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.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wishlists for the Fiercely Independent

At Christmastime my family, like many families, exchange wishlists.  There was a time when my wishlist took up several pages, but over the years my wishlists have diminished considerably to just a few items.  This has happened due to various internal and external shifts in living and priorities.  I am no longer in accumulative mode, collection mode, nor redecorating mode.  But the reality is that the things that I really wish for are things no one in my family can give me.  They are things like a better paying job, a newer car and a wad of cash to pay off my credit card.  So I stand up tall and accept the fact that I am a grown up and proceed to tackle these challenges on my own.  Only it seems that every effort made stalls, or the door I thought would open doesn't and is instead slammed in my face.  I look frantically around for open windows, another door, anything to get moving again.  They say failures are like stepping stones, but I feel like I'm treading water with no stone in sight. 

My partner and I had a discussion in which it was observed that I don't ask for help.  I am fiercely independent and don't ask unless I am extraordinarily desperate.  Even then, it is really hard for me.  He asked me if I had fallen and injured myself and could not get up, would I not ask for help then?  I recounted the story of the time I was in labor with my daughter.  We were rushing to the hospital because she was birthing fast, I could feel her crowning in the car, and I could no longer sit but had to partially stand on the floorboard, bracing myself on the door handle.  When we pulled up to the Emergency Room entrance, I opened the car door and stepped out of the car only to find myself crumpled to the curb. My legs would not hold me.  Did I call for help? No I did not.  I grasped the car door and attempted to pull myself up on to the car seat.  Others tried to help, of course, and brought a wheelchair (Hello? I cannot sit! Oh well. I stood on the footrests and braced myself up on the armrests).  It seems to be a very primal response in me that does not ask for help but instead relies on every bit of internal strength and resource for my survival, alone.  Mike laughed and said I was ridiculous.  I know this.  I understand this, but I cannot make myself do that which is essentially unnatural for me.

Not my daughter's cake, but looks very much like it

I deeply appreciate help when it is given.  I have two children with birthdays in December and one falls in January.  Between Thanksgiving and the end of January was always a particularly busy time for me, a mother of four with a perfectionist streak a mile wide.  I enjoyed creating fabulous home birthday parties for my children with themed decorations that I often made myself, a custom birthday cake also self-created, and themed activities.  One particular year, my daughter requested a "Unicorn in Candy Land" theme.  WTF? But I actually found party goods that featured a unicorn with a gingerbread house behind it -- SCORE! I made a cake shaped like a horse head, white frosting with purple mane, and a pointed ice cream cone for the horn.  I baked huge gingerbread man cookies and the party activity was decorating them.  We had already made a gingerbread house for the centerpiece of the table, which I placed on an old Candyland game board.  I made pink bubbly jello using club soda and served it in plastic champagne glasses.  My daughter was recovering from the flu and could not energetically enjoy this birthday party, but it went as well as it could have.

Not my son's cake, but you get the idea.

A week later, we hosted my son's Lego-themed birthday party sleepover, complete with my custom Lego brick cake and Lego-themed games and contests.  Meanwhile, my daughter had passed her flu to her other brother, not the birthday boy, and in addition to the two birthday party preparations, I had been sick child caretaking throughout the month, so far.  The morning after the sleepover, as I made pancakes for the guests I noticed birthday boy camping out on the living room sofa with sick brother and he  looked quite pale.  Uh oh.  After cleaning up the vomit and saying goodbye to the last of the party guests, thus started yet another week of sick child caretaking.  That, and decorating the house for Christmas, going Christmas shopping, and all the usual pre-holiday rush.  On Christmas Day, my daughter had a flu relapse and spent the day mostly sleeping, even as we dragged ourselves to Gramma's to visit.  We were supposed to drive to New Jersey to visit the in-laws a few days after Christmas, but the night before we were to leave I began to feel a tightness in my chest.  By the next morning, I was in such pain that I could not pack my clothes for the trip.  I had managed to drag the suitcase out of the closet before I collapsed on the bed.  Steve took one look at me and said, "I'm taking you to the ER." I wouldn't have asked to go.  After whooshing me through X-ray to make sure I wasn't experiencing a pulmonary embolism, I was diagnosed with pleurisy.  Nice.

I urged my family to head up to New Jersey without me. After all, the family was expecting them and I could use the time alone to recover.  I didn't realize how much this illness incapacitated me until after they left.  I could barely breathe, nor walk, much less make food to eat.  I sat on the sofa and cried pitifully.  The doorbell rang.  I shuffled my way to the door and found a friend standing there.  He hugged me and I literally melted into his arms.  He said his wife would bring me dinner.  Then he prayed for me, out loud.  My neighbor brought me yogurt and bananas, to combat the negative effects of the strong antibiotics, and checked in on me every day.  Another friend brought dinner and stayed to chat later in the week.  My in-laws sent video of the kids enjoying their Christmas visit up north.  I was enormously grateful to my friends who helped me through that week, however everything they did was done without my asking, and to me that makes their generosity and kindness all the sweeter.

But how did they know I needed help?  Steve told them.  He asked on my behalf because he knew I wouldn't.  I get that this is probably a life lesson for me, that I must learn to ask for help when it is needed.  But part of my problem is not knowing when it is needed.  I often overestimate my own ability to handle things by myself and therefore don't even know when to ask. Yet, when I look back on the times when I have very desperately needed help, not just wanted help or thought I needed it but literally needed it, help came.  And suddenly I feel like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas when he heard the song arising from Whoville on Christmas morning.

"And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
What if wishes come without wishlists or expressions of need?  What if they come because you simply need them?  But! my rational, contrary mind objects, What about those who are injured and alone and they die because no help comes?  Clearly this need wish thing isn't foolproof.  Yet having confidence in my own ability to handle adversity and, if I fall short, believing that help will arrive, is not such a bad thing at all.  Plus, it doesn't require that I act contrary to my nature or berate myself for not asking for help.  It has worked so far and I have no reason to believe otherwise and much evidence to believe it usually will. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Gift of the Three of Swords
We tend to focus more on the darker, scarier cards in tarot.  Where are the happy bunny cards? I'll get to them. But just so you know, they have their dark sides, too, just like the darker cards have some light. The dark places in life have their own virtues as described in this poem by Rumi an early 13th century Persian poet:

The Guesthouse

This being human is a Guest House.
Every morning a new arrival

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from above.

In line with my current obsession with all that is bleak, sad, and upsetting, how about this one? Ooomph! Not one, not two, but three swords piercing a heart. Dreadful card. The stormy sky doesn't help matters either. This image, from the Robin Wood deck doesn't mess around with the symbolism. There's no mistaking or second-guessing this card. This HURTS.

By Robin Wood
Published by Llewellyn 1991
Sigh. Yes. Yes, it does.

This card is about heartache, no kidding. You know when you've just gotten really bad news, painful, heart-piercing news and at first you feel nothing but searing pain? And then your mind begins to engage and you start to process what you just heard. It's what happens when you begin to mentally reconcile the bad news, processing it in one's mind to gain emotional stability. It's the act of trying to make sense of what one knows in one's head to how one's heart feels.

There's no way I can say this card isn't hurtful because it usually is.  The intensity of the pain is relative to the situation, but painful it is.  However, it's a painful truth you need to know. A good illustration is to first look at the 2 of Swords where the individual is blindfolded and withholding judgement.  They're not convinced, they're maintaining the peace, waiting for more information to decide.  Then blam! Ace of Swords incoming! That's the big sword in the center.  And now it all makes sense. A painful truth truly is better than living a lie. 

So that Rumi is on to something.  Far be it for me to sugarcoat any of the starker, gut-punching cards in the tarot deck, but there is something valuable to be gained from the darker moments in life.  I won't lie and tell you it's going to be easy or that it won't hurt, but I will tell you, in 3 of Swords moments, that the truth that you're hearing is something you need to know.  And I'll confess that there are times when I've been in that 2 of Swords place so damn long I plead for that third sword just to break the tension.  Just give it to me straight.

I think that's often why we turn to tarot, for those straight answers.  We're hoping to cut through the crap of our own wishful thinking, our giving the benefit of the doubt, our denial and illusions to hear the real, unvarnished truth.  That's the goal anyway.  Whether the reading actually gives it to you depends on whether you're ready to hear it.  Sometimes we're not ready, and that's fine.  Another time.

I have always loved that poem of Rumi's because it reminds me that everything will be alright. Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture.  Even then.  Because maybe you needed some new things anyway and you were too busy trying to make your old things work for you when they no longer did.  Because you will survive it and you will be OK.  Even though you may not be grateful to the messenger, the message is invaluable.  And maybe you won't realize this in that moment of heartrending pain, but you will.  Then you will know the gift that is the 3 of Swords.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

An Unexpected Lesson From Margaret

I've worked hard to get this job that I have now.  I've endured the unique humiliations reserved for call center employees.  If you've ever worked in one, you know.  Having to go to the bathroom but holding it until the call ends or until your next scheduled break.  Getting screamed and cursed at for doing your job.  Doing something, or not doing something that you know was an error and freaking out inside because you think you may have just lost your job.  Anything and maybe everything is recorded, monitored, checked, graded.  These scores can determine your next raise, if you get one, and how much.  Being tethered to your desk by a telephone headset cord.  Now I'm untethered. I can go to the bathroom when my body needs to.  I don't get yelled at. I'm not monitored.  In fact, I am now one of the monitors.  And I bring to this job a deep sense of compassion for the call center employees that I now try and coach to better their performance.  I am grateful, though, not to be in their position anymore.

Which is why, when my manager announced that for our monthly "Team Building Event" we were going to participate in United Way's Day of Caring I was like, "OK, why not?"  My company gives its employees two paid days to volunteer in the community and this was the first time I'd ever used any of those days.  I like not being tethered to a desk and I like the Quality Analysts I work with.  I was curious and eager to participate.  Until I heard what we were assigned to do.  Our group had been charged with assisting an older couple who lived out in the country, in a trailer.  The woman had fallen a couple years ago and was now disabled and her husband needed help with some yard work.  They needed windows washed, the back of the house painted, weeds pulled, some bushes moved.  I'm thinking this is going to be hard.  Really hard.  I was right.  The husband wasn't some frail old guy.  He was a friendly and robust man in his sixties.  He'd been taking care of his wife, the house, his job on the farm, everything.  But the landscaping was now overgrown.  And yes, they lived in not just one trailer, but two, a sprawling double wide beautiful home.  So eighteen of us set to work, but no, not until we met Margaret.  Bill insisted we had to meet his wife.  So all of us crowded into their living room where Margaret sat in her recliner that lifted her up with her walker beside her.  She thanked us before we had done a thing.  She choked up as she expressed her appreciation for us being there at all.

My job was window washing and when I had finished the outside I went inside.  Margaret was delighted to see me and asked me if I had any "stories."  I said I had a few.  She said, "I've had so much fun listening to all these stories.  You all have such good tales!"  She started telling me about a book she was reading and about her friendship of forty years.  She told me her husband was the love of her life.  I had mentioned my children, so she said, "Tell me your story. Do you have a love?"  I said I'd had a few.  She wanted to know more.  So I told her I was no longer with my children's father, but that I was with my love.  She asked his name and how we met.  Somehow I ended up telling her all about Mike and my best friend Jonna.  She said, "Oh, so you have one of those long friendships, too!"  I told her yes, we were friends for thirty years but she died three years ago, and how that broke me.  I shared how Mike helped me grieve through that very rough time and how I took my best friend's perfume and went to all our old haunts and sprayed the perfume to smell her once more in those familiar places and to say gooodbye.  Mike walked with me through woods and around our old high school and the old neighborhood.  I would stop at a certain spot that held a strong memory and I'd tell Mike the stories.  He listened intently and told me he would have liked to have been there.  Margaret thanked me for telling her that story and that it meant so much to her that I shared it.

As I was washing the window in Bill's office, he came in and showed me the books that he'd written and published on his computer.  His latest work in progress is a romance that tells the story of how he and Margaret met.  He told his stories.  And Margaret told hers.  And every person that walked into that house that day was asked to tell theirs.  One of us would go in to use the bathroom and Margaret would call from her chair the living room, "Come see me when you're finished!"  And so she elicited more stories.  Every time I went in to use the bathroom, someone different was seated next to her talking  and telling her their stories.

It was brutal work that day.  The "weeds" were thick, sticker-bushy brush.  The "bushes" were tree-like.  There were a lot of windows, double paned storm windows.  The gnats were horrendous and got in our mouths, eyes, and noses.  We rolled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of brush and vines and limbs to the compost hill.  We were exhausted and sore.  Margaret thanked us.  Bill thanked us.  We went home.

Stories.  I'm telling this one.  It has become one of mine.  We all have stories to tell and to write and to share, but we don't often think of them as stories or as something anyone wants to hear.  Sometimes we think the story has to be a whopper or about some amazing adventure to be worth telling.  But Margaret  made me realize that everything that happens to us is a story worth telling.

Tarot illustrates our stories and allows us to see them in a kind of set-apart from ourselves way.  It has a way of bringing characters to life, shows us what they feel and think and how they play a part in the plot progression.  When we lay out the cards and say, "Show me what I need to know" we are illustrating the situation, illuminating the parts we need a visual to understand.  As a tarot reader, I am like Margaret.  Tell me your story.  Let's read it together. 

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Honestly? You're Just Being Rude.


I almost scrolled past this picture on my Facebook newsfeed, but I stopped, scrolled back up and commented: "Can be both.  No need to be rude."  It's funny how small things will set off a whole train of thinking in my head and this was one such trigger.  There does seem to be a fine line between saying something honestly and saying something rudely.  My friend commented back and said that he never intends to be rude, but I don't think intention is the key.  Although by definition to be rude implies that one meant to be impolite or that one doesn't care that they were, it can also be the result of one's own ignorance.  We've all made those gaffs, where we say something offensive, not meaning to cause offense, but did so because we didn't know the other person's soft spots.  I'm writing this keeping in mind that etiquette expert Miss Manners, Judith Martin, once said that it is the epitome of rudeness to correct another's manners.

Almost any unsolicited opinion will be considered rude, so if you haven't been invited to comment on something, don't.  I think posting something on your blog or on a social network is inviting commentary, so it irks me when opinions are given and the original poster says, "I didn't ask for your opinion."  Um.  Yes, you did.  See that "Comment" link under your post?  Still, that shouldn't give folks carte blanche to be rude, it just means we did open the floor for comments.  I worked with someone who assumed anything that was said within her earshot was fair game.  While her comments weren't necessarily offensive, the way she would interject herself into conversations that weren't directed to her was, in fact, rude. 

However, if we are in a position, as tarot readers are, to deliver honest feedback we must be aware of this line between honesty and rudeness and walk it carefully. Relationship readings can be minefields that need both honesty and compassion to navigate.  So you're reading for someone who has a thing for a guy who has dissed her repeatedly and who has flat out told her he isn't interested.  They had a thing a while back and he hasn't communicated in months.  She wants a reading on when they will get back together.  Depending on what the cards say, and I've been shocked sometimes so I never assume anymore, but let's say the cards are telling her to let go, move on, it's a done deal, and you've got to tell her this without insulting her.  You could say, "You're obsessed.  Stop it."  Or, "Get a clue!"  Or you could say, "I honestly don't see, according to these cards, any movement in your direction from him.  Is there anything he has said or done recently to give you the impression he is intending to reconcile with you?"  She says, "No, but I just know in my heart that he will."  So then I might say, "Sometimes when we want something or someone really bad, we can convince ourselves it is true.  And sometimes that works and we get what we want eventually.  But meanwhile, until it happens, we need to live our lives in the reality of today and today he isn't contacting you, so do you think you can accept that?"  OK, you get the idea.  Rudeness shuts down two-way interaction and communication.  Honesty without rudeness opens that channel.  Certainly we all have our own communication styles and some of us are more direct than others.  I envy those who are able to be honest, direct, and kind.  Me? I'm wordy.

Some agree with Shakespeare that there are times we need to be "cruel to be kind" and that to help someone we must deliver the harsh truth knowing it will sting.  It depends on the relationship.  This adage from Shakespeare is from Hamlet and it involves a relationship between a son and his mother.  It isn't just a random fly by directed towards a stranger or mere acquaintance.  In fact, in its original context, Hamlet is burdened by the reality that he must hurt his mother in order to effect the change that must be.  Most rudeness doesn't care that much.  Therefore, rudeness is not "tough love."  It's not love at all. 

Does honesty without rudeness take more effort?  It sure does. Rudeness is lazy.  It's also a sign that someone's trying to come off as "tough" or callous.  That's fine on occasion, I suppose.  I've been known to deliver a rude comeback when the situation or my mood seemed to call for it.  Not that rudeness is really ever called for, but yeah, it happens.  It means I'm not interested in dialogue, but in slinging verbal shit at that moment.  My unintentional rude moments, however, were probably a result of not taking the time to consider how my words will be received or whether they will be productive to discourse.  A genuine apology and an explanation which takes the time to empathize with the other person usually closes that gap.  Kindness is stronger than rudeness and some of us should exercise our kindness muscles more. 

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Regret is Life's Hangover

Regret is a powerful emotion.  It can help us learn from experience or plunge us into depression.  And what can be even stronger than regret from actual choices is "anticipated regret" where we project ourselves forward into the future and predict what may happen.  According to the results of a study done in 1996 where participants were given lottery tickets and asked if they wanted to trade tickets with one equally as likely to win, most chose not to trade thereby eliminating the risk of doing something that could bring regret.   According to this article, The Amazing Power of Regret to Shape Our Future: "Anticipated regret is such a powerful emotion that it can cause us to avoid risk, lower our expectations, steer us towards the familiar and away from new, interesting experiences. We anticipate more regret when we go against the grain, when we make positive decisions ourselves, rather than letting the chips fall as they may."   This is what sad experience and its subsequent regret teaches us, to shy away from situations in which we must take personal responsibility for a negative outcome.   

 I don't think other animals experience regret as humans do.  I don't imagine my dog is ruefully kicking her own ass over getting into the garbage and strewing it all over the kitchen even though it cost her crate time and a scolding.  Though the experience may, we can hope, teach her not to do it again, because animals learn as we do to avoid negative experiences (if the negative outweighs the positive, anyway), I doubt she's feeling that bad that it will cause her not to chase the next squirrel she sees into the neighbor's yard. We humans have this amazing memory that associates itself with strong emotions such that it can impact both our present and future experiences.

One of the motivations for getting a tarot reading is this desire to avoid anticipated regret.  We want to make the right choice, i.e., the one that won't bring regret, and analyzing our current mindset and attitudes and peeking at the likely outcomes is all part of a thoughtful deliberative process.  But I think life is rigged in such a way that we can't avoid regret if we want to learn anything. 

"I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations - one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it - you will regret both."  --Soren Kierkegaard

Housewives Tarot

Since we're stuck with regret, it's probably best to learn to live with it.  A tarot reading can certainly help parse out the possibilities and assist with making a decision you feel mostly positive about.  This is a good thing because when the inevitable regrets come, you can be assured that you made your decision in the best way you could, given the information you had at the time.  Life can be understood backwards, hindsight being 20/20 and all, but it must be lived now and forward.  And some things can't be changed, there are no do-overs.  While it may never be too late to go back to school and earn that degree, we can't turn back time and erase having married someone, having children, or any of our other choices and experiences. The healthiest adults accept this and accept also that it's really never too late to earn more regrets.
"The man who insists upon seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides. Accept life, and you must accept regret."  --Henri Frederic Amiel

 The challenge is not to live without regrets, but to accept them, to integrate them into the sum of your lived experiences, and to use the education that comes with them not to avoid regret in the future but as additional information with which to make your decisions now.  Becoming wiser doesn't have to mean losing one's capacity for new risks and daring opportunities.  Becoming wiser means having the experience to know how to deal with the regrets when they happen.  Because happen they will.  The strongest regrets those in hospice centers express tend to be not the things they have done, but things they didn't do.

“Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, "It might have been.”― Kurt Vonnegut

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Unashamed Intution

The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. ~Eden Phillpotts

One of the appeals of going to a fortune teller, a psychic, or a medium is the magic of being told things a stranger shouldn't know.  I think that's a legitimate bit of entertainment.    When people talk about their experiences with getting readings, the tone is often so casual and like, "Whatever."  Even when recounting accurate, spot on readings where the reader did indeed tell the client private things and predictions that came true, the one telling the story usually ends it with, "Yeah, but who knows?"  There are always a good mix of good psychic and bad psychic stories which only partly accounts for the cautionary attitudes.  Of course we need to be wary of people who deliver bullshit and take your money for it.  But I find it fascinating when people who have experienced a genuine psychic reading still appear to shrug it off.  So few are confident enough to say, "I know there are a bunch of sham readers out there, but the one I saw was legit."  Why is that?

I think it stems from embarrassment or an unwillingness to be seen as someone who believes in "that stuff." It's like we're so scared to admit there's more to this life, our experience of it, than what we can see.  We feel nudges, hunches, and odd feelings all the time.  We make synchronistic associations all the time.  We see signs and we dream and make connections.  But we feel awkward admitting it and accepting this other input as valid.  Even as a tarot reader, I still experience the same feelings.  There are some days when I am sure I am spewing nonsense, just pulling random things out of my underwear. (Funny how, on those days, my readings are better.)

We are grounded to this earth in these physical bodies, so we like to be able to touch, see, and measure things.  We want to know for sure and hold it in our hands before we believe.  That is entirely valid and I don't think we should dismiss the need for substantive validation.  Science has it's place and yet I don't think science should be the only thing we rely on.  Look at how scientific discoveries change our realities, not always for the better.  The USDA nutrition guidelines are a good example.  For years we've been told our diet should look like this:

And then we got fat.  And heart disease.  And diabetes. 

Now the USDA's latest recommended diet looks like this:
Half our diet should be fruits and veggies, more veggies than fruit.  The other half grains (and at least half of those should be whole grains), and protein.  A little bit of dairy.  We learned certain oils can be good for us, dark chocolate is healthy, and maybe eating all that white flour and rice wasn't working so well.

So why did we believe the USDA back in the pyramid days?  Well, when it was created, there is some speculation that it was not scientifically designed but politically designed with certain industries lobbying for a better place on the pyramid.  So we can't always depend on "scientific research" so we must conduct our own.  Eat like the food pyramid for a while and see what happens. For some people who live very active lives and burn off all those carbs, it's probably fine. Our bodies will respond differently depending on who we are, our genetic predisposition, our current health, our activity level, our income (healthier food choices tend to cost more), etc.

And that is my point: we must validate what we experience in our own lives. If you went to a psychic and you were amazed because the information was deeply personal, exactly what you needed to hear, connected to your life and your immediate concerns, then it is as valid as anything else real in your experience.

As my colleague, James Wells, recently blogged in his post "Tarot and Thinking are Friends" --
Intuition is simply one more sense in the panoply of human perceptions.  It is neither less nor more important than sight, smell, taste, touch, hearing, thinking, or proprioception.  Too many people mistake impulse for intuition, thereby making less-then-helpful decisions.  Impulse carries emotional attachment whereas intuition simply provides information.
I also wrote about that in my post Intuition Needs Your Input only James gets right to the point.  Intuition, yours or someone else's, should be used in tandem with other discoveries and information.  In fact, our balanced life should look a lot like the USDA's "My Plate."  Rational logic, Swords could be one section.  Emotional experience and feelings, Cups, should be another section.  The third section would be Pentacles, our physical experience and knowledge.   And another section should be our motivation, energy, and passion, Wands.  That circle off to the side?  Psychic knowing.  It's all part of the information we need to live and make decisions.  That rational, logical stuff that our society seems to think is the only information we should need, over and above anything we feel emotionally or experience physically or intuitively, is like the bottom-heavy grains in the old food pyramid.  It just doesn't work for most of us.

I'd like us to be less ashamed of speaking about what works for us if it's not of the socially approved norm.  I'd like us to go ahead and be awed and amazed when a stranger tells you something they shouldn't know. The more we accept these sources of information for what they are, we will become much better at utilizing them and know their place in our lives.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Reading Without Spreads: One Card Readings

Thanks to the volunteers for these one-card readings. I'm hoping to demonstrate how to gather information from the cards without a spread. We're starting with one card and then add more. The one card is obviously easiest, and it will show how much information is in one card without any position meaning from a spread.

Jen said she is feeling stuck and wanted some advice.
By Susan Hudes Published by US Games 2002
 The 4 of Cups, Hudes deck. The deck is important because different decks present the image in different ways. This image sure speaks to Jen's situation. This guy looks pretty "stuck." The cups suit is about emotions and the four is a number of stasis and stability. The image shows a man in a thoughtful position with three cups in front of him and one hanging on a branch off to the side. The Hudes deck uses patterns in an interesting way. The artist, Susan Hudes, chose book end paper patterns to represent each of the four suits. In this card, the pattern can be seen on the figure's arms. He is otherwise clothed in black. This may suggest a kind of emotional depression as well. The arms are in a position of relaxation and minimal support. His legs are crossed and his body language conveys a rather closed off, withdrawn demeanor. Traditionally, the card means a weariness of life and not being very interested in much. Disillusionment with one's situation also applies. To me, the guy looks bored. As advice, this card might be suggesting that this is a time to think about something you've left off to the side, something that has the ability to bring joy too your life but which you may not have had time for or set aside with the intention of picking up again at a later time. At the time that you set it aside, you may have lost the joy in it temporarily or you may have simply lost interest. But that cup that's hanging on the branch is key to getting you out of the slump. It tends to be something that's not in your scope of vision just now because those cups in front of you demand your attention. In your current state of malaise, that other cup may not even interest you much, but it is the one that will help you to get "unstuck."

Trisha asked, "What action(s) can I take to bring more money into my life?"
By Susan Hudes Published by US Games 2002
 The Ace of Wands, Hudes deck. The wands in the Hudes deck are staffs and the symbol on the top resembles the symbol of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of the royal family, the sun, dancing, the arts, music and the sky. Each of the Aces in this deck feature flowers in addition to their suit end paper pattern. The yellow flowers on this Ace symbolize purity, clarity truth and intellect. Mayans viewed the color yellow to be associated with corn, thus it symbolizes provision, sustenance, and all things that are wholesome. The entire background of this card is the end paper pattern associated with Wands in this deck and as such implies the Ace has incredible energy and potential. Traditionally, this card means the creative force, invention, enterprise, and the powers behind them. When I see this card in relation to this question, I see a new project begun with passion or simply a new inspirational idea. While you may have considered taking on a part time job, you probably don't want to do something that you aren't passionate about. The key to bringing more money into your life is to ignite a new sense of passion either about what you are currently doing for income or for a new source of it. Desire is crucial to attracting anything. Pay attention to seemingly random ideas that pop into your head because these seeds of ideas could very well be the avenues that bring you money. Whatever it ends up to be, it can't be a drag for you as that will just drain your resources, your energy, and won't be very productive for you in the end. Also, the image is very "front and center" so it appears that this is a very present concern and one that you want to give immediate attention to and act on your inspirations and impulses, not putting things off for another time.

Nina asked, "How does the future look for this relationship?"
By Susan Hudes Published by US Games 2002
 The King of Cups, Hudes deck. The Kings and Queens in the Hudes deck all feature a map behind them which symbolize their domain. Behind this King we see a map with very little land mass, the earth's pole, and lots of water. Kings represent the mastery of the suit, and since this question has to do with an emotional issue, a relationship, then this card bodes well for a mature, emotionally deep relationship. The only issue with this card and relationships is that, while they may be very deeply satisfying, they tend to lack in the practical matters. The day-to-day fleshing out of a life together can be difficult with King of Cups types as they don't tend to pay much attention to the nitty-gritty details or just let someone else figure them out. They're not the best when it comes to finances and planning. They're likely to just do whatever feels best in the moment. Luckily, this King also has a strong element of air, as all Kings do, so at least he's intelligent and self-reflective enough to know his own flaws. All in all, the future of this relationship looks emotionally satisfying as long as you don't expect too much in terms of practical matters or are fine with taking care of them yourself.

 Deitre asked, "Should I be working or staying at home? I'm on the fence."
By Susan Hudes Published by US Games 2002

 The Ace of Pentacles, Hudes deck. This Ace, like all the Aces in the deck, has the end paper pattern of Pentacles as its background and purple flowers around it. Purple flowers symbolize dignity, pride and success. I had to laugh when I saw this card come up for your "either/or" question. Tarot is so funny to me. Aces often represent to me that answer "Yes." So, should you be working or staying at home? Yes. The Ace of Pentacles would suggest that it doesn't really matter whether you stay at home or not, but that you would probably feel best if you invest yourself into something that will reward you tangibly. It might be work you can do from home, but whatever it is, it's not only about the income. The Ace of Pentacles represents a seed of creation, something you plant, water, nurture and grow to fruition. It is a beginning. Start something that will satisfy you in a real and practical way, and something that will earn an income, yes.

Thanks so much to my volunteers. I also appreciate your patience with the delay in getting these up. As you may know, our area experienced some wicked storms that cut off power to many. I was not one of them, but my kids and their father were. So I brought my kids to my place for the better part of the week and all tarot stuff had to take a back seat. I know you understand. Next, we'll add some more cards and look at how to interpret the interaction of cards with no spread.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Free Will or Fate?


Last night I finally watched The Adjustment Bureau, a movie about fate versus free will, and because that's right up tarot's alley and mine, I recommend it even if sci-fi isn't your thing.  I'll try not to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I won't make any promises.

The story is boy-meets-girl, but the twist is that there are cosmic forces that are trying to keep them apart even though they really, really like each other a lot.   A whole lot.  So much that even when threatened with losing everything and what amounts to a lobotomy by beings who can easily follow through, the guy doesn't give up on taking the path he feels in his guts is right for him.  Here's a trailer:

The basic premise is that we all have a life plan that is charted for us by The Chairman and these members of the Adjustment Bureau are charged with making sure that we follow it.  They do this through orchestrating slight mishaps, inconveniences, and other "adjustments" in our lives that manipulate it just enough to keep us on track.  If that doesn't work, they will tweak our reasoning process a bit in order to make the decisions we're supposed to.  It's all very cloak and dagger and highly coordinated.  The idea of free will is just that, an idea.  We have it in the little stuff but not in the decisions that impact the course of our lives.

I am a very big fan of free will.  While I have known some people who prefer their life plotted out for them and who wouldn't take responsibility for a dang thing, always saying, "It was/is God's will,"  most of us like to manage our lives ourselves, please and thank  you.  But something this movie highlighted was that even without The Adjustment Bureau, society does a really good stand in job for them.  At the end of the movie these words are spoken:

Most people live life on the path we set for them, too afraid to explore any other. But once in a while people like you come along who knock down all the obstacles we put in your way. People who realize freewill is a gift that you'll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that's the chairman's real plan. That maybe one day, we won't write the plan, you will.
Right?  If you think about it, our families, our friends, our social environment all serve as The Adjustment Bureau.  When we step off the grid a bit, they are quick to try and rein us back in.  What ensues is usually so unpleasant we become afraid of stepping off again. But there are some people who just don't give a crap what others think or feel and grasp their own fate by the throat and just take it.  They just take it.  And they do so with no other proof, no other evidence than the gnawing in their entrails that tells them there's more for them over there, doing it this other way. 

Today I found this quote: “Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” --Jawaharlal Nehru (Indian Prime Minister 1889-1964)  Philosophers argue whether there is even such a thing as true free will since we are all subject to causal relationships and random acts are not premeditated and therefore not freely chosen.  However, I like this compatibilistic (the theory that free will and determinism can co-exist) view of Nehru's even though determinists would dismiss it saying how we play the cards depends on our biology (nature), environment (nurture) and a host of other predetermined factors.  Still, whatever we have, predetermined or not, we have the choice to work with it, against it, or with some combination thereof.  We love rags-to-riches stories because they highlight how a person's own will can rise and triumph over the weight of negative deterministic conditions. 

My own life experience has evidenced that while I do have choices, I am not all-powerful or limitless.  I understand there are some things that "just happen," but what Nehru is saying is that how we respond, how we choose our next move, is something we alone ultimately control.  While we are not likely to choose contrary to our own brain wiring nor our lived experiences, we sometimes do.  And I think those times are when our intuition is so strong we actually feel like it's something we're "destined" to do.  Ironic that at the moment we are fighting hardest for our free will that we would attribute it to fate.

"And maybe that's the Chairman's real plan."

Could it be that in those moments of actual or as close as we can get to free will that the reason we feel such commitment and resolve, despite the gut-wrenching fear, is because we are meant to learn how to become more and more free?  I like to think so.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Foolish Hero


"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool."
 William Shakespeare

When the Fool appears in a reading he is often welcomed as a "fresh start," a "new beginning," brimming with possibilities.  But, he's not wise and he's quite prone to making dangerous mistakes.  He doesn't give a care what consequences may come, he's impulsive and naive.  I wondered, however, if back in the day when tarot began if the image of the Fool was viewed in such a positive light as he is today? When did the Fool become a Hero?

He's a complicated character, to be sure. He's good and not so hot. In the game of tarocchi, the Fool carries the same points as any of the Trumps which hold the highest point value, but he has a special function.  He's the Excuse card which can be laid down in place of any suit when the player doesn't have a card of that suit to play.  As such, he's a very good card to have in one's hand.  However, at the end of the game, if the score is split even, the side that played the Fool will lose. Not good.

In the olden days when tarot was new, there was already much commentary about fools.  The Bible for example, has tons of proverbs and pithy sayings that warn against being one, the most notable verse being Psalms 14, "A fool says in his heart there is no god."  It is important to note that the Hebrew word for fool used in that phrase means someone who is morally corrupt.  That's important because tarot images of the Fool range from a court jester to a beggar to a mentally disabled person who each have different characteristics and reasons for acting the fool.  The Psalms 14 statement appears to be condemning only the ones who, with full mental capacity, knowingly choose evil over good. Fool is used in the New Testament in ways that point out wrong decision making and Jesus had no problem calling out a fool if it illustrated his point.  It was considered a very harsh term back then, though, because it inferred the person was hell-bound if they didn't change their ways, and it calls not only their faith but their intelligence into question.  And if "fool" wasn't bad enough, he sometimes added to it by calling some extra ignorant people "blind fools."  Fools also get a bad rap in the ancient writings of the Greek philosophers, Confucius, and, well, pretty much everyone who tried to explain the difference between right living and wrong living used the fool as an object lesson in what not to do, who not to be.  He has been our shining bad example. 

But then St. Paul turned the fool around.  In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul stated that man's wisdom is foolishness to God and where we think we're crafty and wise, God knows we're ignorant.  He contended that the message of the Gospel was seen as foolish to those who were smart and educated by society's standards, so to counter their arguments he embraced the fool and said, "We are fools for Christ's sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised." (1Cor 4:10) Basically, he was saying that anyone who accepts and promotes the wisdom of man is the real fool because the wisdom of God, which seems foolish to men, is the real deal.  Being a fool for one's faith was suddenly better than all the man-made education in the world.  It was a pretty clever way to say, "I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off of me and sticks to you."  This statement changed the symbolism of the Fool to someone who was only temporarily lost or misguided but could be enlightened. Not only that, but once enlightened would continue to be disdained by conventional society because they just don't get him.  Someone who, despite all outside appearances to the contrary, was actually wiser than those who followed the well-trod path of human convention. And now we have our Wise Fool, the bumbling hero who manages to overcome obstacles and challenges, endures trials and tribulations, gets tempted and falls, rises above the consequences, learns from wise teachers, focuses on the goal, succeeds admirably, and finally is rewarded with a crown of glory.  The Fool's Journey is the Hero's Journey.

The notion of the "wise fool" was developed during the Middle Ages and  became very popular during the Renaissance and promotes the concept of learned knowledge and wisdom.  The wise fool became so popular that no Elizabethan drama was complete without the fool.  The original idea of a wise fool is seen in children and in the phrase, "Out of the mouths of babes."   Heraclitus observed that much learning does not teach wisdom, implying that wisdom can be possessed by the unlearned.  The "wise fool" is not mentally deficient, but possesses an otherworldly wisdom beyond his status.  He is also not a jester that merely plays the fool in order to be allowed to speak his mind to and about those in power.  But all manner of fools have these elements in common:

  • They are ignorant and so live a happy and carefree life.  They are not intelligent enough to worry about tomorrow or regret past decisions, so they lead a blissful existence in the present moment.
  • They are not expected to abide by societal conventions, they may say whatever they please, do whatever they wish and are exempt from consequences imposed on them by societal norms and rules. 
  • Any wisdom a fool possesses is presumed to have come from a supernatural source rather than from normal intelligence or traditional education.  They have not earned their wisdom, it was granted to them.  It is a gift.

Tarot's Fool has appeared to evolve into the Wise Fool over time, but I think he was always a questionable composite.  While our modern philosophies tend to prefer the Wise Fool over the sarcastic Court Fool, the Mentally Challenged Fool, the Morally Corrupt Fool, and the Beggar, we can find all these archetypes in historical representations of the Fool that predate Tarot.  The challenge in tarot reading is to discern which face of the Fool is dominant for that particular reading.  I've certainly seen the Fool represent the simple, literal message: "You're being foolish, stop that." It has also conveyed the assurance that, while conventional wisdom would disagree, you are wiser than you know, so don't pay any mind to naysayers.  It can also convey warnings to watch your step, danger ahead, and don't dismiss the signs.  It can tell you the action someone else took was well-intentioned and innocent, even though it may have ended badly.  Interpreting the Fool may also be swayed by which type of Fool is depicted in the tarot deck you've chosen for the reading.  One that portrays a more traditional Beggar Fool versus one that looks like a Court Jester will render different meanings.  The Court Jester was known for "speaking truth to power" in a more humorous and palatable way, whereas the Beggar Fool could bring welcome wisdom from an unlikely source if you would dare to set aside your prejudices and welcome him onto your porch for a spell.

The main reason the Wise Fool agrees with us is because he is us.  Erasmus disagreed with the prevailing idea that folly was sin.  In his essay "In Praise of Folly," written in 1509, Erasmus suggested that foolishness is the natural state of humans:
"But methinks I hear the philosophers opposing it and saying 'tis a miserable thing for a man to be foolish, to err, mistake, and know nothing truly. Nay rather, this is to be a man. And why they should call it miserable, I see no reason; forasmuch as we are so born, so bred, so instructed, nay such is the common condition of us all. And nothing can be called miserable that suits with its kind, unless perhaps you'll think a man such because he can neither fly with birds, nor walk on all four with beasts, and is not armed with horns as a bull."

We start off life as innocent fools and continue through life making mistakes, learning from them, and subsequently find out more and more that we don't know.   The Fool is Tarot's bumbling hero, and subsequently, that Fool is us. As he meanders among the Arcana, takes chances, asks questions, falls down, gets back up, faces tragedy, triumph, temptation, and trials, we easily identify with his experiences and so identify with and can apply the meanings of the cards to our lives with immediate relevance. Although we do hopefully become more wise as our path progresses, we find, often to our dismay, that we are never immune from our own foolishness no matter how long we have been on our Fool's Journey.  Michelangelo said at age eighty-seven, "Ancora Imparo,"  I am yet learning. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tarot Boundaries: Significant or Insignificant Others

One of the ethical dilemmas many readers face almost as soon as we start reading for others is the question of reading about someone other than the person who requested the reading.  It really can't be avoided.  Our lives are interconnected webs of contact with others who impact our experience and clients naturally want to know how others' thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are likely to affect their situation.  There are readers who believe reading about others who are not present is akin to spying and a violation of their privacy.  Other readers have no qualms about it, while still others fall somewhere between.  If you are a reader whose ethics preclude reading for others not immediately present, problem solved.  You just don't do it.  But if you're like me, someone who views very few things in an either/or way, and a reader who takes such queries on a case-by-case basis, you could find yourself wrestling with this frequently.

Reading about others who are involved in the client's situation is tricky.  While the client is available to give feedback about the situation from their perspective, the other person is not, so you can't know for sure if what you are seeing in the cards about that person is accurate.  Because the client is biased to their own perspective, as we all are, they cannot always objectively verify the information either. I mean, if they knew the answer already, they wouldn't be asking a tarot reader.  For example, when a client asks me why their long-distance lover hasn't contacted them in two weeks, I can certainly tell them what I see in the cards, but neither of us can verify whether that information is true, at least not until my client hears from the other person.  And even then, the other person may or may not be forthcoming.

If you decide to read about others in this way, you will determine your own ethical boundaries for it.  My own line seems to reside in the practical usefulness of the information.  For example, I will read about someone's love interest, boss, friend, or relative that is immediately involved in the situation, but I often will not read on that other person's relationship with yet another person, once removed.  Even then, my decision depends on how much influence that other relationship may have on my client's situation.  If a client is romantically involved with someone who is married or partnered with someone else, my client is naturally curious about their relationship.  They often want to know if they are being told the truth, if that relationship is actually on the rocks or not.  That's a reasonable request.  However, if they want to know how that other person's partner feels or how that other, other person will likely respond, then it gets pretty far reaching and not very useful.  My perspective is that what really matters is the immediate relationship between my client and this person.  Other extraneous relationships, no matter how significant they may be to my client's other person, do not immediately affect my client.  The other person's decisions will affect my client, so we can take a look at those.  I'm not rigid about this.  If my client can explain to me why taking a look into that other-other person is important to their decision-making process, depending on their answer, I may oblige.  But I probably won't because there are few situations that truly depend on this information and it just smacks of being nosey.  Besides, I'm not infallible and I make mistakes, and I would hate for my client to make an important decision based on some potentially faulty information which can't be confirmed.  If they do, well, that's on them, but I don't recommend it. 

Other people are one of tarot reading's wild cards.  While many like to think that everything that happens to  us is something we had a say in, it just isn't true.  Other people have their own varied choices and decisions to make that may or may not ripple-effect into your life.  They also have their own reasons, known or unknown even to them, why they choose what they do.  I've also noticed that humans have a pattern of acting contrary to what they want, which may seem odd, but we're actually socialized to sublimate our desires and act according to "reason" or other socially-acceptable "logic."

I use a simple spread that examines the other person's view of the situation, their feelings about it, what they want concerning the situation and what they will likely do.  Most often the position describing what they want and the one showing what they will likely do are miles apart.  It's interesting to see whether they will act according to their view (thoughts), their feelings, or their desires or based upon something else entirely, which could be someone else's expectations, society's or their mother's, who knows?  While this spread is very revealing, it's not always useful because, again, we can't always verify whether the information is accurate.  In the instances where it can be verified it often proves accurate, because tarot is just that good, but often we cannot tell whether it really is true.  That's one of my main objection to reading about others not present for the reading.  I do it, yes, but I will always include an overall advice card to help the client make the most out of the information provided.  Because whether the information is accurate or not, it's not empowering or healthy to approach a situation in an entirely reactionary way, leaving the results in the hands of someone else's choices.

This information is usually very useful when a client is simply struggling with trying to understand another significant person in their life.  It's helpful because sometimes even when we ask the other person why they do this or think that, they may not be aware of their own motivations or subconscious goings on, so the answers we get don't always make sense to us.  I've done many readings that have brought peace out of confusion for a client who was genuinely stumped by someone else's behavior.  Using the information from such a reading, my client can then open up lines of communication between themselves and their significant other, approaching the stalemate from a different perspective, asking more relevant questions, and acknowledging the other person's point of view.    I've received feedback from clients to that end and it is very satisfying to know they used our reading in that very productive way.  Because I've seen this kind of reading put to such valuable use, I will continue to read for others about others, with my own limitations in place.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Chaos Happens, Deal With It
Science keeps trying to understand things and that's what I love about it.  We may get it wrong, but even those mistakes help us learn more.  Curiosity is essential to learning, but also humility.  Never think you know something for sure because the next discovery will prove you're wrong.  So I really have a hard time with philosophical systems that claim to base their theories in scientific fact, even though I appreciate scientific fact I also know how changeable those facts can be.  The theories known collectively as the Law of Attraction are a good example of this.  The human brain is wired to recognize patterns or even create patterns from randomness, therefore it's no wonder a lot of people have noticed the pattern that happens when one projects a positive outlook, positive thoughts, positive emotions, and positive actions.  They get positive returns.  This is not what bothers me about the theories.  What bothers me is that they then take the leap to say therefore, whatever conditions are in your life now are a direct result of your thoughts, outlook, emotions, and actions attracting them to you.  Well, yes but no.  What these folks neglect to factor in is chaos.

The common meaning of "chaos" is a state of disorder and anyone who has seen an average teenager's bedroom knows about that.  But there is a mathematical version of chaos that is more precise and which affects how things play out in life.  It has to do with the elements being sensitive to the conditions around them and thereby changing, even slightly, which then effect change in elements that are in close proximity to them.  The result is that even though the elements themselves are deterministic, meaning one can predict the future behavior of each of these initial elements alone, but because the initial elements patterns are mutable in combination with the other elements around it, how they affect the elements around them varies so widely and yield so many diverging outcomes, long term accurate prediction is virtually impossible.  An example of this can be seen in meteorology and in tarot reading. Tracking weather patterns and situational patterns in tarot is an estimating game at best and we know how sensitive the conditions can be to last minute changes and surprising outcomes.   It's called "chaos theory" and while we know it when we see it in play, we can't predict it. 

Complex Chaos Pattern
You might know this pattern also by the term "Butterfly Effect," coined as a result of a paper written in 1972 by scientist Edward Lorenz entitled: Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas? A popular movie by the same name, The Butterfly Effect, explored the idea in one man's life, to sometimes humorous and other times tragic results, by allowing him to relive certain pivotal moments in his life and make changes in how he responded.  Who hasn't wished they could go back in time and change our choices?  What would have happened, how would your life played out if you had done this instead of that?  But since no one has yet been able to build a workable time machine, we can only use this knowledge for present and future events, and it's not terribly useful when the whole concept tells us we can't know results for certain.

In my experience, the Law of Attraction works about as well as cloud seeding.  You can do your part in creating the conditions, but you're not the only gear in the machinery.  The promoters of  LoA don't deny this, but they say to just leave all that "up to the Universe."  And I've got no problem with that, either.  What I have a problem with is the idea that we each control everything that happens to us, consciously or subconsciously.  How can we when so many other factors and Butterfly Effects from so many other elements are in play?  The LoA theory states that if we put forth an energy frequency by thinking, feeling, and acting on those thoughts and feelings, the Universe will respond by orchestrating all those "Butterfly Effects" in domino-like fashion and the end result will be seen in our experience, in our lives.  Not a bad theory and it does have support in discoveries made by quantum physicists, but again, it is a theory not a fact.  Just because we see the patterns doesn't mean it's working the way we  think it is.

I'm not dissing the theory at all.  I've seen it in action in my own life plenty of times.  I'm just not going to buy that I control everything that I experience.  I'm not going to take credit for only the good things that happen, either, while dismissing the negative.  I understand that I can invite negative things into my life as easily as I can invite positive things.  I just don't accept that I invited them ALL.  This kind of thinking is just another version of those who say the reason you're sick is because you sinned and you just need to search your soul for that sin then confess and repent.  Or you lost your spouse because you chose this life experience before you were born because your soul knew you needed to learn this lesson.  Or you got raped because you wore a short skirt.  It's all the same victim blaming bullshit and I won't participate in that.  I raise an eyebrow toward any theory that doesn't factor in chaos.  Shit happens and it doesn't always happen "for a reason."

From what I have seen, the theory does seem to be evolving.  More and more people who practice some form of LoA are accepting that there simply are things that happen to us that we did not specifically attract and so are shifting their focus towards our conscious responses to the random that happens in our lives as well as positively projecting that which we want.  I appreciate that kind of thinking and it resonates more with what we understand about chaos and its impact on systems.

My son, Ryan, has been a lifelong pessimist.  This character trait has been evident for as long as he could express feelings.  Generating excitement about a future event such as a party, a trip, or virtually anything fun was difficult with him and always met with some version of, "I don't want to go", "It's not going to be fun" or, "Why do I have to go?"  So I'd drag him to these events and consequently he would have a blast and not want to leave when it was time to go, which resulted in more than a few unpleasant exit scenes.  When he entered adolescence this trait became full blown and while he was always open to new adventures and experiences, he also maintained that not only was the glass half empty, the contents were poisonous.  I've always tried to persuade him otherwise and when I discovered the Law of Attraction theories, I tried to share them with him a couple of years ago.  True to form, he dismissed this "nonsense" immediately. I never brought it up again.  Imagine my surprise this year when, as a birthday gift, I sent him an Amazon.com gift card that he used to purchase The Secret books and movie.  I was so delighted I squealed!  I trust my son's critical thinking skills enough that the flaws in this series don't matter, he will be able to parse them out.  In a very random series of events that I hope had everything to do with my positive vibrations toward my son and my wish that he would discover these things on his own, he did just that.  Although Ryan now accepts the theories and believe strongly in their effectiveness, he still wonders how douchebags end up with all the goodies when the theory promotes that you get what you give.  Chaos at work.

My romantic partner, Mike, is an attraction magnet.  People just hand him things he has expressed a desire for so many times that I've lost count.  He's a natural with it and yet his life still has big areas he wishes he could manifest much better results. His recent manifestations include a new smartphone, a high-tech gaming laptop and a 50-inch flat screen TV.  I have no doubt that a big part of his success in this area is his natural optimism, a quality that attracted me to him for sure.  The magical part about his optimistic nature is not that he is able to attract these things but that in spite of his negative childhood experiences of poverty, abuse and neglect, he has been able to remain so incredibly positive and proactive in his life.  Both he and I have managed to take soul-crushing experiences and put them to use in positive ways in our lives.  While we cannot explain how or why these experiences found us, what we choose, how we consciously respond, on a daily basis has made all the difference.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

We Are Woman
The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. ~Lucretia Mott

I've been a feminist as long as I can remember.  Thanks to my mother, who encouraged her daughters to be independent, strong, and socially conscious of sexism, I have, despite my varied intensity on the subject over the course of my life, always had a deep and abiding passion for the social equality of women.  I had a brief crush on a boy when I was 12 years old who asked me in all seriousness, "You don't really believe in all that Women's Lib stuff you talk about, do you?"
"Of course I do!" I retorted, "Why would I say that stuff if I didn't believe it?"  All of a sudden, he didn't seem that attractive to me anymore.  Mom would blast Helen Reddy's song, "I Am Woman" on the stereo and we would sing loudly and pump our fists:

I am woman, watch me grow
See me standing toe to toe
As I spread my loving arms across the land
But I'm still an embryo
With a long long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to I can face anything
I am strong
I am invincible
I am woman

Who else but a woman would use the analogy of an embryo?  I liked this verse most of all because it spoke of joining together with men to create a more equal society.  Because as long as I've been a feminist, I've also loved men.  Or maybe I am just fascinated with men as being so different from myself. Regardless, I believe in a society that simply accepts people from the inside out without regarding them as inferior based on physical characteristics. 

I have not lived consistently with my feminist convictions.  I married a man who was extraordinarily sexist and violently abusive towards women.  I am the man, I have the mustache, and so I tell you what to do! No joke, he actually said that.  He viewed us as "equally matched" in our fights, "You have your tongue, I have my fists.  We're equal."  However, in true feminist form, I sought the support and help of other women to leave him and his abuse, and along with my female lawyer soundly conquered him in court.

You can bend but never break me
'cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul

While I won't go so far to thank my abuser for it, my experiences with him certainly served to deepen my convictions about equality for women and particularly to work toward freedom from violence in our relationships with men.  I went on to work with domestic violence victims and survivors, hosting support groups in my home and creating and maintaining a website for victims.

Even when I was neck-deep in fundamentalist Christianity, I wasn't content with the more conservative interpretations of women's role in society.  I would counter those views with what I believed to be the authentic message of Christianity: mutuality.  I did the requisite Biblical research and made a sound case, but received the censure of my church's pastor who said I was unfit for service because I believed and espoused that women could and should serve as clergy.  In leaving the church, I was freed from the task of having to prove what I believed to be obvious: men and woman are different, yes, but functionally equal.  I wondered what men were afraid would happen if they admitted this.  I also wondered why they refused to take advantage of the vast resources of half the population.  Just as my pastor relegated me to organizing women's tea parties rather than Bible studies, many men seem content to ignore the treasure-trove of creative insight and intelligence in their counterparts. What does it benefit them to do this? 

In the long run, Women's Liberation will of course free men -- but in the short run it's going to COST men a lot of privilege, which no one gives up willingly or easily. ~Robin Morgan

It really chaps my ass that women have had to fight for what should be naturally acknowledged as true.  The Greeks were very much into dualistic philosophies and they acknowledged that both masculine and the feminine traits were to be found in everyone.  The problem was these characteristics were ascribed value judgments and those deemed "feminine" were seen as less appealing and needing suppression. But here's the problem with dualism: it neglects the whole.  The Sanskrit word Tantra transliterates as the weft and warp (duality) of the weave (nonduality), the directions of the threads that create cloth. If one of these dualistic pairs did not exist, neither would the cloth. Equality doesn't exclude the differences or polarities, it includes them, accepts them, and weaves them together to make a whole -- whole person, whole society.  Suppression or devaluing one side of the duality makes for a very unbalanced, weak "whole," or rather, something that is not whole. 

The Empress in Tarot is representative of the feminine part of the duality, while The Emperor represents the masculine.  Neither is greater, together they form a pair.  The Empress comes first in the deck, interestingly, but that doesn't mean better.  If it means anything, it means every man was born of woman.  While the feminist movement has enlightened many, we still have entrenched ideas about feminine things being inherently "lesser" than masculine. While women are commended (and simultaneously ridiculed) for exhibiting traditionally masculine characteristics, men are rarely applauded for exhibiting their feminine side unless they do so in a distinctly masculine manner.  A man who bakes cakes is a "Cake Boss" whereas a woman who bakes is, well...a woman. 
We've begun to raise daughters more like sons... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters. ~Gloria Steinem

The Empress is the archetypal "mother" but not all can identify with that.  Instead of viewing her as a noun, try instead to view her as a verb.  In a commentary written by feminist Gloria Steinem, she explains:
"Think about it: As a noun, mother not only excludes half the human race, but is also limited by fertility and age and intention...
As a noun, mother may be good or bad, willing or unwilling, on welfare or rich, worshiped or blamed, dominating or nurturing, accidental or chosen.
Perhaps that’s why the noun mother is so easily taken over by profanity; or by war, as in “the Mother of All Bombs;” or by war-makers who honor Hero Mothers for birthing soldiers.
But when mother is a verb—as in to mother, to be mothered—then the best of human possibilities come into our imaginations.
To mother is to care about the welfare of another person as much as one’s own.
To mother depends on empathy and thoughtfulness, noticing and caring.
To mother is the only paradigm in which the strong and the weak are perfectly matched in mutual interest." ( Mother As A Verb by Gloria Steinem)
 Another funny thing about archetypes and dualities is that they aren't really meant to describe actual men and women, but only traits and characteristics, with no value judgment placed upon whether these characteristics and traits are better or worse.  They simply are. Men express "mothering" naturally and as easily, and many women really suck at it.  The mistake is made when we assume that feminine archetypes belong to women and masculine archetypes belong to men.  They don't, they are meant to be balanced within each of us and therefore balancing our societies.

Patriarchy is the result of too strong an emphasis on the masculine part of the duality, too much value given to that particular warp of the cloth.  While it has its benefits, such as strength, survival, profit-making, and logic, it is lopsided on its own.  Technology and business are examples of masculine archetypal structure and energy and while extremely beneficial, when they ignore the feminine elements they become destructive and ultimately self-destructive.  Only when feminine archetypal energy is integrated into these institutions will they thrive in balance with nature and with our own long-term survival. 

To me, feminism isn't about who's better or who screwed everything up.  It's not about forcing men to shoulder the blame for everything wrong with the world, even though, come on guys, you've made the lion's share of decisions for quite some time now, so take responsibility.  It's about awareness and what the hippies used to call "consciousness raising." What does it really take for people, both men and women, to realize we need balance?