Dear Friend and Reader:
I WENT through a phase early in my astrology career when I got into conversations with young tarot card readers. Maybe there were just two or three such conversations, but they seem to stand out as a distinct phase of gaining an understanding of life. Anyway, one of them would say to me, “I don’t feel right about charging for my work. It’s not right to charge people to help them.”
One day I parsed the logic and replied: “Well, do you think it’s better to charge to hurt them?”
This pretty much obviated the issue. In truth, however, it usually works out that it’s easier, more efficient and more profitable to hurt people rather than to help them. A quick scan of the history of industrialization — including PCBs, asbestos, cigarettes and the Ford Pinto — establish this pretty quickly.
The question is not why people do it, but rather why we put up with it and even help them; and why we are, as a society, so resistant to investing our money where it’s going to make a positive difference. Notably, we are currently spending $230 million a day on a war in Iraq. Would it have been remotely possible to put that money to work for social causes, or is our only option with that much capital to create mayhem?
With this theme, we embark on the topic of values, which in my astrology is the core theme of Taurus. Values embraces the question of what we would do with our money, collectively and individually, if we noticed that we have a choice in the matter. But it goes a lot further than that.
I was first acquainted with the term values in Philosophy 101 at SUNY Buffalo, taught by Prof. Paul Kurtz. It arrived in the title of a textbook called Ethics and the Search for Values. I know that, for this reason, I equate the idea values with that of ethics. It may actually be easier to think of values as a subset of ethics: one’s personal inventory of right or wrong. Values are the inner psychic elements by which we determine what is right or wrong for us, as individuals — if we take the time to stop and think.
In effect, a value is a contract with oneself by which one guides one’s life. It is a commitment to invest vital energy (of which money is one form) somewhere that we feel is right, and to divest it from where we think it’s wrong. That requires an ethical judgment, or it calls for one. Usually this pertains to a person, to some activity in the world and very often where we put our cash. Usually in the process of relating to the material world, the ethical assessment is overlooked entirely. What we want is determined externally, by how brilliant an advertising person is; by how manipulative a videographer is at morphing a Mercedes with a slinky young woman; or by what pre-established, conditioned appetite is acting up at the moment.
Meantime, we are taught by long conditioning and tradition to acquire what we are told we want and not worry about the consequences. The packaging industry is not helping. There is absolutely no way to avoid plastic in Western civ at this time. Look around and consider your life, and tell me if you think it’s possible.
Very, very slowly, we are starting to wake up. Starbucks sells quite a few of those permanent coffee cups, which is a reflection of a changing value on using disposable paper or plastic cups. This is a step in the right direction. Most people still buy that coffee on the way to working at jobs that don’t reflect their values.
As an astrology consultant, the number one issue people come in with these days is the question of what to do with their lives so that they are more in accord with their gifts and mission. In the past couple of years, this has become a hot topic in my practice, hotter than ever, and I think it’s really interesting. In the old days, people usually showed up in spiritual crisis. Now they want to be artists. I’ve taken to calling it the, “What do my clients want to be when they grow up?” phase of my work. Most of them are making this decision between the ages of 40 and 55.
How to live one’s values can be an extremely challenging question in a society as mixed up and as economically stressed out as our own.
Despite working out of an art studio of my own lately, I am not immune. The discussion over the value of my work continues to the present day when occasionally a reader writes in and says that Planet Waves should not charge for its services. One person recently wrote from Australia, saying, “It’s universal knowledge and it should be free.” Forget all the people I have to pay; she should not have to pay. Yesterday I received another such letter, coincidentally also from Oz.
“Over the years, I have witnessed the way Planet Waves has evolved from a guy writing about things he was passionate about into a guy writing passionately about how he needs to be paid for it,” my correspondent said, referring to my Saturday blog entry wherein I pitch my company’s services each week.
“Eric, please read your earlier writing and try and pinpoint exactly when it was that you made the decision to sell out…have you lost sight of the fact that when you limit your readership through subscriptions, that limits your reach to other human beings?”
Here is the letter to which she was referring. If not passionately, how exactly should I encourage readers to subscribe? Would a boring letter work better, to describe a passionate astrology news service? Part of my reply included this excellent new video from The Onion, “Home Depot Honors Fallen Soldier By Giving His Mom Free Power Drill.”
It is interesting that my Australian correspondent’s definition of “selling out” meant making my work and that of my company available to the public, rather than scoring a $500K job writing ad copy for Pfizer. Or how about selling my company to Google? Hey, Burt’s Bees did pretty good. The company started with a reclusive beekeeper and someone he picked up hitchhiking who took over as his bookkeeper. They worked their butts off for a couple of decades, made some good products and a name for themselves. Then it was purchased by Clorox — yes, Clorox — for just under $1 billion last year.
This is to say, it’s not necessarily easy embarking on a path of right livelihood and holding your integrity there, and if you really succeed you can always sell yourself to the chlorine industry at the end of your career.
Everyone who decides to do something they feel is useful to the world rather than provide something that people are addicted to) faces the same issue: how do you get the word out? How do you explain it? And moreover, how do you deal with the feeling of selling yourself, and not feel like those girls in the window in Amsterdam? Then, what do you do with all the people who need your help but who can’t pay? Part of right livelihood means making conscious choices in these matters. Values and ethics are part of the same theme.
Trust me — I would rather not have to invest so much time and energy creating materials designed to sell my “products.” But we can’t just pretend it doesn’t have to happen. This is the typical denial trip that many people go into regarding money, particularly those who claim not to like the stuff: most never really take control of their resources or how they acquire them. As a result, the easiest way to support yourself is to work for a large company that is doing Goddess knows what to God knows whom.
Even when you do the thing in life that you feel is right, there are going to be plenty of people telling you it’s wrong. Usually that’s what happened in the first place, early in life. I hear it all the time. I know the tune from my own life, so when my clients show up with it, it’s old hat.
My father, for example, sent me applications for the postal service examination well into my late twenties. He knew perfectly well that I’m as close to a born writer, and as far from a postal worker, as it gets. I was at the time getting my stories into The New York Times and the wire services; but he assured me menacingly that I could not make a living as a writer. A less determined person might well have given up. I did not.
Some years later in therapy, I was working on the issue of how I managed to be a world-famous investigative reporter making about $75 a week. My therapist and mentor Joe, a Taurus by the way, pointed out that I was attempting to maintain two conflicting values: loyalty to my father, and dedication to my work. In the process, I managed to do something difficult in America — acquire fame and not fortune. I succeeded brilliantly as a writer, then failed at it financially.
We have all been through this on some level. You’re really a photographer and your parents try to turn you into a psychologist. You’re a photographer and you end up a photo editor — that may be worse.
The stories go on and on, and to the present day there’s still a respectable cultural value on trying to convince your kids to do something supposedly profitable rather than something they are passionate about. But what, exactly, gets people up in the morning? What is it that motivates us to do what we do? When we take our motivation from something other than true inner commitment and heart-level necessity, what is it that motivates us? What do we lose in the process of following that other thing?
In a direct way, much that we acquire or achieve on the outside is an attempt to compensate for what we have given up on the inside.
Here, we are holding in our hands one of the great questions of our era. What do we do for our money? How do we take the creative, productive, healing things that we are capable of and sustain them economically, or have them be profitable enough to thrive? How do we begin to wean ourselves away from the things that specifically do not support us, the Earth or our communities, and reinvest our energy elsewhere?
To some, this question may seem like a bourgeois luxury. We are privileged Westerners worried about how we’re going to make money not working for an insurance company but rather by “having fun.” Spoiled little shits, aren’t we?
On a not-so-much-deeper level, the issue is about whether we connect our natural gifts and personal resources with the necessity we have to survive, and grow, in the physical world. Why is it that we have those gifts, anyway?
You could look at this as a spiritual issue. We have a soul and the soul has a purpose. We have a body and it has its needs and its desires. Do we have the faith that it’s possible to put the two together? Are we willing to do the work to get there? Following your soul’s calling is a lot of hard work. Who has time? Getting those different values to align takes intelligence, talent, persistence and luck.
To even try, you need to believe in yourself. And you don’t need to believe in yourself just once. You need to believe in yourself every day, in particular when things are going badly: when you’re losing money or when you just don’t feel like doing it that day. And that takes having faith in who you are and the mission you were called upon to do.
Here we come to the core issue of Taurus in our current world, which is self-esteem. Taurus is represented by a cow or a bull. It is the first acquisition of the person who shows up in Aries and declares, “I am.” Soon after that declaration, the person discovers they have to eat. And the thing that helps them eat is a cow or a bull. Then you have milk, and some help plowing the land, and maybe you get a second cow who helps you expand your potential.
In our day, that cow is self-esteem. This term is so overused as to verge on meaningless, but I’d like to see if I can sort it out. I am gradually becoming convinced that it’s the most important issue in our society right now. Healthy self-esteem is so rare that it’s a difficult concept to grasp, but it’s easier in the context of its opposite: feeling worthless. Feeling worthless encompasses feeling like there is no place for your talents in the world (if you even think you have any), and feeling unworthy of love.
The two meet at a crux point — most people feel emotionally, erotically and financially undernourished. There is a very close relationship between these things, and it comes back to Taurus. Remember, for example, that Taurus in pre-Christian tradition is the season of communal sex for the sake of creating abundance (i.e., enough food to eat for you, your family and your village).
How do we get to feel unworthy? It is tragically simple: we are made to feel that way. And if we don’t deal with this, we spend our lives making other people feel that way or teaching them to do so by maintaining the belief that we are worthless.
We perpetuate these beliefs and the whole culture of worthlessness when, for example, we deny other people the help that could truly assist them; when we hold onto our personal gifts and talents rather than share them; when we get jealous at the success or happiness of others; and when we invest our time and money in things we know we don’t support or value.
Perhaps the most profound way we do this is by surrounding ourselves with people who do not value who we are.
It is both unfortunate and unnecessary that as a society we have most often reduced this discussion down to cash. But in a lot of ways the dollar value of something can be a useful measure. There was a time when I doubted the value of my astrology consulting. I have always charged a healthy fee and there has, thankfully, been a steady stream of clients since 1996. Rob Brezsny referred me hundreds of clients; so did a shaman in Wyoming named Dawn Eagle Woman, who sent every one of her students.
One day I was working with an extremely successful insurance salesperson. She was a woman and she was getting the usual “62 cents on the dollar,” (as feminists have so often pointed out) in the form of an agreement with her manager, who in that particular agency took half her commission because she was lower on the totem pole. Note, he was not getting an override on her commission — he was getting a lot of her actual percentage.
It became obvious that she lacked the self-esteem to insist that she receive her whole paycheck, just like her male colleagues were getting. She could sell anyone insurance, but lacked the courage to stand up to her boss. She had no idea how to do it. First, I told her she was worth it. Never underestimate the value of this: if you tell someone they are worth it and you mean it, you may be the only person to have ever done so. Next, we analyzed what she had to lose. It turned out that she had nothing to lose: her clients loved her so much that it seemed highly unlikely that anybody would dare fire her. She could switch insurance companies and bring her millions of dollars of business somewhere else. We did what is called a power analysis. In this situation, she had the power.
Then, we rehearsed the conversation. She practiced saying the words, “I want and deserve my full commission.” Given the extremely high value of that short sentence (in the tens of thousands of dollars a year) and the space I had created for her to practice saying it, it dawned on me that I was worth every cent I was being paid.
Over the years I’ve had this same conversation dozens of times. I was working with a Canadian artist last week and clicked on her website during the session. I noticed the low prices of her work. “Those don’t look like $850 paintings, they look like $5,000 paintings,” I said to her. I knew I was right. Then she replied, “In California that’s about how much I get.”
Yes, I know, price is not the only measure of value. We need to remember this every day. Some cheap things are extremely expensive in the end, and some things that are free (like a bit of information) can save your life. Most things fall somewhere in between.
But the real question of value comes down to this, if you ask me: What do you have to offer the world? And what are you doing about it?
I hope you’re doing something. It may be hard, but most days it’s fun.
Weekly Horoscope for Friday, April 25, 2008, #711 – By ERIC FRANCIS
Aries (March 20-April 19)
You can fight, you can negotiate or you can work for inner balance. There are so many clashing energy sources in your heart and soul right now that you don’t really have much choice, if you want a little peace of mind. You may not be so interested in that, however. If serenity seems to lack appeal, it’s mainly because conflict is so intense and that intensity is addictive in the chemical sense: adrenaline, for example. You can run your mind in cool mode rather than hot, but we all know how much you like heat. The question is really about where you want to expend your energy: on conflict or creativity; on mental thrashing or emotional depth. It’s worth asking yourself several times a day for a while.
Taurus (April 19-May 20)
The slow progress you are making in your current quest for self-understanding would go quicker if you would let pain be your teacher. Americans in particular make up a lot of rules about pain: it’s always bad; we must seek pleasure; an easy (wrong) answer is better than a difficult (correct) answer. I am not here to preach the doctrine of struggle, but rather to deliver the simple message that if you give your pain, your fear and your self-doubt clear voices, you will actually understand what they are saying, and you will have a chance to respond appropriately. The real you is alive and well beneath your doubts, waiting for its moment to play.
Gemini (May 20-June 21)
Life seems to be offering you so much of what you dream of, if only you could touch it. The problem may be the fear that if you do touch it, your life will go out of control. If I had to venture an educated guess, this factor is a big piece of why so many people shun their deepest desires. You can do this, but it does not make your life anymore authentic, nor will it add to your sense of control. That sense of mastery would best be created by approaching rather than avoiding. Yes, along the way there will be a few decisions that you won’t be able to go back on. You will unleash a few forces you don’t understand. These things are signs of progress.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
You know that very little happens unless you push. However, you’ve done plenty of that for a while. When you look back on this time in your life with some years of perspective, you will be astonished what you accomplished. I suggest you relax and let the power of your momentum carry you to the next phase of your life. I don’t think the rest of the season is necessarily going to be the picture of serenity; there will be too much developing in your inner life for that to be the case. But for now, as far as the outer world is concerned, I suggest you let your achievements and the message you’ve been sending reach their various destinations, and see what comes back to you.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
With the Sun and Venus stretching across the career angle of your chart, you are in a position to exert your leadership. You tend to be a reluctant player at that game, contrary to most popular interpretations of your sign. In other words, you’re more about getting things done well than being the boss, and there is a big difference. Anyway, the kind of leadership the world needs happens to be the one you have to offer, and that involves values. You tend to be a good source of information when it comes to distinguishing right from wrong; you know what has the power to last, and what is going to fade away sooner rather than later. Most significantly, you have the power to act in accord with what you truly believe. And that is the kind of leadership we need on this planet, I dare say, desperately.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
You have considerable support where a pending financial arrangement is concerned; you merely need to do two things: keep the dialog open and allow the movement of the cosmos to align with you. Someone seems to be driving a hard bargain. They are overstating their case and exaggerating certain facts. They are doing this in an effort to be compelling, to get your attention and to make sure you know who has the power. I suggest you hum along with this tune until the orchestra arrives. There is plenty of money to go around and at the moment you seem to be eating just fine. The question you’re grappling with is why certain people who have so much make such a point of not sharing it. It’s not worth agonizing over, and besides, someone appears on the verge of waking up to the simple truth.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
Beware of a tendency to want too much of a good thing, or for someone else to lead you down this particular path. Enough really is enough; but that’s not the point. The issue is desire and its motivations. You would go a long way toward getting some freedom if you sorted out the differences between needs and desires. Particularly in American culture, this distinction is overlooked. You can actually say you need an extra large McDonald’s fries and people take you seriously. Here is a clue. Your list of needs is shorter than your list of desires. Also, you may take the things you need for granted more often than the things you want. Finally, one of these two is more open to influence by another person. If you were the only one making the choices, the results might be different.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
You have come a long way toward seeing your spiritual beliefs for what they are. For most people, the God issue is a big drama about whether the universe is supposed to take care of us, more or less in the same fashion that our parents were supposed to have taken care of us when we were very small. You usually come close to living in a world where your needs are met just because you have them, or just because you believe they will be. Yet I have a hunch that the past couple of seasons have tested your mettle on this one. Some of the conflicts you’ve lived through have made it clear that you have to be much more self-reliant, though this talent will come in handy in the near future when you are summoned to assume an entirely new dimension of leadership. Get ready.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Money is not the issue — appreciation is. It is appropriate to gently explain to humans that, in the civilized world, we acknowledge others for what they give to us. You are not the type to expect every favor to be returned, but you’re definitely the type who wants others to admit that they benefit from your gifts. Is this an ego trip on your part, or is it something more practical? Well, you have repeatedly shown your willingness to take chances in creative ventures, art and love; and these things — and just your example — have helped others immensely. I suggest, however, that you leave it to others to express their appreciation of their own volition. When they do, it will be that much more meaningful to everyone.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
The kinds of petty stress that you’ve been under lately are nothing compared to many past times. If you look you’ll see that what’s bothering you is probably some form of “things are not as good as they could be.” The significant question is, what would make them better? You seem determined to teach others that they must depend on themselves without letting their authority issues run amok. There must be an organizing principle in the environment and usually it’s coming from you. Now, someone else seems determined to set the agenda, and they don’t appear too willing to negotiate in the process. I suggest you let them have their way, for now. You have more important matters than this on your mind.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
A health situation is more deeply grounded in the emotional and psychic levels than it is on the physical levels. This does not necessarily make it easier, but I can assure you of one thing — there is an aggravating factor in the environment, and you can, if you want, eliminate it or step away from it. The factor is likely to be some form of too much. It may be too much work, though it also may be too much sugar or being subjected to the intense emotions of the people around you. The problem is that this has gone on for quite a long time before you noticed it. Now that you have a clue that something is affecting you, you have options for how to approach the issue.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
Beware of a false lack of confidence. And what would that be? It is some form of the illusion that you lack faith in yourself, your knowledge and your abilities. It’s a little script in your mind that says, “No, you can’t do it.” It could also arrive as the notion that you’re somehow not acceptable to others; and that you must stand alone because of it. Healing this issue, it’s not necessary to go looking for certainty as much as it is helpful to understand where your faith in yourself went in the first place. Where did those fears come from? I assure you they belonged to someone else before they belonged to you. Before you can really throw them away, it would help immensely to look at them closely and understand their origin.