78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal

We are all wanderers on this earth. Our hearts are full of wonder, and our souls are deep with dreams.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Advice Position
Reading tarot professionally, advice becomes a commodity that is sought after while utilizing the tarot cards as a tool. In fact, many tarot spreads have at least one position that is specifically designated for "Advice." Tarot cards are, after all, used primarily as an advisory tool. Even when one is seeking "insight" from the cards it is usually so that insight can be used in the course of making choices and decisions in our lives. Of course, the reader can't help but throw his or her two cents in, too. Even if we don't mean to, we really cannot separate our own life experiences and accumulated wisdom from how we interpret the cards. Although a good reader will consciously be aware of this and try to draw that fine line between her own advice and what the cards are saying, we can too easily fall into the place where we are drawing primarily from our own advice storehouse and lapse into personal opining rather than tarot reading.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing and I certainly wouldn't say we should try to dissociate ourselves from our left-brain functioning when we read. It's that side of our brains that can find the links and patterns between what happened in the past and connect them to the present and the future possibilities. This is essential for communicating what the cards are projecting. We also need some tangible frame of reference for that communication and if we don't have our own experiences, knowledge and wisdom to pull from, we wouldn't be able to empathize or effectively share what we are seeing. So while I think it's perfectly okay to bring one's own personal advice into a reading, be careful. I've done many readings where I've seen the cards recommend exactly the opposite to what I would have advised. I might entirely disagree with the cards and yet it is my responsibility as a tarot reader neither to twist the meaning of the card to better align with my own advice nor to replace the reading with my own recommendations. I've sometimes felt the need to disclaim at these times that while I wouldn't personally recommend this course of action, the cards clearly seem to be pointing in that direction.

My clients understand they take the advice of the tarot reading at their own risk. We are each responsible for the choices and decisions we make in our own lives. We can't convincingly point a finger of blame at anyone or anything that "forced" us to choose one way over another when it was we ourselves who acted in accordance to what we believed, at the time, to be the best choice. Certainly we are influenced in our decisions, but honestly, most people will, in the end, follow their own inklings, urgings, passions, and way of thinking. We are most likely to go in the direction our emotions lead, even if our minds are telling us something different. Persuasive speakers, salespeople, and motivational coaches know this and if you look back on the major decisions you've made in your life, you will likely find a strong emotional component to the choice made. This is why unsolicited advice is so rarely received well. The recipient is not emotionally open or prepared to accept the advice given, even if it's good or well-intentioned. Unsolicited advice is most often perceived as criticism which is a really good reason not to give it. You're wasting your breath and time and you risk alienating the person you are trying to help.

Of course, tarot readings are a form of solicited advice, but that comes with a different set of responsibilities. When someone asks for advice, one needs to be respectful of the other's willingness to be vulnerable. When asking for advice, people open themselves up a bit and I consider that, in itself, a gift. It's not carte blanche for your ego to take over and climb the podium and pontificate endlessly on and on about what you know and have experienced. They have not suddenly elevated you to Master Guru of their life or even of the situation at hand. Offering honor and respect for the seeker is essential to giving any advice, and in the case of the tarot reader, that respect is extended to the cards and the art of tarot reading as well.

While empathy is crucial to giving meaningful advice, it can also be a motivation for giving unsolicited advice and should be kept in check. By all means empathize with others, but if that empathy is so strongly felt that you can't help but instruct them on their situation, realize that your empathy just trumped your respect for them and that's bad because your empathy just crossed the line from being other-centered into being self-centered. When that happens it's because you need relief from the anxiety of feeling their emotions. That anxiety can cause you to stop empathizing entirely and once that happens, you're no longer thinking or feeling for them but for yourself. Notice when that anxiety starts and you'll be able to pull back and gain perspective more and more frequently.

I had an unpleasant experience last week in which a family member decided she needed to voice her unsolicited opinion regarding my parenting. In the process I was called everything from selfish and irresponsible to manipulative and a drama queen. This person's motivation, she said, was coming from a strong desire to see my children cared for properly. She's worked with children in various ways all her adult life and I understand she has a passion for seeing to the welfare of kids. Her advice, though well intentioned, was entirely inappropriate given that it was not sought. Not only that, but she neglected to ask the simplest of questions that would have given her much more context in which to give the advice, since she clearly felt the need to express her opinion on the matter. She made the common mistake of assuming her secondhand information was correct simply because it came from other trusted family members and she also presumed upon her relationship with me believing it gave her an undisputed platform from which to speak into my life. As a result, much of her advice was irrelevant because she had not "done her homework" by asking questions and thus she was not informed about the history of the situation, so her advice was redundant and useless. What she intended as helpful was instead insulting and invasive.

Unsolicited advice is always risky, but if it's going to be given, at least please frame your advice in question form. Instead of saying, "You need to do this" say, "Have you tried this?" That way, you're not assuming the person hasn't given consideration to the options you are suggesting. Had this person simply asked me and my children's father what we had already tried, what we were already doing concerning a certain situation with our kids, she would not have come across so unbearably arrogant. When receiving unsolicited advice, our knee-jerk reaction is defensive because it feels like criticism. However, if we try and view the person giving it as, at best, concerned and well-intentioned, we can diffuse the defensiveness. In this case, even my understanding that her intent was good, her lack of communication skills and attitude of superiority created a wall of animosity rather than understanding and acceptance. Instead of building bridges, her "advice" attacked and, as a result, erected walls between us. Now, unless she can approach this issue differently in the future, she has lost any opportunity she may have had to influence. Her potentially valuable expertise and advice is no longer welcome on this subject because she was so disrespectful. In short she pissed me the hell off and it's going to be a cold day in hell before I discuss anything remotely personal with her.

Communication skills are something one can learn and hone. Some of us are naturals and others have to work on it, but it's not something you can't improve. Having poor communication skills is not an excuse when one routinely unintentionally offends others. You don't need a broad vocabulary and you don't need perfect grammar. You need only to show respect for the person to whom you are speaking and things should go relatively well. Put your ego in its place and seat the other person in a place of honor for the moment. Ask questions, and not condescendingly either, as if you already know the answers. Even when you've been asked for advice, tread lightly with humility and give only enough to satisfy the seeker. If they want more, they'll ask.

While I could take on full responsibility for the conflict and berate myself for not being more understanding, I don't think that's right, either. I don't make a very good martyr, it makes me grumpy. When unsolicited advice feels like a sledgehammer, it's perfectly fine to tell that person to stop. If they don't stop, that reveals they probably aren't looking to help you but instead, their need to "advise" is coming from some other motivation, probably ego-driven. That's their problem, not yours. As a tarot reader, check yourself when you discuss your readings with your querants so that you're not investing your own ego into the reading. Allow them to take it or leave it, think what they will about it. It's not about you, it's not about your finely-honed intuitive skills, it's not even about what the cards mean and say. It's always, always about the one seeking the answers.