Hacking the Mind
What follows are a few practical mind hacks, which can help you to disengage from unhelpful mental habits, explored through the symbolic language of astrology. I wrote this a few days ago without really considering the upcoming solar eclipse in Gemini (June 10), with Sun, Moon, and Mercury (retrograde) conjunct, square Neptune. These ideas fit this eclipse like a glove. Eclipses afford us the opportunity to let something go and make room for something new. In addition, as the Moon (emotions, needs, subconscious self) “swallows” the light of the Sun (will, purpose, conscious self), our emotions can run away with us. Meanwhile, Mercury retrograde invites us to rethink, revise, and remember. It is a great time to digest and assimilate information and recombine in novel ways. The conjunction of Mercury to this eclipse, in its own sign of Gemini (a sign of ideas, perspectives, and communication), brings our minds into the spotlight. The square from Neptune emphasizes problems arising from fuzzy logic, questionable sources, and unconscious fantasy, but it also invites us to embrace the power of symbols, metaphors, and images to help us move beyond the confines of ordinary language, think in new ways, and dream a new reality.
Hacking the Mind for a Happier Self
Whether or not we have aspects between the Sun, Moon, and Mercury, each of these planets tells us something about the pinball game that occurs anytime we think or feel anything. In his book Chatter, psychologist Ethan Kross details his research of self-talk and the way it shapes our emotional reality. Problematic thinking essentially comes down to a lack of perspective stemming from our identification with our own selves. Excessively thinking about ourselves– especially using first-person pronouns– leads to rumination, which is a short step to anxiety, burnout, and depression.
Astrologically, this takes us into the domains of the Sun (identity and awareness), the Moon (feelings, needs, and habits), and Mercury (perception, thought, and language). Aspected or not, these archetypes are always front and center in our experience, spinning the hamster-wheel of our consciousness.
Gaining psychological distance from ourselves helps to break the “chatter” cycle– the endless, self-referential inner voice that ultimately undermines us. Kross presents several research-backed “hacks” to help us gain such distance, such as adopting a fly-on-the-wall perspective in difficult situations and journaling. But the simplest and most effective hack of all– one which his studies show to work within one second– is to speak to yourself in the second or third person.
Kross gives two notable examples of famous people speaking to themselves in such a distanced way. He remembers seeing LeBron James speak about his decision to leave Cleveland for Miami– a huge disappointment to his teammates and devoted fans and presumably a stressful decision to make. Kross recalls James saying, “LeBron James had to do what is best for LeBron James.” Kross gives as another example Malala Yousafzai, the Afghani activist who, as a teenager, stood up to the Taliban for the sake of girls’ rights to education. When asked how she endured the threat of the Taliban, who had vowed to kill her, she repeated “conversations” she had with herself: “What would you do, Malala?… Malala, just take a shoe and hit him… but if you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there will be no difference between you and the Talib”.
Remembering that the trick of distanced self-talk works for anybody with any birth chart, we can see how both Yousafai’s and James’ charts support their spontaneous discovery of this trick, which may be an ingredient in the “secret sauce” of athletes, warriors, and activists who are able to keep cool under pressure that would break most of us. Both of them have Sun square Moon and Uranus in dynamic aspect to Mercury (James with the conjunction, Yousafzai the opposition). The square between the Sun and Moon indicates conflict between outer/ inner or yang/ yin impulses– a clash of one’s will, identity, and conscious sense of purpose with one’s needs for safety, security, and reflection. With such an aspect, we may find ourselves subject to undermining moods that spring on us unexpectedly, just when we want to accomplish something or step onto the stage. The Sun-Moon square, therefore, demands adjustment– we must learn to handle our emotions constructively. This is true for everybody, but for those with hard Sun-Moon aspects the question comes front-and-center. For LeBron James to be an effective basketball player (Sun) and Malala to be an effective activist (Sun), both had to learn to master emotional states (Moon) that could easily gut them. Sometimes we learn such lessons deliberately, while other times we learn them simply by living our lives, which present us with challenges that we meet according to our temperament. The dialogue of inner and outer eventually reaches a consensus. I have no idea to what degree either of these individuals consciously chose to hack their emotional landscape, but hack it they did.
Distanced self-talk specifically tallies with Yousafzai’s and James’ Mercury-Uranus aspects. Mercury rules speech, perception, and thought. Uranus liberates us and helps us think “outside the box”. It brings radical change and breakthroughs. Uranus also correlates with distance, objectivity, and dissociation. With Mercury, Uranus can bring a liberating change of perspective, a more objective perspective, distanced language, and unusual or quirky habits of speech and perception. For a hilarious example of the latter, see the Seinfeld episode “The Jimmy”, where the character Jimmy (played by Anthony Starke) constantly refers to himself in the third person. Anthony Starke was born with a Mercury-Uranus square.
Both James and Yousafzai have Uranus and Mercury in soft aspect (trine and sextile) with their Moon, supporting the integration of mind and emotion. For those of us without aspects between Sun, Moon, Mercury, and Uranus, this hack still works. We all have minds, emotions, and identities, all of which push each other’s buttons constantly. However, James and Yousafzai came to distanced self-talk naturally because their charts supported it.
As a contrast, consider Byron Katie, known for her mind hacking process, The Work. Katie experienced a radical awakening following a depression. Born with a Sun-Mercury conjunction opposite Saturn, Katie determined her identification with her own thoughts (Sun-Mercury) to be the source of her suffering (Saturn). She developed a deep (Saturn) form of self (Sun) inquiry (Mercury), which she called The Work (Saturn). It involves systematically (Saturn) dismantling (Saturn) and negating (Saturn) our negative (Saturn) self-identified (Sun) thoughts (Mercury). After a session of The Work, one feels a sense of release from the suffocating confines of one’s previous emotional state. This reflects Katie’s natal Moon-Uranus opposition.
Lest we consider Mercury a prosaic, bureaucratic planet, remember that Mercury represents the capacity of the human mind to traverse all worlds, whether through ordinary or non-ordinary states of consciousness. Mercury takes its name from the Roman equivalent of the Greek god Hermes, the messenger of the gods. As psychopomp (guide of souls), Hermes was the only god who could travel freely between Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld. Thus Mercury helps us mediate our solar and lunar natures, and more besides. The mind can find its way into those hard-to-reach places in our souls, provided we use it correctly. As the examples above indicate, when we successfully change our minds, we change our lives.