The algebra of apology, or thoughts on the Libra Full Moon

Afterimage I meant to blog the second part of ‘Sex and Zen‘, but it will have to wait. Something more immediate has come up in the shadow of the full moon in Libra tomorrow (on the 20th or 21st of March, depending on which part of the world you live in).

Full moons bring issues to fruition, completion, or peaks. In the sign of Libra, the balance scales, the adjudicator and the peacemaker, this full moon is set to highlight issues of fairness, justice, and relations with other people. In the words of Lisa Dale Miller:

A Full Moon in Libra asks each of us to practice one particular relational skill: listening attentively with an open heart, an open mind, and without interruption or feedback. What exactly will we be listening for? Hopefully we can each attend to the voices of All Our Relations. This includes every living thing, on all planes of existence, on this planet, in our solar system, in our galaxy, and all throughout the multiplicitous universe. Think of this day as an invitation to enter into a sacred circle with every one and every thing you encounter. Interrupt less, listen more, and learn from every word, every movement, each intimation, and every action. With the light of the Full Moon making all things knowable, it is our job to open ourselves wide and take in all of life: the joy, the pain, the suffering, the ecstasy, the extraordinary, the ordinary, the pure, the defiled, the ignorance and intelligence.

A recent, and recurrent, encounter (unsurprisingly dating back to when the Moon entered Libra in early November 2007), is forcing me to face up to issues of limits, boundaries, and fair representation of self as it relates to others. Can we accept how others see us, even if that representation seems false? If truth lies in competing perspectives, can we assert one truth of ourselves against the perceived falsehood of another? Where do we draw the line at what is an acceptable truth, and what is not? Where is the line between abuse and a silent plea for help? Between the abuser and the abused? Which is which? What is the ideal balance between tolerance and self-preservation, compassion and withdrawal from cruelty?


In past conflicts, I have been accused of many things — insensitivity, bluntness, aggression, dogmatism — but I have never been accused of lying. If anything, I have been accused of being too insistent on being truthful to the extent of being blunt and insensitive to the other person’s feelings. In these past few years of practice, I have been trying to temper that aggressiveness with circumspection. I have tried to be moderate in my speech, to sit with my indignation before it spews out its acid flames, to stand vigil behind the shield of ultra-cool rationality. Ironically, in my very effort to do so in this one instance, I have come to be accused of that which my previous aggression had never encountered — dishonesty. I credit the practice, as I felt the indignation rise, for the realisation that I must now address the formation of a self-image which I had believed to be unwavering and resolute — my self-image as ‘defender of the truth’, if I might call it that (Sag Asc, is it a surprise?).

In my lowest, pre-practice, moments I have been known to weep (even wail!) in utter disappointment and despair, when people I was close to lied, not to me, but to themselves. I was so certain that if I could just show them how they were deceiving themselves (which they were…), they’d come round. I didn’t understand the power, and the necessity, of self-preservation; I’m harder on myself than anyone, and try never to see myself through any shade of tinted glasses. History has since proved some of my instincts right — and some have come back to me to say so — but it doesn’t make my stubborn insistence at the time any more appropriate. People are free to make their own mistakes. (Please don’t say I sound like Tony Blair).

This is what I feel and what I understand of the situation as it plays out in the mental space of the agitated self. Knowing what I feel and what I understand do not tell me what to do. Do I write back (I did) and try to rebalance the scales (Libra)? How shall I frame the words so that they don’t sound counter-accusatory (with great difficulty)? What if they are interpreted as such, even if that wasn’t my intention? Is someone else’s perception my responsibility? Am I driving myself mad with paranoia?

Alongside the accusation of dishonesty came the intimation of disloyalty and betrayal, two other traits a Sag Asc with Jupiter in Capricorn finds deeply offensive. But the narratives have been repeated verbatim so often in this conflict that I have become sufficiently distant to see it for what it is — repetition compulsion. Anglo-American modernist literature is so full of these characters attempting to flesh out a hollowed self by repetitively self-narrating — Marlow, Nick Carraway, and the lot — in order to reframe the characters of those they wanted to admire in terms they could accept. Repetition masks by re-creating, or re-creates by masking — either or both is acceptable. So, faced with my own instance of repetition compulsion from another (‘you hurt me’, ‘you betrayed me’, ‘you let me down’), I’ve attempted two modes of operation, neither of which have worked. First, I tried explaining my point of view, misperceptions, and misunderstandings (i.e. I tried asserting my own ‘truth’) — didn’t work, because for every truth, there is a counter-truth (see above). Second, I tried apologising for causing the hurt and meant it sincerely (i.e. I tried to have compassion — something, I thought, must be driving this intense self-hatred) — didn’t work either, for my motives were questioned… What’s a truth defender to do now? On what terms may one engage a martyr?

Communication diagram In a long roundabout way, I have finally reached the subject highlighted in the title of this post — the algebra of apology. How many times can one seek forgiveness if forgiveness is not given? And how long must one endure the infinite repetition of one’s transgressions without the right to say ‘I’m sorry’, nor the right to walk away! Apologies are read as cheap attempts to smooth ruffled feathers, and walking away is read as letting the relation down! In other words, the said transgressor (me) is not given the right to a clean slate. Even prisoners on Death Row know when their time is up. I, on the other hand, feel like Prometheus cursed to have my liver continually torn out by vultures after it regenerates. And I can’t even share the accolade for having brought fire to Man. And, in all honesty, I’m exhausted — communications, whether in person or via email, are psychic energy exchanges. Some people think nothing of crapping in your front yard, and there’s only so much manure your plants need.

The trouble with Libra is, while in principle, the Libran energy wants to support fairness and balance, it doesn’t actually define what that point of equilibrium is. So the scales are constantly in motion, capturing that perfect point for perhaps a brief moment, before quivering to level again. That search for equilibrium is the process of practice, the search for that perfect equation capable of accounting for an infinite number of variables.

The secret, I think, is not to seek that equilibrium against another, but to find it within ourselves. We are all the variables in our equation, as well as the proof and the answer.

Images: Afterimage, and Diagrama Conmutativo. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Added, 21st March 2008: More on the tone of this Sun-Moon (Full Moon), Mars-Pluto, Grand Cross here.

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