Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
- Zen Proverb
I often have clients say to me "I've been through that already. I'm done with that work now!" Which always causes me to say "Think again." Let me explain my Self.
The short answer is, the work is never done.
In terms of karma yoga (action for the sake of unification with Source) the yogi's work is never done. This is the work of the spiritual warrior, the kshatriya. This is true for actions and the process of life; whether it be on the level of the mental body, emotional body, physical body or spiritual body.
I have come to realize that the biggest mistake we can make (or that our egos tell us) is that we have moved on and are "done" with something. I am particularly referring to our individual emotional/mental work and how we "move through things" but I do think this can be applied to other parts of our spiritual life process as well.
True. We are always moving. Moving towards. Moving away. Moving with or against. The movement is constant even if the pace shifts or the momentum waxes and wanes. We can not not move. As my guru would say, "the nature of life is to grow and progress."
And progress we do. But some things stay the same.
We can not change our past. We can't change our early childhood imprinting nor the karmas we brought to this life. We can not change our past experiences. That all stays the same. This is evident from one's jyotish birth chart (rasi). The karmas you come in with are set and do not change. These karmas created you and caused you to birth into this lila for the purpose of transformation and evolution. What we do change is our response to these experiences. We do change; we grow and progress. It is our karmas (actions) that allow us to walk this path of change. And it is the navamsa (a specific and particularly important divisional chart in jyotish) that shows how an individual works with their karmas and how they are able to use them for change and growth in the life process. In jyotish terms, there are four different types of karmas as well as three levels of intensity for these karmas that we must also take into consideration when determining how hard or harsh the actions/reactions will be for an individual and how hard it will be to work with and change the karmas.
To think that you are "done with something" on an emotional/mental level, however, should require one to hit the pause button. The process of life continues to unfold and causes one to change one's responses to life. Mars, the planet of action, the doer, the agni of life and the transformational power planet, shows us in a jyotish chart how an individual takes their action. Mars is the ultimate warrior- for better or worse! Mars also likes conclusions, finality, endings and can take a decidedly egoic slant on finishing tasks or "getting the job done". Perhaps he is the one that tells us "we have finished" our emotional/mental work and have some how "moved on"?
In any case, the emotional/mental/spiritual/physical work continues. It is all part of the process of life that continues to unfold.
I come from a yogic tradition where many feel the rush to get to enlightenment. Enlightenment is the ultimate destination- for us all according to some. I question this destination often. The need and desire to be anywhere beyond this moment, clearly causes some issues. But this human need to have a destination, to get past a certain point, to know that you have made it to the top of the mountain so to speak, is also a metaphor for fooling ourselves into thinking we've "done the work already". But the work continues. The chopping of wood and the carrying of water continues; even after realizing what needs to shift inside of you in order to have a more fulfilling life. Even taking the necessary actions to make the shift. Even after no longer making the same, tired, out worn choices. The work is the same. The karmas you are working with are the same. And you have to keep walking. You keep chopping. You keep carrying. Though you may be getting different results as you change your responses.
I liken this ongoing journey to a suitcase. It's like packing a bag for a trip. Once you've worn all the clothes you've packed, you start to get really bored with what's in your suitcase. You begin to wear outfits in new ways, combinations that you wouldn't normally put together. You may decide to add some new pieces to your wardrobe out of "desperation". New options arise. As we work with our past karmas (the suitcase that we've packed), we are forced out of necessity to begin to rearrange the pieces, change the combinations we put together, rearrange some things. We begin to make new choices, desire new things, add, subtract, change, cut sleeves off, buy a new pair of shoes at times, but we are still hauling around the same suitcase; don't be fooled. By the end of the journey, many pieces have been rearranged, changed, incorporated, shifted and moved, but we still find ourselves clinging to our favorite T-shirt or longing for the shoes we had to throw out or perhaps realizing the important lesson in giving away the sweater no longer needed.
We are all still working with the same bag we packed at the moment of our birth- the one we chose to travel with for this life time. And so the emotional/mental work continues to evolve and shift but is based on the original map you came in with. And you must act and be in action (karma) to be alive. You must chop your wood and carry your water now, and even once you've walked the same ground over and over and over again there's still more wood and more water. And every log you chop and every bucket you carry will offer a new opportunity for awareness and awakening in a new way. Whether you had a rotten child hood or a parent die, or some other chaos and fragility, joy, pain or sadness; it all informs your life process and your actions. Always. And when you finally wake up and see it for what it is, there's another layer to go. Always another layer to go. And rather than have this be daunting, I prefer to see it as comforting in some strange, endless, consistent way. The way that Saturn might encourage, or Kali, with their connection to the wheel of time.
I believe T. S. Eliot says it well:
"We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." - T. S. Eliot
Let us never be fooled by our egos into thinking that there is not another layer of our Self process to unfold, to unshadow, or unveil ourselves from. Life requires the very actions of chopping wood and carrying water which is a metaphor for karma and being in a human body among other things. Astrologically speaking "chopping wood and carrying water" is a reference to both Saturn (sustained, consistent and repetitive action that provides one with enlightenment) as well as the action itself and the transformational quality of the action (Mars). These two planets can greatly inform our life process and how we let it unfold, or resist its unfolding.
Which gets me to the upcoming transits of Mars and his unusual movements this coming year. (You can read about Saturn's transits here). It is a year of expansion (due to Jupiter entering its sign of exaltation, Cancer, mid June) and at the end of the year a shift in structure (Saturn moves to Scorpio in November for the next 2.5 years) however Mars will inform us of our actions within this expansion process until September so it is good to be aware of his effects.
Mars is the fiery planet of action (karma) and is connected to agni and transformation. He is a powerful warrior always ready to fight, but only carries out the orders of the general (the Sun); he doesn't think much for him Self. Because of his action-oriented energy, he can get us into trouble if we let him tell us to leap before looking. The anger and rage that he brings us are proof of his power, but going more deeply into the emotional outburst will give us food for thought and deeper insights into our needs and wants that have gone unmet.
Normally Mars moves through a sign in roughly two months time which takes him through all twelves signs in about 24 months or two years. That is a rough estimate because his retrograde motion throughout his transits may or may not prolong his time in any given sign.
Currently Mars is in Virgo- a sign ruled by Mercury, who he is not friendly with. (Mercury is the thinker, and Mars is the doer). Soon Mars will move into Libra (on February 4th) where he will be moving forward for several weeks until he begins his retrograde motion (March 1st) when he has only just passed the 3 degree range. Saturn then begins to retrograde through Libra on March 2nd while Jupiter goes direct on March 6th in Gemini. Since there will be a lot of retrograde activity (including multiple retrograde planets simultaneously) it is important to know that certain past desires will intensify as a result at these times. The indications of the planet will determine which cravings will strengthen during these periods. (Note: retrograde planets are acting like the nodes, Rahu and Ketu, who always move in retrograde motion and indicate our worldly cravings and desires of various kinds).
Mars slides back into Virgo on March 25th. He continues his dance backwards through Virgo until May 19th when he goes direct and then begins to move forward once again- retracing his steps all the way back through Virgo. Mars enters Libra yet again on July 13th where he continues to move in forward motion until September 4th when he enters Scorpio.
Incidentally, Mars will be in exact degrees with transiting Rahu/Ketu on July 12th as the nodes move into Virgo and Pisces respectively. Mars and Rahu will be crossing each other in exact conjunction at this time. This is not a time to be foolish. Actions will be shadowed and the forces of Rudra (chaos/storms/calamities/power) will likely be at an all time high. Be cautious at this time and in the weeks/days before and after these transits. Remember Saturn will also be retrograde at this time, bringing an emphasis to Libra as well and all things Venus. Expect chaos during these planetary shifts.
What does all this "action" of Mars in and out of Virgo and Libra mean? What can we expect from these transits?
Mars is the "doer" and pushes us to act. He won't take "no" for an answer. When in balance he provides our momentum- helping us reach goals, productive outcomes and nurturing our path with progress. When out of balance, Mars brings forced action, anger (because healthy boundaries have likely been crossed), aggressive agendas, and not being in tune with the need to slow down (Saturn). This will be an important time to notice where we are forcing rather than allowing.
The tendency with these upcoming Mars transits will be to push our goals and agendas to a fault, causing imbalances, frustrations and disappointments ultimately. The mental body and emotional body may be imbalanced as a result. (The mental body always has an agenda and likes to remind us of it constantly!) This can bring "upset" to the emotional body. Listen and stay alert to the fluctuations of these two. They will bring clues if you are Self-tracking your experiences and can offer insights into what shifts are necessary in order for more balance.
Being able to surrender and let go will be an important part of the process during Mar's transit through Virgo as well as in Libra. Putting action towards only what is absolutely necessary will ease some of the tension. Watching for the "critic" and its judgement is also necessary. This will be especially important within our relationships- both personal and business. Being very aware of anger and frustration will be paramount as these emotions are the "red flag" that we have pushed too hard, or are feeling that a need or boundary has been over-stepped or somehow unmet.
This Mars cycle will give us a very good chance to evaluate and re-evalute our personal actions. What actions were previously unable to manifest? What tasks previously went unaccomplished or unfinished? Themes may surface around "being in step" or "out of step" with life and what we need to shift in order to find more balance on the mental/emotional levels of our lives. This may bring up issues with boundaries and speaking needs/wants clearly within our relationships. We may also feel anxious and hyper critical of ourselves and others, this can also help us Self-track where needs are not being met. Movement is inevitable with these transits as the nakshatras will enliven Vayu's winds of change, Vishvakarma's building/planning and Indragni's transformational qualities.
Use this time for personal progress and conscious action steps. Surrender to the chaos rather than resist it. Take one step at a time and prepare to work with Mars and your karmas in ways that will help you awaken mentally and creatively as you relate to Self and others in new ways. We are each getting an opportunity to retrace our steps thanks to Mars, which can bring us an opportunity for healthy growth and positive change that moves us in a forward direction. Use this time of action wisely and track your emotions for best results. Mars is insistent and persistent, so try not to be a bull in a china shop as you take action.
Here are possible themes for this Mars transit based on each rising sign. Remember that these trends are meant to be used as a broad overview of the current transits and obviously do not address the specifics of an individual’s unique chart.
Aries: Healing relationships and bad habits. Expand your courage and creativity. Allow your Self to be nurtured and ask for support.
Taurus: Educate your Self and trust your gut instincts. Use your inner awareness as a tool of service and healing. Mind your health. Meditate.
Gemini: Your heart and intuitive intelligence are deeply valuable to listen to and follow. You must listen to them in new ways and start trusting your emotions more than your head. The mental/emotional bodies will offer great insights, so be vigilant with them.
Cancer: Use courage to work on heart and emotions and expand your emotional work in bold ways. Love in bigger ways and use it to inform your actions and artistry.
Leo: Say what you mean and mean what you say. Your words will take you places so be intentional with them. Create and step into your creation process boldly. Let your Self be surprised.
Virgo: It's time to take bold action for your Self, regardless of relationships or past experiences. Start trusting your Self and your needs as valuable. Seek comfort, support and nourishment.
Libra: Take necessary time for meditation and rejuvenation; your Self work and Self care are essential. Find your balance as you surrender to the flux and flow of expand/contract energy.
Scorpio: Your metamorphosis is working its magic on you. Gains will be healing but don't let the losses keep you in the dark. Use it for inspired creative action. Grow from your depths and stand tall.
Sagittarius: Take action with career but use your inner guidance for checks and balances. Work with a clear agenda and take methodical action. Use money as incentive for your action steps and follow through.
Capricorn: What you offer, how you offer and who you offer to are paramount. You are in a bold career transformation. Be powerful and take a stand for your gifts.
Aquarius: Take what you are learning from your depths and transform it into a dharmic offering. Use your vulnerability as a strength and listen to your intuition more closely- it will inform your process.
Pisces: Relationships are transforming and transforming you. The past is dictating a lot of your responses so be aware that personal clean up is in order. Work with vulnerability in new ways. Seek emotional comfort and support.