I am Telling You What To Do

(12.2.02) Okay, I've been keeping myself so busy, preaching about change and all this eclipse business, I haven't had a chance to mention my latest TV obsession, Dr. Phil. For those unfamiliar with this latest daytime-TV savior, Dr. Phil McGraw is a psychologist who was recently gifted with his own talk show after a few years as a semi-regular on Oprah. Dr. Phil gained popularity with his no-nonsense, get-off-your-ass-and-do-something-about-it attitude, doled out, with a hearty Texas drawl, in heavy doses to troubled female viewers needing practical help. Now he has his own full hour five days a week, during which his guests get a couple minutes each to share their stories and another five minutes to hear him affirm their feelings—then tell them what is totally wrong about their lives and firmly command them to change it.

Dr. Phil's manner is gruff and aggressive, and he doesn't hesitate to humiliate his guests while reminding them he isn't trying to humiliate them, just to help them. Which is why I can't stand the man—even as I cannot deny that his advice, despite the tone, is often right on the money. He smacks of hypocrisy, with his arrogant know-it-all-isms that paint some self-portrait of imagined perfection. And yet I'm sure that the list of people waiting to get on the show for help from Dr. Phil is enormous. They show up with sob story after sob story, of loneliness and purposelessness and family drama and other forms of suburban misery, eager to be told in blunt and uncertain terms about their own deficiencies on national television. I'm most fascinated by this dimension of the show, which I characterize unsarcastically as psychosexual, where the strapping and cocky master simultaneously shames and rescues dejected women, and the occasional whipped husband who's been coerced into joining his wife. (If you don't believe there are sexual undertones to Dr. Phil, just witness the promotional spot aired during the show, urging home viewers to join the live studio audience. In it, Dr. Phil sits in the audience, smiling, not humbly, as two women, one on either side, tell us, "He's even better-looking in person. No, really. He is." Narcissism at its finest.) Yes, Dr. Phil gives decent advice, but the show's immediate success (it's this season's #1 new daytime show) is more traceable to its underlying power dynamic: Let's face it, people just can't get enough of being told what to do.

I have moments in my own career, in the midst of my weekly columns, when I am self-conscious of becoming too didactic like some kindler, gentler, astrological Dr. Phil. Actually, I imagine myself a bit more like Queen Oprah herself, urging her viewers to "remember your spirit" while instructing them on which books are worth reading and which products make the best Christmas gifts. At least Oprah doesn't (usually) pretend to be perfect, or else can't maintain the illusion when her yo-yoing weight makes the front page of the National Enquirer. I personally find it easier to heed advice from people who seem to struggle themselves, who admit to needing to hear, and follow, their own advice at times. I try to foster this vibe in my writings (in case you haven't noticed by the preponderance of the first-person-singular pronoun and its corresponding confessionals), so that I can demonstrate how I use astrology in my life and hopefully provide inspiration for others seeking similar assistance in theirs. The one thing I'm missing, of course, is a batch of exhibitionist guests to illustrate my points using the specificity of their lives. Astrology, as I deploy it in my writings, is great for describing trends in the necessary abstractions and generalities. It's also quite helpful when applied more directly to an individual's life, in looking at his or her natal chart and tracing how current astrological trends might be affecting that person.

This personalized strategy proves particularly handy during times like this week's solar eclipse, to determine how a major astrological event may play out in each of our lives. Generally speaking, a solar eclipse is like a super-charged new moon that brings with it new beginnings, recommitments or dramatic changes in directions. Beginnings are often accompanied by endings, just as the solar eclipse's burst of initiatory energy is commonly linked to the lunar eclipse's sudden revelation of previously submerged emotional dynamics.

This Tuesday's solar eclipse is at 12 degrees Sagittarius (each sign consists of 30 degrees, making up thezodiac's 360-degree circle), coloring it with traits associated with Sagittarius: expansion of belief systems; the reach for meaning, justice and philosophy; foreign travel; lively conversation; cutting through the details to get to the heart of the matter. On Tuesday evening, the night sky's lunar darkness signals our opportunity to reestablish what our Truth is or, most likely, where we should turn now in our lifelong quest for It. This follows Nov. 19's lunar eclipse of the sun at 28 degrees Scorpio opposed to the moon at 28 degrees Taurus, marked with the character of these two signs' polarity. We can all discover ways in which these general themes apply to us, but a closer look can add to our discoveries.

When I meet clients for a reading around an eclipse time, I consult their charts to determine where in their lives the eclipse will have its impact. A natal chart is a circle divided into twelve wedges known as houses, their placements determined by the zodiac position of the horizon (which changes as an effect of the earth's daily rotation) at the time and place of birth. Each house represents a set of archetypal areas of our lives, through which the signs and planets associated with it in our chart act out their astrological dramas. The zodiacal location of this week's eclipse—12 degrees Sagittarius—is present somewhere, in one particular house, in every individual's chart. For instance, one client might contain this point (12 Sag) within her seventh house. Therefore, the eclipse would likely manifest its call for new beginnings in areas associated to the seventh house, which include how we act in one-on-one relationships, what type of people we draw, our significant others, our best friends and our worst enemies, our business partners, how well we share and compromise and become more ourselves through another person. Another client's chart could show that Neptune was at 10 or 11 degrees Sagittarius, in his fifth house, at the time he was born. The eclipse (within a 1-2 degree orb) would trigger this client's dreamy, romantic, spiritual side (Neptune), which plays itself out in areas relating to, for example, his creativity and self-expression, his children, or his ability to give and receive love (fifth house). Knowing this sort of specific information about ourselves, in advance of an eclipse, allows us to focus our attention to these areas of life in order to ease the adjustments. It also helps us to make better sense of the underlying psychological causes of external events, which sometimes seem to just "happen" without our being able to decipher what messages they bring, what issues they mirror about our inner selves.

What I've described above is a simplified example of the type of rationale used in astrology readings. As you can evidence, this is a whole different level of astrology than what most people are used to from popular media. I'm not too proud, in offering this illustration, to let myself sound like an advertisement for the benefit of astrology readings, whether given by me or another serious compassionate astrologer. Just as I use moments like eclipses to reevaluate what's going on in my life and what changes I want to make, I urge you all to do the same. Any tools, such as astrology or meditation or psychological counseling, that help you get closer to the heart of your being are particularly useful at such times, as you're more likely to achieve a breakthrough. Of course, if you want to help empower me to be more like Oprah or Dr. Phil, you'll have to let me look at your chart and tell you what I see. Still, I'm not going to tell what to do with your life, like certain others will—it's your responsibility to make appropriate choices—although I'm happy to explain your astrological profile and help you recognize how certain current trends might be messing with you or offering you fortuitous opportunities. And for you exhibitionists out there, alas, we won't be able to do it on TV, at least for now. But, if it's any consolation, I'm even better-looking in person too. No, really.