OK, so as you probably know by now, I take my astrology somewhat seriously. I don't read too many charts these days, but I've done quite a few since I started studying the field as a Sophomore in college and have even been paid on occasion. Reading charts - for those of your who think astrology means the horoscope in the newspaper - is the meat and bones of astrological practice, because it involves looking way deeper than a person's Sun sign (e.g. Leo, Sagittarius, etc.).
If reading charts is the meat and bones of astrology, paying attention to transits is, I suppose, the musculature? I don't know, the analogy might be breaking down. Anyway, the point is that transits - and especially the way they interact with a person's natal chat (and progressions) are what makes horoscope work possible in the first place. Though they are compelled to paint with exceptionally broad strokes, those newspaper horoscope writers are looking at how the transits - the current sky - interacts with the sign in question. At a smaller scale, looking at a single chart, that process is much more refined.
No matter your sun sign, ascendant, or other aspects in your chart, there is one particular transit event that happens frequently and which, if you ask most astrologers, is not devastating, but is extremely inconvenient. That event is Mercury's retrograde. Because Mercury is so close to the Sun, and because it zips around so fast, it often appears to be moving backwards relative to the earth. That is, while the Sun plods along continuously from one sign to the next (at very nearly 1 degree per day, until it completes its 360 degree rotation every 365 days), Mercury tends to move forward - in front of the Sun - and then back again, going as far as 45 degrees in either direction, and usually moving quickly.
The name "Mercury," indicating a planet of communication and short-distance travel, represented by the Roman messenger God (and psychopomp*), is a mythologically sound fit for the flighty inner planet. It also relates to our sense of mercurial and flighty temperaments, an aspect of Mercury's astrological profile prominently on display during a retrograde.
* That means he directed souls in the afterlife. Not in the sense of making decisions or anything. More in the sense of being an usher; as a messenger, he just told people where to go next.
Mercury retrograde is infamous for garbled messages, computer crashes (you may recall my harddrive crash, which happened during this latest retrograde), and general tardiness. Making new contacts is often difficult and frequently those relationships don't work out. For my own part, my hiring at NALU Studies took from September 1st until September 10th or so to get finalized, even though the process should have taken only a day or two. Similarly, I sat through a significantly delayed flight, and have found myself unusually late (because I try to arrive 10 minutes early to most meetings) for the last few weeks.
But no longer! Mercury went direct earlier this week, and it is now gallantly shooting forward back across the face of the sun. It will take a while to "catch up" to where it was, but at least now all of those lost emails and dropped calls will start to work out better - or so the astrological wisdom goes.
So now to the point: the title of this post suggests advice, and I'm here to give it. First of all, keep an eye on when Mercury retrogrades. It's a lot easier to approach the entire thing with some caution and a well-stocked sense of humor than to expect things to flow smoothly. A specific example: you can be frustrated by your flight delay, or you can use the time to call an old friend or read a book you've been meaning to get back to. Mercury's retrograde is not so much about stopping productivity as it is about consolidating, looking inward, and reflecting. The very nature of "retrograde" implies a backwards vision, and hindsight will always be your ally when a planet is moving backwards.
With Mercury in particular, reestablishing old contacts can be very effective. Where trying to create a new partnership might be effective, returning a month-overdue call to a friend could go extremely well. Likewise, starting a brand new job is often perilous during a retrograde, but returning to an organization you used to work for (like I did) is not unwise.
Whether you believe in astrology whole-hog or are a skeptic, I think there's a lesson to be learned here either way, and that's the impossibility of always moving forward. Take the analogy however seriously you want to, but I think there's something to be said for the motions of the planets: they're never - at least relative to us - moving the same way all the time. Sometimes, whether it's during a Mercury retrograde or not, we all need to sit back and reflect.