Opinion

The utility of astrology

Here's why I choose to believe

Astrology makes no judgement.

I'm a Taurus, which means I'm patient, calm, and caring, but also means I'm possessive, obstinate, and prone to choose habit over reason. The most consistent characteristic of a Taurus, however, is stubbornness. We are not the most logical or charismatic or quick-witted sign on the chart, but for sheer determination, no one can surpass us. We decide what we want, and we get it. What gives us more trouble is figuring out whether our goals are worth reaching.

I say all this because I see it as simultaneously true and not true.

I work hard to be patient, calm, and caring, I try not to be possessive or obstinate, and I have come to think of stubbornness as my most marked characteristic. But I've been thinking this way just for the last few months, in part because the other qualities I've previously taken pride in strike me as much less reliable, and tinged with an inherent sense of judgment. Taking pride in being a hard worker means feeling not just ashamed but unlike myself on a day when I can't get anything done; taking pride in being "smart," whatever that means, often comes down to valuing my way of thinking above others' — and that's on a day when I happen to feel smart at all. On many days I don't.

But on every day of my life, I am stubborn as hell, and I've come to find a kind of stability in focusing on it above all other qualities. All it means to me, at the end of the day, is that I will approach a problem or an idea with all the resources I have at my disposal. When I was 6 years old and forbidden from watching TV, this meant making my dad cut a hole in a refrigerator box so I could stand inside it and act out all the TV shows I was missing (or at least what I imagined they might be like). Today, it means driving from Sacramento to Las Vegas in one long night, because god damn it, I said I would.

Stubbornness doesn't always mean winning, and it doesn't often connote wisdom. It's neither a negative nor a positive quality. It is useful only to the extent that you can acknowledge its presence in your character and learn to make use of it — and only if it brings you joy.

Only if I had been ridiculously stubborn would I have found myself driving along the edge of the Mojave at night, listening to the Dune soundtrack, the perfect darkness of the desert broken only by the freeway's bright seams of light — white for headlights, red for brakes, two paths bound together by constant motion. In fact, only if I had been ridiculously stubborn would I have ever persisted in believing that Dune was really, actually, kind of a great movie, and only this conviction could have led me to listen to Toto's "Riding the Sandworm" in the wastes outside Barstow — one of those tiny, surreal, and beautiful moments you can't plan a trip around, but can only chance upon, if you are game enough to recognize them.

I like to think, in other words, that stubbornness can help us find a grain of delight in a seemingly pointless mire, and to savor that delight so much that all the inconveniences that led to it no longer matter, and perhaps even made it better. At its best, stubbornness can strengthen our determination to see the good in any situation, rather than forcing us to see meaningless tasks and duties through to completion. Taureans are great travelers, unless we decide that we are bound and determined not to enjoy ourselves, in which case we're just the worst.

The question I keep coming back, to, though — and stubbornly — is whether stubbornness is my dominant characteristic because I'm a Taurus: because I was born on April 22 and not April 19. Three days earlier, and I would be an Aries: the spiritual newborn of the zodiac (Taurus is the baby). Aries is a fire sign, daring, guileless, impulsive, and spontaneous. If I had been born three days earlier, would I be a different person?

The answer I've come to is: I have absolutely no idea.

When I think about the aspects of, say, particle physics that I do understand, and the things we really know about life in our universe that sound awfully outlandish — the fact that, say, neutrinos are constantly streaming through us, through the Earth, out the other side, so that a particle that inhabits your body as you read these words will, by the time you finish this sentence, have progressed to a part of the galaxy that you and I will never witness, let alone reach — I think, sure, astrology. Why not?

But the greatest gift astrology gives us, I think, is this: It allows us to see ourselves, and others, in an arena free of judgment. By saying "I am a Taurus and I am stubborn," I can accept both the power and the pitfalls of this quality. The question is not whether I should be more or less stubborn; I just am.

The question, instead, is how I can use this quality to live in a way that is meaningful, joyful, and generous. If I'm trying to see eye to eye with a Pisces, I can read about their sun sign and learn that Pisces is gentle, compassionate, thoughtful, and creative, but also prone to feeling overwhelmed by the world and retreating from reality, since, after all, they experience it so keenly. If I approach a difference of opinion from that perspective, I am less prone to falling into the trap of saying whether being more emotionally reserved is good or bad; it's simply what a Pisces does, and I have to acknowledge it as an aspect of their being, rather than trying to argue them out of it.

Of course, retreating from reality is what a Pisces does because it is what we all do, from time to time; acknowledging that someone may react to a situation differently than you do ultimately means respecting their humanity, rather than being mindful of the fact that they were born in March.

The zodiac is made up of 12 archetypes, each of which represents a character type we all possess in one form or another. For some of us, the Taurean archetype is particularly resonant — or we reach periods in our lives during which we are particularly prone to identify with Taurus, as I did when I began valuing my stubbornness and stability. Did this happen because I was born in April? Is my Pisces friend more caring and thoughtful because she was born in March? Who cares?

If a series of archetypes makes us better able to appreciate each other as we are, and to focus our efforts not on changing each other, but on communicating, then let's dive into a story we don't quite believe in, and trust it will help us find something we do.

More From...

Sarah Marshall
Read All
In praise of the media micro-dose
A woman with a tiny television on her tongue.
Analysis

In praise of the media micro-dose

How I fight anxiety with the awesome power of Alan Dershowitz
The defense has spoken.
Feature

How I fight anxiety with the awesome power of Alan Dershowitz

The Humans of New York Facebook show is social media at its best
Humans of New York: The Series.
Analysis

The Humans of New York Facebook show is social media at its best

The joys of childlessness
The thrill of it all.
Opinion

The joys of childlessness

Recommended

Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake dead at 84
Issey Miyake Dies at age 84
RIP

Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake dead at 84

Is no-fault divorce Republicans' next target?
Wedding cake
Briefing

Is no-fault divorce Republicans' next target?

6 charming homes in the Hudson Valley
House
Feature

6 charming homes in the Hudson Valley

Most Popular

How the U.S. killed Al Qaeda's leader, and no one else, with a flying 'knife bomb'
unmanned aerial vehicle
Briefing

How the U.S. killed Al Qaeda's leader, and no one else, with a flying 'knife bomb'

7 toons about the elections
Political Cartoon
Feature

7 toons about the elections

Major Indiana employers slam new abortion law
Eli Lilly building
the almighty dollar

Major Indiana employers slam new abortion law