78 Notes to Self: A Tarot Journal - 5 new articles
“Life is a journey up a spiral staircase; as we grow older we cover the ground we have covered before, only higher up; as we look down the winding stair below us we measure our progress by the number of places where we were but no longer are. The journey is both repetitious and progressive; we go both round and upward.”
―William Butler Yeats
I love metaphors to a fault. I know when I've traveled too far into metaphor land when my children snap back, "OK, Mom, ok, I get it, I get it." It's like when you've walked along a beach for so long that because the scenery still looks the same you have no idea how far you've gone. Enough with the metaphors. I can never get enough. Tarot, like metaphor, is illustrative language that tells a story and paints a literal picture in order to communicate a vital truth. I love tarot and I love metaphor, so yeah, not going to stop with the metaphors.
I have often heard the metaphor of an onion used to describe an internal process, be it of healing, maturity, or self-discovery. The idea of the onion metaphor is that we continually peel away layers of self to get to the core. The onion metaphor, however, did not line up with what I actually experienced on my personal trek through life. I found that when I overcame a particular personal obstacle or had a breakthrough that allowed me to move on, at some point later I would revisit the same issue. I thought that layer of the onion had been removed. Then a friend of mine shared that she thinks the path is more of a spiral. As we travel the spiral we certainly do revisit the same issues time and again but at a different level. Now that's a picture I can relate to because it mirrors what I have experienced in a more precise way than the onion metaphor.
From the golden ratio and the Fibonacci sequence, the spiral is a constant pattern in the universe. This is a widely observed phenomenon, though scientists have not figured out the "why." Maybe that's better left to philosophers, but the pattern is evident in everything in nature, art, biology, and The Universe itself.
The World card is about those times on our journey when we overcome obstacles, complete an objective successfully and feel joy, freedom and a sense of accomplishment. The wreath that encircles the dancer reminds us of these cycles and that we are never really finished. If you've ever played a video game with "levels" you'll know what I mean when I say this is the "Leveled Up" card. Completing a level is an accomplishment worthy of dancing in celebration, but as any gamer knows the next level will undoubtedly be more challenging and many of the same obstacles you met in the previous level will be presented again but will be more difficult to overcome. However, all along your journey through the levels of the game you have picked up tools and skills and armor to help you in the succeeding levels. In some games, you've also picked up allies who will help you as well.
Wait, these cycles, aren't they what The Wheel of Fortune is about? Yes, but different cycles. The Wheel is most definitely about cycles but they are the typical rotations of life's whims and follies. In other words, fate. While our actions do certainly shape our destinies, we are never free from those events that occur outside of our control that impact our lives. The World, on the other hand, focuses more on how the individual has responded to those and other experiences in order to achieve the successful completion of a goal. The similarities between the two cards doesn't stop there. They each have heavenly beings in each of the four corners. They can be attributed to Christian symbolism of the four evangelists whose books are canonized in the reformed New Testament: Matthew -- a man; Mark -- a lion; Luke -- an ox, and John -- an eagle. These four Evangelists are also represented by the four fixed astrological signs: Leo, Taurus, Aquarius and Scorpio. In The Wheel's imagery they are each busily writing in books whereas in The World they are celebrating the success of the figure in the center. This conveys the message that the Divine was in the seemingly arbitrary events and that heaven was rooting for you all along.
Yet another symbol in The World card can be found at the very beginning of the Major Arcana within The Magician. The Magician holds a wand. The figure in The World holds two. This wand is distinct from the suit of Wands in the Minor Arcana. On the table before the Magician, that wand is lying along with symbols of the other suits. So the wand in his right hand with his left hand pointing downward is to symbolize his connection to the Divine and the power to bring forth the adage, "As above, so below." He is, in Waite's tarot, an adept who, unlike the charlatans of previous tarot magicians, seeks to express the Divine within as direct manifestation in his life on earth. The wands in the hands of the woman in The World card are not directly engaged in a concerted effort. She's barely grasping them and they are balanced equally. She's mastered something in her Divine nature and the manifestation is complete. Bravo!
Resting on that laurel wreath is transitory because the next turn of the spiral is right after her last spin on the dance floor. She will find herself back at one, as a Magician, attempting to manifest yet another aspect of the Divine into her earthly existence. No doubt she will go over the same ground previously trod but with a new perspective gained from her last level.
In readings, some situations are readily seen as World events. Graduations, new parenthood, a promotion, an award, etc. I've seen The World show up when someone has been struggling to overcome a broken heart and is a very encouraging indication they are ready, finally, to move on. I've seen it say, "You're above this, don't stoop to their level." and "No need to go through that again, don't reinvent the wheel" (note reference to The Wheel). To a lesser extent this card can be associated with travel, not just a road trip, but more like the kind of travel that requires a passport or visa. However, more often it is a celebratory message that says "Go you!" The question remains, "What's next?"
“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,
After all, one can’t leave his shadow lying about… and not miss it sooner or later, don’t you agree?
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
"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."