I’m a yoga teacher who lives in the wilderness. And I love learning about history, philosophy and the signs and symbols we can learn from studying nature, the animal kingdom, the moon and the other planets.
A friend recently asked me what I mean when I say “I’m studying” something, like the planets, and I chuckled. I’d never considered that question before!
Let’s just say that instead of raising children, grabbing drinks in town, or meeting up with a friend group for dinner, I’m hanging out in the arctic with Sean and the dogs. I’m either outside exploring the Brooks Range with family or retreat guests, managing our businesses with a slow internet connection, or reading books and studying things I’m interested in. In the summer we build, in the winter we mush dogs, and all year round I spend my spare time with my nose in some book, furiously scribbling notes.
And you know what feels like a timely topic today? Mercury Retrograde.
When I committed to a long-term study of the planets of a few years ago, I wanted to understand how a planet — so incredibly far from where I stand — could supposedly travel backward, break the internet, make me communicate horribly, and strike down fear in the hearts of yogis everywhere. I mean c'mon. It's getting a little out of hand in the media, yes?
The short answer to what I discovered? It’s all good, and we've got nothing to fear.
My philosophical conclusion? Per usual, it's going to take a few more paragraphs to explain...
Firstly, we need to understand what that might be obvious, but it's important to the storyline: Three-ish times a year, from our vantage point, the planet Mercury appears to be moving in reverse. We call this phenomenon Mercury Retrograde. If you were to fly up above the entire Universe and look down, you would see it's an illusion. Mercury doesn’t actually go backward. It’s moving along its inner circle around the sun, whereas Earth is moving on an outer circle. We’re essentially getting passed by Mercury because it’s moving fast on its smaller track and from where we stand, it looks like it's going backward.
Secondly, we need to remember that for MANY thousands of years, cultures all over the world (including those at the root of yogic philosophy) have viewed the planets as symbols or archetypes that help contextualize life on Earth. And humans have been cooking up archetypes ever since, so this is not "new age". Little Red Riding Hood is an archetype. Madonna is an archetype. The seasons are archetypes. And wouldn’t you know it: The planets are all archetypes, too.
Through my studies, I’ve learned that Mercury is an archetype for intellect and discernment. We associate him with communication, speaking, and the intellectual side of our mind (versus the subconscious mind).
So humor me. If we sub the symbol of “intellect” for the word “Mercury,” this is what we know:
If we look directly at our intellect, it appears to move backward — but if we remember to use our intuition, we don't need to see to believe that our intellect is always moving forward, no matter what.
So here’s where we have to get philosophical (my favorite part): When we look at Mercury, so slyly “moving in reverse,” we consider how our own life appears to move in reverse, with roadblocks and setbacks and problems… Let's blame a planet, they say!
But, we can use Mercury's timely illusion as a mirror in our life. Knowing what we understand about retrograde motion, we’ve been moving forward all along. And consider that setbacks aren’t actually setbacks at all — they're illusions!
The way we approach setbacks can actually be our superpower. As long as we're doing the best we can with what we have, setbacks are like course corrections in disguise. I like to think the Universe is saying to me: Here, little human, it's OK. This is the path forward that you couldn’t see before. Take my hand and I’ll show you…
So we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and take a step or two in the new direction. Whether Mercury “causes” setbacks or not remains to be seen — and will likely never be known.
But this I know for sure: The more time we spend looking over our shoulder at “what could have been,” the more time we spend NOT seeing the gifts of the new path in front of us. Sometimes it takes us a mile down the road. Sometimes we spend days, months or years still waiting to comprehend the "Big Why." But someday... somehow, it clicks and we think: Dang. Thanks Universe!
Definitely something to think about :-)
With love from Alaska,
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Originally hailing from Wisconsin, Mollie is a cheesehead transplant to Northwest Montana, with degrees in Retail and Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Today, she lives off the grid, half the year in a Tiny House & half the year in a yurt — both of which she and her husband, Sean, built by hand. Nonprofit Executive Director by day, Mollie also owns and teaches at Yoga Hive — a chain of community yoga studios in the valley.