Mercury retrogradeMercury goes retrograde today, and will remain so until June 19. It seems that even many people who know nothing else about astrology are aware of Mercury’s retrograde periods, and dread them.

The conventional astrological wisdom characterized Mercury retrograde as a time fraught with all sort of mishaps related to communication and technology: emails gone astray, fax machines on the blink, cars breaking down inexplicably, misunderstanding, missed phone calls, negotiations SNAFU.

I have certainly seen all these things descend on myself and others during a retrograde, but there are also plenty of times when everything goes along smoothly during a retrograde – and no one notices or comments on the fact. As a practicing astrologer, I dislike oversimplifications and black-and-white thinking, especially when fatalistic, fear-based thinking is involved.

The truth is, the shift of energy that occurs when Mercury goes retrograde, although significant and noticeable, is not the only energy at work in our lives, or even the only energy involved in the workings of technology and communication. It is just one factor. Like all astrological energies, some of us will be more affected by it than others.

All the planets (except the Moon and Sun) go retrograde from time to time. (The outer planets are retrograde for almost half of each year.) When a planet is retrograde, its energy is less directly available, so the matters it presides over can stall out or become convoluted. This is usually not a problem for things that are humming along smoothly before the onset of retrograde, but it can complicate situations where we require the active involvement of a planetary energy to initiate something or to turn a crucial juncture in a certain direction.

I think of retrogrades as a reminder that we occasionally need to back off from relying on a planet’s energies too strongly and pushing for accomplishment in the area the planet presides over. Everything needs a “time out” period now and then, and this is especially true in our frenetic, fast-paced times. My advice in coping with retrogrades is to not struggle against them, but to go with the flow. Maybe one doesn’t need quite so much gadgetry, zipping signals, and chatter anyway. Maybe it’s time to sit down with a good book or a journal, or to just meditate and reflect on things instead.

It’s not necessary to fear a retrograde. When I simply remind myself to relax and loosen my expectations a bit, I usually find that things carry on well enough.