A birth chart captures the exact placement of the stars and planets at the moment of your birth. Astrologers view this information through the metaphorical lenses of each house and zodiac sign to interpret your personality, key challenges and life path. Astrology of this kind is a much more nuanced version than the watered-down daily horoscope.

My knowledge of this ancient art is limited, yet the layers of metaphors are appealing. I see it as another means toward understanding myself, not a way to see the future. It forces introspection because there is no right answer, only interpretation.

I had a birth chart prepared by a trusted teacher several years ago in January 2011, just as my marriage began to unravel. Recently, I came across a set of haiku I wrote about the experience — a summary of the interpretation — my life story in a few lines.

I look forward to clarity and conviction. Love without losing myself.

Came into this world
Above me, planets circle
Auspicious timing

Pain everywhere
Humid earth, suffocating

Turn outward, away
Fires build, flare up, die down
Must tend to this now

Lost and cannot see
Mirage appears; is it true?
Grasping, it is gone

Climbing, reach apex
Cool mountain air fills my soul
Fog lifts, vision clear

Cupping hands like bowl
Reach deep, gather clear water
My own baptism

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson


Upside Down View

In a popular book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, one of the first lessons is to turn a picture upside down and use it as a guide to draw the same object. The lesson demonstrated that when you look at something recognizable, your mind interferes by telling you what it “should” look like. It’s almost like having a template on top of the picture, which is deceptively similar to the original. On the other hand, by turning the drawing upside down, it becomes a grouping of lines, abstract and undefinable. Once the object’s label is gone, you can truly see it. I was amazed by how much more accurately I was able to recreate the picture.

I wondered if I could apply that concept in another way. Let’s say the picture represents my true self and the act of drawing is how I express myself in the world. If I look at the picture upside down, it would allow me to take action (draw) in alignment with my true essence (the original picture). At the end of my life, when I compare the original drawing to the one I created, I would hope to find a match — demonstrating that I lived in concert with my higher self.

Over the past few years, in my attempts to identify the best way to earn a living, I have traced a template of what I should be instead of drawing who I am. For example, I have applied the template of “responsible” to my picture. All sorts of adjectives come along with it — safe, practical, self-sufficient. Each one affects the choices that seem available. My job is stable, pays well, provides health insurance, allows me to work from home. I use my skills as a writer, I have built a career in this field. Why do I want to leave? Why doesn’t the drawing match?

The template was covering up the signals from my body. This same job makes me physically and emotionally ill. It affects my quality of life in a myriad of small ways — sleeplessness, depression, poor eating, anxiety, stomach aches, migraines.  I ignored or downplayed how much the job affected these symptoms, looking for a way to keep my template intact. Being responsible is a socially approved template, after all, stamped by authority figures.

Using the template felt safe and familiar. It was so close to the original. I kept hoping with a few tweaks, it could work. But I don’t fit inside it.

Instead of following a template, I will turn the picture upside down. This approach requires a lot of erasing and fixing to get it right, but with the template gone, I can see who I am, in all my confusing but beautiful entirety. Drawing free hand is quite liberating.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson


Searching for Purpose

I feel like my life is an enormous word search, rows and rows of random letters. I was given this puzzle to solve, but no one provided me with the list of words to find or even a theme to guide me. I must find the words on my own and piece together a story of who I am and what I’m supposed to accomplish in my life.

Through the years, words have emerged from the chaos. Perhaps a personal strength or interest, a clue to the direction I should take. These clues were mysterious and confusing, but I made the best choices I could. I’ve also searched in vain for words that just weren’t in my puzzle, no matter how much I wanted them to appear.

However, in all my searching, I’ve never found a word that gave me a true “aha!” moment. Something that spurred me to immediate action and gave me a sense of purpose. I find words that resonate, but I don’t know how they fit together. They are not magically forming into a sentence that says “Here it is! Personal fulfillment ahead!”

Maybe that’s too much to ask.

I remember my favorite assignment in elementary school was when we were given a list of vocabulary words and told to create a story. The words usually had nothing to do with each other, which was the challenge I loved.

Well, my puzzle has given me a challenging list of words. Time to get creative. I need to stop searching for “the word” and instead place the ones I have into the context of a story I write for myself.




The Long and Winding Road

“Every step is on the path.” –Lao Tzu

I spend a lot of time agonizing over decisions – both big and small.

Will this take me in the right direction? Does it align with my values? Am I being influenced by others?

This game of twenty questions paralyzes me. I keep waiting for that flash of insight – that jolt of knowing – so I can unequivocally say YES! This is the right decision! But unfortunately, that’s a rarity. Life is too complex. And in my case, when a spark of intuition does come, I immediately question its validity. By ripping it apart with my rational mind, I lose the larger message.

While walking in the park yesterday, I had an epiphany about my indecisiveness.

As you enter, there is a primary path that follows the Wissahickon Creek. This creek empties into the Delaware River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean. As I walked, I imagined that my destination was the ocean – I was following my life path, returning to the source of everything.

The Scenic Route
It occurred to me that creeks and rivers do not follow a straight line. They meander toward the ocean. Just because the water isn’t flowing exactly eastward doesn’t mean it won’t arrive eventually. If I applied this concept to my life — I can’t expect that every decision will help me make direct progress toward my life’s purpose. As long as I’m facing the ocean, a thoughtful compromise is better than a deferred decision. Making no choice is like standing still in the water, full of tension and fighting the current. I am categorizing decisions into right and wrong, when there are no absolutes. The complexity of our world means that I must make compromises or I will never move forward.

The Element of Surprise
The creek is definitely flowing east – just not in the most efficient way. It sounds like a bad thing until you realize that efficiency doesn’t allow for beauty or the unexpected. Knowing exactly where you’re going is boring. The creek’s curves provide interest and anticipation for what’s around the corner. It also creates choice when the water splits in two directions. As long as I’m heading east, the choice isn’t life or death. No agonizing required.

Let Go
If something feels hard and scary, does it automatically mean I’m “going against the flow?” Not necessarily. Intuition is the only way to know for sure. I’d like to imagine that this sensation means I am teetering over a waterfall, holding back. It takes all my strength to avoid sliding down. I know what to do, but…it’s steep and it’s not directly east. If I’m going to take this chance, shouldn’t it catapult me like an arrow toward the ocean?

That’s how I feel right now. I’ve been grasping at slippery rocks for too long, waiting for the creek to magically shift so there is no question about its destination. But this concept gives me faith that as long as the water carries me, I’m on my way.


For a lovely video of The Beatles song (The Long & Winding Road):


Right Road to Somewhere

“There are no wrong roads to anywhere.” –Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

I used a GPS navigator for the first time recently. After making a few wrong turns (despite the technology), I was amused and relieved to hear the navigator’s voice calmly providing the next step as if nothing had happened. She did not berate me for making a hasty judgment or whine about the fact that I’d just made the trip longer. She simply got her bearings and — knowing the destination — offered the best route forward from our current position. From her vantage point (multiple satellites orbiting above), it was just a small adjustment in the larger scheme. A different path to the same place.

As I drove, I wondered how I could apply that concept to my life. What if the destination represents a personal goal? Instead of panicking when my neat plans don’t fall into place, I could evaluate the new situation, factoring in the new variables, and devise the best way to reach the goal as quickly as possible. Channeling the calm, non-judgmental navigator lady, my mind would say… “Recalculating…Recalculating” and offer the next best option.

Hmm. Seems too simple. What stops me from doing this? Underneath any goal is an attempt to achieve a state of mind — like serenity, security, fulfillment, acceptance, love. This is the true destination.  Often, the goals we set for ourselves won’t get us there; they are really expectations drawn from our upbringing, culture or personal experiences. Like a fixed location, we think that once we arrive, we can enjoy that state of mind permanently. If we step off the path or perceive a delay in getting there, our anxiety rises. We feel lost.  We hold on to our goals tightly, even when they don’t make sense anymore — or never did.

For example, although the destination is the same, my 16-year-old GPS set to “love” would take me to a very different location than my 34-year-old GPS. Love might be connected to a person or place for a time, but ultimately it is not tied to anything in the same way forever. In order to reach the true destination, I have to be willing to reset my location, given my current coordinates. In other words, I must look more closely at the goals I’ve set for myself. Will achieving them really get me to the state of mind I seek? Or am I relying on old versions of myself, other people’s opinions and society’s expectations to guide my choices?

Although it is challenging to seek a destination that is constantly moving, acceptance of its changing nature reduces anxiety about the journey. It is exciting to think that my life is not laid out before me in a straight line, as it would be if I stubbornly refused to change my location. In my quest, I am guaranteed to see and experience things that are out of the realm of possibility now. On the other hand, in some cases, I only have to shift my thinking to realize I’ve already arrived.

Photo courtesy of photographer Heather Hanson