What is So 'Difficult'?


What is so difficult about these so-called 'difficult times'?

Only one person took me up on last week's implicit challenge to anyone to deny my assertion that these are, indeed, difficult times. It was not one of the many readers who send me engaging correspondence all the time though I don't know them personally, but instead a good friend of mine who doesn't usually comment on my web writings. Interestingly, she is also an individual who has endured dramatically difficult external events thus far in 2004… and yet she boldly questioned me on whether I really thought these times are any more difficult than any others ('just because Tom Brokaw said so?').

I stood my ground, defended the notion that, yes, certain periods of history are more demanding of us in a general sense than others, even as I admitted this 'demanding' quality was elusive to concise description or concrete proof, existing only as a detectable undercurrent. She wondered if these times were actually more difficult or if people were just freaking out about them more vocally now, as if we were finally discovering all the difficulties that had been there all the while. I pondered whether there really is a difference between the two notions. In the end, if I were re-asked whether, as I initially proffered last week, these are difficult times, I'd have to edit my answer to: Yes, and…

…with the 'and' left dangling to represent the open-ended duality of, yes, these are difficult times, and that is not all.

Early Tuesday morning, Venus—who we already know is traveling in retrograde motion May 17-June 29—transits across the Sun, essentially eclipsing it. Astronomical transits of Venus are rare, reoccurring in pairs separated by eight years in intervals somewhere between 105 and 122 years (don't try to make sense of the pattern!). The last Venus transits were in 1874 and 1882, and the next one will be in 2012. This unusual event will be visible, as a small disk passing over the face of the Sun, around dawn in the eastern half of the US and more completely elsewhere in the world. (Click here for more astronomical info on the transit and where and when you can view it.)

Every six months or so, the Sun and/or the Moon are eclipsed by their alignment with each other and the Earth, initiating a few weeks' long period of transition I like to think of as 'chapter markers'. This much we know. But when it comes to Venus's far-less-frequent eclipsing (or occultation) of the Sun, astrologers have less experience in interpreting the phenomenon. No living astrologer lived through it the last time, so we have no primary observations from which to draw our conclusions.

Still, by simply reading the symbols, we can derive some meaning in advance of this significant event. Our conscious sense of ego-driven existence (the Sun) is being profoundly influenced, overshadowed even, by the principles represented by Venus, inaugurating a new stage in our relationship to those principles. Venus rules social relations and compromise, aesthetics and sensory pleasures, financial wealth and other valuable resources, the feminine archetype of independent receptive woman (in contrast to aggressive masculinity), and, of course, love. These issues come to the forefront in a cosmically powerful fashion, over and above whatever else concerns us—though their manifestations may likely surprise us, seeming on the surface to blend among the proliferation of these other concerns. Let's not forget that Venus is both retrograde (muted, confused, moving in reverse, allowing for reconsideration of value) and in Gemini (multiple, variable, relative, partial, easily explained away with well-crafted words).

Looking back in history, the Venus transit of 1761 was a highly anticipated event used by astronomers as an opportunity to attempt measurements of distance to the Sun and, in this context, served as the first large-scale global collaboration of scientists of different nationalities toward a common purpose. At the time of the Venus transits in 1874 and 1882, the world was just barely entering a new phase of relational sophistication with completion of the transatlantic telegraph and Bell's invention of the telephone. Carl Johan Calleman, a frequently quoted source on Venus transits, links the phenomenon to leaps in the development of 'the Global Brain', bringing us all together through in closer intelligible relationship. He envisions the current period from this week's Venus transit to the next one in 2012 as a time in which communications between humans will develop past the need for technological assistance, into wider recognition and deployment of intuitive telepathy, as evidenced by an increase in noticeable synchronicities that reflect a cosmic oneness underlying our apparent difference.

Financial astrologer Raymond Merriman points to past Venus transits as periods in history when economic indicators tend to hit troughs in their cycles. With matters of Venus highlighted through this retrograde transit, the true value of things can make itself known through economic correction (such as recently skyrocketing prices of gasoline that reverse their familiar artificially-mandated discount to US consumers). Money is society's most glaring arbiter of worth, but it obscures the reality of actual social relations, converting life into a series of abstracted exchanges.

Likewise, the energetic imbalance that skews our modern situation heavily in favor of masculine archetypes creates an environment characterized by aggression, projection and competition, rather than a more balanced climate that also privileges compassion, cooperation and compromise. With her transit across the Sun, Venus promises to reenergize this suppressed feminine love instinct, but, in threatening to disrupt the current masculinist trend, has a battle for love on her hands.

Love can be harder to identify than you might think. What do our loving hearts really want? When we are so adept at spinning two or more equally convincing stories, while muddled by a host of supposed-tos and shoulds, it can be hard to get it straight. Is love what makes us feel good in a given moment, or is it what's best for us? Is it an insistence on being right, or is it to live and let live? Is it a free market or a healthy ecosystem? There is so much to distract us from what is important, and so many well-crafted words from so many pleading distracters. 'Love' of country leads to ugly abusive behavior. 'Loving' someone too much can result in crimes of passion. But passion is not equal to true love, though we make this mistake all the time. That's why 'back and forth' is such a common theme right now. Beware of false naming.

What is even more remarkable is the central role played by the Venus transits in the ancient Mayan calendar, a spiritually prophetic timekeeping system heavily influenced by Venus that began over 5,000 years ago and mysterious ends in the year 2012, near the next Venus transit. This has likewise led doomsdayists to herald the coming of the end of the world and spiritual seekers to prepare for the second coming (of Christ? of Mayan god Quetzalcoatl?) and/or a New Age of higher truth.

This mystery certainly offers an interesting correlation to the astrological notion of a shifting of ages due to precession of the equinoxes, from the Age of Pisces into the Age of Aquarius, on whose cusp we nervously hover. Add to the mix a very powerful combination of outer-planet dynamics in cardinal signs at approximately the same time (Pluto in Capricorn squaring Uranus in Aries and Saturn in Libra), building momentum around the turn of the decade (2009-2010) and accelerating with major pressure toward profound global changes into 2012. If astrology is to be believed, the difficult and unusual times in which we live will continue to become more markedly so over the next eight years. This is why astrology's such a good tool for providing preparation in advance of the events of unfolding history.

Yet, love (and its spiritual partner, enlightenment) exist outside of human history, in a timeless placeless collective space available to anyone anytime with the wherewithal to tune in. We can generate anxiety if we worry too much about the unknown, the potential for head-twirling and stomach-churning change on a global scale, terrorism, disaster, violence, corruption. There's not much we can do to fight these things, other than keeping love at the forefront of our existence, doing whatever we can on the micro-level of our individual lives to effect a better existence on the macro.

Perhaps these are difficult times, if we lack the hope to find strength and wisdom from unforeseen and possibly unavoidable challenges that happen in order to teach us love. Or maybe the times aren't so difficult after all, if we fight against the freaking out and let ourselves pray away the anti-love forces. Love is all we have to keep ourselves going. Lucky for us, it's more than enough. This week, thank Venus for showing up at just the right time, to remind us of its irreversible truth.