Stories as Therapy

You have probably heard the story about the rabbi and the poor farmer who came to him for advice. With a wife and four children to feed, and just a small overcrowded hut to live in, his main problem was the lack of space. On his first visit the rabbi advised him to move his goats into the house and come back after a week. Puzzled but obedient, the poor farmer faithfully followed the advice. A week later the rabbi asked him how things were going. “Terrible” said the farmer, “the house is even more crowded”. So the rabbi suggested he move his chickens into the house, and to come back if things did not get better after a week. The following week the farmer stated that it was almost impossible for the whole family to exist in the house together with the goats and the chickens. “Don’t worry”, said the rabbi, “Next week take your cow into the house, and let me know if things have improved after a week.” After the week had elapsed, the farmer was beside himself with desperation. “Hmm…” said the rabbi, “Let’s try something new. Put the cow, chickens and goats outside the hut and come back to me after a week. The next week the rabbi asked him how things were going. “Life is wonderful”, said the poor farmer, “you won’t believe how much space we have”.
And it’s true, isn’t it… everything is relative. The human mind has an amazing capacity to look at life, and instead of smiling with satisfaction at the 95% of life that is pretty good, it focuses on that 5% that is dreadful. That 5% is like a fly that buzzes around the food when you are enjoying a picnic on a beautiful summer’s day.

Recently I had a client who had built up a brilliant dot com business, which he subsequently sold for so much money, that he could live a life of luxury from the annual interest. He was visiting the country and stayed with a couple who had been married for 25 years and had two gifted children who were soon to attend university. This couple were in a state of constant worry about their finances. My client on the other hand, was spellbound by what he considered to be a well-functioning and happy family. In his new world he never knew the true motivation of the women who sought out his company, and he had not managed to settle with a partner.

When working with clients, a simple intervention technique is to change perspective on the situation. The horoscope tends to show an equal balance of good fortune and bad fortune. Difficult aspects involving Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto will reflect life situations which people strive to overcome and thereby develop wonderful character traits like determination, solidarity, empathy and psychological insight. Fortunate aspects and strong planet placements reflect resources that are constantly drawn upon bringing happiness and satisfaction. It is almost always possible to place client experience in a different frame, so that the client appreciates and enjoys the good fortune rather worrying about the problems.

The reality of the situation is that no matter how bad things are, they can actually get worse. There is always something to be grateful for. There is always someone in a far worse position. And if you focus on the 95% of life that is good for 100% of the time, you will be happy all the time. Astrologically the trick is to identify the good aspects, because they unfailingly show talent, success and pleasure. (Note 1) This technique works best with something like Sun trine Jupiter (euphoric vision) or Venus sextile Jupiter (pleasurable talents) rather than with aspects to Saturn, Neptune and Pluto which always bring some challenges, sorrow and upheaval even when the aspect is good. When people fully appreciate the amazing good fortune that good aspects represent they inevitably feel grateful.

Metaphors
There are times when you have a pretty clear idea about what a client needs to do, but for one reason or another, it is difficult to tell them. Recently I had a client who had been married for many years, with two children he loved, but dissatisfaction in the marriage, particularly sexually, led him into one secret love after another. A Gemini, with almost all his planets in mutable signs, he was a multitalented person who danced his way through life. But with Saturn in Pisces on his Descendant, his partner was mysteriously discontented. He wondered aloud: could he just glide through this period with periodic love affairs without disturbing the equilibrium of his marriage?

Consultation chart: July 2nd, 2009 14.30 Copenhagen

One glance at the consultation chart reveals that this client is in deep trouble and that trouble is going to get deeper. He is represented by a dignified Venus in Taurus in the 8th, ethically challenged, as it were, by its square to 5th house ruler Jupiter… those love affairs. The square to Neptune gives a deeper shade of deception, and the fact that Venus is on the fixed star Algol, suggests that his head is on the block. His wife is represented by Mars in detriment in Taurus, which is soon going to hit Algol and square Chiron, Neptune and Jupiter. To stir this sticky pot a little more, the Moon is in fall in Scorpio, soon to make an opposition to both Venus and Mars.

It was time for a metaphor. I had the feeling that no matter what I said, this person was unlikely to change and reluctant to face up to the reality of his position. Do you know that feeling of having left a cheese at the back of the fridge? Months have gone by. One day you see a dark object and you reach in to remove it, whatever it is. As your fingers sink into the soft and furry exterior, you begin to wonder. It is when the stink hits your nostrils that you remember the cheese. Now here is the question. Should you put the cheese back and hope it will go away? Or do you have to take it out – take everything out – and give the fridge a thorough clean to remove all the fungus spores?

This is an effective Moon in Scorpio metaphor, because this placement often suggests putting things on ice, bad tastes and smells, and trouble stored up for the future. Whether the client will work with his wife to resolve their mutual dissatisfaction, I am not sure. But he won’t forget that cheese.

Well-chosen metaphors should mobilize the sensory system that is involved in as vivid a way as possible. Positive Jupiter metaphors would conjure up visual panoramas, negative Jupiter metaphors the intellectual discomfort that arises from that wagging moral finger. Positive Saturn metaphors would conjure up the physical evidence of status, negative Saturn metaphors the crushing weight of setbacks. Positive Uranus metaphors the exhilarating excitement of social interaction and discovery, negative Uranus metaphors the anaesthetized numbness of remoteness and separation. And positive Neptune metaphors should access the sense of oneness with the world and nature, whilst negative metaphors could conjure up the poignancy of being alone.

Sharing your inner feeling

There are consultations that seem to get nowhere. A layer of fog descends. You may feel bored, irritated, insecure, stupid. It is at this point that an amazingly effective technique can be used that completely blows away the fog and electrifies the consultation. It is fair to assume that whatever you, as the astrologer, are feeling in the consultation, other people who are part of the client’s life are sure also to feel. You are the 7th house in the consultation chart, and your experience of the client is valid evidence. This knowledge is dynamite. I had one young client with a Moon/Mars conjunction in Aries in the 6th house, who could only keep her work for a short period at a time. At some point she lost her temper, downed tools, and walked. The odd thing was that I too felt more and more irritated as the consultation progressed. I summoned up the courage and told her how I felt. She lost her temper and got up to leave. I pointed out that she was free to go, but if she wanted to have a satisfying work life, she would be better off staying, which she did, and the consultation proceeded with a new authenticity and honesty.

Presenting your own feelings as evidence requires clarity – you don’t want to mix your own issues up with the client’s – and bravery, because you almost always have to reveal your own insecurity or vulnerability. I recently had a very rewarding experience with a client who had come about 12 times over the last decade. I never felt comfortable with this client; I knew she was good at astrology, a member of Mensa, and basically I did not think I could tell her anything that she did not know already. Finally I said it. The client had a strong Mercury/Pluto/North Node conjunction square Jupiter, which is a characteristic signature for someone who is extremely sensitive to both ignorance and intellectual arrogance. When I told her how I felt intellectually insecure, it opened up a whole area in her horoscope I had never previously grasped. For as a child genius she was exposed both to her teachers and fellow students as a child, and she had carefully concealed her intellectual brilliance to avoid the pain of isolation, which apparently was typical behavior for people with extremely high IQ’s. But this concealment had the unwanted effect of putting other people off balance, which is what had continually happened to me.

This kind of mirroring is extraordinarily effective in circumstances when you feel that something must be done to get the consultation moving. It has to be based honestly on what you feel, and not actually projected onto the client, which will only activate defense mechanisms. Mercury/Pluto clients, who can sometimes drone on, evoking exhaustion, can be disarmed by explaining how you find it difficult to get a word in. Moon/Uranus clients, who can sometimes evoke the sensation that you are a disembodied, can be reached when you share this feeling. Mars/Jupiter people, who can make you feel incompetent or stupid, can suddenly show understanding and empathy when you let them know this. It is a rewarding experience both for you and the client.

Relativity, metaphors and mirroring are three techniques that just require imagination, honesty and sensitivity – useful skills in the astrological consultation that do not require special training. Mirroring/sharing kick starts consultations that risk petering out into irrelevance. Metaphors sneakily slip through the defenses of people who don’t want to confront uncomfortable truths. Understanding the relative nature of reality makes people appreciate what they have got, instead of worrying about what they haven’t got. It is the understanding that it is best to have just enough of something – not too much, and not too little. That to live in a western country with prosperity, family, health and work is a tremendous privilege, no matter what challenges arise.

Adrian Ross Duncan. July 7th 2009

1. Please see section on Resources in my book: “Astrology: Transformation and Empowerment”.

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