Saturday, 31 July 2010

The Tower Spread

I just read a blog post on uncluttering, which talked about it being a choice to decide to simplify your life.  That's not a choice I feel able to make at the moment on most levels, though it is one I aspire to one day.

In the meantime, at the weekend I was at the TABI Conference in Birmingham.  One of the speakers, Barbara Moore, ran a great workshop on Spread Design.  It's something I've been doing for a while, but I loved some of her suggestions on seeing how using different shapes affects how we feel about the cards, and some of her very cool "spread buffet" tips.  I also loved the opportunity to spend some time on this (time being another of those things I'd like to have one day).

One of Barbara's suggestions was to use a tarot card from a particular deck as an inspiration for a spread.  Although not a new idea, it is often great to revisit such things.  I decided to draw a card at random from the deck I had chosen to work with during the Conference, the new Sun and Moon Tarot by Vanessa Decort, from U.S. Games.  It's a beautiful deck, based on Thoth symbolism, but with fully illustrated pips.

Anyhow, I decided to draw a card at random on which to design a spread.  As luck would have it, the card I drew was the Tower.  So, a spread on issues and how to clear them out of our lives!

1. Lightning - The initial cause of this issue.
2. Fire - What's keeping it alive.
3. Tower - What needs to be destroyed.
4. Ground - What will remain.
5. Smoke - What clouds the issue.
6. Eye - What will help bring clarity.

Another of Barbara's suggestions was to test run a new spread.  I decided to try it out with a question that has been occupying me for the last few months.  I am training to be a psychotherapist, and one of the course requirements is to work with clients in a supervised capacity.  For this, we need to get a placement, generally either with a charity or within the NHS.  I have applied and been accepted, but the process of actually getting started is very slow, and I feel a little ambivalent about it.  What, then, do I need to know about this issue?

1. XX - Aeon/Judgment
2. 2 of Swords
3. 9 of Swords
4. 7 of Pentacles
5. 10 of Cups
6. Ace of Swords

The first thing that jumps out at me is the preponderance of Swords cards.  So, perhaps a bit too much thinking and worrying going on - no surprise for anyone who knows me :-)

The spark of this issue is the card XX - Judgment.  I see this being about the fact that I find it pretty daunting to be making this big move forward, even though it is one I have sought out.  Having read tarot cards professionally in person, by phone and email, I thought sitting with a "real" person (rather than the practice sessions within our training course) wouldn't feel that different, but somehow it does.

For one thing, I won't have the familiar feel of my cards in my hands to help ground me.  Also, it seems somehow more serious.  I think this is because querents approach a tarot reading with a deep desire to understand their life better, yet also with a kind of "get-out clause" that, after all, it's "only" a tarot reading.  This has some great advantages - people may be far more willing to discuss issues without feeling judged or overwhelmed.  However, it does mean that I also fear if someone has got to the stage where they feel they need a psychotherapist, it will be more serious.  I don't think that's necessarily true, but it's feelings I'm talking about here, and rationality does not rule.

What has kept this issue burning: the Two of Swords.  I see this as the time it's taking to actually get started.  As many people have commented, stage fright lasts only until you are actually on the stage.  However, because the placement is through a charity, normal notions of time keeping and information sharing are out the window.  Stuck in this imposed inactivity, I worry more and feel torn between wanting to start and anxiety around doing so.

What needs to be destroyed?  The Nine of Swords is often seen as a card of over-worrying and insomnia.  Many times when this has appeared in a reading for someone else I have asked them to think about what they can do to reduce these things - meditation, relaxation, hot milk before bed, writing down all the thoughts swirling around in their head.  So, I shall try some of that for myself, to stop the cascading worries of why haven't they contacted me? when will I start? who will be my first client? will I get on with my supervisor? will I say something disastrous? am I up to the job?

What will remain is the Seven of Pentacles.  I find this rather reassuring.  Although in this deck the card is subtitled "failure", what I see is someone drawing circles in the sand.  Some of the lines overlap, yet no two circles are the same.  I think, also, of more Rider-Waite-Smith-based imagery, where the Seven of Pentacles shows someone who has put in effort but must now wait for the fruit of their labours.  For me, then, this card speaks of practice, repetition, and accepting the time things take.

In the position of what clouds the issue I dealt the Ten of Cups.  A full moon shines in the sky above a couple pouring water into cups that rest in the sea.  I often see this card as being about idealised feelings about how things should be.  My feelings, in this case, of how quickly things should happen, of the level of confidence I should feel, of what it would feel like to be a "proper" or "real" psychotherapist.  As well as having my mind too full, my emotions are also extreme and unrealistic.  If I expect myself to be perfect straight away, I'm doomed to failure, or at least disappointment.

Finally, what clarifies the issue is the Ace of Swords.  A single sword with a snake wrapped around the hilt, and the tip of the blade crowned in gold and silver glory.  This card speaks to me of a new beginning in an area to do with communication and ideas.  It suggests this can be transformative and has potential for great personal growth, combining both masculine and feminine aspects, thoughts and emotions.  Perhaps reminding me, also, that this is but the first step in a long process.  The Ace of Swords is full of possibility, but speaks, too, of staying focused and keeping things simple.  There is a long path still to be trod, but every journey must begin somewhere.  And if I am already thinking about the route further along or the problems I may encounter on the way, it prevents me from being where I am, here at the outset of something fascinating.  And so I return to where I began, this time to a mental uncluttering.  I have the tools...

If anyone else is willing to give this spread a try, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  Or how about some alternative interpretations of the cards dealt in this spread?  Do you like the look of the deck, think it'd be easy to work with?  And what are your thoughts on spread design - a no-no, part of every reading, or something in between?

P.S. Did you notice that the spread as designed and the reading look different?  I think this highlights some of what Barbara Moore was discussing.  The design looks more balanced, and emphasises more the last card: what brings clarity to the situation.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 5 - aparigraha

Aparigraha, the fifth and final yogic yama or restraint on behaviour, is generally translated as non-attachment or non-grasping.  This is actually a concept I've used in my yoga classes, so one I feel much more in touch with than some of the others.  However, I freely acknowledge that there are some aspects of it I find more problematic than others.

Once again, I have chosen a tarot card to represent the energy of this yogic concept.  The Four of Pentacles returns to the idea of demonstration by bad example. This card generally represents a miserly figure, closed off from emotion because of an attachment to material things. However, non-attachment is not limited to material possessions.  It is also relevant in emotional attachments to people, places, animals, things, and also to ideas.

Another thing to be aware of is that holding too tightly to what we want can actually cause its loss, and not just in the realm of relationships.  For example, the harder we try to hold a yoga pose, the more likely we are to become unbalanced.  This is the aspect that I've used in my classes, trying to bring philosophy to life, as well as to help some people with their physical practice.

Where I have difficulty with this precept is when it comes to non-attachment to particular people or things.  How can I not feel ripped apart if my son is in pain, or happy if my lover holds me close at night?  How can I not covet that beautiful new tarot deck that everyone is talking about with the amazing artwork and the deep, meaningful symbolism, nor want to attend that yoga class with the superb new teacher?

So, I looked to my beloved cards for some answers.  In asking what I need to know about non-attachment right now, the answer they gave me is XVIII - The Moon.  In this card of the Major Arcana we see a priestess calling down the energy of the moon.  In front of her are a wolf and an owl, as well as a salmon in the waters behind her.  The rock to her back depicts a primeval goddess figure.  Around her we see images of the moon waxing and waning.

The first message I take from this card is about the cycles in life.  At times it may be right to care deeply about something or someone.  However, I still have to acknowledge that this doesn't mean I can prevent change.  My lover may not love me tomorrow, and I cannot stop things from happening to my son.  While I currently adore the Gaian Tarot, from which this Moon card was drawn, in a while I will probably be working with a new favourite deck.  So, perhaps I don't have to try to grasp too strongly to the concept of non-attachment, as time will in any case loosen or change these bonds.

Related to this, I see the moon, the priestess and the goddess as recommending offering up my attachments, surrendering to the will of spirit.  I cannot perhaps force myself not to be attached, but I can ask the universe's help in being wiser about how I deal with such attachments.

Furthermore, the Moon is often interpreted as representing aspects of our unconscious (or our pre-reflective consciousness if you prefer existential terminology).  So another lesson here is that in trying to become more aware of what I cling to, I can also help myself become less dependent and allow greater freedom for myself and any others involved.  

Anyhow, enough about me.  I'd be interested to know, what are you attached to and what would you like to let go of?

Image of the Four of Pentacles is from the Radiant Rider Waite Tarot. The Moon is from the Gaian Tarot.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 4 - brahmacharya

One principle that I loathed the concept of when I first heard about it was the fourth yama, or yogic restraint on behaviour, brahmacharya.  Traditionally described as celibacy, one old, male Indian writer talks of how this means abstaining from sex, and even for a "householder" (ie. normal person rather than yogic monk) this includes not having sex with anyone but your wife (sic) and only on propitious days (way too complex to explain here, but to do with moon phases, time of day, her menstrual cycle - blood is seen as impure - and even which nostril they are each breathing through at the time!)

However, a lady I'll be mentioning a lot, Donna Farhi, brought this principle into a different light for me.  She describes brahmacharya as merging with the one.  This is a concept I can get behind a lot more easily.  She also suggests that the original meaning of celibacy is more to do with where you choose to direct your energy - towards sex or towards divinity.  I don't personally feel the two are mutually exclusive, being a follower of pagan beliefs that hold that every act of love is an act of worship, divinely blessed.  Nevertheless, in this way I can see the point - it's about what you do with your passion.

Anyhow, to represent this principle in terms of traditional tarot associations, I chose the World card.  In some depictions a hermaphroditic figure is shown, hence the implication of celibacy as this person does not require another, being complete in itself.  In the sense of merging with the unity of the universe, the archetype of the World also fits - it is often seen as representing wholeness, completion, perfection and spiritual encompassment.  The two wands held in the person's hands can represent all the polarities of life, united here and so directed towards a unified goal.

As before, I have also drawn a card from the Gaian Tarot to answer what I need to know about the energy of brahmacharya in my life at the moment.  My answer this time is The Sun.  In traditional decks, the Sun card often shows a child on a horse, or two children holding hands.  However, Joanna Powell Colbert, creatrix of the Gaian Tarot, has chosen to depict instead a woman dressed in red, with arms outstretched.  Behind her is a walled sunflower garden, and a fiery sun.  For some reason, until now I rather disliked this card.  It seemed perhaps too literal, showing someone happy.  When the person is a naked child, the symbolic message seems somewhat different.  However, considering the card again, in the light of brahmacharya, different thoughts come to my mind.

Perhaps, precisely, it is saying to me that I don't put enough energy into just enjoying life.  Why do I always have to complicate things?  Does there have to be a deeper meaning to everything?

Furthermore, it seems to be a message about positive thinking.  There's been quite a bit of debate about this subject of late, even in quite mainstream, academic circles.  While I don't believe that positive thinking can solve all of life's problems, nor do I think that thinking the worst helps in any way.  The pessimist's argument that it at least helps you prepare for disappointment doesn't ring true for me.

I've had quite a lot to do with doctors of late and, at least in this country, they have a tendency to paint a dark picture.  They claim that this helps get all the bad news out of the way at the start, so that then if things aren't as bad as they said you feel happy about it.  However, while if doctors tell you the worst case scenario for a sickness some people take it as a rallying cry to prove them wrong (not, therefore, thinking the worst), others feel they may as well give up.  And giving up means not activating your body's own ability to heal.  So, while for those who don't take it as a reason to think the worst this approach will be beneficial, for those who do it may seriously undermine their health and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now, I don't think I fall clearly into either of the above categories, and perhaps few people consistently do.  There are days when I will rally to the challenge, and others where I will feel down.  For me, the Sun card encourages me to try to direct my energy towards the positives, to the possible joy in life.  As another of my favourite writers, Stephanie Arwen Lynch, says: "Seek joy y'all!"

Image of The World from the Radiant Rider Waite Tarot. Image of The Sun from the Gaian Tarot.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 3 - asteya

The third of the yamas, or restraints, described in Patanjali's yoga sutras is asteya, commonly described as not stealing.  To illustrate this principle I picked the Seven of Swords - another case where the card I've chosen shows what not to do.

In the traditional Seven of Swords we see a thief stealing away with a number of swords.  Swords, representing the element of air, are often taken to represent ideas, or things that people say.  Donna Farhi, author of "Bringing Yoga to Life", says of this yama that not stealing includes not taking anything not freely offered.  This would, therefore, include not asking for extra time from a teacher at the end of a class, nor hogging a seat in a restaurant.  The Seven of Swords can also represent deception, libel or slander, and this fits the concept of asteya, too.  In this sense it would be not trying to take somebody's reputation, their ideas, nor their trust.

As a child, I recall the thrill of stealing a penny sweet from Woolworths (perhaps part of the reason why, thirty years on, they went bankrupt?  After all, it was almost an English institution to pinch something from there.)  On the card, the thief looks sneaky and rather cool; scaling walls, blending into the scenery, he's like something from a spy film or from sci-fi.  Is there, then, a degree to which we've come to see deception and stealing as impressive - the ability to fool others and get away with things shows a certain superiority in some way.  When I think of all the films about con-artists and heists, there is definitely a sense of this having been romanticised.  But the background to this is that these people lie and cheat and steal, and in reality the majority of theft and deception just hurts people who may already be vulnerable: the elderly, the young, the poor.  Even stealing from a large corporation, what many consider a victimless crime, leads those corporations to charge the general public more.

To bring this out of the general and into the personal, I once again drew a card at random from the Gaian Tarot to represent the energy of asteya in my life right now.  The card I drew was the Eight of Air.  In traditional decks this would be the Eight of Swords, but the Gaian Tarot is far from traditional.

Here we see a group gathered around, sharing and talking.  For the moment, one man holds the talking stick, and the others listen.  In terms of not stealing, then, I think the message is about not taking away from others the time they need in order to express themselves and feel truly heard.  I sometimes jump ahead, or am in a hurry, but need to respect that different people go at different rates.  To honour the other is to listen with my whole self, for as long as it takes.  This in turn will benefit me, in that I will be showing respect to others and therefore also earning it for myself.  Also, I may well learn a lot along the way if I take the time to listen and appreciate the other's point of view.

This card also makes me think about group dynamics, the way that we are sometimes different people when with a particular group or other.  As I grow older (no, I won't say just how old), I appreciate more the idea of just being myself, no matter who I am with.  And likewise, allowing others to just be themselves.  Not trying to take away from their sense of themselves, nor from their way of being.  If I do that, I steal not just from them, but also from myself, as I lose the possibility to truly know them.

Hmm, think I may have been reading too much existential philosophy, especially Buber.

Well, dear readers, what do you think?  Is asteya relevant to you in anyway, or is it an out-dated philosophical concept?  Is it easy to accept in thinking about teens jacking cars, but harder to apply to yourself?  Or are you a saint already?

Seven of Swords image is from the Tarot of Dreams.  Eight of Air from the Gaian Tarot.

Friday, 2 July 2010

How Foolish?

Dans le Noir, 30-31 Clerkenwell Green, London

A little while ago my partner and I went to dinner at a restaurant called “Dans le noir?”  The idea behind this restaurant is that you eat in a completely blacked out room, unable to see the plates never mind what’s on them.  The wait staff are all blind, and so the normal roles of blind and sighted are in many ways turned on their heads.  The guests are disoriented while the blind people are at ease in a space they know better than the backs of their hands.

While interesting, you would be justified in asking what on earth this has to do with tarot.  Well, it got me thinking.  I wondered, what tarot card would best represent this experience?

Mid-May to mid-June in the Gaian Tarot Circle we’ve been focusing on the Seeker card, equivalent to the Fool in traditional decks.  Someone said they had always associated the Fool with “beginner mind” as it’s called in meditation and zen.  There was definitely a strong element of this while eating in the dark.  Thinking about all that we normally take for granted – how do you eat when you can’t tell what’s on your plate?  How do you find your food?  Does it need cutting up or not?  Is it all edible?  And so I came to the dining experience as if I had never eaten before (hence “beginner mind”).

Image of Dans le Noir? located in Paris, France 
Not only that, but it also requires a certain leap of faith to allow yourself to be guided into a space where you can’t see anything, you don’t know how big the space is, who else is in there, where the furniture is.  If anything goes wrong, you have to call for your waiter, introduced to you before you go in, because you would be unable to find your way out on your own. 

And so, for me, the situation did bring to mind questions about what it is like to be blind when the majority are sighted, to be always at that kind of disadvantage.  Until you know somewhere, there could well be fear that you will bump into something or get lost.  Going somewhere new would be a leap into the abyss, free-falling and hoping that it will be alright, that you’ll find your way or that others will help you if you need it.  I’m sure there are some blind people who block off these thoughts and just charge into everything, and others who allow it to stop them moving anywhere outside their comfort zone. 

In some ways, those who choose to do things regardless are throwing themselves on the mercy of the universe, much like the Fool does, walking unawares, willing to take the plunge into constantly new adventures.  And for me this restaurant brought this into sharp relief.  Even talking with people about our intention to go there elicited very different responses.  One person said they found the idea terrifying, another congratulated me on my adventurous spirit in wanting to try it out.  Some couldn’t fathom that you could agree to eat a meal without knowing what it was, while others were intrigued by the idea. 

Thinking about how you would feel about dining “dans le noir” might give you some food for thought on your relationship to the Fool card, and your willingness to experiment and put yourself in the hands of others, trusting.  Would it feel foolish or exciting to you?  And if the idea horrifies you, how do you react when the Fool appears in a reading?  What might it feel like to be more open to novelty?  Or are you too keen to jump into the unknown, without researching whether or not it’s a good idea?

Personally, I tend to see the Fool as being about trust and excitement, new beginnings and possibilities.  However, Rachel Pollack highlights that there is an element of craziness to the Fool, too.  And as someone who last year chose to go bungee-jumping, perhaps she’s not wrong.  But I love the Fool, and will carry on experimenting, because I also think it important not to lose that sense of the world still holding potential, both for fear and delight.