Slow Down, Step Back

January 24, 2015

“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.
~ Voltaire


At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical Californian, I’ve been having a Mercury-retrograde week.  For those of you not astrologically inclined, when the planet Mercury appears to be in retrograde motion, all sorts of mischief is said to occur: missed emails, arguments, misunderstandings, accidents, mechanical failures, mistakes in judgement.  Astrologers advise against signing contracts and caution us to drive carefully and back up computer files.  Even my friends who don’t follow the movement of the planets ask me, “Is Mercury retrograding or something?” whenever events seem chaotic.

The term retrograde comes from the Latin, retrogradus, a combination of retro (backward) and gradus (step).  To retrograde means, “to step backward”.

Up until several hundred years ago, Earth’s inhabitants thought we were the center of the Universe, and that the Sun, planets and stars moved in circles around us.  One complication of this worldview was that, occasionally, some of these planets seemed to stop and move backwards or zig-zag across the sky.  In ancient times, this was interpreted as the whim of the Gods.  Mercury’s seemingly quick and erratic movement, from the perspective of Earth-dwellers, earned him/her the reputation of a trickster.

Astronomers have since discovered that the Sun is the center of our galaxy and that we, along with the other planets, move around it.  Since we are all going around the Sun at different speeds, Mercury only appears to move backward in the sky.  What is really happening is that the planet is slowing down.

Both the Earth and Mercury move around the Sun.  Not only does Mercury move faster than the Earth does, its orbit is elliptical (oval or egg-shaped), so the speed of its orbit changes.  The point in that elliptical when Mercury is furthest from the Sun is also the slowest point in its orbit.  This slowing down gives Earth a chance to catch up.

The best way to illustrate this phenomenon is to imagine you (Earth) are on the freeway.  The car in the lane next to you (Mercury) has been driving at a faster speed and you have been lagging behind it.  Suddenly, the other car slows down.  When that happens, it appears to move backwards.  The other car is still traveling faster than you are, but in comparison to you, it seems to move back and forth as it either slows down or picks up its own speed.

When planets like Mercury appear to stop and move backwards, they are not changing direction at all.  Only from the perspective of Earth does this seem to happen.  In fact, from Mercury’s perspective, the Sun moves retrograde sometimes.

So why does the collective belief (seemingly stronger today than ever before) that the apparent retrograde motion of Mercury causes mishaps and miscommunication persist?  I’m not sure.  The Moon is close enough to Earth to move the ocean’s tides and, according to some studies, affect our sleep patterns.  Could  Mercury’s orbital pattern have some sort of magnetic affect on Earth’s activities?  Perhaps.  It is also possible that the collective consciousness of Earth’s inhabitants over the millennia, as we have observed the planets move through the sky, has influenced outcomes (mind over matter, so to speak).

Either way, the key to surviving seemingly chaotic Mercury retrograde periods is perspective.  When we take a moment to widen our view outside the personal and let go of the idea that we are the center of the Universe, events outside of our control become easier to accept.

Back to my retrograde week.  This last Tuesday evening, the night before Mercury appeared to stop and move backwards in the sky, my neighbor rang my doorbell to tell me that my car had a flat tire. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that all four of my tires were bald.

Luckily, I had the next day off.  I called roadside service to put on my spare.  Luckier still, there is a tire repair place walking distance from my house.  I was able to successfully haggle a good price and replaced all four of my tires.

The flat tire at first seemed like a classic Mercury retrograde mishap.  But what, in the beginning, appeared to be a setback, turned out to be a blessing.  When I took a step back and looked at the big picture, I realized that, rather than causing havoc, Mercury was actually slowing down to show me that my tires were unsafe.  This flat tire could have happened when I was far from home or out late at night.  It could have blown out on the freeway, causing an accident.  What could have been a major catastrophe, ended up being only a minor inconvenience.  For that I am grateful.

So, when events seem to be going all wrong and not according to your plan, slow down, take a step back, and widen your perspective.

“A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.”
~ Samuel Grafton


Slow down for a few days and make some White House Kimchi.


White House Simple Kimchi
The First Lady tweeted out this photo and recipe last year for Kimchi after making the condiment with Napa cabbage, picked from the White House Garden. You can substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce, if you are a vegetarian.  You can cut this recipe in half, if you like.  Note: I added some tips to the First Lady’s recipe (in italics).

2 heads Napa cabbage, washed
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce, any brand (could skip for vegetarian)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar or brown sugar
1 small white radish, sliced paper thin
1 bunch scallion, sliced
5 Thai chilies or 5 tablespoons Korean dried chili powder

You will probably need two quart-sized mason jars for this recipe.

Cut the Napa cabbage into 1-inch slices.  Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with the kosher salt.  Mix, using your hands, and set in the refrigerator overnight.

Rinse the salt from the leaves and squeeze out as much moisture or excess liquid as possible.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Place in an airtight jar (mason jar works well), pack the veggies into the jar tightly, and store in the refrigerator.

The pickle should be ready in about four days.

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