Retrograde Mercury has moved close enough to the Sun to disappear in the western sky after sunset. Currently it sits just five degrees from the Sun and is moving towards a conjunction with it on Friday January 30th at 5:45am PST—at 17 degrees Capricorn, smack dab in the middle of Shravana nakshatra. Shravana means “to listen”, and as Mercury and the Sun move closer together there is a dialogue going on between Surya (Sun) and Buddha (Mercury). Surya represents the Atman, “the shining self” (soul), and Buddha, the Buddhi—the awakened mind and discerning intellect. Right now the Sun and Mercury are “combust”—close enough that the heat and light of the Sun are overpowering Mercury, creating a condition in which our thoughts are overloaded with solar energy, potentially leading to a temporary breakdown of the thinking process and communication. When The Sun and Mercury are within half a degree of each other, which will be the case on Friday, they are said to be “casimi”, meaning that they are, for a short time, in simpatico. We may feel unusually brilliant on Friday. The key to getting through the combust period is remembering to listen, because there is a tendency to be hot headed, especially while Mercury is retrograde and we are being slammed with some of our nastiest samskaras. Mercury retrogrades are always some of the best times for svadhyaya (self study) because they seem to stir up a lot of old patterns for us to look at. Adding to the planetary spice this week, Venus and Mars—the remaining planets visible in the western sky after sunset—are slowly inching their way towards each other, with the faster moving Venus gaining about half a degree on Mars each day. By Valentine’s Day Venus and Mars will be within 3 degrees of each other, guaranteeing a night of romance and passion. A week later, on February 21st, Venus and Mars will be locked in a passionate embrace. Venus and Mars will have three conjunctions this year, hooking up again on August 31st and November 2nd—meaning that for much of the year they will be relatively close to each other. One of the oft-cited effects of this conjunction is a greater than usual interest in the opposite sex and a strong desire for physical gratification. The Venus/Mars conjunction stimulates a more vital and warmer emotional nature, and an intense love of life with a desire for passionate involvements of all types. Mars and Venus are the two most passionate planets—the archetypal male and female—Rama and Sita. The Indian epic, Ramayana, tells the age-old story of the Divine Masculine and the Divine Feminine, in a beautifully symbolic way. What keeps Rama and Sita apart is Ravana, the demon king, who symbolizes unbridled and insatiable lust for power, wealth, and sex—the ego, or “false self”, run amok. Who brings them back together? It’s Hanuman--the embodiment of strength, humility, self-control, wisdom, and devotion—who reunites Rama and Sita, restoring balance between the Divine Masculine and Divine Feminine.