I Ship It: A Tarot Spread for Fandom and Personal Development

A strong marker of my life, and of many people of my generation, is the propensity toward fandom. Fandom being, in my own definition, an intense intellectual and emotional attachment to the characters and world of a book, movie, TV series, or something else. I was predisposed toward fandom from a pretty young age, no doubt because, as all of the adults in my life said when I was growing up, I have a strong imagination. From pre-pubescence to my early 20s, I bounced from fandom to fandom, going through cycles of obsession, writing and reading fics, contributing to discussion forums, and engaging in light cosplay (generally only on Halloween.)

However, while I have respect for fandom in a lot of ways, I’ve since given up on it almost entirely. I almost never watch movies or TV anymore, preferring to spend my time reading, knitting, doing tarot, taking walks, etc. I have done this because I have begun to realize that I actually don’t like the feeling of having someone else’s fictional universe imposed on my mind. I said that I spend a lot of time reading, and even that is usually non-fiction or poetry because I don’t even really like to read novels anymore.

All of this is apart from the actual quality of the novel/TV show/movie in question. I understand that there’s a lot of really good stuff out there that I would enjoy reading and watching, but I just don’t like being immersed in fictional universes. Why? It feels like limerence to me. (I had a lot of experience with limerence in my late teens and early 20s and have to say that I have come to intensely dislike it, as much as our culture fosters and promotes it.) Fictional universes pull me out of the present moment and set me on a track of obsession. I have spent a frightening amount of my life fantasizing about people who don’t exist, even when said fantasizing brings me no material or even social benefit.

However, there is one fandom—not even the entire fandom, just one ship within a fandom—that has continued with me. There’s a fanfic in my mind that I have been composing on and off for about 15 years. I’m not going to say what ship it is, but I have started to think about it in different terms. For a long time, I wished that I could just get rid of this fantasy, but it would always come back. I do wish that it played a smaller role in my life and took up less of my energy, but nowadays I’m examining it with curiosity more than anything.

This is why: I’ve noticed that, as I’ve matured as a person, so have the characters become more deep and complex. The lessons that I’ve learned in my life, especially about relationships, then make their way into the fic. In other words, the fic has become a tool for witnessing my own personal growth and testing my beliefs about relationships and personal development. Usually, the fic only exists in my mind, but I’ve been writing about it more openly in my journal to record these insights. I also decided to build a tarot spread about it, which is why I’m sharing here.

This spread is very customizable, and can be modified based on the particular details of whatever fic or recurring fantasy that you have in your head.

Card 1: In creating/modifying Character A as they are, what do I long for in myself?

Card 2: In creating/modifying Character A as they are, what do I long for in others?

Card 3: Same as Card 1, but with Character B.

Card 4: Same as Card 2, but with Character B.

Card 5: In bringing these two characters together, what do I want from how the parts of myself relate to each other?*

Card 6: In bringing these two characters together, what do I want in my relationships?

Card 7: What shadow is in this story that I can’t see?

Card 8: Is this even a healthy story for me to be telling?

Card 9: How can I take steps to make this story useful for myself in my own life?

The answers I got were interesting. They did not dredge up any deep shadows, but they showed me that continuing to work with the fic in this vein will be useful and that there are insights that I can put to practice in my life if I look at the fic with curiosity and detachment. That is—if I stop running away from it and being embarrassed by its existence, but also stop getting completely caught up in it.

This is a preeetty embarrassing topic to write about, but I decided to put it here because I bet that many of us have a ship/fantasy/story rattling around in our heads that might be better served by curiosity and analysis.

* This very awkwardly phrased question comes from my realization that each of these characters represents different parts of my own psyche.

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.

Checking in, January 2016

Well, I had some big blogging plans for this month, but this month did not want to go along with them. It’s been a very interesting time for me, and as I look at my planner, I see where I’ve written down the cards that I drew for January for my big Year Ahead Spread. When doing that spread, I thought it would be fun to check in every month to see if the cards I drew for the month actually described what happened. This is not because I think the cards predicted what will happen for each month, but because it’s fun, and because the cards can provide a focus around which I can consciously build my experience of the month.

In a way, this month’s cards were spot on: The Chariot, the Knight of Wands, the Three of Swords, and Life from the Earthbound Oracle.

january 2016.jpg

Looking at the cards in the abstract, we see the beginning of something new and creative, although the experience is not without loss and grief. I originally pulled the tarot cards from my Wild Unknown deck, but I decided to use the Wooden Tarot to revisit them this month, just for a change in perspective.

The Chariot, despite its associations with movement and victory, is actually a water card. In some ways, the Chariot and the Knight of Wands are similar in spirit, but different in their approaches. The Chariot in the Wooden Tarot is probably my favorite of any that I’ve seen, and it was the card that really floored me back when I first saw the deck. The snail here picks up on the card’s watery properties beautifully, showing that it’s not about kicking ass and taking names, but rather, it’s about becoming victorious by honoring organic growth.

The Knight of Wands/Stones signals a lot of forward movement in career and creative projects. Much has happened career-wise this month. Although I haven’t started applying for jobs yet, I met several people and made several contacts, getting a better idea of what kinds of jobs I’d like to do and what kinds of organizations I’d like to work for. Much is also happening creatively. I began to learn how to knit on the 20th of last month, and I have made a lot of progress in that time. I secretly knitted two mini-scarves for outdoor statues at my temple and placed them on the statues under the cover of darkness. I’ve seen and heard people remarking about them, and pictures of the statues were even included in my temple’s weekly newsletter! I’m also working on my first legit project: a cowl. And I made a mini-deck bag for my Earthbound Oracle. Everything that I’ve made so far is lumpy and full of mistakes, but the more mistakes I make, the more quickly I learn.

I’m also taking a Sketchbook Skool course right now, which is really pushing me to confront my apathy and laziness when it comes to drawing. Like knitting, I am having to deal with mistakes and discouragement and persist in the face of them. Somehow, doing so with knitting is a lot easier than doing so with drawing! But still I go on.

But then we come to the Three of Swords. Which has, indeed, been appropriate for this month. Usually when I see this card, I go, “Who died?” And well, yes, someone did die. At around 4am on Monday the 11th, my husband crawled into bed. I’d been awake for about 10 minutes, having woken up from a nightmare. “Are you awake?” he asked. I said yes. He said, “David Bowie died.” I would have really liked to have believed that this was a nightmare as well. Generally, I don’t grieve over celebrities or people I don’t know, but Bowie’s passing continues to be difficult. While many people my age only know him through Labyrinth, my husband (who, btw, has been a fan of Bowie’s since 1973 or so) introduced me to Bowie’s music about ten years ago and I’ve been a big fan ever since.

In our culture, we get the message that grief is generally bad. I mean, it’s appropriate for a short amount of time to grieve in public, but after that–why don’t you just get over it? Also, it’s OK to grieve over a friend or family member, but an animal, or someone you’ve never met? Sorry, that’s just embarrassing. You can be sad for a day or two, but otherwise you need to get over it.

I think David Bowie’s passing led me consider grief more deeply than I had before, and it made me more open-hearted toward other people I don’t know who have died of cancer. I was very much saddened by Alan Rickman’s passing as well (I was literally closer to Rickman than to Bowie, having been within about three feet of Rickman a couple of years ago.) He was one of my favorite actors even before the Harry Potter films, and I remember being overjoyed when I heard that he was going to be playing Snape, my favorite character. And yet for some reason, David Bowie has been the locus of my grief. I have put a picture of him on my altar, and it will stay there until February 20th, his 49th day in the bardo. (Traditionally, in Buddhism, it takes someone 49 days to transition from one incarnation to the next. Even though I’m a Buddhist, the jury is still out for me on whether reincarnation actually exists, but I do love the idea of having 49 days of formal grieving.)

Opening to grief has had a deeper impact on me this month than I would have ever thought possible. For I have begun to seriously think about and feel grief, not simply for indiviual people, but for our planet. Last week I attended a panel on climate change, held by some local delegates who were at the Paris summit last month. What I took from that panel was the unshakable conviction of something that I have been avoiding looking in the face of for a long time: at this point, climate change cannot be stopped. Even if we were to stop the use of fossil fuels tomorrow, there is no way we can stop the effects of climate change, which will continue to persist for at least a thousand years. At first, this seems like deeply despair-inducing news. And yet, it made things very simple for me, really. While I’ve been thinking a lot about my career and what I can do to further it in the short term, this has also made me think much about my purpose in this life, on this earth, at this time. Overall, I have been feeling tender and joyful, more sensitive to the beauties of our world which we are about to lose. I have come to understand that my purpose in this life is to help people cope with collapse and disaster mentally and emotionally. My purpose is also to help them understand the beauty of life that we have on this earth, and to cherish it while we still can. I don’t know if the future is going to be some sort of Mad Max scenario (I actually kind of doubt that it is) but it is clear that Business As Usual is going to become impossible during my lifetime.

Last night I did a tarot reading to help me clarify my focus and approach to all this, which I may share here. For now I’ll say that I have let the Three of Swords come into my heart, which I am holding lightly and tenderly, and for which I am thankful.

So there has been my month. One one hand, all I’ve been doing is sitting around knitting! On the other hand, I’ve been growing and opening and grieving and enjoying life in ways that makes me think I haven’t just started a new year–I have started a new era of my life. And this is where the Life card, with its little sprouting seed, comes in. Yes, new life is coming and it’s taking root.

 

2016 Part 2: Gathering In

A happy New Year’s Eve to you. Things have been quiet here because of the holiday craziness, which has finally died down. (Or rather, it died down a few days ago and I’m just now recovering.) A couple of weeks ago, I posted my massive Year Ahead Spread for 2016. While it is a predictive (i.e. fortune telling) spread, I’m not a predictive reader, so I did it for fun and also because whether it predicts the future or not, it has given me a broad range of things that could happen, which is important to think about.

When I did that spread, I chose a card each from the Wild Unknown deck and the Earthbound Oracle for the theme of the year ahead, and got the Emperor and Failure. Yup. I don’t know about Failure, but we’ll get back to the Emperor in a second.

After I did that spread, I downloaded and filled out Susannah Conway’s workbook Unravelling the Year Ahead (last year’s version of this workbook, by the way, is the reason why I got back into tarot.) Part of her method for helping people plan the year ahead is to choose a word that will set the theme. Last year, my word was OPEN, because I really felt like I needed to open myself to new experiences and others. This year, I chose the word UNKNOWN because I  have now graduated and am switching careers, so my life is one giant unknown. I believe that embracing what is uncomfortable or uncertain is a vital part of spiritual practice, so my hope is that UNKNOWN will help me not only deal with uncertainties in my life, but also cultivate curiosity about things that I think I know. (Being a know-it-all is one of my biggest–and most tiresome–habit energies.)

Inspired by Unravelling the Year Ahead, which has a page for you to mediate on the four elements of your life and how you’d like to cultivate them (air/intellect, water/relationships & self-love, earth/possessions & connection to nature, and fire/creativity) I decided to create a year ahead spread that involved the four elements. And I added a fifth, spirit, just for fun. I never actually work with this element in my tarot practice, but I know a lot of people do. Then I added four cards about your direction and personal power–not predicting what will happen from the outside, but the things that help you though any situation, not matter how unpredictable. Finally, the last optional card is to choose a theme for the year ahead, or reflect upon one you’ve chosen.

The Gathering In Spread

Gathering In spread.jpg

This spread could be used for a new year (either a calendar year or a new birthday year) or the pieces of it could be split off and used for different purposes. The Gathering part of the spread could be used anywhere, anytime. It’s the bringing together of your resources and personal power–how to stay on track, what your personal power is, how do deal with the things, as they say, that you cannot change, and how to take care of yourself. For mine, I used the Wild Unknown Tarot (fitting for the theme, eh?)

1-5: The Elements

1: Fire This is the realm of creativity. What is the theme of your creative life for the coming year?
2: Air Air is intellect–how should you be thinking about things, how do beliefs or knowledge help or hinder you?
3: Earth Possessions, finances, your body, your environment–anything tangible. What role do these play in your life the coming year? How should you work with them?
4: Water Emotions and relationships: what’s the theme for this year?
5: Spirit What is the tenor of your spiritual life? Even if you are an atheist, what’s the role of your connection to others in your life?

6-9: Gathering

6: What is my guiding light? This is the lighthouse beacon. It calls you back when you get off course; it provides guidance in times of darkness or confusion.
7: What is my personal power? What is that place of untouchable power in you–the thing that others can’t break, the thing that only you can access?
8: How do I deal with things that are out of my control? While we use our personal power to guide our selves, the truth is that control over people or events doesn’t exist. From a recalcitrant two-year-old to someone rear-ending you to the politicians signing off on oppressive legislation, no matter how many protests were had, sometimes we can’t control things. But how do we deal with them?
9: How do I take care of myself? Let’s remember to make this a priority.

(Optional) 10: What is ________? (Word, theme, card of the year, etc.)

When drawing these cards, I decided to work with upright cards only. Those who read this blog know that I work with reversals most of the time, but for big, archetypal energy stuff like this, I prefer to just stick with upright cards. As I turned each card over, I was amazed at what I drew:

Gathering

I wrote my findings in the back of my 2016 planner, so I could flip back to them whenever I feel the need.

1 Fire of this year: 9 of Cups. Spiritually driven and creatively fulfilled by things that make me emotionally fulfilled.

2 Air of this year: The Star. Intellectually at my best when I am optimistic and focus on hope, larger lessons, and deeper meanings.

3 Earth of this Year: Daughter of Cups. Striving for a relationship with money and possessions that fosters emotional simplicity and gratitude.

4 Water of this Year: 8 of Cups. Walking away from things that are not emotionally fulfilling. Knowing when to move on.

5 Spirit of this Year: The Magician. My practice is whole-hearted and combines all elements of myself. Powerful because balanced.

6 My Guiding Light: The Sun. At this point, I have nothing to lose by pursuing what makes me happy.

7 My Personal Power: 9 of Wands. Sticking to my values and principles. This is the card of personal power. I have it!

8 How to respond to what I can’t control: 7 of Pentacles. Take a moment to remember that this is a small step in a larger process. Overall, progress with happen.

9 How to take care of myself: 3 of Cups. Do not isolate! Seek friends and lovers for comfort.

10 What is UNKNOWN? The Emperor. My encounters with institutions, organizations, and people in places of power.

If you’ll remember, the Emperor was the yearly theme card that I drew in my Year Ahead Spread. I did that spread before Susannah had made Unravelling the Year Ahead available and before I had even begun to think about picking a word. And yet–my yearly theme and my word of the year collide. This is why, when I want to get all super-rational about tarot and say it’s just completely random and it only works because of the things we project onto the cards, I pause. There is something amazing about opening ourselves up to chance on a daily basis, because stuff like this happens.

Overall, I feel empowered by this spread. Since it’s now in the back of my 2016 planner, I hope to return to it periodically, especially when things get rough. And I will keep my eye out for the Emperor since he showed up in critical places in both of my New Year’s spreads.

If you use this spread for the beginning of 2016, or for any other turning point in your life, please let me know how it went!

 

2016 Part 1: The Year Ahead Spread

Year Ahead Spreads are quite common in the tarot world–the idea is that you draw one card for each month, or some variation thereof, and perhaps also a card signifying the overall theme of the year. From this reading, you will be able to predict or plan for the coming year.

Now, I am not a predictive tarot reader, meaning that I don’t use tarot to predict the future or think that it can do a particularly good job of doing so in many cases. (That is, it can’t “predict” things that the querent doesn’t already intuitively know.) While tarot can predict the outcomes of certain events based on our habitual patterns and known factors of a situation, this is more like a meteorologist predicting the weather than anything else. And when I said “tarot can predict” in that last sentence, I meant, “tarot can open up a space for understanding.”

And yet, last week I decided that I wanted to do a year ahead spread. And I’d out do myself (and everyone else) by drawing THREE cards for each month plus an oracle card! That’s right–we’re talking a 50 card spread here; definitely the largest I’ve ever done. I chose the Wild Unknown Tarot and the Earthbound Oracle because they are both rich in meaning but simple in imagery.  I imagine that doing a spread this large with very visually complex decks could get pretty overwhelming. I also went through both of those decks and turned all the cards upright. (With a 50 card spread, there’s enough going on without the added complications of reversed cards.)

So here’s what I got:

year ahead full.jpg

Now, if you look closely in the center, you can see my two yearly theme cards: The Emperor and Failure. AAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!! Yes. The Emperor and FAILURE. With, like, a flaming moth and everything. Who would be happy turning these cards over? I mean, it could be worse–I could have gotten the Tower or the 10 of Swords or something, but these are pretty two intense cards.

I am not going to go into all the details of this spread because it would take forever and you don’t want to read them. (I am thinking about doing a monthly post using these draws, though. We’ll see.) But I had a ton of fun with this reading: counting courts vs pips vs majors, seeing how the elements break down, following the thread of each suit through the months and seeing what stories it creates, and figuring out a narrative for the oracle cards.

Following the suits through the months was the best way to make sense of all this information. For instance, from March to July, there is a Pentacles card for each month: Six, Eight, Son, Two, and Four. This narrative would suggest that in these months I will not lose financial stability, but I will need to work to maintain it (Eight and Son), that I will be faced with some choices surrounding money, like perhaps a new job and new benefits package (Two), and I will reach financial stability (Four) by July. After that, Pentacles basically peace out for the rest of the year, with the exception of the Ten in November, suggesting that I will be in a place of abundance by the end of 2016.

A long Cups narrative picks up just when the Pentacles are leaving off, with a Cups card in each month from June to November: Mother, Five, Seven, Three, and Nine. The Five and the Seven suggest that around the time I’m gaining financial stability, there’s some emotional upheaval going on–perhaps because I’ve had to move for my new job and I’m sad at leaving my old home behind (Five.) Perhaps I will encounter a new group of people and won’t know quite who to trust at first (Seven.) The month that the Seven is in, September, also contains The Devil and the Mother of Wands, as well as the oracle card Resistance. This suggests to me that I may actually fall prey to some sort of emotional temptation and will have to stay on my toes if I want to keep on course. Overall, however, the narrative ends happily with the Three in October and the Nine in November–that I will be able to find a new group of friends and figure out how to keep in touch with the old ones.

OK, I’ve bored you with this stuff long enough. Yes, it’s fun! I had so much fun doing it, but the question is: do I believe this is what the future holds? I’d love it if this were so, but I’m pretty skeptical of the idea that some cards I drew on an evening in December 2015 can predict every twist and turn of my life for the next year. Nonetheless, putting this narrative together was useful because it reminded me of a lot of basic things it’s easy to forget: yes, finding a new job is probably going to take a lot of work and involve some uncertainty. Yes, moving away is a big possibility and that entails grief as well as new beginnings. Yes, entering a new social circle is going to involve uncertainty and a lot of ego, as well as a lot of joy.

But honestly, it’s the Emperor + Failure that makes it. If as my yearly theme I’d gotten Fluffy Bunnies + Sugardoodlins, this spread wouldn’t have been very useful. The Emperor reminds me of what I’m up against: applying for jobs, dealing with health insurance, moving all our stuff from one place to another, renting or buying a home. Almost nothing is certain for the coming year, except one thing: I am going to be dealing with institutional structures and people in positions of power A LOT. And not only that, but I am bound to screw up a lot of stuff along the way because I’ve never done most of these things before. In the midst of the diversity of things happening in the monthly card draws, Failure reminds me that failing is a necessary part of the process. That I don’t deal with the Emperor by never failing, but by learning from my mistakes. What a beautiful and necessary message for the year to come.

Since I’m not a predictive tarot reader, I don’t think of the Year Ahead Spread as actually predicting what will come in the following year. I do think, however, that it’s a great way of entertaining and preparing for the range of possible things that could happen. I want to check in with this spread periodically to see if it was “right” about anything, but that’s for fun more than anything. Whether it comes true or not, the purpose of doing this spread was not to predict my future, but to leave me feeling empowered. I believe that’s the purpose of tarot, anyway, and it did indeed succeed.

Stay tuned for a significant (and frankly, sort of creepy) reappearance of the Emperor in my actual, non-predictive Gathering spread for 2016.

The Difficult Conversations Spread

difficult conversationsDifficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, is a book I’d recommend to anyone. My copy has a thing on the front that says “New York Times Business Bestseller” and it’s categorized in “Psychology/Business” on the back, but I’m glad I didn’t let the association with business culture get in the way of reading this book, because it’s truly applicable from the most professional situation to the most personal one.

The authors’ argument is that difficult conversations–those that are difficult to broach or that trigger us emotionally–have three layers to them: the facts, the feelings, and the identity. If someone leaves a comment on my blog saying, “This post was poorly written,” three things are going on: the post itself (the fact), how I feel about being criticized (how I feel), and what part of my identity is being threatened by the criticism. If I am clinging to an identity of being a good writer or a smart person, I may feel defensive or angry–or I may do the opposite and give into despair: “I’m not a good writer after all.” I may respond by arguing about the facts–“This IS a good post, you just didn’t read it carefully!”–when what’s really important, and what are motivating 99% of my response to the comment, are my feelings and threatened sense of identity.

Now imagine a situation where it’s more complex: firing someone, breaking up with someone, telling a tenant that you’re selling the property and they’ll need to move, telling your parents you were sexually abused by a relative 20 years after it happened. Feelings and “identity-quakes” are going to be flying around and this book gives much great advice on handling them.

In preparing for a difficult conversation, tarot can help us, too, because it provides what we–who are so often identified with our identities and who act from our feelings–need: perspective. They get us out of the temporary feelings and thoughts of the moment and give us a space to see what we might be missing otherwise.

I mean, in approaching a difficult conversation you could just ask “what should I say?” and pull three cards, but working with an advanced model for how to think about this will make the tarot spread all the more effective.

The Spread

1. What happened: the facts of the situation. This is important because, as we all know but tend to forget when we’re reacting strongly to a situation, is that every story has at least two sides. Don’t assume that your story is the only story or that you know what the story even is. (An argument about, say, carpet vs. hardwood floors could really, in fact, be an argument in which one person is trying to get the other person to demonstrate commitment, while the other person has no clue about this and simply doesn’t have a preference for either carpet or hardwood floors!)

2. How do I feel about this situation? Seems like a stupid question to ask the tarot, but I find it to be one of the most illuminating. Sometimes the answer is not what you expect, but even when it is, it’s wonderful to see your feelings mirrored in the cards.

3. What identity or sense of self is being threatened, challenged, or changed by this situation? This is the big one. We carry around so many identities without even knowing it, and defend them not even knowing what we are doing. If someone says that I said something racist, I may argue with them about whether or not it’s a racist phrase or that it wasn’t racist because I didn’t intend to use it that way. I may go ballistic, research the history of the use of the phrase/word, or just shut that person out of my life. But what I didn’t know was that my entire response was motivated by feeling that my identity as a good person was threatened.

4. What is my goal in having this conversation? In Difficult Conversations, the authors ask you to think about this. What exactly is the goal? To tell the other person that they’re wrong or chew them out? To express your feelings? To come to an understanding? Before you even begin a conversation, it’s important to know what your motives are–because sometimes the conversation isn’t even worth having in the first place if all you want to do is chew someone out or complain to them about a situation that can’t be fixed.

5. What really needs to be said? Here we’re at the meat of it. What do you really need to say? What is your truth?

6. What is true but doesn’t need to be said? Telling a person that you want to break up with them because you don’t feel emotionally compatible is legit. Also telling them that you think their art is shitty is unnecessary. Sometimes things are true, but that doesn’t meant they need to be said.

7. What is the most important thing to keep in mind? I think of this as much of a how question as a what question. Think of this card as the lighthouse beacon for when the conversation begins to get off track. Sometimes this card will match up with #4–your goal. Sometimes it will be at odds with your goal, in which case you may need to reevaluate your purpose in having this conversation in the first place. You could even use this card as a talisman–bring it to the conversation or wear or carry something that reminds you of it.

dc spread edit.jpg

Here is a sample of this spread that I did recently. I got into an argument with a friend based on issues we’ve had before and now feel that I need to go back and talk about things. I won’t go into the details, but I’ll briefly run through each card.

  1. What happened? Mother of Swords, RX. I lost my temper, let my emotions get in the way of the facts. I was projecting my identity onto the situation.
  2. How do I feel? 10 of Wands, RX. Hell yes. Burnt out, exhausted, tired of having the same argument over and over.
  3. What part of my identity is being challenged? Mother of Cups. This one is funny because both the Mother of Cups and the Daughter of Cups are my significators. My sense of myself as a patient, compassionate person is being challenged.
  4. What is my goal in having this conversation? Five of Pentacles, RX. To undo pain and feelings of misunderstanding/isolation.
  5. What needs to be said? Four of Swords, RX. Some things that should have been said a long time ago, but weren’t. I need to stop covering things over and tell them my truth. These things need to be actionable.
  6. What is true that doesn’t need to be said? Daughter of Cups, RX. I don’t need to bring all my emotional immaturities upfront. I don’t need to go over in detail every time I was annoyed or upset. This is not about emotional venting.
  7. What is the most important thing to keep in mind? The Empress. That my goal is healing and I have it within me to do this.

Wow! I was very impressed with these when I turned them over. So much clarity here.

If you feel moved to use this spread, please comment and tell me how it went! And also consider picking up a copy of Difficult Conversations if you have some especially difficult conversations you need to have, or you have to have these kinds of conversations fairly often.*

_____________

* I bought this book with my own money and am recommending it based on my own experience.

A Spread for Daily Practice and Ritual

One of the biggest things that has influenced my life since becoming Buddhist actually has nothing to do with Buddhism specifically: daily practice. Many religions have daily practices built into them, and there are many daily practices that also have nothing to do with religions: exercise regimens or the practice of an art. The important thing is that we devote ourselves to doing something daily because it is the process doing a continuous practice–no matter what the practice is–that actually trains us, in the words of Martha Graham, to be “an athlete of God.”

I say this as someone who struggles with cultivating and maintaining a daily practice. I was raised in a Protestant culture where daily practices were not really a thing. (Sorry, Protestantism, but you kind of suck at this one.) I was also raised in consumerist US culture, which doesn’t really encourage people to have self-discipline. So–living the first 25 years or so of my life without a daily practice or any models of daily practice, it was difficult to begin to meditate daily.

The worst part is that the Protestant, US culture I was raised in also has a very quick, very simple-minded view of failure. It’s easy for our self-hatred to talk us out of commitments because we have “failed” at them–fallen off the wagon, missed a few days of practice, broke a vow or commitment. Only recently have I realized that the point is not about being perfect at practice–it’s about recommitting over and over. That’s the moment when practice actually happens.

This morning it occurred to me in a flash that tarot–or any kind of divination tool, really–could reflect some interesting things about my practice back to me. And so I created this five card spread–what I might call the Five Eyes of Practice (Buddhists love numbered lists, after all.) They are: discipline, sincerity, joy, hindrances, and encouragement/admonishment. (Note: there is probably some traditional Buddhist version of this, but I just made this up.)

I–rather casually, actually–mapped out the spread, drew cards from my Wild Unknown deck, and was surprised by the result. Lately, practice has been a bit of a struggle for me. I’m willing to accept that struggle (rather than be ashamed of it, as I would have been a couple of years ago) and investigate it a little bit. Here’s what I got:

20151030_103834Discipline: The Magician On one hand, my discipline does have power. I have learned to listen to the voices in my head that offer excuses for why we should not practice today. I know those voices do not operate in my true interest, but only in the interest of my ego. I have the ability to sit down and do the practice despite them and that’s my power. On the other hand, my practice is a little flighty. Just like the juggler/conjuror/magician who can do all kinds of tricks, I tend to go from one aspect of my practice to the other, favoring or disfavoring them, rather than being more solid and stable.

Sincerity: The Heirophant, reversed. Yup. I have definitely been getting this feeling lately of just going through the motions. The reversal of the Heirophant is showing me that I don’t have the Key right now–that is, I am doing my practice but it is not allowing me to access deeper things. My heart is in a dry spot.

Joy: The Chariot. The joy here is in getting the practice done, in checking things off the list. The joy is in the doing, rather than the being. As long as I do my daily practice, certain kinds of self-reproach and guilt won’t be allowed to surface, so I blast through the practice.

Hindrances: The Father of Swords. There is beginner’s mind–which in the Korean tradition we tend to call “don’t know” mind. So the Father of Swords is “I know” mind. Hindrances are living in the head, rather than the body and allowing the intellectual satisfaction of “I did my practice today” to get in the way of practicing right NOW. As Suzuki Roshi famously said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind, there are few.” I need to keep my expert’s mind (lovingly) in check.

Encouragement/admonishment: The Son of Cups. (I include “admonishment” here because Buddhism ain’t all sweetness and light–sometimes you get hit with a stick instead.) This encouragement is: “Take heart.” But it also shows me how to bring more sincerity into my practice: fall in love with it. Let it make things feel rich, juicy, and enjoyable.