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, March 31, 2016

Bonfire of Grief

From the Hezicos Tarot, Death; from the Way of the Horse, Bonfire:
What delight is there in seeing the bleached bones,
Like gourds thrown away,
Dried and scattered in the autumn sun?
~ Dhammapada
          I can't even remember when I first pondered my own death; I imagine it was the death of a pet as a child that first spurred the thoughts. Now as I age, I search the obituaries for the names of friends or colleagues. I watch my mother-in-law, who is encased in a 95 year old body in which dementia is rapidly taking control. She is miserable, yet even she fights to continue to live. I've been trying to work with small endings lately, such as when something breaks or wears out, or when a friend moves or stops being interested in our relationship. These have become my "death" practices - to learn how to embrace and accept these lessons in impermanence. Sogyal Rinpoche wrote, "Death is like a mirror in which the true meaning of life is reflected." His words remind me that how I care for the people and things in my life matter, even if they are all like library books which must be returned some day. 
          The Bonfire card reminds me of the literal definition of nirvana - to extinguish. It is a Buddhist term that describes freedom from what binds us. The card itself suggests a release of tremendous energy that burns through any blocks to a wider perspective. Resistance just creates a bigger fuel source; it burns fiercely (and painfully) until we release what we grip so tightly. What is it I must let go of? I think it is the pain I see my husband and sister-in-law experience, as they deal with the slow process of the death of their mother. I can't protect them from it, and trying to do so may only exacerbate their grief. Better to let the bonfire of mourning cleanse them instead and support them through it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Price of Freedom

From the Hezicos Tarot, the Eight of Swords; from the Way of the Horse, Field of Dreams:
          The skies are dark and rumbling, and this pixie's hair is standing on end (not a good sign). She feels both threatened and overwhelmed because she is surrounded by swords, bound tightly and has her eyes blindfolded. But what is not constrained is her mouth; in the mounds below where she stands are doorways of the wee folk. She's got a way out of this but it won't be by anything she can manage on her own. She's going to have to call for help. Isn't it crazy how we would rather be (metaphorically) struck by lightning than have to ask someone to lend a hand?
          The Field of Dreams compares the drudgery of a workhorse to the freedom of an untamed equine. The demands of daily life can run us into the ground, making us feel like we've been harnessed and made to pull a heavy load. We all have a restless spirit inside that longs for time to run free, unencumbered by rigid dictates and duties. The key to that open field is the same as the pixie's solution.
A little boy was having difficulty lifting a heavy stone.
His father came along just then.
Noting the boy’s failure, he asked, “Are you using all your strength?”
“Yes, I am,” the little boy said impatiently.
“No, you are not,” the father answered.
“I am right here just waiting, and you haven’t asked me to help you.
~ Anonymous

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Listening and Grazing

From the Hezicos Tarot, the King of Cups; from the Way of the Horse, Back to Grazing:
          This King guides and instructs in the watery element of emotions. Listening to and advising people in crisis can be exhausting, so how does he do it? I think of him as having mastered equanimity. Narayan Helen Liebenson gives her description of this quality: "Equanimity means responding to the conditions we encounter with inner balance and relaxation. It’s about responding with wisdom and compassion rather than reacting with aversion or clinging. Being equanimous doesn’t mean being compliant, complacent, or resigned. And it has nothing to do with indifference." In other words, being present with what is happening without letting our preferences color our perception of what is happening (This is great! This is terrible!). But to do this requires the ability to connect with the luminous mind rather than the ego; meditation is a practice for finding this place of spaciousness. Then, as Sharon Salzberg explains, "we can fully connect to whatever is happening around us, fully connect to others, but without our habitual reactions of rushing toward what is pleasant and pulling away from what is unpleasant."
          Back to Grazing is another way the King of Cups maintains his serenity. Kohanov suggests following the horse's lead: "When something scares them, they startle and bolt. When the danger passes, they relax and go back to grazing. They don't spend the afternoon ruminating over the fact that they had to run from a predator, and they don't stay up all night worrying about future encounters with lions and tigers and bears." The King knows its the story we write and narrate in our heads that makes us crazy. The moon snail shell he wears on his head has an operculum ("little lid") that is like a door on the shell. It is a reminder to connect with the emotion, but unhook from the story line.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Heart of the Lion

From the Hezicos Tarot, the Nine of Rods; from the Way of the Horse, Lionheart:
          A determined looking little fairy sports a pair of acorn earrings and an acorn cap (which makes me think of this image). He's obviously incorporating the strength of the mighty oak, yet the faces in the staffs behind him whisper encouragement as well. They remind him of past challenges successfully met and reassure him that he has what it takes to clear this final hurdle. The stages of growth in the mushrooms suggest that his efforts haven't fully matured yet. While one cap is fully open, the two other mushroom caps haven't quite broken free from their partial veil.
          The Lionheart card offers several key phrases which seem appropriate with the Nine of Rods: assertiveness without aggression and the courage to feel and the willingness to act. Violence - whether in word, thought, or deed - is not constructive when it comes to making progress. I can stand my ground without causing harm; to do otherwise would only escalate and complicate the confrontations and disputes I must deal with. The second phrase implies a willingness to acknowledge the fear and observe it with curiosity. Doing so can supply me with the energy needed for action as well as the knowledge and awareness to respond appropriately.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Whistle While You Work

This week I'll be using the Hezicos Tarot, created and self-published by Mary Griffin. Along with it I'll be using the Way of the Horse, an oracle deck and book set created by Linda Kohanov with Kim McElroy and published by New World Library. The two cards drawn for today are the Nine of Coins and the Language of the Breath:
          Sitting on a mound of gathered fruit, this orchard fairy welcomes a ladybug and butterfly. Though these insects could care less about the fruit, they were compensated by the plants that needed them for aphid extermination and pollination. It seems that all three of these winged beings worked hard according to their abilities and were justly rewarded for their efforts. There's no sense of entitlement here - everyone does their fair share.
          When there's a task to be done, it's easy for me to reside in my head. I might be doing the job, but my mind is hours ahead thinking about what I'm going to be doing when I finish. Very little attention is paid to what is going on in the moment, particularly if it is some kind of menial chore. The gift associated with this horse is: "When you use your entire body as an organ of perception, you embrace the world and sense your place in it more deeply." My five senses can connect me to the joy of the moment, drowning out my whiny ego when it complains that the work is boring or thankless.
Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, you ought to set up a life you don’t need to escape from. ~ Seth Godin

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Noticing Road Signs

From the Osho Zen Tarot, the Knight of Rainbows (Pentacles); from the A'HA Oracle, the Caduceus:
          The tortoise seems a perfect symbol for the Knight of Pentacles - he's moving and making progress, but he's not in a hurry. He is mindful of what is pleasant, unpleasant or simply dull. Nothing escapes his attention, because he takes the time to look at it all. Rarely does he find himself surprised, because he's noticed all the road signs along the way already. This Knight knows that no matter what one is creating, being attentive and aware can catch many problems before they become insurmountable.
          The "snake on a stick" symbol has been around for a long time. The Greek and Roman gods (Hermes and Mercury) had the caduceus; as messenger gods of commerce and negotiation, they represented balanced exchange and reciprocity. Nurses in the U.S. use it as a symbol for their profession, mistakenly confusing it up with the Rod of Asclepius (Asclepius was a Greek healer whose staff had one snake and no wings). The Hebrew Bible tells the story of Moses making a bronze snake and putting it on a pole, so that anyone bitten by a serpent would live (Numbers 21:9). All of these similar symbols have a theme: mutual and harmonious interconnection as well as healing and wellness. Yet none of these results are really possible without the mindfulness of the Knight.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Drawn Toward, Radiating Outward

From the Osho Zen Tarot, the Page of Rainbows (Pentacles); from the A'HA Oracle, the Eye of the Cosmos:
          Padma describes the attraction of adventurous learning as being drawn by a sense of wonder. Those who have accompanied me on my walks outdoors know I am prone to stop suddenly or veer off the path to go examine something more closely. I've been known to walk into sign posts while following a hawk or step into potholes trying to find a bird whose song I hear. My curiosity makes me pause to enjoy a mushroom peeking out from leaf litter or be amazed by the softness of a bald cypress's needles. I heartily agree with Albert Einstein who said, "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom the emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand wrapped in awe, is as good as dead —his eyes are closed."
          The concentric circles on this oracle card remind me of a pebble dropped in water and the waves that radiate out from its impact. It is like the third of the Buddhist Four Reflections: things aren't random; they have causes and effects. As  Vishvapani explains, "What I am today is the product of many influences: my family, culture, education and relationships. It’s also the product of choices I’ve made, of how I’ve acted, of my mental states and habits." We have a tendency to think only of bad decisions and consequences, yet there are also many good effects from the choices we've made. For instance, choosing to develop a friendship or partnership with someone or getting interested in a craft or art that later became a passionate hobby. Those pebbles we drop can radiate out in wonderful ways too. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Forget the Crystal Ball

From the Osho Zen Tarot, the Two of  Air (Swords); from the A'HA Oracle, Ammonite:
          Padma has tastelessly assigned this card the keyword "schizophrenia" to parallel the feeling of being in mental limbo with someone who has difficulty distinguishing between what is real and what is imaginary. The reason there is such uncertainty with the Two of Swords is that we are desperately trying to peer into the future to see where each choice might lead. Sometimes neither decision will have a good outcome; do we stay with the devil we know or choose the devil we don't know?
          Ammonite is a fossil from an extinct squid-like creature whose shell resembles a spiral (it was named after Amun, who was associated with the ram). They lived in the outer chamber and constantly built a larger shell as they grew. The spiral shape is what has meaning in relation to the Two of Swords. If our lives are like a spiral, getting wider and higher as we age, we will begin to feel like "I've been here before." However the spiral allows us to see "what was" from a distance; we have more objectivity about past choices and results. If nothing else, it reminds us that we survived and moved on. Instead of looking forward into the future, perhaps looking back at similar situations might give more useful information than a crystal ball.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Let Us Begin

From the Osho Zen Tarot, the Six of Fire (Wands); from the A'HA Oracle, Heart Urchin:
          This woman is literally on top of the world, obviously celebrating a recent success. Yet Padma warns that her ticker-tape parade won't last forever. Enjoy the excitement and recognition of the moment, but don't cling to it. Just as the crest of the wave is followed by the valley afterward, so too moves the cycles of life. Which brings me to the next card, the Heart Urchin. This urchin is similar to a sand dollar, but it has a domed top and a slight indention that gives it a heart shape. Heart urchins are light brown or green and covered with thousands of short, delicate spines that look fur-like. The spines are used for movement and for burrowing in the sand. But what is seen in this card is not a living specimen, but a bleached skeleton. Both these cards reminded me of a song by Bruce Springsteen called "Glory Days." The lyrics tell stories of people trying to hold on to those wonderful moments:

I had a friend was a big baseball player
back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was
Glory days well they'll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl's eye
Glory days, glory days

If I'm focused on what was, I'm missing out on what is. In the words of Mother Teresa, "We have only today. Let us begin."

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Appropriate Space

From the Osho Zen Tarot, the Star; from the A'HA Oracle, Diversity:
          Though this card resembles the Moon, it is in fact the Star. Its keyword "silence" indicates that a time and place has been set aside to heal and renew - as Padma puts it, "come home to yourself." All the external worries and obligations are placed on hold; now in the silence insights and understanding are gathered. The natural spaciousness of the luminous mind holds all possibilities rather than just ego's narrow view of things. Here is where useful guidance will be found that can be employed when engagement in the outer world resumes.
          If the Diversity card were in color, it would look like the explosion of blooms now occurring in the neighborhood; every plant, shrub and tree seems to be wearing its most spectacular attire. The shape, size and color of each flower is designed to attract specific pollinators, which benefit both plant and insect (or bird). Linnie writes, "we each have our place; we are all parts of a magnificent whole... each part is as valuable to the whole as every other." I am currently reading a book by Alan Morinis on the Jewish practice of Mussar, and the definition given for humility is “limiting oneself to an appropriate space while leaving room for others.” The space a person occupies can be physical, emotional, verbal, or even metaphorical, but neither expanding nor shrinking beyond what is appropriate is considered humble. One's space may enlarge or shrink depending on knowledge, experience, skill, etc. Yet to be able to know what space is appropriate will require an inner guidance without the input of the ego.
Peppermint peach tree in bloom.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Care for the Caretakers

From the Osho Zen Tarot, the Ten of Fire (Wands); from the A'HA Oracle, Indigo:
          This fellow looks like he's been tossed into the bottom of a dry well with electricity crackling all around him. Padma describes him as a man who has "repressed his own vitality trying to meet so many demands and expectations." Indeed, the ropes that bind him have become him; his obligations are who he thinks he is, and how he views his life. I can easily see this man in my husband, as he cares for his mom. His life revolves around managing her finances and her day-to-day care, all of which is complicated by a broken hip and dementia. I was only with her for two hours yesterday before begging the nurse to give her an Ativan. This card could be the poster for all caregivers who are in dire need of care themselves.
          The Indigo card is a perfect illustration for one of the Sabian Symbols (Aquarius 7) : "A child born out of an eggshell." This idea is an obvious encouragement to find a new way of doing things - additional resources, fresh approaches, and added support. However, taking such an active approach often feels like adding more on to the load one already carries. Yet this "child" (if nurtured) could be the answer to providing a firmer foundation to stand on so that dry well can be filled.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Better Way, Perhaps?

This week I'll be using the Osho Zen Tarot, created by Ma Deva Padma with Osho and published by St. Martin's Press. I'll also be using the A'HA Oracle, created and self-published by Linnie Lambrechtsen. The card draws for today are the Page of Water (Cups) and Creativity:
          This card is an interesting take on the Page of Cup's kindness and sensitivity to others. The birds encourage the lone bird to fly out of its self-made cage and join them. 12 Step groups are likewise known for their encouragement rather than judgment; their motto is "perhaps there is a better way." Spiral Dynamics has been a helpful model for me in understanding why some people hold the worldviews that they do. Life conditions and available psychological tools determine the "size" of one's perspective; when these change, thinking changes. The Creativity card seems to parallel this idea, suggesting a willingness to think outside of the box. While it sounds like a wonderful goal, this approach is not easy for most people. We feel secure in our tiny cages - the discomfort we know seems better than the daunting unknown. Usually only when the pain of complacency outweighs the fear of the new are we willing to take flight. But how extraordinary it is to be welcomed by understanding, caring people who will help us test our new wings.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Skills and Blessings

From the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, the Three of Pentacles; from the Heart of Faerie Oracle, the Blessing:
          To be honest, I was expecting a Cups card to show up this morning; my husband and I are celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary today. Yet Moore writes, "you have the ability, the vision and the materials necessary to create something of value." Doesn't a relationship require more than simply emotions? Feelings and moods come and go, but the Pentacles suit gives lessons in dedication, responsibility and resourcefulness. It teaches how to ground what is said (I love you) into something concrete and tangible. These are the traits that can keep a relationship on track when the roller coaster of life takes dramatic drops and turns.
          The Blessing fairy begins each day with a thoughtful, thankful attitude. Such an open perspective can change an obligation into an offering and everyday tasks into a remembrance of blessings received. What a radical way to view the people, places and things that make up my world. The word "blessing" always brings me back to the words of John O'Donohue:

The word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection; it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable. 
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Covert Ops on the Mind

From the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, the Eight of Swords; from the Heart of Faerie Oracle, the Remembrance:
          There is a look of frustrated determination in this woman's face. Cloaked in black like her friend the crow, she is the fairy version of a ninja. Moore writes, "A good warrior learns to listen with more than her ears and see with more than her eyes." She is seeking a solution, but the answer isn't obvious or easy. She's going to have to think in new ways that take her out of her mental comfort zone. Perhaps she has been too involved in the details of the problem and has failed to see the overall whole (the crow might have some insights if that's the case). The young man on the Heart of Faerie card has a pouty expression of teenage angst. What's he so sad and worried about? He thinks the warrior fairy will forget the lessons of the past - what was successful and what wasn't. As 12 Step groups are fond of saying, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results."

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Light and Birdsong

From the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, the Nine of Pentacles; from the Heart of Faerie Oracle, the Lady of Sorrows:
          This woman has a smile of contentment on her face as she listens to a robin singing its cheery song. Like the bird, she follows her own tune and has become self-reliant. The blackberries and rose hips on the vines suggest abundance, but she doesn't begrudge the thorns. They represent the challenges she's had to overcome in order to enjoy her independence. Though she may appreciate the company of others, she would never sacrifice her autonomy just to have a partner. She's perfectly satisfied with the life she's created and would rather have solitude than have to put up with subordination.
          The face of the Lady of Sorrows is the complete opposite of the first woman. Why is she full of sorrow? Froud describes her as a "hoarder of hurts and slights," someone who never forgives. Her garden lets in no light, no birdsong, and joy - that would only detract from her focus. The darkness of her inner life has completely absorbed the outer. I saw someone yesterday for whom I once held a deep resentment because of harm and injustices done. He looked old and frail, which was a shock. Though I will never think his actions were acceptable, I have found a way to accept the reality of what has happened and a way to live peacefully with it. I prefer light and birdsong far too much to let dark clouds cover my garden.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Fruits of Relationships

From the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, the Ten of Cups; from the Heart of Faerie, the Mush Mob:
          Moore writes that this elder fairy uses rose, lavender and frankincense for a magical blessing. The rose might represent love of all varieties; the lavender could symbolize peace, and the frankincense may signify purification (health and sacred space). As the aroma arises, she sends out benevolent thoughts to those she cares for and loves. Having a group of people to love and be loved by implies this woman has a wisdom of relationships that allows her to nurture each one. Her blessing reminds me of the Buddhist metta/maitri (loving-kindness) meditation, typically said for those we love, those we feel neutral toward, and those with whom we have difficulty loving (the Theravada tradition suggests starting with oneself) :
May you be happy
May you be peaceful
May you live with ease.
May you be safe. 
          The Faerie card for today is one that is without a name or number, thus it is open for free interpretation. I call it the "Mush Mob" because they look like a group of mushrooms. What we see is actually the fruit produced by the fungus. All mushrooms, whether agarics, boletes, puffballs, stinkhorns, or morels, require certain conditions to grow. Likewise, I must be aware of what I do (or don't do) that will help to develop, nurture and sustain the many relationships I've been blessed with.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fearless and Thorough

From the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, the Queen of Swords; from the Heart of Faerie, the Lady of Leprechauns:
          This Queen has a calm, composed demeanor and a Mona Lisa smile. On a cloth in her lap, she holds a sword as if it is a precious heirloom or a sacred tool. If it is considered to be a symbol of communication, then it is both precious and sacred. It can be used to soothe, inspire, encourage or tell the truth. But words can also be used to manipulate, denigrate, discourage and deceive. That pearl hanging on her forehead suggests she is familiar with struggle and pain. At times it may seem unbearable, but she knows such challenges can create something beautiful and worthwhile. She has little patience for those whose difficulties lead them to point fingers of blame or sing tales of woe.
          The Lady of Leprechauns, in charge of a bunch of tricky, sly beings, has her hands full. Yet like the Queen, she holds two precious gifts. In one hand is a crystal ball that allows the future to be seen; in the other is a mask that grants clear seeing to the wearer. The less difficult way looks as if the crystal ball would be the gift to choose. How great would it be to know the winning lottery number and win millions of dollars? However the mask of clarity would show that having a wad of money isn't all fun and games - money won can easily be lost. Both these ladies suggest that the hard roads of honesty and clarity are where the real treasure lies.
At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. ~ text of AA

Monday, March 14, 2016

Three Extremes

From the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, Temperance; from the Heart of Faerie,  In Two Minds:
All extremes beget their opposites, and both are alike unprofitable. 
~ Venerable Ashin Thittila  
          If I label something as "wrong," I've automatically created a "right." As Thittila explains, one radical view will naturally create a second perspective at the other end of the spectrum. Temperance shows up as a reminder to balance myself like a tennis player waiting to return a ball. Leaning too heavily on the left foot may cause a stumble, when a ball is hit on that side and I must move quickly in that direction. A beginning stance of resting equally on the balls of both feet will enable me to easily transition from one side to the next, depending on what the situation calls for.
          In Two Minds has just the opposite problem. Instead of choosing one side or the other, he can't make a decision and doesn't move at all. He either doesn't want to deal with the responsibility of choosing or is worried about pleasing everyone. Yet rarely does doing nothing please anyone. It's like the tennis player who stands balanced on both feet yet never moves - he simply watches the balls go by. In some ways, that's an extreme too.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Inner Peace

This week I'll be using the Tarot of the Hidden Realm, created by Julia Jeffrey with Barbara Moore, and published by Llewellyn. I'll also be drawing from the Heart of Faerie Oracle created by Brian and Wendy Froud  and published by Abrams. Today's cards are the Four of Swords and the Hero:
          Moore writes that the stability of four creates a quiet resting place for the mind. In the chaos of yesterday, I didn't get a chance to do my regular sitting meditation or any journaling. It was a day when other matters took priority. But the butterflies around this young girl's head suggest I should keep things light today. There's no need for solutions to be found or ideas to be analyzed. My brain needs a break from being in stress mode. In the words of Harry Emerson Dosdick, "Peace is the gift not of volitional struggle but of spiritual hospitality."
          The title of the Faerie card seems to be at odds with the message of the Four of Swords. Yet the Hero is purposefully drawn as a young woman rather than a man to emphasize its feminine nature. Instead of seeing this card as representing the courage to fight, Froud recommends thinking of "love as a heroic force." I was reminded of another "hero," this one gray-haired and known as Peace Pilgrim. She constantly suggested checking to see if one's actions brought inner peace:
There is a criterion by which you can judge whether the thoughts you are thinking and the things you are doing are right for you. The criterion is: Have they brought you inner peace? If they have not, there is something wrong with them - so keep seeking! If what you do has brought you inner peace, stay with what you believe is right. ~ Peace Pilgrim

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Not for the Faint-hearted

From the RochesTarot, the Lovers; from the Animal Shaman Vision Cards, the Mantis:
True love is not for the faint-hearted.
~ Jack Kornfield 
          Real love means looking for your partner's good points rather than focusing on the negative ones. It means realizing there will inevitably be hard times as well as good times, and being kind through them all. The mantis is known for its prayer-like posture and predatory quickness. In the same way, life can shift and move with surprising swiftness. The female mantis is known for occasionally cannibalizing her mate. Yet some studies have found that in these cases, such mating behavior can double the chance of fertilization - an ultimate sacrifice. I and my family have been up all night, as my MIL fell and broke her hip last night, and will now require surgery. Everyone is sleep-deprived and worried, held together only by love.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Getting Out of the Trap

From the RochesTarot, the Hanged Man; from the Animal Shaman Vision Cards, the Deer:
          The element associated with this card is water, and it represents a sort of old-time-religion baptism. What is "buried" (washed away) is the old way of doing things. Unfortunately this guy is still hanging upside down. He's having a hard time surrendering the situation, which would allow him to see without the constraints of his ego. I'm guessing he works for the city and is responsible for cleaning up the graffiti left in public areas. That task would be like shoveling the driveway in the middle of a blizzard. He will never get "finished," but why would he want to? There would be no job to fill. For now, he's being forced to examine how little external control he actually has; hopefully he'll consider other viewpoints so he can get on with life.
          Several months ago, I was taking a stroll on the river walk when I noticed a slight movement in the woody area on the slope above me. A group of deer had paused to watch and see what I would do; their big ears swiveled to pick up any sound I might make. These animals prefer to run rather than fight. And unlike the Hanged Man, who I'm sure has been loudly complaining to whomever will listen, the deer know that quietness will serve them much better. I suppose these qualities are why the deer is often associated with gentleness. When I'm struggling with letting go of a situation I can't control, tenderness and self-compassion (as opposed to self-indulgence or self-pity) can ease my tight grip.
Perhaps the biggest tragedy of our lives is that freedom is possible, yet we can pass our years trapped in the same old patterns. ~ Tara Brach

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Swarm Behavior

From the RochesTarot, Death; from the Animal Shaman Vision Cards, the Grasshopper:
          The outstretched, welcoming hand and the scorpion's tail on this figure of Death brought to mind a bible verse (1 Corinthians 15:55): "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The first two of the Four Reflections of Buddhism are constant reminders of this card. The first is that life is precious, and the second is that life is impermanent and death inevitable. Life doesn't set out to purposefully punish anyone with endings, that is just the natural order of things. It allows the space needed for new arrivals and beginnings. Humans rarely swallow this easily, except in such cases where pain and suffering overshadow all else.
          Grasshopper shows up with a message of what can happen when we react by desperately holding on instead of accepting the ebb and flow of life. In rainy periods, the grasshopper population explodes; occasionally this is followed by a drought and the disappearance of food sources. Massive populations get pushed into smaller and smaller areas. At a certain density point, serotonin is triggered in the grasshoppers, causing them to breed and inducing swarm behavior. They transform into locusts, rapidly stripping fields and damaging crops. Their behavior is how we often respond when we faced with good-byes or endings. But such grasping increases our suffering, extending our grief and making it unbearable instead of better.
Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth. ~ Pema Chodron

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


From the RochesTarot, the Seven of Swords; from the Animal Shaman Vision Cards, the Mallard:
          The creator of the RochesTarot has painted a well-known picture of Aleister Crowley with himself on top. Thoth-based decks use the keyword "futility" to describe this card. Astrologically, it is connected with the Moon in Aquarius; this is a strange combination of intellect with passivity. Crowley describes this card as similar to "a rheumatic boxer trying to 'come back' after being out of the ring for years." The brain is trying to out-think a situation but ends up with nothing solid and useful. It does however produce a bedazzling slight of hand trick. This of course impresses no one, except the magician who considers himself a genius. In him there is a strong desire for achievement, yet he's unable to keep a firm footing in reality.
          The mallard is one of the most abundant and wide-ranging ducks on earth, even though it is also one of the most widely hunted. Among water birds, these ducks are known as a dabblers; typically they skim food from the surface or feed in the shallows by tipping forward to submerge their heads. Other waterfowl are divers, who propel themselves underwater to feed. These two ways of eating remind me of how easy it is to try to think something into happening without actually doing much. We don't want to go "all in" by following what we envision with action. But without any physical effort, we might as well be doing card tricks.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Strength Askew

From the RochesTarot, Strength; from the Animal Shaman Vision Cards, the Salmon:
          Something seems off-kilter in this Strength card. I get the feeling that the man is trying to suppress his feminine side. Is he afraid to appear gentle, tender and nurturing in front of his colleagues? Perhaps he's in a profession that looks down on such traits, believing it makes him appear too soft and passive. Particularly among religion and politics, I've to noticed a swing back to gender-specific roles lately, as if a person should only act one way if you're male or female. But while someone might have certain physical characteristics on the outside, all of us have feminine and masculine traits on the inside. I don't think it's healthy to try and repress those traits simply to impress someone or fit in with a group. Could a person be happy and content with such an arrangement? I think he'd have more luck trying to get that cat to jump through the ring of fire.
          Typically, most salmon are born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to reproduce. The term "salmon" comes from the Latin salmo, which in turn may have originated from salire, meaning "to leap." It is descriptive of the driving instincts of mature salmon to return to their spawning ground. Celtic mythology and poetry identifies the salmon as a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. This card implies that acting from both our masculine or feminine sides is natural. And the Celtic element reminds me of the ancient Greek maxim to "Know thyself." Being true to oneself can be freeing:
I am larger, better than I thought; I did not know I held so much goodness. ~ Walt Whitman
Yet in dealing with others, kindness and respect will always have an important place:
 No man is free who cannot command himself. ~ Pythagoras

Monday, March 7, 2016

Emotional Cliff Climbing

From the RochesTarot, the Queen of Cups; from the Animal Shaman Vision Cards, the Mountain Goat:
          This woman's focus is on  relationships, which she nurtures just as mindfully as she does the baby growing inside of her. Lincoln states that she has mastered emotional integrity; she acknowledges her true feelings without blame or shame and is open about them with other people. You won't hear her say things like "He makes me so angry - he pushes all my buttons." This Queen knows how to manage her feelings appropriately. She's the captain at the helm, and she can skillfully change direction when necessary. She might not have control over what emotion appears, but she can decide whether to act on it. Through experience, the Queen knows that focusing on the feeling without getting hooked by its story will allow it to dissipate without harm.
          The mountain goat is a large hoofed mammal native to North America. They are protected from the elements by their woolly, double coats, and both males and females have horns and beards. These goats are most known for being sure-footed climbers on ridges and ice. With inner pads that provide traction, cloven hooves that can spread apart, and dewclaws that keep them from slipping, they are well prepared for climbing very steep, rocky slopes. The Queen of Cups must develop the same sure-footedness in the realm of relationships. The term integrity derives from the Latin word integer, meaning 'whole' or 'untouched.' She must be aware of the dangers of absorbing the emotions of others that are not her own. Her mission is to learn how to be open-hearted while keeping her own heart whole.