Monday, 15 February 2016

Krishnamurti Institute of Astrology Conference, Kolkata India

In my 30 year career as an astrologer, I've been to a lot of astrology conferences and I've enjoyed every single one of them. But I also have to say one conference in particular stands out for its beautiful culture, quality of speakers (a-hem) and hospitality: the Krishnamurti Institute of Astrology's annual conference in Kolkata India.

Up until a year ago, I had no particular interest in India. I mean it was on my list of places to visit but I had just never given any thought to go to conferences there (although on reflection I should have). As a Western astrologer, I knew there were huge differences in the manner astrology was practised between the two cultures. But I had rather stupidly assumed that it was a gulf that was too wide to bridge.

How wrong I was (and with my Mercury in Leo, you know it hurts to say that).

So that leads to the question of how I did get to India.

Bollywood actress Mahima Chaudry at the KIA conference, 2016
I had just presented my work on astrology and education in Austin Texas with my (now) good friend Naomi Bennett. She turned to me and said: "You know your work is wasted in the US and UK. Maybe you should think about India." So we looked at the astrocartography lines for me in India and saw that the Sun/MC line ran through Kolkata and the Jupiter/MC line ran through Delhi. Those were pretty good indications that I might be successful in India. A seed had been planted. A few weeks later, after doing some research, I found a conference that looked good and emailed the organiser, Gopal Bhattacharjee, to express an interest in speaking in 2016. To my surprise, he invited me to the conference in February 2015 and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Nope, you won't find this at Heathrow
Every moment of my first visit to India was a gift to my senses but I was a bit overwhelmed with culture shock even before I landed. So many people, so much noise and the language was completely beyond my grasp. I was a lone traveller so how was I going to get from the airport to the hotel? 

I need not have worried! Gopal had sorted it out.

You know when you see people at the exit gates holding up signs with the names of the folks they are supposed to be collecting? You know, important people? Well there were two very nice gentleman smiling and holding up a sign with my name on it. And it was even spelled correctly!

As we sped very noisily through the Kolkata night (I've never heard so many horns blaring in my life!), I was still expecting to be staying in very basic accommodation. I had been warned that I would be sick, that malaria was a real threat and that I really shouldn't expect too much. How wrong these presumptions were.  I hadn't had a clue about the hospitality of India.

Once settled in the beautiful accommodation, we were taken on a tour of the city. Living in London, I thought I would know what to expect from a busy city. Once again, nothing could have prepared me for Kolkata: the differences in culture could be seen wherever I looked. I saw men being shaved with straight razors in the open, I saw millions of people just getting on with their daily lives (washing, cooking, shopping, arguing) and of course I saw poverty like I've never seen before--and it bothered me. As I was thinking this, I saw a boy about 7 or 8 years old on a bicycle that was too big for him, pulling a small, open trailer on which a toddler sat. There were no safety precautions--and to my western eyes, it was just so dangerous with so much traffic whizzing by in what seemed like from all directions. At that moment, the boy caught my eye, gave me the biggest grin and waved. "This is my life," he seemed to say, "And isn't it great?" It made me realise who the real pauper was.
Just after visiting Kali Temple, Kolkata 

We were taken on a tour of the Kali Temple and I, who can barely manage the crowds at Sainsbury's on a Saturday morning, was oddly soothed by the chaos of what was around me. I looked up to the fading sunlight and felt this unity with my fellow travellers and natives of this hectic place. We were all in it together and wasn't it divine? All under one sky. It was a feeling that would stay with me for my entire journey through India and would return to me when I visited again.

The conference itself was again something I could not have prepared for: the queue of people waiting to get in was massive. It was not unlike the crowds that might be expected at a rock concert--and we foreign delegates were directed to take the stage almost immediately. I could not believe the audience filled the hall to capacity and beyond--standing room only! I had been worried I would offend someone with my ignorant Western ways and indeed, it didn't take long. During the lighting of the ceremonial lamp, I hadn't realised I should have taken my shoes off out of respect. Whoops! I wouldn't make that mistake again. My embarrassment was completely forgotten with the opening dance.

I was completely spellbound by the beauty of the dancers, the music and the atmosphere. Oh yes, I thought to myself, I am in beautiful, mysterious India.

During conference breaks, I was again completely surprised by the enthusiasm of the crowd who wanted photo after photo of us speakers. If there was any disappointment, it was only my inability to speak Hindi. I vowed that if I was to be invited back to the conference, I would put that problem right.

Of course at any conference, the joy comes from the people you get to know better and the people you meet. I enjoyed hanging out with fellow speakers but I was entranced by Sanjay Pandya and High Court Justice Shankar Nath Kapoor. (A week or so later, I was invited to have dinner with Kapoor Ji and his beautiful wife in Delhi along with Naomi and Ehsan Kh of Iran). As an aside, I am so pleased Naomi, Ehsan, Michelle Gould and Richard Fidlar became such close friends and that we were re-united in Cape Town later in 2015 and returned to Kolkata in 2016.

Shortly after my lecture, we were presented with the clothes we were to wear to the closing ceremonies: saris for the women and kurtis for the men. Me in a sari? Fortunately there were dressers to help because I would have worn the sari like a sparkling toga.

The biggest surprise was being crowned "Krishnamurti Institute of Astrology's International Astrologer of the Year, 2015." Yes, I got a tiara and beautiful jewellery but even better, the award was presented by Kapoor Ji and Minister for Women and Children Dr Shashi Panja--that's right: a top judge and politician at an astrology conference!

Shocked to be "KIA International Astrologer, 2015"
I really had no idea there was any sort of judging going on: I just wanted to show the good people of India how astrology could be an aid to education. But for me, the greatest honour came from the opportunity to meet Shashi, whose interests in women's and children's rights were so close to my own heart. I didn't have too much of a chance to speak to her at the time but we have kept in contact via social media. Both she and Kapoor Ji are very busy people but they each made time for me in their own ways. How fortunate is that?

Once the shock wore off, all I wanted to do was bring more Western astrologers to the conference in 2016 and I was delighted UK astrologers Julian Venables, Robert Currey and Laura Boomer Trent, along with even more delegates from afar, were inspired to attend the KIA conference in 2016. It was nothing short of a delight to watch them take in the very things that had so impressed me in 2015. They raved about the opening dance, couldn't believe the crowds, looked beautiful in traditional Indian clothes and were just as enchanted as I was (and still remain) the year before. I was so proud of their lectures and was particularly pleased Robert Currey won a well deserved "Lifetime Achievement" award.

And oh yes, after a lot of practice, I did present my opening address in Hindi! Here I am, being very careful with pronunciation:

Gopal Bhattacharjee will surely go down in astrological history as the man who has so successfully united Vedic and Western astrologers in a way no other astrological conference organiser has ever done before. The wonderful collection of astrological essays are compiled in the beautiful "Nakshatra Barta" magazine and everyone eagerly looks forward to raising the bar even higher in 2018. What a wonderful honour it was to have been a part of KIA in 2015 and to be invited back in 2016. I'm not sure exactly what Gopal has in mind for 2018 but I do know he and the KIA board members have already been called to begin preparations. Already looking forward to it!

For further details about the 28th KIA Conference, go to this site

Saturday, 13 February 2016

On Eating Humble Pie

Just a little over a year ago, I was an anti Star Sign kind of astrologer who spent an awful lot of time telling other astrologers why Star Signs were stupid and a complete waste of time. Until then, I never thought I'd see the day when I would give in and begin my own Star Sign column. I guess the impetus to give the old Star Signs a try came with the realisation that I didn't even know what it was like to actually spend some time writing a column. So I decided to take the Star Sign challenge which you can read about here. And the results here.

I can clearly remember thinking that I was setting myself up for a very big piece of humble pie but at the time, this was preferable to being the kind of person who runs her big mouth without actually knowing what she is talking about. It was as much a surprise to me as it was to anyone else that I'm still writing a Star Sign column every day--for free.

This is not to say I enjoy writing the daily column. Oh no--most days instead of jumping out of bed (a-hem) and hitting the keyboard doing something useful, I am drinking 3 or 4 cups of tea, playing on Facebook and bracing myself to write 2 sentences for each star sign. I can procrastinate with such pathetic skill that a full hour can pass before I feel ready to get on with things. And most days I think I have something better to do than write them.

But here's the thing:

My blog viewing stats before and after the star sign column
I can't argue with how much traffic the column brings to my other work. I easily get at least 100x more visits to these pages with links to my "real" work than I did when I wasn't writing them. This means that about 10,000 good people who stop in to read their Star Sign written by me have access to the external links to full articles, workshops and other things that I get up to: in other words, they are exposed to "real" astrology far more often than if I didn't write the column.

And what on earth is "real" astrology anyway? If you had asked me before I started writing the column, I would have told you that "real" astrology was a beautifully written piece demonstrating the functions of every planet, every aspect and every technique in astrology. In other words, articles loaded with obscure references that no one was going to take the time to read--not even fellow astrologers. And to be really honest, it was stuff I wasn't writing anyway. And if I did have the time to write these articles it would appear to be just as much bullshit as any Star Sign column.

So I'll bet you're wondering why I'm so touchy about this today.

Last night, I received my first ever criticism for writing a Star Sign column from a fellow astrologer. It was a moment I had been anticipating for some time (given that I had made myself such a big target by being anti Star Signs for so long) so I thought I would been prepared for it. The other astrologer said my column was "tacky" and that it undermined all my other good work and credentials.

I mean "ouch".

But how many times I have wondered, being highly qualified in the teaching profession, the value of saying again and again "a lot is two words", the differences between "there, their and they're" and the value of reading a "real" work of literature?  I have probably said something along these lines to my eager pupils at least once every lesson--and that is a very conservative estimate. I mean, why should I, having so heavily invested in my education, stoop so low as to even waste my breath on these ignorant heathens? Shouldn't I be showing off my in-depth knowledge of the Complete Works of Shakespeare or something? The answer is because the kids I teach just don't know any better and they aren't going to understand Shakespeare until they understand the basics of the English language. I know better and so I can teach them. It's what I do--and what every other teacher on the planet does. And I feel exactly the same way (now) about the Star Sign columns. Yes, I have more important things to do--but there is nothing more important than putting oneself in the front line by providing non astrologers with the opportunity to learn something. So it goes with the column: here's the Star Sign stuff and here's a way to find the more important stuff.

Another point is on the topic of practice. Writing a daily column essentially forces me to pick up an ephemeris and look at it and work with it and to put the meaning into every day language to be understood by a non astrologer. It's a bloody hard skill. But by the Great Goddess I got better and faster at doing it.

It's not unlike being a trumpet player--which I've been for 40 years.  I dislike practising scales--but if I don't do it, I wouldn't be much of a trumpet player. And if I don't do it often, I become a bad trumpet player very quickly. So I get out the Arban's (that's the trumpet Bible) and make myself practice. It's not the only way to become better and it certainly isn't fun to listen to or to do but it's efficient and effective. Ditto for the star sign column.

So I have faced up to being wrong about Star Sign columns for all but one of the 30 years I've been an astrologer. And I have to eat a big old piece of humble pie. But I'm going to wash it down with the fact that it's better to realise one's mistakes sooner rather than later.


Thursday, 11 February 2016

Duh. . .delirium!

As experienced during my three week stay in Kolkata India. . .

I have no planets in earth signs (unless you count Uranus and Pluto and quite a few astrologers--including me--don't really count these in a natal chart). I've said this before but most people do have at least one planet in earth so therefore they can't understand the stupid shit I do sometimes. So this blog is for you people so you can watch out for people like me. What kind of stupid shit do I do? For example:

1) Assuming everyone has GOT to be way more organised than me and therefore I can rely on them to help me sort my shit out. Case in point? Recently I had to get a visa for India. Last year I waited a little too long and ended up getting stressed because it (which had been sent off with my passport) was taking so long. Come to find out, I had thrown away the delivery slip--and my passport (and visa) was waiting for me at the post office. Oh yeah, India visa part deux--this year I trusted India visa services to have way better internet than me. Did they? No and I ended up in near meltdown because I had to, yet again, wait until the last minute to get my visa.

2) Assuming everyone else will completely misunderstand my need for certain, shall we call them, security items. Yes I have a teddy. No not really but there are certain things I'm not going to let out of my sight for very long (my laptop is a given but that's fastened to my person most of the time and ditto for my passport). My toothbrush is always right where I can find it. Wherever I am in the world, I have to trust my toothbrush is where I put it and it's safely protected from contaminants (can't stand scuzzy teeth cuz I am paranoid about cavities). A pen, although it's true I may go through several over the course of week, is always where I can find it (never know when someone might want me autograph, ;)). My manners are always with me because I like people to think I'm nice (I mention manners for a reason--hold on). Something to wash my hands with because I hate having sticky fingers. You get where I'm going with this: I'm a woman of simple needs who easily loses track of shoes, clothes and knickers (a-hem) but the laptop, passport, pen and wet wipes are where I can find them.

3) Assuming everyone is as paranoid about their bank card as I am. Yes I'm compulsive wallet checker (my own that is). I generally have an awareness of how much I'm worth and whether or not I'm actually worth robbing. Generally speaking, I'm not worth the bother because I have no planets in earth and walk around in a financial fug.

4) Assuming that my body does not need much conscious care. I mean, what? It works so what's to worry about? I HATE taking tablets! I'll take any other form of anaesthesia--hate tablets. Oh I'm scared of needles!! I'll do anything to avoid needles (again I mention this for a reason)

So I started to get a headache last week after I had a bit of a meltdown. It got better eventually but was kind of always there in the background but it wasn't bothering me so I could ignore it. So Sunday rolls around and I'm starting to feel a little stressed: the noise was bothering me. In fact I was starting to think it was giving me a headache but I got a lot of work done this day--because people with no planets in earth tend to worry people with planets in earth will think they are lazy if they're not doing something.

I'm not feeling much better on Monday so I reckon the remedy for this is a pint of beer down at the "Restaurant Cum Bar"--because people with no planets in earth signs think they can just ignore their physical bodies as if they can forget they actually have one. I'm still working when I start to think I should wear my glasses more than I do. Where are my glasses (because being able to see should be more important than my teeth, right)? So when things get a little too blurry I think I should get some fresh air. In downtown Kolkata. Because surely all those people with more planets in earth signs are so much more conscious about the environment and would NEVER do stuff like allow fellow citizens to have a trillion petrol burning cars.

Anyway, by this time, I'm not feeling too clever. And I'm breathing in all those glorious fumes, metabolising a pint of strong Indian lager and ignoring the fact that I'm getting a little warm. Of course, I immediately put this down to the environment, not down to the fact that I'm starting to run a temperature. In fact, by the time I get back to the hotel, I'm feeling distinctly panic stricken because surely it must be down to the stupid ways I can't manage my life--due to lack of planets in earth--that I can 't have my daughter and my cats on the same continent as I am. I spent hours sitting in front of my laptop, frustrated because I can't write and wiping my nose because if cry I'm going to punish myself by not speaking to myself for the next couple of days. And when one is staying on one's own that can't happen. I never thought to myself "Alex, something ain't right. Ya think you better run those symptoms through google?"

About 10 minutes later, I'm barfing. What could be worse than barfing, on your own, in a foreign hotel, away from your mates with absolutely no one to talk to and share this experience with? Judging by my reaction, it was akin to being hanged, drawn and quartered. I tried to take a cold shower to cool off but my skin hurt. Probably because I so worked up--so I thought.

So I took a nap, thinking I'm probably over-tired and little over-excited. I wake up three hours later. My first thought? Having no planets in earth, I'm thinking "Oh my God, you lazy bastard! What will all those people with planets in earth signs think about you?" I get back to my laptop and I'm feeling hot and dizzy and I got this weird pain in my back. So what does someone with no planets in earth think? "Well you have been either sitting or laying down most of the day, you lazy git. Maybe you need a bit of yoga." So I do a little yoga and this weird pain in my back is getting to be a little distracting--and that's going to mean I won't be able to write. So now I'm angry with myself. My thought process:

"Jeez Alex, can't you do anything right? All you have to do is write--like you've always said you wanted to do--and you even screw that up. And you know why? Because you don't try hard enough (actually this might have been my Mars square Saturn talking)." So I do end up crying because I'm so pissed off with myself. It's out of character because generally speaking I'm a tough old bird.

So I tried to have a convo on the internet and the person I'm talking to asks me if I'm pissed.

Who? Me? Pissed? I mean the very idea!!

He tells me to go to bed so I do (actually I did try to put up a bit of a fight on this one but thought I was drifting in and out of sleep because my hearing and vision were playing up). Besides the headache and backache were getting hard to ignore and some sleep may be what I needed. Right? Fortunately I did have the foresight to place a bucket for puking next to me.

I wake up and there's a strange man in my room. But it's like I'm underwater or dreaming and can't even shout or scream. And everything hurts. But I managed to barf again. And go back to sleep. Smart eh?

I wake up again to someone shaking me. I hear the word "hospital". Or least I think I did. So I open my eye (I couldn't get the pair to coordinate) and there's a smiling man and another man I recognised as the waiter who brings me tea every morning. Eventually I worked out the man I didn't know was a doctor and he wants a urine sample.

I laugh.

I mean, are you bloody kidding? I barfed everything up! (see point number 2)

He motions for me to drink out of an opened bottle water.

Hahaha, laughs Ms No Planets in Earth Signs, I'm not so out of it that I'm going to drink out of an opened bottle of water.  He explains if I don't drink, I'm going to need to go to hospital and have an IV (see point 4 above).

Well why didn't you bloody well say so (point number 2 if you've forgotten)? I asked (I also asked and said a whole lot of other shit that I can't remember because I was pretty near delirious with a fever). The thermometer said 40 degrees Celsius!! Holy shit--I knew what that meant. So I drained the bottle.

Then promptly barfed.

The doctor held his head in his hands. He may have face palmed. He got another bottle of water, poured a bit out into a glass and added what looked like white powder. He held it out to me like I was stupid.

He did that head shake thing and told me it was sugar and salt. I was dehydrated. He needed to test my urine so he can work out what should be done with my barfing self. He told me, very sternly, to sip the water.

At this point of the story, can I just say despite the indignity of barfing in front of other human beings that I'm extremely grateful nothing was coming out of any other orifice?

So what do you know, half an hour later I'm ready to pee into his little vial. He goes into the bathroom and then comes back and tells me I have a kidney infection.

For a second, I'm dumbfounded. I have kidneys? I have heard of such things but having no planets in earth means that I walk around this planet thinking I don't have a human body.

There's a chemist next door and it was on the tip of my tongue to ask the old boy to pick me up some valium while he was there. Anyway I chickened out, he left and then returned with what I hoped was a prescription (having no planets in earth, I couldn't quite pull myself together to ask). Antibiotics and ibuprofen. The fever must come down, he said and added I really should stay in bed--which of course meant (having no planets in earth)--I was back at my laptop as soon as the door closed.

Once the coast is clear, the first thing I noticed is that my tarot cards are out on my desk. I'm paranoid about my cards. I always put them away. Why were they out? I read through some messages. Oh yeah, I tried to do a couple of "readings". I could only hope I didn't fuck anyone's life up. Now I'm kinda scared to touch my laptop lest my brain disengage again. On a positive note, I was pleased to note I didn't lose my ability to type when under such physical stress.

But I was really too ill to be up for more than a few minutes and ended up sleeping most of the day between barfing--because having no planets in earth means I keep forgetting my body can't process more than a sip of water at a time. But the tablets stayed down. Bummer I can't have beer or tea for the rest of the week. But the fever is coming down.

So that's what life without any planets in earth is pretty much like.

PS I'm absolutely fine now!