My liberal arts degree paved the way to a career in STEM. But engineers I work with now would sneer if they knew about my previous life as a professional counseling student. Even in grad school, I was always more into reading psych journals than doing exercises with classmates. The language of theories and processes was more translatable between people than fleeting descriptions of feelings. Evidence is my north star. When peer-reviewed research challenges beliefs I hold somewhat dearly, I have to rethink my stance. I tear up every time I watch a rocket launch, and I can name more YouTube channels about aviation than anything else.
The Scholastic Book Fair was always more exciting to me than my own birthday. In fifth grade, I bought a book called Star Signs. Its gorgeous fuchsia and violet cover and embossed golden zodiac signified intuition and connection. I was not a popular child, but my classmates passed the book around at lunchtime, asking each other the questions from the personality quizzes and becoming curious about their ruling planets. I was quietly satisfied that boys who usually argued over football players and NASCAR drivers suddenly wanted to learn more about things bigger than our whole world.
That year, our science teacher went on maternity leave, and the substitute praised my enthusiasm for our unit on astronomy. The differences in the planets and stars captured my imagination. How far is 93 million miles, really? Will we ever reach other planets? Does life only exist on Earth? She asked me if I wanted to study space someday.
“I can’t,” I replied with my chubby face toward the ground. “My math teacher said science will be too hard in middle school because I have an 80 in math now.”
Greek myths featuring Hermes chronicle communication, travel, and commerce – some features of ancient society remain relevant. Hermes is connected to the Roman god Mercurius: fleet-footed and mischievous, but helpful. Before I adopted my dog Sven, his shelter name was Hermes.
Astrologers believe that Mercury rules communication, information, and technology. A couple of times a year, Mercury appears to rotate backwards when seen from Earth. Astronomers call it apparent retrograde motion. In the language of astrology, it’s simply Mercury retrograde.
During this time of communication breakdown, they advise us to practice greater caution and care than usual: read messages more thoroughly than usual so you don’t misunderstand, proofread every email and reread thrice before sending, keep your water bottle far away from your computer. Definitely don’t sign any contracts or make any life-changing decisions. Unlucky things may happen if we’re not careful enough, like losing a draft of a research paper or a backup of a website.
When I worked for a cloud-based ecommerce platform, there were a couple of weeks when all of our clients’ sites kept going down at the same time. The effect to our own business was significant, and many of our merchants were unable to do any business at all. This fraught and confusing time fell during Mercury retrograde. I joked to a colleague, “this should all be over by the 18th.” She asked if planned downtime was discussed during a townhall meeting that she’d missed. No, I joked, that’s just when Mercury retrograde is supposed to end.
“There is no scientific proof that anything that happens with the planets has any affect on us whatsoever,” she began. “Stop promoting this Gwyneth Paltrow bullshit.”
I have a hard time surrendering to the belief that our current understanding of the universe is supposed to discourage me from entertaining mysteries. Isn’t mystery required for curiosity? For discovery? For science? If we stop entertaining thoughts and discussing patterns – even when those patterns may be the result of a cognitive bias – are we not leaving something on the table? Is it really so crazy to wonder if physical forces larger than Earth can affect mere humans?
With the urge to avoid big decisions comes an invitation for reflection and realignment. Mercury’s position in the solar system during its retrograde may cause certain themes to emerge. This July, it moved from Cancer to Leo, and then back to Cancer. Cancer, a water sign characterized by sensitivity and nurturing, invokes feeling and connection. Fiery Leo calls to mind creativity, expression, and relationship.
Astrology blogs warned us about old figures coming back into our lives while Mercury dances from the water into the fire and back into the water once more. A Leo myself, I’ve burned my share of bridges. Save for my retreats to late-90s cartoons and early-00s music and young adult novel series, the past is not a pleasant place for my mind to go.
What about revisiting for the sake of healing?
Codependency is common among people with PTSD. Some of us take jobs in helping professions like counseling because we want to heal others. This is the part of our truth that we show to the world. Behind closed doors, we’re often struggling to meet our own needs.
We overindulge in emotional eating to fill an emptiness we can’t name. We hold in the private pains of others and don’t want to burden or bore anyone else with our own shit. We have a hard time separating the empathy we have for other people’s trauma from the toxic patterns that emerge as a result of it. We tiptoe around conflict so people will accept the version of us that agrees with them. And then when someone makes an assumption that rubs us wrong, we wonder why no one knows who we really are. Sometimes we are good-natured people who end up in shitty relationships. We sometimes end up being shitty in relationships with good-natured people.
Greek mythology offers a sigil for our glass house. The centaur Chiron, the product of the violent rape of a nymph by a god, was abandoned by his father and rejected by his mother. After being adopted by Apollo, he became a mentor, healer, and teacher to heroes like Jason, Achilles, and Hercules. Centaurs were immortal, but Hercules accidentally shot Chiron with a poisoned arrow. Time doesn’t heal everything. Chiron gave up his life to stop the pain.
Planets aren’t the only heavenly bodies that astrologers look to for understanding patterns in human lives. Comets also have meaning, and they, too, can go retrograde.
In this season of my life, as I head into the last year of my twenties, the comet Chiron is retrograde at the same time as Mercury. Chiron retrograde bubbles up unhealed wounds that we may have been stepping around for years. This retrograde is in Aries, another fire sign, and urges us to confront these issues head-on.
I have spent the last three years freeing myself from the consequences of trauma, without trying to heal it. I changed careers without formal training or mentorship. I married someone who loves me even when I do not please him. I lost over 50 pounds, we bought a house, and even adopted a second dog.
In the transition, I lost most of my relationships outside of work. I withdrew from some friends because I wouldn’t be good enough for them until I had a better job and wasn’t the fat friend anymore. I disengaged with most of my family. My best friend lost her own battle with mental illness and ended her life in August of 2018. Since then, I’ve been a telescope on a satellite – observing my home planet without participating in life on it.
This retrograde has helped me chart my position in the universe. Family members I lost touch with resurfaced to resolve old conflicts and build a new relationship. I am on their radar when I didn’t think that I was part of their world. Friends resurfaced from under the rubble of their own crumbling late-twenties identities and early adulthood traumas.
Planets and comets move. Human relationships change. Why is it contemptible and unscientific to reflect on both at the same time?
Let me have retrograde.