Thursday, 30 December 2010

Is talking to yourself really crazy?

We're always told that talking out loud to yourself is a sure sign of losing your marbles.  However, with my Dear One away, and Baby Boy at nursery, I started to ponder how true this is, or not.  And so I came up with a host of reasons why it's a good idea to talk to yourself!

This might sound a bit strange, but let's be honest here: who doesn't have an inner dialogue running almost constantly?  "Should I eat that biscuit?  Do I have time to run to the shops?  Should I wear a red top or a green jumper?  Will my friend arrive on time?  What's keeping her?  Should I call her to check?  Do I hoover now, or do the dishes first?  Does it matter?  Oh, yes, I should hoover as late as possible as she's allergic to cat hair, and the cats won't stop moulting just because I've already hoovered."

Speaking some of this out loud achieves two things: firstly, it slows down the rate at which you churn through ideas, as most of us speak a lot slower than we think (well, other than children and some adults who trip over their tongues in their haste to get everything out of their head).

Secondly, actually saying something out loud you hear it both in your head and in your ears.  This makes it more likely that you will pay attention to it, and may notice if you say something important (or ridiculous - I've often laughed at myself when I say something out loud, which in my head I might just have let pass by).  And this matters as those things we say in our heads still get processed by our brains, but without as much censorship as if we say them out loud.  So, we're swallowing whole all those judments, self-criticisms, and down right daft things we sometimes say to ourselves and may be missing our good ideas!

I think it's interesting that the Fool in tarot is always accompanied by an animal (normally a dog, as above).  I have often talked "to the cats", or "to the baby".  While talking to the baby is justified in that it really does help with language development, to be honest talking to the cats is mainly talking to myself but with a theoretical audience to prevent me feeling quite so foolish.  And this points to another aspect of talking to oneself.  It can happen because we are alone, without the benefits of others to bounce ideas around with.  But the benefits of getting ideas out there to examine and play with remains.  So, if we're isolated, whether temporarily or for a longer period of time, talking to ourselves can help us clarify ideas, as well as keeping us feeling more connected, even if it is just with the dog/cat.

This aspect of feeling more connected is relevant, too.  I know of several people who have been on vipassana retreats.  There, part of the idea is to be silent in company.  This highlights again the differences between being with others or alone.  Being silent in company is a different feeling to being silent alone, just as speaking in the presence of others is different to speaking to yourself (just think of having to speak in front of an audience for instance).  Speaking out loud when alone reminds us of speaking with others, just as having the TV on to hear voices can make us feel less lonely.

In all these ways, I think it can do us good to talk, even if no-one is there to listen or reply.  So, be honest here, do you ever talk to yourself, or to the cats/dog/goldfish etc?

Image: The Fool from Dame Fortune's Wheel Tarot by Paul Huson, published by Lo Scarabeo.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Weighing up... part 2

Back at the start of November I decided to stop weighing myself.  The battery on my scales died, and because of all the arguments about weighing yourself being a lose-lose situation, I didn't replace it.  However, as the image here suggests, there can be more than one side to using a scales.  Not that it can do anything but weigh, but that it might be necessary to weigh different kinds of things.

We were supposed to go on holiday on the 17th of December, which didn't happen, but while we still thought it might we suddenly realised that our bag felt pretty heavy.  We try to have just one bag for all three of us, as carrying a baby and pushchair and several suitcases is a bit much.  Normally one of us, generally my Dear One, would get on the scales, see what it said, then get on it again holding the suitcase, so we can decide if we need to leave behind more stuff or somehow redistribute some of it to handbag, carry-on etc.  This time, though, we didn't have that option.

As I say, it didn't matter in the end, as we never even got to the airport (the joys of snow in England).  However, it did make me reconsider how this last month and a half without a scales has been.

For the first couple of weeks I found myself going to where the scales used to be, on autopilot, after a shower.  It was strange for it not to be there, but not too terrible.  Then there have been a few times when I've thought, "I bet I've put on weight" and wanted to check, but no scales...  I realise I feel a bit less in control without the scales.  This is clearly a false sense of control, as knowing what a machine says my weight is doesn't change what I've already eaten!

The other way in which I feel I miss the scales is for motivation.  Occasionally, if I saw I'd put on a bit of weight, it would encourage me to do better, at least for a few days.  However, as I wrote in my post on motivation, this certainly isn't a sustainable way to encourage weight loss. 

Overall, I don't miss the scales enough to bother getting another battery for it, except perhaps for next time we plan a holiday!  I think not having it means one less number to worry about, and to distance me from experiencing and staying with what is actually going on in my body.  If anyone was tempted but uncertain last time, I think this has been an interesting and useful experience, and encourage others to give it a go.

Image: Justice from the Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Sexuality and spirituality

One of the things that first drew me to paganism was its take on sexuality.  After years of hearing how sex before marriage is a sin, how sex is dirty, and how you need to be celibate if you are to be spiritually enlightened, the pagan take on it was like a breath of fresh air.  I remember hearing Starhawk say, "All acts of love are sacred to the Goddess." 

This was so in tune with my own sense of the potential in intimacy, in those moments when we become interlinked with another at a profound level.  I loved the non-judgementality of it - all acts of love!  Any intimacy between willing partners of whatever age, ethnicity, gender.  Not just that, but I see it also in other acts of love - when a mother nurses her baby, when a father and his child unite in joyful play, when friends support one another wholeheartedly.  All these can be sacred moments, too. 

And yes, as suggested by the image shown here, there is something dirty about sex and sensuality.  After all, if you don't get messy, you're not doing it right!   But not only do I disagree with the saying that cleanliness is next to godliness, it has been proven to be positively harmful.  Children brought up in too sterile an environment not only have all the joy drained from them emotionally, but they also have a weakened immune system.  We are not made to be tidy, distant from the world.  We are made to be a part of the world, in all its glorious chaos and confusion.

True connection to spirit emerges from our interactions with the world, not from some tidy distancing of ourselves from reality.  It is at least as easy to merge with spirit in the throes of sex as it is through meditation.  Both have their place in a grounded spirituality.

Another aspect of this dichotomy, and how we live it, goes back to a previous post on weight conflict.  This splitting between body and spirit is so widespread in our culture that we often take it in, even if we don't consciously agree with it.  And then it's possible for spirituality and purity to become equated with slimness.  Think of anorexics, who avoid the messiness of womanhood and menstruation through their extreme thinness, or the buddha in his starvation phase.  At the other end, sexuality and "dirtiness" can become equated with curvaceousness.  This can be another aspect that holds us tied to a higher weight than our stated "ideal" - we want to be able to take pleasure in the sensuality of food and sex and everything else that is enjoyed through the body.

If we can unite these polarities of spirituality and sensuality as paganism teaches, then we may not only be one step closer to dealing with part of a weight conflict, but also to finding a grounded spirituality available in our day to day lives, highlighting joy and connectedness instead of suffering and sin.

Image from the Oracle of Shadows and Light.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 8 - tapas

Tapas, the third of the niyamas or inner observances laid down by Patanjali, literally means fire or heat.  While often translated in yogic terms as discipline, I like Donna Farhi's idea of calling this precept "burning enthusiasm".  I see this as being about directing our passion towards objects, habits, thoughts and people that help increase our awareness and connection to spirit.  It's no good, for example, bringing passionate enthusiasm to something which diverts you from your path, no matter how enjoyable.  The key here is to use your enthusiasm to help you stay on the road to spirit, or to whatever goal you've set for yourself.

The King of Wands is passionate and decisive, a leader who puts his all into everything he chooses. This fieriness of passion and wholeheartedness of belief and commitment perfectly matches my understanding of tapas.  The King of Wands knows what he wants and believes in and goes for it, dragging others along with him if necessary.  He fires people up to join in with a project, and is very focused and driven, but always with joy rather than with a sense of duty.  

I love the literal metaphor Donna Farhi gives of a fire: it may be hard to start, and when just beginning to burn it requires regular tending and encouragement, but once it's burning brightly, it's hard to put out.  To help with this sense of enthusiasm, Donna Farhi recommends being around people who already have it - someone who will light your fire!

Once we have this enthusiasm, doing something feels easy and fun.  However, achieving this in the first place isn't always so simple.  For example, having the enthusiasm to eat well and exercise regularly may go against habits we've developed over many years.  How to find the enthusiasm to change?  And the discipline to stick with it when it feels hard?  One thing that comes to mind here is finding the values that will make this feel important enough to fight for.  Another thing, following Donna Farhi's suggestion, is to find someone to inspire you. 

I turned to the tarot to ask what I need to know about enthusiasm and discipline in my life right now?  The answer I got, from the Tarot of Pagan Cats, was the 8 of Wands.

It's interesting that in this version of the card it looks like the wands are flying from somewhere distant, coming down to land around our beautiful black-and-white cat.  The cat seems entirely unperturbed by this rain of wands, after all she's sitting pretty in a sacred circle, protected.  She's enjoying the night-time landscape illuminated by the full moon. 

The first thing that springs to mind is around having the discipline to stay where I am come hell or high water, so to speak.  If I can trust that I have already positioned myself where I need to be, I just need to stay there.  It's about the discipline not to flinch or back down, to continue on the path I am already on.  This is reminiscent of what I said in a previous post, also about the 8 of Wands (Rods), though the image itself was very different. 

Another suggestion I see here is that I let my enthusiasm be ignited by ideas from the outside.  I have to be open to them, to welcome them, but they are at my fingertips - quite literally with the internet.  So in this instance, getting someone to light my fire may not be about going out to someone or something, but about letting their words and inspiration come to me.  However, that won't just happen: I have to be actively present, open and seeking, hence already being sat in the sacred circle.

The enthusiasm of tapas burns brightly, but the moon in this version of the 8 of Wands makes me think of the embers that last through the night, reigniting in the morning when they are fed.  So, my enthusiasm and discipline may not be very apparent at the moment, but they are there, ready to be brought to life again when the time is right.

So, I need to stay on the path I've chosen, be open to new inspiration from the outside, and not worry too much if currently it seems that my enthusiasm and discipline are non-existent.  They are there, dormant but not dead, ready to reignite when the time is right.

Any thoughts?  Can enthusiasm and discipline really be equated?  And if you draw a card to look at your own discipline and enthusiasm, I'd love to hear about it.

Images: King of Wands from the Legacy of the Divine Tarot and 8 of Wands from the Tarot of Pagan Cats.

Saturday, 18 December 2010


Becoming a happier person is in large part dependent on having a sense of being in reasonable control of your life.  Feeling out of control has been proven time and again to be associated with stress hormones zinging around your body, causing harm on both physical and emotional levels.

So often we give away our power to others.  Sometimes we feel we have to; for example, at work with a boss who can fire us, or at home with a family member or partner who hits or sulks if we don't give in to them.  Other times we blame fate, genes, hormones.

Of course, there are things that we can't change, situations that we are thrown into, as Heidegger put it.  Nevertheless, we can choose to take power where possible.  And there are real benefits to doing so.  Not just a sense of being an effective person who can make choices and influence their own life, but also a better metabolism.  Seriously, studies showed alpha monkeys have lower cholesterol on a high fat diet than lower down monkeys!

So, what does empowerment mean to you?  One really nice exercise is to think of who represents this idea to you.  Martin Luther King, or Ghandi, for instance.  Though it doesn't have to be someone real, just go with your imagination.  For example, Fiona from Shrek, or Dumbledore from Harry Potter.  It could, of course, be someone else entirely for you.

Now, how could you behave more like that person?  What is it about them that you admire?  How do they express their control over what life throws at them?  In what ways are they strong?

For today, I'm going for this angel with attitude, the lady with the Dress of Alchemy.  She has a golden halo around her head, indicating her state of enlightenment, eyes on her wings to show that her clarity of vision lifts her above the mundane, giving her a different perspective on life.  She holds a bottle with a double-headed eagle, alchemical symbol of combining masculine and feminine characteristics into a greater whole, and wears a dress covered in alchemical signs, representing her ability to transform herself.

Image: Dress of Alchemy from the Oracle of Shadows and Light.

Thursday, 16 December 2010


Motivation is often seen as key in losing weight.  However, there are a lot of problems with having this as the driver behind weight loss and behavioural change.

Think about what motivates you to want to lose weight?  It might be a particular occasion (wanting to lose weight for a special dress, for instance), or it might be that you hate the way you look.  It could be because you know you'd be healthier if you were a bit lighter, or because people look at you a particular way at your current weight that you don't like.

The problem with all of these is that they may not be sufficient motivators for continued lifestyle and habit changes to not only lose weight, but keep it off.

For one thing, if you're losing weight for an occasion, once it's passed you no longer have any motivation to lose weight.  If you hate the way you look, or don't like how people respond to you, as soon as you feel a little better the motivation may not be sufficient to get you through weight loss plateaus or the fact of having to change your behaviour for good if you want to keep the weight off in the long term.

So, what are positive ways of motivating yourself and keeping yourself motivated?  Some suggestions from Deanne Jade include:

Calm down - this might seem strange as a motivator, but trying to balance out the emotional highs and lows that can accompany success and failure at losing weight can be important in breaking the yo-yo diet syndrome.  Even if you don't yo-yo diet, feeling calmer will help keep your continued motivation good and help with emotional highs and lows that often accompany cravings and bingeing.  At its simplest, this is about just stopping and taking a few breaths before you do something.  At a slightly more complex level, it's practising mindfulness - becoming a non-judgmental observer of your own thoughts.

Self care - if you take care of yourself all the time, no matter what your weight, you start to believe that you are worth it.  This is a really good motivator for maintaining weight loss in the long term.  To start sending those subconscious messages to yourself, do something nice for yourself every day.  Take a relaxing bath with candles, or cook something healthy and tasty for yourself even if you're eating alone, or take a nap if you're feeling tired.  Let yourself know in a myriad ways that you really do want to take care of yourself on every level.

Rest - make time for sleep.  There are plenty of studies that show that being tired causes you to eat more, and to gain weight more easily.  Also, when you're tired it's hard to keep your focus on the reasons why you want to do something positive for yourself. 

Positive self talk - tell yourself "you can do it", rather than saying "you can't" or "it's too hard".   Like using affirmations, maybe pick something every day, such as "I can stop eating when I choose" or "I like fruit and vegetables".

Visualise your positive outcome - imagine what things would be like if you achieved the weight-loss you want.  How would you look, what would you wear, where would you go, what would you do?  Try to make the image as real (and realistic) as possible.  If that feels too hard, try visualising what would happen after you achieved it.  Along the lines of, "I've been to a buffet, but not eaten too much.  I get home feeling happy, satisfied and good about myself.  I'm wearing my favourite dress and some nice earrings, and I feel content as I let myself into my front door after an enjoyable evening."  By doing this kind of visualisation, you are creating an image for your unconscious of what you want to achieve, and the feeling associated with achieving it.  Then, your unconscious can get on with actually living the bit between here and there.

Something I'd add to this is the suggestion not just of visualising your positive outcome, but using visualisation to help with cravings and loss of control when eating.  New research shows that imagining eating a food makes you better able to not overeat the real thing.  You have to literally visualise each mouthful in as much detail as possible, in fact in the study they flashed up pictures of the food while people were imagining eating it.  Also, in the study they had participants do this 30 times.  If you just do it 3 or 4 it simply gets you salivating and thinking about the food.  You have to imagine eating enough that you become "habituated" to the food - basically bored.  Then, when actually presented with the food you are likely to eat less of it.  You don't stop enjoying the food, just overeating it.

They say there's still a lot of research to be done - does it work with all foods and for all people, how can it be achieved at home, how long does the effect last?  I imagine it's like any affirmation work, best if repeated regularly.  Also, it seems that you have to do it for each particular vice separately - imagining eating a chocolate truffle won't stop you overeating chocolate biscuits.  Still, if there's a particular food that's your current downfall, why not give this a try?

I'd love to hear suggestions of other ways of maintaining motivation!

Image: Motivation from the Angel Insight Pack.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 7 - santosha

The next niyama, or as Donna Farhi calls them, "Codes for Living Soulfully" sounds lovely.  Santosha is translated as contentment!  Yet how many of us are content with our lot?  Don't we wish we had something more: that new tarot deck for example, or a book, a CD, a Wii - whatever else you may have put on your Christmas list.  And back we go to aparigraha - attachment!  Or else it may be something on a more emotional, aspirational or even spiritual level - a soulmate, a sense of peace with the world, more time to meditate, less pain, the ability to hold an arm balance.  With all of this going on in our heads, how can we develop an acceptance of and contentment with our life?

There are some areas where I find contentment a lot easier to reach than with consumerism or spiritual aspiration.  One thing Donna Farhi mentions is the idea of hope, another is acceptance.  These seem in direct contrast to one another, and yet... Where I have hope, I can feel content because there is still potential.  Likewise, where there is no hope, so long as I can see a reason for it, I can come to acceptance and contentment.  For example, in Downward Dog my heels will never touch the floor.  Having watched Paul Grilley's Anatomy for Yoga DVD I know this to be a fact based on my bone structure.  It has nothing to do with flexibility or practice.  It is an immutable fact, and so there is no reason for me to feel bad about that aspect of my practice.  I am content to not have my heels reach the floor!

However, there are definitely areas of my life where I am not content.  So, I decided to explore the idea of santosha a little more.  To represent this niyama, and how I see it being achievable, I chose the tarot image of the Queen of Pentacles.  She is often seen as an entrepreneurial figure. However, it is important to remember that she is neither miserly nor decadent. She enjoys what she has, but is also able to make do with whatever is available to her. She chooses simple pleasures and family over luxury and extravagance, either material or emotional.  Although she is of the suit of Pentacles, which is associated with the element of Earth and with material and practical matters, I see her also having a very down-to-earth spiritual side.  These aspects of the Queen of Pentacles represent well, for me, that aspect of santosha, or contentment, that I would like to foster.

So, I asked: "What will help me develop contentment?" and drew a card from the Hezicos Tarot by Mary Griffin.  The 8 of Rods shows knobbly rods flying through the sky on the breath of the wind.

The first thing that springs to mind is that the rods travel together, in a flock.  Contentment comes from good company along the road we take through life.  As I wrote in a previous post, friendship is important on a lot of levels.  It helps us define who we are, as well as providing us with stimulation, support, and inspiration.  Feeling I am not alone, but part of a group, will help me be more accepting of where I am.

The second thing I notice is that in this particular version there is a creature blowing to create the wind, making it more than just rods flying through the air.  Rather, they are being carried on the wind.  The message seems to be about going with the flow rather than fighting the energy that sweeps through my life.  How can I be content if I am fighting the flow of life?  So, I should keep an eye out for which way the wind is blowing in my life now, and respect that.  There will be a reason for that direction, based on choices I have made in the past.  That's not to say I have no room to make new decisions, just that I should be aware if those choices match with where I have been heading for the last little while.   

What areas of your life are you content with?  And where is contentment harder for you?  Why not draw a card to see what might help you be more content...

Images: Queen of Pentacles from the Radiant Rider Waite Tarot, 8 of Rods from the Hezicos Tarot.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 6 - shaucha

It's been a while since I posted in this thread, having focused more on tarot, oracles and diet in recent months.  However, I wanted to come back to this path I started.

In previous posts back in June and July, I covered the yamas, or restraints on behaviour.  Now we move, in this strange yogic tarot journey, into the realms of the niyamas, or observances.  Here the yogi/ni turns inward, looking to themselves rather than to their relationship to others.

The first principle is Shaucha, or purity.  Temperance is a card some people have issues with because it represents being balanced and maintaining a certain clarity. Temperance sees situations clearly, which is what makes finding the right mix to balance all perspectives possible. Likewise, for shaucha the example sometimes described is having simple surroundings in a yoga class. You don't want clutter, strong smells or overly gaudy decorations, as these distract from the true focus of the class. Temperance would certainly know how to strike this balance.

However, Shaucha goes much deeper than this.  The suggestion is to be pure of thought and pure of body.  In Pattabhi Jois' book Yoga Mala he takes this to such lengths as saying you should not watch television, nor have sex even with your wife unless it's a particular day and time.

Personally, I feel there needs to be more of a realistic balance, a skill Temperance teaches us.  It's not just about abstaining, but about choosing what elements you will or won't bring into your life, and being conscious of why you are making those choices.

This is a very hard one for me.  I tend more towards the Devil than to Temperance, at least when it comes to chocolate!  And I'd be hard pressed to give up my murder/mystery TV shows like CSI, or White Collar (less gory, more eye candy, but still not "up-lifting" of "educational" by any standards).  Maybe some people can be perfectly pure, but then there can also be a certain rigidity or fanaticism in over-arching purity - what I have sometimes termed the "yogier than thou" attitude.  Purity for the wrong reasons might be as bad as balanced impurity.  This isn't to deny that some people may live a perfectly pure life, but simply to suggest that striving for this can be it's own undoing in some instances.

An idea I like is one which Andrea Albright talks about in her book, Amazing Body NowSamskara is a buddhist term for conditioning thoughts.  As Andrea points out, we condition our own thoughts through the choices we make each day.  However, we can balance these out a little, and help ourselves to decondition aspects we don't like, by creating a counter-weight conditioning.  She talks about this in terms of food - eating something healthy starts to balance out eating something unhealthy in our food habits.

I think this can be applied generally in the realm of Shaucha, and that Temperance gives us a good model for this.  It is about balancing out the good and bad, the pure and the not so pure, in a way that is true to ourselves at this moment, and realistic within our current life and culture.  So, doing a brief meditation, drawing some cards for a spiritual reading, chanting or just singing, taking a walk in nature, all these would be things to help balance our shaucha when we also watch TV, sometimes eat chocolate, or whatever other "impure" things we may still choose to include in our lives.

What is your take on purity: where do you feel you achieve it and where do you fall down?  Perhaps more importantly, what balance can you create in your life?

Image is from the Radiant Rider Waite Tarot.

Monday, 6 December 2010


I sometimes like to draw an angel card for the day.  One of my favourite, lesser known decks is the Angel Insight Pack, with artwork by René Milot.  Today I drew "Nurturing".  From Christine Astell's companion book:

"My soul is nourished as I cherish myself and others.

There can be immense satisfaction in caring for loved ones, but make sure you do not forget to look after and nurture yourself, too.

The Angel of Nurturing reminds you that you need to take time to care for your whole being - the emotional and spiritual aspects as well as the physical.  Ask the Angel to show you an appropriate way to feed your soul - perhaps by drawing your attention to a good book, inspiring you to meditate regularly, or bringing a pet into your life that you can walk with, or sit and stroke.  When you feel good in yourself, you will be able to nurture others with no need for a reward.  Your loving energy will radiate from you like sunlight, enriching everyone and everything around you."

Given I've got a hacking cough and am worried I've given it to my son, this card certainly resonates for me today.  Not the bit about radiating energy like sunlight, but the bit about taking time to care for myself and others!

I also notice that the angel is wearing a beautiful, blue dress.  This colour is associated with the throat chakra.  This feels relevant both because I have a sore throat, but also regarding the idea of care being shown through how we speak to ourselves and others, too.  A reminder that criticising, blaming, or just gossiping in an unfriendly way all do harm to both ourselves and those we speak badly about, and of the importance of positive self-talk.  So, I shall try not to blame myself if my son has caught my cough.

Given how much he objects to me going away, if I distanced myself from him just because I was ill that might do as much harm as him catching a cough.  At least if he gets ill it builds the strength of his immune system in the long run, even if it's not much fun in the short term.  Although there's also a part of me that thinks my going away should be no bad thing, teaching him a bit of independence, so far this hasn't proven to be the case, merely making him more stubborn and clingy - the joys of a Capricorn child! 

There's also something about the way the angel is stroking a mouse that touches me.  Perhaps highlighting the connection with all of nature, not just humans.  There is something, too, about divine love being available to all, no matter how small or unimportant we may feel.

Likewise, it seems appropriate to draw this card today, on Saint Nicholas' day.  All around Europe, children are receiving small presents and sweets - gifts to feed their bodies and souls.  Well, leaving aside the issue of teaching children to associate sweets with special occasions and treats!  The idea is to give them a nice surprise in the depths of winter, to nourish them through the darkness.

Here's wishing a day of being nurtured to all!

Image from the Angel Insight Pack by René Milot and Christine Astell.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Go For Your Goal Spread

Barbara Moore recently wrote a blog post about the C25K program - from Couch (Potato) to running 5Ks.  In it she described how thinking about the elements as expressed through the tarot suits inspired her, and suggested someone should create a spread around this.  So, I decided to rise to the challenge.

Her premise was that Wands lend us inspiration, Cups help us commit emotionally, Swords are about planning towards our goal, and Pentacles are about the practicalities of manifesting what we want.  To this I added a fifth card, for the higher purpose or spirit of the goal.

The spread therefore looks like this:
1) What will help inspire me?
2) What will help me commit emotionally to this goal?
3) What will help me plan well?
4) What will help me actually do it?
5) What is the higher purpose or spiritual aspect that will help me achieve this goal?

I decided to try it out with the goal of losing weight, and used the Hezicos Tarot.  The cards I drew were:

1) What will help inspire me?  The 3 of Cups

My friends, and other women generally, will help inspire me.  I see this in three different ways.  Firstly, there's the support I hope to get from my friends and family.  Secondly, there's the inspiration I hope to get from other bloggers, teachers and writers who focus specifically on weight issues, such as Andrea Albright of AmazingBodyNow, or Deanne Jade who teaches Counselling for Eating Disorders and Obesity, who focuses not just on psychology, but also on physiology, motivation and learning.  Finally, there's the inspiration from women who have managed to lose weight, and from beautiful women whom I aspire to be more like.

These categories aren't mutually exclusive.  Many of the most inspiring bloggers, writers and teachers are also women who have gone through their own weight issues.  Likewise, some of my friends are beautiful, powerful, inspiring women in their own right.

2) What will help me commit emotionally to this goal?  The 4 of Rods

This cute little house seems full of love, and underlying that is transformation in the shape of a purple butterfly.  So, getting some emotional stability and a degree of happiness and trust in being surrounded by love will help me commit emotionally to losing weight.

Hmm, this isn't an easy one.  Once again, I don't see this being a quick fix question.  Sounds like I have to sort out a lot of things in my life before I will be able to fully commit to losing weight.  Certainly, Deanne Jade said in her course that she never recommends anyone try to lose weight when they have other big emotional issues in their life.  But what is a big emotional issue?  I've got a few, I think, but I'm not convinced I will ever not have some. 

Interestingly, Andrea Albright talks about coming to love and accept yourself as being the path to weight loss, rather than vice versa.  Likewise, there's a part of me that hopes that tapping into spirit and love will help me not mind the other difficulties in my life.

3) What will help me plan well?  The Page of Coins

This young chap is practical and grounded, but still full of enthusiasm.  He's a keen student, but prefers things which aren't purely academic.  I have often had the Page of Coins appear with reference to yoga - a continual place of learning through the body.

Yoga is also great for mindfulness, which is being highlighted more and more in academic counselling literature as key in helping people manage life's problems.  So, mindfulness would help me with emotional issues, but it seems I also need some of this to be able to plan my weight loss goals.  Through doing more yoga, and perhaps also through learning in a practical, embodied way about weight loss, I will be better able to plan how to go about this.

I feel part of this is about actually applying the learning I have been doing - making it alive and real rather than just something on paper.  Writing this blog helps with that - I revise the material and try to apply it in practice to my own life.  The blog also helps with inspiration - getting support from others.  It's been great to hear other people's reactions to some of the exercises and ideas I've been blogging about.

4) What will help me actually do it?  The 8 of Coins

Ah, the apprentice card.  So, a message about putting in time and energy.  Perhaps also something about not expecting to get everything right first time.  Deanne Jade emphasises the learning aspect of changing eating patterns.  For me, and many others, there's often a sense of "I've blown it!"  My most common experience of this is when I've been eating sensibly all day and then the siren call of chocolate tempts me in the evening.  For others it may be that sense of, "I don't want to exercise today, I'm so lazy, I may as well stuff my face as well."  Or perhaps not wanting to eat a particular kind of food, be it crisps, meat, butter, but not sticking to your plan.  Deanne talks about seeing such instances as learning experiences, rather than getting down on ourselves for them.

Another thing that strikes me here, and which also goes for the previous card, is that Deanne recommends using a food diary.  This is not just to note down what you eat and when, but also how you feel about it, and about yourself.  This is a practical learning tool, which can help to better understand your eating patterns and how they connect with your thoughts, emotions and what else is going on in your life.  Despite knowing this is a great thing to do, and having scanned one in and printed it out, I never seem to find the time to actually fill it in.  Can anyone say "Resistance"?  There is no way to work towards weight loss without working on it!

The image on this particular card also makes me think of the Michelangelo quote about simply chiseling away at a block of marble until he set free the angel that was already there.  However, unless I take up my chisel and actually use it, the lump will remain unchanged.

5) What is the higher purpose or spiritual aspect that will help me achieve this goal?  The Ace of Cups

This seems to return to part of the message of the 4 of Rods.  It is through getting in touch with a sense of love, an acceptance of emotion, that I can be spiritually supported to lose weight.  I often see the Ace of Cups as being about overflowing love, which fits well with the idea of divine love.  It is getting in touch with this love, with spirit, as Andrea Albright argues, that will help me achieve weight loss.

The higher purpose for me in trying to lose weight is also perhaps about learning to love myself, and about being able to love life and those around me.  I'm not sure I see love and acceptance as being the same, but there may be aspects of both here.  As in the question of emotional commitment, unless I can accept the situations that surround me, unless I can learn to love myself and my life, or at least accept them, I won't be able to move forward.

This strikes me as being rather existential.  Kierkegaard spoke of the Knight of Faith, who chooses to trust in the divine while accepting that he can never know with certainty that this leap of faith is justified.  Trusting in this way, he accepts his life and the limitations imposed on him by existence.  Through this faith and acceptance, although nothing changes outwardly his attitude to the situation changes entirely.  Instead of railing against his situation, he embraces it.  I'm not sure I'm capable of this kind of leap of faith yet, but perhaps trying to find the love and higher purpose in all that is will help.  And if this brings a sense of calm, that cannot help but improve my eating habits and so my chance of losing weight.

Overall, one thing that strikes me about this reading is the lack of Majors.  I think this reflects the fact that it takes day-to-day work and inspiration and planning for this goal.  There's no big idea stuff here, it's all just the practicalities and getting on with things.  It can be easy with tarot readings to focus on spiritual ideas, and certainly adding in the fifth card in this spread highlights that aspect.  But in this reading there is a message about keeping it real and working towards my goal one step at a time, a little every day.  This is back to the fact that there is no quick fix, no magic wand.

I'm not sure how much this Go-For-Your-Goal Spread will help me work towards weight loss.  The idea of getting support from others, of focusing on practicalities and just getting on with things all seems very applicable.  However, the areas around emotion and higher purpose are somewhat more complicated.  I'll keep you posted...

Hope someone else will try out this spread, and let us know how it goes!

Images from the Hezicos Tarot by Mary Griffin.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Lifestyle and food

I've taken a look at some habit factors (here and here and here) which make losing weight more difficult, but another important part of our life which can affect this is lifestyle.  Most people think, "If I just had more willpower..." but actually there are a lot of very strong influences that make healthful eating harder.  And lifestyle can be one of them.

For instance, do you have a kitchen with a supply of doughnuts or pastries where you work?  Or a dispensing machine with snack foods?  Is there a culture of taking clients to lunch?  Or an after-work drinks ethos?

Do you always go shopping on the way home, when you're tired and hungry (though eating little and often would help with half of this problem)?  Is there some really nice shop near your home or on the way there that sells some treat you find hard to resist?

Do you live with someone - parents, spouse, partner, kids - who likes to have some yummy food in the house, so you always open the cupboard and see it?  Or just know it's there?

All of these represent lifestyle factors that can make losing weight very hard.  You're having to fight yourself and those around you, as well as your local culture.

Some therapists, Deanne Jade among them, might ask you to take a long hard look at these lifestyle aspects and see how you could change them.  Do you really enjoy your job, or could you move to a different firm?  The current economic climate seems to make the idea of quitting a good job just to lose weight a bit extreme!

As for local shops, you're not going to close them down, but could you walk a different route so you don't go past that particular shop?

The people you live with is one of the toughest ones.  On the one hand, if you care about them then you may also want them to eat more healthily.  However, I know from personal experience that this can be pretty tough, and have unforeseen consequences.  My mother was into very healthy food, but it just meant I ate unhealthy things round my friends' houses and considered them all the more delightful because they were forbidden.  And I tried to guilt her out about depriving me of a "normal" life - the joys of children!

Still, my diet now is largely healthy - I enjoy cooking things from scratch, I love fruit and veg, and generally prefer wholegrain foods to white.  This pattern was set up in my childhood, and although I've had the odd rebellion, and am a bit of a chocoholic, in other areas I like healthy eating.  So, my mother did have a positive effect.

Persuading others, like a spouse, or perhaps even worse a parent (who may think they should know best as they are the parent) that eating more healthily and not having snacks and treats in the house would be a good idea, can be an up-hill battle.  Perhaps the best approach is to communicate clearly what you want to change and why.  If they care about you and can clearly see it isn't in any way an attack on them, they may find it easier to be supportive. 

Another important question is whether you can find other ways to treat yourself, besides special foods?  Making a concerted effort each day to do something nice for yourself can be a good first step in making you less susceptible to these lifestyle problems.  For example, wear your nicest perfume just because, or treat yourself to a massage or pedicure, or buy yourself a new CD, or go to the cinema or theatre.  Or even just insist on getting a nap and maybe a nice bath with essential oils and some candles (mothers of young children, I mean you)!  We're back to the L'Oreal bit here - do something nice for yourself, because you are worth it.  And because it may help you not reach for those crisps or chocolate or biscuits or coke, or whatever food is calling to you with a siren voice saying, "I'm here, come and get me!"

Image: 3 of Cups from A King's Journey Tarot by Chanel Bayless and James Battersby.