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Kingston, NY, March, 2009

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Venus Retrograde: Finding the Missing Piece
I saw a man standing on that hill
walking around like he's got no one
will I end up like him, all alone?
girl, when you go I've got no soul

-- Bedouin Soundclash
Dear Friend and Reader:

Most of us, myself included, have spent much of our lives searching for our missing piece, in the form of a Special Relationship. I'm going to capitalize that term, because it's a direct reference to a concept introduced by A Course in Miracles. Without giving a wholesale endorsement of that book, I think this is a valuable concept to understand if you're working toward growth and better relationships; it seems to be the main thing standing in the way.

Basically, the Special Relationship is something that is embarked on from a sense of incompletion. It should be no great surprise that it often leads precisely back to that place, because we cannot find completion in another person.

The Course takes the position that the search for this kind of relationship is a substitute for finding our inner core and living from there. In effect, what we think of as "love" becomes a substitute for what we think of as "God" and at the end of the day, or the end of our lives, this particular effort typically leads to neither.

This whole psychic ecosystem is perfect for marketing culture, and I think it's perpetuated, in part, for that reason. There is so much unfulfillment -- emotional, sexual, social and otherwise -- that we live in a sea of spiritual hunger; and that hunger we attempt to fulfill either with products, ranging from stuff to make us more desirable to stuff for its own sake to stuff to kill others (our economy is still based on military spending). The constant search for this elusive missing thing creates a society based on attempting to find fulfillment where it is not. Have you ever considered the paradox of why we live on such a lonely planet, when people abound everywhere? How can everyone be looking for love at the same time, and not finding it? Well, maybe because many people want something they are not willing to give.

Of course there are relationships that do succeed; that is, the people get together and actually keep growing. They honor one another as individuals and not halves of a whole. Yet the substitute is far more common than the authentic thing, and rarely distinguished from the real thing. The repetitive problems that most people face in their relationships tend to compound over time and create an abiding cynicism about love. You don't need to look too far to find this attitude.

This is not true of everyone, but I can tell you that most people who are in relationships that they find satisfying, and that are based on truth, do not look forward to the day when they might have to find someone else they actually get along with. Most of these qualify as Special Relationships because there are two entirely different standards for how to treat humanity: one for the special partner, and one for the rest of us. In that double standard, we've played divide and conquer with ourselves. The special partner gets special treatment, and they often get a special version of the truth that excludes anything that might threaten the relationship.

Untold millions of people live in relationships that they cannot really abide because the notion of living without a partner is so terrifying that they feel they have no other choice. It is astonishing to me how often we sacrifice who we are for the sake of having someone else, who is there allegedly to make us feel complete.

Note, I have just committed a form of cultural blasphemy by saying what I just said. Second note, many people are evolving past this game of seek-and-not-find, and as a result they are having a hard time connecting in fulfilling partnerships. Many have given up relationships outright. One problem compounding this situation is that we lack new models of relationship that allow us to conceive of coexisting as individuals in an atmosphere of truth. For many, the old models don't work. New Models exist but for most people they are not developed well enough to understand; or they are still too controversial to be considered socially acceptable, even though many are longing for some new ideas. I know that a lot of people who have those new ideas are afraid to utter a peep, fearing that they will be rendered ineligible for partnership at all; but that's no way to have a revolution -- or a little fun, for that matter.

If you are catching on that there's a problem, you're of above average intelligence. If you can openly admit there's a problem and that you want something more, you have some guts.

The Ruler of Libra, Retrograde in Aries

We could say a lot about the self-concept that leads to this crisis. Any concept of relationship must be based on a corresponding concept of the self that has that relationship, and I do believe the problem begins here, as does the solution. Let's see what astrology has to offer if we look through it like a lens. Remember that what you're reading is my interpretation, though I will leave my margin notes so you can follow my astrological reasoning.

Planet Waves
The Birth of Venus. William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1879.
Venus is currently retrograde in Aries. This began Friday, March 6 and extends through Friday, April 17. This is a rare event; Venus is retrograde less than any other planet, and it presents some unusual opportunities. Venus is retrograde about six weeks out of every 18 months (about 8% of the time). The most recent Venus retrogrades in Aries were in March/April of 1977, 1985, 1993, and 2001 (yes, when the retrograde is in Aries, it's always in March and April because Venus never strays far from the Sun).

Aries is the sign that represents self. Most people give Aries the keywords, "I am." Alice A. Bailey describes it as the sign where the First Ray of Will or Power reaches human consciousness. Most of us don't get so far as actual will or power; Aries becomes a stand-in for the self-concept. In traditional astrology, Aries is ruled by Mars, the god of war. It is a fire sign, entirely unlike the nature of Venus which is associated with air, earth and water (Libra, Taurus and Pisces).

Libra is the sign that is most closely associated with relationships. It's the sign opposite Aries and often gets the keywords "We Are." In addition to being about relationships, Libra's main theme seems to be about aesthetics; that is, beauty. This beauty exists on the mental and the physical levels; a sense of balance, fairness and symmetry come along with this sign. Rather than conquer, Libra wants to perceive and create.

When you put Venus into Aries you can get some strange effects. For example, you can get an emphasis on glamour and appearance for its own sake. Much of our culture acts as if it had Venus in Aries owing to this one property. Today I glanced at the cover of Marie Claire and noticed the exciting article about what handbag would make you a big hit at the summer party. Indulging yourself in this kind of thing may be excusable because it's supposedly fun, but in truth it reveals a deep problem with self-esteem. How far is that handbag really going to get you? And these symbols abound in our culture. How many people would not be seen using an older cell phone?

And how many people are willing to let on they don't have a partner? There is so much pressure to be partnered in our culture that not having a wife disqualifies someone from being president. Chogyam Trungpa said in The Way of the Spiritual Warrior that a man must marry in order to have the appearance of decency. So the presence of this other glorifies and validates the existence of the self -- Venus in Aries. But it's often a cover for some profound insecurity.

We've all run into the experience of falling in love with oneself through the other, or being in love with being in love. The other is used as a kind of stand-in for the self because the other, at least temporarily, is more acceptable to the ego (which A Course in Miracles, by the way, defines as an identity complex constructed essentially of self-hatred). The love that could be felt toward oneself is projected onto another person. This works well enough until the misgivings and hatred we feel toward ourselves become projected onto another person.

The whole business of how we really feel about ourselves is profoundly taboo territory. Embarking on a journey of conscious self-knowledge, we can go through a lot of layers of misgiving, discomfort and shame before we reach a level of comfort and equanimity with ourselves; the most basic self-acceptance.

The Tense Relationship With Ourselves

But here is a little problem. Our concepts of self-acceptance, selflove and narcissism are often conflated; that is, we don't have handy ways of thinking of them as distinct concepts. As a result, we can feel shame and embarrassment when presented with an opportunity to accept or love ourselves, because it comes along with a notion of self-aggrandizement. Working the other way, we can quickly confuse someone who is arrogant with someone who is confident or centered in herself.

Planet Waves
Onyx from Book of Blue. Photo by Eric Francis.
Venus retrograde in Aries takes us into the territory of the relationship we have with ourselves. For one thing, it emphasizes the point that we have an inner relationship at all. That relationship is often suppressed because there is so much misgiving in there, which we call things like "low self-esteem" or "depression." Most humans, so far as I can tell, have not come to terms with their own existence, and so our self-relating is fundamentally an exercise in doubt.

We could say a lot about where that doubt comes from; there are many sources. One place for sure is from our parents (a Cancer-Capricorn theme). I think that the real crisis of parental love involves the different agendas that parents and children have for one another. Most children go through a time when the parent or parents are the absolute center of their universe. But adults have more complex lives than kids, and invariably children are only part of the lives of parents.

This creates a power imbalance, and as relationships with parents are the template for relationships later in life, the stage is set for many disappointments. We can never hold the central place in anyone's life that our parents held for us; they don't love us like we love them. This is particularly true given that so many parents are negligent, which in many ways seems to be an inevitable fact of life in a society as complex and demanding as our own. I just barely have the focus to feed and take care of myself properly. I do it, but I'm right on the edge. How would I be able to take care of a child, and still do what I need to do as a member of society or as a creative person?

It does not help that many parents have narcissistic relationships with their children, that is, they see them as extensions of themselves rather than as distinct individuals. This problem is so pervasive that it's nearly invisible. It explains why we live in a society where having a relationship is viewed as a sign of worthiness, a badge of honor or evidence of being human.

To see how this equation turns out, just listen to a few or a few dozen stories of the kinds of things people often do to one another when they're in the process of getting divorced.

Plenty of what we experience in relationships -- the adulation, the cruelty, the admiration, the love -- is about projection. Venus retrograde in Aries is about taking back those projections, and seeking something within ourselves. That could be a feminine identity within the prevailing masculine concept of "self" that we exist with. That sounds like making a discovery of the inner goddess, a core feminine identity that is entirely different than what we normally think of as ourselves. For both men and women, Venus retrograde in Aries is about seeking the beauty we see outside ourselves, within ourselves.

Planet Waves
Ange from Book of Blue. Photo by Eric Francis.
As Venus moves retrograde through Aries, it's going to do three things that I mentioned last week. One is that on April 3, it's going to form a square to Pluto in Capricorn. This is a deep, introverted aspect, and we encounter the Capricorn factor of those relationships with our parents. This aspect has a lusty, passionate quality that is both urgent and self-centered -- and I think we need to let it be precisely that.

The second thing Venus is going to do is cross the Aries Point. This is the first degree of Aries, which is the place the Sun is when Northern Hemisphere springtime begins: the sidereal vernal point. This is the "personal is political" place in the zodiac -- the place where we see that our lives are constantly at an intersection with the larger public life. There is a discovery that we have something in common with many other people; that we are not actually alone in our journey or our plight, but we have to be alone first to witness that truth and not expect others to invite us along.

There is also something here about being confronted by how rigid our ideas of sex and relationships are. Aries views nearly everything as a competitive sport, including love, friendship, etc. Venus in Aries is competitive oh boy, but turn her retrograde and you can turn the popularity Olympics into a deep inwardly-directed question. Our accepted relationship model leaves no room for experimentation; that is why so many people cheat. Most of us drag around a prudish quality that is more befitting a convent, only we live in a world where we are driven to artificially sexualize ourselves, or are confronted by constant sexual aggression. Venus square Pluto, much like Venus retrograde, turns this conversation inward, asking us to identify sources of both aggression and resistance within ourselves.

Finally, Venus gets wet. This is where we find the missing piece. Venus, the goddess, was born in the ocean and when she stations direct she will be in the last degree of Pisces. We're suddenly relieved of all of this exploration and obsession over self and enter territory that is at once collective, spiritual and sexual. Venus stays in this degree for nearly two weeks (April 11-April 24) while she slows down, stations direct and begins to cover the territory where she was just retrograde.

To me this is an opening where something new can be born: a new idea about ourselves, a new sense of freedom and most of all, the sense of something we actually have to offer others. We do, but I'll tell you this -- it's not a token. Love is not on the barter system. Like breathing, it's something we do because we're alive.

Yours & truly,
Eric Francis

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