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, November 19, 2016

Me And My Shadow
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“You spoke your words as though you denied the very existence of the shadows or of evil. Think, now: where would your good be if there were no evil and what would the world look like without shadow?”
― Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
It has been a hard year or so.  That saying that goes, "Bad things come in three's" is a load of shit.  Bad things come in two's, three's, four's, five's and so on. In the last year these are the things:

  • The car died.  
  • The laptop died.
  • My father died.
  • My sister died.
  • America died.

That last one was a wry joke my daughter made that still makes me laugh.  Tori called me a few days after the election and upon hearing the depressed tone of my voice asked, "What's wrong, Mama?"
Sighing heavily I answered, "It's just hard to be positive right now.  I know I'm depressed but I also know it's with good reason given this difficult year.  I mean, my sister just died."
"And then America died," she quipped, and I burst into laughter.  Thank goodness for dark humor right now.  

The world seems a rather dark place at the moment.  Putin and Assad are bombing children and kittens in Aleppo. Our soldiers are still killing and being killed in Afghanistan. President Elect Donald Trump (!) is surrounding himself with  dark minions.  I've gained 20 pounds in the last year, probably due to stress.  The rent went up.  My salary didn't.  Mike lost his job.  Despite mine and my family's efforts to save her, my sister died from leukemia four weeks ago.  I've every reason to be depressed, but I don't want to be.  I never want to be.  Depression is a liar, a cheat, and a thief and it's running that train through my daily life.  

 I have learned from previous treks through this valley that I cannot combat depression by shaming it away.  I can't deny it away.  I can't smile it away.  I also can't do nothing.  The shadow of depression will thrive unless I sit with it, face it, and accept the reasons it is here.  I must remember not to listen to its lies, but understand why it tells them. Every day, I am determined to move in the direction of health and wholeness, but determined in bringing my shadow with me for the lessons it teaches me are valuable.

So I've been thinking this recent turn in cultural events is like getting the light switched off in a room and having to live with the shadows for a while.  That isn't all bad.  Just as individuals have a "shadow side" so do countries and governments.  I'm not speaking politics here -- so this isn't me saying Democrats are light and Republicans are shadow, that would be nonsense.  I am talking about the impulses that we'd rather not have or deal with in others: rage, jealousy, cravings, lust for power, despair and fear.  These are the shadows that compel people to violence and petty meanness.  These are the shadows we fear in ourselves and in others.  

After all, one can’t leave his shadow lying about… and not miss it sooner or later, don’t you agree?

One of the most famous shadows in American literature is Peter Pan's shadow.  At one point in the story, Peter Pan loses his shadow as it gets caught in the window at the Darling's.  He comes back to retrieve it and Wendy ends up sewing it back on for him, for which he takes credit as his own accomplishment, a rather shady thing to do.  Separated, his shadow takes on an independent life of its own and cannot be controlled by Peter.  Most importantly, Peter was not complete without it. Although Peter Pan is the eternal child, his approach to his shadow is very mature.  It's only as we grow up and learn that certain actions and even feelings are not condoned in our society do we attempt to dissociate ourselves from our shadow, thus giving it more power and independence than had we accepted it and kept ourselves whole.

Carl Jung said that anything of substance will cast a shadow. “How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole” We can't pretend these feelings and the actions based on them aren't real.  We can't shush them away.  Many in our society have tried through censure and shaming but that doesn't work.  

Light & Shadow Tarot by Michael Goepferd
On a cultural level we're seeing a lot of unrestrained shadows and I do think this may be because we've spent a tremendous amount of effort to deny their existence, a shadow-lash of sorts.  I've heard white people who did not vote for Trump, post election, expressing that they were feeling on edge, frightened and ill at ease in their own communities.  People of color, on the other hand, responded that this is how they have always felt.  Confronting our own shadow now many are finally experiencing the reality that so many others have lived and we're learning that proclaiming oneself to be "color blind" is revealed to be the mechanic of denial that it is.  "Safe spaces" are important, but in practice merely served to silence dissenting speech.  We thought we could shush our shadows away.  

To be clear, I am not speaking of individuals here -- not the guy with the Confederate flag on his truck chasing motorists of color, not those assaulting Muslim women, not the hurlers of racial and homophobic epithets, not even the ones sexually assaulting women a la Donald Trump in this post-election freedom of shadow expression euphoria.  I am speaking of the impulse behind these acts, the parts of human personalities we try so hard to stuff away, ignore, deny, excuse, but never accept.

When we judge others so quickly and harshly, we're doing it. Blame is simply deflecting attention from the shadow. The parents whose child was killed by an alligator in Florida were met not with condolences, but attacks and shaming.  Those who overdose on drugs are made fun of in videos.  Black men shot by police are subject to a shaming post mortem.  The unemployed are told to "get a job!" like that hadn't entered their minds before.  We are such a weak and fearful society that cannot deal with shadows but this is precisely the environment in which shadows, separated, thrive.

Y'all need Jesus or group therapy or something.


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Is It Worth It?


When we find ourselves on a particular path that we've devoted a great deal of time and energy to, and the future being what it is, always uncertain, tarot can provide some valuable feedback that we can use to decide "is it worth it?"  In fact, there is a specific tarot card for just this dilemma, the 7 of Pentacles:

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert LoscheUS Games 1986 

This card represents those moments in a project, a relationship, or any goal process where we begin to have second thoughts after already having started.  We may have even seen some progress, some reward or at least the promise of it, but we're starting to tire of the work involved.  We may not see enough progress for the amount of energy we've put in.  Seven is a dreamer's number, full of what if's, possibilities, fantasies, and hopes.  Pentacles represent the earth, the solid ground under our feet, things we can touch and own and give and take.  It's not always about money, but it can be.  Depending on the goal, a certain relationship for example, it could mean a physical reality coming to be such as moving in together or some other show of commitment that you can see and touch, not mere words or promises.  Here is that moment where we are weighing the pros and cons of continuing forward with our plans and efforts.  This can be harder than starting something because when one has already invested time, energy, and financial resources, it can be extremely difficult to change course.

Other cards in a reading can give important feedback for us to use when making this decision.  The reading itself cannot and should not make your decision for you.  Only you can do that.  In reading for someone in this situation, even if the other cards show some unpleasant experiences, I always communicate that sometimes we have to get to that really tough place before we know for sure what to do.  Or the cards may indicate a struggle to come before a success.  So we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions based on seemingly "negative" cards surrounding this dilemma. For example, we might see this sequence:

Original Rider Waite Smith

It appears there may be a tangible setback and a time of material change and struggle, missed opportunities for success or assistance, leading to some disappointment, loss, and regret, but then followed by a period of recovery and healing with clear signs you are now on the way to your goal.  In this case, I would say don't give up when the going gets tough.  You will come through to the other side having learned important lessons and with a clearer vision of where you are going, even though you will not have reached your goal, you will see what you are supposed to do.  This still doesn't say whether the person will ultimately choose to continue or abandon the current project, but it lays out the likely progression which leads to knowing what to do.  

  In other readings there may be a very clear message to dramatically change direction.  For example we might see something like this:

DruidCraft Tarot  © 2004 by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm.
The 10 of Swords tells us it's done, there's no more that can be accomplished in the way you have been approaching things.  The 8 of Cups shows an abandoning of a way of being that has become emotionally draining, unsatisfying, or stale.  The Ace of Pentacles shows a new opportunity that has much more promise.  So in this scenario I would urge my client to consider other options and to critically evaluate their current situation for signs that letting go and moving on would be the right choice for them.

This kind of objective feedback is extraordinarily helpful to one in the middle of a quandry over that assessment of whether something truly is worth seeing through or not.  We're often given generic cheerleading advise to keep pushing, never give up, anything that's worth doing is worth giving your all, but sometimes that advice may not work for the specific situation you're dealing with.  We also have to take into consideration our own patterns.  Do we tend to start things and not finish, or only go halfway and give up?  Or do we have a history of holding on to something long past its expiry date?  Maybe it's time to change that.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Hypervigilance Masquerading as Intuition
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When we're ready to deal with some aspect of ourselves it often bubbles up just to the edges of our consciousness and we start seeing signs and clues for it everywhere.  Like connect-the-dot puzzles, those clues lead us to confront, research, and deal with an issue that has been holding us back or hurting us in some way.  The symptom of hypervigilance is my connect-the-dot puzzle right now.  Specifically, as it relates to intuition. The other day I heard someone on the radio mention one of the symptoms of hypervigilance, which in itself is usually a symptom of PTSD, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This was just one of many "dots" that have presented lately.  I have been in PTSD recovery for most of my adult life following an extremely abusive marriage in my early twenties.  I have been somewhat hypervigilant all my life, probably stemming from childhood abuse.  

When I escaped from the abusive asshole husband, I moved back in with my mom for a while.  My brother was eighteen or nineteen and still living at home.  One evening as my brother and I were talking in the living room we simultaneously noticed we were both nervously and repeatedly glancing out the front window during our conversation.  We realized that we were mentally "on alert" for our mother's return from work.  During our childhood our mother's mood upon arriving home from work tired and "hangry" was often very bad. We tried to secure her good favor by scurrying around, cleaning up, and whichever one of us was assigned dinner duty had to make sure it was well in process before she walked in the door.  We sometimes sat nervously waiting for the car to pull into the driveway. Trying to work out from the way the car was driven, the way she opened and shut the door, what kind of mood she was in. Would this be an evening of calm or anger? At the time my brother and I noticed our behavior in the living room that day we were adults and had nothing to fear from the return of our mother.  We awkwardly laughed at ourselves, aren't we being silly?  Hypervigilance is subtle.

The negative emotional effects of my childhood were not severe. Like everyone, I had imperfect parents but my childhood experiences did not cause my PTSD.  My mother was raised by an emotionally abusive mother and grandmother and alcoholic father who himself suffered from extreme combat PTSD.  She married at nineteen and had four children.  My parents divorced when the oldest child was nine and the youngest was two.  My father was not involved in the child rearing except as financial support.  Needless to say, my mother was emotionally ill-equipped to deal with it all and she made mistakes, some horrible.  Still, she did her best and she did succeed in parenting better than her parents.  Nevertheless, there were damages as there usually are, but I did not display the symptoms of PTSD proper until during and after my first marriage when I was faced with the perpetual threat of being seriously injured or killed by my intimate partner.

While many of my PTSD symptoms have diminished with therapy and the healing of time, I continue to be hypervigilant.  I rarely experience flashbacks anymore. The more intense and obvious flashbacks are actually easier to manage after the initial freak-out. I can rationally understand that my current emotions are responding to a past situation and I ride it out, coping by focusing on the present reality.  The smaller ones, however, fly under my radar and can trigger extreme hypervigilance that I don't immediately recognize as an inappropriate reaction.  I think it's normal for me.

In a dictionary definition nutshell, hypervigilance is the condition of maintaining an abnormal awareness of environmental stimuli.  It causes one's body and brain to perpetually maintain a heightened state of awareness which is part of the natural fight-or-flight response.  What served as a necessary survival tool during the time of trauma continues on to become a part of one's everyday existence, seamlessly woven into every waking moment, every interaction.

On the plus side, it makes one very observant, keenly so.  When it comes to "reading people" and scoping situations out, hypervigilance is like a sixth sense. Those with hypervigilance know more about what is going on than most people ever will. They pick up on others' moods and stresses, hone in on details most people miss, and spot the smallest change in their environments. In practice, hypervigilance seems a lot like intuition because this constant scanning for threats becomes second nature.  We don't try to do it, we don't think about it, we just do it.  It feels like a gift from the trauma endured.  In some situations, truly potentially dangerous ones, it is a gift, but it comes at a cost.  The price is paid in depeleted mental and physical energy and it could cost your relationships with others. 

I think intuition and hypervigilance can merge. It can be difficult to identify which is at work because they share similar "knowing" and results.  The main difference is in the physical sensations that accompany them. Hypervigilance is tiring. Exhausting, actually. I often get a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach or a clenching in my throat, and I become restless and there is a strong sense of urgency.  That is how I feel fear.  By contrast, intuition feels effortless. I am calm and relaxed and my mind just "knows" something or I mentally "hear" a phrase in my head. Hypervigilance develops out of fear and relentlessly gathers external clues.  Intuition develops by following one's internal cues rather than external. This is one reason I prefer providing email tarot readings over face-to-face.  I can't unconsciously scan the client's facial expressions or body language via text.  There is less involvement of my hypervigilance and I can trust that my intuition is coming to the fore.  The feedback from my clients suggests that my intuition is quite strong without the hypervigilance in play.

I suspect many people who have what they believe to be very strong intuition are also hypervigilant stemming from a past trauma.  Identifying which is operating is key to reducing the cost of the hypervigilance -- stress.  Stress, as we know, is incredibly unhealthy and damages the body and brain in measurable ways.

I'm partly loathe to give up hypervigilance as it has been my faithful superpower, but it has degraded my health and well being.  I may never release it entirely but I plan to work to replace its function with my intuition.  It is comforting to know that I also have developed keen intuition and can continue to strengthen that as I work to reduce the other.  For now, I plan to take this wonderful advice given in this in-depth article, Searching for Bad News: The Circuitous Path of Obsessive Thinking by Dr. Heather Stone:

Live with ambiguity. Relax into knowing that, without hyper-vigilance, you have relatively complete and accurate information. The ambiguity that is in and around you is an unclear, imperfect, benign presence that can be trusted and accepted.

The Unknown that you fight so vehemently – that you fear, blame, rail against, and pray would become Real so that it could finally leave you alone – is often better than every known thing you have ever wanted to control. Let me put it another way: every good thing in your life that surprised you was previously unknown to you. You didn’t anticipate or create the people who showed up and loved you. You didn’t manage or direct the gifts that you were given, either literally or metaphorically. Live with the Unknown, because the stuff that will make you happy in life will be the stuff that you can’t control.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

It's Not About You
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"Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven."  
-- Jesus, Matthew 6:1

When we are doing something that is intended to help someone else the most important thing to remember is that it's not about you. If you respond to that statement, "Well, of course it isn't, silly, I know that." I'm telling you it's harder than you think.  Our ego is strong.  And smart. And cunning.  And it will sneak in self-congratulatory shit when you're not looking.  

I read a really thoughtful article the other day on the dilemma of "Good White People" in the fight against racism.  The comment section was full of irony, full of "good white people" making it about themselves and then noticing they made it all about themselves and trying to figure out how not to do that.  It's hard. The main idea is that no one should feel the need to be congratulated for being a decent human being.  You just be one as a matter of course.  There are ways to bring important things to the attention of others without also saying, "Look at what a great person I am!"  Sometimes we do this with good intention, but it still reeks. 

I saw this today: Spiritual Molestation in Chik-Fil-A which I feel really nailed how I have always felt about people doing this sort of thing in public.  What made this worse was the underlying coercion of food under condition of prayer.  We might say, "What's the big deal? Even if you don't believe, prayer never hurt anyone."  True.  But to say that one will only help IF the recipient will oblige you is not giving, it's a negotiation.  This kind of negotiation is sometimes appropriate but when we are holding something as crucial to life as food as a bargaining tool, we need to be very careful.  If the manager of this restaurant really wanted to help this guy he had several options, none of which included making a display of his own faith for others to applaud.  He could have asked the guy to meet him around back and take out the trash in exchange for the meal.  He might have been able to offer him a job if he showed up every day to take the trash out (and get fed).  The manager could have prayed for him silently without drawing attention to himself.  I understand God can hear silent prayers.  

I also saw this today on why this woman stopped "being a Voluntourist," that is, stopped going on aid missions to third world countries and started coordinating aid efforts that didn't involve her actually being there.  The part about the workers coming behind them and tearing down their shoddily laid bricks and relaying them properly (and safely) in the night so the volunteers wouldn't know really brought the point home that these programs are too often set up in a way to be more about the volunteers feeling good about themselves than about the people they are trying to help.  

Those who read tarot for others have that "helping others" gene.  We truly want to facilitate growth in others and support them in their struggles.  That's often the foundational impulse behind what we do.  Like any other helping profession it can attract narcissists who get off on various twists of gaining attention, power, and ego stroking, but most of us just want to help.   However, even the genuinely motivated ones among us can fall into the "About Me" trap.  When we focus on whether or not we did it right, had the right answer, or found the correct interpretation.  When we worry too much about the feedback from our clients.  When we promote ourselves as super intuitive or act like our readings aren't wrong, the client just isn't in a place to accept the truth.  Stop it.  It's not about you. Yes, you are the one the client is looking to, but you know better.  It's not you, it's them.  It's their issue, their struggle, their dilemma, their questions.  You're helping only if you understand this and take yourself out of it.  The dialogue is between themselves and their understanding of the cards you have done your best to translate for them.  You are the interpreter.  The conversation is not about you.  This subtle but important shift in focus will make such a huge difference in the impact of your readings.  By impact I don't mean "accuracy," although that will likely be perceived as such, but by the real and actual help provided by the reading. 

All this stuff about helping in a certain way gave me such food for thought because I find myself in a situation now where the last thing I want to do is bring attention to myself for doing something "good" when really, I feel that it's the only human option.  My sister was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014.  Chemotherapy put her in remission for almost a year.  Then she relapsed.  The next step is a bone marrow stem cell transplant.  Of her three siblings tested, I am the match. In all honesty, I wasn't thrilled with the news and felt like an asshole for not being thrilled.  It's not like giving blood, it's a much bigger deal.  And the hospital where this will be done is 1000 miles away.  There will be missed work, FMLA paperwork, travel time and costs, hotel costs -- all of which our mother is generously financing because it's not covered by my sister's health insurance.  Not to mention the procedure itself will require me to be injected with a drug originally meant for cancer patients that disrupts my own bone marrow and causing bone pain for several days and having to sit immobile for six hours or more to have the stem cells harvested.  So yeah, it's not nothing.  But it really IS nothing when compared to what my sister has endured and will have to endure as the recipient of the transplant.  Cancer has turned her life and the lives of her husband and children totally upside down and inside out in ways I'm sure no one but they understand.  She recently started a GoFundMe drive in an effort to defray the monster costs of all of this.  In my attempts to get the word out to others to hopefully increase donations, I have mentioned my participation in this effort as her donor, but I have tried not to make it about me.  Because it's not.  Even though it is a little, ultimately it's not.  And I know people are just being kind and supportive when they laud me for the act of donating, and I thank them genuinely, but I cringe a bit at the comments that I am "being an angel" or that I am "so awesome."  Thank you, and I mean that, but no, I'm not.  I don't really see any other option except to be a shitty human being that would deny her the best chance she has to live.  And to be honest, I felt weird about posting the GoFundMe thing because I didn't want to bring attention to my part in this but it seemed the best way to get donations for my sister.  

I've been taking a break from reading tarot for others until the transplant is over.  Just because it's not about me doesn't erase me from the equation.  I must still be aware of my own needs else I become useless to others.  Making it not about you doesn't mean nothing is about you.  You are about you and you need to take care of you.  Always remember the flight attendant adage -- "Place your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others."