Friday, October 28, 2011

Bullying, Abuse, and the Boddhisattva Path

There has been a great deal in the news the past few months about bullying in the schools, and how it can affect some kids to the point of fear, depression, or even suicide. We used to tell children to deal with bullying with an aphorism, "Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words can never hurt me!" Unfortunately, words can hurt, and badly.

We are only beginning to deal with the idea of abuse in ways that give children the degree of safety and support they always should have had. Physical abuse—those "sticks and stones"—tend to leave obvious marks: bruises, broken bones, being sick "all the time," too many emergency room visits. Teachers and the public are taught how to spot these injuries and to intervene to stop the abuse, which can be traumatic for both abused and abuser, especially when family is involved. Especially when family is simply continuing behaviors with which they were raised themselves, and have no idea constitutes abuse.

Sexual abuse is harder to detect, as the scars it leaves are generally concealed as is the act. It is likely to show up in a child's behavior, and the abuser will usually fight fiercely to deny it ever happened. While the child needs to heal emotionally from such assaults, confronting the abuser is almost never worthwhile because they will only deny the abuse took place. Sexual abuse leads into what I call "mystification," where a child's perceptions and experiences are repeatedly denied to the point they begin questioning whether it actually happened.

But bullying, along with humiliation, verbal attacks, denying a child's reality, "teasing," and other forms of emotional abuse can in many cases be worse than physical or sexual abuse because the scars they inflict are completely invisible to the outside observer. They manifest in flinches, withdrawal, hiding, depression, and other ways that disconnect the child socially and emotionally from others, and provide their own form of painful "mystification."

When verbal or emotional abuse is directed at a child by his or her peers, it is important for adults around them to intervene. Children often react to anything that is different with words, and need to learn when and how it is appropriate to say something about that difference. It is particularly hard for a child when that difference is something they cannot help: size, an accent, clothes that aren't fashionable, early pubertal development, late pubertal development, cognitive impairments, and so forth. While many Conservatives in America deride the focus on multiculturalism and "political correctness" in our society, it serves to promote changes in how we teach children to interact with one another that are positive and profound, rather than simply repeating mistakes we know are hurtful.

When verbal or emotional abuse is directed at a child from his or her own family, the pain of "words" can be even more traumatic. Such abuse is often hidden behind the closed doors of the family's home, and the child is denied a sense of safe haven, support, and even love he or she needs as a foundation for dealing with the outside world. This can lead to bullying and abuse by the child's peers because the child has already learned to flinch and react to verbal taunts in a way that feeds the bully's ego, thus becoming a perfect target. And the bullied child may be even more likely to drift into depression or suicide from feeling they have nowhere to go to be safe.

Why am I focusing on this in such detail? I was one of those children. I came from a white, middle-class family, am very intelligent, always had clothes and shoes and things I needed, thus giving the appearance that everything was ok. But from the time I was a baby, I had been subjected to physical and verbal abuse by my family that would turn your stomach, and which left me grossly unable to cope with my peers, who teased and bullied me constantly. I managed to make a few friends over the years, but in general, I spent as much time as I could hiding from everyone—physically, or in books, or in fantasy if forced to be in the same place as my abusers.

I've learned to compensate, and to be able to act socially with others—although I'm bad at it—and often use self-deprecating humor to ease my interactions with people, especially those I don't know well. Many people see me, or read my writings, and think I have a lot of self-confidence and even arrogance, but in fact I do not. I have to fight every day not to be overwhelmed by the pain of those old "words" that were not supposed to hurt me, but did.

By the time I was in my teens, I had learned the best way to hide that I could: I simulated a surface persona that reacted as my family expected me to react, or to not react at all. I would hold onto that surface as long as I could, but was prone to react with extreme rage if pushed too long and too far. I felt trapped, like an animal, and every so often, I would react in ways that scared and horrified me. For those actions, I have felt shame most of my life because they are not the person that I really am, underneath it all. I know how bad it feels to hurt inside (or out), and I would not willingly do that to anyone else.

I began psychotherapy in my 30s, during a bout of severe depression that my boss recognized—and out of his own experience and compassion directed me to the help I needed. I've suffered from bouts of depression since childhood, and therapy and medication have helped me gain some measure of control over it. After many attempts to get off the medication, I recognize that it is simply something I will need to take for the rest of my life; my brain does not make enough of the neurochemicals to sustain a "normal" mood without them. I'm not happy about it, but it beats the alternative.

Therapy has also helped me to break through the shell persona with which I inhabited the world, and allowed me to begin inhabiting my skin as the person I've always been. To put myself out there living in my own truth has been one of the most terrifying things I've ever done, because I still expect to be ripped to shreds by those "words" that can never hurt me. My bouts of depression are one of the "scars" left by that verbal abuse. I also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder; certain words or situations can trip me into intense flashbacks, reliving painful events, and it can be a serious struggle to get out of them. One of the courses I took in graduate school for psychology was called "Life-Span Development." Finding out what a normal child's life looked like, and what normal family interactions looked like landed me in flashbacks lasting for days—which made it very hard to keep up with the class!

Out of the morass of memories, pain, sorrow, and struggle, I have had one main goal: Never again! I have worked hard on my side of things to spot behaviors I don't like and change them, learned to act in ways that accord with my sense of morality and ethics even when those are unpopular, and learned to give shelter to others whom I see being hurt by bullies and abusers. That last has landed me in some trouble over the years; however, I cannot stand by while someone else is in pain without trying to help them. It is what I wish had been done for me, and what I have to give back to the world.

The years I've spent learning to be myself freely have led me far afield of my family, the religion in which I was raised, and the people I've met along the way. Those all failed me over the years, such that I knew I had to look elsewhere for answers to how to conduct my life; I did not want to continue to cause pain and heartache to others. Abuse always repeats itself; it's a hard habit to break.

From Buddhist teachings, I learned about the Boddhisattva path: choosing to manifest compassion for all living things as they progress through their own spiritual challenges in this lifetime. For me, this is a major step in healing, as one of the living beings for which I must find compassion is myself. But finding compassion for myself and for those around me who have given me pain helps me to be the self I truly am, and allows me to be more present in this time and space. Living the Boddhisattva path is a good counter to bullying and emotional abuse, for it rests on recognizing that what hurts any one of us ultimately hurts all of us. Emotional pain is still pain, and it hurts just as badly for each person. There's no competition for whose pain is the worst—it all hurts.

To live this path, I ultimately had to turn my back on my family because they could not change their habits of behavior, would not respect the changes I was making to my own behavior, and interacting with them almost always led me back into the pain and rage from which I was attempting to escape. I've outlived my parents, and had not spoken to my sister for over 20 years, until I tried to reach out to her once again this past couple of weeks. I had hoped to tender to her my apologies for my actions that hurt her, as well as share some of the things I've gained through my own growth process, but it was not to be. She still lives with the abuser's mantra: "Everything was not that bad, I didn't do anything, you were mean to me, too, so there's nothing to talk about." It denies my reality and experience while at the same time denying her own, which may give her mental safety in the here-and-now, but leaves her lost in "mystification." I feel very sorry for her.

But that doesn't mean I'm willing to continue in contact with her.

I feel compassion for her pain, and that of my family members that led them to behave in the ways that they did. Studying psychology and history has helped me see how they ended up as they did, and why certain of their behaviors were what they were. It helps me move toward forgiveness, which does not validate their actions, but accepts that those actions were what they chose at the time. Whatever actual malice lay behind them I recognize is their own problem, not mine. My job is to heal the malice that remains in my own heart after so many years of "mystification."

We often say, "People don't change." But like "words will never hurt me," that's not entirely true. One can choose to change, when one does not like the way one behaves, when it rots and degrades the life one wants to live. Compassion is not "unconditional love," nor is it a simple-minded acceptance of everyone as they are, although those form a part of compassion. What it really comes down to is recognizing that every being feels pain, and all pain is as bad as any pain. What I have felt causes me pain, and what you have felt causes you pain, and in that pain we share a knowledge of what it means to hurt. Compassion acknowledges that pain, recognizing it is a part of living in this physical world, and that it leads us along our own spiritual journey, even though it is difficult to deal with as it happens.

For me, compassion is a means to change myself into the person I am in my heart, to become a better person than I have been in the past, and to grow beyond repeating the cycles of causing pain and receiving pain. This is the Boddhisattva path: recognizing oneself in the other, and choosing to heal what can be healed, and grieve what can not. Buddhism says that Boddhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to remain on the cycle of karma to help others achieve enlightenment; I don't know about enlightenment (for myself), but I acknowledge the ability to choose.

Bullying, verbal and emotional abuse are wrong, intrinsically, morally, and practically. It does not help to "toughen up a kid," it just adds to the pain in the world. It is time for all of us to take a boddhisattva stand, and recognize that we must choose to change, for "words" can most definitely hurt. What hurts one, hurts everyone. Those being bullied suffer pain and confusion; those doing the bullying suffer a different pain. They lose their ability for empathy, and some measure of their own humanity, traded against the cheap sense of power they achieve over another. In compassion, we must teach them that their behavior has consequences for themselves and for others; only by choosing to change as a society can we begin healing the agony this has caused so many of us.

May you walk in compassion. May you see the pain of others, and know it is your pain as well. May you give shelter to those who hurt, and help those doing the hurt stop doing so. May we choose to change our society to reach out with compassion to all, no matter how different they seem from ourselves. Only through walking the Boddhisattva path can we become fully human.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Finding and cleaning up your mental filters

In a discussion group on Facebook, I got to thinking about the ways in which we filter information that we collect through our senses and intuition. As a scientist and psychologist, I've been studying the ways in which the brain takes in and stores information, creating neural networks that underlie our conscious thought processes. Based on the latest information from cognitive neuroscience and biopsychology, a great deal of our processing goes on completely outside of our conscious evaluation and decision making. Our intuition arises from these unconscious processes, which may even extend to the collective unconscious described by Jung.

Similarly, modern physics implies that there are many more dimensions that underlie our physical world and experience than the 4 we usually recognize: three spatial dimensions and time. We have also discovered through quantum mechanics that events happening simultaneously can influence one another at a distance; something that may eventually help explain our experiences of some psychic phenomena, such as clairvoyance. Still, science has a long way to go—and considerable prejudice to overcome—before we reach a point of accepting psychic senses and information.

That does not mean that information we gain from psychic methods is not real, but it does imply that we need to be careful how we interpret and present what we intuit. The thing is, at the unconscious level where we aggregate sensate information and it enters our neural networks, our minds have methods of filtering the information corresponding to our learned predispositions. And this can present a real problem, when we are unaware that those filters even exist.

Our sensory input neurons go through a 6-level process of aggregation even before they leave the region of the brain where raw processing happens. For example, vision starts as signals from individual neurons connected to sensors in the retina of the eye, some of which are light-sensitive and some color-sensitive, and in the optical processing area at the back of the brain we combine these individual impulses into a sensory image construct. This then goes to areas that aggregate the image with sensory inputs from auditory, touch/motor, and other sensory inputs to generate a more robust sensory construct within the networks of neurons in the brain. All of this happens before we're even aware of the image we've seen; it just happens very fast.

Then the sensory impression enters into the hypothalamus and limbic system, where it gets compared against memory impressions to find similarities. Recognizing an image is a complex task, based on what we've learned, and what we've retained of the world around us. This is also where our filters come into play.

Take an image of something we've never seen before. For example, some of the native Mesoamerican peoples who first encountered Cortez and his ships struggled to identify them because they'd never seen such things before. Interpretations might be something like "houses floating on the water with wings," rather than "a ship with sails." That's an example of a filter.

We all have them, and we all react to them, even when we don't realize we're doing so. For one thing, our learning processes are biased by emotional content—sensory impressions, events, and words that have a strong negative emotional content tend to generate a stronger long-term memory impression than do more neutral or positive emotions and events. Fear, anger, rage, hatred, and other stimuli activate the hypothalamus fight-or-flight response, because they often (in our evolution) have signaled a need to deal with a threat. The cascade of neurochemicals and hormones that dial up the sympathetic nervous system give us a rush of adrenaline, and the memory of that rush is attached to the image, event, or words that triggered them as they get stored in long-term memory.

Unfortunately for critical thinking, the more that a long-term memory engram that is emotionally loaded gets activated, the stronger it becomes as a filter for subsequent images, events, or words. Political speech writers and propagandists have long realized this, and use a lot of negative material to overload our filters to the point we actually do not respond to counter-evidence. This is one of the reasons that arguing by way of stating the facts of something expecting a critical-thinking response doesn't work; if you are dealing with someone whose learned memory of the material is heavily emotionally loaded, facts—which have little emotional loading—don't get past the filters. A good example is the global warming discussion, where the facts that unequivocally show the problem is real often encounter skeptical filters that have been emotionally loaded to deny anything is happening at all. Unless the individual climate denier can become aware of the filter blocking his or her ability to think critically about the facts, they will simply reject the facts in favor of what they "know."

Similarly, those of us in the New Age/psychic world have filters we've developed that preferentially take in information that agrees with our feelings, beliefs, and learning. Often these filters do have positive emotional loadings, since many of us want to make the world a better place through our work. But there are also a lot of negative filters we carry along with us culturally that can blind us to more rational, factual information, which can affect our credibility when dealing with people who don't share our beliefs. (Even within the New Age community itself.)

Take, for example, the controversy over the 2012 "end of the world" based on the Maya Calendar and attendant "earth changes" that many are intuiting. Obviously, the end of everything we know and are familiar with is a substantial threat, and generates a good bit of fear. On the positive side of the filters, many of us are expecting a sweeping psychic change toward growth and harmony will come out of these threatening changes; however, all of these filters have us so wrapped up in "mystification" that we're failing to respond to the real, factual things going on we could be working on.

Western culture in general is experiencing a wave of "millenialism," with its attendant expectations about the "end times" that arises out of Christian teachings and the calendar change to a new millennium. Even those of us who style ourselves as pagan are subject to a degree of millennialist filtering, based on our (generally) Christian upbringing and participation in Western culture. Fundamentalism is on the rise in many religions simply because change is happening at such a rapid pace it frightens everyone—and one way to deal with such fear is to fall back on the most literal, safest knowledge one has, which was often learned in childhood. False memories of "the good old days" are prevalent, and help foster a desire to see the current fearful world "destroyed" so we can reduce our tension levels and regain a "golden state."

No one is thinking particularly rationally about all this. Take "earth changes." If widespread disasters were to occur for whatever reason, such as a pole shift, they will disproportionately harm people who live in urban and suburban areas—in other words, in high density. Look at this past year's tornadoes in the United States, where two cities (Tuscaloosa, AL and Joplin, MO) were devastated by powerful storms. The more people there are in an area, the more likely they are to experience the full brunt of a disaster—that is fact. So the idea that "earth changes" will leave behind only those whose spiritual growth is of a high order is a nice delusion; the truth is that such disasters will not make any distinction between "the good people" and "the bad people." Everyone suffers.

Second, the "end times" filter is always a moveable feast. Christians have been freaking themselves out over the end times since Christ's death—most of the apostles who bought into John's Revelation fully expected Christ's return in their lifetimes. Gee, it didn't happen. With each subsequent generation, and in particular around major century and millennium changes in the Christian calendar, such "end times" predictions have gained widespread dispersion. And, yet, it has not happened. We've gone through at least a dozen "end times" predictions in my lifetime—the 2012 business is only the latest. And, yet, it has not happened—and is is not going to happen. We are distracting ourselves from the real problems facing us by freaking ourselves out with unfounded beliefs.

Problem 1) Overpopulation. By mid-century, we will have roughly 9 billion people on the planet. This puts a huge strain on resources, particularly coupled with the trend toward urbanization. Sheer mass of bodies starts to cause local systems to break down, and subjects larger numbers of people to the natural disasters that do occur.

Problem 2) Racial, ethnic, and religious strife and fundamentalism. We must get past the idea that some of us have the "truth," while the rest of us are "unbelievers," or somehow inferior. In-group versus out-group biases served us well when we were hunter-gatherers 50,000 years ago, but are no longer useful or helpful. We are all one single people, a single species sharing a limited planet with no place to migrate to if things go bad. Whatever spiritual growth we may achieve must be directed toward understanding, acceptance, and compassion for all human beings if any of us are to survive.

Problem 3) Environmental degradation. Global climate change is real, it is occurring at a rapid rate, and it will cause real, nasty "earth changes" that may be beyond our abilities to control. Adding heat to the atmosphere and oceans adds fuel that drives weather around the world, and causes established weather patterns to shift, bringing drought to some places, heavier rains and more intense storms to others, and generally wreaking havoc on people's lives. When this has happened in the past, people, animals, and plants have generally either gone extinct or migrated to different environmental niches to survive. Unfortunately, there is nowhere to go this time.

There are other problems facing us, but these are the ones that are "in our faces" at the moment. And, yes, that is my filters activating. I want us to wake up and begin to deal with these problems, rather than try to dismiss or hide from them, or obscure them in petty bullshit that goes nowhere. I do not know for sure that we can do anything before these problems overwhelm us, but as a spiritual, compassionate human being, I believe that we must at least try. But it's a very hard shift for us to pull off.

One of the ways that you can identify your own filters, and work at clearing them up so that you deal with the world as it is requires that you reflect on what you think you know, what emotional load that knowledge has for you, and whether it accords with your own behavior and events around you. This requires that you listen not only to those who agree with you, but also to those who do not. For example, in the case of the Maya Calendar, you can get a smorgasbord of ideas from the New Age psychic community founded in a loose understanding of how the Maya Calendar works, but it is also important to listen to the archaeologists and anthropologists who have actually been working with the Maya themselves. If you do this, you will very quickly find out that the Maya never conceived of the December 21, 2012 date as "the end of the world," instead it simply marks a period ending that would be celebrated for the sake of their Long Count calendar "rolling over." Just as some people celebrate when the odometer on their car rolls over 10,000 miles.

"End of the world" filters prevent us from seeing things we could actually affect and change. If we wish to be healers, and people dedicated to creating a better world, are we not obligated to quit distracting ourselves with conspiracies and fantasies? One of the first things we need to do to heal others is to first heal ourselves! It takes practice to catch yourself in filtering information, but if we want to grow as spiritual beings we are obligated to do the work.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Lunation Cycle in natal charts

After completing the 30 days of the Moon journaling project, I wanted to get back to a question I was asked concerning what the phase of the Moon under which you were born has to do with the spiritual lessons you're challenged to meet in this lifetime. I've seen two models for this. One is Dane Rudhyar's, which refines the Lunar cycle into 8 phases, and the other is a more Eastern one that divides the cycle into 28 mansions, one for each day. Both can be useful, although I'm more familiar with Rudhyar's version, and will use it here.

The Lunar cycle starts at New Moon, when the Sun and Moon are in conjunction. Since the Moon moves roughly 12.5 degrees per day, we usually treat the day before the actual conjunction to the day after the conjunction as representing the New Moon phase. A Solar eclipse can only happen on the day when the Moon is exactly conjunct and in front of the Sun. A good ephemeris (or astrologer) can tell you if you were born under an eclipse.

After the Moon reaches 13.5 degrees ahead (counter-clockwise) of the Sun, it is in the Crescent phase. We see it in the sky after sunset, setting soon after. The Crescent grows a little wider each day, until it gets about 78 degrees ahead of the sun, which starts the First Quarter phase that peaks with a 90-degree square to the Sun, followed by another day's 13.5-degree journey onward. The Moon's brightness continues to grow through the Gibbous phase, coming closer and closer to Full, which starts when the Moon is at about 167 degrees counterclockwise from the Sun's position, peaks at 180 degrees opposite the Sun, and then wanes off the third day 13.5 degrees later.

The Full Moon rises at sunset, reaches the meridian overhead at midnight, and sets at dawn the next day. If the angles between the Moon's and Sun's orbits meet (the nodes), then a Lunar Eclipse may occur at Full Moon. On way to remember the waxing phase is that the Moon will always be up in the early part of the night, which is why it is the cycle we so often see and are aware of.

After the waxing cycle is over, the Moon begins to wane—She looses light every day, starting with Her Disseminating phase. This appears almost as a rewind of the Gibbous phase, with each day shaving off a little more of the curved, lighted face. We often view the waning phase as the Moon being behind the Sun (e.g., clockwise) to make the degree calculations easier. When the Disseminating Moon reaches 104 degrees clockwise from the Sun's position, She shifts to Last Quarter phase, which peaks when the Moon reaches 90 degrees clockwise from the Sun. Each of the waning phases rises later and later at night, with Last Quarter rising at midnight and setting around noon the next day; it and the Disseminating phase are often seen early in the morning in the western sky.

The final phase before New is the Balsamic phase, ranging from 13.5 degrees behind the Sun to 78 degrees behind, and reprises the Crescent phase in reverse. Each Balsamic crescent rises later and thinner each day in the eastern sky before dawn. It is probably the least seen phase of all because most people aren't up that early.

One of my astrological teachers told us that the Planets are our Teachers in this lifetime, while the Signs they are in are the spiritual lessons we're here to learn, and the Houses are the classrooms of life in which the lessons get taught. Aspects affect the lessons much like being in a school; easy aspects, like the trine represent smooth cooperation between the different lessons, while difficult aspects, such as squares and oppositions, can lead to conflicting lesson goals and tension to resolve.

So as a Teacher, what is the Moon standing for? She is our inner self, our intuition, dreams, wishes, emotions, needs, desires, nurturing of self and others, and a model for femininity, especially of the motherly nature. It is important that we all learn to accept and find spiritual balance with all of our Lunar issues, because we otherwise project them onto other people, and get distressed when they don't match up to our unconscious expectations. From a Karmic point of view, the phase of the Moon can help us understand the spiritual lesson we chose to learn in this lifetime, and where we are in the process of manifesting it, which can take several lifetimes.

I'm not going to go deeply into the different meanings of the planets, signs, and houses; that information is covered much more adequately elsewhere. What I propose to do here is to give an overview of what it may be like to be born under a particular lunar phase, and give an example with signs and houses to reinforce it. Except for the very last example, none of these represent any actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise, that I know of. The last one I take full responsibility for.

For those born at New Moon, you are truly in a spiritual mode of great transition, as the previous lesson falls away and your spirit awakens reborn to pursue the new lesson it has chosen. If the New Moon is eclipsed, that may either represent challenges you will have to overcome in getting to the start of your lesson, or a need to work inwardly rather than outwardly to find your path. Think about this phase as the moment of setting out on a long journey, determining what you will need to take with you, and what challenges you will meet to get there. Your Sun and Moon are generally in the same Sign, so your outward ego expression (Sun) and conscious self is directed toward learning the same lesson as the Moon, which can help you find your way.

So, let's say you have New Moon in Capricorn in the 7th house. The 7th house is the classroom of relationships with others, both romantic and everyday. At least part of your spiritual journey this time is to learn how to get your needs met through relationships with others while respecting their needs as individuals. The sign of Capricorn is a difficult teacher here, as Capricorns tend to emphasize tradition, order, and control; part of your lesson may be to learn how to let the other person in the relationship have needs of their own, and to express them without fear of you dismissing or taking them over. You would want to particularly focus on your needs for nurturing and images of the archetypal mother figure to clearly define them to yourself, so that you do not try to force the other person to fit your unconscious model—which is unlikely to be theirs!

For those born during the waxing Crescent phase, this is a time when you begin to define and refine what you plan to do on this current spiritual journey. While the New Moon is like the beginning of an idea taking shape, people born in the Crescent phase begin to make the idea manifest. But whatever the spiritual creation, idea, lesson, or path, it is still a time of innocence and experimentation, a time to play around with new concepts to see what fits. Just as the Crescent appears to gain light each night after sunset, so do Crescent people gain definition in this phase of their spiritual journey.

For example, say that in your natal chart you have a Crescent Moon in Pisces in the 5th house. Pisces, ruled by Neptune, can be very compatible with the Moon's intuitive, emotional nature, and can drive great creativity, which the 5th house of children, luck, gambling, and vice can help or hinder. The energy of Pisces thrives at the boundaries of the physical world and the Otherworld, bringing images, intuitions, dreams, and insights to people. Someone with a Crescent Moon in Pisces will find these images fascinating, like watching clouds or soap bubbles, and want to play further with them; however, the downside of Pisces can be a drift toward nightmare, drugs, and dropping out. Much depends on the other planets in the chart, and the individual's desire to apply a degree of discipline to what he or she chooses to do. A Crescent Moon in Pisces reflects a Sun in either Pisces, Aquarius, or possibly Capricorn, each of which bring their own vibes to the journey, and can reinforce or counter some of the positive traits of the Moon in this sign. One may find oneself surviving a few "lucky" scrapes, only to grow a bit wiser and more attentive in the next lesson!

The First Quarter Moon phase brings a powerful challenge to the spiritual creation and growth begun during a Crescent Moon phase lifetime. Here, the Moon is caught halfway between New and Full, roughly 90 degrees forward of the Sun. It's as though the Sun and Moon are pulling a person in different directions! Think of it as though your body is just getting into Summer in June, while your emotions are busy watching leaves drop in the Fall—a bit confusing to say the least. But this phase gives you chances to reflect on your spiritual path so far, and to make changes, amendments, or deletions as needed. Seize the chance and let go of anything that isn't working well.

For someone with First Quarter Moon in Taurus in the 2nd house, your lunar nature seeks to put down roots, make things steady and stable, and most of all, to go slow. The second house is about personal possessions, property, money, and needs, and you may find yourself challenged not to cling to things. Just because that threadbare, ratty old shirt makes you feel comfortable and you've worn it since you were in high school doesn't mean that it's not ready for the rag bin! Since your Sun is likely to be in Aquarius, your ego nature is often so focused on the future and things to come that you get into a tug of war with your need to nest. The spiritual challenge here is to find a balance between running headlong into new things and hanging on to every old thing you've ever encountered. Spiritually, this could manifest in a desire to change one's religion, or to examine a more earth-centered spirituality.

People born during the Gibbous Moon phase, when the light is increasing toward Full shine very brightly, and often work very hard polishing the last edges off of their spiritual creation they began a while back. But there may be a bit of a feeling of pushing for final exams, because your efforts are not yet completely there yet! You may choose to be careful and considerate in making any large or small changes at this stage because your spiritual lesson feels just about right, but a little reflection and judicious reworking can make ordinary artwork into a masterpiece.

Take the example of someone with Gibbous Moon in Leo in the 7th house, most likely four or five signs ahead of the Sun (which is back in Taurus or Aries). The lesson of Leo is about shining your light in the world before others, being seen and appreciated, while the 7th house tends to represent your relationships with others, both romantic and routine. Part of the challenge you may find here is in letting your partner shine his or her light also, and in learning to damp yourself down a bit so you don't overwhelm them. If your Sun is in Taurus, you may find yourself struggling stubbornly over the spotlight, or constantly needing reassurance that your partner appreciates you. If the Sun is in Aries, a fiery sign of self-creation, you may find yourself really driven into making powerful partnerships that help you climb to the top of whatever field you choose. The spiritual lesson here would be that you cannot "go it alone," but must appreciate others to gain the appreciation you seek.

The Full Moon phase is the peak of the growth cycle, when everything finally comes together and you shine the brightest of the cycle. The Moon is directly opposite the Sun, reflecting back its full glory. You could visualize the spiritual nature of this like an artist whose work is finally being presented in an important gallery, or who has gained recognition for his or her work from the critics. Although the Sun and Moon are in opposite signs, they constitute a polarity that often works extremely well together, and reinforce one another. This is not necessarily going to be an easy life, but it will be one where you achieve the goals that you set way back in your New Moon lifetime.

What might this look like? Suppose that your Moon is in Libra in the 4th house while your Sun is in Aries in the 10th. The 4th house is often associated with the mother, with the foundation of life, and sometimes those things you hide in the dark, while the 10th is the house of careers, the father, and the point where you are most out in the world. The lesson of Libra is balance and harmony; your lunar nature needs peace and for people to cooperate and work together. You may draw on the nurturing strength of your Full Moon to help mediate conflicts, bring creative harmony to the new projects your Sun tries to bring into being, or to suffer from indecision over the promptings of the Sun to be out and doing things. The spiritual goal is to bring both sides of yourself into balance so that you can achieve the greatest good out of your growth so far, but there will also be challenges that can make it difficult.

Once the Full Moon begins to wane, it enters the Disseminating phase, which mirrors the Gibbous phase in reverse. As the Moon moves away from full, the light begins to decrease—but there is still quite a bit of it to go around. For someone born during the Disseminating phase, this is often a time to teach others about the spiritual lessons you've learned so far, to pass along all the insights you've gained, and to begin to give back some of the "light" you've picked up during the waxing phases. The Moon lies 4 or 5 signs clockwise from the Sun now, bringing the challenges of maturity to your spiritual path.

Suppose that your Moon is in Gemini in the 8th house, while your Sun is in Aquarius in the 3rd. The 8th house is the opposite of the 2nd, concerned with other people's money, property, sex, death, and the occult, while the 3rd house concerns childhood friends, schooling, and general communications (Gemini's natural house). Your lunar nature will want to communicate about all these important subjects, perhaps as a political reporter or investment analyst (or a trance medium), while your Sun in Aquarius seeks new ways to reframe the old conversations and generate new buzz. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the people inventing new ways to use global communications and the Internet don't have something like this in their charts. In any case, your lunar nature craves interconnection and stimulation, while telling everyone about the things you've heard or learned.

At Last Quarter Moon, we're once again 90 degrees away from the Sun, but in a diminishing aspect rather than growing. A person born with this configuration will face challenges of letting go of things that do not serve them on their journey anymore, even though they've become dear after you created and grew with them all those lifetimes. Part of the process of spiritual growth is assessment; some things you've learned remain useful soul tools to take with you, as are some karmic attachments you've formed to people or places. But your lessons now will be to consider them carefully and let them go with grace if it is time to do so. It can feel a bit like retiring after a long career, or seeing the house empty after the kids are grown, but this lifetime can also be a time of enjoying quieter times and the strength of lessons learned.

If your Last Quarter Moon is in Sagittarius in the 6th house, your Sun is probably in Pisces in the 9th or 10th house. The Sagittarian energy is also involved in communications, like Gemini, but often over longer distances. Your lunar nature will find fascination with foreign lands and languages, travel, and seeking new horizons, while your Sun in Pisces may be happy just to sit and watch rainbows. Or it could draw you toward a shamanic path, where you seek the Otherworld to gain new knowledge and bring it back to share with others; the point is that in the 6th house, your Moon seeks vocation and health. You want to work, to make things better, to leave the world a better place for your having been in it. Concentrate on getting your talents behind your Piscean psychism and dreaminess, and find ways to make it work for yourself and others. Or go on a spiritual quest to distant, unexplored lands and sample as many unknown psychoactive herbs as you can find! You never know; that may just be what you need to do at this point in your spiritual evolution.

Finally, there is the waning Crescent or Balsamic Phase. If you were observing the Moon on the day you were born, you would have to be up in the early hours just before dawn, since the thin sliver of Moon is only visible in the last hour or two before sunrise. This phase represents the last stage of letting go of karmic debts, of settling your spiritual accounts, and of consolidating your gains from this cycle before its end. Many of the lessons you encounter will be about endings, taking leave, and moving onward, and you may find yourself getting restless if you stay too long in one place, or with one person. (Or that could just be me, this is the phase I was born under.)

Take for instance someone born with Moon in Libra in the 9th house and Sun in Scorpio in the 10th house (me again). Having my Moon in Libra has driven me to find quiet places and peace as much as possible, despite often being in situations where there was a lot of conflict going on around me. I've moved a lot, and often felt that I never really set down roots, but those I have set down go deep. The tension I experience between my Moon and Sun is often when I feel wounded by something done to me, and my Scorpio Sun kicks up my anger, which can get ugly. It leaves my lunar side feeling terribly embarrassed by it all, and wanting to hide. But you cannot hide from yourself, you can only sit down and figure out how to do better the next time. Spiritually, I find myself drawing on many methods and ideas that come to me through reading or through past-life memories, which I try to make harmonize with the experiences I'm having this time around. All I know is that this long cycle has been an adventure, and I look forward to seeing what comes up next time around at New Moon.
Rudhyar, D. (1967). The Lunation Cycle: A key to the understanding of personality. Santa Fe, NM: Aurora Press.