The Hanged Man, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Getting Shazammed

Exploring rapid versus gradual spirit growth and how we have to be our own miracles.

Have you ever been really, really, REALLY unhappy for a REALLY long period of time?  One of those stretches in life where you feel like nothing’s going right, nobody loves you, and the future looks like a whole lot of storm clouds and very few rainbows?

In the South, they’d say, “By god, I’m so down I’d have to look up to see a snake’s belly.”

The Hanged Man shows someone who’s been through that experience.  He’s suffered so deeply that he’s barely survived and now he’s about to travel down a road of spiritual rebirth.  In the meantime, he’s just hanging there in space and time trying to figure out what it all meant and why it happened.

Willam James, the founder of American Pragmatism, wrote a lot about what The Hanged Man goes through in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Penguin American Library)  He called it a conversion experience.  In simple terms, that just means that a miserable, unhappy, deeply depressed, highly dysfunctional human being is somehow converted into a person who is happy, joyous and free.

 The most fascinating examples of it are when the conversions appear to happen very rapidly.  A person is full of despair and totally heart sick on Tuesday, but they wake up on Wednesday full of joy and love.

Shazam!  Brand new person!

The classic example of that, of course, is Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I’ve often wondered if Dickens hadn’t read Varieties of Religious Experience.  “Hmmm . . . miserable son-of-a-bitch turns into a happy, compassionate person over-night . . . what an interesting plot . . .”

We can find modern day examples of that experience in a couple of the New Thought leaders:  Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie.  Tolle was, by his own account, an overly sensitive, deeply depressed, frequently suicidal person.  Katie was an alcoholic drug addict who found herself locked in the attic of a woman’s rehab facility because the other women in the house were afraid of her.  In both cases, they suddenly, “woke up,” one day, finally understanding what life is all about and totally joy-full.

Shazam And A Half!!!!

Of course, the thing they don’t much talk about is that it wasn’t an overnight miracle.  In fact, both of them had been stewing in their own misery for years and years and years before something popped, before that shift in consciousness occurred.  The shift in consciousness took on the qualities of a, “miracle,” simply because the shift appeared to happen so rapidly, but it had been processing in their subconscious minds for a very long time.

Now, I’m not meaning to denigrate either of them or diminish the help that they’ve provided to other people.  I’m actually a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle, but the fact remains that both he and Katie have done a very good job of marketing their, “miracles,” to other people.  Tolle is currently offering a virtual spiritual retreat for ONLY $997.00 (that’s a $300 discount by the way, and DON’T WORRY, you can put it on your Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.)  Katie offers a 9 day workshop for ONLY $3,500 dollars or, alternatively, you can stay at her, “Turn Around House,” for 28 days at ONLY $20,000.

There’s another saying in the South, which is, “Never trust a fat preacher.”  Since I’ve gotten old and fat, I’m going to modify that to, “Never trust a preacher who wears a Rolex.”  

In other words, if someone is selling you spirituality, if they’ve decided that you can put a price on miracles – and it’s exactly $997.00 – it’s appropriate to approach with caution.

Tolle has a deep background in philosophy and psychology and he IS a very profound thinker.  Katie, not so much.  In both cases, though, they aren’t just selling their philosophies or their ideas – they’re selling their miracles.  They’re saying, “HEY!  I was a miserable, unhappy bastard and I got Shazammed.  If you sit real close to me, it might happen to you, too.”  And there’s a definite messianic flavor to their gatherings and their followers.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that you can’t borrow someone else’s miracle.  You can’t even buy it.  Not even for $20,000.  You kind of have to make your own.

Another person who had what appeared to be a, “rapid,” conversion experience was Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  After decades of hopeless alcoholism, dozens of jobs lost, and hundreds of relationships destroyed, he had a sudden spiritual revelation while lying in a hospital bed waiting to die.  In a phrase, “he got struck sober,” and he never had another drink.

Wilson realized that by far and away, most people will never have a sudden, dramatic conversion experience like he had.  Using Varieties of Religious Experience as a sort of a manual, though, he set out to create a method to consciously create slow, gradual conversion experiences in other alcoholics.  The result of that effort was the now famous 12 Step Program.

And the price of it is . . . nothing.  It’s absolutely free.  Well, they do appreciate it if you drop a dollar in the basket when they pass it, but you don’t have to.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and adopt the 12 Step Program for their lives, and neither would Bill Wilson.  In fact, he designed it specifically for people who were serious alcoholics, and by serious he meant, “almost dead.”

Where I think we can get some helpful insight, though, is that Wilson designed a program for spiritual change that involves a sort of a miracle in slow motion.  He was wise enough to realize that his, “sudden,” conversion was the result of many years of deep suffering and affliction.  He tried to set up a program that would shorten that period of suffering, but he never denied that the suffering was a necessary part of the whole package for alcoholics.

And isn’t that a drag?

I would LOVE to get Shazammed.  I’d love it if an angel would suddenly appear to me at night and say, “Danny, boy, you’re cured.”  Or maybe Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, could whack me with her wand and tell me to just click my goddamned heels together. 

 I mean, damn, why can’t I have one of those really FAST miracles?  

Because – for most people – they never happen.  Most of us have to take the slow, sometimes intensely painful, sometimes tedious – occasionally joyous – route of creating our own miracles.  We have to take the time to sit down with our therapists and do our own emotional work, we have to actually sit our butts down on the meditation pillows and do our own spiritual work. We have to create the miracle that is us.

In a very real sense, we have to design our own programs.  Maybe they’ll involve 12 Steps.  Maybe they’ll involve 36 Steps. Or 210 Steps.  But they’ll never involve 1 Step.  And they sure as hell shouldn’t involve $20,000.  

The bad news is that miracles can take a lot of work.  You can’t catch one by sitting next to someone else who had one. The good news is that they’re free. 

Well . . . maybe a dollar.

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Panic Attacks, Gas Lighting and The Moon Card

Have you ever had a panic attack?

They’re absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it, HORRIBLE.  You can’t catch your breath, your pulse rate goes through the ceiling, your heart is like a jack hammer in the middle of your chest, and you feel like you’re going to die.

And it’s all an illusion.  There’s really NOTHING wrong with you, at all, but it FEELS like the world is ending and vultures are sitting on your shoulders.  

I had a series of them about ten years ago when my life partner was becoming seriously ill.  One of the lovely things about them is that they seem to come totally out of the blue.  With the first one, I was driving merrily along The Great Highway of Life in my little Honda and WHAM!!!  “Danger, Will Robinson, danger, danger!  Be afraid!  Be very, very afraid.”  I somehow managed to get myself to the local emergency room where they examined me and gave me an extremely professional shrug of the shoulders.

“Nothing’s wrong with you, man.  Blood pressure’s normal, EEG’s normal, you’re incredibly sexy and good looking.”

Well, they didn’t really say the part about being sexy and good looking but I’m sure it was on their minds.

I couldn’t believe it.  I was dying and it was just . . . in my head.  Hmmmm . . .

Once I figured out what was going on I did a lot of research on panic attacks.  There are some interesting theories out there about what causes them, but nothing definitive.  Breathing into a paper bag can help.  Benadryl can help.  My favorite piece of advice was, “Think of something else.  Sing something happy.”  Oddly it works.

But I want to go back to the part about them being illusions.  The Moon card is all about psychological illusions.  As I said in my original definition:

Think of seeing the world under the light of the moon rather than the sun.  Shadows and light blend into one another and our eyes and mind see things that aren’t really there.  Or maybe they are.

There is a tendency for the unconscious, unexamined contents of our minds to come forth when The Moon is present.

What I eventually figured out about my panic attacks is that I was living in an illusion and my subconscious didn’t like it.  Not at all.  My partner was becoming increasingly, seriously ill and I was trying to stay very upbeat  about it and reassure her – and myself and her children – that it was nothing to be concerned about, that if we just kept a positive attitude we’d get through it and she’d be just fine.  My subconscious, on the other hand, was looking at it and saying, “Holy shit!  Carol is really, really sick.  You need to pay attention to this, Dan!”

And, when I didn’t pay attention to it, my subconscious said, “Okay . . . well how about this?  How about if I throw an absolute screaming fit and make you FEEL like you’re dying?  How about a nice big fat panic attack or three?  Will you pay attention now?”

I paid attention.  The panic attacks stopped.

The point is that there is something in our psyches that is always watching over us and warning us if we go too far off track, if we get too disconnected from reality.  Eckhart Tolle calls it, “the Watcher.”  Jeffrey Schwartz calls it, “The Wise Advocate.”  I’m referring to it here as, “the subconscious.”  It’s reality based, it’s dispassionate, and it will always blow a very loud whistle if we get too delusional about what’s really going on in our lives.  Some of us may have panic attacks, some of us may start having inexplicable accidents or become very anxious and distracted or angry.  It’s our inner guidance system saying, “Pay attention.  This is serious.”

It’s also a great defense against narcissistic gaslighting.  The term gaslighting is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.  Gaslighting is standard operating procedure for narcissists at a certain point in their destructive relationships.

As Doctor Ramani explains in this video, narcissists will eventually begin to treat you like shit and betray your trust in every imaginable way.  It’s what they do.  BUT . . . just to make it a little bit worse, they will always tell you that you’re just imagining it.

They put you down in front of your friends – you’re just imagining it!

They devalue or ignore your opinions – you’re just being delusional!

They screw around on you – you’re just being paranoid!

There’s actually an old joke in Texas where a woman walks in on her husband while he’s in bed with another woman and he says, “Now, darlin’, who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”

It’s a funny joke but that’s precisely the level that narcissists operate on.  And it makes their partners crazy, just like in the movie.

But that’s a good thing.  That’s our subconscious, our Watcher, our Wise Advocate, saying, “Something here is very, very, wrong. Pay attention.”

And, if we can manage that shift in perspective, if we can say, “Wait a minute . . . maybe I’m NOT crazy, maybe this really IS happening,” then our so-called symptoms are suddenly transformed into very healthy warning signs.  If I’m depressed, if I’m angry, if I’m anxious – and, yes, if I’m having panic attacks – something is out of whack in my life.  Something in my conscious life is out of synch with my Watcher and my Watcher is ALWAYS right.

When we do that course correction and bring our conscious perceptions back into alignment with our subconscious Watcher, the symptoms disappear.  It’s not necessarily because anything in our environment has changed or gotten better, it’s simply that we’re being honest about what’s going on and there’s no longer a split in our consciousness. 

We’ve achieved integrity as defined by the dictionary:  the quality or state of being complete or undivided. Which is way better than feeling like you have an elephant sitting on your chest and you’re about to die. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic and carry a towel.”

And you’ll be alright.

The Sun Card and The Uncarved Block

Seeing the human Soul in the Taoist concept of The Uncarved Block.

One of the core tenets of Taoism is an idea called, “The Uncarved Block,”  or, as it’s written in Chinese, “Pu,” (not to be confused with The Tao of Pooh although it IS the Tao of Pu.)  

It refers, quite simply, to a piece of wood that’s never been touched, never been carved into a statue or an ornament or a utensil.  It’s just the wood, as it came into and grew into this world.  It’s in its’ primal, original state of being.

When the term is used to refer to the human experience, it means the primal state in which WE came into this world, untouched by experiences, prejudices, or dualistic thinking.  And, of course, it implies that there was a SOMETHING that arrived when we were born, other than just a tiny little human body.  There was a primal NATURE that came into the human body. Some people call it a Soul.

This has actually been a pretty hot topic for philosophers and psychologists for hundreds of years.  Are we just reducible to the sum total of our bodies and brains, or is there something else that’s greater and somehow inhabits our bodies and brains?  Another way of putting it is, “nature versus nurture:”  are we born with a certain nature, an essence that existed before our birth, or are we simply whatever we learn as we go along in life, whatever we learn by being nurtured by our culture?

Aristotle came down firmly on the nurture side of the equation, saying that we are born as a, “tabula rasa,” a blank slate that life and culture writes upon.  There is no soul, no pre-existing essence. The idea was later picked up by the English philosopher John Locke and thus made its way into modern psychology.

New Thought writers, of course, are advocates of nature, of the idea of our having a Soul that, “arrives,” in this world using the vehicle of our bodies.  What’s more, they see the Soul as being pretty cool when it dances into the physical world.  To quote Esther Hicks/ Abraham in Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires

“You are eternal beings who have chosen to participate in this specific physical life experience for many wonderful reasons . . . You are eternal Consciousness, currently in this wonderful physical body for the thrill and exhilaration of specific focus and creation.”

In other words, when we first get here we are beautiful, spiritual beings, full of joy, who have come here on a mission that INCLUDES having a lot of fun.  To use a phrase from AA, we are happy, joyous, and free.  We would feel a lot like The Sun Tarot card looks.

We arrive as beautiful, innocent, children, full of elation and radiating the euphoria of being alive in this enchanted garden that we call the Earth.  We are naked and unadorned, and our original nature, our essence, our, “uncarved block,” is love.  Pure love.

But then something happens.  Perhaps we forget our original nature in the process of transitioning from being Spirits to existing in physical bodies.  Perhaps, as some children do, we remember our original nature and still see the angels and the fairies, but our families and society soon beat that magic out of us.  As Don Miguel Ruiz put it in The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book)

“We are born with the capacity to learn how to dream, and the humans who live before us teach how to dream the way society dreams . . . we learned a whole new reality, a whole new dream.  We never had the opportunity to choose what to believe or what not to believe.”

And we find ourselves wandering in Paradise, lost in the collective dream of our existence, with no memory that we are something far, far greater than our mere physical bodies.  As the bible expressed it – in a phrase that christians never, never, never EVER quote – because then we wouldn’t need preachers:  “You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you.” 

 Or to use Joni Mitchel’s riff on it, “We are stardust, we are golden, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

That’s the rub, that’s the rough part for most of us: just remembering that we ARE spiritual beings and getting back to that garden.  It’s not as if society exactly encourages us to act like we’ve all got Souls.  If we really believed that we’re all part of the Divine, we’d treat each other with a shade more respect, wouldn’t we?  If we actually looked at killing as killing a part of the Divine, we’d have a lot fewer wars, doncha think?

It’s actually become quite fashionable to laugh at the idea of a Soul.  Many people view it as an anachronistic belief on a par with the idea that god is an old man sitting on a golden throne.  Just silly crap that’s left over from our primitive religious views.

Can we PROVE that there’s a Soul?  Of course not.  Can materialists or atheists prove that there ISN’T a Soul?  Of course not.  What we CAN do is to intuit that there is a something that lies beyond and beneath our ordinary consciousness and reality.

In discussing the difference between the ego and what we really are in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61) Eckhart Tolle says:

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am.  Who am I then?  The one who sees that.  The awareness that is prior to thought, the space in which the thought happens.”

In a similar vein, Jeffrey Schwartz, who is a neuropsychiatrist and uses very strict scientific standards of proof,  argues in You Are Not Your Brain: The 4-Step Solution for Changing Bad Habits, Ending Unhealthy Thinking, and Taking Control of Your Life that there is something beyond the mere thoughts that our physical brains generate, something that directs our focus and can override our thoughts.  He calls it, “The Wise Advocate,” and it sounds very much like the description of a Soul.

“The Wise Advocate knows what is best for you, it loves and cares for you, so it encourages you to make decisions in a rational way based on what’s in your overall best interest in the long term.”

That Wise Advocate, that space that exists between our thoughts, is where our Soul lives.  It’s where our Soul is still naked, beautiful, innocent, and playing.  It’s our original nature, our uncarved block.  

All we have to do is find it again. Or at least try to be a chip off the old block.

The Fool, Wu Wei, and Touching Your Woo Hoo

Exploring the concept of Wu Wei and the work ethic of drifting.

We all know how to be a success in life, right?  We set our alarms so that we can get up before the sun rises and we work our asses off all day.  We do twice as much as everyone else, put in lots of overtime, and keep working right up until we go to bed.  And some of us actually keep working in our dreams, mulling over the day while we sleep, running through scenarios for when we go back to work tomorrow.  We even have lots of inspirational sayings to reinforce our work-a-holic thinking.

“The early bird catches the worm.”

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

“Stay positive, work hard, and make it happen.”

Yay!  Let’s get out there and WORK!

But what if all of that is wrong?  In fact, what if most of it is bullshit?

The Taoists have an interesting concept called Wu Wei, which can be loosely translated as, “doing nothing,” and they say that it’s a major key to success.  A more accurate translation might be, “purposeful inaction,” and the basic idea is that the harder we work, the behinder we get. Taoists love to use rivers and lakes and water in general as metaphors, so we can do that to explain Wu Wei.

Suppose that you’re floating down a beautiful, green river in your little Rowboat of Life.  There’s a gentle current that’s carrying you along nicely and you’re making good forward progress.  It’s so quiet and peaceful and you can feel the sun warming your face and body.  Perhaps you let one hand trail behind you in the crystal clear water and for just a moment it feels like everything is absolutely perfect.  

BUT . . . you suddenly decide that you want to go faster, because faster must be better, so you grab your oars and you row like hell until you’re exhausted.  And you really haven’t gotten much further down the river.  All you’ve accomplished is to wear yourself out when you could have been just drifting along, enjoying the ride.

But WAIT!  You remind yourself that drifting is wrong!  Drifting is bad!  We need to be GOAL ORIENTED and MOVING FORWARD with MAXIMUM ENERGY AND MOTIVATION at all times.  By now, you know that rowing forward didn’t accomplish much, so you start paddling your Rowboat of Life from one side of the river to the other, just to be doing SOMETHING.  After all, you’re the Captain of your Rowboat!  YOU determine where you’re going and YOU’RE in charge of your destiny!  

 Eventually you realize that you’re making even less forward progress and after a while you get discouraged and put your paddles back in the boat.  You drift along thinking about it and beating yourself up for not making more effort.  Maybe a dragonfly lands on your nose while you’re cogitating.  “Am I lazy?” you ask the dragonfly.  “Do I just not have what it takes to be a winner?”

As you work it all out in your head, you realize that WINNERS KEEP GOING, no matter what the odds are against them.  Real winners are willing to work as hard as they can and then DIG DEEP to find that last reserve of energy to carry them across the finish line!  The harder you work, the more it proves that you’ve GOT WHAT IT TAKES, by god!

So just to prove how hard you work and how inspired you are, you turn your Rowboat of Life around and start paddling AGAINST the current.  You struggle and you strain and at a certain point you have a massive coronary and die, but at least you died a winner, right?

The whole point of this, of course, is that there are underlying currents of energy in the Universe.  They actually help us get to our goals if we just surrender to them and go with the flow.  Life isn’t an enemy.  Life isn’t something we have to fight.  Nature isn’t something we’re supposed to conquer.  We are meant to float as gently on the currents of life as a blossom drifting down a broad, quiet river.

Most of the New Thought writers and speakers have this concept as a central pillar of their philosophy.  In Choose Them Wisely: Thoughts Become Things! Mike Dooley talks about visualizing your goal in general terms and then moving toward it.  BUT he emphasizes very strongly that we don’t need to sweat the details about how we’re going to get there.  The Universe will provide the means and the ways and the paths once we get in harmony with the flow.

Louise Hay, in You Can Heal Your Life writes, “I believe in a power far greater than I am that flows through me every moment of every day . . . Out of this One Intelligence comes all the answers, all the solutions, all the healings, all the new creations.”

In Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires Esther Hicks/Abraham, says, “Well-Being is the basis of the Universe.  Well-Being is the basis of All-That-Is.  It flows to you and through you.  You have only to allow it.  Like the air you breathe, you have only to open, relax, and draw it into your being.”

In other words, there is a current of energy, of love, that underlies the entire Universe and our, “job,” our only true, “work,” is to align ourselves with that energy current and drift along on it, knowing that it will take us where we want to go.

The Fool Tarot card is the perfect illustration of this.  She dances along on the edge of a cliff, filled with the energy of love, totally unconcerned about where she’s going or how.  She’s in the flow.  She’s dancing with the energy and if she walks off of the cliff, she’ll just walk on air.

So . . . how do we get to the Flow and how do we know when we’re out of it?  How do we know when we’re paddling up the river, instead of riding the current?

According to Esther Hicks/Abraham, we actually have a compass in our little Rowboat of Life.  It’s called emotions.  And we can check that compass anytime that we want to.  HOW DO YOU FEEL?  If you feel crappy, angry, sad, or resentful, you’re paddling upstream.  If you feel happy, joyous, free, and content, then you’re floating down the river with a dragonfly perched on your nose.  If you’re not feeling anything at all, if you’re emotionally flat and apathetic, then your Rowboat is stuck on a freaking sandbar.  So the key is to get up every morning and say, “Woo Hoo!  I’m alive and I love it!”

We all need to stay in touch with our Woo Hoos a lot more than we are.  We can do that.

Of course, all of this is totally un-American.  Hard work and a lot of sweat are the answers.  Anyone who says different is plain Fool-ish.

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The Ten of Wands, Mike Dooley, and Becoming a Topless Cellist

This is a post about Mike Dooley’s concepts of choosing our goals, visualizing them, and manifesting them. It discusses the Ten of Wands tarot card as a representation of someone who has too many goals and needs to narrow her focus while remaining open to all possibilities.

If you’re a Great Thinker – and most of us at least believe that we are – you probably have a lot of Great Ideas.  In fact, you may have too many.  Way too many.  Let’s talk about that a little bit.

Mike Dooley has a wonderful book called Choose Them Wisely: Thoughts Become Things! As the title implies, what we think will inevitably manifest in our physical lives, sometimes more quickly, sometimes more slowly, but what we think will become our physical realities.  

Now, the Tarot slices our everyday lives into four quarters represented by the Minor Arcana.  The suit of Cups represent our emotions, Pentacles represent our relationship with physical possessions, Swords represent our physical drives and aggressions, and Wands represent our ideas, our thoughts.

The Ten of Wands is a wonderful representation of someone who has way too many Great Ideas.  Each wand represents a thought and this poor son of a bitch has SO many thoughts going on in his head that he can barely stagger along his path.  He’s literally weighted down with all of his wonderful, fabulous, potentially AMAZING thoughts.  So much so that he can’t even lift up his head and look at the world around him.  All he can do is carry the burden of his thoughts and stare at the path that he’s on, hoping he doesn’t stumble and fall and – goddess forbid – lose his stupefying collection of Great Ideas.

The bad thing about having too many Great Ideas is that it can be just as discouraging as having too few Great Ideas.  It can paralyze us.  We have so many options swimming around in our heads that we just really can’t decide which direction to go in – so we go nowhere.  It’s like we’re saying to ourselves, “Well, I could be a Great Artist, but if I put all of that time and energy into being a Great Artist then I won’t have any time and energy to put into being a Great Writer.”

So we sit around on our asses and worry about that and – in the meantime – we don’t write and we don’t paint.  We’re stuck.  

We can actually see a pretty good representation of this with The Chariot card.  You can take one look at this guy and tell that he has some Great Ideas.  I mean, look at those shoulder pads!  Who wouldn’t want a jacket with Moon shoulders?  He’s glorious!  But if you take a little closer look, you see that the Sphinxes aren’t harnessed to anything and he doesn’t have any reins in his hands.  He looks fabulous, but he’s not going anywhere because he doesn’t have any direction, he doesn’t have any focus.  He just can’t decide which way to go.

One of Dooley’s ideas about getting out of the trap of having too few options can also be useful in dealing with having too many options.  Make up a list of your options, of all of the things that you could possibly do to move forward in your life, and then choose the three LEAST SUCKY options and move forward with those.

If you have too many Great Ideas, that may sound like a daunting task, but it really isn’t.  My experience is that a lot of my Great Ideas can be slotted under the category of, “Probably Ain’t Gonna Happen.”  For instance, when I was in Junior High School, I got it into my head that I wanted to jump hurdles on the track team.  And I would have been absolutely amazing at it except for the fact that everyone in my family has short legs and I kept jumping into the hurdles instead of over them. 

In the same sense, if you’ve always dreamed of being a porn star and you have a small penis, that, “Probably Ain’t Gonna Happen.”  It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with my short legs or your small penis, it’s just not a good fit.  So to speak.

So we can winnow out a lot of our Great Ideas from the get-go.  And, as we do that, we find that a lot of them are actually pretty Sucky Ideas.  Eventually, as we continue to work on our lists of Great and Sucky Ideas, we’ll come down to the three that are the least Sucky and we can move forward with those.

This is the point where a lot of us get paralyzed again.  Should I really give up on my life-long dream of being a world famous Juggler on the Ed Sullivan Show, just because Ed Sullivan is dead?  Am I making a dreadful mistake in abandoning my idea of being a Topless Cellist at Carnegie Hall?

This is also where Mike Dooley came up with a genius concept:  IT DOESN’T MATTER.  

No matter what we choose, it doesn’t matter.  The main thing is to choose something and then start moving forward with it.  That’s probably the single most important thing that we can do:  get off of our asses and start moving.  And, as we begin to move forward – with ANYTHING – the Universe will provide the next step and then the next step and then the next step and eventually we end up exactly where we want to be.

That takes a tremendous load off of our shoulders, especially if we’re Great Thinkers with lots of Great Ideas.  We really don’t have to decide too much.  We don’t have to spend endless hours analyzing our options, playing scenario tapes in our heads, and fretting over possible disasters.  All we have to do is figure out a couple of our least sucky options and start moving toward them.  We provide the moving feet and the Universe provides the path to walk on.

As Dooley put it, “Do WHAT you can, with WHAT you’ve got, from WHERE you are, and it will ALWAYS be enough.”

And we can overcome any hurdles.  Or, if we’ve got short legs,  we can learn to run sprints.  It’s all good.  It’s all just right.

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The Death Card, Spaghetti and Ghosts

The Death card is one of those scary Tarot cards that no one wants to see in their reading.  As one British writer put it, “This card usually sends the wind up people . . .”  

Death . . . eeeew!  Creepy.

We should talk about that . . .

I’ve attended a weekly bereavement support group since my life partner died.  We get together once a week – on Zoom, since Covid happened – discuss the grief process, check in with each other, and offer emotional support to members who are hurting.  At one of the meetings a new member whose husband had died a few weeks earlier asked, rather hesitantly, “Um . . . have any of you had any experiences with . . . like . . . ghosts?”

Every hand in the room went up.

Every single one of us had experienced strange messages or pictures of our loved ones inexplicably falling off of shelves or lights that flickered on and off when we mentioned the names of the people who had died or books that we hadn’t taken off of the shelf lying on the floor opened to passages that comforted us.  

Every single one of us.

And here’s an odd thing about that:  even though a LOT of people have these experiences, “normal people,” (and by, “normal,” I mean people who aren’t in the grief process) don’t want to hear about them.  Oh,they try to reassure the person who’s grieving that their dead person isn’t, somehow, dead. They’re well armed with the standard, trite phrases.

“I’m sure he’s right there with you.”

“She’s looking down on you from heaven.”

“You have a new guardian angel watching out for you now.”

Still, they really don’t want to hear about how the dead person is RIGHT THERE in your living room turning lights on and off and leaving books out for you to peruse.  Because, you know, that’s kind of spooky.  

And, yes, spooks ARE spooky.  When you’re cooking spaghetti and you get a flash of someone who’s dead sitting at the kitchen table, it does tend to pucker your pasta.  But it happens all the time.  Ask anyone in any grief group.  

So why don’t people want to talk about it?

Well, there’s probably a primal fear of the dead that’s hard wired into our bodies and minds.  The horror story genre is built straight out of that energy and authors like Stephen King know exactly how to evoke it and make the hair on our necks stand up.  

And, of course, there’s all of the religious crap that our culture embraces:  dead people are supposed to be in heaven eating pancakes with Jesus or they’re supposed to be in hell roasting marshmallows with Satan,  but they are NOT supposed to be reclining in their favorite barcalounger playing with the cat.

There’s also a certain amount of it that flows out of good old fashioned denial.  The more we focus on death, the more we have to acknowledge that someday we, too, are going to be dead and, by golly, that’s just plain depressing, doncha think?  We even have a word for people who want to talk about death, “too much,”:  morbid.  According to the Cambridge dictionary, that’s, “too interested in unpleasant subjects, esp. Death.”

(LOL – if you’re going to die – and you are – how can you be, “too,” interested in that?)

And there’s the strong atheist/empiricist current that flows through our culture.  If a phenomenon can’t be plopped onto a scale, weighed, dissected, and held with our hands, it doesn’t really exist, and you can’t weigh a ghost.  By that standard, or course, rainbows and emotions don’t exist, either.

I think, though, that there’s a further element involved here and that’s the day to day implications of ghosts.

A huge amount of human culture is built around this simple question:  what happens to us when we die?  HUGE.  All of our religions are really premised on that one idea: something happens to us after we die.  What is it?  Is it good?  Is it bad?  Is it horrible? How can we massage that outcome from this side?  How many Hail Mary’s do I have to say to end up in heaven instead of hell?  How much incense do I have to burn and how many incantations do I have to chant to have better karma?  

European art and  culture in the Middle Ages were almost entirely devoted to those questions.

Morbid, right?

Ghosts, in a very real sense, are where the rubber meets the road in religions and spirituality.  They are the interface between this world and whatever happens to us when we die.  They are a constantly repeated phenomenon that has occurred throughout all of human history.  The story of Jesus appearing to his disciples after he was crucified is, essentially, a ghost story, right?

If we really accept the fact that ghosts and ghostly phenomena do exist – and millions of perfectly rational people attest to that existence – then it shifts a lot of our thinking and our sense of being in this world.  

If the person we love HASN’T ceased to exist, if they are somehow still here in some other form, then grief doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  It’s more like a dear friend deciding that they’re going to move to Europe.  It might make us sad.  We might miss them terribly.  But we don’t have to throw ourselves on the ground, sob, and rip our clothing.  They’re still here, but they’re over-there/here, instead of here/here.

And, what exactly does, “here,” mean?  If someone’s dead, they’re supposed to be WAY, “over there.”  You know . . . in heaven or hell or zooming around the astral plane on a portable golden throne.  But if they’re sitting in your kitchen watching you cook spaghetti or they’re in the barcalounger playing with the cat, then they’re, “here.”  But they’re also, “there,” because . . . um . . . they’re dead.  Maybe the truth is closer to what some Native American tribes believe and the dead aren’t gone at all – they’re still walking around with us in another dimension that we just can’t see.

I don’t know the answers.  But I know it’s a conversation that we ought to be having and we ought to be having it outside of the confines of bereavement support groups and pastors offices.  If Uncle Bob is dead but he’s hanging out in the den watching television, that’s important.  Maybe instead of throwing white sage and holy water at him and telling him to, “go to the light,” we ought to just say, “Hey, Bob – what’s up?”

Maybe he’ll tell us.  

The Ten of Swords, the Death Card, Child Abuse and Forgiveness

It’s hard to put an exact figure on it because child abuse tends to operate in the darkness, but most statistics indicate that about one in five people were abused as children. That abuse can, of course, be a broad spectrum of behaviors from physical abuse to emotional and social abuse to sexual abuse, or a combination of all of those. And therapists will take different approaches in treating those abuses, depending upon the type and severity.

We can simplify that by just lumping it all under one word: trauma. Victims of child abuse suffered severe trauma at a point in their lives when they were totally ill-equipped to process it intellectually or psychologically. Child abuse is normally committed by those who are closest to us – our parents, siblings, uncles, teachers, priests, pastors – and so it involves a deep betrayal of the most basic sense of trust. It leaves its victims with an enduring, often unconscious, feeling that the world is NOT a safe place and that we can never feel secure or at peace, even in our own homes. To use a current phrase, we suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, just like people who have been in combat for extended periods of time.

Eventually, that lack of trust in life, that basic inability to ever really relax into safety, will cause us to build impenetrable walls that destroy the quality of life. We are so wounded that we just can’t let other people all the way into our lives because they might hurt us, too. Very much like the figure in the Ten of Swords, the battle is over and we lost. And how could we not? We were just children when the battle took place.

We may seek help through therapy or spiritual resources in an attempt to remove the toxins, to tear down the walls of distrust and fear. If we’re blessed with a really good therapist or a wonderful teacher, we may actually make progress with our issues and begin to engage in life in a more open, loving way. We still feel wounded, though, pierced with countless swords of pain when we recall what happened to us as children.

And then an odd thing happens somewhere along the journey: our abusers die. Abusers, like everyone else, are ultimately mortal and they age and die like everyone else.

When that happens it can be a very odd time in our lives. There may initially be a real feeling of catharsis, a sort of a joyful crying out into the world: “I’m still here and you’re not, you son of a bitch.” Or there may be a total numbness and lack of grief. After all, they taught us the value of learning to feel nothing again and again and again while they beat us. Later, if we go into therapy, there may be a deep regret: “Why didn’t I confront him when he was still alive? Why didn’t I ever ask her why she couldn’t love me?”

At the end of the day, though, they’re dead. As the coroner in Wizard of Oz put it, “She isn’t simply merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”

Or is she?

The terrible truth of the matter is that, for most of us, they go on living in our own heads and hearts long, long after they’re physically dead. There are constant inner dialogues with them, sometimes dozens a day, that we carry on as if they were right there in the room with us, instead of lying in a grave. There are the critical, shaming voices that intrude on our every activity.

“That was stupid.”

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“Well, THAT was typical. You screwed up again.”

Many times these inner critics have become so natural to us, so much a part of our existences, that we don’t even realize that they aren’t us. They’re the disembodied voices of our dead abusers.

So how do we ever get rid of them? How do we ever get to a point where we can say, “You know what? You’re dead. Go away now?” The answer for me came in the form of forgiveness, but not forgiveness in the normal sense of the word. At least not the way I’d ever thought about it.

At first, the idea of forgiving your abusers feels grotesque, even outrageous. “Wait a minute . . . I was a little tiny, helpless kid and this person beat me (fucked me, fondled me, burned me, shamed me – fill in the blank with your particular form of abuse.) Why in hell should I forgive them? Just because they’re dead?”

Well, there are two reasons and, oddly, neither one of them has a thing to do with the abuser.

First of all, yes, they’re dead. Yes, in a physical sense, they really ARE most sincerely dead. Whatever they are now, they aren’t any longer the specific person who abused us.

And that means that, as Louise Hay pointed out, all that they are right now is thought constructs in our heads. That’s it: they are literally just our memories now and they have no existence beyond that. When that really hit me, when I finally GOT that, my first thought was, “Wow! I’m CHOOSING to live with my abusers. All they are is my thoughts and I’m in charge of my thoughts. This is a choice to continue the abuse.”

And once I got that, I realized that if I continued to keep those thought patterns alive, it was a CONSCIOUS choice to live with abuse.

That’s where forgiveness comes in. Louise Haye also pointed out that forgiveness is, ultimately, an act that takes place in our own minds. We don’t tend to think of it that way. We tend to think of it as always involving another person and it usually has a lot of drama attached. It goes something like this:

“I forgive you for the fact that – even though I was deeply in love with you, had your three children, and was a good and faithful wife who adored you with all of her heart – you just couldn’t keep your dick in your pants and you screwed my best friend. That slut.”

In other words, we’re SAYING that we’re forgiving the other person, but we’re really not. What we’re really doing is pointing out what a total piece of shit the other person is and saying that we’ll live with that, as long as they feel good and guilty about what they did wrong. It’s a power thing disguised as a kindness thing.

Real forgiveness, though, is truly letting it go, not choosing to live in it, and that’s why it’s so important in healing the wounds of abuse. It means recognizing that we’re keeping the abusers alive in our own minds, acknowledging what they did to us and honoring ourselves as survivors, and then just . . . letting them go . . . for once and for all . . . back into Universe. “If hating you means I’m keeping you alive, then I can let go of that hatred. I forgive you, I bless you, I release you.” And in doing that, we’re really blessing ourselves. We’re really releasing ourselves from the prisons they built in our minds.

You can invent your own rituals for doing that. I like to use Nick Ortner’s Meridian Tapping with three rounds of what they did to me and three rounds of letting them go. You might prefer to build a Day of the Dead Altar with their picture on it. Talk to the picture, tell them what they did and how it felt, and then throw the picture away.

Light a candle, meditate on the abuser and then release him or her as you blow out the flame.

Do a Buddhist Sur Ceremony and release them with love and compassion.

They don’t exist anymore. We’re free.

The Lovers, The Goddess, and The Monogamy Model

Did you ever have a good friend just disappear on you when they became romantically involved with someone?  You know:  a friend you loved to hang out with, a person who was your go-to buddy for a cup of coffee or a drink, the first person you’d call when something really good (or really bad) happened to you?

And then they fall in love and suddenly you can’t reach them.  You ask if they’d like to have a cup of coffee and they reply, “I don’t know;  I’ll have to see what WE’RE doing.”  On the one hand, you’re happy for them to be in love, but on the other hand, you really kind of feel like you just got dumped.

The bottom line on it is that romantic love, as we currently practice it, tends to be very exclusionary.  We’re a decidedly monogamist society, so 99% of the time falling in love involves two people, period.  And, yes, there is a strong expectation that those two people will devote the majority of their loving and caring to each other and not to people who are outside of the relationship.  It’s very much as if your former best friend is saying, “Well, yeah, I loved you but that was what I was doing until I could find someone to fall IN love with and now I’m busy.  Bye!”

The Lovers tarot card beautifully illustrates the romantic model of love that the Victorians positively adored.  A man and a woman stand beside each other, nude, but not touching, not even making eye contact, while an angel hovers overhead, its wings spread protectively over the couple.  The message is loud and clear:  romantic love is holy and ethereal and, yes, we have bodies, but REAL love is about those heavenly emotions and not about . . . you know . . . S-E-X.

And, yes, it’s about two people and two people only.  You don’t see any best friends hanging out in this card.

Thic Nhat Hanh says that true love, as opposed to our normal idea of romantic love, includes four elements:  (1) loving/kindness which is the ability to offer happiness to the other person; (2) the energy of compassion, which removes suffering from you and the other person; (3) joy in loving; and (4) inclusiveness, which is removing the barriers between you and the other person.  BUT – and this is the kicker with our western concept of love – if it’s really true love then those energies will continue to expand, particularly the energy of inclusiveness. 

 In our romantic love model we draw a circle around ourselves and our partners and say, “Okay, we’re in love – go away.”  In this alternate model, romantic love becomes a spiritual practice that expands to include, rather than exclude, others. In other words, if it’s real love it grows your circle, it doesn’t contract it.

Which leads to a very sensitive and perhaps painful question:  Is monogamy really a healthy model for growing love in our lives?  

Unfortunately, the very question comes packed with a lot of poisonous images.  We think of the middle aged man cheating on his wife with the babysitter.  Or unhappy housewives having miserable affairs with the next door neighbor.  Or swingers, who basically just want to fuck anything that moves, proclaiming that they have, “an open marriage.”

In other words, there’s a large, built in, “Yuck,” factor when we try to visualize a model of love that doesn’t involve exclusive monogamy.  All of those images, though, are operating WITHIN the framework of a monogamist society.  Screwing around on your wife or husband is yucky because it involves lying, cheating, and deeply hurting people who love you, trust you, and expect that you’re going to be, “faithful.”   Sexual swingers probably have inordinately high sex drives and are non-monogamous by nature.  They just get yucky when they try to disguise their true nature within the framework of a traditional marriage.

It may help to think about this issue if we can actually step back a bit and ask ourselves, “Is monogamy natural?  Is this the natural state of human love or is this something that’s been imposed by society over many thousands of years?”

As Leonard Schlain points out in, “The Alphabet Versus the Goddess,”  the evidence is strong that most human societies were originally matriarchal.  And there are actually a few truly matriarchal societies left in the world.  So where do they stand on the issue of monogamy?  

The Mosuo women are China’s last surviving matriarchy.  They don’t marry.  The women choose and change partners as they wish, whenever they wish.

The Minangkabau people practice marriage to a limited extent but the women and children live in their own houses and the men live elsewhere.  

In the Khasi society, a matrilineal and matrilocal culture in the northeastern part of India, monogamy is the norm but women are free to divorce and remarry as frequently as they want to, with no social or economic consequences.

So, if the most ancient form of human society was the matriarchy, and if the current surviving matriarchies are examples of how those societies functioned, then we can conclude that monogamy is NOT a, “natural,” human norm.

Even more fascinating is the fact that these are WOMEN who are rejecting the monogamist model.  Remember, a large element of the argument for monogamy is that women, especially when they’re pregnant, are weak, helpless, and badly in need of male protection.  Apparently these societies think otherwise.

Is monogamy simply an artificial social construct that was foisted on humans by patriarchal societies that viewed women as property, as, “belonging,” to men?  And, as the Goddess archetype reemerges in the world, will we see a breakdown of the monogamistic model?

There may be signs of that, especially among older people.  Sociologists have already noted a new form of family structure they call, “living apart together,”  in which people who describe themselves as being in love still choose to maintain separate households.  Women in these relationships are very much maintaining their own individual identities rather than merging into a shared identity.

It’s fascinating to think of what new forms of romantic relationships may emerge in the coming few years.  Communes?  Group marriages?  Matriarchies?  The Lovers card may need to be a lot larger before it’s all over.

The Chariot Card, Setting Intentions, and Magical Stepping Stones

As I’ve said in previous posts, the most astounding thing about the Chariot card is something that we usually don’t even notice. The Charioteer has no reins and the Sphinxes have no harnesses. In fact, the Sphinxes are sitting on their asses, pointed in different directions.


And it IS astounding that we don’t notice that . . . but not really. The Charioteer is, after all, one hell of an impressive looking guy. Tall, handsome, big shoulders, noble face. I hate him. (Whoops, who said that?) Seriously, if you just encountered the Charioteer casually you’d assume that this is someone who has it all together. He has incredible, beautiful armor, moons on his shoulders, a magical crown, a glowing square over his heart chakra, and a hell of a ride.


But, ultimately, he has no direction and, therefore, he has no real power.
And that may be why he’s dressed up in his finest duds: so that we don’t notice that there’s really nothing there.


Eckhart Tolle talks about this a lot. The ego loves things. New I Phones, new cars, designer clothes, new houses. The reason is that the ego identifies itself with things. The more things it’s got and the more expensive they are, the bigger and more powerful the ego feels. That isn’t just a new computer – that new computer is a part of and an extension of ME. And the more things I’ve got, the more ME there is, right?


Of course, it’s all a shell game, a little illusion that we sell to ourselves and others to distract from the fact that most of us tend to be pretty hollow shells. Drop us in the middle of a forest with nothing but the clothes on our backs and what do we have? Drop death or disaster on us, something that truly takes away all of our things, all of our ego extensions, and what do we have?


That’s the question. That’s what the Charioteer has to begin to find out. How to become something more than a flashy appearance. And the beginning of finding out is called, “Intention.”


Buddhists have a lot to say about intention, and particularly Right Intention. The intention to practice harmlessness, to at least do no harm if you can’t actually do some good. The intention to practice loving/kindness, to remember that all sentient beings deserve our compassion and empathy. But those are steps on the path, and first we need to see the path itself. Where does Intention come into our lives?


It can be as simple as a realization like, “Oh, I am SO fucked up.”
Or feeling sad and alone and miserable and being tired of feeling that way.
Or being an alcoholic or an addict and being sick and tired of being sick and tired.


It’s whatever makes you stop and think, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I don’t want to live like this anymore. And, of course, “I don’t want to be here anymore,” leads to, “So, where DO I want to be?” And that leads to, “I want to be over THERE.” I want to be happy. Or I want to be more spiritual. Or I want to feel more evolved. Or I want to be more helpful and loving to the people around me.


Once we’ve got that, once we understand that we don’t want to live in that painful space anymore and we’ve got a vision of a better space that we’d like to be in, then we have a goal. And once we have a goal, then we’ve got a direction to move in, and then we’ve got steps that we can take.


“I want to be a more spiritual person. What can I do about that? (1) Pick up a copy of that book on angels I’ve been wanting to read. (2) Actually sit my ass down and meditate in the morning. (3) Promise myself that I am NOT going to get pissed off at that ditz who sits next to me at work and I’m going to try to respond with loving kindness, instead. (4) Try to post something on FaceBook that’s a little inspiring instead of bitching about the quarantine . . .”


The second that we actually set an intention, that we actually say, “I want to go from Point A to Point B because Point A pretty much sucks,” then the stepping stones along that path magically appear. Then the Charioteer has some reins and the Sphinxes are harnessed and we’re MOVING somewhere.


Stay home. Stay safe. Be blessed.

The Fool, The Buddha, and the Corona Virus

Some Tarot interpretations say that the bag or satchel that dangles from the end of the pole on The Fool card is his karma. That he is a new born soul dancing into life and the memories of his experiences and actions – both good and bad – are carried with him into his next incarnation in that little bag.

And that’s a good question for all of us as we face this very profound experience of a world wide pandemic: What will we carry with us when it’s finally over?

Shit happens. We all know that. A lot of the time we experience life less as the Captains of our Fates and more as the silver ball in an old fashioned pin ball machine. We aren’t thinking, we aren’t planning, we aren’t really conscious of what’s happening to us or why. We just keep hitting and being hit by those paddles, bouncing around from one place to the next until a bright, neon sign lights up and says, “GAME OVER.”

And then we’re dead.

Did it make any sense? Did our journey through all of the joys and pains, the triumphs and shit sandwiches actually MEAN anything? Or was it just a random series of events that left us bruised and battered and ultimately puzzled over why it all happened?

A large component in that equation is consciousness. Actually being aware of what’s happening to you right now, right this moment and actively SEEKING for meaning.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. My life partner, Carol, died a couple of years ago and eventually I joined a bereavement support group, also known as a Grief Group. Basically, it’s a small group of people who have lost a loved one and we sit down together once a week and talk about that experience. In other words, we’re trying to find some meaning, some understanding of what we’ve gone through and where we go from here.

One of the most positive things I’ve carried out of that group is the realization of how very much alike we all are in the face of something that is as monumentally dreadful as death. It doesn’t matter if you’re an 81 year old great grandmother or a 25 year old newly wed; death is experienced in much the same way. There are periods of shock, then numbing, then panic and horrible anxiety, overwhelming sadness, and the feeling of being totally lost in the world. There can be great nobility and growth in that process if you can somehow stay connected to your feelings and look for answers. What does it mean? Why did they die? Why am I still here? What am I supposed to do with my life now?

And, sadly, there are other people who experience very little growth and get no spiritual or emotional insights from the process. They throw themselves into a flurry of social activities right after the funeral and, when they have to be home, they turn the t.v. up as loud as it can go and stay on the phone as much as they can. They spend as little time as possible in that Sacred Silence that follows death and they think as little as possible about what it means. In a phrase, “they move on,” from the grieving period as fast as they can. If they’ve lost a husband or a wife, they remarry or re-partner within a year, as if their loved one was an interchangeable part rather than a precious human soul who intermingled with their life stream.

In other words, they don’t carry anything out of it.

Perhaps that’s a form of basic, animal wisdom. As the Buddha said, all sentient beings seek to be happy and to avoid suffering, so there’s nothing unusual about not wanting to hurt. But he also said that suffering is inevitable. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, we each have our portion of pain and how we deal with that suffering – IF we deal with that suffering – that moment in time is the anvil on which we forge our karma. It isn’t just what we go through – it’s how we consciously integrate what we go through. Did we learn anything from the experience? Did we grow and evolve as human beings? Did our compassion and ability to love others increase or diminish? Did we make what happened to us MEAN something in our lives?

So . . . here we sit in the midst of a major historical event. And none of want to be in it. I haven’t met one single person who has said, “Damn, this is exciting! I’m so glad I’m here to see this happen!” But, we’re still here, like it or not. A lot of people are going to die before this all over. Many more will lose people they love with all of their hearts and souls. There’s going to be suffering and we know that.

Right now, millions of us are locked away in our houses and apartments, waiting for the storm to blow through, hoping we won’t be one of the people who are swept out into eternity by this goddamned virus. I guarantee you that many of us are spending this time with the television turned up as loud as it will go, constantly on the phone, constantly on the internet, constantly trying to be too busy to think or feel. They can’t wait to, “move on,” and, “get back to normal.”

In other words, they won’t carry anything out of it.

Right now, we are ALL fools dancing on the edge of a cliff. We can take the time to sit down and meditate, to read, to journal, to REALLY talk with people we love, or . . . we can turn up the volume on the t.v. If there’s one thing we should all know right now it’s that life is precious, time is precious. We can fill that little bag The Fool carries with some new found wisdom, compassion, and meaning. We can actually ask what all of this means, why we’re here, and what we’re supposed to do next.

Or not.