I use tarot and oracle cards as tools for reflection and contemplation. Rather than divining the future, they are a way for me to look more deeply at the "now."
"The goal isn't to arrive, but to meander, to saunter, to make your life a holy wandering." ~ Rami Shapiro

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Just One Drop

From the Spiral Tarot, the Wheel of Fortune; from the Sacred Journey Cards, "Compassion:"
          The Three Fates on the Wheel of Fortune represent the natural cycles of life: birth and beginnings, expansion and growth, decline and death. This cycle appears not only in the physical realm, but in our ambitions, relationships and conceptual ideas as well. The change and impermanence of things is often labeled "good" or "bad" depending on how they benefit us, but that's like labeling gravity as evil because we fell off a ladder. These cycles are just a part of life. It's better to accept them as best we can, as Alan Watts suggests: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”
          The "dissolve differences" phrase on the SJ card reminds me of a song on the PBS show Sesame Street:
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
Now if the point is to teach a child the difference between a lowercase "b" and "d," it can be useful. But when the concept moves into relationships with people, it can be damaging. When we focus only on differences, it drives a wedge between us. The Wheel reminds us how quickly windows of opportunity come and go. Chances to make compassionate connections won't last forever, so choose to look for commonalities now. Who knows, that one drop of compassion could grow into something beautiful.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Forced Cooperation?

From the Spiral Tarot, the Three of Cups; from the Sacred Journey Cards, "Forgiveness:"
          Now who in their right mind goes dancing and prancing in the pumpkin patch while wearing such formal attire? I'll bet when they accidentally step on a pumpkin and ruin their satin shoes, they'll be upset. These ladies appear much too restrained for the Three of Cups for my taste. They are doing what is expected of them, but there doesn't seem to be any authentic, let-your-hair-down celebration going on. The SJ card suggests forgiveness is an issue. Have you ever signed on for something out of a sense of obligation then regretted it later? I always feel resentful in those types of situations. The joy of service that might naturally be present is removed by believing I was forced to cooperate. Yet I am holding someone responsible for something they didn't do. I was the one who agreed to help, so the fault rests on my shoulders. If I can forgive myself for not being honest and let the other party off the hook, I'll bet we'll be shimmying and shaking in no time with real exuberance.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Emotional Inebriation

From the Spiral Tarot, the King of Cups; from the Sacred Journey Cards, "Grace:"
          Seeing the big fish at his feet and the floating bubbles, I'm assuming this king is completely immersed underwater. He doesn't seem too affected by it, but I know what happens to me when I'm consumed by my emotions, and it's not pretty. It usually starts with a simple thought which sets an emotion off. Then my physiological responses jump in, kicking my feelings into overdrive. At that point, my brain is filled with zero percent logic and objectivity. The Grace card implies that there is a spiritual solution to this emotional insanity. Though it doesn't say anything about belief, it does emphasize practice. When I am entirely inebriated by fear, anger or grief, no thought is going to pull me out of the water. But walking outdoors, chanting, meditating, journaling, creating art, gardening - and many other doing exercises - can keep me from breaking into a million pieces until sanity returns.

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Revealing

From the Spiral Tarot, the Lovers; from the Sacred Journey Cards, "Clarity:"
          The faces of these two lovers show they obviously don't share the same expectations. While she seems to be looking for spiritual union, he's obviously only looking for a fleshly one. The angel above them holds alchemical gold in his hands, symbolizing integration and wholeness. Neither expectation is better, but combined together they will bring fulfillment. Added with the Clarity card, it is plain that the Lovers is about the battle within me of my heart and head. "Truth as it is revealed" suggests patience while things play out. I obviously don't have control over the timetable of events happening, but eventually the clouds will clear. Then I'll know what to do with that pot of gold.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Accolades and Non-attachment

This week I'll be using the Spiral Tarot, a book and deck set created by Kay Steventon and published by U.S. Games. I'll also be drawing from the Sacred Journey Cards, a set created by Cheryl Thiele and published by Pomegranate. Today's draws are the Six of Wands and "Ground:"
          A jockey and his horse, having beat the other challengers, enjoy the attention of the Winner's Circle. Theirs isn't a victory of pure luck; long hours of training muscles and mind were what gave them the edge. Yet the "Ground" card shows up and makes me think of a hard fall from atop that horse. It suggests enjoying the moment while being aware that life doesn't hand out unending accolades. As Chuang Tzu said, "You forget your feet when the shoes are comfortable. You forget your waist when the belt is comfortable." It is the nature of being human to become attached to these good times, so we suffer when our cycle of  achievement comes to an end. Being grounded implies equanimity, a state of being calm and balanced whether in the midst of difficulty or delight. Rather than indifference, it is the refusal to allow the ego-self to pull us in one direction or the other based on conditions.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Hard and Soft Elements

From the Prisma Visons Tarot, the Nine of Pentacles; from the Secret Language of Color Cards, "Bronze:"
          The Nine of Pentacles suggests the two "Ds" have paid off handsomely - dedication and discipline. A red-tailed hawk keeps this successful woman company out in her garden. The booklet suggests the raptor symbolizes intelligence and fierceness of spirit; I would also include the ability to stay focused on an objective. This independent woman always reminds me of the Arthurian tale in which Arthur is asked a riddle: What do women desire above all else? The answer: "to have sovereignty, to rule our lives as we see fit, to not be beholden to another." 
          Independence involves more than being true to my vision and principles. As the Bronze card implies, it also means taking care of the vehicle of my body. The pat answer for strengthening the body is generally to eat healthy and get enough exercise. But as I age, I find I also need to get enough sleep, to be aware of my posture whether sitting or moving, and to allow my body time to heal if it is injured or sick. Bronze is an alloy, made of copper and another metal to give it strength. But like this alloy, I need to employ both hard (discipline) and soft (kind attention) elements to keep it strong. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Building a Foundation for Change

From the Prisma Visions Tarot, the Six of Swords; from the Secret Language of Color Cards, "Red:"
          Have you are tried to change a strongly held belief? The Six of Swords and the Red card imply that to free myself from pain, I must change my ideas. Even the trees and butterflies are pointed in a new direction, but I'm not so sure about that bridge made of swords. It looks unsafe and scary. How do you transform habitual thought patterns? Positive affirmations have never proved useful for me, probably because I didn't believe a word of what I was saying.  I can distract myself with activities for a time, but those thoughts just wait patiently until I've relaxed my guard. I ran across a blog by mindfulness teacher Melli O’Brien, who wrote about changing negative thinking. Here is a summation of her four keys that can be a foundation for change:

1. Recognize Negative Thought Patterns
Negative thought patterns are repetitive, unproductive thoughts that serve no real purpose and directly cause negative emotions.
2. Dis-identify From Negative Thinking
Instead of trying to outrun your thoughts, watch them. Become an impartial witness, as if you were a scientist observing a subject.
3. Mindfulness of the Moment
Most negative thoughts flow from the past or the future. Use the five senses to bring your mind back to the here and now. Give the present moment your undivided attention.
4. Choose Constructive Thoughts Instead of Destructive Thoughts
Positive or constructive thoughts help you effectively face your day-to-day situations. These thoughts allow you to put problems in perspective and deal with them in a practical way. List your resources and options. What has worked well in the past? What are some new techniques to try? Make a simple, flexible plan of action.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Return Voyage

From the Prisma Visions Tarot, the Sun; from the Secret Language of Color Cards, "Mauve:"
          This woman is so energized by the rising sun, she floats upward leaving behind her worries and concerns. It's not that these problems have been vaporized. She's taken the advice of the PV booklet to remember that "life is wonderful and precious." She's allowing the mindfulness of the moment to revitalize her and clear her head. The Mauve card advises "clear hearing" - listening without an agenda or judgment. When my ears are open and receptive, my mouth and mind are quiet. Both of these cards reminded me of some of Thich Nhat Hanh's gathas (short verses) designed to help focus the mind and "return to ourselves" as we go about some of our normal activities. Here are some of my favorites:
Water and sun
green these plants.
When the rain of compassion falls,
even the desert becomes a vast fertile plain.

The mind can go in a thousand directions, 
But on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. 
With each step, a cool wind blows. 
With each step, a flower blooms.

Breathing in, I calm my body. 
Breathing out, I smile. 
Dwelling in the present moment, 
I know this is a wonderful moment!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Start Digging

From the Prisma Visions Tarot, the Emperor; from the Secret Language of Color Cards, "Gold:"
          I happen to like order and structure, not so much in a military sort of fashion (too rigid), but in a way that gives me a sense of purpose.  The booklet suggests the Emperor's logic and boundaries help to maximize time and potential. That makes sense; I can only imagine what our "sketch a week" group would do if we didn't have a prompt and a time period. I would take so long to think of something to draw that I would never get around to doing anything. Like Goldilocks and her chair/bed choice, I suppose we all have a preference when it comes to rules - "too soft, too hard or just right."
          I believe the Emperor would scoff at the Law of Attraction's belief that you can think something into appearing. He would say a positive attitude combined with a strong work ethic would be more likely to have results. Being a thinker, he knows how important thoughts are, but he would advocate action behind them as well. Standing around with a hoe in my hand while dreaming of flowers won't create a garden. It's important to have a plan, but then I need to start digging.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let Love In

From the Prisma Visions Tarot, the Knight of Pentacles; from the Secret Language of Color Cards, "Pink:"
          Out of all the knights in this deck, this is the only one on a steed. But instead of a horse, the Knight of Pentacles sits astride a unicorn. How is it that the most practical, down-to-earth fellow finds himself riding a magical beast? Perhaps because he is loyal and true, hardworking and conscientious - his motives are pure. Yet instead of seeming awed by the unicorn, he focuses on the goal as if unaware of his good fortune.
The end of fear is where we begin
The moment we decided to let love in.
~ Goo Goo Dolls
          I'm good at giving, whether its time, gifts or energy. But even at my age, I hesitate when it comes to opening the protective wall around my emotions. If I take a chance on hugging someone, there is a fear I may be rebuffed. It is hard for me to say out loud what I feel, especially when it uncovers the soft spot in my heart. But Pink shows up today to remind me that feelings need to be expressed in more ways than what is practical and safe. It might even let me notice all the magic around me.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dangling the Bait

From the Prisma Visions Tarot, the Three of Swords; from the Secret Language of Color Cards, "Violet:"
          With the skulls on the hilt of the swords, there's no doubt what was intended for this poor buck. When someone intentionally harms me, how do I handle it? Usually not well. I get hooked by the story, like a fish who's taken the bait. Pema Chodron describes well what happens:
At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, not wanting to be where we are. That’s the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy and other emotions which lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.
The key to getting off the hook is found in the symbol of the butterfly on the buck's antlers - my thoughts. If I stay in the story, I stay hooked on the line. But I can instead stay present in the moment, filling my senses with all that is around me. Which leads directly to the next card, Violet, and creating a balanced life. I may read tons of books on meditation and mindfulness, but I must put what I learn into practice if it is going to be helpful. Knowing is very different from doing. Meditation can help me relax and be receptive to what comes up without the habitual thoughts stuck on. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Right View

This week I'll be using the Prisma Visions Tarot, created and self-published by James R. Eads; the companion booklet was written by Katherine Tombs. The oracle I'll be using alongside it is the Secret Language of Color Cards, created by Inna Segal and published by Beyond Worlds. Today's draws are the Hermit and "Lilac:"
           A figure stands alone on a bridge in a solitary place in the dead of night. Eads suggests that in this still and quiet place it is possible to "uncloud your vision." His words make me think of the first point of the Eightfold Way: Right View ("right" meaning harmonious or appropriate). It is a way to see life just as it is, without being caught up in the memories of the past or the fantasies of the future. Like a compass, it can help me orient myself. With Right View, I am awake in the present moment, realizing it is always fluid and changing. I am open and receptive without trying to hide my head in the sand or numb myself from my experience. It also means I am aware that my choices will bear fruit, wholesome or unwholesome. In the Hermit's place of solitude, I can ask myself these questions suggested by Gil Fronsdal: Do I feel any stress, discomfort, or suffering in how I am relating to what’s happening or not happening? What is my contribution to this suffering? What am I clinging to that is contributing to the suffering? 
          Lilac is associated with strengthening my faith. Since I don't believe in a deity that physically intervenes in the world, what am I left with? The training of my mind. I am convinced that while I cannot erase the pain that naturally comes with a physical life, I can ease my suffering (my response to that pain). I always have a choice in how I view what life doles out. As Pema Chodron states:
We can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.
Faith is being open to all of it, with my eyes wide open.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Be the Tortoise, Not the Hare

From the Tarot of the Masters, the Knight of Pentacles; from the Key to the Kingdom, the "Seven of Hearts:"
          As I sit with an ice pack on my back, I'm looking out the window at the bright green foliage in the yard. The thought crossed my mind that maybe I could do something outside today... But then the least impulsive of the knights showed up to suggest that cautiousness is the better way. If I want my body to heal, I've got to take things slow and not be in such a rush. The plants won't pull up roots and run off without me to tend them. As if to further make a point, the murdered Cock Robin makes an appearance. The Seven of Hearts reminds me of the Seven of Cups; the choices I make now will have consequences later. I suppose I worry that when the intense heat of summer arrives, I won't have the enthusiasm I do now for yard work. But if I don't take care of my body, it won't make a difference either way.

Edited to add some photos to appease my inner gardener:

Native red honeysuckle, potted ferns and flowers under dogwood, mondo grass around laceleaf Japanese maple, bark pathway, bird corner, sycamore tree with hydrangeas underneath.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Down, Kitty

From the Tarot of the Masters, Strength; from the Key to the Kingdom, the "Two of Clubs:"
          "No matter how calm and peaceful they might look, there is a killer inside each one," stated a National Geographic biologist studying lions. The same could be said of humans; everyone has a trigger that will wake up the beast inside. And though I believe that inner beast can be useful in protecting oneself and those who are vulnerable, it can also cause destruction and chaos when loosed in other arenas of our life. Some of my favorite verses on anger and hatred come from the Buddhist Dhammapada:
  • “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” 
  • “Conquer the angry one by not getting angry; conquer the wicked by goodness; conquer the stingy by generosity, and the liar by speaking the truth.”
  • “A man is not called wise because he talks and talks again; but if he is peaceful, loving and fearless then he is in truth called wise.” 
The Two of Clubs card has been paired with the "Little Robin Redbreast" poem with a cat and bird playing "catch me if you can." Being owned by a pair of cats, I can attest to their hunting instinct. But because I'm also a bird lover, my two stay inside. Just because an instinct is "natural" doesn't mean I have to let it have free reign.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Monkey Sounds

From the Tarot of the Masters, the Three of Cups; from the Key to the Kingdom, the Four of Clubs:
We find rest in those we love, and we provide a resting place for those who love us.
 — Bernard of Clairvaux
          I thought this was a strange card for me to draw this morning. Yesterday I was out in the yard, lugging around some wet bags of pine bark mulch. As I was shaking the bark out of the bag, I heard a sound much like velcro ripping apart and I went down on my knees. Yes, I injured my back again. In the card, I see a woman next to a hookah. With my present pain level, I would very much like to imbibe in something that would send me to oblivion right now. But that is no longer an option for me. Instead, I must rely on friends and family to help me as I heal. I'm sure she must be lying on an ice pack with a bottle of ibuprofen in her hand.
I am a gold lock. I am a gold key.
I am a silver lock. I am a silver key.
I am a brass lock. I am a brass key.
I am a lead lock. I am a lead key.
I am a monk lock. I am a monkey.
          These silly verses remind me that while humans congratulate themselves on finding the answers to many questions, sometimes we don't use common sense. I knew better than to try and do all that heavy lifting in one day. But I wanted to finish what I started. The joke was on me of course; it will be weeks before I can lift anything. I am a monkey for sure. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Who's Quacking the Loudest?

From the Tarot of the Masters, the Five of Wands; from the Key to the Kingdom, the "Nine of Diamonds:"
          Ricklef's Five of Wands was inspired by Bosch's "Christ Carrying the Cross." All those men in the card are in my mind, each trying to argue louder than the other (as if that will make a difference). My desire is to keep working in the yard today: weeding, adding more mulch, clipping back brush. Yet I'm supposed to lead the discussion at book club today and the meditation group on Friday. The cat is out of his antibiotic, and I might have company coming this weekend (the house hasn't been cleaned in almost two weeks since all my efforts have been outdoors). Seeing the Nine of Diamonds made me think of the phrase, "get your ducks in a row." I need to rely on the two Ps today: priority and preparation. At the top of the list will be a trip to the vet, followed by finding and reviewing my notes for book club. I'll add more when those two are off the list.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Abdicating or Accepting Responsibility

From the Tarot of the Masters, Demons (Devil); from the Key to the Kingdom, the "Ace of Diamonds:"
          The painting used to illustrate this card is from one of the Doom paintings of Judgment Day. The gates of hell are often shown as the wide-open mouth of a monster. I believe in demons, but not the type that are typically found in religious texts. Mine are found within - those habitual, unhealthy patterns of behavior that come out when I am emotionally stressed. These "demons" make me want to point the finger of blame at another person or a situation outside myself. They give me permission to abdicate responsibility for my negative actions and attitudes. Yet once I do so, I really have entered the gates of hell, at least metaphorically.
Yellow the bracken, golden the sheaves,
Rosy the apples, crimson the leaves, 
Mist on the hillside, clouds grey and white. 
Autumn, good morning! Summer good night.
The verses for the Ace of Diamonds are from a song by Florence Hoatson called Autumn. I love the gentle seasons of fall and spring, before the harsh extremes of summer or winter arrive. So the pairing of this card with Demons puzzled me. But in the later verses there is a line that goes: "Cradled cosily, cradled deep, wrapped in the warm earth, baby seeds sleep." When I am calm, I can make an intention to react differently. I can plant a new type of seed by maintaining a daily spiritual practice that will hopefully replace the thorny briers that tend to sprout up when the heat is on.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Drowning Victim

From the Tarot of the Masters, the Eight of Cups; from the Key to the Kingdom deck, the "Queen of Diamonds:"
          The man in the Eight of Cups appears to be in agony. Whoever or whatever he chose to leave was obviously not an easy decision. I inexplicably had a flash of being certified as a lifeguard many years ago. One of the things the instructor kept impressing upon us was not to let our emotional response to someone in trouble result in us drowning too. Victims will often try to climb on top of their rescuer, pushing them under water. Not everyone can be saved; sometimes the only positive action you can take is to save yourself.
O Looking-Glass creatures," quoth Alice, "draw near!
'Tis an honour to see me, a favour to hear,
'Tis a privilege high to have dinner and tea
Along with the Red Queen, the White Queen and me! Me! Me!
Then fill up the glasses with treacle and ink,
Or anything else that is pleasant to drink:
Mix sand with the cider, and wool with the wine -
And welcome Queen Alice with ninety-times-nine!
Thirty-times-three and ninety-times-nine!
Meeuwissen pairs the Queen of Diamonds card with a song from Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass. Alice, finding herself a queen, hears this song being sung. But she never said those words in the song, which makes her out to be a self-centered loon. Honest communication is a huge part of all my relationships, whether with family or friends. It is the raft that keeps us afloat, even when life gets complicated. It makes no sense to get sucked under trying to make a friendship or partnership work without it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Good Night, Good Morning

This week I'll be using the Tarot of the Masters, created and self-published by James Ricklef. I'll also be using the Key to the Kingdom, a transformation deck created by Tony Meeuwissen and published by Running Press. Today's draws are the World and "Ace of Hearts:"
          The American spiritual, She's Got the Whole World in Her Hands (albeit a gender change), started playing in my head when I saw this card. It is based on a painting by George Frederic Watts called The All-Pervading. Ricklef's version gives the impression of an angel tucking in the earth at the close of the day. Though the day is done, tomorrow offers a new start.
I'm a little butterfly
Born in a bower,
Christened in a teapot,
Died in half an hour.
The Ace of Hearts card and rhyme is a reminder of how quickly time passes, whether half hours, days or years. Am I awake and aware of all those moments that will never return? Or do I trudge through them all, moving from one checklist to another? As a new morning begins, I'll make an intention not only to show up but to be fully present as well.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Let's Rock the Boat

From the Songs for the Journey Home, Nine of Wave Songs; from the Raven Cards, "Dance:"
So bring your good times, and your laughter too
We gonna celebrate your party with you
          With this party in full swing, I can almost hear Kool & The Gang singing. The SJH companion book speaks of a cathartic release, and I can't think of anything more wild and wonderful. It's been a trying week for a lot of people I love, but progress was made and all things are well. The sense of relief and liberation from tension does make me want to make merry. I'm not naive enough to believe it will last forever, but I'm going to dance while the music still plays. Raven wisdom reminds me that I can "dance with the stones and laugh with the wind" any time. In fact, it can be a pressure valve to help keep me from cracking, and it can connect me to all that I'm grateful for in my life. So come on, let's dance!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Check Your Alignment

From the Songs for the Journey Home comes the Chariot; from the Raven Cards, "Pain:"
          Hey buddy, you seem to have an alignment problem causing your vehicle to pull to the left. The creators of the SJH state the dragon symbolizes creative inspiration, and the peacock represents the competitive ego. No wonder the driver is so focused on controlling the direction. To make progress, I have to be aware of both internal and external challenges. Even though it might look like smooth sailing on the outside, emotional baggage of the past might be creating chaos within. The Raven Card suggests that a fear of pain (anxiety) might be causing mechanical problems. Though the past can be a good indicator of what is likely to happen, it can also make me refuse to be receptive to anything new. I may ignore or unconsciously sabotage an opportunity that feels risky. But regardless of the uncertainty, I need to ask myself if it is worthwhile. The ego will warn me I may end up looking ridiculous, but the dragon will assure me that the process itself could be rewarding.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Refilled Cup

From the Songs for the Journey Home, the Ace of Wave Songs (Cups); from the Raven Cards, "Beak Shut:"
Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us: We taste only sacredness. ~ Jalal ad-Din Rumi 
          The SJH card shows the last raindrop splashing into a puddle. The thirst of the earth has been quenched, and the dark storm clouds move away as a rainbow appears. Life can empty my cup, but it can fill it up again too - if I let it. I've been in emotional places where I was so angry and hurt, I kept my cup turned over. I refused to let it be refilled. Perhaps it was my fear of having it emptied again. But this is the human experience in all its glory, this sorrow and joy, this emptying and filling. The Raven Card reminds me that when I'm in the "refilling" process, my ranting and raving about the unfairness of life doesn't do anyone any good. It is my heart's soft spot that connects me; it alone has the opening that allows me to receive so I can ease my thirst.