Slow Down!—Mars Retrograde


Imagine that you're traveling a great distance by foot, with a specific destination in mind. You are putting all your energy into the journey because you're very eager to get where you're going. You have purpose and direction, so you're happy to exert the necessary effort. As you're finally making some headway, you are met with a long staircase leading downward for as far as you can see. Anticipating that the end is near, you gleefully gallop down the stairs, wondering where they might lead.

When you eventually make it to the bottom (a long way down, you've come to discover), you realize that the path leads over a small, seemingly insignificant natural barrier… and straight to another set of stairs, heading straight back up to the same level you were when you discovered the first stairway, only a tiny bit further along. With this realization, you see that there's a lot more distance left to go than you'd previously thought.

Plus, you're starting to get tired and still have to climb all the way back up—seemingly to get back to almost exactly where you were before. You're a little worn out, a little confused (I mean, why a whole flight of stairs down just to have to come back up?), and a little deflated that the journey will take longer than expected.

On the occasion of the last Full Moon on July 13, I commented that we were being introduced to the beginning of a more mellow time period. But I suppose we can hardly consider having to re-ascend a long flight of stairs we just recently walked down as the mellowest of experiences. More properly, I'd say that this period can be characterized as a temporary halt in progress, as our normally go-out-and-get-'em Martian drive is turned inside-down, causing us to have less physical energy. We have some steps to retrace, some circles in which to casually spin, before we can make it all the way to where we headed.

This metaphor illustrates the current period of Mars retrograde, which begins this Tuesday morning and stretches until Sept. 27.

Most of you probably know a bit about the phenomenon of retrograde planets thanks to Mercury, who usually goes retrograde three times a year for around three weeks at a time. A planet is retrograde when it appears to move backwards from our Earth-centered perspective due to differences in planetary orbits. Retrograde planets have a reputation for inhibited or scrambled manifestations of their energies, such that, for example, Mercury (which rules communications and transportation, among other things) usually brings such fun as garbled messages and travel snafus during its retrogradation.

Mars retrograde happens less often than Mercury retrograde (only once every 26 months or so) for a longer period of time (about 2 months), and its effect on us is less mental and more physical.

Mars, the warrior-ruler of traditionally male aspects of our personalities (please overlook the inherent gender problems), symbolizes our will and our drive, our metabolism, our ability to lead and act decisively, our thrust, our aggressiveness, and other such examples of physical force and motion. When it turns retrograde, we have less of a handle on those parts of ourselves. We are more tired (after all, we're climbing up the stairs), and we feel like we're not getting very far (i.e., the stairs lead us right back to where we were).

Suffice it to say, this is not the most opportune time to start new projects or to gather momentum for finishing existing ones, nor to increase the intensity of exercise regimens or take on additional stress or responsibility.

So what do we do during this Mars retrograde period if we want to respect this momentary reversal of our physical drives? Well, first of all, the most important thing is to recognize the phenomenon for what it is. Be aware of the potential for tiring out more easily and for not being able to make progress as easily as you might have hoped. There's no reason to stop what you're doing completely, but certainly taking things a bit slower and less forcefully is beneficial. It's better to attend to one or two tasks with greater attention than to try and juggle the typical thousand-and-one things and end up dropping all the balls.

Secondly, when a planet turns retrograde, it's a great time to focus inward, to use the drive and effort usually expended on external projects to get to know ourselves a little better. If we have to retread the same path back up the stairs, we needn't pay as much attention to the dynamics of the journey—since this is already somewhat familiar landscape—and we can spend the time exploring the depths of our inner self as we walk. Any activities that involve generating internal stores of energy, such as yoga and bodywork, lots of sleep and healthful habits, journaling and other forms of self-reflection, are going to boost our systems. Meanwhile, any unnecessary outward expenditures of energy (like stressing over things we cannot control) will have drain us more than usual.

And in light of the fact that this Mars retrograde occurs in the sign of Pisces, not a particularly favored sign for Mars (Mars is all about quick decisive initiatory action, while Pisces likes to feel its way slowly through a circumstance and let others forge the way), another piece of advice I can offer is to quit trying so hard and allow the unseen forces of faith and feeling carry you along for the next couple months. Surrender is a concept I've written about a few times lately, and it is very much a theme that corresponds with Pisces. You needn't let impatience work a number on your nerves, when it's far more pleasant to enjoy your surroundings during this slower segment of your journey.

The shift in direction of Mars coincides with the New Moon in Leo on Tuesday morning, a moment at which five of the ten planets we watch are hanging out together in Leo. This is an excuse to have some raucous fun, to commemorate this forthcoming period of slow motion with an acknowledgement that life is not only about making progress—it's also about enjoying ourselves, expressing ourselves, and sharing our love and good fortune with friends and family and strangers as well. If you can't beat 'em (meaning, if you can't get stuff to happen when and how you want), then you might as well join 'em (meaning, embrace the Mars retrograde, take your eye off the pie and look at the pretty flowers instead).

And take your time walking back up the stairs. The top will still be there when you finally make it.