About three times a year, the planet Mercury “goes retrograde,” which means from our perspective on Earth it looks like it is changing direction in the sky, moving east-to-west instead of west-to-east. This happens because Mercury and the Earth have different orbital patterns around the Sun, the Earth’s orbit being rounder while faster-moving Mercury’s orbit is more elliptical. Although in reality Mercury is moving steadily along its path, from our vantage point on Earth, Mercury seems to speed up, slow down, remain stationary, move backwards, remain stationary, then move counterclockwise across the sky once again.Mercury is conventionally believed to be the planet ruler of money, commerce, travel, health, literature, music, math, media, communication, technology, and mechanical objects. You might be wondering, what else is there? Well, there’s love, power, conception, parenting, values, death, grandparents, the occult – lots of stuff. But in modern Western society day-to-day survival depends upon the things that Mercury “rules.” Thus when Mercury does something dramatic, like change direction, we would expect it to have immediate noticeable effects.Astrologers disagree on what Mercury retrograde means, but all agree that its effects are significant. Conventional wisdom says that during Mercury retrograde it is more likely that cars will break down, mistakes in computation will occur, miscommunications will happen, health problems will become manifest, etc., etc. Often a period of meditation is prescribed while Mercury is retrograde, but I have found my meditation to be less focused and less productive during this time.I believe that in a general way Mercury influences productivity, however productivity is defined by the individual or society, and that when Mercury changes direction there is a shift in focus. Usually that shifting focus is towards something that has been neglected. This is why mechanical breakdowns and health concerns command attention for some during this time. This does not necessarily mean that the individual has been doing something “wrong”: attention cannot be spread everywhere at all times.The symbol for retrograde in astrology is Rx, which is also the symbol for a medical prescription. This is how I look at a retrograde, as a prescription for a problem, error, disease, or unknown need. In practical terms this can manifest in outward events that demand that we turn our attention to things we have deemed unimportant, like sleep or play, but often the effects are more subtle. We may naturally find ourselves catching up on reading, cleaning out a closet, or spending time in meditation.Under this interpretation of Mercury and Mercury retrograde, the difficulties I have had with meditation at this time make sense. Since meditation was something I found time for under normal circumstances, my attention needed to shift temporarily to other matters.Ultimately the seemingly unproductive downtime of Mercury retrograde keeps us moving toward our goals. Think of it as maintenance and accept the shift in focus, whether it comes from within or without.