By Kenan Branam
(For many years, I worked with Kenan Branam and we were soul companions, briefly married, but remained friends. This article was written during that time and is an intelligent discussion of how Gestalt fits into Astrology. We often wrote off of each other and these could just have easily been my words. He died recently and this is my tribute to him. Thank you Ken for all of your hard work and dedicated service to mankind.)
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”
Shakespeare said something like that. He offered a paradigm of reality seeing life as a dramatic play in which we are all compelled to “read our lines” and meet our inevitable end. This fatalistic view of reality was not original to Shakespeare. History credits Greek Tragedy with an earlier version.
In more modern times, Constantin Stanislavski, Russian stage actor/director, and teacher developed a method of “being” not just acting that would foster individual spiritual growth. (Read more about it – The Transpersonal Actor) He had a more optimistic paradigm of reality. He prophesied that we, as individuals, could create our own lives through self expression, reaching deep into our psychic resources. Perhaps he understood Shakespeare’s other wisdom, “The play’s the thing, to catch the consciousness of the King.”
Stanislavski recognized that these resources were both personal and universal. Tapping into the same pool of intuition, Carl Jung charted these deep waters and named it the “collective unconscious”. His identification of “archetypes” became a “cast of characters ” or “roles” that each of us access unconsciously to play out our personal life scripts.
Fritz Perls, the Father of Gestalt Therapy, brought the “play” to group work and individual personal growth with the “hot seat” dialogue. He facilitated both the verbal scripts and the intuitive experience to guide the client toward greater self awareness and intentional integration.
How I learned Astrology
I had been practicing Gestalt in group and individual session for several years when I became curious about esoteric subjects like astrology and tarot. I had practiced dialogues with imaginary people (my father, mother, significant others), empty chairs and pillows, trees, animals, and of course, the “world” as I saw it. When I recognized astrology as archetypal, I included its symbols in my personal work. I would say, in a Gestalt session, “I am Mars!”, and then experienced the back flow of my declaration. Feelings of fear, anger, challenge, excitement, images of war and violence, even physical responses such as deeper breaths, flushed skin, spontaneous flexing of muscles in my arms and thighs, energy coalescing into images of ancient Roman warriors. “I am a Warrior!” I would say as I “owned” and accepted the warrior in myself (filtered through Carlos Castaneda’s “Warrior”.)
“I am Scorpio!” I felt a rush of sexual feelings and images with a sudden need to hide them from the group. Alas, I didn’t know it then, but I was beginning to tune into and integrate my Mars in the 10th house in Scorpio with the subtleties of its oppositions, conjunctions and square to Pluto…my T-Square, my ongoing process, my Gestalt.
With psychodrama, pillow talk dialogue, and time to meditate, I began to realize that Something powerful flowed through me on it’s way through animals and plants and planets. To me, Mars is not just a small red dot in the sky, an intellectual concept, nor just a thing…. it’s Me. I give “My Mars” more of it’s share of my life and value it as a unique part of myself… and part of the Universe at the same time. With this spiritual connection, I began to feel a little bit more at home in Universe.
With only street knowledge of astrological symbolism, I built a base of personal knowledge and experience that I later discovered corresponded to “key words and phrases” in the cookbooks of Astrology. Astrology has become a part of me. And I’m a part of Astrology!
“Astrology is not something to BELIEVE in… It’s something to KNOW about.”- Noel Tyl
The Gestalt Approach to Reading a Chart
Fritz Perls’ definition of the Gestalt process comes from objectively watching the natural way that living beings deal with life’s essential needs such as hunger, aggression, mating, etc. Simply speaking, we all follow a similar process of becoming aware of what we want or need, focusing on a method of satisfying the need, acting out the plan, and reaching completion and integration. We’re hungry, we find food, eat it, digest it, assimilate it, become satisfied and, hopefully, move on to the next gestalt. We move from general awareness to specific back to general … with some growth happening in the process. The process is cyclic and never ending just as we must continue to breath in and out to stay alive.
The Gestalt approach to Astrology, from the “reader’s” point of view, is about looking at the Natal Condition from a process perspective. Seasoned professional Astrologers have learned various ways to “see” a chart from a process point of view. As they say, “I get a picture of who the person is.” Then they work toward communicating their vision to the client with greater or lesser degree of success.
From the broadest perspective, everyone’s natal chart has a unique visual configuration that forms an harmonious circle. After all, the solar system is always in harmony, so it’s important that we, as Astrologers, recognize that harmony and the potential for integration inherent in every client’s chart.
Then as we begin to notice groupings of the planets in quadrants: above and below or Eastern and Western. We assign meaning to these patterns representing the native’s propensity to certain psychological states such as introvert/extrovert or inner/outer. We might also identify karmic conditions that influence the native’s life mission and how it will likely be “acted out”.
Next we can focus on specific groups of planets in signs and house and what angles they make to each other. We can assign meaning to such patterns as Grand Squares, Mystic Rectangles, or “buckets”, etc.
At some point in our process of attention, we move from a broad perspective to a more analytical perspective, perhaps, to delineation. Finally, we return to “the big picture” through such techniques as Maritha Pottenger’s number system or Joan Negus’ “three times is the charm”. One might say we switch from right-brain to left-brain, from a Pisces to a Virgo perspective, or harmonize some personal opposition or square in our own chart. The process of awareness that we use to read the client’s chart is our own version of the gestalt process. It is HOW we deal with the world. It is how we ARE in the world.
When we, as Astrologers, look at another person’s natal chart from a gestalt perspective, we can sometimes relate to their primary processes of awareness and assume we can discriminate between our own propensities and our client’s.
The Experiential Gestalt Astrology Session
The Mandala work is a facilitated exercise performed by the Native (you) in a group or private session. It is an empowering opportunity for you as a client to participate and contribute.
A 12′ astrological natal chart is drawn on the floor. Spheres as symbols of the planets signs are placed on the grid corresponding to their positions in your natal chart. After you have had a few moments of sitting in the middle of the Mandala, having a physical experience of the colors, symbols, and their spatial relationships, you then begin a conversation with planets representing aspects of yourself: your present conflicts, dilemmas, “other” people in you life, even memories, dreams, and reflections.
Intellectual concepts and symbols are “fleshed out” with the drama of your life scripts, enabling meaning and purpose. Conflicting internal dialogues from opposing planets negotiate new contracts for more integrated behavior. Trine and sextile planets become consciously supportive. Unconscious planets join the team and show up with greater resources.
Everything that is important to you in your life is reflected in your natal chart and emphasized by current transiting planets. As you interact with your natal chart and the symbols of planets, signs, modalities, and elements, you develop an intuitive understanding of astrological energies and processes.
The Role of the Gestalt Astrology Facilitator
Being a Gestalt Facilitator is a way of relating to another person in a consulting or teaching role that requires quite different objectives and procedures than would an astrologer or psychoanalyst, for that matter. More emphasis is placed on empowering the “client” to experience his/her own processes and integrate new awareness’ into her/his life skills. The Gestalt Facilitator primarily acts as a “clear” mirror to reflect the client’s behavior back to their own awareness.
The Astrological Natal Chart is an objective mirror in the form of a visual symbol. While it is very focused and detailed, its archetypal principles provide unlimited depth of meaning. When we, as Astrologers, “read” a chart for a client, the benefits we offer are limited to our specific knowledge of astrology, our communication skills, the client’s ability or state of mind to listen, and the time/space limits of our session. With a gestalt approach, we can open the door, the natal chart, to greater possibilities of experience and understanding for the client. The potential of the client’s awareness is invited and, providing that the Facilitator is skillful and clear, even enhanced, allowing the client to leave a session with, not only greater knowledge but with greater self awareness of personal power.
Gestalt as a psychological approach is a cognitive modality that facilitates integration of body, emotions, mind, and spirit, enabling an experience of essential being, clarity, self-support, and personal empowerment. When applied to Astrology, the Gestalt experiential process provides an opportunity to transform the Ancient Wisdom of Astrology into a personal, existential experience of our Natal Integrity.
…and God divided the light from the darkness…The Gestalt Perspective