(12.16.02) Right about now, if we were all still students in school, we'd be cramming for our finals. We would be frantically reviewing everything we'd learned in recent months, amped up on caffeine, hoping we'll be able to spew out the correct answers during the exam. Even without the structure of school, December is still an apt time for acknowledgment and reflection. Our year is ending. We celebrate the Christmas season by exchanging gifts that symbolize the year's prosperity, affirming our connections with loved ones and recommitting to meaningful appreciation of our lives. And then, in time for New Year's, we look back on our year, pondering which parts brought happiness and which were less than satisfying. The brave among us forge resolutions to change certain behaviors (with hope that these changes last past the first few weeks of January!), in order to create brighter futures for ourselves.

These brightest possibilities only become clear through our conscious reflections on past actions, through which we come to understand how the universal law of cause-and-effect resulted in our lives being as they are. We learn, through our past experiences, what we like and don't like—and then, tracing current situations back to their sources, decide which acts to refine and which to drastically alter or end. I repeat my assertion that, in addition to its use as a predictive tool, astrology is invaluable as a framework for making meaningful sense of the past. As we all know, when we refuse to acknowledge and accept the past, we are doomed to repeat it, often in exacerbated form.

I'm proclaiming this week to be time for a serious check-in with our selves. Get ready to take stock of your last few months, and evaluate how well you're doing with commitments made during this time. In addition to the general reflexive mood in this mid-December air, the week is marked by Thursday morning's full moon. This full moon in Gemini coincides with the second peak of two different ongoing outer-planet aspects—(1) Saturn trine Uranus and (2) Jupiter trine Pluto. Due to the way planets appear to change direction from our perspective (from direct motion to retrograde and back again), we often experience the effects of transiting outer-planet aspects over broad time periods, with three distinct peaks of intensity. The first peak introduces the aspect's energy into our lives in some initiatory fashion. The second peak ushers the energy to a sort of climax or increased significance. And the third peak brings its ultimate culmination, offering the promise of resolution and transformed consciousness. With two of the year's major astrological configurations reaching their second peak this week, we should use this opportunity to look back at where we were during their first peaks—and what's changed, or stayed the same, since then.

When Saturn hit its first exact trine to Uranus (Aug. 21), Saturn was in direct (i.e., forward) motion; and likewise, during Jupiter's first peak in its trine to Pluto (Oct. 27), it also was traveling direct. In the period of time since, both Jupiter and Saturn have turned retrograde—while the outer planets Uranus, Neptune and Pluto are all now in direct movement. The outer planets, those with the lengthiest orbits around the sun, represent archetypes of a transpersonal nature, symbolizing events and general moods that work subtly and powerfully on all of us. This is in contrast with the personal planets (Mercury, Mars and Venus, along with the luminaries, the sun and the moon), with quicker, shorter-term effects that influence us in a more specifically individual fashion. Jupiter and Saturn, acting as socializing agents, provide a bridge between these personal and transpersonal sets of planets. Their complementary energies of expansion and restriction, easy growth and demanding lessons, help us meld our personal energies with the collective forces, so that we can simultaneously maintain our unique selves and serve the greater good. During the period from roughly mid-October to early-December, these changes in direction signaled a subtle periodic shift—from a previous period of moving ahead in our individual lives while greater social forces were in a sort of holding pattern, to our current period in which we inwardly adjust our psyches to encompass recent personal development while collective influences turn more dynamic. In what ways did your outlook on life change from August through October? Have you been tinkering since then, so that you are prepared to respond in fresh ways to external events from now through February or March?

The trine between Saturn and Uranus began to influence our lives in August, as we moved past the last exact peak of the Saturn-Pluto opposition. While the Saturn-Pluto opposition brought about the painful destruction of outdated structures in our lives, the Saturn-Uranus trine favors new construction of reformed structures to replace and update the old. From the dark ashen feelings of Saturn-Pluto rises the reborn practical optimism of Saturn-Uranus. Did you start building something revolutionary, yet enduring, back in August? Or, maybe a better question, did you first finish mourning your losses from the second half of 2001 and the beginning of 2002? Like it or not, certain things were forced to die and peel away, on the world stage as well as in our own private lives. In case you've resisted this necessary acceptance of death, you will be reminded of its power again in mid-February, as the Saturn-Pluto opposition reappears, not at peak intensity but in subtler form (within a 2½-degree orb). Between now and then, return your energy to the rebuilding project(s) you set your mind to in August. Then sustain this balanced mix of idealism and practicality throughout the next six months, so that your efforts come to fruition by summertime.

Jupiter and Pluto's trine hit its first peak late in October, bringing with it an environment ripe for easier-than-usual, deeper-than-usual, transformational growth, just from being ourselves more freely. When Jupiter entered Leo back in August, this jovial giant made its expansive influence known in the fiery sign of love, creativity and ego. We all stepped a little farther out on the stage, starring as ourselves in the story of our lives, with all the expressive fulfillment (and potential for excess or arrogance). Of course, with Pluto and its inherent power issues involved, strong personalities can often collide with each other, particularly when they are each on their own path toward enhanced self-expression. Since October, what actions have you taken to move closer to your true self? Are there parts of you that feel freer and less repressed than ever? And, as a result, have you faced conflicts with other people (or aspects of your psyche), those that are challenged to compromise their ideals to fit with the transformed you? If the discomfort of challenges or conflicts seems a tempting excuse for chickening out of continued free expression, fight the urge. You are not done with this growth spurt, so insist on pushing forward, movin' and groovin' in an unhampered way, at least through the summer, if you want to take full advantage of the Jupiter-Pluto trine.

I can't encourage you strongly enough to study your notes, so that this semester's workload turns out to be a useful one for you. The fact is, this isn't really finals time after all; it's more like midterms. The same main astrological aspects I've discussed here (and for the last few months) remain the strongest influences for a while longer. The final peaks of this astrological phase don't come until June and July. And this is a fairly active astrological phase, with Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto all in fire and air signs. That's why all you Ar