Apologies to all the Cancer babes out there! Clearly I did not publish this post on Cancer season until the season was over. The only thing I can say is that during the past month I had a whole bunch of feelings, and words kind of got stuck in me. Words were like, nope, we’re gonna hang back for a bit, right now you just gotta feel.
Funnily enough, this is the lesson of Cancer season.
Cancer season is when is our past catches up to us. It’s all things we were not able to process in the moment, that we didn’t understand at the time, that we didn’t have the language to articulate. Not even to ourselves, let alone to anyone else.
For all the times we were hurt, but couldn’t speak. We had to be strong, we couldn’t cry, we survived alone. When we were under attack but didn’t have the tools to advocate for ourselves, and the ones who had power didn’t support us. Every time we needed someone to protect us, or just notice us, and it didn’t happen – whether that was last year, last week, or 3 decades ago.
The spirit of Cancer is this ocean within us. This water, rising and filling into our our chest, lungs, throat, behind our eyes, making our bodies as soft as balloons.
Cancer is a season we can only avoid for so long. We can’t go too far or too long without it. It always comes back around the bend, eventually, surprising us with a cold slap of water in the face.
The symbol of Cancer – the crab – is a small sea creature with a hard shell and soft mushy insides. Crabs are very intentional and driven. They know exactly what they want and where they are going.
But they travel sideways. Their motivation and direction never looks entirely clear to casual on-lookers, or even to their close-kin. It’s a safety thing. Their heart is taking them toward the most vulnerable and intimate place any of us can go. They can’t advertise this to the world at large. They surely want and need companions on this journey, but they need to first know they can be safe, before confessing their deepest dreams, secrets and plans.
For those of you following my work, you know that I have written a fair amount about my Dad who passed away from Cancer last year. I can’t separate writing about the season of Cancer from this experience. Tumours also grow sideways. They can grow slowly and inconspicuously for so long before they makes themselves known. Until suddenly, one day they take over everything.
While my Dad was sick a psychic told me that she saw the Cancer in my Dad’s body looked like a raincloud that had been growing within him since childhood. A life-time of emotional pain that he never found a way to reconcile.
To be clear, Cancer as an astrological energy does NOT = the actual illness, and zodiac Cancer is by no means inherently bad or dangerous.
But the spirit of Cancer in all of us is this deep well of emotion that mostly stays hidden from others and even from ourselves. Battle cries and whispers from our childhood. Cancer is our roots pulling us back to where we came from. Into our worst memories we so badly wish we could erase. Into our first desires for intimacy, familiarity, comfort and warmth.
These feelings wade and waddle within us; over time they grow sideways and quietly. We think they’re not there until they erupt to the surface – during fights with our partner, when we break down after our boss talks down to us, or when we visit our families and we suddenly resort to being 12-years old again.
Cancer is our home-base. Home. As complicated, necessary, threatening, vital, precarious and inevitable as this word is.
You know that feeling when you’re travelling…you’re having fun, you’re pursuing adventures. Flying by the seat of your pants, meeting new people, seeing new places. Cancer is the point during your travels where you hit a wall and you’re like, Okay. I’m done now. I miss my bed, I miss my cats, I miss my toilet. WAH. I just want to go home.
Our home-base is somewhere we don’t have to pretend. We can be mad, sad, jubilant, exhausted. We can be whatever and whoever we are, and we trust we’ll still be loved. Our home-base can be a place, a person, a group of friends. It can be a moment in time, it can be an experience. It can be something that shifts and changes as we do ourselves.
Cancer is perpetually searching for, yearning for, crawling toward, missing and grieving, creating and re-creating a house that truly feels like home.
When we were really young, we needed this home-base to be our family. We needed our first experiences with intimacy to reflect the spirit of Cancer’s fierce and unwavering love. Many of us didn’t get what we needed. If we were lucky, we got it some of the time, kinda-sorta.
The spirit of Cancer then also becomes the ways our home-base is messy, ugly, self-loathing, perpetually hurt and impossibly inconsolable. It’s our default when we’re triggered. It’s the screaming monstrous baby who emerges when we’re upset, refusing to apologize for every un-met need of our youth. It’s the part of ourselves that aggressively wraps itself around our ankles and wails angrily when we’re trying so damn hard to be mature and responsible and evolved.
Me during Cancer season…
We land in Cancer when we realize our earliest experiences of chaos and hardship are places we never truly left behind. We may have escaped physically, externally, but when we weren’t looking…that hardship made itself at home inside of us.
Like, if one of the first things we ever did was survive the wreckage of a burnt down house: as adults, we think we’re fine, we got over it, yet every time our lover or best friend or colleague lights a match, we freak the fuck out.
The spirit of Cancer reminds us that we cannot ignore the terrified, shivering, naked child in the corner of our room, too traumatized to think, talk, act.
Cancer as well as challenges us to be the fierce mama-bear goddess who swoops in, holds that child close to her chest, and sings them lullabies until all the nightmares go away.
Cancer represents the essential but non-glorious parts of motherhood* (*where ‘motherhood’ is not meant to be inherently tied to any gender): wiping snot from noses, cleaning puke off t-shirts in public and not ever being able to pee in private. It represents all kinds of femme/inized labour, emotional caregiving, that usually goes unnoticed but that keeps families and communities alive. It’s the damn hard and often thankless work of holding space and compassion for ourselves and our loved ones when we are whiny, cranky, moody and needy; instead of an easier response to difficult emotions like minimizing, down-playing, tossing-aside, or gas-lighting.
I consider both Cancer and Leo to be the heart of the whole zodiac cycle. Why? Because they’re summer. Because they represent the Sun and the Moon – the most central parts of our birth chart and ourselves. The Sun is our core identity, our vitality, energy and purpose (aka the spirit of Leo…more on that next time).
On the other hand, the Moon – Cancer – is what we need. It’s our feelings. What nourishes us. What we long for. What makes us feel good and cared for.
The Moon is our aching. Our secret wishes to have someone say: I see you. I got you. I hear you when you say this hurts, I get how to care for you. I want to love you the way that you need love.
A photo I took of the Super-Moon on the first day of Cancer season in 2013, Tkaronto Beaches.
In our birth chart, the sign and house placement of our Moon can give us great insight on how to best nurture our deepest needs and cravings.
When we’re not paying attention, we can get caught up in the belief that everyone needs what we need, and everyone automatically gets what hurts us.
It makes sense – our core needs are the most intuitive, familiar, subconscious part of our being. They are our deal-breakers, the bottom line shit we need to feel like our humanity is respected. It feels obvious to us because it is so non-negotiable, even if we’ve struggled to receive it.
What astrology reminds us it that everyone’s non-negotiables are different and specific to their own experience.
A Scorpio Moon (water) longs to be safe, to have a witness for the most difficult and messy parts of who they are. A Sagittarius Moon (fire) longs for adventure, growth, big inspiration, big insight, and big hope that makes them feel super stoked to be alive. An Aquarius Moon (air) longs for friendship, a community to be part of, knowledge and understanding according to a larger perspective. A Taurus Moon (earth) longs for sensuality, stability, certain essentials they can rely on and don’t have to question.
Cancer season asks us to spend time with the Moon. Spend time with your Moon. Give yourself some quality TLC just the way that you like it and need it. Take ongoing space to learn and re-learn your specific language of care.
The truth is, nobody can know what this looks like and feels like, but we ourselves.
Nobody can automatically know how to soothe our pain, even if it seems obvious to us. The more we can be in tune with this part of ourselves, the more we will feel strong enough to ask for it. The more time we take the time to know it, believe it, advocate for it – the more we give ourselves opportunities to receive it abundantly.
The more we will recognize situations, environments or relationships where we’re not getting it. The more open we will be to invite others in, to help them learn how to love us the way we need to love.
This is the crux of Cancer season. This is the intention, call and challenge that Cancer presents to us. Its spirit asks us to approach life and love in this way:
Let me help you
In turn, I ask you to help me understand you. What has hurt you, and what you long for. Maybe I have completely different experiences and needs. But let me extend myself toward you. I will lean into you, and be soft enough to allow you to lean into me. I will learn who you are, you will learn who I am, and we will love each other accordingly.
What Cancer boils down to is a lesson on how to be emotionally generous. To ourselves, first and foremost. But not just to ourselves. Because we can’t do this alone.
Black filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay is a) a goddess; b) the brilliance behind The 13th Documentary, (check it out on Netflix) Queen Sugar, Selma (among many others) and c) someone I can listen to speak all day. In this “Top 10 Rules for Success” video, she speaks about one of the principles she lives by, the idea and act of “putting other people first.”
“It’s something that I carry with me in my sets, into my corporate life, my personal life, my love life…in my life, I’m always trying to put the person that I’m relating to ahead of myself. In a way that doesn’t diminish me, in a way that actually enlarges me. That’s a fine balance. Something you have to learn. Cuz you can be taken advantage of. But there’s a way to do it that you’re actually getting more than you’re giving, if you allow someone else to be first.”
I was really struck by these words, and not long ago would have had a visceral reaction/resistance to them.
I’ve spent much of my life in abusive dynamics where I ‘put the abusive person first’ and this is part of how the abuse would continue. In most of these situations, the person I was in relationship with was in deep, excruciating pain, but chose to take their pain out on me; they chose to exploit power dynamics, as a way to control and manipulate me/my life so they could soothe their own pain. I allowed it because I didn’t want them to be in pain either. I thought that if I submitted to them, somehow they would feel better and everything would be okay. Somehow this would preserve the relationship and I wouldn’t lose someone/thing important to me. Allowing myself to heal and leave abusive relationships meant I really had to prioritize the idea and practice of putting myself first.
This is how emotionally and psychologically abusive relationships function for a lot of people. Most of us are used to navigating fucked up and abusive personal and societal relationships every day. We spend our lives needing to learn hard how to advocate for ourselves, or else we disappear. We have to be on battle mode, or else we will be totally destroyed.
Over the years I’ve come back to believing and committing to a practice of putting others first, only now with a more nuanced understanding: Submitting to someone’s abusive patterns is NOT a way of putting them first. Because if I’m not okay, you’re not okay and we’re not okay.
Not submitting to abusive dynamics also gives others the space, challenge, opportunity and agency to make changes in their lives for the better if they choose to; to cultivate healthier ways of relating to themselves and other people.
Even further: What if we don’t just want to survive and put up boundaries against shitty relationships for the rest of our lives? What if we want an abundance of love in our lives, exactly the way we need and deserve love? What does it take to make room within ourselves to receive and give the love we want?
The kind of emotional generosity DuVernay speaks of is key. And the heart of Cancer season.
The Spirit of Cancer is the lesson, practice and reward of being open-hearted. It is cultivating the kind of strength and bravery that few see as strength, and that many toss aside as unnecessary: acts of receiving, of being soft, of allowing, of being vulnerable, of giving.
When we want to shut down, Cancer asks us to be open. When we are broken-hearted, Cancer asks us to be even more open-hearted. When we’ve been bruised and burned, Cancer asks us to trust ourselves and trust love. When we want to retreat, it asks us to give more. When we want to be hard, it asks us to be soft. When attacked, threatened and violated, it asks us to feel more. When we want to control, it asks us to allow. When we want to lash out, it asks us to nourish.
Whisper these words to yourself when life is hard and times are rough. It hurts to feel so hard, but I will be okay. It hurts to love so hard, but I will be okay. I will survive. I will love more. I will grow deeper into every soft place in my body. I will be filled and fulfilled. I will give more. Have more. Be more.