Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stay Put on Your Birthday: a Zen Perspective on Solar Return Astrology

printed in the Fall 2010 issue of The Ingress, NCGR-NYC's Newsletter

Human beings desperately want to find some solid ground in what is essentially a groundless universe.

It’s very easy to get lost in a fruitless rollercoaster ride of readings and urgent attempts at rationalizing the irrational. Astrology, the very process we turn to for answers, has built within it the most nebulous, mysterious, and unknowable element of all: the twelfth house.

In Zen Buddhism, it is said that true understanding arises when we learn to cultivate a “don’t-know mind.” A don’t-know mind is that place that precedes thinking and all of its limitations, and a way of being that offers us clarity, boundless potential, and spaciousness. It’s where wisdom is born and what makes the deepest and most penetrating insights possible. It’s the artist’s pure white canvas just moments before the first stroke of paint is splashed across the surface. It’s the blank word document on your computer monitor that invites you to string enough words together to create a beautiful line of poetry. When we attain this open mind and heart, there is no longer me over here and you over there—for your mind and my mind become one. When our minds are open like the sky we return to our original state and are completely in synch with the universe.

Maintaining a don’t-know mind is simply paying attention to each moment as it arises and passes. More often than not, we spend a lot of time either mulling over the past or worrying, hoping and planning for the future. When we allow our untamed minds to pull us this way and that, our lives go by right under our noses but we’re too caught up in being either nostalgic or speculative, and then dealing with the ensuing emotions and all of their consequences.

Many of us are drawn to astrology because we want to understand ourselves and the world we inhabit, and ideally get a clue as to how our lives will unfold. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking that a metaphysical explanation of life will make us better equipped to control things so that events will transpire in a way that we find at the very least pleasing and at the most, highly desirable. We mistakenly believe that what we want is the same as what we need, and it’s nearly impossible for us to trust that the universe just might know a little better than we do about such things.

The birth chart is the result of a very fleeting confluence of cosmic events and a unique combination of the four elements as they came together at the moment of our birth. Our wandering consciousness recognized these conditions as the most beneficial form it could take on in order to work through its karma. So it jumps in and inhabits the form described by the chart for the number of years it was meant to live.

Astrology is at its best when it is helps someone gain insight into the talents, behavioral patterns, and obstacles that are described in the natal horoscope. It’s at its worst when it results in hyper-dependence on another person for guidance or even permission to take action.

One of the potential pitfalls of the client/astrologer relationship is that the unique role that an astrologer plays can give him or her an undue and potentially harmful degree of power over the client. Someone might be advised that they should travel to Timbuktu on their birthday, and in so doing the solar return Pluto square to their Venus will come from the third house instead of the eighth. That may sound a lot less scary but might result in a far worse scenario since we can never predict with absolute certainty how a planetary configuration in a solar return will play out.
Supposing that staying home for one’s birthday meant having a solar return chart that showed Pluto in the eighth house squaring Venus in the fourth house. An astrologer with histrionic tendencies might interpret this in the most negative light and therefore advise the client to travel to Sydney, Australia on her birthday so that Pluto will instead be in the third house squaring Venus in the twelfth. Many would say that sounds a lot less menacing.

But in heeding her astrologer’s advice and opting for the Sydney solar return, the client ended up being a victim in a string of neighborhood crimes and had her most valuable possessions stolen. Had she stayed in New York City on her birthday, she might have had an easier time securing a mortgage for a new condo she was eyeing at the time (Pluto in the eighth squaring Venus in the fourth).

On the surface, this kind of astrology may seem to be quite empowering for the client, but in reality the one who is most empowered by this kind of relationship is the astrologer. If I truly accept that your telling me where to be on my birthday will make my life somehow better over the next year, I am going to grow more dependant on you. If you tell me that the point of life is to learn about myself and the world I’m inhabiting rather than to be completely comfortable as often as possible, you’re putting the power and responsibility back in my own hands. And by encouraging me to accept life for what it is no matter what it is at any given moment, I may be less inclined to feel the need to visit you again in the future.

Fostering that kind of relationship may not be in the best business interest for the astrologer, but it might do wonders for the client’s emotional and spiritual health.

While it would be foolish to ignore the message and meaning of our birth chart, it’s equally ludicrous to get overly attached to our squares and trines and quincunxes, our sextiles and grand crosses and those mind-numbing yods. It’s tempting to turn these planetary configurations into excuses for not expressing our true selves, for not realizing our true nature, and for not reaching our full potential. The negative interpretations themselves can become greater obstacles than those they are meant to describe as we cling to our horoscopes in the hopes of explaining once and for all the underlying existential unease and dissatisfaction we were all born with.

All of this does little to ease our confusion and can give rise to the very thing we set out to alleviate: suffering, discontent, restlessness, boredom, anguish. By clinging to our charts, progressions, transits, and solar returns, we pump up the ego that’s at the very heart of the problem we are called upon to eradicate—a self-centeredness that demands control and order in a frequently chaotic world.

We assign a disproportionate amount of importance to ME when the only thing that will ever bring about a lasting sense of contentment and ease is getting over ourselves, our wants, our preferences. That means dropping our stories, letting go of our blaming, and learning to embrace the potent ambiguity inherent in questions rather than the delusive sense of comfort we think we can acquire through black-and-white answers, be they cosmic in origin or not.
It’s no wonder that any kind of panacea would be more than welcome—so the prospect of being able to control the course of events over a year by traveling on one’s birthday is quite an appealing proposition.

Advising someone that if they travel on their birthday, they can avoid a stressful situation and bring about a more pleasing one is both misguided and irresponsible. Junk astrology like this robs a person of the opportunity to learn how to be with what is as opposed to being in a state of constantly wanting things to be other than what they are. This is the very cause of suffering and dissatisfaction—the misguided notion that things are just not ok as they are and we need to fix them by whatever means necessary.

Attempting to bend the planetary transits according to our will is like trying to move a procession of ants from one corner of your picnic blanket to the other. No matter where you put them, you’ve still got ants to deal with, and eventually they’ll get to your sweets.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting things—it’s perfectly normal to prefer comfort over discomfort, love over loneliness, abundance over poverty. However, we run into trouble when our preferences become requirements.

I don’t believe for a second that traveling on one’s birthday and then returning to one’s home city for the remainder of the year can have any real impact or drastically change the events that are likely to happen over the following twelve months. I do believe that offering someone such false hope is both irresponsible and unethical.

Here is an open challenge to those who engage in the practice of solar return relocation astrology: instead of promising a client more money or fame or love if they just buy a plane ticket to Bermuda, consider encouraging them to be more at peace with themselves and their lives no matter what outer cosmic weather conditions look like. Offer your clients the freedom that comes with acceptance and equanimity rather than the mental shackles that go along with the misguided belief that being somewhere else on their upcoming birthday will ensure that life goes just they way they want it to that year.

Lawrence Grecco is a professional astrologer and life coach. He is a member of the NCGR-NYC Board of Directors and has been featured in the Mountain Astrologer Magazine, NBC News, Fox News, New York Nonstop, the New York Post, and Worldstreams Radio. He is a Zen Buddhist seminary student and the Director of Open Sky Sangha, an organization that offers meditation instruction and dharma talks. You can find out more about him at or by emailing


Donna Cunningham said...

This is such a needed perspective on solar returns, Lawrence! I'm very impressed with it, and would love to reprint it on my blog, Skywriter. Would you allow me to feature you as a guest blogger, with your bio and a link to this site? Donna Cunningham

Anonymous said...

From the Buddha in the Kevatta Sutta:
‘Whereas some priests and contemplatives, living off food given in faith, maintain themselves by wrong livelihood, by such lowly arts as:
reading marks on the limbs [e.g., palmistry];
reading omens and signs;
interpreting celestial events [falling stars, comets];
interpreting dreams;
reading marks on the body [e.g., phrenology];…
making predictions based on the fingertips;
laying demons in a cemetery;
placing spells on spirits;
reciting house-protection charms;
snake charming, poison-lore, scorpion-lore, rat-lore, bird-lore, crow-lore;
fortune-telling based on visions;…
he abstains from wrong livelihood, from lowly arts such as these.’

Ven. Lawrence Dō'an Grecco said...

The Buddha also said that by ordaining women as monks, the dharma would only survive 500 years. Do you also think he was right about that?

Shakyamuni Buddha was a wonderful example in many ways with some great teachings that he tweaked from earlier Hindu and Jain teachings but he was not an infallible god to be worshipped. He also encouraged us to question everything for ourselves and not to simply believe in and follow what he said simply because he said it.

If astrology didn't work and couldn't help people, I would not practice it.