What I’ve Learned (so far) From My Saturn Return

This teaching is one that I've resisted pretty hard, up until now.

What I’ve Learned (so far) From My Saturn Return
Photo by Abhishek Koli / Unsplash

What I have come to understand about my neurodivergent brain is that I have dual (and dueling) needs for freedom and structure.

I simultaneously want everything to be controlled and predictable and I also want to never be bored. I want to find the one perfect way to structure my life and live that way forever and ever, and I also fear being stifled by routine and commitment.

I’ve only come to realize this about myself because I am an adult whose entire life was stripped away by the pandemic, which comes with the luxury and terror of discovering that maybe nothing really matters and no one cares if you do or don’t do anything.

I was born with Saturn at 1 degree Aquarius in my fourth house, and it shows. As a child, I lived a highly structured life.

Outwardly, I thrived: I was a top scholar and athlete. A high school valedictorian and Olympic Trials qualifier. I played piano for 10 years. Succeeded in math competitions, spelling bees, and literary contests.

I’m proud of these successes, and I also find them bittersweet, because they were born out of a narrow life, one that didn’t leave much room for a childhood.

This life involved training 25-30 hours a week as an elite competitive swimmer and burying my nose in textbooks. Waking up as early as 4:25 AM to eat, swim, learn, study, swim, eat, sleep, and do it all over again.

My free time on the weekends was spent not with friends, but at home—napping for hours, recovering from training, and soothing my suntanned skin with the cool innards of aloe leaves split open from the front yard.

For the past week, I have—for the first time in my life—voluntarily adhered to a morning routine. Not because anyone told me so, and not because I have anywhere to be.

I’ve also thrown myself into deep research on tools and resources to structure my day-to-day life.

This, for me, is the hardest part nowadays: if I have no one to shame me or hold me accountable, if I don’t have a parent or parental figure to withhold love from me, if I don’t have the school system to tell me what to do, if I don’t have a deep lack of self-worth and a driving obsession to prove myself…how can I possibly do something I wouldn’t normally want to do?

Throughout my adulthood, I’ve rebelled, in big and little ways, against the structures imposed on me childhood and adolescence. Sometimes this has looked like not taking care of my body, staying up til random hours, clashing with overbearing authority figures in the workplace, and viewing schedules and routines with suspicion. Many times, these haven’t been active rebellions but rather de facto rebellions, resulting from my chronic lack of dopamine and my questionable executive functioning (see: inability to be on time for things, remember to pay bills, or feed myself multiple times a day).

But for the past week, I have risen before 7am—amazingly, unprecedentedly—as a way to care for myself, and to create time for the things that matter to me.

What Kronos has been trying to teach me over the last couple years of my Saturn Return is that structure can create freedom.

I’ve resisted this teaching pretty hard, up until now.

But thanks to Jupiter and Mars racing through Aries in my Sixth House of daily work, routine, and health, I suddenly have the energy and intense motivation to live a more intentional life, one that’s shored up by structure and informed by reverence for the passing of time.

Astrologer Carolyn W. Casey writes that Saturn “gets a bad rap” because because it’s associated with “hardship, fear, and loneliness.” But, she says, “those negative associations are merely symptoms of fending off rather than embracing the Saturn part of ourselves, of not honoring the god properly. Fear is a symptom of loss of authority; when we give away our authority, we should be afraid.”

After all, she points out, “authority contains the word author,” and Saturn—most explicitly during the first Saturn Return—wants us take back our Saturn from outer authority figures and become the author of our own lives.

The very words you’re reading right now are a meta-example of Saturn at work in my life.

I’m writing this the day before it’s due—yes, due, because I’ve created a weekly cadence of writing and publishing deadlines that I’m committed to. “I have to finish my essay for tomorrow,” I said to myself, and then realized: “Wow, I’m giving myself assignments like I’m in school.”

No one is making me do this. No one cares if I do it, or if I do nothing at all. No one actually cares if I make anything of my life.

It’s depressing, until it’s strangely freeing. And that is, I think, the Saturn Return in a nutshell.

I gave away my Saturn—my inner authority—when I was young. Father’s Day is this weekend, marking a year and a half since I cut off contact with my extremely Saturnian father—and two years since repressed memories of him assaulting me were revealed to me through a nightmare.

From my early childhood onwards, Saturn has shown up in my life through other people as cold, controlling, and even cruel, and so Saturn has seemed detestable to me, something to be resisted, something to be liberated from.

But now Mars and Jupiter in my Sixth House are asking me: How do you want to spend your days? And Saturn is asking me: How do you want to spend your life? “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” says author Annie Dillard, and the domain of the Sixth House couldn’t agree more.

Now that my Saturn has returned back to me, circling back to the same place in the sky as it was when I was born, it has stripped me of nearly everything that belonged to my previous life: my career, my friends, my hobbies and creative pursuits, my apartment, my parents, my extended family, and my understanding of myself and the universe.

It has given me pain, grief, scarcity, fear, and also a path that is aligned with me and that I can call my very own.

Saturn is now the vessel that holds my triple-water sign self—it’s the physical container that supports my unboundaried intuition and dreams. It’s the voice inside that tells me: yes, everyone else’s structures have fallen away from you, and now that means that you can build exactly what you want and need. So, what’ll it be?