On April 22, 2010 at 10:05 AM, as the direct result of an incredible series of “coincidences,” I met the late great Robert A. Johnson. Many of us have his books on our shelves – he sold 2.5 million of them, including He and She and We and my personal favorite, Balancing Heaven and Earth: A Memoir. He died on September 12, 2018 at the age of 97. I’m writing about him in this newsletter because he would have turned one hundred years old on May 26th of this year – and also simply because I miss him. He was a good friend.
When I was just an infant in diapers, Robert was studying directly under Carl Gustav Jung in Zurich. He was also in formal psychoanalysis with Jung’s wife, Emma. He’s known internationally as a “Jungian author,” which I suppose works as well as most labels do. There was a lot more to him than that, but instead of trying to “profile” him, let me tell you one of my favorite Robert stories. He used to travel to India pretty much every year. Once when he was about to present a talk there, he received a lengthy introduction in Hindi, a language which he did not speak. As he stepped up to the podium, he asked what had been said about him. He was told that he had been introduced as “an enlightened being” – which was kind of a shocker to him since he never spoke of himself in those terms. He inquired as to why such a thing had been said. And the man introducing him announced, straight-faced and serious, that the evidence was that Robert “didn’t eat much, didn’t say much, and didn’t do much.”
It’s funny, of course. But it really did illuminate something deep about Robert A. Johnson. Beyond his piercing intelligence and his profound insights, beyond his public identity as a world-class intellectual, there was simply a kind of magical silence that radiated from him – a quality of sheer stillness.
Enlightenment? Your guess is as good as mine.
Funny how most of us can recognize wisdom when we see it. I certainly saw it in Robert, and so cherished my moments with him.
Robert had great respect for astrology. He shared with me that “Dr. Jung” – and Robert always called him that – had once told him that he would “never undertake psychoanalysis with anyone without knowing his or her astrological chart.” I had always known that Jung was open to astrology, but I had never heard such a stark statement about it attributed to him.
As Robert and I got to know each other more deeply, he asked me to explain his own chart to him. To me, this was a bit like the Dalai Lama asking me for meditation tips, but I told him that I would take a shot at it. He knew his birth time only approximately, so I first had to rectify his chart – something that is always so much easier with an older person since there are so many more timed events to use. I came up with a time of 6:18 AM, on May 26, 1921, in Portland, Oregon.
Here’s the chart.
I’m not going to attempt a full analysis of it – there’s just not enough space to do such a process justice. Scanning the chart quickly, we can see that he was “Mister Gemini,” obviously – and we note that his Geminian Mercury was also Out of Bounds, suggesting that “maverick” element in his brilliance. But note too that almost everything else in his chart reflects deeply inward-directed qualities. That’s actually the way it felt to be around him – he “didn’t eat much, didn’t say much, and didn’t do very much.” But, Gemini-fashion, he also never missed a thing. His trenchant, penetrating insights could leave you struggling to breathe. To be honest, Robert was not always a gentle man – on more than one occasion, I saw him “rip someone a new one.” Generally the trigger was any evidence of egoism.
The reading I did for him went beautifully. Robert wrote to a friend about it, who later kindly shared his words with me. “My three hours with Mr. Forrest was one of the most remarkable experiences of my life. I hope you will hear it some time. In the last hour, the story broke off into a survey of my last incarnation, which was very sober and full of darkness that has lapsed over into my present life and has accounted for the difficult things I have lived with presently – such things as amputation and loneliness.” Robert later wrote directly to me, “I have had several charts done in my lifetime, but none of them but yours have escaped the astrologer mistaking so much of the chart as a sounding board for his own ego.”
Coming from Robert A. Johnson, those supportive words sunk right into my soul, giving my battered self-confidence a boost at a time when I really needed it. My long marriage was falling apart. My wife and I had moved to the desert, two thousand miles from my friends and all my support back in North Carolina. The timing of Robert’s arrival in my life was providential.
To say that Robert and I became good friends is true, but even though I was sixty-one years old when we met, he was also truly my mentor. In the mystical fashion of any spiritual lineage, his simple presence alone was a powerful teaching. I certainly felt that I understood Jungian psychology far more profoundly after spending time with him. We were far from “wordless” when we were together, but I would still say that most of what I learned from him did not come through language. My Ascendant lined up with his 6th house cusp, so I “presented myself” to him in that classic “house of servants” fashion – as an acolyte or a disciple. At the same time, each of our natal Suns fell in the other one’s 7th house, so a strong natural friendship arose between us too. These two realities sat pretty easily with each other. Robert would, for example, often ask me why he was still alive. He wasn’t depressed, but he felt his work on earth was done and he was ready to move on. I think one of the reasons he asked me that question so repeatedly is that, as humans go, I’m pretty comfortable with death so I didn’t immediately lambast him with spiritual platitudes. By the way, the best answer I could give him was that I felt he had one more book in him – one about the psychological experience of extreme old age. He never wrote that book, and the world is poorer for the lack of it.
Here’s another Robert story. In the little desert town where I live and where Robert had a second home, there’s a natural wonder in the landscape called Fonts Point. Getting to it is a bit of a challenge. As a younger man, Robert had visited the place many times, but his disabilities had kept him away ever since. I offered to bring him out there again – which was no mean feat for a man of nearly ninety with an artificial leg. I had a vehicle that could do it. We managed to get Robert loaded into the shotgun seat and we headed out to the big overlook. We brought a folding chair for him. After we arrived at the site, we just sat there and quietly took in the view for an hour or two. Robert slipped into meditation – which led to my then-new partner, Michelle Kondos, painting this portrait of him, which we presented to him on his 90th birthday, and which was later displayed in St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego on the day of his funeral.
As we were getting ready to leave, Robert turned his soul-seeing gaze on me and simply said, “If it weren’t for your kindness, I would never have seen this place again.” Hearing him say those words was such a powerful experience, such a transmission, that I suspect they will come back to me in a future lifetime. It’s the singer, not the song.
My natal Sun is in 15 degrees 43 minutes of Capricorn. On the day and hour I met Robert, the transiting north node of the Moon was in exactly that position, to the minute. Karma? No doubt.
A few months earlier, an unexpected knock on our front door had revealed the minister of the church of my soon-to-be-ex mother-in-law. The minister and his wife, from the Pacific Northwest, were here in southern California on vacation. They had been given our address and had decided to pop in and introduce themselves. Robert had once spoken at the minister’s church. It was from the minister that I first learned that the fabled Robert A. Johnson had a place here in Borrego Springs, tucked away up by the western mountains. Intriguing – but still not an introduction.
Two or three weeks later a client happened to email me about a reading and casually mentioned that he had a friend “named Robert” who also lived in my town. I knew that my client was a Jungian analyst, so I asked him if his friend happened to be Robert A. Johnson. He said yes – and it was through him that arrangements were made for me finally to knock on Robert’s door on that morning in April 2010. Transiting Uranus was almost exactly square my natal Uranus – so I knew I should “expect the unexpected.” Perhaps even more tellingly, added to that exact transiting nodal conjunction with my Sun, the Solar Arc nodal axis was just seven weeks away from squaring my Moon. My karmic chickens were coming home to roost – and this case, little did I know that they were about to lay a golden egg.
One meme in Robert’s view of life was how we all need to “follow the slender threads.” By that, he meant the subtle clues and other forms of guidance that synchronicity affords us all, if only we are open to them. I am grateful for many things in my life, but the slender threads that wove my life into the life of Robert A. Johnson in his final years are high on the list. In my opening lines, I used the word “coincidence,” but I put it in quotation marks. I always do. Basically, I have come to believe that “there ain’t no such thing.”
So happy 100th birthday to Robert A. Johnson. Thank you for all you gave me and for all you gave to this crazy world. I hope you are enjoying your little rest upon the wind and that you’ll be back soon. We miss you. I notice that the cosmos is staging a lunar eclipse on May 26 in honor of your centenary. With your Moon-ruled Cancer Ascendant, that seems appropriate. The light disappears – but then it always returns.