This week is the often-highly-anticipated astrological event called Mercury Retrograde! (Oh no! Run for the hills!) What does this mean?
Traditionally this three-week period is the time when otherwise-decent conversations go horribly wrong, signing a contract can have Faustian overtones, your car experiences the equivalent of a medical emergency or a neurotic breakdown, your iPod goes haywire (the worst!), or traffic becomes hugely inconvenient right when convenience would be most convenient. Basically, as a stereotype, Mercury Retrograde is the time when the lives of good, decent, well-intentioned and thoughtful human beings can look an awful lot like an episode of Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
The truth is, these kinds of things can happen any time, and they do happen anytime. What, then, is so special about Mercury Retrograde?
With Mercury Retrograde I always imagine those cell phone commercials and the incessant “Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?” inquiries, as the caller questions the quality of the line as the connection drops in and out. That is really what Mercury Retrograde is about: looking at the quality of how things are connecting in your life―and what your thoughts have to do with that. How do your thoughts impact and facilitate the connections in your life, or disrupt them? You mean I got into a car accident because my mind wandered to my upcoming vacation time in the Bahamas? Absurd! You mean my computer was tragically and slowly dismantled by a virus because I went to a gaming site instead of paying attention to work? Who, me? Mercury Retrograde is a time to pay attention when things go wrong. Mercury is a mischievous planet—a Trickster—and during Mercury Retrograde what goes wrong may not be going wrong at all. It may be setting things right. Right?
The Sign of Virgo
From August 20 until September 12 Mercury Retrograde happens in the sign of Virgo. Virgo is a very practical, down-to-earth sign. And it’s about the health of your daily life on earth, connected to the health of your body. When people talk about the “mind-body connection,” they are talking about Virgo.
Virgo at its worst is when life is routine and you live habitually, day in and day out, just doing it (not in the Nike sense). When life becomes habit, something is amiss, and it will likely show up in your health. That’s how Virgo operates.
Mercury Retrograde in Virgo is about being discriminating with your thoughts, by noticing what works and what doesn’t work. It’s the difference between being critical and being discerning. Virgo at its best is discerning. It’s about sifting through the finer contours of the landscape of your thoughts to discover which ones might not be serving your life particularly well.
For some people, the practice and practicality of daily life has perhaps squeezed out a great deal of the wonder and spontaneity—the spirit—of life at the same time. If that’s you, this is a great time to reflect on how your practice of life has become a bit stale, a bit too cleaned-up. Where has your life been dressed up in white for far too long and white just isn’t working for you anymore?
And for other people, daily life might require a bit of grounding. If you’re one of the types who flies around all the time from this place to that place in responsible service to everyone in your life, chilling out and paying attention to your own life may be at hand.
The late Irish poet and mystic John O’Donohue asks a couple of really wonderful questions that I think apply to Mercury Retrograde in Virgo, for working on improving the overall quality of your life.
He asks, “When was the last time you really listened to your heart?”
And, “If you were to clearly explain to your heart how brief your time in the world is, what are the things your heart would make you stop doing right now?”
If Mercury Retrograde can often seem to lack any subtlety whatsoever, in Virgo it may just be the Trickster’s merciful style of getting us to, as O’Donohue says, “attend to the subtle life we have, and look after it, and come into touch with it.” It's Mercury's way of asking, "Can you hear me now?"
Mercury goes retrograde on August 20, at around 3pm. Or to say it in the style of Virgo: August 20, 2010, at precisely 2:58:32 PM CDT, Minneapolis, Minnesota.