Reining in the Mind

Secrets of Mercury

Nicknamed “the lower mind” by medieval astrologers, Mercury doesn’t get pursued very deeply in most interpretation. A planet whose governance includes such mundane activities as walking, talking and thinking is not often plumbed for existential meaning. Astrologer Robert Hand calls Mercury’s operation “automatic thinking”: the rote intelligence we use in everyday functioning.But the more we delve into the planets’ meanings, the more we see that every one these symbols is a veritable treasure trove of coded secrets, of which today’s pop astrology only scratches the surface. Mercury no less than the other planets is a cache of esoteric revelations.

It takes a special kind of curiosity and patience to apply an extraordinary perspective to an ordinary experience. Retrogradation helps, too: this phase of a planet’s cycle offers an ideal opportunity to look for profound lessons hidden within life situations we take for granted.

The invitation hidden within Mercury transits is to observe the workings of our minds.

The mechanics of thought

The very idea of looking at our own mental processes may strike us as odd; like contemplating the color of our eyes while looking through them. The question arises: Don’t I need my mind to observe my mind? And anyway, who am I, if not my mental workings? If that voice in my head isn’t me, who is?Even if we go no further with the exercise than this, the transit has already paid off: it has made us notice something we’re conditioned to not notice. Just musing about the process of thinking — seeing it as a phenomenon that can be observed — liberates us from a limited use of Mercury. We become aware of a patently obvious but all-but-unquestioned assumption of Western civilization: that thinking is tantamount to consciousness.

Beyond Descartes

In the modern human psyche, the chattering mind has pretty much taken over. Descartes’ famous declaration “I think therefore I am” sums up the contemporary notion that one’s mental function is the be-all and end-all of one’s identity. But this notion did not prevail everywhere and always.1Astrology, by contrast, maintains that the intellect is no more than one of ten basic components of the human psyche. Humanistic astrologers see the mind as a tool of the life purpose (which itself is a tool of the soul). Far from being the seat of consciousness, the mind is merely an apparatus, a marvelous piece of equipment, that serves (or doesn’t serve) the whole person. There is quite a gap between this view and the way most of us operate, and it is this gap that should be our focus if we want to dig more deeply into Mercury’s teachings.

Different astrologers use astrology for different purposes. Not all look to planetary archetypes to reveal the mysteries of humanness. But those who do will find in transits of Mercury, especially its retrograde cycles, an opportunity to challenge their own thinking not only in content but in form.

Beyond the monkey mind

Most of us would agree that “peace of mind” is a worthy goal, if a tad abstract and remote. It is a well-known Buddhist idea that in order to awaken our consciousness, we must rein in the mind, gently subduing its unnecessary and repetitive noise. Zen and Vipassana, among many other spiritual systems, posit that not only is mental intelligence not the same thing as Being, but that our detachment from the mind is a prerequisite, ironically enough, to mindfulness.But there are also many secular schools of thought that teach distancing from the mind. It is a very old idea that in order to achieve excellence in any endeavor, from art and war to athletics, the mind must be disciplined into a concentrated state. The more practical of these traditions do not mention the lofty goal of enlightenment, but every one of them — from ancient martial-arts exercises to Silva Mind Control — proposes that our incessant internal yak-yak-yakking is an encumbrance to clarity and effectiveness.

Such systems teach control over not just the specific ideas being thought about, but over the thinking process itself. They presume the existence of a greater part of our selves — call it Chi, Willpower, or the Inner Observer — which is far greater than the sum of our thoughts.

Applying the theory

From personal experience, we have all noticed how just about any act can be made more efficient by deliberately focusing our thinking, as opposed to letting it meander wherever it wants to go. Those who have tried sitting meditation have taken this effort one step further. Yet trying to quell our mental wheel-spinning strikes many seekers as overly ambitious, even impossible.The very fact that it presents such a dilemma should at least pique our curiosity. If the mind is in control of us, rather than the other way around, might this not signal a kind of addiction? Surely any kind of addiction is an impediment to full self-empowerment.

The esoteric dimension of Mercury offers a challenge to students of human consciousness: that of questioning the gaping abyss between our theories about the lower mind and the actual application of such theories to moment-to-moment experience. This abyss is evidence that there is much about Mercury that has escaped our understanding.

No other psychic function is so over-used yet so under-utilized.


In A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle reminds us that Jean-Paul Sartre — of all people — came up with a response to Descartes that rivals Eastern philosophy in its subtlety: “The consciousness that says ‘I am’ is not the consciousness that thinks”. But dyed-in-the-wool intellectual that he was, Sartre did not follow up on the mystical implications of his own insight.