The Warning Signs

Right now five years ago, I was descending into a depressive episode that lasted for over a year. I don’t believe that I’m wired for chemicals-in-the-brain type depression, which means that if I’m experiencing depression, it’s because of factors in my outward environment, how I’m handling my thoughts, emotions, and body, or a combination of both. I don’t have an on/off switch for depression–it’s on a scale. Certain conditions or habits of body/mind may lead to an episode that lasts a few days–which I wouldn’t even call depression–and if I persist in those habits, it can last for weeks or months, and the longer I persist in those habits, the worse things become.

I’ve been having a tough week and have been entering back into that depressive territory. It isn’t fun, but it’s very different from five years ago, when I had no clue what was happening and assumed that there was just something wrong with me, and so things spiraled into a severe episode that persisted for a long time. Now I understand that, for me, it’s almost like these episodes have the same cause and effect. E.g.: Not moving my body causes these feelings, which lead to me not wanting to move my body. The causes of my difficulty this week have been mostly physical, I think, which have then carried over into mental territory.

This morning, I sat down and wrote out a list of the warning signs. These are the things that I do, or the changes in my environment, that show me I need to intervene. Looking at this list, I realize that five years ago, I was living like this all the time. Actually writing the list shows me what this is–getting out of touch and out of balance in my body and mind. I want to share this list because I think it’s easy to assume that Buddhists or other people who do regular practices like meditation have gotten to a place where they’ll never have to deal with negative thoughts and feelings again. I do feel frustrated sometimes, like, shouldn’t I be beyond this? But now I think, no, there’s no getting beyond it, only dealing with it. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, happiness isn’t about getting rid of suffering, it’s about learning how to suffer well.

Do you have a list like this, either written down or in your head?

The Warning Signs

Consistently poor dietary choices that often lead to poor sleep and thus fatigue (caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, empty carbs.) Continue reading “The Warning Signs”

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Ancestor Meditation

I am listening for the ancestors.

I am listening to the ancestral wisdom that is coming from women of color right now.

I am listening to the ancestral wisdom that is coming from indigenous women right now.

I am listening to the ancestral wisdom that is coming from Jewish women right now.

I was given the name Omyo–“abstruse; deep & profound”–by Ven. Samu Sunim, in accordance with the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. I am a direct descendant of Buddha Shakyamuni and his Dharma. I am also a descendant of the older cultures that produced him.

I was christened Emily in the Methodist church, and am a direct descendant of Jesus Christ and all of his radical, compassionate followers.

My ancestors go back even further than Buddha and Jesus. I am listening to the ancestral wisdom coming from the witches and the plant healers right now. I am listening for the ancestors of pre-Christian Europe.

It is difficult to admit that I am angry with my ancestors for settling this continent as they did, for being complacent and complicit with enslavement and genocide, for losing the Old Ways. I am angry with them for handing ritual, ceremony, and the care of the soul to the Church. I am angry with them for handing healing to the scientific medical establishment.

My ancestors were hillbillies–racists and bigots, religious fanatics, snake oil salesmen, murdered women, subsistence farmers, oil drillers, hog slaughterers. They came to Turtle Island three hundred and fifty years ago, and before that, they lived under regimes of thought-control, totalitarianism, patriarchy, kleptocracy, genocide, and ecological destruction. For centuries.

They survived, and I am here.

They compromised; they survived and I am here.

On the Collective

It’s not surprising to me that I was in a tarot slump in the months leading up to the election. I was having trouble looking deeply into anything because I was in a state of numbness/denial about the possibility of Trump becoming president. No wonder that I didn’t have a lot of patience for slowing down, sitting with myself, and understanding what was happening inside me. Since the election, however, I’ve been turning inward–and turning toward darkness. I’ve been absorbing a lot of lessons about power, not only the kind of power coming out of the White House right now, but power dynamics between people and in movements, and where power resides in me.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been spending a lot of time with my cards, a lot of time alone in the dark with candle light. I’ve been using Slow Holler pretty much exclusively, although the Animal Spirit oracle by Kim Krans recently came into my life and I have a feeling I will be using it quite frequently for a while. Right now, I’m very interested in the spread of movements and ideas and Slow Holler is perfect because its wisdom is very much focused on the collective, and on seeing individuals as part of collectives. The deck substitutes the Kindred for the Empress, the Guild for the Heirophant, and Intersection for Justice and throughout the guidebook we’re asked to think about how our actions affect the collective, and vice versa. This deck landed on my doorstep when I most needed it, but I couldn’t have known that when I backed it on Kickstarter nearly two years ago.

I have been thinking about the collective a lot, and I have been acting in the collective, too. On January 21st, I went to my local Women’s March, which ended up being 11,000 people strong (about 1/5 my city’s population.) That night, I slept through the night for the first time in months. Just yesterday, I attended a protest against Trump’s Muslim/refugee ban at Detroit Metro Airport with about 7,000 other people. Being an introvert, I feel pretty drained after protests and marches, and have to do some conscious breathing when things get tense, as they did for a minute last night when a Homeland Security cop threw a guy to the ground. But I want to keep going to them because knowing that I’m not alone, that there are thousands of people willing to get out in the street (and in the case of last night’s protest, on less than 24 hours’ notice) with me, and that I’m willing to get out in the street with them, is the best way I know how to avoid feeling powerless.

There is so much to be scared about right now–the ban on Muslims and refugees has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind for the past couple of days, but the gag orders and hiring freezes at the EPA and other government agencies, the re-starting of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, attacks on the Affordable Care Act, are all deeply unsettling. I think what’s most unsettling to me is that Trump is clearly bent on destroying the US government, both as a functioning democracy and an institution that is supposed to support and protect the people. (I’m not saying that the US government actually has been doing these things as it should, but it’s better than Government As Business Making Profit for the Very Few, which Trump clearly wants.) He’s doing this by appointing people to office who want to destroy the agencies they would head.

So what did the two protests I attended actually accomplish? Nothing. Nothing, except that they gave people hope, helped make connections, inspired other people to act in similar ways, normalized our outrage, de-normalized Trump, and said to all of us, very powerfully, that we are not alone.

I have been doing reading and listening, too. Here are a few different voices that have made their way to me through various means, talking about what is being asked of us, and how we can take care of ourselves for the long term.

First, How to #StayOutraged  without Losing Your Mind by Mirah Curzer. There’s much good advice here, but for some reason, the following is really, really resonating with me right now:

The movement works as a coalition of people focused on different issues, so don’t let anyone convince you that by focusing your energy on one or two issues, you have effectively sided with the bad guys on everything else. Ignore people who say things like, “you’re not a real feminist if you aren’t working to protect the environment” or “you’re betraying the cause of economic justice if you don’t show up for prison reform.” That’s all nonsense. There is a spectrum of support, and nobody can be everywhere at once.

By the same token, don’t allow yourself to be shamed for being new to the game. Ignore people who tell you that your protests of Trump are hypocritical because you didn’t protest Obama. That’s hogwash for many reasons, but most importantly, YOU ARE HERE NOW AND THAT’S WHAT MATTERS. Do not engage in activist one-upmanship, and don’t allow yourself to be shamed for not being fully briefed and up to date on everything, for not spending your days glued to CSPAN and Twitter, for not making someone else’s number one issue yours as well. That is a demand for emotional labor from you, and you do not have to give it.

I think this is resonating with me because within the resistance community, it can be hard to separate the signal from the noise, legitimate critique and dialogue from people tearing each other down because they feel helpless in other venues.

Second is a video that I just found this morning, by Jill Freeman, whose wise voice is emerging beautifully in the YouTube community. One of her main points that I’ve really taken to heart is that bullies like Trump do things very suddenly and quickly because they want to disorient you and see how you react. Jill makes the point that it’s imperative not to freak out right now because this is a test–because if we freak out, this is going to be a sign that our MO is freaking out, and we can be taken advantage of very easily. (She puts it a lot better than I do.)

I don’t feel like either the Women’s March or these airport protests are freakouts–even though the conservative media would like to paint them this way. The words that I’ve heard in these spaces are, “I am not afraid. We are not afraid.” They are messages that if you push us, we’ll push back. I have come away from them feeling stronger, not weaker. But if you are feeling scared and powerless right now, Jill’s video contains much good advice.

Third, a couple of Facebook posts from the author and activist James O’Dea. The first is from the day after the election:

This is not a time to fall into fear or project calamitous consequences for America but it is a time to be very, very vigilant. Vigilance is a state of conscious alertness and full-bore engagement:
Hold a vivid and dynamic vision of collective well-being and a truly positive future.
Act from a place of radical inclusion.
Listen with full-bodied attention to unspoken wounds and to the whispers of indefatigable hope.
Activate the fullest expression of your own morally inspired conscience.
Incarnate and manifest your values down to the finest detail.
Attune to Mother Nature’s gathering voice and speak her language with eloquent clarity
Attest to the power of love and warm its fires by building beloved community.
Put a light in your window to welcome kindred spirits, those afraid of persecution and as a sign that you are always, always open to healing dialogue.

The second is from two days ago:

The death of complacency…the birth of conscious activism

What does it mean to be complacent? Well, you know it will all turn out fine. Let’s not get all hot and bothered: a wrinkle here a wrinkle there doth not the great unraveling make. Right?
Wrong. Dead wrong. On a day when refugees from majority Muslim countries who had visas and undergone full screening were taken off planes and detained at airports we can’t be complacent. Christians were not affected by the ban.

No more shrugs about cutting funding for climate change research; deportations , refugee bans, reviving fossil fuels, supporting torture, coddling dictators etc. If you have been shaken from complacency frenzy is not the answer.
Have a little burial ceremony for our collective complacency then celebrate the birth of truly conscious, visionary and inspired activism.

 

And, finally, this beautiful meditation on Instagram from Dori Midnight:

Friends, we are magic. Our magic is our power, our resilience, our protection, our way. It’s a rough day, and by day I mean a time outside of time, a dream, a folk tale we are living in in which the shadow beast monster is sitting at the decision making table trying to destroy, imprison, and control our earth body and the magical ones. It’s okay if we lose hope right now, because we are going to move beyond hope. We need more than hope. We need magic, we need all our senses, all our eyes, our plants, stones, songs, dances, poems, ancestral love, hexes, spells, chants- we need to reach deep into our baskets and purses and toolkits and pockets. Deeper than marching, deeper than making calls and writing letters, though those are part of our magic, we need more. We need to dream and vision and hold on to our visions of justice and liberation. We need to take the leap, beyond the structures that no longer serve us, and never did- the police, the government, all the architecture of patriarchy and white supremacy- what is on the other side? Mutual aid, plant medicine, networks of care, kinship, feeding each other, circles of people singing, learning how to prepare our bodies in death, remembering what we know in our bones, talking the way whales talk to each other, listening to what the earth and the ancestors have to say in this moment about how to stay alive, how to stay present, how to work like the tricksters we are. White people, now is the time to do some deep ancestral healing and connecting- get right with your bloodlines and make it right with both magic and real, concrete reparations- give money and put bodies on the line.

In the folktale, the hero/ine always has more than human allies and always outsmarts the asshole with humor, magic, trickery, dance, song, and ancient ways. Let’s remember ours.

Let’s stay together, let’s stay strong. Let us continue to envision what we want as we fight against what we don’t want. I feel surrounded by so many beautiful people with strong spines and open hearts, I feel that we’re beginning to find that within us which is indestructible.

The Question is Insight

NOTE: I mixed up the 7 and 8 of Cups in the Thoth tarot. That’s what I get for working with a trimmed deck!

I’m not sure that we give ourselves enough credit for asking the question.

What I mean by this is: in tarot, we generally see the question as a means to an end, and the question itself doesn’t matter so much as long as we get a good or meaningful answer. Of course good questions are important–I’m not saying that the tarot community doesn’t think that. Nowadays, any tarot reader worth their salt will have a whole page dedicated to guiding querents in phrasing the question. But.

We also allow other people to ask the question for us, or, more commonly, a series of questions. These are called spreads. I have several myself that I designed for personal use, and then made public for others to use. It’s deeply gratifying to find that some of them have been useful to others. But.

A few mornings ago I sat down with my notebook and cards and some questions came forth. The questions in themselves are nothing spectacular, but they are not the same questions that I would have asked even a month ago. I’ve done a lot of tarot-assisted hand-wringing about what I want to do with my life, what’s meaningful to me, and how I can get there. I have wanted the cards to give me answers about how I can change.

But the questions that came forward were actually the result of change that’s been happening subliminally, in my emotions and my body. The role of the cards wasn’t so much to point the way towards the future, but to show me what changes have taken place.

jan 7.jpg

Where should I be focusing if I want to get more done this year? Three of Stones
Where am I resistant to change? Seven of Branches
What do I need to add to my life? Three of Vessels
What do I need to drop? The Storm
What do I look like when I’m the Boss? The World
What do I look like when I let others be the Boss? Eight of Vessels

This term “the Boss” comes from a sudden insight that I had over the Christmas holiday, in which I really realized that I need to “Boss it up” this year. In 2016, I was very reluctant to apply for jobs that I didn’t think were exactly what I wanted. Actually, at the beginning of the year, I was reluctant to apply for jobs at all. I had this idea that I should take a break (very true!) which then transmuted into an idea that I was going through so much personal growth that if I got a job I would be hampered in the new understandings that were unfolding in me (sounds good, but a complete line of bullshit.)

By being the Boss, I don’t mean a stance toward the world in which I want to control or dominate other people. Rather, it’s about not allowing myself to be limited by stories and concepts, and about taking responsibility for my own life, even in–especially in–situations where the outcome is beyond my control. Being the Boss means the buck stops here.

It was only after having this insight that it became possible for me to ask these questions. And I have to say–as a tarot spread on its own, this set of questions looks pretty lackluster! But for me, asking these questions was my way of admitting to myself that yes, things do need to change in some pretty specific ways.

All of the cards held a significant message, but I want to focus on just one, the Eight of Vessels, which I think will illustrate what I said earlier about being limited by stories and concepts.

eight of cups.jpg
Eight of Cups/Vessels in several different decks (clockwise from the left): The Wildwood Tarot, The Wild Unknown Tarot, the Smith-Waite Centennial Deck, the Slow Holler Tarot, and the Thoth Tarot.

The Eight of Cups/Vessels has long been one of my favorite cards. When I began reading tarot back in January of 2015, I was still in grad school and gearing up to finish and defend my dissertation, having already decided to leave academia for something more closely aligned with my strengths and values. When I first took a good look at the Waite-Smith card and saw the red-cloaked figure walking away under the silent moon, it touched something inside me. Seeking rocky, high ground, moving into the unknown, moving away from what was logical or easy–I found myself in this place. Just look at the header of this blog–it features the Eight of Cups alongside the High Priestess (my birth card) and a statue of my favorite bodhisattva, Ji-jang Posal. There was an ascetic streak in me at that time, for sure.

More recently, when I saw the Eight of Vessels in the Slow Holler Tarot, I also fell in love with it–dark, moody, laden with sorrow and strange symbols, sadness and potential for rebirth (and amazing use of perspective.) But when it came up in this position in this reading, I got a very different message: I have been holding on to the energy of this card for too long, and it is time to move on.

Two years ago, the energy of the Eight of Cups was fresh and piercing; the card was a descriptor of what I was trying to do at that moment in my life. But now it’s stale. I am still in the posture of walking away rather than walking toward. But what is there that I still need to walk away from? Leaving academia behind, actually, turned out to be as easy as dropping a stone in water. Yet I am still allowing ideas about my personal growth in this period of transition get in the way of the one thing that I actually need right now: getting out in the world and doing things, even if it’s not my dream job. I will discover my dream job, my strengths and potential, through trial and error, not through sitting around and doing nothing.

eight of cups.jpgAlthough I say I’ve always liked the Eight of Cups, it’s true that I’ve never liked the Thoth version–Debauch. Withered lilies dripping green slime, no thanks. But now I see that I’ve moved into that place, that what started out as the ascetic’s journey has ended with self-indulgence. [The Seven of Cups is actually pictured above, but here’s a picture of the actual Eight of Cups–Indolence, which, in retrospect, applies to what I’m saying even more.] But I never would have come upon this insight if I hadn’t first understood that I’m not being the boss of my life right now. That insight came first and pulling the Eight of Vessels refined and deepened it.

Gathering In 2017

As we move into 2017, I think the most thoughtful and pithy thing I’ve read about it is this XKCD comic. I hope you had as good a 2016 as possible, and that 2017 brings everything you need and desire in spite of the confusion and challenges that the world is moving into politically and environmentally.

Last year, I got really, really in to this whole New Year thing. I worked through Susannah Conway’s Unravelling the Year Ahead workbook (which I am now doing again for the 3rd year in a row), did a giant 36-card year-ahead reading, and invented a New Year spread. My word for the year was UNKNOWN, and my overall year theme cards were the Emperor and Failure. Yup. All told, the giant year-ahead spread didn’t amount to much, so I skipped this this year. But I did choose a new word for the year, AWAKENING (or rather, the Slow Holler Tarot chose this word for me) and drew the Traveler of Stones (Knight of Pentacles) and Illuminate for my year themes. I want to talk a little bit about how this year theme thing has worked out so far, and then jump into this year’s Gathering In spread.

themes.jpgIn some ways, I’m glad that I had Failure on the table right from the very beginning, because that’s what this year felt like in a lot of ways. My failure to get a job in particular was something that I really wasn’t prepared for. I apparently wasn’t really prepared to search for a job, either, and I find myself at the end of this year reevaluating my strategies and priorities.

Looking back on my posts about themes for 2016, I’m struck about how I interpreted the Emperor, though. I located the Emperor outside of myself, seeing them as representing institutions and authority figures that I would be up against. Now that I look back on it, it was a strange way to approach the year, to assume that this year would be focused on petitioning large, authoritarian institutions. (Although the Emperor turned out to be a very fitting card for 2016 as an election year.) It wasn’t until a few days before Christmas that I remembered the Emperor card again and wondered–“What if I was supposed to be the Emperor?”

Given the theme of the Traveler of Stones and Illuminate for this year, it seems correct that I missed out on my chance to be the Emperor in 2016 and I’m now being sent back to the drawing board. I look at the equivalent of the Emperor in the Slow Holler Tarot–the Navigator–and wonder if I would have approached the year a bit differently if I had pulled that card instead. (Probably not–I think I needed the experience of this year to learn the lesson.) The Traveler of Stones tells me that I’m going to have to go back to basics, put my nose to the grindstone, and be prepared to sacrifice and let go of some things that I was clinging to in 2016. There are no guarantees of success, but Illuminate echoes the theme of awakening and suggests that this process will awaken me to new possibilities that I hadn’t considered before.

As for the Gathering In spread, last year’s was quite warm and fuzzy, but this year’s is more elusive and abrasive. And I think that’s a good thing.

gathering in 2017.jpg

1 Fire of this year: 2 of Knives. What is it that motivates me? What is it that I actually want to do with my life? The answer isn’t so clear. I want to work on tenderly exploring this impasse, rather than remaining defensive and stagnant. I have a lot of very specific ideas about what I want to do and the context in which I want to do it. I’ve got a long list of stuff that I don’t want to compromise, and I may just have to make some compromises.

2 Air of this year: Traveler of Vessels. Let’s let the intellect roam–a year of being a dilettante, not an expert. The question is: how do I bring this out as a strength? Because my lack of discipline means that I got almost nothing written in 2016, and therefore not even close to getting something published. I have so many ideas, but shoot them down before I get too far. The phrase in my head popped up this morning: “Write first, ask questions later.” Did I make that up?

3 Earth of this Year: Ace of Branches. HERE is my fire and inspiration! I may be more motivated this year by finances and the prospect of stability, rather than my ideals. This has been a source of tension for me lately–I could get a job doing something that I don’t want to do, but I’m having a hard time finding jobs for what I actually want to do. Do I change my ideals? Do I just take a “job job” and try to squeeze in other stuff around the edges?

4 Water of this Year: Four of Stones. Notice any tendencies to close off or isolate myself from others, or, conversely, to rely too much on others. How do I preserve emotional boundaries without making them into a prison?

5 Spirit of this Year: Six of Stones. Operating from a place of scarcity isn’t going to cut it. I really need to open my spiritual practice up. This year began to shift my understanding that my spiritual practice isn’t about me, but it’s about all beings, myself included. My head is beginning to make that shift, but my practice is not there yet. I need to come out of that defended, self-centered place and be more generous and giving (which translates to: practice more and take it more seriously.)

6 My Guiding Light: The Devil. Well, this is one to think about! It’s probably prodding me toward a more, well, devil-may-care attitude toward things, being less cautious and less picky. This Devil card is so abrasive and unsettling, but for that reason I kind of love it. (Also: body hair and uneven boobs: yes!)

7 My Personal Power: Student of Branches. Remembering that I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to build. I’ve been getting a lot of the Student and Traveler cards lately, a reminder that I’m not in a place of mastery. I’m entering a new discipline via work and I am also entering a new world with a radically altered political landscape. Learning and hard work are the main modes that I need to move into. I’m not going to beat myself up about slacking this year, since I did just finish a DOCTORATE, you know. But time to get back to work.

8 How to respond to what I can’t control: Architect of Vessels. And yet the one thing that I can achieve a sort of mastery over is my relationship to my emotions and how I respond to other people. When shit happens, taking care of my emotions, watching my emotions, and watching how I relate to other people’s emotions, will be key.

9 How to take care of myself: 10 of Vessels. I got the 3 of Cups (Vessels) last year, so this is a progression in a theme. Do not isolate! Seek friends and lovers for comfort. Cultivate gratitude and awareness of others’ gifts.

10 What is AWAKENING? 5 of Knives. I really love this card–which is strange, since 5 of Swords isn’t a card that has ever really attracted me. When I saw 5 of Knives come up here, I went “ouch,” but in a good way. Awakening is about understanding hurt: the ways I hurt myself and others, and the ways that I am hurt by things outside my control. It’s time to take a good, long look at this stuff, whether it be understanding my privilege or exploring how I’m carrying old wounds into the present and doing little things that hurt others. I love this interpretation of the card because it’s about the skeletons in the closet–time to get them out, to take out those old knives and put them to work in the kitchen.

Rather than looking at this spread as being predictive, I’m looking at where I am now and what it illuminates as I move forward. This spread isn’t what the year will be, it’s what I need to do.

I hope you move into the New Year with grace and power. Please let me know if you use the Gathering In spread, if you’ve got a word for this year, or if the cards have given you some good insights about the year ahead!

Quiet friend, who has come so far

It’s been a long, long time, my dears. I did not intend to abandon this blog for four months, but looking at the last post I can see how grief and pain have been catching up with me–as well as alternating feelings of overwhelm and idleness/worthlessness. I’m humbled by the steady stream of people who continue to find their way here, most of them looking for information on the Wooden Tarot. I’m very aware that my Wooden Tarot meanings series stalled out right before I got to the Major Arcana and I still don’t quite know if I’m ready to take it on.

Truthfully: I’ve been in a tarot slump for the past few months. I think a large part of it is that knitting has largely taken the place of tarot as the dominant hobby/daily practice in my life. It used to be that I’d bring my tarot cards down to the breakfast table with me so I could do a daily draw. Now I bring my knitting down to the breakfast table with me and try to get a few rows in first thing. Another reason for my tarot slump is probably that I’ve disengaged from tarot social media in large part because I (finally) quit obsessing about which deck to buy next. I enjoy the tarot social media community, but it really was getting to be too much for me. I became too focused on owning and displaying decks (and looking at other people’s decks) rather than my own practice.

But I think most of all, I’ve really had to pause and assess–given the pain in the world, does it really make a difference if I pull out some cards with pictures on them? Over the past couple of months, although I continue to practice with tarot and oracle cards every few weeks, I’ve at times had a sense of embarrassment over the idea that I own about a dozen tarot and oracle decks and really think they could help out in the face of all the things that are wrong in this world.

Even though I haven’t done a whole lot of direct action either, I’ve been resistant to turning inward in response to the pain of the world. I think that part of this is that a slow, dry, low-key depression has been creeping up on me due to the fact that I still don’t have a job. I really, really don’t want to turn inward because it kind of seems like it’s dying, and the parts that aren’t dead are in a lot of pain. I don’t want to look at that, to sit with that. It’s true that I have come a hell of a long way since my depression four years ago, but I still find myself here: distracted and fidgety, overreacting to every thing I do wrong, wanting someone to give me a job so I can just have something to DO, but utterly resistant to doing a job that I think is boring or meaningless.

Despite talking a good game about meditation and spirituality, I still find myself indulging in distractions, avoiding the present moment, and being harshly self-critical. It’s taken me a long time to own up to this fact.

And then…this. Yesterday was a week since the election, and I am really sick of the word election. Already in my town, which is as blue as Babe the ox, a man threatened to set a woman on fire if she did not remove her hijab, gay and interracial couples have found swastikas scrawled on their doors, and a rock that university students regularly paint had “Kill them all” spray-painted on it. Not that any of this shit is new, it’s just been happening with greater frequency and visibility over the past several months, and even more so since the election.

It’s been fairly difficult for me to function, honestly. And I feel so vulnerable in this pain. Fortunately, I have close friends who are feeling the same way that I do so I’m not completely alone. But it feels so overwhelming at times–not only what is happening to human rights in the United States, but the fact that resisting the fossil fuel industry here has become so, so much harder.

And I just don’t know. I realize that the majority of my fellow white people voted for Trump from a place of privilege. Some (seems like a greater number than the media wants us to think) really were just voting for him because he is a bigot who is going to put white nationalists and ultra-conservatives in power. More, however, were so sick of Hilary Clinton and the Democratic party (I don’t blame them) that they were willing to throw pretty much every marginalized and vulnerable group of people under the bus. They might not have voted out of overt racism, but it’s clear that they cared more about their personal finances than justice or human rights.

But–I can’t say I’m much better. I voted for human and Earth rights in this country, all while throwing people in Syria and elsewhere under the bus, so I can’t speak from a position of moral authority here. I did not want another neoliberal war-hawk Democrat in the White House, so I did nothing about the election aside from voting, not a single Facebook post. I didn’t even do anything for Bernie Sanders because, although he and I agree on most issues, I thought he was too far left to have a chance against Trump. Now I see that he was maybe our only chance against Trump.

Over the past week, my feelings have yo-yo-ed quite a bit, from grief and despair, to determination and even gratitude. I am grateful for this wake-up call from complacency, for the shadow of my country being brought to light. I’m grateful that the depression I was feeling about my personal problems seems to have evaporated for now (although the prospect of facing them still seems exhausting.) I’m grateful that in these times I have really found my people. I find myself reaching for connection, rather than retreating into isolation (which is my usual tendency when feeling pain.)

I don’t have any real tarot wisdom except this: We say that the Star follows the Tower as if they were two distinct developmental stages. But I say that the Star is in the Tower, and the Tower is in the Star. They continually make and re-make each other. In disaster we are called to great things.

Let This Darkness Be a Bell Tower

Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself into wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, trans. by Joanna Macy and Anita Barrows

Mid-Summer Check-In

luckLately, I have needed to put my feet in the water. Lately, my life has been feeling so stagnant and stifled and I need to experience the flow of the river. Still no job, but I haven’t been looking for one. I’ve felt like something needs to stay on hold. Yes, I’m doing volunteer work–building my portfolio, I tell people, to ward off suspicions (in others and myself) that I’m just not doing enough, or that I’m being perverse or irresponsible.

But I have never done anything irresponsible in my entire life. Not one single thing. I make good decisions, I have my shit together. How would I have gone from the 17 year old from a working-class background and a 2.8 high school GPA to a 30 year old with a Ph.D. if I didn’t seriously have my shit together? Well, I’ve had lots of luck and privilege too, don’t I know it.

So mostly, I stay in. I knit, I read. I’ve begun a journaling practice again after letting it go for at least a year. I’ve been doing asana yoga and thinking about shadow work and soul work.

The river near me goes through many widths and depths as it winds through the city, but my favorite place is where it’s wide, fast-flowing, and shallow. People regularly struggle to get kayaks and canoes through certain spots, often having to get out in mid-calf high water to carry them to deeper areas. This summer, I have realized that getting out into nature alone must be a priority for me, and right now the river is calling.

I’ve found so much life in the fast-rushing shallows–mussels, crayfish, minnows, dragonflies and damselflies, ducks, geese. I saw an osprey diving for fish, and a painted turtle digging her nest. I sit quietly and watch; or wade slowly and turn the river stones over with curiosity and trepidation. I take my cards, too.

In May, I spent 10 days in an intensive with Joanna Macy, which is an experience I will be grateful for for the rest of my life. I brought my Mary-el with me, and while I did almost no readings for myself, I got the chance to do several readings for other people, and news of my crazy-ass tarot deck spread like wildfire among the participants. People saw and recognized the depth of Mary-el immediately.

After returning, however, I didn’t touch my cards for a week or two. I don’t know why–it just didn’t feel right. When I began doing readings for myself again, they were mostly focused around the circle teachings of the four directions. I’m still not sure what I’m doing with that, but I may write about it in the future.

I’ve been feeling the closest to my nature-centered decks: the Wildwood Tarot, the Wild Unknown Tarot, the Druid Animal Oracle, the Earthbound Oracle. 20160630_150041I feel like my practice is shifting and deepening somehow. I’m trying to take a more intuitive turn, but it’s also been hit or miss. I think my problem is that I want to do bigger spreads (especially spreads I’m just making up on the fly) and it’s not really clicking with me. I’m sort of groping my way to a more body-centered, nature-centered way of card reading.

Looking at my site traffic (which was bizarrely high in May and nearly as high in June, despite the fact that I published almost nothing), I see that a lot of people are landing here looking for info about the Wooden Tarot. I finished the minors months ago, but looking at the majors will take more time. I haven’t even begun with them yet, to be completely honest. I tried to start soon after I finished the minors, but something just wasn’t clicking. I didn’t feel like I could find a way into them. That may begin to loosen up and change a little bit, but I imagine it will be a while before posts start going up.

Today I made up a small daily spread that may be useful to some. Right now, all of my questions are about finding my place in the world–that is, my true place. It’s a much bigger question than getting a job; it has to do with what I was born to do, and I don’t know. Remember how my word for 2016 was UNKNOWN? Well, I’m finally making it into the unknown. It may be irresponsible, perhaps, but I don’t to get a new job–a new set of responsibilities and identities, a new social scene–until I dwell in this place of unknowing a little longer. Anyway, this spread is a version of the questions that I’m asking myself all the time nowadays, so here goes.

  1. Today’s theme, or most important feature
  2. What do I need?
  3. What needs me?

I hope you find it useful; if you do, let me know.

I just felt the impulse to apologize for all this navel-gazing, but you know, I’m not going to apologize. It’s part of what I need, and it’s part of what the world needs from me.