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On the Perils of Telling People What to Do

“Should I marry this person?”

“Is this job right for me?”

“What would be a good time for me to have plastic surgery?

These are the types of questions astrologers often receive from clients seeking insights into the workings of their lives. Years ago, I would have done my best to answer such questions and come up with some sort of definitive “yes” or “no” response. After all, these people were paying me for advice – weren’t they?

But like the old Bob Dylan song goes: “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.”

Over the years I’ve found myself taking a more cautions – and hopefully subtler – approach toward my duties as an astrologer, as I’ve thought long and hard about what these duties really entail. Am I truly there to make up my clients’ minds for them concerning significant life decisions? More importantly, perhaps, what are the real consequences – for both the client and me – of saying things that could alter a person’s life forever? As tempting as it may be to “help” a person through a genuinely difficult period, there is a thin line between helpful counsel and unwise interference with another person’s destiny.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Many years ago a friend called to say he was going to travel with a tour group through China in a few months. He had never set foot outside the U.S. in his entire life, so he was eagerly looking forward to this opportunity and began preparing for his trip in every possible way. Just out of curiosity, and without telling him, I decided to check out his horoscope. And I was somewhat startled to find a host of challenging transits firing in his horoscope precisely when he would be on this trip (specifically, powerful Pluto, Uranus and Saturn transits and progressions). Yes there was a decent Jupiter trine thrown in for good measure, not to mention a subtle Neptune sextile as well. But by and large it was the sort of astrological profile I myself would probably have avoided were I planning a trip by the stars.

Maturity Matters

What to do? Should I tell him about his decidedly mixed aspects or button my lip and keep it all to myself? A few years earlier, I would probably have done the altruistic thing by volunteering my advice on the matter, and thus saving him the problem of a potentially terrible trip. But the day before drawing up the chart I had stumbled across a passage in a spiritually –oriented book that impressed me deeply and set me to thinking. The passage stated that true mystics or gurus never volunteer their teaching uninvited – a spiritual version of Star Trek’s “prime directive” of noninterference you might say.

I’d heard this general idea before, but because it popped up so close in time to this current dilemma it made me reflect all the more deeply on my tendency to offer counsel to friends or family even when it wasn’t beckoned. So after deliberating for a bit I decided to hold off telling my friend what I thought about his difficult planetary energies during the upcoming trip to China.

So what happened? As it turned out my friend went on the trip – and it proved to be a life-changing experience in ways that neither of us could have foreseen. While he was hiking through a remote region of China with his tour group a local villager in a nearby area suffered serious injuries. My friend knew some basic first-aid, so he became closely involved with the rescue efforts. As could be expected under the transits the entire scene was indeed one of chaos and anxiety, yet the resulting experience marked a key turning point in his young life. Not only did it bring him into contact with an aspect of foreign culture he wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, but it also served as a catalyst for his becoming more involved in humanitarian activities on a global scale.

Most likely, none of this would have even happened had I opened my big fat mouth and volunteered my sage advice early on.

A Fine Line

Since then, I’ve been much more careful about freely, or at least too casually, dispensing my advice to people. But what if a client asks me for my advice on major life decisions? Surely that wouldn’t violate the spiritual principle of noninterference, would it?   But even then, I find myself being as careful and nondirective as humanly possible. After all, who among us is truly wise enough to know all the ramifications under any given situation, whether acted upon or not? No astrologer is omniscient. We cannot know all the variables of any situation, so we need to approach our discipline with a certain humility regarding our own grasp of “what is best” – or what isn’t.

Even more to the point, who can say that a certain experience should be avoided simply because it may prove physically or emotionally difficult?   How can we really know for sure what lessons a person might need to learn from a certain challenging situation? History is replete with examples of individuals whose lives were changed – or whose lives, in turn, changed the world by seemingly difficult experiences.

Take Rosa Parks, the black woman who almost single-handedly initiated a civil rights revolution in the early 1960s by refusing to move to the back of that Birmingham, Alabama bus. Without knowing her actual horoscope it’s safe to say Ms. Parks probably had some very challenging aspects during the time of her epochal confrontation. I’ve sometimes wondered how I would have handled it had someone like that come to me for astrological counsel before hand and asked me what to do during that particular period. Would I have told Rosa to simply avoid confrontational situations during that time or even stay at home on those “bad” days? Much as I hate to admit it, I fear that 25 years ago I probably would have done my best to steer such a person away from potentially difficult situations like this.

What is the solution here? Do we simply refrain entirely from giving advice or pointing the client in one direction or another? Not necessarily. There are some things that I would suggest as corrective measures when dealing with this problem: First, I try to remember that my role as an astrological consultant is not to make up my clients’ minds for them, nor to tell them how to live their lives; rather, it’s to provide them with as much information as possible to best help them make their own decisions. In this respect, the astrologer is less of a guru than a coach – helping to draw out the client’s own inner wisdom and intuitions in situations like this.

Astrologer Christina Fielding remarked that she prefers to see the client as “driving the car” while she is the “ride along,” the person reading the map. In that spirit, I see my purpose as being there to illuminate the situation as fully as possible and to point out the potential ramifications of the situations or decisions to be encountered on the road ahead – while ultimately leaving the final decision up to my clients.

As part of that ride-along process I may choose to inform them as comprehensively as possible of both the “good” and “bad” possibilities inherent in any option before them. But I don’t make the final judgment call.