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The Strategic Value of Mercury Retrograde

Image: A public sculpture in Paris that depicts the god Mercury riding a pegasus

Mercury Retrograde gets a bad rap–this has been true as long as people have been looking up and correlating the movements of the planets in the sky to the events down here. This is an essay about reframing Mercury retrograde, but I am not about to suggest that we go back to the way things were in some imagined golden era. Instead, I want to dream about what Mercury appearing to move backwards in the sky could do for us now, at this very strange moment that can only be described as the endgame of late stage neoliberal capitalism + incredible political, climate, and economic uncertainty + a whole lot of bright folks searching for what must come next.

In a capitalist framework, Mercury retrograde is a disaster. If you’re living in an extractive relationship to the world around you, and you are looking only at your bottom line and needing to get everything to happen so seamlessly and “just in time” that you can’t even give employees work schedules in advance because what matters to you is your ability to wring as much as possible out of every single transaction, then yeah. All the things that make “just in time” possible are all Mercurial. The fact that Mercury regularly gets closer to earth, appears to move backwards in the sky, and both intensifies and kinda messes up all those things is a problem. It makes so much sense that Mercury retrograde is the most popular phenomenon beyond knowing your sun sign. In a capitalist world in which you relate to everybody and everything as a resource instead of as a being, you absolutely prefer a Mercury that is always moving quickly forward, like it’s a pedestrian on the streets of Manhattan. Onto the next thing, and the next, and the next. Never looking back. While not exactly a malefic, Mercury is an inherently argumentative planet that describes a lot of things that can get ugly for us, like transactions and the need to be right and win.

This world beyond extractive, win-lose consciousness is going to be made up of people relating to the way we live now differently, so maybe Mercury retrograde is an opportunity for some very mundane “magic.” Maybe Mercury retrograde is a regular opportunity to look back at our deals, words, and decisions, so we can do different things with them. During a Mercury retrograde, we can realign or remake deals, contracts, and plans so that they work better for more people, or at least hurt fewer people. We can make something into a game to see if we can do it differently. We can question our allegiance to forward momentum at all costs. We can even consciously celebrate the process of arriving at a plan that really does include enough input from other people.

Hell, maybe things like charrettes, strategic planning processes, visioning sessions, and socially engaged art projects are the best possible ritual for Mercury retrograde right now.

There are good, interesting places you can go when you don’t agree, or are figuring out how to do so! Creativity often involves getting lost in an idea, considering it from different perspectives so you can arrive somewhere new. Some of the most potent Mercury retrograde experiences I have had happened when I ran a nonprofit, and had to get my board to really understand what we had been doing, so that they could make better decisions. I always felt a little awe when Mercury retrogrades would coincide with these moments of intense work around getting on the same page to make a decision. And over time, I decided that this kind of thing is really what they are for.

Here’s how to make them work for you.

First, forget all the stuff you’ve heard about Mercury retrograde being bad and just reset your expectations. Things won’t work straightforwardly, but they will work out eventually, collaboratively, and creatively. Mercury is retrograde roughly 20 percent of the year–if you add pre and post shadow times, we are talking just a little more than half of each year. It is therefore not practical to avoid Mercury things when Mercury is retrograde, and beyond the impracticality, it’s just not right to use astrology to avoid life. Just think of Mercury retrograde as a time when Mercury things like deals, travel, transactions, and communication take longer, you need more help with them than usual, and the results can therefore be far more interesting. You can absolutely decide to negotiate a deal during Mercury retrograde! Just be aware that it will require about three weeks of going back and forth about stuff that you should probably be arriving at an accord about anyway. You can travel during Mercury retrograde, as long as you can roll with things like delayed flights, lost luggage, and other logistical and communication snafus. The invitation is to try your hand at being the kind of person who can turn these moments into things like new relationships and funny stories. Honestly, I am not that person! But there is something about being prepared that helps me try.

Once your expectations are set, try to fill your to-do list and calendar with specific projects that will benefit from a longer, more intense, and more circular communication process. There are thousands of these things! A few examples include a community organizing initiative; writing a strategic plan or anything else that’s collaborative; editing just about anything; doing that initial push of creative work that gets something like a novel off the ground; or any kind of audit that you genuinely want to do. And don’t look too hard. Because astrology is simply mirroring what is already happening in our lives, you are likely to find that there are already one or more of these projects that need doing in your life.

Lastly, come up with a brief “not-do list.” There are specific tasks in your life that you will want to deprioritize during a Mercury retrograde, simply because you don’t want them to take three times as long, or you really would prefer that they go right the first time. I limit this list to tasks and transactions that I already know are going to suck and that I can schedule–not replying to emails until after Mercury stations direct is a great example of using astrology to avoid life! But I would go out of my way to avoid doing my tax prep, negotiating on the purchase of something irritating to buy like a car, or engaging in an audit process that I don’t want during a Mercury retrograde, when it is possible to do so.

The postscript is that there is so, so, so much more you can do than this. You can use the timing of a specific retrograde to break a project into phases that will by and large tend to work well for everybody, simply because everybody is experiencing the retrograde to some degree. You can schedule a key deadline or collective meeting during the halfway point of the retrograde, Mercury’s reunion with the Sun, which is generally experienced as a moment of clarity and understanding. You can look at the transits during the retrograde and get a sense of what kinds of challenges and opportunities might show up. You can look at the retrograde in the context of the inception chart of an organization or key collaborators (with consent of course) and start a conversation about the impact of this retrograde in terms of those specific charts.

The key to all the productive strategic work you can do with a Mercury retrograde is getting comfortable with the idea that you are relinquishing control over some aspects of life that we have been programmed to hold very tightly. Mercury retrograde is so damn useful because it is a time when things are far less likely to go your way. The real work is being open to that, and to creating an “our way,” in a productive dialogue with people we tend to discount; the earth or environmental impact of our decisions; or even some other smaller resource you’ve been living out of relationship with, like your health, friendships, or bank account.

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