In her book, The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West, Michele Goldberg talks about the Hindu and Western concepts of the self and how Devi transmuted yoga from a system designed to dissolve the ego-self into the Divine Ocean of Oneness to a system of self-improvement appealing to the West. The yoga as Devi found it resonates to the concept of the separate self as an illusion that must be transcended. This concept is held by virtually all Eastern spiritual traditions. The yoga that Devi presented to the West resonates to the Western concept of the self as an independent consciousness that can (and should) grow and excel in whatever the self determines to be important.
In large measure, Uranus and Neptune embody the Western and Eastern concepts of the self, respectively. Uranus and Neptune (as well as Pluto) are known as trans-Saturnian planets in traditional astrology and trans-personal planets in humanistic astrology. They can also be seen as transformational planets in depth astrology. Each symbolizes energies and processes that transform the self in specific ways. The nature of the transformation symbolized by each planet is grounded in a concept of the self—that which needs to be transformed. When we explore both Uranus and Neptune from this perspective, we will find remarkable correspondences with the concepts of the self present in the Western and Eastern traditions.
Uranus is known as the planet of change but, in truth, change is only the instrument through which the forces symbolized by Uranus affect (or attempt to affect) an inner transformation. The transformation that the Uranian energy is focused on accomplishing is complete individuation and self-actualization. One might say that, to do this, it uses a carrot and stick approach. First, the stick is necessary. Depending on our temperament and predisposition, the stick may be a gentle, awakening tap or it may be a sharp, rupturing whack. Or, if we are dense or not paying attention, it may be a series of progressively more severe shocks until we either finally get the message or until the systems supporting our self-concept are in such shambles that we are forced to change because the old constructs can no longer work for us.
At lower levels of consciousness, the self is enslaved by various forms of conditioning. It is conditioned to achieve the goals of the super-ego (with which the Mid-heaven is associated in depth astrology). Jung, and the transpersonal psychologists who followed him, saw the self’s highest goal as becoming self-actualized through a process of individuation, or breaking away from the bonds of the super-ego, differentiating and realizing the self’s unique identity. Of course, between slavery to the super-ego and complete self-actualization lie a myriad of lesser ego-goals.
The first targets of Uranus’ stick are likely to be our conditioned self-concepts—the story that we receive from all of the Jupiterian instruments of assimilation (our education, religious upbringing and dogmas, society’s economic and political structures, and the vast influence of media). This story also comes to us from the deeper Lunar conditioning embedded in our subconscious and transmitted through mother and family, all enforced by the voice of the super-ego. This is the story that who we are is a certain type of worker, a certain status consumer, a certain peg in the machinery of the status quo. In our conditioned state, who we are is defined by our role and, for most of us, that role is replicated innumerable times within society. Our conditioned identities are mass produced.
Of course, nobody thinks of him/herself as just one of the faceless masses. Even when we are thoroughly conditioned, there is some small Uranian impulse in us that makes us want to differentiate ourselves from the others around us. The fact that we can think that we are differentiated when, in fact, our self-concept is totally determined by our collective conditioning gives us a hint about how deep we are buried into the Machine and what a long journey it is to achieve true self-actualization. The process of de-conditioning can be likened to an onion—we peel off one layer only to find another layer beneath.
We can say that we really start the individuation process when something makes us look at ourselves and at the conditioned self that society says we are supposed to be and exclaim, as did the voice in the Moody Blues’ In the Beginning from On the Threshold of a Dream, that we are more than that. And, so, as Uranus holds out its carrot of enticement to be more than that, we begin to flower (like the Chief Blue Meanie at the end of the movie, Yellow Submarine). Our Saturnian, conformist attributes are rejected and replaced by new, Uranian attributes.
By replacing our Saturnian attributes with Uranian attributes, we begin ascending to greater and greater degrees of freedom. Yet, as we ascend, we find that the attributes we acquired to differentiate our selfhood are, themselves, products of a certain conditioning. Everything is relative to our current level and what was once Uranian has turned Saturnian. We must continue to experience shocks (the stick) and open ourselves to revelations (the carrot) so that we may be dislodged from our attachments and may breathe the air of greater freedom. As we approach a certain level, our attachments include even our Uranianness. When we hold onto our attachments, the stick becomes more painful.
The ultimate Uranian archetype is the Hero/Heroine reaching the Summit, naked and alone. He/she has discarded everything in his/her pack and the pack itself. He/she has changed his/her accoutrement many times, each one more strange (estranged from the collective conditioning) and more brilliant than the last and each one increasingly elemental. In the end, to be truly free of all conditioning, there can only be the Self—Unique, Alone.
This is a journey of many steps and, with each step, the self is in a better and more awakened condition than with the last. At any point along the way, however, looking at ourselves and the progress we have made, the unique person into which we have differentiated, we believe that we are at the end of our journey; we have reached our goal—or that the journey can continue by adding to and polishing our attributes rather than detaching from them. For, the Uranian energy is acting on this self, as we conceive it in the West, this autonomous “I.” As the Moody Blues sing in Sun Is Still Shining on To Our Children’s Children’s Children, if we want to play, we can remain on this Earth-plane and continue to be reborn. Or, we can surrender ourselves to Neptune.
Among traditional astrologers, Neptune has a reputation as being one of the malefics. This is because, in the West, the ego-self has such a high value and Neptune’s goal is to completely dissolve that self. For Neptune embodies the East’s view that the independent self, this ego, is totally an illusion and that, to achieve liberation from this illusion, the atma must lose its own identity and merge back into its Source, the Paramatma. Neptune is often viewed as the planet of chaos, confusion and things falling apart, of idealism and disillusion, of addiction and self-destruction. But, like Uranian change, these are only tools used by the Neptunian force to transform the illusory ego-self into the Real, Unbounded, Apersonal Self which/who is All Encompassing Love.
The letting go that Uranus accomplishes through change (impermanence) and revelation, Neptune accomplishes through showing us our illusions and drawing us into the Transcendent realm where our attachment to our identity dissolves away into nothingness. Eastern mystics—whether they are Hindu or Buddhist, Sufi or Sikh, Taoist or Jain—tell us that, in reality, this “I” does not exist. So, how, if the ego is an illusion, do we experience ourselves as real? It is because we have become attached to so many illusions and it is these attachments that support the illusion that something must exist which is attached. Our Neptunian nature inwardly knows the secret that, if all of our attachments were to dissolve—our attachments to things, to people, to our bodies, to our minds, to our karmas—there would be nothing left (except the pure Essence of our soul, ready to merge into the Oneness).
This secret is very scary to the ego. This secret is the Boojum of Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark. It will cause the ego to “softly and suddenly vanish away and never be heard from again”—a quite Neptunian outcome. So, there are two Neptunian forces at work in our psyches. One is dedicated to, at all costs, keeping us from realizing this secret. The other is dedicated to revealing the secret.
Protecting the ego from the secret of its non-existence is at the basis of all typically Neptunian negativities. Fear, existential dread, is the driving force behind Neptune the protector/concealer. Deception is imperative if the illusion of ego is to be preserved. Confusion not only results from the truth being obscured but it is the handmaid of the dark Neptunian force to keep at bay the clear thinking that might illuminate the Truth. Neuroses are the outcome of the twisted paths on which this force leads the mind and the emotions to keep it from the secret. These neuroses then further embroil the soul in false and distracted illusions.
If the positive Neptunian energy pulls us too troublingly to seek the Truth, then the dark Neptunian force will bring out its trick of last resort—leading us down the illusory path of self-destruction (illusory because the soul can never really be destroyed). Addiction, self-sabotage and even suicide are the ultimate distractions to replace true self-surrender. It is no accident that “hitting bottom” is so often the prelude to stepping onto the path toward self-transcendence.
When the ego is so attached to the illusion of its own existence and to all of the fantasies that support that illusion, it is no easy task for the positive Neptunian force to reveal Truth. As with Uranus, the Universe will use carrot and stick to push and pull us toward Transcendence. When our most cherished possessions are taken away, when our supports collapse, when our hopes dissipate, when we are disillusioned with what we have idealized, when everything around us crumbles and dissolves into nothing, these are but the blows inflicted by the Neptunian force to teach us the impermanence of the unreal. The harsh message is: let go of your attachments or they will be taken from you; leave the castle of your illusory ego or it and even the ground beneath you will melt, leaving you naked and alone.
But the forces we associate with Neptune are not all dark and distressful. There is the sweet carrot, the pull into the Light. To begin with, we are equipped with a refined sensitivity and, if we can get in touch with that, if we can cultivate it, this will help us shed our selfish attachments and become receptive to the Light of Love. Compassion, selfless service, self-sacrifice, being led by our noble ideals, risking our ego—all of these gently loosen our attachments and bring us closer to the Divine. The more we practice loving acts of kindness, the more will the glow of unconditional Love grow within us. The more we experience real Love, the more we yearn for it and the less concerned we are about protecting our false ego-self.
It is not easy. Our attachments are legion. Our illusions are innumerable—illusion within illusion within illusion—and we must let go and rise above them all. We must continually suffer the disappointment of realizing that we have been holding onto yet another illusion. Yet, if we allow it, if we surrender to it, the Neptunian energy keeps on working—dissolving, dissolving, dissolving. The seventy thousand times seventy thousand veils are lifted from us one by one. Not this. Not that. Till in the end, there are no longer two in the lane of Love. There is only Love and nothing but Love. The self has disappeared and become Real.
Now, are these two concepts of the
self, the Western/Uranian and Eastern/Neptunian diametrically
opposed, or can they find a meeting place? An answer may be found
in the planetary order as a symbol of the human psyche. It is Uranus
that precedes Neptune in this order. This suggests a
progression from the Uranian self to the Neptunian self. At the end of our
Uranian journey, the self has attained the height of
individuation, standing on the Summit naked and solitary. The Uranian work
of stripping away the unreal attributes of the self is the
Neptunian work of letting go all attachments. The completely
actualized Uranian self is ready to plunge from the Sky Summit
into the Infinite Ocean of Love and there be forever drowned.
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