June 23rd, 2014

Mercury Retrograde and the Imagination


The purpose of this post isn’t going to be about what you think it’s going to be about.

You read the word imagination in the title, but actually I’m going to talk about the word in a different way.

And so this little exchange will be a good example of how the mind works when Mercury is retrograde. Or rather what we see about the nature of our habitual mind and the way it works. Which is usually predictable and reactive — thinking but not really understanding.

Mercury retrogrades can be a fortuitous time to foster understanding, because the mental process of the mind is heightened, more engaged and possibly — with a little effort — more present. In fact, compared to its normal rhythm, the mind is liable to feel charged with Mercurial quicksilver.

So what I’m talking about here is this:

You read a word, it triggers an association within your mental data bank — but it’s the wrong association. The impulse travels along an old, worn groove, but it’s not the right groove. You end up where you didn’t expect to end up.

And this is why when clients talk to me about how to best align with Mercury retrograde I advise: “Pay attention, things won’t be what you think they are going to be.” Meaning, your old way of seeing everything in the same familiar way is unplugged through the retrograde phase.

And that’s a good thing.

The Mercury retrograde is a great time to appreciate the power of attention. We all take attention for granted, but really it deserves a second thought. Attention is a fascinating function of consciousness that allows the unseen and the unconsidered to be revealed.

Think about that for a minute. The simple act of focusing your attention brings the potential for illumination to whatever it happens to focus upon.

Said another way: Attention fosters understanding. We can’t have understanding without attention. It’s impossible.

Also note: Attention is never ‘free’.

This is why payment is usually mentioned: Pay attention.

You can’t just do things habitually (which we all do freely, all the time, when a thought just runs along the same old slot it’s always moved along); you have to make an effort with attention. You pay and then the aftereffect gives you something: Understanding.

The Greeks understood this and it’s why Mercury was always paid before a journey was undertaken. Like when the god would guide dead people’s souls to the next world — they had to pay Mercury some coin before Mercury engaged. Attention was called into play — and made to work.

So, when I used the word ‘imagination’ in this post’s title (and really this is all just a longwinded way of demonstrating a simple example), I meant the term as it’s used to describe something that doesn’t exist — on a material level. Which is what imagination can do, to help us imagine what could be.

But in this example (please pay attention to this point): I’m talking about how astrologers literalize the word “retrograde” in their interpretations and use it in an imaginary, made up way. Imagination versus reality. In other words there’s a lot bullshit flying around willy nilly.

So where’s the rub?

Somehow the prefix to the word retrograde became an idée fixe for astrologers. And to be honest, it’s a kind of goofy, backward conflation.

So we’re told that Mercury retrograde means we should redo, reevaluate, rethink, restructure, replay. And so it goes.

But none of those concepts accurately describe what Mercury retrograde is about. At least not to me. In fact those terms are the exact opposite of what a Mercury retrograde phase is about. We are revisiting, rethinking, re-overthinking all of the time. Our mind is constantly operating from an eddy of past associations and images.

Rarely does a level of true Mercurial brilliance take hold of the mind, and unplug it from its tendency to operate solely from past memories, memories that are held in place by the instinctive, lunar part of our nature. It can happen, but that’s rare. And it’s more likely to happen — this unplugging from the habitual — during a Mercury retrograde phase because the tendency to constantly recapitulate is, as I said at the open, disrupted.

So what is Mercury retrograde about other than toasters not working and iPhones crashing? I mean, get real, shit like that is happening all of the time — Mercury retrograde or not. Right? Nowadays, because the general public is familiar with the term, the Mercury retrograde phase has become the scapegoat for all of life’s nuisances. Especially if electronics are involved.

The primary experience I’ve noted, that corresponds to a Mercury retrograde phase, is this:

I’m thinking about one thing consciously, but it is having an opposite effect within my unconscious.


Planets that are retrograde are closer to the earth than when in direct motion. This means, say, when Mercury is retrograde the earth and Mercury are in tighter communion via shorter distance.

Imagine seeing someone at the far end of the sidewalk but he’s so far away that he’s just a blur that’s walking towards you. Is that Robert or is that William or is it Thomas? The figure gets closer as he approaches. And then finally: Oh! It’s Thomas! Hi, how are you?

So Mercury is closer to the earth when retrograde.

In a literal way, we could say that what the planet symbolizes is more emphatic in the earth’s atmosphere (and if, like me, you follow that the Zodiac is earth-centric — meaning its origin is in and of the the earth, rather than based on an imaginary circle floating out in in space) then you can imagine how the Mercury function would be stronger.

Mercurial themes would predominate, just like Saturn themes predominate when the earth is closer to Saturn during its retrograde. Talk to anyone with strong Saturn transits during its retrograde and she’ll confirm the type of incessant, unrelenting pressure that’s associated with Saturn — it’s right in her face.

Where this gets interesting is that a planet that is closer to the earth is also going to be closer to our Moon.

The mind is comprised of both lunar and solar qualities. The lunar predominates in most our lives, but Mercury, as a translator of the Sun’s light (a messenger) can, through cultivated awareness (attention), activate more of the mind’s solar qualities. From the essential level of Being, meaning how Being manifests in a particular expression — this is called Brilliancy.

The Moon is linked to our corporeal existence, our fleshiness and its basic mode of operation is through memory and the instinctive drives (which are incredibly potent; which is easy to grasp when you consider how habits predominate within the psyche.)

But Mercury represents the self-reflecting consciousness that human beings are gifted with, or rather the capacity to develop this function into attention which can facilitate understanding.

So for me, as a counselor, Mercury retrograde periods make the work I do with clients much more streamlined.

We can broach a topic and then, with presence activated, the Mercurial function can move into heretofore unexplored terrains that are not hindered by the lunar. The contents of memory are present, but the potential for attention is heightened, allowing it to amplify, to roam the contents of memory but not drift into a cul-de-sac. Always there is the potential to traverse into the as-of-yet unseen and untried world of nowness, all that is typified by the Sun.

This is a very different way to hold the Mercury retrograde phase and I recommend that you experiment with practices that involve your mind. Choose a topic and then notice the difference in how you apply your attention.

Notice the nuances, the vividness that Mercurial presence imparts to your inquiry.

Mercury is the Sun’s translator, the planet helps facilitate solar consciousness much more succinctly. Meaning: your efforts at meditation, contemplation, prayer, visualization — any practice that fosters presence — all of those are heightened during the retrograde.

And isn’t that more interesting to contemplate than broken wi-fi connections or misplaced car keys?

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