Saturday, April 30, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote - April 30, 2016

“Be happy for no reason, like a child. If you are happy for a reason, you’re in trouble because that reason can be taken from you.”

Much easier said than done, don’t you think, being happy for no reason? Surely, our happiness depends on reasons presenting themselves and triggering feelings of happiness in us? I feel it’s more that children are not encumbered, as we adults may tend to be, with the worries of daily life, but just take the day as it comes without worrying or stressing about what it may bring. Wonderful eh? Oh that we could be like that again! We have learned over time, however, that the people or things that bring happiness into our lives can, through circumstances outwit our control, be taken away from us. It would therefore pay us, if we could, to be happy just for the sake of being happy.


Art & Science Fusion

"Diane and I feel like the students need to break across what E.O. Wilson calls "the borderland." We have an entomologist, a botanist, a horticulturist; artists, musicians and photographers come in and talk to the students. We have a photography class and the professor, Terry Nathan, is an atmospheric scientist. He came to us and said, "I've been a bit of a photographer all my life, but there was never room for it." I said, "There's room here! You're from the borderland. Come on in! He teaches every spring quarter, and its packed. Every one of the instructors has a different approach. Our Art/Science Fusion program is committed to environmental literacy, creativity, collaboration and art making."

Friday, April 29, 2016

You Can Be More Productive Without Sacrificing Happiness

By Kira M. Newman 

A Q&A with Charles Duhigg about his new book, Smarter Faster Better.

When Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Charles Duhigg talks about productivity, he’s not just talking about efficiency and profits and time management. To him, what it means to be productive is bound up with the idea of happiness.
Productivity is figuring out “the best uses of our energy, intellect, and time as we try to seize the most meaningful rewards with the least wasted effort,” writes the New York Times reporter in his new book, Smarter Faster Better. “It’s about getting things done without sacrificing everything we care about along the way.”
Duhigg’s previous book, The Power of Habit, was primarily about action—specifically, how habits drive nearly everything we do in life and in business. Now, Smarter Faster Better looks at how the happiest and most productive among us think: how they motivate themselves, stay focused, make decisions, and absorb information.
“Productive people and companies force themselves to make choices most other people are content to ignore. Productivity emerges when people push themselves to think differently,” he writes.
I sat down with Duhigg to explore the connection between productivity and happiness more deeply, and how we can apply principles of productivity to our quest for a more meaningful life.
Kira M. Newman: Smarter Faster Better is a book about why some people and some organizations are so much more productive than others. How can we apply its lessons to the goal of living a happier, more fulfilling life?
Charles Duhigg: Many people feel like they’re not fulfilled and not satisfied because they feel completely overwhelmed by what they’re being asked to get done every single day.
The most productive people only have 24 hours in each day, just like we do. What’s different about them is they’re better at encouraging themselves to think more deeply about what actually matters—what they should be spending time on—rather than reacting to the demands around them. They’re more practiced at thinking about what the right priorities are, how I self-motivate about the things that matter to me most.
In many ways, it’s because they set up contemplative routines in their life, habits that they return to that allow them to reflect on what they’re doing and whether they’re making the best choices at that particular moment. Life gets so busy and so overwhelming that it’s oftentimes hard to reflect, hard to think. But we know that the most important step in being productive, in being satisfied and fulfilled, is giving ourselves time and space to think about what’s most important to us.
KN: Does creativity have a role to play in this process, and what would that look like?
CD: Creativity looks like exposing yourself to a whole bunch of new experiences that you haven’t had previously. Journaling is great because it creates a space for contemplation. If you are having new experiences, if you’re pushing yourself to go to museums you’ve never gone to before, or performances you’ve never seen, or to meet new kinds of people, and then that’s it—you’re not taking that information and you’re not somehow processing it—then you’re not really going to benefit from it in the way that you’re hoping to. 
What is key is to push yourself to somehow contemplate on that. And simply saying “contemplate on that” isn’t enough because we’re all so busy; we have kids and we have jobs and life conspires to fill up our days. So the most productive and successful people tend to find ways to force themselves to think more deeply, whether that means that they write letters to friends or they force themselves to exercise and not listen to music while they’re exercising so they can think about what’s coming up that day, or they’re using a gratitude journal as a way of thinking about what happened that was important to them that they can draw from.
There’s a huge amount of emphasis around gratitude, but what actually is gratitude? It’s a system of thinking to ourselves about what we are thankful for and then why: why that thing is important, why that thing matters. It’s that step of asking ourselves why that really allows us to learn the lessons from that experience. Why is critical to how we actually think. And thinking is the thing that allows us to become more productive or to become more creative or to become happier. You’re not happier because you turn your brain off; you’re happier because you encourage yourself to think more deeply about what actually matters. 
KN: In your book, you talk about how a sense of control is crucial to self-motivation and productivity. How do we gain a sense of control over our own happiness and our own emotional experience?
CD: Our brain wants to exert control. Our brain has an innate need to feel some control over our lives, and we become self-motivated when we find ways to feel control over the situation that we’re in. Oftentimes, that means looking for this subversive opportunity to assert ourselves.
In the book, we talk about the example of a nursing home study. When researchers were trying to figure out why some people thrived in nursing homes and other people declined precipitously, they found that people who were most self-motivated to take advantage of the resources of a nursing home—to start exercise routines or to sign up for classes—went out of their way to find ways to prove to themselves that they were still alive, that they were in control of their own lives.
One of my favorite examples is one nursing home that would serve residents a meal on a tray, based on their medical needs, so you got this pre-served meal every night and every day. There was this one guy in particular who loved chocolate cake, and the nursing home would give him chocolate cake every single day. And he would sit down and—instead of eating the chocolate cake—trade it with his dining companions for fruit or something else. The researchers went to him and said, “Why are you doing this? You love chocolate cake. You told us you love chocolate cake.” And he said, “I would rather eat a meal of my own design than something delicious that’s been forced on me.”
That embodies the spirit we find in people who are particularly adept at self-motivation. They look for these opportunities to almost subversively assert their will. They look for these opportunities to do what they want to do instead of what the system around them wants them to do.
If you’re replying to emails, for instance, this might mean that you sit down and you open up a whole bunch of replies and you go through each one and you type a half-sentence simply asserting some preference. If someone’s asking you to take a meeting, you say, “Sure, I’ll do it, but I’m only going to spend 15 minutes.” Or if they’re asking you to go to lunch, you say, “Yeah, I’ll go to lunch with you, but we have to go to Indian food, that’s what I want to eat.”
That is how we actually cultivate our capacity for self-motivation. That’s how we trigger the parts of our brain where self-motivation resides.
The more we can find opportunities to take control, to assert ourselves, to be ourselves, to express our unique artistic vision or to make a choice, those are situations where our happiness is more likely to take root. The act of simply choosing makes our brain happy. And there are so many times when we feel like we don’t have a choice, but if you look closely enough, you can actually find some decision that allows you to assert who you are.
KN: For people who are reading lots of books telling them how to live more fulfilling and more productive lives, how can they turn all that knowledge into action?
CD: The key is that they have to actually interact with the ideas. The way we interact with the ideas is by forcing ourselves to explain them to others, by running experiments, by trying to figure out how to explain to ourselves what the idea was. This is called “disfluency” in the academic literature: We have to scuff up information, make it something we interact with, in order to actually learn from it.
The key to that, for instance, is saying, “Okay, I just read this book, it had this one idea, it’s kind of interesting. I’m going to come up with an experiment and I’m going to figure out what success for that experiment would look like and what failure for that experiment would look like, and then I’m going to do it.” So tomorrow, I’m going to try and respond to emails by typing half a sentence where I’m asserting myself somehow, or I’m going to spend my commute trying to envision every hour of the coming day and figure out “What’s my goal for this hour? What do I want to get done? How do I remind myself of that?”
When you’re coming up with experiments, when you’re looking at these ideas as hypotheses that you want to test, then you’re actually preparing yourself to really engage with the ideas, to learn from them—instead of just letting them slide past your eye.

Daily Inspirational Quote - April 29, 2016

“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”

We all have dreams we want realized in our lives and strive to make these a reality and not just something in our head. Something to aim and hope for can be vital in giving us reasons to keep going through the not so good times. A life without dreams would be a poor life indeed. However, perhaps it would pay us to look deep within ourselves, our very spirit, in order to discover our true goals or reasons to keep going. This deeper insight may be the tool we use to awaken our sense of who we really are and what we actually need in order to awaken us from the sleep of unawareness.


5 Things Science Says Will Make You Happier

Happy people are healthier; they get sick less often and live longer. They have more friends, make more money and are more productive at work. Decades of research show that happiness is not just a personal issue, but a matter of public health, global economics, and national well-being. Although it isn't easy, there are some proven methods...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Grateful For American Dream, Immigrant CEO Shares Millions With Workers at Chobani

A desire to give back to the country where his overwhelming success was made possible, the boss of a yogurt empire just made more dreams possible for 2,000 of his employees at Chobani–offering them each a huge economic windfall.

Chobani’s Turkish CEO Handi Ulukaya is giving every full-time worker ownership stakes in the multi-billion dollar company. The program, “Chobani Shares”, is offering 10% of the corporation’s stock as incentive to stay and continue working.

“This isn’t a gift,” Ulukaya wrote in a letter to factory employees in upstate New York. “It’s a mutual promise to work together with a shared purpose and responsibility. To continue to create something special and of lasting value.”

Ulukaya has emphasized that the goal of the program is to pass along the wealth that he and the workers have built together. Unlike most companies, the workers at Chobani, which means “shepherd’ in Turkish, will not have to pay for the units which – if saved and used correctly – could make some of them millionaires.

Since a young Ulukaya immigrated to America from a dairy-farming family and a decade later, in 2005, started the yogurt company, he has donated most of his wealth – 700 million dollars – to aiding Kurdish refugees, as well as personally flying to Lesbos, Greece to offer help during the Syrian refugee crisis. Beyond launched a foundation called TENT, he also has initiated a campaign that urges businesses to hire refugees around the world.

“I watched my mother give to those who needed and it came from the most amazing place in her heart,” Ulukaya said when he signed The Giving Pledge last year, following in the footsteps of Bill Gates and other millionaires in vowing to give away half their wealth.

“In 1994, I came to New York to study English and later became drawn to the idea that anyone can start something in America,” Ulukaya added. “All you needed was a dream and the willingness to take a risk.”

“I took a loan from the Small Business Administration, bought an old yogurt plant and brought a small group of us together to make the real, wholesome yogurt of my childhood,” he said. “Since day one, I wanted to stand for something even bigger than the natural food we made, so we have given 10% of our profits to charity through the Chobani Foundation.

Daily Inspirational Quote - April 28, 2016

“Pay attention to whatever inspires you, for it is “spirit” trying to communicate with you, that’s why it’s called “inspiration” as “inspirit.” Listen to it, believe it, and act on it.”

Basically, this means, don’t dismiss those “coincidences”, signs, etc., you may experience but acknowledge them for what they are and act accordingly. It may be Spirit trying to catch your attention and make you aware of someone or something or an action you need to take. I love it when this happens because it’s validation that a “higher power” has you in it’s sights and is attempting to make something known to you by giving you signs or nudges in the right direction. How special does that make you feel? So never ignore whatever your “gut” is telling you but look forward to something exciting coming forward.


The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

"How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant studies 'originals': thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals - including embracing failure. 'The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they're the ones who try the most,' Grant says. 'You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.'"

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

How Positive Media Can Make Us Better People

By Sophie H. Janicke

Research sometimes suggests that movies and other media are a negative influence to rein in. But new studies highlight their potential to spread goodness on a wide scale.

Deadpool is the highest-grossing film in the United States so far this year—and one of the most controversial. Though the film has scored points with critics and audiences for its irreverent take on the superhero genre, its extreme gore has raised some familiar questions and objections about the role of violence in films.
But look at the highest-grossing film of 2016 internationally, and you’ll find a different type of movie:Zootopia, a family-friendly animated film that has been praised for its positive messages about the harm of stereotypes and prejudice.
How does consuming these different types of films impact us as individuals and as a society?
For a long time, media researchers focused almost entirely on the harmful effects of media, including the effects of media violence on aggression, the media’s role in increasing racial and gender stereotypes, and its potential to shape people’s perception of the world as a dangerous place. Indeed, since the dawn of talking movies in the 1930s, debates have raged about the potential anti-social effects of media.
However, more recently, scholarship in media psychology is starting to look at the flip side: the positive effects media can have when it’s more uplifting and inspiring. In the last few years, studies have illustrated how, just as some films, TV shows, and other media can foster anti-social behavior, media with positive images and messages can make us want to become better people and help others—to become more “prosocial,” as we researchers put it. I’ve conducted several of these studies myself, and I think the implications of this research are very exciting: Rather than simply seeing media as a negative influence to rein in, we’re beginning to understand its potential to spread goodness on a wide scale.
For example, a 2012 study by one of the seminal scholars in the field, Mary Beth Oliver of Penn State University, identified the power of films that elicit “elevation,” the warm, uplifting feeling we get when we watch someone perform deeply moral acts, such as acts of gratitude, generosity, or loyalty. In this study, Oliver and her colleagues asked 483 students to recall either a particularly meaningful or a particularly pleasurable movie they watched recently and to indicate the degree to which they felt joyful or elevated from watching it. When the researchers analyzed the content of these movies, they found that, sure enough, the meaningful movies depicted altruistic values, such as social justice and care for the weak, significantly more often than the pleasurable movies did.
They also found that the meaningful movies elicited greater feelings of elevation among respondents, which was expressed in a distinct set of emotional and physical sensations: feeling happy and sad at the same time, a lump in one’s throat, tearing up, a rising or opening of the chest, and chills.
What’s more, these feelings of elevation, in turn, were associated with a greater motivation to become a better person and do good things for others; the pleasurable movies, by contrast, motivated people to enjoy themselves and seek popularity.

Research also suggests that movies can influence not only our desire to do good but also the way we perceive the world as a whole. This research builds on earlier findings that the amount of TV people watch correlates with the degree to which they will see the world as a dangerous place, also known as “mean-world syndrome.” Research on inspiring media, by contrast, suggests that exposure to elevating media may have the potential to shift our perception of the world toward a “kind-world syndrome.”
For example, a 2011 study led by Karl Aquino of the University of British Columbia found that people who experienced elevation from reading a story about uncommon goodness became more likely to believe that there is good in the world. The more people experienced elevation, the more they perceived the world to be full of generosity and kindness. And research suggests there might be concrete benefits to this mental shift: Studies indicate that holding a cynical worldview—to only expect the worst of people—is actually bad for your health; however, seeing humanity’s positive potential can make us feel good (we experience positive emotions), which, in turn, can lead to anupward spiral of well-being.
Research that my colleagues and I have conducted points to social benefits of meaningful films as well. We asked 266 students to identify films that are meaningful to them; their responses generated a long list of movies, with the most popular ones being Remember the Titans, Forrest Gump, andEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
We found that these films are more likely than pleasurable films to depict values of love, kindness, and connectedness, and to elicit elevation. In addition, experiencing elevation from such movies made the participants feel more connected to dear friends and family, as well as to the transcendent, spiritual aspects of life—which, in turn, inspired a host of prosocial motivations. Specifically, watching a movie such as A Walk To Remember or The Blindside made them feel a general sense of compassionate love for people, made them want to help people less fortunate than themselves, and generally made them want to be kind and good to fellow human beings, even strangers.
Our findings highlight that elevation not only makes us feel more connected toward people we know but also makes us feel compassionate toward people we don’t—even to the point that we’re motivated to make sacrifices for strangers. The study suggests that the elevation we get from films can help us transcend our egocentric bias and forge more compassionate connections to others.
Of course, making these positive changes stick is not something that happens overnight. Nor is it enough to see portrayals of moral beauty, kindness, and generosity only every once in a while. For positive media to have strong, lasting effects on us individually or collectively, I believe we need to consume it consistently, over time, just as eating right only once a week does not make us healthier.
But it is encouraging to see that these effects are possible, and that our media consumption patterns can be a force for good in the world, not just a way to make media companies rich. The research on positive media is still evolving (and I will be covering more of it in future Greater Good articles). But so far, it suggests that when we select inspiring content on TV, in films, or through social media, we’re not just making ourselves feel good in the moment. We’re nurturing our instincts for compassion and kindness.

Daily Inspirational Quote - April 27, 2016

“There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path.”

Exactly! I couldn’t have said it better myself. Allow happiness to live within and around you as you travel your path in life. Forget trying to find the path to where you think you will find it and instead look within yourself. Each of us is capable of finding and realizing our own personal version of what makes us happy so wouldn’t it benefit us to just concentrate on this rather than spending valuable time searching for something we already possess?


Changing the World One Word at a Time

Listen to Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen, members of the Get Lit organization, who are determined to change the world, one word at a time. In this performance of "Somewhere in America," they open for singer John Legend at the Hollywood Bowl. The poem calls to attention the kind of information passed along unintentionally in classrooms, and addresses some hard truths and dark topics based on personal experiences. "I think poetry is the best way to express emotions..." McGavin says, "Its an amazing way to help people, especially teens."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Daily Inspirational Quote - April 26, 2016

“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.”

This is very true isn’t it, but it’s something we all do nevertheless! We all have worry “buttons” some of us bigger ones than others. We worry about everything, occasionally over nothing very much but, at other times, we have good reasons for worrying. Once that worry is planted in your head nothing will shift it, so it stays there, making it’s presence known. Great if we can solve it easily and consign it to the worry waste basket. Not so great if seems insurmountable. However, if we need to worry, much better to worry about tomorrow’s worry tomorrow rather than allow it to destroy the peace of today.


Peace is Possible: The Remarkable Story of A Prison Friendship

"For more than 50 years, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (in Spanish, FARC) have been fighting a guerrilla war for social justice. In response, the rich and powerful created paramilitary forces to defend the existing social order. On both sides, those doing the fighting are mostly poor villagers and workers." In this interview, we learn of an extraordinary and unlikely friendship between Ciliana, a former member of the Paramilitary forces, and Claudia, a former FARC member -- both serving prison terms in a prison that houses women sentenced for violence on all sides of the conflict. Claudia and Ciliana are cellmates -- and best friends. In the midst of a divisive world they are exploring the meaning of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Does Mind-Wandering Make You Less Caring?

By Hooria Jazaieri 

According to a new study, how caring we are is linked to how much we pay attention to the present moment.

Where is your attention right now? Humans are thought to spend much of our waking hours not in the present moment. What’s more, we are rarely even aware of the fact that our minds have wandered.
Past studies have suggested that mind-wandering has negative effects on our mood and even our physical health. In a recently published study in the Journal of Positive Psychology, my colleagues and I sought to understand whether mind-wandering also makes us less caring—and what we can do about it.
We recruited 51 adults and pinged them twice a day for nine weeks while they were enrolled in a compassion cultivation training course. We were interested in a few things: First, we wanted to find out how much people’s minds were wandering, and to what types of things (pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant topics). Because participants were enrolled in the compassion meditation course, we wanted to find out (on a given day) whether they had completed any formal compassion meditation practices and whether they had engaged in a kind, caring, or helpful behavior toward themselves or someone else.
Caring behaviors toward themselves might include asking for help, taking care of their body (with sleep, diet, or exercise), engaging in nourishing, soothing activities (e.g., cooking, gardening, taking a bath, massage). Caring behaviors toward others might include letting someone go ahead of them at the checkout, smiling at a stranger, picking up a piece of trash in the street, or mindfully listening to a friend.
Our findings showed that a wandering mind can be less caring. Specifically, mind-wandering to unpleasant or neutral topics (rather than pleasant topics) predicted less caring behavior toward oneself and others on a given day. Meanwhile, mind-wandering to pleasant topics actually predicted more caring behavior toward oneself and others.
Given prior research suggesting that when our minds wander we’re unhappy, it’s possible that mind-wandering to negative events produces negative emotions that narrow our attention and lead us to miss opportunities for caring. In contrast, when our minds wander to positive events, we may experience positive feelings that broaden our attention and allow us to more fully engage in the present moment and the potential for caring. Past research is a bit mixed on whether people are actually happier when thinking about pleasant topics rather than engaging in the present, so additional studies are needed to explicitly investigate this.
Fortunately, our research suggests that training in compassion may be able to alter the habitual patterns of mind-wandering. Prior to the compassion program, participants’ minds were wandering about 59.1 percent of the time, a higher rate than earlier studies have reported (46.9 percent). At the end of the nine-week program, however, their overall mind-wandering had decreased to 54.5 percent of the time, including a slight increase in mind-wandering to pleasant topics.
More importantly, when participants reported engaging in compassion meditation practices on a given day, they also reported less mind-wandering to unpleasant topics and more mind-wandering to pleasant topics. Thus, regular compassion practice may have the dual effect of increasing and decreasing different types of mind-wandering.

If you find that your mind often drifts to negative topics, consider trying some exercises and meditations that are part of the compassion cultivation training program:
  • Settling and Focusing the Mind: When you notice that your attention has wandered, gently bring it back to your breath.
  • Lovingkindness and Compassion for a Loved One: Bring to mind a loved one and wish them well. Think about a time when this person was experiencing difficulties and wish them well.
  • Lovingkindness and Compassion for Oneself: Bring to mind an image of yourself and wish yourself well. Think about a time when you were experiencing some difficulties and wish yourself well. 
  • Embracing Common Humanity: Call to mind three different people in your life: someone whom you’re close to, a neutral person, and someone with whom you’ve had some difficulties. Think about how all of these people share a basic yearning to be happy and free from suffering; in this respect, all of these people are the same. 
  • Compassion for Others: Expand your scope of awareness to include people living in your neighborhood, city, state, country, continent, and so forth. Reflect on how just as you wish to be happy and free from suffering, so do they. In this respect, we are all connected.
  • Active Compassion (“Tonglen”): When breathing in, imagine taking away the pain and suffering of others; when breathing out, imagine sending out happiness and good fortune.
Our study adds to the growing literature that suggests that, more often than not, our minds are wandering. While mind-wandering has received a lot of criticism, the story may be a bit more nuanced—perhaps not all mind-wandering is bad. One thing seems to be clear, though: We can train our minds to intentionally shift how often and where our minds wander, and this may be part of becoming a more compassionate and caring person for the benefit of ourselves and others.

Mercury Retrograde: Above the Hype and Beyond the Spin

by Marguerite Manning

(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)

Call me crazy, but Mercury retrograde doesn't scare me. In fact, I may be one of the few astrologers I know who actually looks forward to those three weeks in every Mercury orbit when we here on this planet end up with a ringside seat to the most famous of cosmic optical illusions. Yes, illusion, because, as most of us already know, that's what Mercury retrograde is. A three-week celestial "psych" in which Mercury, the astrological planet of the mind, cleverly messes with ours by appearing to travel backward in the sky.

How is that possible? Well, when it comes to Mercury, just about anything is. After all, this is the planet our ancient astronomers named after the winged messenger of the Gods. The planet so blindingly fast and incredibly agile that they professionally acknowledged it as the universal influence responsible for connecting us to each other, which is how it officially became the astrological poster planet for language, information, people, and ideas. Then again, even by today's standards, what could personify speed and networking better than Mercury? As the closest planet to the Sun, it has the shortest orbit in the solar system and takes only 88 days to make one complete trip around the Sun. If that isn't impressive enough, it somehow manages to pass the earth twice every time that it does: first, when it whizzes by us on the same side of the solar system where we can see it, and then a few weeks later, when it loops around and zooms past us again on the opposite side of the Sun where we can't. No wonder the ancients believed this planet was "quicker than the eye." In fact, the retrograde fun and games only take place because once every 88 days, Mercury actually is.

It all begins when almost immediately after passing us on that first Mercury "drive-by" this very small planet comes to the end of that very short orbit, and almost just as immediately (instead of continuing on the same angle in the sky), "swings"; into that loop on its way to the other side of the solar system. Now here's the reality-buster for us: we never see that happen. Why? Because even though we never lose sight of Mercury after it zips ahead of us in the solar system, we’re never at an angle where we can actually see Mercury "loop" to the other side of it. So when it does, we don't realize it has. That is the stuff that cosmic illusions are made of, because once Mercury gets there and starts heading for the other side of the Sun, to all of us here on this planet, it "appears" to start drifting backwards against the stars.

Now don't be fooled; perspective is everything in astrology. So while it's true that Mercury's backward motion is not an actual celestial occurrence, that doesn't mean Mercury retrograde is not a powerful astrological influence. We all know it is. What I think many of us don't realize, however, is that it's not a negative one. But then, I have always believed we practice astrology backwards (you know, by focusing more on the effects of certain astrological influences in our lives, rather than the universal purpose for them). Ironically (when it comes to Mercury retrograde), I'm convinced our perspective couldn't be more backward, because when it comes to this particular heavenly happening, the hype couldn't be more negative. I mean really. We're told not to buy, not to sign, not to fly, not to call, but most of all during these three weeks, we're told not to expect anything other than frustrating setbacks and irritating snafus. So we don't. What's more, we go out of our way to make sure we stay out of Mercury's way while never once wondering why it spends 21 days "pretending" to go out of its way for us. We count the days until it goes direct, believing that when it does, having dodged the "retrograde bullet," our lives (and Internet access) will return to normal, and we'll be back at the top of our intellectual game once again. I couldn't disagree more. In fact, as a practicing astrologer who is no stranger to the astrological whims and antics of Mercury (Gemini Sun, rising Virgo), it's both my professional opinion and my personal experience that Mercury retrograde gets an incredibly overblown and equally undeserved rap, mostly because after years of being on the receiving end of it (and anything else this planet has to offer), I now know better. This is one universal influence that is not only highly misunderstood, but thanks to the astrological "Chicken Little effect," sadly underused. Then again, with half the population hiding under their beds every 88 days, how could it not be?

So how do we move past the "run for cover" rhetoric of Mercury retrograde and make it work for us? By fighting fire with astrological fire and changing our perspective on what this influence does to us. In fact, if there's one way to turn the universal tables on Mercury retrograde, it would have to be by looking beyond the dropped calls and lost baggage we're convinced it creates, and instead focusing on it's primary purpose for being at the universal table to begin with. So what would that be? What universal purpose could this astrological planet of communications and networking possibly serve by "appearing" to travel backwards in the heavens for 21 days out of every 88-day orbit? Good question, but the way I see it, only one answer: Mercury retrograde is the astrological influence that "cosmically" revisits, retrieves, and reveals everything that managed to elude our conscious awareness in the preceding 88 days, because its one universal purpose is to provide us with an opportunity to discover anything that actually did. Think about that for a minute, because once you do Mercury retrograde becomes more than just an astrological excuse for all the less than perfect data, communications, and merchandise that we can't help but encounter during that dreaded three-week period. A lot more. It becomes what I believe it has always been since the beginning of time: a universal instrument for bringing them to our attention. In short, that intellectual "second chance" we all yearn for to go back and find the facts, after the fact.

That being the case, is it any wonder then that unforeseen delays, unknown defects, and unlimited do-overs are part of the Mercury retrograde big picture? It shouldn't be. Not when we look at the entire picture from the right perspective, because once we do, we can't help but see these things for what they really are: annoying inconveniences. The kind that always comes with unexpected findings. So when the new toaster has to be returned or the flight home has to be cancelled, wouldn't it make more sense to pay more attention to the actual data, words, thoughts, or individuals that suddenly emerged and caused those things to happen? Or better yet, to what could have happened if they hadn't emerged when they did? Besides, when anything unknown finally makes its way to the 11th hour surface of our 10th hour conscious awareness, how could that not be a good thing? It can't. Even if we're not prepared for it.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying you should be signing major contracts or getting married when Mercury goes retrograde. Come on, if you've been paying attention you know by now that this particular influence is our universal "recall," the one that provokes anything hidden to rear its ugly head. So until it passes and Mercury goes direct, there's bound to be fallout. But here's the thing: whatever that ugly "head" is, you really do want to know about it. You just don't want to be committed to it before you do, which is exactly why the "hiding under the bed" solution to Mercury retrograde is really no solution at all. It's also why I believe this is not just a great time to go looking for the perfect partner, but the perfect time to actually find the right one. In fact, I personally encourage everyone in general, and women in particular, to use the powers of Mercury retrograde for just such a purpose. Why? Because if you're out there actively looking for "Mr. Right" during these 21 days, one thing's for sure: he can run, but he can't hide. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, neither can "Mr. Nobody," "Mr. Wrong," and "Mr. Loser." This is really a whole lot better than it sounds, because while it does mean you might have to deal with every Tom, Dick, and Harry stumbling across your radar screen during a retrograde happy hour, it also means you'll never have to worry about any Moe, Larry, or Curly sneaking under it. It just can't happen when this little planet is out there leaving no stone unturned and no punch un-pulled. Mostly because when it is, we can't help but find, learn, and see something that we might have missed before. Or, for that matter, already did. Which makes the truth of the Mercury retrograde matter really quite simple: the trivial frustrations we're forced to deal with when concealed information comes to our attention always pale in comparison to the intellectual power that becomes available to us whenever it does. Always.

I don't know about you, but I can live with that. In fact, because I do, I've learned to work with it as well, and quite effectively. What's more, based on that personal experience, in my humble opinion, there is really no better time to uncover elusive information, find lost articles, or learn what you absolutely need to know than when this little planet is doing it's dreaded "backstroke" through the universe. Really. In fact, for that very reason I now use those three weeks for that very purpose: uncovering information that's been eluding me, understanding concepts that have been escaping me, or discovering hidden sources that were unknown to me. Not to mention the even more critical ones, like finding that perfect kitchen wallpaper, locating that lost set of keys, or "accidentally" running into those otherwise normally tight-lipped individuals who at this particular time (through no fault of their own) just can't, don't, or won't keep a secret (pay dirt). After all, it goes without saying that during this particular three-week period, nothing goes without saying. Nothing. However, by just being aware of that, I have found that you're a lot more likely to get the scoop you're looking for and a lot less likely to spill your own guilty guts while you're looking for it. Still, you'd be wise to always keep a few well-polished apologies handy during this period and even wiser to never hit the "send" button without verifying exactly to whom you're sending what (it happens). As far as I'm concerned, a small price to pay for all the power that's up for grabs. The power that comes with being "in the know."

So how can we harness it? For starters, we can put this untapped celestial search engine to good use. If Mercury's primary universal purpose is to teach us that knowledge is power, doesn't it make sense that it only goes retrograde to remind us that ignorance is not bliss? It does to me, which is why I make a checklist of "Things-I-Absolutely-Need-To-Know" for each Mercury "rewind." Trust me, you should too. It's as effective as it is empowering. In fact, the next time Mercury goes retrograde, why not throw a little cosmic caution to the wind and get out from under that bed and start looking for something. Anything. In fact, start looking for everything you've never been able to find on those seemingly perfect "direct days." You've got nothing to lose. Literally. Not only will you find what you're looking for, I'm willing to bet you'll find what you didn't know you lost. Or better yet, what you didn't know you even wanted (real pay dirt!). Sound crazy? Possibly. I may be the only Gemini Sun with a rising Virgo who actually sees Mercury retrograde as a period of empowering enlightenment, not debilitating disaster. Then again, I may be the only one out there looking for wallpaper.