The Two of Cups, Low Libidos, and Smoldering Men in Skirts

A brief look at the myths and expectations surrounding American sexuality.

It’s always kind of fun – and illuminating – to identify a cultural myth.  Cultural myths are strong beliefs and assumptions that we have about our societies or countries which are almost totally unsupported by facts.  But we still believe them.

I remember that my first experience in cultural, “myth busting,” concerned monogamy.  Most Americans hold a very strong faith in the notion that everyone has a Soul Mate, that we will eventually meet that Soul Mate, and that we will live happily ever after when that happens.  But, of course, our divorce rate has held steady at 45 to 50% for decades, so it’s pretty obvious that the standard monogamy model isn’t working out very well for at least half of us.  Nonetheless, we keep getting married.  And divorced.  And married.  And divorced.

It was such a liberating experience for me to finally get some perspective on that issue and be able to say, “Oh . . . it’s just bullshit.  I’m not a failure and all of my friends who’ve been divorced aren’t failures.  The model is flawed.  Happily Ever After Marriage for everyone is a cultural myth.”

Many cultural myths are relatively harmless exercises in ego.  Germans, for instance, have long considered themselves to be an extremely clean and fastidious people.  Yet, some polling in the 1970s found that they’re the least likely of all Europeans to change their underwear on a regular basis.  Italian men have always been seen as red hot lovers, but Italian women report that they have a dreadfully low rate of orgasm during sex.  The British think of themselves as wonderfully sophisticated but . . . you know . . . blood pudding and kidney pies?  Really?

Other cultural myths are darker and more disturbing.  Almost 50% of the Japanese identify as Buddhists, a religion which teaches the sacredness of all sentient beings.  That hasn’t prevented their culture from ruthlessly hunting down and slaughtering whales and dolphins, which are some of the most sentient beings on the earth.  A majority of Americans claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, which are all about love and compassion, but we’re one of the most violent societies in the world and half of us voted for Donald Trump.  In both cases, our cultural myths have allowed us to deny and rationalize our actual behavior.  “We’re not really like that.”

Yes, we are.

One of the most important things about cultural myths is that they carry with them a set of unconscious expectations.  We think of them, not just as the way things ARE, but as the way things OUGHT TO BE.   And when we feel that we haven’t lived up to those sets of expectations, we beat the hell out of ourselves psychologically.  In the example of monogamy, for instance, we have the expectation that our marriages OUGHT to succeed and, when they don’t, we feel like miserable failures.  If we can step back from that a little bit and realize that about half of all marriages DON’T last, then it removes the sense of personal failure.

It’s the expectations that are killing us, not the reality.

All of which is offered as an explanation for why my radar started pinging this week when I ran across this article about American sexuality.  Or, more specifically, American libido, also known as, “sex drive.”  Over 26% of American adults reported that they hadn’t had sex in the previous year.  Not even once.

The first thought, of course, is, “Oh, the damned pandemic.”  We’ve all been isolated so we couldn’t have as much sex.  Not true.  In 2018, the percentage of sexless Americans was 24% and in 2016 it was 23%.  So right around 1 in 4 of us are NOT getting any sugar and haven’t been for years. 

 It’s probably a higher number than that, simply because of the nature of the male ego.  If you ask a normal male if he’s gotten laid in the last year his immediate response is going to be, “Oh, yeah.  Lots of times.  Women are crazy about me.  Just can’t get enough.  I’m worn out from it, I tell ya.”

Not.

I’m tagging this as evidence of a cultural myth because Americans think of ourselves as being a HIGHLY sexual culture.  In so many ways we become obsessed with our bodies, not just to be healthy, but to make them more attractive sexually.  We spend millions of dollars every year on clothing and gym fees so that we can look as tight and sexy as possible.  Our pornography industry is booming.  Our movies and television shows and books are replete with sexual references and innuendo.  Our most popular comedians would be at a loss for words if they couldn’t rap about sex. 

Just looking at the surface of our culture, we’d have to conclude that Americans LOVE sex.  We think about it and talk about it and joke about it almost constantly.  We sell hundreds of books and videos on how to be better lovers and keep our partners so satisfied that they’ll melt into the mattress when we’re through making love.

But then we look at those statistics again.  One quarter of Americans aren’t having sex at all.  This isn’t some sexual blip that’s caused by the baby boomers getting older, either.  The people who aren’t having sex are young, middle aged, old, Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, the full spectrum.

Does it matter?  

It’s an interesting question because, as one sex researcher put it, “Low libido is only a problem if you think it’s a problem.”  The traditional approach has been to view it as a problem from the beginning and then look for the source of the problem, which is the real problem. What’s CAUSING your lack of libido?  Is it high blood pressure, low blood pressure, anxiety, depression, lack of exercise, obesity, sexual dysfunction, constant fatigue?  

But suppose it’s none of the above and a lot of Americans just don’t much like sex.  Is that a problem?

Not in and of itself.  If we can become dispassionate enough to look at having sex as merely a human activity, much like jogging or playing golf, then it’s no problem at all.  Some people like to get out and smack their balls around the old course and others don’t.  No problem.

It’s when we get into the expectations that go along with the cultural myth that we begin to encounter the, “problems.”  Historically, most of these libido studies have been aimed squarely at women.  There is a sort of an underlying assumption that all healthy, normal males like to fuck like bunnies under a full moon all the time and – if their wives and girlfriends aren’t willing to accommodate them –  that’s a problem.  The woman’s problem.

Realistically, yes, it is a problem when one romantic partner has a high sex drive and the other partner has a very low sex drive, but it has nothing to do with gender.  And it’s a problem that could be avoided by some honest discussion going into the relationship.  “Okay, I like sex a LOT and you don’t like it much at all.  What are we going to do about that?  Do we have an open marriage?  Is it okay for us to get our needs met outside of the relationship?  Is this a big enough problem that we just shouldn’t be together at all?”  

The basic expectation here is that all sex drives are created equal and that most of them are set on, “high.”  Therefore, if I like sex more than you like sex, then there’s obviously something wrong with you, like maybe you’re frigid.  Or, flipping that, maybe there’s something wrong with me, because I like sex too much and I must be some kind of a pervert.

There’s also a built in expectation that, somehow, everyone else must be having sex – really good sex – pretty much constantly and, since we’re not, there must be something dreadfully wrong with us.  We must be . . . uh, oh . . . sexually unattractive.  Or too fat.  Or too skinny.  Or too shy.  Or too outgoing.  Or too young.  Or too old.  Or our breasts aren’t perky enough or our dicks aren’t big enough.  Or maybe we’re just ugly and we dress funny.  

Again, if we can step back from that and realize that 1 out of every 4 people we meet apparently don’t have any sexual desire at all – or so little desire that it’s not even worth pursuing – then we can jettison all of those negative self images.  Perhaps, just perhaps, that person who doesn’t find us attractive doesn’t find ANYONE attractive.  

Hmmm . . .

The Two of Cups shows a couple staring deeply into each other’s eyes and the man’s hand reaching out to touch the woman.  A lion, the symbol of power and sensuality, hovers between them in the air and we can almost feel the sexual attraction smoldering like an ember that’s about to burst into flames.

Woof.  Smolder, smolder.

But suppose she’s looking at him and thinking, “What kind of a guy wears a skirt?”  Or he’s looking at her and thinking, “If she’s not going to drink her wine, maybe I could have it.”

Maybe they haven’t had sex in over a year and they don’t want to have it now.

As a society, we’ve made great strides in realizing that there’s nothing wrong with sex.  We pretty much accept it, in all of its amazing varieties, as perfectly normal and healthy, magical and fun.

We have a ways to go, though, in accepting that, while there’s nothing wrong with sex, there isn’t necessarily anything right with sex, either.  There’s no, “norm,” that we all have to meet, no perfect amount of sex that we’re supposed to have, no particular number of notches we’re supposed to cut into our bedposts to show that we’re, “healthy, well adjusted human beings.”  And judging our personal worth by the number of bed partners we have is insane.

If we have an extremely high sex drive, that’s okay.  If we have an extremely low sex drive, that’s okay, too.  It’s only a problem if we think it’s a problem. 

Everything else is just a myth.

The Nine of Wands, Buddhist Emotions, and Having Sex While We’re Water Skiing

On the emotional nature of ideas.

In the Tarot, each suit of the minor arcana represents a different realm of the human experience.  Cups represent emotions, pentacles are physical possessions, swords are energy, and wands are the intellectual realm of ideas.

At first glance, we’d hardly associate the Nine of Wands with ideas at all.  A man stands there clutching a wand, a fearful, almost paranoid look on his face, and a bandage tied around his forehead.  He looks like he came out on the losing end of a bar fight much more than he looks like he’s swarming with ideas.

When we  stop for a moment and ponder just exactly what ideas really are, though, the card starts to make sense.  We all have thoughts – a  LOT of them – from the moment that we wake up in the morning until the moment that we fall asleep.  Some meditators call our thoughts, “the mind stream,” because they feel like an endless stream constantly rushing along from one point to the next to the next.

And, let’s face it – many, if not most of them, really aren’t worth much.  The Buddhists talk about, “monkey mind,” which basically means that our minds are like monkeys jumping randomly from one branch to another, with no particular order or meaning.  Rather than having truly great thoughts, our thoughts are more like:

-did I turn off the coffee pot?

-why is the cat crying?

-remember to buy more cat food.

-what am I making for dinner tonight?

– should I wear brown socks?

-who invented toast?

-I think I’m a little hung over.

-where’s the alka seltzer?

-remember to buy alka seltzer when you get the cat food.

All of those thoughts occur in mere seconds and they go on like that all day, every day.  Most of our thoughts, then, are just immediate, fleeting responses to whatever’s happening in our environments at any given moment.

There are, of course, more organized thoughts that we generate with problem solving activities.  That’s where we sit down and really concentrate on how we’re going to get from point A to point B, how we’re going to get through work activities or budget enough money to pay the rent.  How to organize our shopping lists and plan meals before we go to the grocery store.  What we’re going to say at a business presentation and how to prioritize the points that we want to make.

Yet another type of thought is what we could call intuition, where an idea or a notion just seems to pop up out of nowhere.  We may be shocked or surprised or delighted by an intuition because it frequently has little in common with our usual thinking patterns and provides us with a whole new way of looking at a problem or even life in general.  When someone asked Einstein how he’d come up with the theory of relativity, he said that it, “just dropped in,” while he was playing the piano.  Intuition may occur as a thought but there’s no feeling that we somehow generated it.  It really is as if someone or something else dropped it into our mindstreams.

Now, one thing that all three of these ways of thinking – rapid responses to our environments, organized problem solving, and intuition – have in common is that they all appear to be relatively innocuous, relatively harmless.  It’s hard to figure out how you could go from them to the character in the Nine of Wands who looks like he got the snot beaten out of him.  What the hell happened?  Did he beat himself with his own ideas?  Did someone else dislike his ideas so much that they beat him up?

We find a clue to that process in Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.”  In his discussion of the, “pain body,” (the accumulation of subconscious emotional pain that we all carry) he states:  “. . . emotion is the body’s reaction to your mind . . . An emotion is the body’s response to a thought.”

In other words, thoughts never occur in isolation.  There are always emotions attached to them.  With many of them, the emotions, like the thoughts themselves, may arise and fall away so rapidly that we’re not even aware of them, but they’re there.

To use the example from above, we might think, “Remember to buy more cat food,” and not even realize we’re feeling anything.  Just below the surface though, there may be a fair number of emotional reactions, like, “I love my cat, I hate the smell of that fish flavored cat food, I miss my other cat who died, it all costs so much and I’m so worried about money . . .”  Love, hate, sadness, worry, all flashing through us over a damned can of cat food.

We might think that thoughts obviously can’t hurt us.  We can think of a purple polka dotted hippopotamus or the theory of relativity and neither of those thoughts is going to hurt us or anyone else.  They’re just ideas.  But – again – they’re ideas with emotions attached to them, and, yes, emotions can hurt us or help us.

If we obsessively ruminate over unhappy thoughts all day, that will hurt us.  It causes our blood pressure to shoot up, our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline, our serotonin levels drop and we become much more susceptible to depression and disease.  

If we interrupt those obsessively unhappy thoughts with the memories of something that made us happy – a vacation, great sex, a good friend, water skiing,  a vacation where we had great sex with a good friend while we were water skiing – that will help us.  Our blood pressure drops, serotonin levels increase, stress hormones drop, our immune systems get a boost.

So a good first step in not getting beaten up by our ideas is to consciously realize that every thought has some emotional component to it.  Every time we think something, we feel something.  The more aware we are of that, the more aware we become of what we’re actually feeling and we can gradually start to eliminate the thoughts that make us have bad feelings.  Like fish flavored cat food.

Another thing that can help us is to meditate a bit on the Buddhist notion that NOTHING HAS ANY VALUE.  At first blush, that may sound like a radically nihilistic notion.  “What the hell do you mean, nothing has any value?  I’ll tell you what has some value, Bubba – my new IPhone.  THAT’S what has some value.  Exactly $799.98, plus shipping, that’s how much value it’s got.  Don’t tell ME nothing has any value.”

To express the idea a little more clearly, nothing has any INTRINSIC value.  It only has the value that we assign to it, the value that we project into it.  An IPhone is just a piece of plastic and electronic components.  There’s nothing in it that’s intrinsically, “happy making,”  until we decide that IPhones make us happy.  Or unhappy.

Buddhists put a little finer edge on it by saying that we assign one of two feelings to virtually everything we encounter in life:  attraction or aversion.  Either we like it, in which case we want it, or we don’t like it, in which case we want to avoid it.  

The tricky part is in realizing that there is NOTHING that’s either likable or unlikable until we decide it’s likable or unlikable.  It’s wonderful to realize that because it gets rid of a whole host of unconscious motivations like greed, prejudice, possessiveness, materialism.  Literally, nothing has any value unless we want to think it has some value. Nothing’s good unless we think it, nothing’s bad unless we think it.

It also makes us deliciously responsible for our own lives because we’re no longer victims of circumstance.  How many times have we all said, “I’ll be happy when I get a new car, or a new computer, or a new job, or a better lover, or a nicer house?”  We chronically think that there is something or someone OUT THERE that will magically make us happy.  And if it’s OUT THERE, then we don’t have any control over it.  It’s something that happens to us or it doesn’t, either something outside of us makes us happy, or we’re just doomed to be miserable.

Once we realize that it’s our own thoughts that are assigning happy or miserable feelings to the things out there, that we are unconsciously deciding that some things are attractive and some things are aversive, then we control our own happiness.  Or we can be just as miserable as we want to be.

Happy, sad, mean, joyful, miserable.  They all start with thoughts and we, and we alone, make our thoughts.

Bundles of Sticks, Ajahn Brahm, and the Ten of Wands

Finding closure on experiences that don’t make any sense.

Should we carry our past with us or just throw it away?

The Ten of Wands shows a person plodding along, carrying a large bundle of sticks.  The, “sticks,” are wands, the suit of the Tarot that represents ideas, so he’s actually carrying a massive number of ideas.  

If we take a little closer look at the card we notice a few odd things about it.  First, he’s not at all carrying the sticks the way that we’d expect.  If we pick up a big old honker of a load of sticks, we’d throw them over our shoulder, right?  Instead,  he’s carrying them in front of himself, with his head pressed into the bundle. 

Second, the sticks are all crossed up at the bottom and going in different directions at the top.  If someone asked us to lug a large pile of sticks across the yard, we’d probably throw a rope around them and tie them together, not carry them in a loose, unwieldy mess.

Third, he’s definitely not watching where he’s going.  His head is tilted down, as if he’s watching each step he’s taking, rather than keeping his eyes on his destination.

So just by looking at the face of the card, we can deduce quite a few things about it.  This guy is probably an intellectual, or at least someone who thinks a great deal, because he has many, many ideas that he’s carrying around.  His ideas don’t really, “fit,” together, and they’ve become quite a burden for him.  In fact, he’s so involved with carrying his ideas that he really has no idea where he’s going.  He’s so lost in his ideas that he has no perspective on his life.

The Australian Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, tells a funny story about sticks.  When he was a novice monk he was strolling through the forest with his teacher, the head monk at the monastery where he was studying.  The master suddenly picked up a stick from the forest floor and asked, “How heavy is this stick, Ajahn Brahm?”  And then he threw it away and asked, “How heavy is it now?”

The point, of course, is that something is, “heavy,” only when we hold on to it.  It’s the act of PICKING IT UP AND CARRYING IT that makes it heavy.  We don’t look at a stick on the ground and say, “Oh, crap, that’s heavy.”  We only say it when we try to pick it up.  It’s our act of grasping something that makes it seem heavy, not the thing itself.

Human beings are natural storytellers.  We all reflexively try to make sense out of our lives and weave the events we experience into a coherent, sensible narrative.  We have an innate drive to try to make sense out of what happens to us and so we’re constantly reviewing our pasts and rearranging the puzzle pieces of our lives into some sort of a rational structure.

We don’t just say, “Well, I lost my fucking mind and decided to quit my job, leave my husband, and move to Montana to grow dental floss.  Just for no particular reason.”  Instead, we say, “After several years of marriage I felt a yearning for solitude and spiritual growth that could only be satisfied by disconnecting from social obligations that had become increasingly mundane.”  

That feels ever so much better.

We need to feel that it all makes sense, somehow.

From a Buddhist perspective, constantly trying to make sense out of our pasts is tantamount to picking up that stick.  It only becomes heavy, it only becomes a burden, when we grasp it and carry it around with us.  In fact, Ajahn Brahm actually recommends writing, “this is my past,” on a stick and throwing it as far away as we can.  Just let it go.  When we’re not carrying it, it’s not heavy.

Now, modern psychology has a different take on it.  Therapists tell us that it IS important to try to make sense out of what’s happened to us and to strive for a sense of meaningfulness in our lives.  Bottom lining it, that’s why we go to therapists:  because our lives aren’t making any sense and we need someone to help us sort it all out.

I suspect that for most of us, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  If we wake up one morning and have no past, we may have suffered a psychotic break.  Or, in the case of people like Eckhart Tolle, perhaps we’ve had a massive revelation, a huge psychic shift that made us realize how absurd our previous thinking was.

For those of us who are neither psychotics nor enlightened spiritual masters, though, just tossing our pasts out the window isn’t an option.  It seems we can’t just NOT think about it.

Which brings us to that tired, but still valid, word:  closure.

We think of closure as having worked through a problem or a process in life until we’ve made sense of it, until it fits logically into our coherent narrative of what our lives mean.  If we go through a divorce, for instance, we may go to a therapist and try to figure out why it happened.  What was our role in the relationship breaking apart?  What was our spouses role?  What did we do wrong?  What did we do right?  What can we learn from it to make our future relationships better?  Eventually, when we’ve talked through all of those issues, we start to achieve closure and we’re ready to move on from it.  We haven’t necessarily thrown the stick away, but we’ve made it a hell of a lot lighter to carry.

There are other issues, though, that we can never seem to make any sense out of.

– If you were badly abused as a child, that doesn’t make any sense.  You didn’t do anything to deserve it and there’s no logical or emotional reason it should have happened to you.

-If you’re an open and loving person and you got chewed up and spit out by a malignant narcissist, that doesn’t make any sense.  You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t deserve it, and it shouldn’t have happened.

-If the new boss from hell fires you from your dream job because he’s a sexist or a sadist, that doesn’t make any sense.  You were a great employee, there’s no justice in it, and it shouldn’t have happened.

So there’s a kind of a subclass of experiences that we all have that we could call, “doesn’t make any sense,” experiences.  Those are the experiences that get really, “sticky.”  Those are the experiences that we pick up and carry with us.  We go over and over and over them, trying to figure them out, trying to make them somehow fit into our narratives, our story.  But they never do.

“Doesn’t make any sense,” experiences are the ones that are most likely to wound us spiritually and emotionally.  They keep us stuck.  They keep us wounded.  They keep us living in pain.

Oddly, though, they’re also the experiences that are easiest to let go of, if we think of them in the right way.  If we’ve honestly, sincerely, conscientiously tried to figure them out and we can’t do it, we can just say, “Well, fuck it.  This doesn’t make any sense.”  And then we can put that experience in a nice, “doesn’t make any sense,” box, tie a brightly colored, “doesn’t make any sense,” ribbon around it, and toss it in the nearest river.

Maybe we’re not enlightened or smart enough to throw all of our, “sticks,” away, but we can throw some of them away.  We can consciously choose which parts are valuable and which parts are worthless.  We can drop some of the burden and make it a little easier to move forward in our lives.  

And that’s a good start.

Lost Car Keys, Emotional Ladders and Being Ram Dass’s Illegitimate Child

Learning to climb our emotional ladders.

Did you ever have one of those morning meditations that was absolutely perfect?  Maybe you get up out of bed, light a candle on your altar, close your eyes, and the love and peace just FLOW into you as you sit there.  You feel compassion for all living beings and you feel oneness with the entire cosmos.  You feel that if you aren’t totally Buddha-like, you must at least be the illegitimate child that Ram Dass never acknowledged.  You are just SO high, SO spiritual, SO totally in the flow!

The feeling may continue as you take your shower, allowing the warm water to wash all the negativity from your aura.  And then again, as you eat your oatmeal, reminding yourself that you honor all living beings by not eating the flesh of animals.  You know you’ll have a perfect day at work.

And then . . . and then . . . you can’t find your car keys.  You go through the pockets of the clothes you wore the day before.  Check your night stand.  Look under the bed.  Scour your sock drawer.  Crawl around on the floor in case you dropped them.  Within the span of a few moments you’ve been transformed from Pema Chodron into a snarling, wild eyed beast.

“Where are you, you goddamned little jingly bastards?  Where in the fuck ARE you?”

Ironically, at the very height of your fury and hysteria, you locate the keys.  On your altar.

Sigh.  Another failed leap into enlightenment.

In their book, “Ask and It Is Given,”  Esther and Jerry Hicks make the point that sometimes it’s perfectly okay to feel angry.  In fact, sometimes getting really pissed off can be a sign that our mental health is improving.

It’s kind of a breath of fresh air in the New Age/New Thought movement.  We are constantly being told that we must stay positive and that, because of the Law of Attraction, being angry will do nothing but attract angry people and unpleasant events into our lives.  We find ourselves trying to censor our emotions, consistently trying to not feel what we’re feeling –  if what we’re feeling is anger –  and then feeling guilty when we can’t do it.

The Hicks look at it from a slightly different vantage point, which is that angry emotion is better than no emotion.  The basic premise is that our emotions are what motivate us, what keep us moving in life, what draw us toward love and make us run away from hatred.  Without emotions, we’re just stuck, dead in the water.

They say we live on a sort of a ladder of emotions, with apathy and depression at the bottom rungs of the ladder and love and joy at the top. In between joy and depression there are our other emotional states like irritation, feeling overwhelmed, pessimism, hopefulness, and so on.  As we climb the ladder and become more fully emotionally engaged with joy, we become more fully alive. When we descend the ladder into depression and apathy, we’re not really living, we’re just existing.  The ladder would look a lot like this:

JOY

POSITIVE EXPECTATION

OPTIMISM

HOPEFULNESS

PESSIMISM

IRRITATION

OVERWHELM

BLAME

ANGER

REVENGE 

RAGE

DEPRESSION

APATHY

I really like that idea of an emotional ladder because it allows me to be the mess that I frequently am and be honest with myself about where I’m at.  As the Hicks said in another book, it’s easy to program a GPS to take you from Phoenix to L.A. but first you have to know that you’re in Phoenix.  If we’re on the second to the top rung of the ladder – positive expectation – then it’s relatively easy to take that next step up to joy.  On the other hand, if we’re stuck WAY down the ladder in anger and we try to jump straight  up into joy, we’re probably going to fall off of the ladder and land on our asses.  It’s important to be honest with ourselves about where we really are on our emotional journey.  It saves us from broken asses.

And that leads into another neat concept which the Hicks came up with: the, “emotional set point.”  Basically, that’s just the rung of the emotional ladder that we live on most of the time.  We humans tend to be creatures of habit and so we pretty much maintain a consistent emotional state.  If we’re happy most of the time, we’ll stay happy most of the time.  If we’re sad most of the time, we’ll stay sad most of the time.  We may occasionally climb up and down a few rungs on the emotional ladder as life brings us good or bad events, but we tend to return to what feels like our, “natural,” state of being.

And there is a certain natural, genetic component involved in that.  According to The Harvard Health Blog, about half of the reason we may be happy or sad is based on the disposition we were born with.  So that person you know who’s always chirpy and perky and bright and annoyingly happy?  Yeah, that’s probably real.  They were likely just born that way.  And the friend who always seems a little sad may have just inherited it from his parents.  It’s their natural emotional set points.

The good news behind that, though, is that we can change our emotional set points.  Just because it feels, “natural,” to be in a certain emotional state doesn’t mean that we have to stay in that emotional state.

Suppose, for instance, that I’m a perfectionist.  I would want everything to go exactly according to plan and turn out just the way I’d envisioned it. 

What would flow out of that state of being would be a great deal of impatience with my co-workers and/or family members because they weren’t living up to the high standards that I set.  I might be constantly criticizing them, sniping at them, belittling their efforts and generally acting like an insufferable prick.

The cure for that could be to do loving-kindness meditations.  Starting to actively envision what other people are going through and building in empathy for the fact that they’re struggling with life the same way that I am.  As I continued to do that, my perfectionist expectations would drop away and I’d begin to see the people around me as fully dimensional human beings who deserve caring and patience.  I’m changing my emotional set point.

Or perhaps, like so many of us, we grew up in physically or emotionally abusive families.  Our, “go to,” response to stress in life might then be emotional flatness.  We learned very early in life that it’s easier to just turn off our emotions rather than feel the pain of the abuse.  

What flows out of that is becoming emotionally absent with our partners or children whenever there’s a problem.  Even worse, we abandon ourselves emotionally and fail to experience joy and deep love because we’re so shut down.

The cure for that could be to start doing, “happiness meditations.”  Just sit down once or twice a day and meditate on something that makes us happy, even if it’s a distant childhood memory of a beloved dog.  Start learning to live in that emotion again.  Stopping several times during the day and asking ourselves, “Am I happy right now?”  And, if we’re not, pull up that memory again until happiness becomes a habit.

The point is that it’s a practice, the same way that yoga or meditation are practices.  We don’t get where we want to go all at once.  If we come home and find our life partner shtupping our best friend, it’s okay to be angry.  In fact, it’s a hell of a lot better to be angry than it is to be depressed.  Anger can empower us but depression takes our power away.

As long as we’re feeling something, we’re still okay.  We’re still moving.  We’re still growing.  And, as the Hicks said, we can reach up for that next best emotion on the ladder. We can change our emotional set point.  It’s better to feel irritation than to feel overwhelmed.  It’s better to feel pessimism than to feel irritation.  It’s better to feel hopefulness than to feel irritation.  We can steadily, consciously move our emotional set point upward toward joy as long as we’re honest about what we’re feeling and we don’t shut ourselves down.

If we don’t feel it, we don’t heal it.  If we don’t heal it, we don’t grow.  And growing toward happiness is even better than knowing where your car keys are hiding.

The Wheel of Fortune – Good Luck, Bad Luck, Flying Monkeys and Eckhart Tolle

A closer look at good luck and bad luck in The Wheel of Fortune

Luck.  It seems to be a universal concept, found in every human culture.  There are blues songs bemoaning the fact that, “if it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”  People talk about how their luck’s been so bad they’d have to look up to see the belly of a snake.  Then there are other people who seem to live enchanted lives, lives where one good thing after another happens to them for no apparent reason other than they’ve got really good luck.

The Wheel of Fortune Tarot card is obviously about luck, but the modern, Waite Deck depiction of it is really just about good luck.  It shows a wheel bedecked with Egyptian deities and surrounded by symbols of the four elements or, perhaps, the four apostles.  There’s nothing threatening or scary about this version of the card.

When we look at the old, Marseilles deck version of the card, though, we see a different story.  Instead of Egyptian deities, we see . . . um . . . monkey critters.  Wizard of Oz flying monkeys, one perched atop the wheel, wearing a crown and wielding a sword, one being carried upward on the wheel and one being cast down by the wheel.  This is really much more in keeping with that very primal perception of luck that we humans have always had about luck.  It’s something kind of creepy, magical, and outside of us, outside of our control.  We can never tell when a flying monkey might swoop down out of nowhere and carry us away in its nasty little talons

Humans are always trying to find a way to harness luck, to somehow bring it under our control.  There are dozens of gods of good luck that we’ve worshiped through history – Hotei, Fortuna, Lakshmi, etc. – hoping that they’ll bless us with strong luck.  Many people carry a rabbit’s foot or a lucky penny or have, “lucky socks,” or jeans that they favor.  A lot of obsessive compulsive behavior flows out of a ritualistic quest for luck.  OCDs may feel an urgent need to wipe the counter exactly seven times or wash their hands three times in order to avoid something catastrophic happening.  Most of us were taught the basics of avoiding bad luck as children.  Don’t step on a crack or you’ll break your mother’s back.  Don’t walk under a ladder.  Don’t break a mirror.  Oh, shit, it’s a black cat!

The older Tarot card shows both good luck and back luck – one monkey is rising on the Wheel of Fortune and one is descending.  The two phenomena seem to go together, to be attached, one rising from the other.  The second verse of the Tao Te Ching alludes to this when it says:

Once we know beauty, we know ugliness.

Once we know good, we know evil.

High and low, long and short—all these opposites support each other and can’t exist without one another.

That duality, that sense of opposites always going together, seems to apply to everything on the material plane, including luck.  Good luck seems to give way to bad luck and bad luck gives way to good luck, or that’s the way that we conceptualize it.

Eckhart Tolle suggests that, at least to some extent, it really is just about the way that we conceptualize it.  Many times, what we view as bad luck is just the end of a cycle.  Everything grows and then it diminishes and then it grows again.  We don’t view plants dying at the onset of winter as a tragedy, but we do view humans dying at the end of their incarnations as tragic.

Louise Hay has much the same view of the ends of relationships.  When we break up with someone or we get a divorce or our partners die, it feels like a horrible, painful tragedy.  It feels like bad luck.  She suggests viewing it instead as a sort of a graduation.  At the point the relationship ends, it means that we’ve learned everything we were supposed to learn from the dynamic of that relationship and it’s time to say, “thank you for the wisdom,” and move on.

The Law of Attraction people tell us that good luck and bad luck can actually be learned behaviors, patterns that we get into that, “attract,” more of the same.  If we can learn how to maintain a positive, healthy outlook on life, we tend to attract positive, healthy people and things into our lives.  In the same sense, if we see life as a terrible, crappy experience where we’ve got nothing but bad luck happening, that’s what we attract.  Even worse, we attract people with the same negative vibes and then we get to deal with their shit in addition to our own.  That can go a long way toward explaining why some people always seem to be lucky and some people seem to have a curse on them.

Pema Chodron said that life is all about being constantly thrown out of our nest. Constantly forced to give up our security and adapt to new experiences.  Quite a bit of what we call, “bad luck,” is that simple, elemental human experience of not wanting things to change.  We envision an idyllic, static existence where nothing new or challenging ever happens to us because change is scary.  Getting fired from our jobs, losing our partners, having to move out of our houses – these are all bad luck because they’re changes that we don’t want.

There are a couple of things worthy of noting about that, though.  The more that we resist change – the more that we say, “no,” to the end of a cycle –  the more dramatic that change is eventually going to be.  It’s almost like an explosive force that just keeps getting more and more powerful the longer we sit on it, until it eventually blows our existence into tiny, smoldering pieces.  A small change that we resist can easily grow into a catastrophe that we could have avoided.

The other thing to note is that good luck so often grows out of bad luck.  After we’ve had a period of seriously rotten luck, we frequently find our lives being showered with blessings of all sorts.  It could be that, as the Taoists assert, good luck is attached to bad luck and one inevitably gives rise to the other.  Or, as Tolle said, perhaps we’re just ending one cycle and plowing the dead weeds under the ground to make room for the new growth.

That can make a huge difference in how we experience those periods of, “bad luck.”  We can realize that The Wheel of Fortune is a wheel that’s constantly turning and that we’re never stuck in one place.  It just feels like it.  Being thrown out of the nest may feel incredibly uncomfortable emotionally.  It may be terrifying.  It may feel like horrible luck.  But it’s the only way we learn how to fly.

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.

The Lovers, The Devil, and Being Thrown Out of the Garden

Karmic relationships and how to leave them.

The Lovers Tarot card is a sort of a snapshot of a story we’re all familiar with:  Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  The image is all the more poignant because we know the end of the story.  This picture was taken when the beautiful angel was hovering over them as a guardian and protector.  The very same angel would later cast them out of the garden because – horror of horrors – Eve munched on an apple and that pissed off their psychotic, bipolar god.

In many ways, this is a perfect metaphor for the process of, “falling in love.”  And falling out of love.

When we first meet that perfect someone and fall in love, our brains and bodies are absolutely saturated with pleasure hormones like oxytocin.  We become enchanted with the mere presence of our love object and the entire world seems to glow with a peculiar brightness and joy.  Basically, we’re high as a kite and we feel like we’re living in a beautiful garden.

That oxytocin high lasts about two years (coincidentally, about the same  time it takes to conceive a baby, gestate it, and get it on its feet) and then it just disappears.  Suddenly our brains go back to normal.  This is the, “reassessment period,” in a relationship where we take a good, hard look at our partners and decide if we really want to stay with them.  If, all in all, we feel satisfied and happy with them, we stay in the relationship.  If, after we come down from our oxytocin high, we discover that we’re living with a frog  rather than a prince, we leave.

In other words, we fall out of love.  We’ve been cast out of the enchanted garden.

I’ve been thinking about that process because of a subset of relationships that the amazing Sonia Choquette refers to as, “karmic relationships.”  In her videos, she explains that these are relationships that involve a sort of a, “Soul agreement,” with the other person.  The agreement is that we and the other partner are going to teach each other some serious lessons that will help us grow into our spiritual evolution.

And, “serious,” is the salient word there.  These tend to be very, very heavy relationships.

There’s an element of compulsion in them, for one thing.  We meet someone and suddenly feel a deep compulsion to be with them.  It may not even be someone we particularly like.  They may have values that are completely at odds with our own, or perhaps they’re physically or emotionally someone who is just not our type, not someone we would normally EVER be attracted to.

Yet, we are.  It’s a feeling like two magnets suddenly coming into alignment and pulling us toward each other with an irresistible force.

They also tend to be . . . uncomfortable . . . relationships.  In a romantic karmic relationship, we may feel a HUGE sexual attraction toward someone, but really, really NOT enjoy living with them.  Or we may feel a strong emotional attraction to them but have a terrible, terrible sex life.

In one way or another, it feels like a bad fit for us, because it is.  We’re not there to have a perfect relationship, we’re there to learn some heavy, hard lessons from being in each other’s lives.

That’s where it gets interesting because the timeline on a karmic relationship, the duration of it, is determined by when we learn those lessons and are ready to move on.  It may happen in six months or it may take decades.  In Sonia Choquette’s case, it took 31 years of marriage for her to get the lessons she needed to learn from her ex husband.

Which brings us to one of the most fascinating features of karmic relationships: leaving them.

When a karmic relationship is over, when we’ve finally learned the lessons we were supposed to learn, it becomes massively uncomfortable to stay in those relationships.  As Sonia said, the price we pay for overstaying in them is absolute emotional misery.  We really experience it as if we’re being spiritually expelled from them, as if we’re being thrown out of what we mistakenly thought was a garden but was actually full of weeds.  The same forces that compelled us to enter into the relationship are now compelling us to leave.  Lesson learned, relationship over.

If we ignore those compelling forces, if we insist on staying in the relationship even after the lessons from it have been learned, then we devolve into the couple from The Devil card.  This is the same couple of people from the The Lovers card, but now they’re living in misery and pain.  They’re chained to their karma, refusing to move on from the relationship and grow spiritually.

And, of course, if we examine The Devil card closely, we can see that the chains are very loose.  They could easily lift them over their heads and be free if they CHOSE freedom.  Instead, they cling to their misery.

Both Sonia Choquette and Louise Hay point to a very simple truth which our culture likes to deny:  relationships end.  And they end frequently.  When they d end, we can either choose to be miserable, choose to stay ensnared in the karma, or we can stop to absorb the lessons that we learned from the relationships.  We can either be bitter or we can bow gracefully toward our former partners and thank them for the lessons they helped us to learn.

And if we mutter under our breaths, “Thank you, you son of a bitch,” that’s alright, too.  We’re just humans and this is just a school.  We don’t have to get an A on our report cards every single time.

The Canyon of the Vaginas, The World Card, and the Loss of Male Magic

A friend gave me a book for Christmas called, “Ducks Flying Backward.”  It’s a wonderful collection of essays by Tom Robbins and the first entry is called, “The Canyon of the Vaginas.”  It’s about his quest to find a mysterious, obscure canyon in Nevada, the walls of which are covered with Native American petroglyph carvings of . . . well . . . vaginas.

Imagine that:  hundreds of Native shamans going to this one site over hundreds of years to carve depictions of vaginas!  And keep in mind, the Native petroglyphs weren’t casually done.  They were considered sacred symbols and it took considerable effort to incise them in the rock.

It started me musing on The World Tarot card.  It’s a card of rebirths, new beginnings and the successful gestation of projects.  It depicts a semi-nude woman emerging into the world with a magical wand held in each hand, a symbol not just of power but of balance.

The most interesting feature of the card, though, is probably the oval shape surrounding the woman.  Although it’s disguised as some sort of a wreath, it’s quite obviously symbolic of a vulva, complete with a clitoral bow perched at the top.  This card is really about the primal, archetypal, universal experience of birth.

Now, the Tarot also has a Death card and there’s nothing at all ambiguous about it.  It’s labeled, “DEATH,” and it has a grim reaper astride a black horse.  Why, then, would The World not have been labeled, “BIRTH?”  Or, if you wanted to extend that idea into our daily lives, “REBIRTH?”  Why disguise the vulva as a wreath?  If you wanted to depict the moment of birth, why not just do a painting of a baby emerging from a vagina?

The wreath is, of course, a symbol and, like all symbols, points toward a truth without actually expressing that truth in words.  As the Tao Te Ching says, “the word that can be spoken is not the eternal word.”  The moment that we try to express a symbol in words, we lose its essential truth, which is to say, the essence which is its truth.

Birth, in all of its forms – but particularly human birth – is one of the most deeply profound and mysterious events in human experience.  Science has, with its usual methodology, attempted to reduce that experience to the mere phenomenon of a sperm cell penetrating an egg, but no amount of reductionism can lessen the wonder of the process.  How do a few cells multiply into the complex, complicated, astounding beings we call, “humans?”  How do a sperm and an egg end up being a Buddha or a Mary Magdalene, an Einstein or a Marie Curie?

It’s a mystery.  Moreover, it’s a mystery which is contained primarily within the female body.  Yes, of course, men contribute sperm cells and the attached DNA but the process of actually creating a new human being is uniquely female.  And powerful. And magical.

If that process remains mysterious to us, with all of our instrumentation and ability to scan a fetus virtually from conception to birth, we can only guess what it must have felt like to our primitive ancestors.  It’s not hard to imagine a cave dweller gaping at a woman who had just given birth and exclaiming, “How in the hell did you DO that?”

Somehow in the course of our evolution women’s bodies became much more deeply connected to our universe than men’s bodies.  We see that plainly in the lunar cycles that cause oceans to rise and fall and women to menstruate whereas men feel . . . sort of uncomfortable . . . when the moon is full.

That’s not a subject for debate or sexual politics, it’s just a fact.  We’re at a point where our old buddy Science is beginning to document the very real differences between the state of a woman-being-in-the-world and a man-being-in-the-world.  For instance, we’re finding that women generally tend to have a much stronger connection between the two hemispheres of the brain than men and, therefore, a much deeper connection with intuition and symbolism.  (For more on that, see my post, “The High Priestess and the Hallway in Our Brains.”)

We can see these differences, we can observe them, but we still don’t fully comprehend them.  There’s still that very primitive sense that there’s something magical happening with the female spirit that’s NOT happening with the male spirit and it eludes us.  We could make a very strong case that the whole sorry history of patriarchy, treating women as property to be taken and enslaved and raped, and our current marriage laws spring straight out of that male desire to somehow capture that magic that males are missing in their own souls, even if by force.

The most visited painting in the Louvre right now is called, “The Origin of the World,” by Gustave Courbet.  It’s usually surrounded by crowds of tittering, semi-embarrassed Americans, gaping at the realistic portrayal of a woman’s genitals.  It might be tempting to brush this off as casual prurience, as prudes seizing a chance of peeking under a woman’s panties, but in it’s own way it’s become a sort of a shrine and the people have become pilgrims.  It’s not too hard a stretch to connect that painting with ancient Native Americans carving hundreds of vaginas into canyon walls.

The bottom line on it, I think, is that males have become so totally alienated from their own Divine Feminine that they have to project it outwards as a symbol.  They then worship it or attempt to capture it or – as in much of our pornography – degrade and devalue it.  As long as men continue to view the Feminine Principle in purely symbolic terms – a vagina rather than a spirit –  instead of fully integrating it into our consciousness, women will continue to be objectified as the unwilling, symbolic bearers of the magic that men have lost.

When we take a final look at The World card, we can note that the woman’s genitals are covered by a sort of a free-floating cloth.  The mystery remains concealed.  At least for now.

THE DEVIL CARD AND THE CONUNDRUM OF EVIL PEOPLE IN THE WORLD

An exploration of the notion of evil as it applies to anti-social personality disorders.

There are some people who seem to be just . . . evil.

It feels kind of icky, just making that statement.  It seems like stepping into that whole judeo-christian tar-pit of demon possession and punishing, crazy gods and hell fire and damnation and sinners.  We can see that idea illustrated pretty well in The Devil tarot card.  Two nude people are chained to a black altar while a gigantic, scary demon bat/goat sort of a thing hovers over them.  Yikes!  They done been possessed by the devil!!!

Evil in that context seems like a very medieval, primitive sort of a concept.  Something that you expect to hear coming out of the mouths of fundamentalist religious people who aren’t very spiritually evolved.

Still . . .there are some people who seem functionally evil.

Many of us have had the ill-fortune to encounter a few psychopaths or sociopaths or malignant narcissists.  Usually – if we’re normal people – they take us completely by surprise.  Many of them are extremely adept at concealing their inner natures, but they basically have NO EMPATHY.  No sense of compassion.  No kindness.  No love living inside of them.  Not even a little sprout.

It’s a shock, when we realize that.  That these are people who appear to be perfectly normal on the outside (in fact, in the case of narcissists, they may be very attractive on the outside) but have nothing but a dead, arid desert in their hearts.  What’s worse, many of them aren’t content with just being morally and ethically dead, they actually delight in causing harm to others.  Sociopaths may be content to live and let live (as long as you don’t cross them) but malignant narcissists and psychopaths go out of their way to fuck people up.  They don’t see other people as humans – they see them as prey.

It can still be difficult to get from that behavior to the concept of evil.  We tend to view, “evil,” in terms of moral wrongness and choice.  In other words, if we see a clear choice between loving kind behavior on the one hand and cruel, malicious behavior on the other and we choose to be cruel and malicious, then that’s evil.  The evil lies in perceiving the distinction between the two behaviors and choosing the one that causes harm.

Psychopaths, sociopaths, and narcissists don’t seem to have that sense of choice.  It’s not that they’re choosing to be evil rather than being kind, they simply have no concept of kindness.  What’s more, they view that lack of a sense of compassion as a strength.  They view normal people who have a conscience and try to be kind as weak and they go out of their ways to exploit that weakness.

So, in a classic sense of ethics, we can’t really see them as being evil, because they don’t have that capacity to choose between being a good human being and being a fucked up human being.  They’re just fucked up.  Period.

We may embrace the medical/psychiatric model and try to make excuses for them.  We look at them from a normal person’s point of view and think, “How awful it must be to live in a world of no love and no kindness.  Something horrifically traumatic must have happened to them to make them that terrible.”

Well, yes and no.  Sociopaths, for instance, have brains that are measurably, physically different from those of normal people.  They appear to have been born that way.  Not all people who are born with that brain structure become sociopaths, however.  It seems that something has to happen in their environment to trigger the brain into becoming sociopathic.  It’s like they’re hardwired that way at birth, but someone or something has to throw the switch to activate the wiring.

Psychologists and researchers are still arguing about exactly what it is that throws the switch.  It could be emotional trauma, physical trauma, horrible parents, malnutrition, all of the above or – in some cases – none of the above.  A lot of sociopaths were born into wealthy, loving families. Somehow, though, they end up with NO feelings of compassion or empathy, with a total lack of the characteristics that make us fully human.

It’s important to note, though, that THEY DON’T FEEL THAT WAY.  At all.  They’re quite happy with the way they exist in the world and think the rest of us are fools.  They don’t see themselves as lacking in basic human characteristics, they see us as weaklings.  

It’s also important to note that there are apparently no, “cures,” for these disorders.  There’s no way to magically change them into, “normal,” human beings.  If you dig around on the internet you’ll find some theorizing that talk therapy may be effective in treating malignant narcissism, but when you ask actual therapists about that, they just shake their heads.

There is some evidence that the number of sociopaths and narcissists among us is actually increasing, but there are arguments against that.  It could be that our methodology for detecting them has just gotten better.  It could be that they’re just more visible because of our new world of social media.  

In any case, there’s no question that they’ve always been among us.  In fact, Austrian philosopher Karl Popper argued that what we call, “history,” is largely the record of the psychopaths of our species.  We study people like Hitler, Napolean, and Genghis Khan, people who caused immense pain and suffering in the world and just didn’t care, but we ignore all of the millions of kind, loving souls who were trying to just get through life.

 Although they are very much a minority, almost a tiny fraction of the population, they have an oversized effect on the people around them.  Because of them, we tend to question the goodness of human nature.  We see the world as a dangerous place and fail to see all of the love and compassion that exists in the majority of human beings.

Even worse, they frequently succeed in dragging us down to their level.  Anyone who’s been worked over by a malignant narcissist will tell you that you emerge from that experience with a lot less trust of other people and  with a constant question of whether the next person you become involved with will be a real human being or another monster in disguise.

So . . . we end up having to recognize that there ARE people living among us who have no empathy, no compassion, no sense of ethics, no internal moral compass, and who cause a great deal of suffering for other human beings.

We can’t really call them, “evil,” in the ethical sense of their choosing to be rotten human beings.  And we can’t really use the medical model and say that they’re, “sick,” because many of them live normal, productive lives and appear to be quite happy, making everyone around them miserable.  And, thankfully, we’re evolving out of that primitive model of thinking that they’re possessed by demons or they’re servants of the devil.

But there they are, walking among us like human question marks. How can you be a human being and exist in that space?  If you DO exist in that space, are you still fully human?  It’s truly a conundrum that currently has no solution.  Until there IS a solution, they can at least serve as a contrast for the rest of us.  We can look at them and realize, “That’s what I DON’T want to be.”

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.

Loneliness, Being Alone, and The Hermit Card

An exploration of loneliness as a perception.

There was a pretty amazing poll released recently which found that, post pandemic, over 67% of Americans report that they feel more alone than ever before.  62% said that they felt they had ABSOLUTELY NO ONE to talk to about their loneliness during the quarantine.

While it’s easy to blame that on the social consequences of COVID, another poll conducted a year before the pandemic found that about 47% of Americans felt lonely or isolated.  That means that right around half of the people we pass on the street feel seriously lonely.

I was particularly interested in the findings in these polls, because The Hermit archetype has been a prominent feature in my life over the last couple of years.  The Hermit represents a turning away from society and deliberately isolating ourselves from other people and social influences.  It involves a period of solitude, meditation, and contemplation, for the purposes of spiritual growth.  I’ve spent a lot of time in solitude and pondered quite a bit over the differences between being alone and being lonely.

And there ARE huge differences.  

Being alone is, obviously, just a physical state of being.  My body is by itself, with no other humans, in this room, or in this house, or on this trail, or in this campground.  Being lonely, on the other hand, is an interpretation, a perception, a psychological/emotional state and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether you’re physically isolated.

About 29% of Americans live alone, which is an all time high.  Again, that means that almost one third of the people we pass on the street are living in some degree of physical isolation from other humans.  They are alone for a substantial period of their lives.  But, going back to this new polling, 67% of Americans feel lonely and isolated.  Even if you were to make the very radical assumption that every single person who lives by him or her self is de facto lonely, that still leaves around 38% of the population feeling very lonely while they’re living with other people.

So, first of all, we can see very plainly that feeling lonely doesn’t necessarily have a thing to do with being alone. We can feel every bit as lonely while we’re sharing a bed with another human as we can living out in the wilderness by ourselves.

Secondly, though, this points to a Great American Myth, which is that feeling lonely is somehow abnormal.  That, if we feel lonely, there’s something wrong with us, because, after all, other people don’t feel lonely.

But they do.  About 67% of us feel lonely and isolated which means that feeling that way is perfectly normal for a majority of people.  

Where it becomes emotionally painful is in the perception that we somehow shouldn’t feel that way.  Ever.  And if we do feel that way, we’re emotionally disturbed or mentally ill or social rejects or things just never work out for us the way that they do for other people.

Perhaps we can gain a little insight by looking at another Great American Myth, which is monogamy and living happily ever after.  We’re all programmed, from the time that we’re little children, to believe that someday we’re going to meet THE perfect person for us, fall deeply in love with them, and live happily ever after until we keel over in our matching rocking chairs at the age of 110.

The divorce statistics, however, tell a different story.  While the divorce rate has been dropping somewhat in recent years, the percentage of marriages that will end in divorce nearly always holds at 45 to 50 percent. Which means that for about half of Americans, monogamy just doesn’t work. 

Put another way, having our marriages end IS PERFECTLY NORMAL.

Despite that, having our marriages end is strongly associated with depression, hopelessness, and sometimes even domestic violence and suicide or murder.  And the reason for that is . . . expectations and perceptions.

We have been taught – all evidence to the contrary – to expect our marriages to last forever and if they don’t, we feel like losers and failures.  We have been culturally hypnotized – all evidence to the contrary – into the perception that everyone else’s marriages are working out just fine and it must somehow be our fault that our’s didn’t work.

Because our expectations for a, “successful,” marriage are so high (and so completely unrealistic) we are deeply hurt when they end.  Suppose we were to change the marriage vows to reflect reality, though?  Instead of saying, “until death do us part,” we could say, “I promise to love, honor and stay with you for six months, at which point we’ll renegotiate this contract and see if we want to exercise an option to renew it.”

Suppose, as Louise Hay suggests, we were able to simply end a relationship by saying, “I guess we’ve learned everything we’re supposed to learn from each other and it’s time to move on.”

That completely shifts the perception of what ending a relationship means.  Instead of feeling sad and thinking we’re failures, we can congratulate ourselves for, “graduating,” from that very important phase of our lives and moving on.

In the same sense, we can learn to shift our perceptions of what it means to, “feel lonely.”  Once we accept the fact that it’s a normal part of human existence, and that over half of the people we meet feel exactly the same way, we can actually start to look at what the feeling represents.  If we’re living with someone else and we feel lonely, is it time to, “graduate,” from that relationship and move on?  If we’re living by ourselves and we feel lonely, do we need to reach out more and spend more time with others?  Or do we feel lonely because we’ve lost touch with ourselves, with who we really are, and we need to spend a little more time meditating, reading, and thinking?

Most of all, though, we need to remove a lot of the hidden emotional stingers about loneliness.  Feeling lonely doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with us.  Feeling lonely isn’t the same as being depressed, nor should it trigger depression.  Being physically alone doesn’t mean that we automatically have to feel lonely.  Feeling lonely isn’t something that we need to hide or be ashamed of because – guess what? – a lot of other people feel just the same way.

Once we start making those perceptual shifts about loneliness, then the statistics from these polls cease being shocking.  They’re not, “alarming,” or, “a hidden mental health crisis,” or, “an epidemic of loneliness,”  or any of the other hyperbolic phrases we see.  

They’re just honest.

To be human is, to a certain extent, to be lonely.  We are thinking, extremely emotionally complex beings, who are constantly evolving.  It should come as no surprise that there are times when we feel that other people don’t understand us because there are times when we don’t understand ourselves.

And that’s okay.  Feeling lonely is okay.  Being alone is okay.  The only thing that needs to be fixed is our perceptions and expectations.

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.

Predicting the Future, Predestination, and Black Out Drinking

I can state with no hesitation at all that Tarot cards, “work.”  What I mean by that is that, after decades of using them, I can attest to the fact that most of the time they’re mostly accurate in predicting the future outcomes of current events.

Which, of course, leaves a lot of questions hanging about exactly what we mean by the future and how it can possibly be predicted if it doesn’t exist yet.  

There is a particularly hideous christian doctrine called, “predestination,” which holds that the future is, somehow, already decided.  It was espoused in different forms by Augustine and the Calvinists, and is sort of the logical outcome of the christian world view.  It holds that

  1. God is all knowing and all powerful;
  2. Which means that God already knows exactly what’s going to happen in the future; and
  3. Human beings don’t have the power to change what God knows to be true;
  4. Therefore, the future is already decided and there’s nothing we can do about it.

The upshot of that – according to their thinking – is that it’s already been decided that some people are going to heaven and some people are going to hell and that’s just the way it is.  If you belong to the,“hell group,” it doesn’t matter how good or kind or compassionate you are in this lifetime, you’re still going to hell.  Why?  Because God already decided what the future is going to be.

Pretty weird, huh?  I mean . . . it’s logical, in a strange, twisted way . . . but what a bizarre, cruel way to view life and God.

It has a major flaw in that it’s what philosophers would call a, “closed system.”  That means that, if everything’s already been decided, then nothing can change, evolve, grow, or become different in any meaningful sense.  And if nothing can grow or change, then it’s dead.  And, as we all know, if there’s one thing in the universe that’s constant, it’s change.  Everything is constantly growing, changing, and evolving and all we have to do to prove that is to look out the window.

So Predestination was kind of a sick, christian brain fart that grew into a religious doctrine.  It would be laughable, except for that belief that the future somehow exists already and, therefore, can be predicted.

Which it can, but not because it already exists.  It can be predicted because some things are . . . well . . . predictable.

Here’s an example.  I live in Northern California which has been burning down with wildfires all summer.  The Western United States has been in a major drought for two years, the forests are overgrown and dry as a match stick, and the government refused to fund any additional firefighters or fire fighting equipment.

THEREFORE . . . it was entirely predictable – last winter –  that we were going to have an AWFUL summer of forest fires.  No question about it.  That doesn’t mean that the forest fires somehow already existed in the future, it just means that all of those factors – drought, overgrown forests, not enough firefighters – added up to a very predictable event.  In terms of Tarot cards, it would have been represented by The Tower – disaster and destruction.

Human beings are also very, very predictable.  If we have a friend who has a history of being involved with abusive men, the odds are very high that she’s going to go right on getting beaten up, unless she gets therapy.  If we have a friend who’s suddenly experiencing black outs when he drinks, the odds are very high that he’s going to devolve into an alcoholic.  

We tend to get stuck in patterns – or perhaps ruts would be a better term – and keep going in those directions unless something intervenes and changes our course.  To put it in terms of Newton’s Laws of Motion, “an object in motion will stay in motion at constant velocity, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”  In this case, a life going in a particular direction will tend to keep going in that direction unless something happens to change that.

Essentially, that’s all that a Tarot reading does.  There are card positions for the past, the present and the future, as well as possible intervening factors.  The reading is just saying, “This is what’s happened in your past, this is where you’re at now, and this is, logically, where that pattern is taking you next.  Here’s what you can do to change that, if you want to.”

The magic, of course, is how all of that information gets into a card layout.  How do the cards somehow pick up on what’s happening in our lives and transfer that into a discernible, coherent pattern in a reading?

I have no idea.  I just know that it works.  I really don’t understand exactly how electricity, “works,” either, but that doesn’t stop me from flipping on a light switch if the room is dark.

When we’re talking about, “predicting the future,” it’s always important to remember that nothing’s ever written in stone.  It’s very, very likely that a person who is into abusive relationships will go on being abused.  BUT – sometimes they find a great therapist.  It’s very, very likely that a person who’s having black out drinking will end up dead or in jail.  BUT – sometimes they stumble into an AA meeting or just stop drinking.

In a very real sense, we’re not predicting the future at all.  We’re predicting the present.  And we can always change our present moment.

Dan Adair is the author of, “Just the Tarot,” available on Amazon.com at a very reasonable price.