Saturn vs. Neptune and the Moral Imperative


As I addressed in my recent meditation on 'holding hope', this current square between Saturn and Neptune foregrounds the disheartening awareness of how lived reality (Saturn) often falls short of our idealistic imaginings of what's possible (Neptune).

I've described the associated feelings (which are probably pretty familiar to most of us these days), but wanted to delve deeper into the question of what we're supposed to actually do about them. If we consider ourselves morally responsible creatures, don't we have a duty to act in some purpose-driven fashion which constructively attempts to improve our disheartening state of affairs?

Yes, I believe we're all duty-bound to aspire to leaving our sliver of the universe better than how we found it. We owe it to the collective which nursed us in its bosom to work on its behalf, for the benefit of other beings besides just ourselves. However, there is no singular method for determining how to fulfill such a duty. In fact, the differences among our various conceptions of how to do this can be so stark, they end up pitting adversarial factions of dutiful do-gooders against one another… each intent on meeting their own moral obligation, while simultaneously convinced those with conflicting notions of what that means are grievously falling short.

As planetary representatives of conflicting orientations, Saturn in Sagittarius and Neptune in Pisces signify distinctly divergent ways of understanding this moral imperative. The ongoing square between them points to the present timeliness of engaging this perceptual conflict, asking us to consider the value of each planet's distinct symbolic voice in addressing moral questions… and also accentuating the need to incorporate reasonable amounts of both voices (as we're pressured to do whenever planets square each other), understanding the outright victory of either, at the total expense of the other, would represent a failure in essential integration.

Neptune always appeals to our 'spiritual' side (i.e., that which acknowledges a relationship with something greater than ourselves), stirring us to peel away those surface-trappings which carve out egoic identity-divisions between us… and to recognize the indivisible whole we comprise, as interdependent life-forces aiming to thrive in this shared dimension. Neptune illumines a vision of our 'higher self', the one who isn't compulsively responding to the disadvantages, disappointments, injustices, and injuries dealt us by fate, with destructive or self-sabotaging behaviors which only re-inscribe this cycle of disempowerment… but who instead rises to the highest moral duty, of unconditional love for ourselves and everyone else, and moves through the world with the associated empathy and grace.

By this 'highest' Neptunian vision, every life is equally worthy of loving attention and compassionate assistance. Those who behave badly should be understood within the proper context of their own subjective lived experience, as victims of unfortunate circumstance and/or emotional distress, rather than evaluated harshly according to dispassionately-imposed standards. Neptune doesn't write anybody off, but meets people where they are, unconditionally… all the while holding out heartfelt faith that a helped-and-healed, more capable version of even the most hurt or damaged soul can emerge, given enough kindness and care.

From Neptune's perspective, we ought to do whatever we can, in every moment, to immediately ease others' suffering. Should we see somebody struggling, we lend them a hand, no questions asked or judgments offered. Anything less is a symptom of a shut-down heart.

Saturn, as the planet-symbol of reasonable limits and intentional self-restraint, would warn us about the excesses of such thinking. If we stopped ourselves from whatever we were doing every time we encountered a struggling or suffering soul, we wouldn't get much of practical import accomplished. We'd lose personal focus, constantly psychically intertwining ourselves with everybody else, and neglect to handle our own business. Indiscriminately pouring our caring energies down whichever stream-of-need happens to pull us in, we'd begin to notice ourselves becoming depleted. We might wonder whether this unconditional investment of care is making any cumulative or lasting difference… whether it's worth the potential costs to our own well-being.

Pure Neptune energy doesn't ask anything of the person-in-need, merely seeks to ease their momentary discomfort or pain. It aids the addicts, without expecting them to work towards breaking their self-enslaving habit. It appeases the agitated, but doesn't address their duty to critically confront the root-causes of their own agitation. It tends to the aggrieved, never rushing them to 'pull it together' or 'get on with life already'. It inspires us to offer the shirt off our back and the last penny in our pocket, before we have the chance to wonder what'll happen once we too are cold and hungry. (That's why full-time spiritual dedicants often rely on sponsors and/or structures of monastic life in order to meet their survival needs.)

Neptune upholds selflessness as a virtue, potentially to the perilous point where we become enfeebled martyrs. If we see someone drowning, do we just jump into the depths and try our best to save them, neglecting to consider our swim skill-level or the condition of the water? Are two drowning casualties any nobler than one?

Saturn understands we must continually make decisions and judgment-calls, to mitigate our receptivity to what's going on with everyone else and curtail our response-instincts, so we may successfully meet our personal goals and become who we intend to be. This is the Saturnian work we've each been charged with: to maximize our operative potential by concentrating our efforts over an extended span, to achieve those feats and benchmarks which can only emerge through gradual progress and perseverance. To do so requires strategic focus—and that necessarily involves blocking out influences which might distract or subvert our attention, including other people's challenges and hurts. In order to succeed at something, we can't attempt to do everything. Right?

Saturn becomes even more focused in Sagittarius, the sign of the archer that aims its arrow straight at the bullseye in the target's center. This is what's most important, its actions convey. This is what really matters to me, we indicate, by funneling our spurts of devotion and fervor down one course over the others. We arrive at these verdicts based on our interests and enthusiasms, which experiences we wish to gain and which areas-of-knowledge to expand, which wrongs to right as a living reflection of our personal values. Refusing to make such determinations greatly increases the likelihood we'll squander our energy on things we don't ultimately find important, siphoning it away from what may matter much more.

From Saturn's perspective, our time is limited and our resources finite… and we must be deliberate, constructive, and disciplined in how we spend it, if we wish to get the most effective bang for our proverbial buck. We thoughtfully pick-and-choose where we aim to make our difference, for the sake of both efficiency and functionality. The best-of-intentions is meaningless if it doesn't yield some concrete improvement.

Neptune interjects itself through serendipitous encounters with other humans, unaware they're unwittingly carrying symbolic messages for us, those very words we needed to hear just at that particular moment, reminding us to 'follow the signs' or 'listen to our heart'… as Divine Inspiration, the unveiling of a romantic or utopian glimpse of another perspective, some ideal vision for what doesn't yet exist, wondrously dissolving a prior creative block… in the body, as a faint sense of being 'called' to something or someone, with no rational explanation why, just an inscrutable knowing that this is what I'm supposed to do… sensitivities to that invisible field of cosmic wisdom which permeates everything, offering us cryptic clues about our highest potential to serve the betterment of the universe rather than merely our egos.

But in obeying Saturn's pragmatic insistence that we focus on particular goals, it's very easy to miss Neptune's subtler insights. We put our blinders on, and tune out everything else we consider a 'distraction'. We ignore our sensitivity to the wider suffering and need, building ideological walls to defend ourselves from the exposure. We advance simplifying belief-systems, sharp rights-and-wrongs, to justify our disregard or disdain for those who focus on different values or tactics (and those who can't, or won't, focus at all)… discounting these others' wholly valid subject-positions as fellow humans, with distinct lived-experiences which inform their perspectives, in order to further our own single-minded agenda, as if we share nothing in common.

Saturn promotes the persistent pursuit of purpose, which can prove very personally productive… but which, when taken to an extreme, cuts us off from receptivity to outside concerns, turning us into unfeeling workhorse-robots. If we see someone drowning, do we pause to consider whether we have the time or bandwidth to help save them? Do we posit the pompous proposition that 'they shouldn't have been swimming in the first place'—or 'I'm not going to help them if they won't help themselves'—abstracting someone else's life-and-death struggle into an opportunity to punctuate our self-vindicating point?

Morality is a complicated and nuanced affair, as evidenced by these contrasting examples of how we can take our sincerest motives too far… and actually perpetuate or worsen the problems we're attempting to solve. While we may wish to 'do the right thing', this continuing square between Saturn and Neptune (with its third-and-final exact peak coming in September) awakens our uncertainty about which attitudes and actions would qualify.

If we take too Neptunian an approach, we can't be sure our 'right thing' won't just anesthetize or further enable those we wish to help, sap our energies or sabotage our own self-securing efforts, and/or prove too starry-eyed to actually work. If we adopt too much Saturn in Sagittarius, on the other hand, we lose our patience and compassion for those who struggle in ways we don't comprehend, we divisively preach our personal beliefs as universal truths, and/or we dismiss everything which falls outside our self-selected focus as irrelevant or idiotic. This Saturn-Neptune square asks us to understand that our moral imperative requires earnestly reconciling this contrast, to thoughtfully arrive at our own best 'right thing'.