. In addition, 2010 will be a doubly-blind year in terms of the Chinese astrology - 2010 being the Year of the Iron (White) Tiger - and, as such, the auspices at the start of the year are not what we might call favorable. However, lest we automatically go into negative thinking about the year to come, let's look at the whole picture before we form any opinions about the unfolding of the next twelve months. To begin with, Iron Tiger years typically bring a lot of change, often for the better and especially with regard to labor relations and human rights, but not without a bit of struggle in the process. I will cover all this more in the Chinese New Year letter to come out at the close of January. Doubly-blind years refer to the fact that the li chun does not occur in the lunar year. The li chun is the 'Beginning of Spring' in the cycle of Chinese festivals and typically is either the 3rd or 4th of February. Doubly-blind years are also referred to as 'widow years' in northern China and 'blind years' in southern China. The main indicator is that marriages are unfavorable in those years. After reading what follows about the eclipses and after reading the Iron Tiger letter the reasons for inauspicious marriages might become more clear. We will set the Chinese astrology aside for now.

The modified Saros cycle represented by the eclipses on New Year's Day and on 15 Jan 10 are of the 12 North series. Essentially, the auspices for these eclipses are for opportunities for one to take on increased responsibilities (We all want more of that, right?), largely because of another person's or party's inability to follow through with obligations, and these can come on suddenly. Although the events around the presentation of those opportunities might be stressful, the general outcome for eventual harmony and increased self-esteem are quite good. The first of the eclipses, though, is a South Node eclipse, as was stated before, and that brings its attendant closure of old situations. The 'Lady of the Eclipse' for the New Year's Day eclipse is Venus and it is at the midpoint of the Sun and Venus. There is a loose stellium in Capricorn comprised of the three planets just mentioned along with Mercury, and the first three planets are square to Saturn, which forms the apex of a t-square with the full moon axis. As most astrologers would agree, this will be a 'lovely little eclipse'. Not really. In terms of the beginning of the western New Year, this eclipse brings with it a lot of tension. This one will affect the US (Sun), the UN (IC), Australia (Sun), Canada (Sun), France (Moon), Japan (Uranus), Russia (Uranus and Nodes) and the UK (Sun).

For those countries with the Sun affected, events will occur around leaders in those countries. Since this is a lunar eclipse, the mood of the people will be affected and one would expect to see slumps in the polls or some sorrow attached to events concerning leaders. The IC affected by eclipses brings changes in housing, relocation and homeland security issues. An affected Moon highlights women in the country, needs of the populace and the masses in general, while an affected Uranus can bring disruptions in air travel, the chief executive being affected, or advances in or disruptions to technology. The only activations to these two eclipses are the Sun and Mars over the eclipse points over the next few years and finally by Pluto in 2013.

What does all the preceding about the eclipses mean, then? Saturn squaring the eclipse points (although wide) brings realization of responsibilities - true to the form of the Saros series - and either recognition of work done if situations have been based upon sound judgment, or collapse of hopes if decisions in the past have been unsound or work toward one's goals has been inconsistent. Saturn will come to the full square of the eclipse axis in October 2010. The true 'winnowing of the chaff' (endings, in other words) will come when Pluto activates the eclipse point in Jan, Jun and Dec of 2013. For anyone who is familiar with the more esoteric side of astrology, Saturn is the bringer of opportunity, so for the canny person and for those unafraid to take risks in dubious times this eclipse can be the start of something very good - very good indeed. There are two main dynamics represented in this figure: Focused, hard work and a sober assessment of the reality of life as it is right now. The New Year's eclipse will bring a lot of soul-searching with it, and that is always a good thing, especially when times are in flux as they are at the moment. Gems and precious metals are found in the earth and muck - are they not? - and no sign represents that better than Capricorn. Those gems and ores have to be refined, though, and that brings us to the symbolism of the Capricorn Solar Festival.

The symbol for the degree of the Sun in the full moon figure reads as follows:

A large group of pheasant on a private estate. 11 Capricorn

If you ever wanted a full moon figure that spoke to New Year's resolutions, this one would have to be it. What are such resolutions anyway, but the simple resolve to do things better and to be a better person - to refine one's nature? Now, we could all use a bit of that. This symbol points to the fact that we should endeavor to be the best that we can be, to be aristocratic and refined with regard to our inner nature. It also points to the fact that we need to set aside time and space for that to happen. The term 'refuge' comes to mind. 'Private estates' can refer to landed parcels or they can refer to something more sublime and ultimately more meaningful: the cultivation of one's 'inner estate' and of the beings therein. For Buddhists this would mean the celestial mansion or mandala, for Christians, a return to Edenic consciousness, for the Garden of Eden is the original pure land - the 'Place of the Serpent', the 'serpent' here meaning divine wisdom. These are the paradisiacal lands of the various religions and faiths of the world - the pure realms from whence we came and to which we return (and we all get there eventually). In short, this symbol refers to the fact that we should make a decided effort this year to cultivate and dwell within these pure lands as much as is possible within our consciousness this year. The affairs of the world can go on around us, but our refuge is - must be - within.

The symbol for the lunar degree reads as follows:

A clown caricaturing well-known personalities. 11 Cancer

I will relate a story to you that I heard recently that highlights this symbol. A teacher, spiritual teacher, was once asked to relate a story about his youth to a gathering of his students in the hopes that they could gain insight and inspiration for their own lives. The teacher thought for a bit and then began. As a young man he studied the scriptures and texts very hard and was a very earnest and apt student. He studied so hard, in fact, that he was unable to relax and became so absorbed in his studies that he forgot how to relate to people. Encounters with people outside of his studies became so pained that he got very concerned. He eventually recognized that he had a real problem and that his over-study had made his focus too narrow. He was getting headaches, so he went to one of his elder teachers for advice. The elder was a wise old man who had seen a lot of life and seen many students through his years. He intently and patiently listened to the tale of this particular student's difficulty and upon reflection, gave the following advice: "Go out into the forested areas surrounding this place where you can be alone and then just let go with peals of laughter. Do not hold anything back. Let yourself go completely."

So, off the student went and took his teacher's advice to heart. At first it was hard to let go and get past his fear of expression. What if someone heard him? It would be mortifying! It was also uncharacteristic behavior, so it took a little getting used to, but he eventually got the hang of it and he found after several sessions of this that his difficulties abated. He also began to feel a sense of peace wash over him and realized that, yes - although his studies were serious business - laughter and letting go now and then was a good balance. He also returned to normal relations with people. This same man now can bring tears of laughter to the eyes of his students by his unexpected ability just to let go in the midst of serious teachings. You never know what you will get, but it is always good, and it shows the folly of being so serious and precious about things all the time, as students can be apt to do. He laughs at himself now quite often. He can also bring people up on a serious note just as easily. The balance is what is important.

The human persona is said to be like a mask that the incarnated soul puts on in any given life. When we look at the affairs of life from a wider perspective we begin to realize the sheer folly of getting so wrapped up in mundanity, or even more serious matters. In five weeks, five months or five years of time, what will our little affairs matter? On the other side, how many lifetimes will a flippant decision come back to haunt us? Such questions begin to put quite a different perspective on life and upon what we place our focus. What do we take with us when we pass over? What is of ultimate meaning to us? What will gain us the most benefit over the next series of lives and not simply this one or the next one? What face do we present to the world? Our teachers and those close to us mirror that back to us. They show us our flaws and celebrate our goodness with us, and we do in kind to them. The teacher in the little anecdote learned in that time that laughter was, for him, the best medicine.

As for the remainder of the figure, there are some rather interesting features. There are two, as I call them, quintile yods. One is formed by Saturn, the South Node and with Jupiter at the apex. This one is about release of old habit patterns and past-life tendencies through the power of joy, of expansive thought. Jupiter is finally separating from its association with Chiron and Neptune which has brought up so much in the way of inner child and self-deceptive issues for people. The Tiger Woods scandal, for example, broke when Jupiter made its last approach to Chiron, inflating the entire drama and sending the spin jockeys and gossip mongers into overdrive. There has been a lot about 'spin' in that triple conjunction, but now the blinders are coming off, as I have heard from many people about their own lives, and old scenarios of mis-thinking or outright deception are standing revealed now. Also, people are seeing a lot about their early wounding, what we like to call 'the wounded inner child' and finally how to get past that.

This little stellium first made its appearance in March of 2008 and it is now finally beginning to finish. As an aside, that stellium strongly activates Wood's chart and is bringing about a major rethinking of his direction in life. There is a big opportunity for him here in a spiritual sense if he can get past the obvious personal difficulties. The stellium has certainly put a different 'spin' on his life, and irrevocably. If you have planets or angles at around 25 degrees of fixed signs, then this stellium is for you, too. It will either leave you spinning or turn your life around.

The other quintile yod is formed with the Sun, Uranus and with Mars at the apex. This one will be a 'bit of a worry' for people who have charts activated by this eclipse (planets or angles within 3 degrees of 11Cap15 or 11Can15). Quintiles can bring disruptions as well as compulsive behavior in the process of releasing higher creative gifts, which quintiles ultimately represent. This one will bring an extremely dynamic release of creative force, which I would expect to see more through 2013 than I would now with the Pluto activation of the eclipse point. Mars is semisquare to Saturn, too, so one would expect to see boiling over of frustrations as the catalyst for the release of the gifts indicated with this quintile yod and full moon figure. That yod will bring sudden breakdown of relationships, combativeness, rash action and possible injuries and a general feeling of having hit a brick wall. Yes, indeed - there is a lot to look forward to with this full moon and subsequent eclipse activations! The Mars activations are as follows: 21Dec10, 19Aug11, 30Nov12, 28Jul13. The last one will be fiery, as Pluto will be opposite Mars on that date across the eclipse axis.

Other than the dynamics just described, Venus is at the midpoint of the Sun and Pluto, which brings strong artistic impulses as well as emotional upsets. That trio can bring its own sort of obsessive/compulsive romantic flourish, which isn't helped by the fact that both Venus and the Sun semisquare Jupiter and Neptune, adding to the allure and also the self-deceptive nature of the combination. If you begin a romance under this influence, be very careful with it. It will likely get strongly rattled with each activation of the eclipse point by Mars and possibly come crashing down at the final Mars activation. Other than these points, this pretty well completes the look at the full moon figure.

I have had many occasions in my life where I had done things and wished I could crawl under a rock afterwards, never to be seen again, only to look back later and laugh about those same foibles. We have all done that. The thing that has been of most value through those experiences is that I have lost a lot of self-importance and false pride. When we are younger we seem to feel we have a lot to prove to the world, wherein we are really only gaining in self-mastery. In the end it matters very little what people think of us. If we are the best we can be, what does it matter what anyone else thinks? Many times life's little '2x4s between the eyes' wake us up to ourselves and if we look we get reminded constantly that we are no better or worse than the next person and that people's opinions and life's circumstances can and do change in an instant. What is the point of worry, unless one enjoys headaches and indigestion? We cannot change our karma. It comes at us no matter what, but we can lessen its impact. We can choose how we will respond to it.

The human ego is a fragile thing at the best of times and fleeting whereas our true essence or nature is unfailing and unassailable. All we have to do is take refuge in it and do our best to fully uncover it or aspire to it. It has been there with us for countless years and life after life. Our spiritual teachers exemplify it for us and show us the way back to it. Though we have been prodigal with our spiritual heritage the light supernal, which we are in truth, lights our path and beckons us 'home'. And once we finally realize the fullness of that light it then dawns upon us that there is but one option and task for us to perform - to turn around and extend our hand back outward into the darkness through which we struggled and to be exemplars for all who struggle still.

Lost am I in light supernal, yet on that light I turn my back.

We must seem like little children to the great realized beings, our teachers who have been able to dwell in that light and who can contact it at will. We run around with all our little cares and think ourselves so important, so upset when things do not go our way, so precious about how we appear to those in our group or to the teachers themselves, so bent upon doing our own practice that we forget the struggles of our spiritual siblings and the countless other beings in the world. The teacher cares not for our cares, except for the distractions they cause and that they keep us from what is meaningful. If we truly follow the example of our teachers - our spiritual friends - then our lives revolve not around our own needs/wants/foibles, but upon those very things in others. To be of service, of use, is the greatest gift we can bring to the world. It is our true nature. It is what is best within us. When we look at our lives in that light then we see the folly in all our worries and cares for this world. We see the humor in the circus of life playing out around us.

We put on new greasepaint every life and go out into the arena of life with all the other players - all of our fellow clowns - and play at things of importance to the world. We entertain the troops, as it were, and play our roles. We caricature persons of importance to and within the world, yet we are only here for a short time and play our bit parts. In fifty years who will remember us? Ah, but in five lifetimes, will we have played the part well enough in this life to have been of real use and then, possibly, to set ourselves up to the point where we can have lives of real meaning? That is the quest. That is the goal, the only worthy ambition. Our dramas are ordinary, a passing flight of fancy, a storm in a teacup. When we see the enormous suffering around us our pain becomes a trifle and we can only smile to ourselves and think, how silly! "Send in the clowns." Samsara is such a farce. I think the next time I get into a funk about life I may just take the example of the teacher whose story was related and drive out to a secluded area in nature and give his exercise a shot. What do I have to lose except for a bit of decorum? Our true nature is joyful, after all. Life is a laughing matter, and this mirth thing is serious business!! Share a laugh with whoever you encounter. We are, after all, here to lighten the load in this divine comedy we call 'existence'.

Happy New Year!
29 Dec 09