Mercury in Retrograde is not a good excuse for you to be an asshole to me.

Via Joslyn Hamilton
on Apr 19, 2011
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Drawing by Vanessa Fiola


As one of the founders of Recovering Yogi, I think of myself as straddling the fine line between West Coast yogi and good old-fashioned liberal East Coast atheist.

It’s funny, because I never thought of myself as an atheist until recently. I used to be one of those “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual” kind of girls. I believed in the energy of things and in karma and signs and the overall goodness of the universe.

Then I started dabbling in Buddhism, which was a coming-home experience. It felt like I snapped out of the pseudo-spiritual reverie I had been immersed in for a decade and woke up to the cold, hard, reality that life is, in fact, prone to be full of suffering and randomness. How we choose to handle the suffering is what makes or breaks us.

On the other hand, a lot of the contemporary “yogis” I meet here in the woo-woo-infatuated Bay Area adamantly protest that they can control their own destiny, with The Law of Attraction, a generally Stepford-like commitment to positivity, and a lifestyle dedicated to eating the “right” things and practicing the “right” ways and just generally trying to be good God-fearing yogis all the time. I recently met a soulless hippie who timed the conception of his children in order to have the “right” astrological signs in their charts. The fuck? Would you love your children less if they were Virgos? Don’t answer that.

When I began to dabble in Buddhism, I started to see that life is not something you can manifest, or dream, or wish, or BE into the shape you want it to be in. It’s just life. It just goes along like it’s gonna go along. **

When someone gets cancer, it’s not because they didn’t have enough positive thoughts, or because they did something horrible to someone else in this life or another one, or in any way that they in fact deserve cancer. Because if that were true, where would we have gotten the saying “only the good die young”? Life just does not have that sort of MEANING. People get cancer, and they die. We can choose to see this, and accept it, and live anyway. Or we can live in fear of it and suppress our fear by chanting the names of Hindu gods and believing haphazardly in astrology.

As much as the vapid saying “It is what it is” makes me cringe, it’s actually, technically, a great summary of everything.

But because I straddle this nouveau-spiritual/atheist line, I often come up against people in my life — people who I love and adore and respect and worship — who in fact do adamantly believe in the kinds of things I am inclined to consider hocus pocus: the Law of Attraction, the power of positive thinking, and the divine control the stars have over all mankind.

I’m a science girl, at heart, and I understand that the pull of the moon’s gravity controls the tides. That totally makes sense. But I have a hard time with the whole Mercury in Retrograde thing. I know I diverge even from my fellow Recovering Yogi co-founders in this regard, and that’s cool. I give a wide berth for other beliefs, I really do. The world would be a way better place if everyone could just be okay with each other’s differing beliefs.

What I can’t deal with is when my friends who believe in astrology suddenly start acting like assholes to me every time that Mercury goes into Retrograde. It’s like, one day they’re being their normal, compassionate, interesting, adult selves, and the next day they are super sensitive, testy, and difficult. They do warn me; I’ll give them credit. They’ll say “Hey Mercury is about to go into Retrograde, so I’m feeling nervous,” and I’m like, uh-oh, here we go.

The next thing you know, they’re handing me their hot potato.

The yoga celebrity I used to work with had this expression he used liberally to describe someone trying to unload their psycho-spiritual baggage on someone else. It was called “handing off a hot potato.” As teacher trainees, we were instructed never to take someone else’s hot potato.

So the next time Mercury goes into Retrograde? Keep your astrological hot potato to yourself. I’ll just be going about my business as my normal, predictably moody, autonomous self. I don’t need the stars to align a certain way to be a pain in the ass. And I’m not going to have a bad day just because some distant fireball thinks I should.


** One of my favorite Pema Chodron quotes, which I’ve mentioned in previous posts but think bears repeating often:

“The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God.

Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there’s some hand to hold: if we just do the right things, someone will appreciate us and take care of us. It means thinking there’s always going to be a babysitter available when we need one.

We all are inclined to abdicate our responsibilities and delegate our authority to something outside ourselves.

Nontheism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves. We sometimes think that dharma is something outside of ourselves—something to believe in, something to measure up to. However, dharma isn’t a belief; it isn’t a dogma. It is total appreciation of impermanence and change. The teachings disintegrate when we try to grasp them. We have to experience them without hope. Many brave and compassionate people have experienced them and taught them.

The message is fearless; dharma was never meant to be a belief that we blindly follow. Dharma gives us nothing to hold on to at all.

Nontheism is finally realizing that there’s no baby sitter that you can count on. You just get a good one and then he or she is gone. Nontheism is realizing that it’s not just babysitters that come and go. The whole of life is like that. This is the truth, and the truth is inconvenient.

For those who want something to hold on to, life is even more inconvenient. From this point of view, theism is an addiction. We’re all addicted to hope—hope that the doubt and mystery will go away. This addiction has a painful effect on society: a society based on lots of people addicted to getting ground under their feet is not a very compassionate place.”


About Joslyn Hamilton

Joslyn Hamilton is a freelance writer living in beautiful Marin County, California. She is one of the co-founders of Recovering Yogi and also launched Creative Truth or Dare. Joslyn has an imaginary spice + skincare line called SimpleBasic. She is a functioning craftaholic and counts hiking, cooking, reading and rabid tweeting among her many chaste vices. Reach her directly at [email protected]


54 Responses to “Mercury in Retrograde is not a good excuse for you to be an asshole to me.”

  1. resourcetherapy says:

    Good one.

  2. YesuDas says:

    " I don’t need the stars to align a certain way to be a pain in the ass." You are a treasure, lady!

    You may like this–it's from Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage," in which Phillip, the semi-autobiographical protagonist, met a dissipated and largely unpublished poet in Paris named Cronshaw, who gave Phillip a remnant of a Persian carpet. The carpet, Cronshaw told him, held in it the answer to the meaning of life. Phillip kept the remnant for many years, through repeated failures and almost relentless suffering as he tried to find what the world called “success” in life. One day, long after the carpet fragment had been lost, Phillip realized, with the abruptness of revelation, the truth that had eluded him for so many years: life does not have any meaning.

    His insignificance was turned to power, and he felt himself suddenly equal with the cruel fate which had seemed to persecute him; for, if life was meaningless, the world was robbed of its cruelty. What he did or left undone did not matter. Failure was unimportant and success amounted to nothing…(T)hat was why Cronshaw, he imagined, had given him the Persian rug. As the weaver elaborated his pattern for no end but the pleasure of his aesthetic sense, so might a man live his life…Out of the manifold events of his life, his deeds, his feelings, his thoughts, he might make a design, regular, elaborate, complicated, or beautiful…In the vast warp of life (a river arising from no spring and flowing endlessly to no sea), with the background to his fancies that there was no meaning and that nothing was important, a man might get a personal satisfaction in selecting the various strands that worked out the pattern. There was one pattern, the most obvious, perfect, and beautiful, in which a man was born, grew to manhood, married, produced children, toiled for his bread, and died; but there were others, intricate and wonderful, in which happiness did not enter and in which success was not attempted; and in them might be discovered a more troubling grace…His life had seemed horrible when it was measured by its happiness, but now he seemed to gather strength as he realised that it might be measured by something else. Happiness mattered as little as pain. They came in, both of them, as all the other details of his life came in, to the elaboration of the design.

  3. vanessafiola says:

    "I’m a science girl, at heart, and I understand that the pull of the moon’s gravity controls the tides. That totally makes sense. But I have a hard time with the whole Mercury in Retrograde thing." Umm, Mercury in retrograde is totally scientific. Duh.

    Wicked good, again.

  4. TamingAuthor says:

    There is no doubt wisdom in avoiding the annoying foibles of individuals who hand you hot potatoes and other baggage, as though you were born to hold their psychic coat. In that respect I see the wisdom of your essay.

    Buried in that analysis, however, I detected fairly major fallacies as far as the nature of Buddhism and the nature of theism. In their developed or advanced forms, neither are as described. In that sense, you more or less handed your individual potato and psychic baggage to the reader. "Here, I would like to hang my materialism on you for a bit." In response the reader looks carefully at the potato and considers whether or not to make a recommendation for its disposition. : >)

  5. linda buzogany says:

    Eleven years ago today my son was dx'd with Type 1 diabetes…at the age of 2. I received a lot of comments from clueless people that I must have fed him too much sugar (they were looking for their own explanations). Needless to say, these comments were not helpful and even felt like a wound. As his blood sugar rollercoastered many times a day, day in and day out despite what we do, somewhere around year 5 I let go and stopped looking for anything that made sense in a predictable manner, in disease or in life. Thanks so much for the sensibility. Breath of fresh air. (and entertaining too!).
    Linda Buzogany

  6. Joe Mohr says:

    Great post!

  7. YesuDas says:

    Here's another one your piece brought to mind, from King Lear:

    This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
    when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
    of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
    disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
    if we were villains by necessity; fools by
    heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
    treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
    liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
    planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
    by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
    of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
    disposition to the charge of a star!

  8. Great blog and great discussion, Joslyn. I just happened to write this highly relevant poem this morning:

    Gita for a Fish

    Let's say you are a fish
    Swimming in the sea.

    Only you're a very very smart fish,
    Smart enough to realize
    That being a fish swimming in the sea
    Isn't all there is.

    You can see that you're part of
    A vast unknown ocean.

    You can see there are many other creatures
    And countless wondrous things
    To learn about and enjoy
    In this vast unknown ocean.

    You can even imagine
    That there may be a vast unknown world
    Beyond even the vast unknown ocean.

    You can also see
    How wondrous and amazing it is
    To be a fish,
    To revel in all the unfathomable workings
    Of your amazing fish body
    And your amazing fish mind.
    And how amazing it is
    To simply be able swim around
    In this vast unfathomable ocean.

    You can't ever fully figure out
    The vast reality
    Beyond your little fish world,
    The vast unknown ocean
    And the vast unknown world
    Beyond the vast unknown ocean.

    You can't even really figure out
    The incredible workings
    Of your little fish body
    And your billions of little fish cells
    And your amazing fish mind.

    But you can swim
    In continual awe and wonder
    At the vast unknown ocean
    And the vast unknown world
    Beyond the vast unknown ocean

    And you can be in continual amazement
    at the incredible workings
    Of your little fish body
    And your billions of little fish cells
    And the wonders
    Of all the other creatures and things
    You see all around you as you swim.

    And meanwhile you can settle in
    To simply being the best fish you can be.

  9. Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  10. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  11. This is priceless! Thank you so much for this. Makes my day. Shakespeare got it.

  12. That's my favorite Pema Chodron quote, too…

  13. TamingAuthor says:

    Pretty uninformed and yes, silly, expose of theism. Where are people getting their ideas today? What ever happened to actually studying a subject so that one understood it before launching off on goofy analyses? If (when) society collapses the cause will be the progressive education system that dumbed down America and trampled common sense and critical thinking. There is nothing that says that one should embrace theism, but at least one should have some familiarity with the material before making the decision.

  14. YesuDas says:

    Remember when Mrs. Arable took Fern to Dr. Dorian because she was alarmed at how much time Fern was spending in the barn, and she asked him what he thought about the writing in Charlotte's web, and he said that everybody says it's a miracle, but nobody seems to notice that the web itself is a miracle? I love that. Your poem reminds me of that, Bob.

  15. jessi smith says:

    thank you so much for this! as always – you are a rock star….and whether you are aware of it or not is not important, but I am glad you are still teaching yoga (in your own way 🙂

  16. YesuDas says:

    I have to agree, Greg.

  17. Renee says:

    I love this one!

  18. robin the dreamer says:

    you crack me up, joslyn. i want to hang out with you during the next mercury retrograde. or is one going on right now? [i try not to pay attention. but when 3 technology problems occur in one day then i usually blame it on mercury but i don't tell anyone about it ;)]

  19. Kris Nelson says:

    TA –

    Ha! I just realized the initials of your name could me something entirely different (and entirely more interesting).

    For a post that has very little to do with thiesm at large you sure seem hung up on this particular point. Any reason why?

  20. I have no clue. I have enough on my plate without keeping track of the movement of the planets!

  21. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  22. I love this story! In a way I think it's easier when you succumb to the random meaninglessness, right?

  23. Padma Kadag says:

    Not sure this comments on your humorous article…but I for one have noticed this conceptualization of "compassion" thing going on. We western buddhists and others have made compassion in to a buzz word and one more item on our list we must bring in to every conversation. It is very rare that person who automatically and quickly reaches out to those in need. Like your mom pulling you from a busy street. If ever you are in Napa Valley…come by where i make wine..your tasting is on the house.

  24. Padma Kadag says:

    Oh…I also appreciate your not giving yourself a +1 for your own comments…

  25. robin says:

    not that i was searching but it just jumped out at me. apparently, it's on now and over tomorrow… just in time for the hike sunday … haha

  26. edubble says:

    you crazy hindi's making it sound cool and intellectual to be a mystic. the diety' u worship (while performing yoga) are far more elaborate and twisted in fantasy/lucifarianism than many of the current new age thelema religions. in fact Aleister Crowley studied hinduism in india before he wrote the book of the law. u r just another false religion preaching false teachings no matter how hot and flexible the female yoga instructors are!

  27. jesustoe says:

    And Jim Jones based his bs on Christianity. Who cares?!

  28. Wonderful poem, Bob!

  29. Do people do that? I had no idea!

  30. gopindra says:

    @edubble, your response to this is, “my god is better than your god”? I am astounded by your lack of reading comprehension.

  31. TamingAuthor says:

    Not about theism or Buddhism? Wonder why those topics came up? Materialism arises less obviously in the assertion that things just happen and there is no causal role for the individual, whereas in theism and Buddhism (and in reality) we do play a role in the events that occur. We are not jetsam and flotsam adrift on a sea of random events. Right?

    Buddhism is not about psycho-spiritual baggage. It is about release from attachment brought on by ignorance. It is about awakening to the true nature of what is. It concerns enlightenment as to our true nature. There are many, however, who turn it into a matter of psycho-spiritual baggage. Many who trivialize the study by adding pop psychology to the mix.

    There is a problem of becoming attached to karmic imprints, which are baggage, but the approach to that situation, while similar, differs from the common therapeutic approach.

    My potato? Pretty much have my attention on alleviating suffering. Pretty much too serious about it… vacillate between "say something" and "let them suffer." When I am not directly in front of someone… for example, when I am writing comments, I tend to attempt to provoke looking. If possible I hand off a pink elephant that keeps drawing a person's attention back to a piece of the Dharma puzzle or the mystery of faith. The kind of thing that may cause internal unrest to which a person will return days, weeks, months, years, decades later and ask, "How does that work?" Most of the time my comments will make absolutely no sense until after this life… then they will pop up… "What did he say? How did that work? What do I do now?"

    What are you baking?

  32. TamingAuthor says:

    Did the article speak of theism? No hang up. Responding to the article. What are you hung up on? Do you have a point to make?

  33. Padma Kadag says:

    Im not completely 100% sure but….yea…they do. It is something I have been watching…usually its the prominent columnists. I find it …..well…interesting. Maybe we should do a study.

  34. Neil Galland says:

    Reading the "Razor's Edge" at 18 was a major turning point in my life. Your comment inspires me to sometime soon read it again and I look forward to the turns in the road ahead of me.
    I am very glad I scrolled down to read the comments. Honestly I could not make it too far into the article, it just had a sense of victim-ness and neediness straight from the title.
    I scrolled down to read the comments because I once commented about this to this author in the past and loved her reply. So I realized I am a big fan of her as a replier to comments, and a chooser of topics of discussions, I just do not so much enjoy actually reading her actual articles : ) From, your biggest non article reading fan, Neil and I still hope you change your bio photo to one where you are smiling : )

  35. Kris Nelson says:

    "The kind of thing that may cause internal unrest to which a person will return days, weeks, months, years, decades later and ask, "How does that work?" Most of the time my comments will make absolutely no sense until after this life… then they will pop up… "What did he say? How did that work? What do I do now?"

    Really? You must be super duper neato. Heavy much?

    What am I baking? Cheese cake – it's Easter. And simultaneously pointing out that perhaps people shouldn't take such things so seriously.

  36. […] Mercury in Retrograde is not a good excuse for you to be an asshole to me. […]

  37. […] that happen in the world on what seems like a relentless basis. Blame it on global warming, or Mercury in Retrograde, or bad karma… this planet is constantly in distress. Disasters happen; the world outpours […]

  38. […] I’ve had multiple run-ins with some bonafide assholes. I could blame it on Mercury being in retrograde or the collective pitta-aggravation of summer or something energetic like that but, in truth, I […]

  39. Jen says:

    Love this. Thank you!

  40. slsimms says:

    Interesting. I happen to be of the "things happen for a reason" lot; but I'm learning that whatever it is you believe…you're basically right so long as it doesn't infringe on someone else's right to believe what they want to believe and exist in a relatively peaceful manner.

    I agree that sometimes "awareness"—or too much of it anyway—can be a very bad thing for us. I think it becomes bad when it creates fear, dread, and a general avoidance of things we need to accomplish. So again, whatever your belief system, you're basically right; I'm sure that if you choose not to engage and Mercury retrograde-mania…you'll be just fine :0)

  41. […] week, I posted an article called “Mercury in Retrograde is not a good excuse for you to be an asshole to me.” It’s about theism, kind […]

  42. yogafirsthand says:

    'Amen' sister! 🙂

  43. Vanessa says:

    I do agree that there is much randomness in life. But we have total control over our thoughts, and its our thoughts that make our existence. As humans we have the ability to decide what we want to think, and our imagination is the canvas. I feel like life is totally a manifestation. I understand that poop happens, but I do not totally resign our abilities to create the lives that we want. If anything, I'd say it may be a mixture of both. There are far greater energies in this existence than we can control, but our thoughts can create anything we want. I suppose that's what balance is all about.

  44. Karen Jean says:

    thought provoking and well done..from one who strives to achieve balance between knowing the energetic laws are real..yet understanding what we can and cannot is complex and messy and wonderful and joyful..we co-create what we choose..and manage our "life" the best we can..enjoy the's all a matter of perspective mainly anyways. namaste

  45. Carolanne Stoner says:

    I believe in Jesus Christ. He made and created all and rules with love and benevolance over all. He controls everything — you need not be afraid of anything because if you believe in Him you are protected from all evil and Godlessness. It is a choice as to whether or not you believe in Him. I hope you will consider this carefully. It is our faith not our works that save us in Him. We need do nothing, He has done it all; just believe and relax in that knowledge. Ephesians 2: 8&9, "For we are saved by grace (unmerited favor-ordained by God (Jesus)) not our works by which we would boast." He has done it all — controls all energy, eveything. Love in Christ, Carolanne :.)

  46. mandy says:

    this is silly.
    it is possible to create your destiny, not be disappointed. people do get cancer and there is always a reason why everything happens. its called flow, one thing flows from another. everything affects everything else. science and spirituality are not seperate, but one and same.

  47. laura says:

    LOVE this

  48. Love this! Very witty and so true.