This past Christmas, I bought my granddaughter Phoebe a book called In My Heart, by Jo Witek. It helps children (and adults) understand all the feelings, big and small, loud and quiet, quick and slow, that we might have on any given day. If you have little ones in your life, and you’re looking for a truly great book to buy that encourages a back and forth dialogue, this is most definitely the one. By identifying just about every possible emotion, Witek tells us that they each have their place, and that it’s okay to give voice to them all. I originally bought the book for Nora, granddaughter number one, back in the day, and I’ve read it many, many times over the past six years. It never fails to move me. Happiness is like a big, yellow star, shiny and bright. Sadness is as heavy as an elephant, a dark cloud raining down tears. When we are afraid, our heart beats fast, and a chilly breeze climbs up the back of our necks. Nora has always loved the shyness page, where we take hold of our hearts and watch the world from a safe place that no one else can see. I think that might be my favorite too. The book ends with the question, “How does your heart feel?” Jack and Nora answer right away, providing all kinds of details as to why, Nellie is going in that same direction, and I know Phoebe won’t be far behind them. I love listening to them articulate the truth behind how their hearts feel, mostly because their willingness to be honest and open, without any hidden agenda, makes it all seem so incredibly easy. I often find myself wishing that many adults I know, myself included, could find that same level of comfort with saying what needs to be said in a way that is nothing but sincere and genuine.
In this past week, I looked at a number of articles and engaged in a few conversations that involved the idea of New Year’s resolutions. A lot of what I read recommended that we don’t set them at all, and the discussions that I had echoed this sentiment. And yet, without any resolutions, I admit that I have felt somewhat untethered, as though I’ve taken the first few steps in 2024 without a guide or an instruction booklet. I also think that I’ve come to look forward to January 1st as a day when I can press a proverbial reset button and start fresh on some things. Even though I’ve decided not to write down a list of resolutions this year, I find that they continue to creep into my head anyway. “I really want to stop using the word ‘just’ in a lot of my sentences.” “I should eat more beans.” “I’d like to work harder at being on time.” Hold down the laughter on that last one. Virgos are only late because we think we can do one more useful thing before tearing out the door, like quickly alphabetize the spice rack. You may insert an eye roll emoji here. All of this aside, the real question for me has always been why we feel the need to set resolutions in the first place. Where did the tradition come from? Apparently the Google answer to that query is that the practice dates back some 4,000 years to the time of the ancient Babylonians who made offerings to their gods at the start of the new year, which happened to be in mid-March at the beginning of the planting season. The Romans followed suit, but then changed over to the Julian calendar in 46 BC.
One of the first concepts I learned when I began studying astrology was the idea of the twelve houses. Simply put, there is a kind of snapshot taken of the sky above and beneath the earth at the moment we are born. It contains the twelve constellations of the zodiac, the moon and the sun, and the eight remaining planets other than earth. Yes, astrologers still count Pluto; in fact, he is rather important. This snapshot becomes what is known as the natal chart, and it offers a blueprint of the energetic forces that we will carry with us throughout the remainder of our lives. It is divided into twelve different sections, with each one representing a certain area of our psyche and life experiences. Knowing a client’s exact birth time is crucial to astrologers because it informs us as to which constellation was coming up over the eastern horizon at that particular moment. This section of the sky is known as the first house, or the rising sign, and it sets the house placements for the remainder of the chart. The first house is the lens through which we interact with the world, and in the other houses we find things like our childhood experiences, our deep interpersonal relationships, our career and public selves, and our friendships, just to name a few of them. As with everything else in astrology, none of these house meanings were determined randomly, and have no origin in pop culture, but rather they were based on an ancient methodology that arose from a complex blend of the observable sky and corresponding mathematical calculations, as well as the principles of Greek philosophy and mythological stories. The natal chart can offer us insight into who we are as individuals by highlighting our strengths and challenges, and by helping us to understand why we behave and react in the ways in which we do. It is meant to be a tool of self-illumination, nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
This past week, I taught a workshop about the eight phases of the moon and how the one under which we are born tends to give us a particular perspective on life. It’s one of my favorite astrological sub-categories because while many people are aware that their moon is in a certain sign, they don’t realize that the phase is just as important. It’s a lot of fun to witness the moment when the lightbulb turns on. In addition to covering the topic of natal moon phases, I also talked about how the moon in the sky continues its journey every month, changing phases every three to four days and infusing each time period with its corresponding energy. Under this scenario, we’re given the opportunity to interact with each phase every month, setting intentions, working towards realizing them, and eventually releasing what didn’t serve us. Our focus changes monthly depending on the signs where the new and full moons are occurring, and especially how those signs are placed in our natal charts, with all of that being beyond the scope of this post, despite the fact that I could talk about these ideas forever. What I noticed most of all during my workshop was the number of times I referenced the opposing concepts of light and darkness as related to the moon, and the ways in which they differ in terms of energy and expression. What it reminded me of, in particular, was the Italian term chiaroscuro, which literally means light-dark and refers to the use of shading to create three-dimensional volume in a drawing or a painting. Developed by artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio, this technique emphasizes increasing or decreasing brightness levels instead of using different colors.
When I nine or ten years old, my parents gave me my first big bike as a birthday present, a blue Schwinn that I loved beyond measure. My father wheeled it out of the garage with a huge bow on it, and I immediately jumped on and took off down the street, despite the fact that I was supposed to be blowing out the candles on my cake. I also didn’t bother to let my dad check on a few safety things first, like whether or not I could actually reach the pedals. “I’m just trying it out!” I called, as I disappeared. When I didn’t return after five or ten minutes, my cousins launched a search and rescue. They found me in a heap, covered in an alarming number of scrapes, technically termed abrasions, but more appropriately called strawberries. Needless to say, I had no desire to attempt another ride, so we wheeled the bike back up the street where my dad was waiting to administer first aid. This was always his responsibility. My mom was what is known as a hemophobe, or a person who is terrified of the sight of blood. When injuries happened, she tended to go hide in the bathroom. The first line treatment for strawberries back in the 1960s and 70s was the orange horror known as mercurochrome, which was banned in 1998 due to fears of mercury poisoning. Before we knew anything about that, however, we wore our orange stained scrapes like badges of honor. In the days after my bike tumble, I can remember studying those strawberries every day and waiting for them to go from oozy and worrisome to scabby and then good as new. As they healed, so did I. My confidence in riding my bike returned, and before long I was drawing my maps of the neighborhood, tucking them into the little pouch behind the seat, and taking off on my many adventures, often very much on my own.