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.

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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

Keeping Secrets Like the High Priestess

A little over two years ago, I took a career seminar in which I found out that my Meyers-Briggs personality type is INFJ. This explained so much about my life to me, I can’t even tell you. Some time later, after I got into tarot, I also learned that my birth card is the High Priestess. Getting this card as my birth card may have been ordained by the universe or it may have been a great coincidence, but in either case it has helped me think about patterns in my personality and how they have shaped my life.

INFJs are altruistic and caring people; they are sensitive and idealistic, but have a strong discipline/pragmatic streak and do well at following through on concrete tasks. This combination of idealism and pragmatism makes them the rarest personality type. (Being idealistic enough to go to grad school for English literature and being pragmatic enough to actually finish the program strikes me as a classic INFJ thing.) The High Priestess, too, has a combination of taking the world (and being taken) very seriously while sitting at the border between worlds in secrecy and detachment.

Perhaps the greatest thing that the High Priestess and INFJs have in common is secrecy. And I’ve got that in spades. Being secretive is not the same as being deceptive, mind you. I don’t lie to people. It’s just that I don’t bother to tell people what’s going on in my inner life until way down the line. For instance, at the age of 24 I left the area my family lives in to go to grad school. When I talked to my family, I mostly told them about my classes or teaching or social life. But then basically, one day, they wake up and find out that their daughter is a Buddhist! Like, she goes to a temple and has taken vows and has a Buddhist name now and everything! They did not know that I had been interested in Buddhism since about the age of 21, or that I began practicing seriously at the age of 26. All they know is that, at the age of 27, I’m now a card-carrying Buddhist.

This analysis from 16 Personalities about the weaknesses of the INFJ personality is a great description of my kind of secrecy:

INFJs tend to present themselves as the culmination of an idea. This is partly because they believe in this idea, but also because INFJs are extremely private when it comes to their personal lives, using this image to keep themselves from having to truly open up, even to close friends.

So yeah, big inner questions and issues are things that I work through on my own and nobody else really finds out about them until I’ve completely processed or figured them out. As another example, I decided over the course of a couple of years that I did not want to go into academia. So one day after I had firmly made this decision and even informed my dissertation committee, I called my best friend and told her that I was not going to pursue an academic career. She was devastated because her whole fantasy is that we’d get jobs in the same department and be academic best buds forever. But that’s not the reason why I didn’t tell her beforehand. It just did not occur to me to tell her my doubts about academia while I was in the process of making the decision.

Over the past couple of years, I have gone from complete obliviousness about this secrecy of mine to being quite self-aware about it. But even that self-awareness hasn’t changed much. My secrecy has been brought to the forefront of my mind recently because of murder of the beautiful men and women at Pulse in Orlando. I am queer, but I’m basically in the closet. (I pass as straight for a number of reasons, so oftentimes my sexuality is erased, even if I am trying to be open about it.) This is not because my friends or (immediate) family would react negatively any way (my mom would probably run out and join PFLAG or something), but I just always felt that my sexuality is a personal part of me, so why bother telling people? Also, I’m married to a man, so it seems like moot point. But it’s not. After the shooting, I realized how I needed to grieve it as a queer person in queer community, which actually means being part of queer community, which means coming out.

So now, at 31, I’m thinking–how am I going to tell my family, but also: why did I keep this a secret for so long?

Well, tarot to the rescue. I realized that I needed to spend a little time with the High Priestess as well as ask some questions.

hp reading

I could have chosen more decks, but I decided to take the High Priestess (or its equivalent) out of six of my decks: Thoth, Waite-Smith, Mary-el, Japaridze, Wild Unknown, and Wildwood. I didn’t do readings with these images; I just wanted to study them and have them as a focus. Then I took out my Earthbound Oracle and asked five questions:

What is the quality of things that I hide? Healing
What is the quality of things that I make known? Death
Why do I hide things? Transformation
What needs to stay hidden? Vision
What needs to be revealed? Voice

I have found the Earthbound Oracle to be the most powerful part of my readings lately, and this is no exception.

I hide things, not surprisingly, that are tender and vulnerable in me; things that I’m still working on, trying to figure out. Like it would be painful and perhaps counterproductive to take a bandage off of a wound to show someone else, I don’t want to show my developing thoughts and feelings to others until I feel that they’ve healed enough.

When things are no longer moving in me, when they’ve healed and become stable, that’s when I show them to others. There are already new questions and processes going on inside me, but the ones that I show to others are dead, not in the sense that they are gone, but that they’ve gone from being living questions to solid properties of my life. They’re dead in the way that death often signifies in tarot, something that has gone through transition.

So why do I hide things then? I hide the process of transformation. I hide things that are wounded and vulnerable in me, that haven’t had the stitches all put in place, are still undergoing metamorphosis. I hide those things like a caterpillar hides itself in a cocoon as it undergoes a transformation that nobody else can see. Transformation through healing is a fragile time for me. Perhaps I fear that I’d let other people talk me out of my process, perhaps I don’t know how to reveal to others what isn’t clear to me yet.

But it’s also clear that I don’t need to reveal everything to everyone. Some things need to stay hidden–the inner vision that drives my life questions is mine and mine alone. I just finished Bill Plotkin’s Soulcraft this morning, which is about the practice of actually being initiated into adulthood and finding your true purpose in life (soul) beyond what society or your social self thinks. These encounters with soul, which often come in the form of visions, generally happen when we go through experiences–willingly or not–that shake us out of our everyday social selves. Plotkin makes the point that telling other people about these visions

might even be a bad idea. You’re likely to be misunderstood and very few people –maybe no one–will be able to grasp the luminous vitality that the vision holds for you. (p. 325)

The owl on the vision card is blindfolded, meaning its vision is turned inward, but at the same time it holds onto a jewel. The vision and the jewel, my purpose in life and my guiding light, are mine and mine alone. The vision drives the questions and the transformations in me, and while I might reveal them to others, revealing the vision itself makes less sense.

All that being said, my voice still needs to be heard. I think part of my problem is not that I keep silent about things that I’m experiencing while I’m experiencing them, but I sit on them for a really long time, even after they’ve become a part of my psyche and everyday life.  I need to give voice to these things while they’re still vital because otherwise I’m just sitting on a bunch of secrets that are actually powerful qualities about myself, and I’m sharing them with no one.

Since we’re so close to the summer solstice, this strikes me as a good time to reflect on secrecy. What am I keeping in the dark from others that needs to be brought to light? I’m pretty good at uncovering shadowy places in myself, but once I’ve discovered them, how do I make them into a light for other people? I don’t know if this series of questions would be helpful to others, but if you find yourself in a similar place and want to give them a spin, I’d love to hear about it.

Self-Care Spread–and a Conundrum

I’ve been focusing a lot on posting my Wooden Tarot card meanings lately and I’ll continue to do so after I sit with the majors a bit. But this blog isn’t just about the Wooden Tarot and I want to do some different things, too.

This morning I woke up feeling subtly off-balance. I sort of looked at everything with a “why even bother?” attitude and generally felt discouraged. So I decided to reach for my cards and googled “self care tarot spread.” I figured there would be a million of them out there, but there aren’t as many as you’d think. So I just made up my own.

This is a very straight-forward spread with six positions, although the sixth one was a little tricky for me, as you’ll see in a moment. The questions are: How can I take care of my…

  1. Body
  2. Mind
  3. Heart
  4. Practice (that is, my daily asana and meditation practice)
  5. Practical concerns
  6. And how do I implement these answers?

I used the Thoth tarot, as I usually do when I’m looking to the tarot for some sort of comfort. The answers were lovely until the very end, when I got a nice little jab that I’m still thinking about.

self care spread.jpg
The original spread was done with my huge Thoth deck, but I’ve recreated it with my trimmed tiny Thoth. The order is 1-3 down the left-hand column, then 4-6 down the right.
  1. The Priestess. I can take care of my body by listening closely to it. Many of the signals about what I need to be eating, drinking, or how I need to be moving, sitting, and standing are not going to be obvious, so I have to listen carefully and intuitively. Lately, I learned this lesson the hard way by knitting with bad posture, which gave me pain in my shoulders, arms, and hands for over a month. The pain has mostly gone away now because I’ve made a point of correcting my posture, but I wish I hadn’t waited until my body was screaming at me before I changed what I was doing. This is also a wonderful card to draw because it’s my birth card.
  2. The Two of Swords–Peace. Wow, what an amazing card for taking care of one’s mind. It’s literally the peace of mind card! Not everything needs to be worked out in my head; not everything is a problem that needs to be solved by logic; sometimes it’s OK to leave decisions undecided or to reside in paradoxes and contradictions. Honestly, it’s probably better to live that way most of the time.
  3. The Star. Another lovely card! I can take care of my heart by remembering that everything is workable, that new things come to flush out the old, that blood moves through the heart like tides.
  4. The Four of Wands–Completion. Ha–I actually did this spread before I had done my morning practice. I can take care of my practice by completing it!! But more generally, this card is about wholeness. One of the most difficult aspects of meditation practice (and yoga practice, as I’m learning) is to remember to practice throughout the day. Ideally, we take our practice into each moment. Sometimes I do my morning practice, but really resist taking it into the rest of my life. The Four of Wands is about wholeness, and I have to remember to think of my practice as something I do with my whole life, not just something I do for 45 minutes each morning.
  5. The Ace of Cups. How to I take care of my practical affairs? By reaching out to people, interacting with others, opening myself to new experiences. This is about saying yes to opportunities that feel joyous–and to bring a sense of joy to new opportunities.
  6. Nine of Swords–Cruelty. DUN-DUN-DUNNNNNN!!! So how do I carry all this stuff out? The Nine of Swords? To me, if there’s a card that embodies self-hatred, it’s this card. Even more so than in the Waite-Smith deck, this is about self-cruelty.

So what do I do with the Nine of Swords? What happens when you ask a question and the cards give you an answer that is literally the least appropriate of all possible answers? I think many would say that, well, it’s obviously telling you what not to do. I usually never read cards that way, though–it feels like bending the answer to what you want to hear.

And yet, it does seem significant, as if the card were saying, “You have a choice. This is what you have to keep in mind.”

In any case, sitting with this spread did indeed make me feel better. It’s good to remember that doing a self-care tarot spread, regardless of what the cards say, is an act of self-care already. Instead of proceeding in my foul mood, I recognized what was happening and approached it with a sense of curiosity and caring. I think the cards reflected back to me what I was already feeling for myself, but the Nine of Swords is a little sting in the tail that will keep me thinking for a while (or not, as per the Two of Swords.)

I also had Angeles Arrien’s Tarot Handbook by my side when I did this which helped me frame the cards in a healing way. I’ve been meaning to do a post on this book for months, having worked a lot with it this fall. I let it fall by the wayside over the winter as my tarot practice slowed down in general, but now I’m fired up about tarot again. I finished reading Rachel Pollack’s Tarot Wisdom and have started my second pass on Benebell Wen’s Holistic Tarot. I hope to show you all my work with Arrien’s book soon as well.

If you do this spread (or have any ideas about wtf the Nine of Swords is doing here) let me know!