We are all individuals with our own unique path; yet on this journey called life each and every one of us will come to certain crossroads or cycles and although our paths may differ, the timing of these cycles is the same. These generation or life cycles are the great turning points in life: the Saturn Return at twenty nine; Midlife, which peaks at forty-one; the Chiron Return at fifty; the Second Saturn Return at fifty-nine; the Uranus square in our early sixties, and finally the Uranus conjunction at eighty-four.

At every juncture we face challenges, lessons, even losses; in this we have no choice. Our freedom lies in how we respond; consciously or unconsciously; awake or asleep; with love or with fear. The planet that rules each cycle is our guide, the wise elder who holds the key to navigating it successfully and releasing the potential that lies within. Ultimately it’s the journey of becoming whole.

In her beautiful poem, The Summer Day, Mary Oliver, asks: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” We think of someone asking this at the beginning of their journey, but we can ask it at each crossroad and every new phase. In fact, we should never stop asking it for life is constantly changing and renewing itself and who we are is forever unfolding.

I invite you to join me on this exploration of these generational cycles and learn how to thrive in the second half of life for it is truly never too late to do the things you always wanted to do or to be the person you always wanted to be.

An Introduction to the Cycles

The horoscope (also called a birth chart or natal chart) is highly individual and deeply personal. It is a picture of the sky at the exact moment of birth; a map of the heavens containing astrology’s basic elements: planets, signs, and houses. Like our DNA it is unique to us and us alone.

The transits and progressions are methods of prediction and they too are specific to us. The transits are the planets overhead; like our transit system here on earth they are always in motion. When they reach a point in the sky that corresponds to a point in our chart they trigger an event and something happens. Progressions don’t take place in the sky; they are mathematical and are calculated on paper. Progressions are a separate predictive technique that involves slowing down the inner planets (the outer planets move too slowly) and watching them journey through the chart. They show how we evolve and develop over time. Because transits and progressions are linked to our individual birth charts they can occur at any time.

On the other hand, the generational or life cycles, are determined by our age and shared with others born at the same time. These cycles take place when a planet makes an aspect to itself; for instance, Saturn to Saturn at twenty-nine or Uranus opposite Uranus at forty-two. Don’t let this fool you; just because many people experience these cycles at the same age doesn’t make them less powerful or relevant than transits or progressions. Think of those treasured rites of passage such as a Bar Mitzvah, Sweet Sixteen, a high school or college graduation; these events are imbued with meaning because they are shared by many and are deeply rooted in our culture. These rituals mark a person’s progress from one stage to another. The generational cycles operate in the same way; they are the significant passages we all experience; strung together describe the seasons of our life.

The Saturn Return at twenty-nine is the first major life cycle and although it precedes Midlife it is necessary to include it for it is the foundation on which the other cycles rest. Plus, at fifty-nine we have our Second Saturn Return; we deal with different issues then but Saturn runs the show and calls the shots so you might as well get to know him.

Why is it that we tend to become serious in our late twenties? It’s as if something in us knows instinctively that we need to grow up, commit to something, and take on more responsibility. It’s time to stop drifting and begin doing; we sober up – sometimes literally. Called the Saturn Return it is the first major life cycle, and our initiation into adulthood. Saturn, the planet of reality and responsibility, comes back or returns to where it was at birth; a journey that takes approximately twenty-nine and a half years. You can’t train forever; sooner or later you have to step up to the starting line. Saturn is that starting line. Our late twenties and early thirties are defined by tough-love Saturn as we work hard to build something concrete in the world; a career, a family, an advanced degree. In the process we gain experience, stature, and most of all maturity; there may even be financial rewards and recognition. On our own and no longer tied to our family we seem to have it all figured out. That is until our late thirties.

In our late thirties we begin to question everything we’ve been doing; we’re restless and hungry for something we can’t even name. Whatever we’ve put on the back burner during our Saturn years while we were building a career or raising a family rises up and begins to call us, sometimes quit loudly. Midlife is a complex time orchestrated by several planets but peaks at forty-two when that maverick Uranus, the planet of freedom, rebellion, and individuation, makes an opposition to its natal position. This is a classic Midlife Crisis; men (and women) often leave their partners and take up with someone younger or suddenly feel the need to follow some long forgotten dream. Many women decide to get pregnant; others return to the work place. For all of us there’s a powerful desire to break free of some situation and find more meaning in our lives. This is life’s most dramatic and disruptive passage as well as potentially the most rewarding. The stakes are high for how we navigate this cycle determines the second half of life.

The Chiron Return around age fifty is another powerful crossroad. Ruled by Chiron, a minor planet associated with the myth of the Wounded Healer, it is time to make peace with ourselves, come to terms with our failures and forgive ourselves for what we haven’t accomplished. Some old dreams have to be sacrificed yet like an exquisite evening gown that can no longer be worn the material may be used to make something new. The Chiron Return brings us back to our deepest wounds and offers us an opportunity to become fully conscious of them and do the necessary healing. In mythology Chiron was a great teacher and healer who mentored the sons of all the great men and gods. He taught them to be the heroes they were meant to be. The Chiron Return teaches us to be a hero; not who or what we thought we were but who we truly are.

At fifty-nine we have our Second Saturn Return as we enter the phase of the elder. During our first Saturn cycle the ego runs the show; it’s about what we want to get; the second one is more about what we want to give. What kind of legacy do we want to leave? What kind of elder do we want to become? We can still be active and productive but hopefully at this age our actions are tempered by wisdom and meaning rather than pure ambition. This can be a time when we receive recognition for the work we’ve done or use our experience and knowledge to create something brand new. For many of us who are late bloomers this is the period when it all comes together. Once again, task-master Saturn is our guide and holds the key to getting it right.

At eighty-four eccentric Uranus comes back to the house and sign it occupied at birth and we have our Uranus Return. At that time Uranus would have contacted every planet in the birth chart and if we have been living authentically we would become fully individuated, as Carl Jung might say. And if we haven’t, then the Closing Uranus Square in our early sixties is our opportunity to take some risks and make some changes. This is a period in our life when we get “some wind beneath our wings” and it’s important to use the energy for positive change. The choices we make in our early sixties will determine the old person we become at eighty-four.

We will explore each cycle in depth. Every passage comes with its own instructions, inspiration, warnings, and wisdom. The planet that rules the cycle designs the course and creates the rules. Ultimately it is our life and our journey; the quality of the experience and what we learn is up to us.