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Confronting the Problem of Astro-Paralysis: An Introspection on the Need for Control and the Power of Surrender

If you are reading this piece tucked away on The Mountain Astrologer blog, there’s a good chance you have occasionally struggled with the problem of “astro-paralysis.” Since I just concocted this term, I have the task of defining it. At its most broad, it is the psychological state whereby one’s awareness of “good” and “bad” astrological timing for the inception of a project or the undertaking of any action becomes a hindrance rather than an asset. The simple awareness of looming personal transits can foster pessimistic expectations, which, in turn, encourages stagnation. More problematically, the mere prospect that one could theoretically find the ideal chart for any venture can easily lead to counterproductive hand-wringing and internal debate, even if the venture in question is not particularly important.

At its most severe, astro-paralysis prevents any action from being taken — the unnecessary delays might ironically impede you from seizing the day, hour, and minute. Even when you do act, you could be left wondering what may have happened if you never tried to meddle. In short, you can drive yourself crazy. This is especially so for those astrologers who are already prone to anxiety, perfectionism, and other neurotic ailments. And this, I suspect, is most of us who own an ephemeris.

My anecdotal experience in the astrology community has convinced me that we are an unusually anxious bunch. (Though this might have something to do with my habit of making astrology friends on the most anxious of social media platforms: Twitter.) It certainly seems like we are a self-selecting cohort of overthinkers — in large numbers, we feel that we need to know what’s going to happen so that we can prepare for it and preemptively attain a state of acceptance. And unlike most people, we’ve tasted the tantalizing, intoxicating possibility that the future might really be knowable. Perhaps our interest in astrology, this compulsive vacuuming of information about the cosmic geography of past, present, and future is driven in large part by a deep-seated need to grasp control (or at least the illusion of control).

Any astrologer who learns the basics of electional astrology must decide which elements of life are worth electing. This includes the quasi-election of open-ended deferral: “Not now, the astrology isn’t good enough.” If it’s your job to know that the Moon is void, or Mercury is retrograde, or Mars is square Saturn, what is the best use of that information when it’s time to, let’s say, send an email to your boss, or call your mother-in-law, or schedule a haircut? It’s not that simple to suddenly stop knowing something the moment it becomes distracting or inconvenient. For those of us who seek to assuage our fears about the future by reaching for a sense of control, astrology can be an extremely powerful tool or a loaded weapon for our anxious minds.

Presumably, the popular revival of more linear, predictive forms of traditional astrology play a role in the growing presence of this particular pattern, and we can blame social media for putting it on display. I have seen some of the best astrological minds of my generation hand-wringing about the timing of the most mundane of everyday activities. (And while I am not one of the best minds of my generation, I certainly fall prey to this habit myself.) We can imagine an exaggerated scenario — fretting about something as inconsequential as a casual coffee with a friend. Common sense suggests that acute worrying about the successful outcome of this kind of activity is not, shall we say, productive. But if you have the inclination, the mere knowledge that astrology could describe outcomes such as these is enough to plant the seed of doubt and inspire worrying about things that were previously outside the purview of such thoughts. (And for those of us who tend to air the most casual of thoughts in a public forum, it’s worth mentioning that this level of hand-wringing is hardly inspirational behavior coming from somebody who positions themself as any sort of spiritual guide, coach, or counselor.)

When confronted with the impulse to over-astrologize our daily lives, we astrologers might be wise to put on our consultation hats and have a little session with ourselves. In fact, we could imagine that every time we tap into our own astrological knowledge, it’s akin to a paid session with the astrologer within. Consulting astrologers know from experience that the relative quality of a reading is derived not just from the skills and energetic presence of the astrologer, but also from the openness and expectations of the client.

Imagine that you head into a consultation and your client asks you the best time to have coffee with their friend. Naturally, you’d want to know the significance of the relationship, the dynamics at play, and whether they have a serious and difficult subject to broach. No, they clarify, it’s totally casual; they just want to have the best time they can possibly have. Now, maybe I’ve conjured an astrological straw man and slipped into pedantic lunacy, but speaking for myself, this kind of astro-perfectionism is always hiding just beneath the surface. Especially with easy access to the current transits on my phone, I’m often tempted to consult my inner-astrologer and make these kinds of seemingly harmless micro-elections. I’m sure I’m not alone.

In a real consultation, not only would this query be irritating and an expenditure of a valuable resource, it also leads to some thorny qualitative questions. What, in the context of a human life, really constitutes the “best time” possible? Confronted with this electional task, you might be tempted to reach for your pals Venus and Jupiter, fend off those jerks Mars and Saturn, find a moment when Mercury is making a harmonious aspect to the Ascendant, etc. And yes, if you’d like to engineer a light and delightful conversation fueled by the most sumptuous of espresso drinks, those would be the most appropriate conditions. But who are we to say that this is the best outcome? Perhaps the client’s friend has a deep and painful issue to discuss, and maybe that discussion would ultimately be healing and rewarding for the client, malefically themed though it may be.

Whenever we slip into the habit of leaning on astrology to produce “good” or “bad” outcomes without deep introspection, there is a latent implication that good and bad are objective conditions, which is patently untrue. Sure, the nuts and bolts of the astrological system are sufficiently machine-like to still “work” (i.e., deliver tangible statements), even when reduced to pure materialism. But the X factor comes from us — our relational modes of living and experiencing, our psychological projections, and our profound, unconscious interactions with an imaginal, archetypal reality. It might be theoretically possible to strip astrology of its “spiritual” dimension and use it as a merely predictive and, thus, selective tool. But shouldn’t we be cautious employing such a disenchanted astrology to toy with something as sacred as our fate? Ultimately, there is no surefire way of knowing and choosing truly “good” or “bad” outcomes on our own behalf; we can only know what we want and what we don’t want, and sometimes even that is difficult to access. I say this not to reject electional astrology outright, but to draw attention to underlying assumptions that might take root and go unchallenged when astrology becomes a compulsion.

The spiritual wisdom of our lives is revealed across time, through story, not in a single moment of sensory feeling (satori notwithstanding). As time-bound, egoic animals, there is a tendency to overvalue the importance of temporary states as we attempt to gratify our egos’ desires and avoid pain. Life usually provides more perspective over time, and we learn to see our failures, hardships, and even our successes within the context of a richer narrative of being and becoming. In this sense, perhaps we should be more suspicious of the compulsion to optimize our strivings. Maybe we can let go and surrender to the ineffable beauty of our stories and endure our discomforts with more grace and less self-recrimination.

And yet, the most significant spiritual lessons of life often concern our own choices, and astrology can help us understand the intersection between our own inclinations and the external circumstances that greet us. It’s by taking responsibility for our part while embracing the uncontrollable vastness of life that we are able to live out our values and our heart’s desires most freely. So the answer, clearly, is not to simply relinquish our conscious knowledge, give into all our unconscious whims, and otherwise take our hands off the wheel. But neither should we stubbornly resist the natural course of our lives, manipulating events with a super-charged willpower, high on arcane knowledge. Simply put, it is not in our best interest, spiritually, to avoid all mistakes.

Paralysis strikes when it feels impossible to attain the right balance between these poles. It’s not just a question of finding the perfect chart; when you’re frozen in action, there is a good chance the unconscious might be rejecting the underlying impulse to control the outcome in the first place.

As interesting as I find this paradox to be, the grandiose heights of this debate are most likely not helping to ground an already heady issue. And whenever we have reason to distrust astrology’s role in guiding our choices, what we probably need is to gain perspective.

As I’ve discussed, some things are simply not worth consulting an astrologer, including ourselves. But astro-paralysis is all the more pernicious when we’re confronting a real dilemma or navigating indecision about a truly important and consequential action. For a more challenging circumstance such as this, when you’re unable or unwilling to set aside astrology, you can ask yourself these questions to guide that grounding process. (A journal might come in handy.)

1. What would I do if I didn’t know about astrology?
It might be impossible to really know. But as an experiment, try to tap into your senses, simple logic, or your intuition, and detect what your inclination would be if you fell back on inertia, without intervention. You might realize that your obsession with timing is serving as a distraction from some deeper unresolved state. Or you might uncover a surprising certainty that now is indeed the time to act. If so, you can interrogate that further. Are you acting on impulse? Is there a compulsive pattern at play? Or, you can just give yourself permission to live a little.

2. Why am I so concerned about making a mistake? What do I fear?
If we already knew everything and didn’t make mistakes, what could we ever hope to learn? Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel secure. Sometimes you just want a professional project to go well because you need the money. Or you want to time a conversation with an unpredictable person to hopefully emerge unscathed from a triggering relational dynamic. These are reasonable answers to the question, and you might be satisfied with your answer. But this process might lead you deeper. When you get to the core rationale behind your desire to steer events, you might find that what you really fear is the self-judgment that awaits when things don’t go your way. (Just me?)

3. Am I the right astrologer for the job?
Astrological interpretation is inherently subjective. You might look at a chart one moment and see a disastrous minefield. But an hour later, after you’ve eaten something and stabilized your blood sugar, suddenly you see the Venus–Jupiter trine aspecting the Midheaven. None of us can ever be entirely objective about any chart, especially our own, and most of us suffer from a negativity bias that highlights the threats in upcoming transits. If astrology is paralyzing your ability to make choices, the problem might not be the astrology — it might be that you’re asking the wrong astrologer: yourself. Maybe it’s time to ask a friend, or better yet, book a reading.

4. Is my astrological intervention aligned with my spiritual wisdom?
Ultimately, this is the most important (and complex) question to answer and an entirely personal undertaking.

Hopefully, the various digressions and explorations in this piece have given you some threads to pull on if and when you get stuck.

Visual by djajakarta: DeviantArt

“Mercurius George” is the slightly secretive pseudonym of an astrologer, writer, and musician based in Brooklyn, New York. A longtime casual enthusiast of astrology, his interest fully blossomed when he discovered the teachings of Hellenistic astrology and began studying in earnest with his teacher Austin Coppock, gradually arriving at a blend of traditional techniques and modern psychological insights. As a writer and editor, he was a contributor to the astrology app Cusp. Visit Mercurius George to book a consultation.

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