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, June 26, 2010

Reading Sale!
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In honor of Summer Solstice through the end of July I am offering tarot Readings at a discounted rate of $30, that's $10 off the usual Full Reading rate. 

If you've never had a reading with me you'll want to read my About My Readings page first. Then email me so we can chat about your reading before we begin.   To get a reading just click on the Purchase A Tarot Reading link.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Just The Facts, Ma'am
I didn't have any idea how the cards actually worked or if they worked, but I wanted my friend to read them for me.  I think I was probably the most unremarkable querant she had ever had.  I didn't even want to look at the cards.  They were just meaningless pictures to me and held no significance to the reading.  The predictions were what I was after!  I figured she was the reader, she could tell me what they meant without my having to see them.  So, since we were just hanging out at her house,  I got up and walked around and didn't even care to see which card was what when she went through them.  As a reader, would that irritate you?  I think it would have baffled me early on as a reader, but now I understand.  Querants are as individual as anyone and some want all sorts of descriptive talk about the cards, their symbolism, references to the image, the figure's position and so forth.  One client of mine interrupted me once during one such descriptive reading I was giving to say, "Are you going to read the cards or am I?"  She didn't care for all the reasons for the interpretation, she just wanted me to get to the point.  Remembering my pacing around the room during my first tarot reading, I understood her desire and quickly reined in my flourishes and stated the meanings.
I have an affinity for all the aspects of the tarot images and so want to share all the depth and richness therein that I sometimes forget not everyone gets as excited as I do about the position of the Hanged Man's legs or the scroll on the High Priestess' lap.  Some readers might even refuse to do a reading for someone who doesn't want to look at the cards.  So many use the images as Rorschach cards or Jungian archetypes to help the querant arrive at their own conclusions, their own reading.  While that is a legitimate use of tarot and one of its purposes, I can assure you that had someone asked me those types of probing questions of me at my first reading, I would have sensed their pseudo-psychology and handed out a healthy dose of attitude.  I might have retorted just as my one client had, "Are you reading the cards or am I?" 

Since my reading practice is primarily online, there is a lack of immediacy where I can even point out a feature on a card.  I also want my clients to know that I am not just making shit up, at least not where their reading is concerned, and I am basing my interpretations of their cards on legitimate, sound, logical, even traditional meanings of the tarot.  Since they are not in the room with me, how do they know I even shuffled a deck or pulled any cards for them?  If I don't directly associate what I am saying to a particular card, then I could just be pontificating with my own common sense, which is fine, but not what I'm paid to do.  So I really think this kind of descriptive association is more or less essential to a good email reading.  But when a reading is live there seems to be less need for many clients to get into the details of each card. 

I'm not knocking anyone's reading style at all.  If one's reading style is more cooperative in nature where the client's impressions of the card images play a strong part in the reading, that's wonderful.  I've done many readings this way and they work quite well with the right personalities.  Others just want to cut to the chase.  I find the latter are folks that really aren't that interested in the cards themselves, but rather feel they are paying a professional for a service rendered and thereby are the due recipient of that service.  Nothing wrong with that.  The reading isn't about me, anyway.  It isn't about showcasing my talents or being a teacher or even a guide.  The tarot reading is about the cards and the querant.  Period.

During a large gathering of tarot aficionados, one reader stated that she felt there was a natural evolution to reading and while one may begin with divination and fortune telling, it grows up into a spiritual practice that pretty much leaves that "immature" stuff behind.  The cards are then used solely for delving into one's spiritual state and nothing else.  I started to feel my "bad self" get irked, so I left the room for a smoke lest I say something that might offend the woo woo.  What I wanted to say was a hearty, "Bullshit!"  Tarot cards are non-limiting by the very nature of their archetypal images which embrace the whole of humanity's experiences, emotions, growing pains, and dynamics.  Why limit their use to one area of self?  The spiritual is important, no doubt, but we still gotta eat, pay the rent, have sex, wash dishes, fix a broken whatchamacallit and deal with noisy neighbors.  There's an entire suit in tarot, the suit of Pentacles, that deals with all this mundanity, in fact.  Will I get the job?  How can I make more money?  Which school should I attend?  Does so and so like me? Where is my lost watch?  All of these are genuine questions we can ask of tarot and expect a valid  answer.  Doesn't mean you'll get one, but you probably will.

Not every reader is a good tarot reader for every client.  There is definitely a personality and style meshing that has to occur.  Today, I would want a reader to tell me how she arrived at her conclusions from the cards, not because I want to critique her reading, but because I want to learn and maybe her insight into a particular card or arrangement of cards can bring me some additional insight.  If I went to a reader who just told me what she thought the cards meant without explanation, I'd probably raise an eyebrow askance.  I'd be thinking, "What do you even need the cards for if you were just going to pull that out of your underwear?"  But see, that's me, the tarot card lover, talking.  Twenty years ago, the me-querant in my friend's living room, just wanted to be told what I would be doing a couple miles down my future road.   So even my own clients have sometimes changed in their own approach to the readings.  They sometimes feel the need for more explanation and detail and other times not so much.  Within reason, I want to be able to accommodate their needs and adjust my reading style to suit.  Of course, if we don't mesh, we don't, and there's no adjusting for that, they just need another reader. 

This accommodating way just may be a feature of my Libran personality and may not be as easy for everyone.  There are some readers who simply have a "signature style" and that style is the very reason people seek them out for their readings.  Much like someone who favors Dior over Lauren, for example.  It doesn't make Lauren any less or Dior any more, it just makes them different.  It's pretty important, I think, to discuss your expectations for a reading before you pay for it, but so few people realize they can do that.  I don't mean the $5 reader at the table in the coffee shop, you can pretty much expect you get what you pay for -- and many times be pleasantly surprised you got a lot more.  I mean the reader you sink $100 or more into an hour's tarot time with them.  Most of them call themselves "tarot consultants" so that alone should give you a clue they might have something a bit different to offer than the lady with the neon palm reader sign flashing in her living room window.  But just because you pay more doesn't mean you get more if what you get isn't what you thought you were paying for.  Most reputable readers encourage discussion before hiring so everyone understands, at least generally, what to expect.  

So what's tarot for?  Is it for delving into spiritual? For fortune telling? Predictions? A guide? A Magic 8-Ball? What do you feel the primary purpose of a tarot reading should be?

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Darker Side of Empathy
I've been thinking a lot about empathy.  It's difficult to talk about empathy in woo woo circles because the lines are blurred between garden variety empathy and the extra-sensory abilities of the empath.  Just for the sake of simplicity, I am not diving into the empath realm here.  Instead, I'd rather focus for the moment on the human quality of empathy and its shortcomings for tarot readers.  Empathy has long been touted as essential for anyone whose occupation or passion involves dealing with people.  From doctors to salespeople to customer service agents, empathy for one's client is seen as an essential element to productive communication and problem solving.  I agree.  Identifying with someone else's feelings in any given matter is crucial to understanding how to help someone and if helping someone is your goal then you sure as hell better try to walk a mile in their shoes. 

Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another's state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to "put oneself into another's shoes", or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself. It may be described metaphorically as an emotional kind of resonance or mirroring.  Empathy is distinct from sympathy, pity, emotional contagion, and telepathy, which is what we describe as "empaths." Sympathy is the feeling of compassion for another, the wish to see them better off or happier, often described as "feeling sorry" for someone. Pity is feeling that another is in trouble and in need of help as they cannot fix their problems themselves. Emotional contagion is when a person imitatively 'catches' the emotions that others are showing without necessarily recognizing this is happening. Telepathy is not a psychological phenomenon, but a paranormal phenomenon, whereby emotions or other mental states can be read directly, without needing to infer, or perceive expressive clues about the other person. Pity is, "Things are bad for you, you seem as though you need help." Sympathy is, "I'm sorry for your sadness, I wish to help." Emotional Contagion is, "You feel sad and now I feel sad." Empathy is, "I recognize how you feel." Apathy is, "I don't care how you feel. " Telepathy is, "I read your sadness without you expressing it to me in any normal way."

I think we can mix these up quite a bit.   Empathy is not merely the recognition of another's feelings but the ability to identify with and actually feel those emotions without it being emotional contagion or telepathy.  A natural way to do this is to imagine oneself in the other's predicament and if that is not sufficient due to a lack of personal experience, to imagine or remember an event or experience from one's own life where similar feelings were involved.  In tarot terms, the Queen of Swords would be great at empathizing because she has the objectivity of the air element in the Swords suit in combination with the element of water due to her Queenliness. The Queen of Cups would be prone to emotional contagion, though she may be more likely to be an empath.  The Queen of Pentacles would be a great sympathizer and pitier.  I think the Queen of Wands may co-opt others feelings for her own and run with them, and therein lies one of the major pitfalls of empathy.

Empathy is such a wonderful and valuable quality to have and develop that it hardly seems like it would have a bad side.  What could be wrong with identifying with others feelings?  In my own practice I have noticed that when I too strongly identify with a client, I run the risk of over-identifying and co-opting their unique experiences as my own.  I then may expect them to process their experience in the same way I have and therefore when they respond differently or make different choices or decisions than I would in a similar situation, I may respond angrily or in disappointment.  I've suddenly lost the crucial element to effective empathy: objectivity.

In this excellent article by by Kelly A. Edwards, Critiquing Empathy the author describes what I believe to be the very rabbit hole one must be vividly aware of when wading into empathy's pools.  While the essay focuses on doctor-patient relationships, the concepts presented are applicable to any relationship:

Entering any relationship with the aim of identifying with another's experience provides a replicative, not a productive, focus. By engaging in this way, we are trying to know the other in order to develop further insight into the patient's illness. This approach conceives of the other (the patient) as a knowable source that can be mined for information and the self (the physician) as a clean, reflective slate. It takes attention off the self (the physician)—where awareness and responsibility must reside—and fixes it on the other, who can be known only partially. This approach also effectively turns a dialogue into a monologue by focusing on only one of the selves engaged in the relation....

To approach another as knowable, or to act as if one has entered another's experience, can be a very dominating stance.[emphasis mine] This pitfall stems from the problematic ownership of another's experience that is implied in most conceptions of empathy. If the aim of engaging empathically is to know the other, what are the costs of getting it wrong? It is unlikely that a physician, a relative stranger and one with limited knowledge of this patient's life, will get it right much of the time. The dangers here follow from holding a person to too tight a script. Identifying with another effectively limits them to our (limited) understanding.

Rather than remaining open to the "real of the other," the clinician with empathy co-opts the patient's experience by saying blithely, "Oh, I know just how you feel." And again, to what effect? Patients, perhaps feeling misunderstood and alienated, build walls between themselves and their well-meaning physicians. Physicians, encountering a difficult patient, become frustrated.

Bravo! Exactly! How many times have we encountered others who, with genuinely benevolent intent, have devalued our experiences by saying just that? Doesn't it just get on your last nerve to hear someone who couldn't possibly know how you feel say, "I know just how you feel?" Do you? Do you, really? No, of course you don't because you are filtering my experience through your own perceptions, your own personality, your own ideas of morality. You can't help it. I can't help it. It's how we navigate through life.When we presume to "know" another, we are presuming much.  That's not to say we can't relate, understand, or seek to help, but when we cross that line into identifying with another's experiences and feelings we are treading on very holy ground and I feel a huge measure of humility and respect are in order.

As a tarot reader, I can so easily fall into the trap of empathy when I'm presented with a query on a subject or situation that I am intimately familiar with in my own life.  Sometimes a client has come to me with a situation that so eerily mirrors an experience I've had that I almost want to put the cards aside and just share what I did, just cut to the chase, right? Wrong! No matter how closely one's circumstances and experiences externally match another's it is not the same situation precisely because it is not happening only to you, but also to  another person.  Two people can experience precisely the same event and come away with very different stories.  Which is not to say one cannot offer helpful advice or suggestions to someone in a situation or experience very much like one you have come through.  I've been assisted many times by people sharing their wealth of experiential wisdom.  However, the ones that have helped the most haven't been the ones that claim to know how I feel, but have simply acknowledge my feelings in such a way that I know they empathize, but who also recognize that how I choose to navigate this experience may be very different, and not wrong, from how they muddled through theirs.  They found treasure and so would like to share it with me and that's great, but you know what they say about one man's trash being another one's treasure works in reverse as well.