The Hermit Card and Ho Ho Ho-ing Your Way Through the Holidays

I had one of those shocking moments recently where I suddenly realized that it’s almost Thanksgiving and I’m living alone.  And I had the requisite reaction to that for a few hours.

Oh, my god!

It’s almost Thanksgiving!

And I’m living alone!

Which means . . . I’m going to be alone on Thanksgiving!

Oh, NO . . .

The thought sat there in my gut for a few hours like some super-sized greasy hamburger and fries, making me mildly nauseated and regretful for having it.  And then I started tip toeing around the feelings and thinking, “Hmmm . . . that’s interesting.  Why is being alone on Thanksgiving such a terrible, terrible thing?”

In my original definition of The Hermit, I wrote:

This is a card of solitude and the individual is very much withdrawn from others around him.  This isn’t a bad sort of solitude, however, this is a solitude that involves spiritual growth and contemplation.

The point being that there are times in our lives when it’s totally appropriate and healthy to be alone.  In my case, my partner of 19 years died last year and this is a period of self-imposed solitude, meditation, and thought for me.  The silence really is golden and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’d say that there are a bunch of us in the same boat, but we’re not in the same boat.  We’re in our separate little boats drifting along on our own currents, but hopefully you take my meaning.  Perhaps, like me, they’ve had a partner die or maybe they’ve gone through a divorce or they have a job that requires them to work on the holidays.

For many of them, they are alone the majority of the time and THAT’S ALL RIGHT the majority of the time.  

So what is it about the holidays that makes us feel like it’s somehow NOT alright to be alone?

I think one of the keys lies in the word itself:  alone. We assign a lot of negative connotations to that word.  Alone is sad, pitiful, lost, desolate and, of course, lonely. We have to learn how to draw the venom out of the word and out of the concept.

Scott Cunningham wrote a lovely little light-weight book called, “Wicca For the Solitary Practitioner,” and I really dig that concept.  I am not alone; I am a solitary practitioner.  I make my own magic now.

Solitude does not equal loneliness.  Solitude many times equals healing and immense spiritual and emotional growth.  It’s something to be treasured, not dreaded. People who are, “alone,” are many times very, very happy, evolved beings.

Another key, of course, is societal expectations.  Thanksgiving is a time to sit down with members of your family – no matter how much you may loathe some of them – and eat very large quantities of dead birds.  We all know that and we’re programmed with that from the time we’re kids. You never saw a Norman Rockwell painting of Thanksgiving that featured one guy sitting by himself eating lasagna, right?


Just LOOK at those happy campers!  It’s Thanksgiving and they’re not alone.  And, boy, that dead bird looks just perfect!  No lasagna on THAT table.

And that’s the point:  it’s not being alone on the holidays that makes us feel bad, it’s the expectation that somehow we’re not supposed to be alone on the holidays and that if we are alone something is dreadfully wrong.  In other words, if you’re okay with living alone 363 days of the year but it makes you feel terrible on Thanksgiving and Christmas, it ain’t being alone that’s bumming you out – it’s Christmas and Thanksgiving.

So what do we do about that?  One solution that I see with some of my friends is to get very, very hostile toward Christmas and Thanksgiving.  “They’re artificial holidays. They’re so commercialized and materialistic. They’ve lost the original meanings. Etc., etc. etc.”

You know – sort of the modern day, “Bah, humbug,” solution.  If you don’t have at least one friend who’s a Bah Humbugger you must not spend much time on FaceBook.

But . . . somehow . . . that doesn’t feel quite right, either.  With all of their glitz, tinsel, and artificiality, I’ve had some really wonderful holidays with family and friends in the past.  I’m happy for my friends who are still in that groove and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s Macy’s Parade.

It’s just not me anymore. 

It seems to me that there are really only a couple of rational responses to the holidays when you’re a Solitary Practitioner.

  1. You can pretend that they just aren’t happening and that it’s just like any other day of the year.  That requires some Deeply Disciplined Denial, but you can pull it off if you live by yourself and insert ear plugs before you walk into a store.
  2. You can invent new rituals and traditions and OWN those days instead of letting them own you.

I’m not sure, yet, but I think I’m leaning toward the second solution.

Christian fundamentalists get in a royal snit when you say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of, “Merry Christmas.”  They forget – or ignore – that the original pronunciation of the term was, “Happy Holy Days.”

The celebrations of the harvest and abundance – what we call Thanksgiving – and lighting bright lights and candles on the darkest day of the year – what we call Christmas – have been Holy Days from time immemorial.  They’re built into our Souls and have nothing to do with Jesus, Pilgrims, America, or eating large,dead birds.

I can celebrate that as The Hermit as easily as I can in a crowd.  I just need some good lasagna recipes.

The Ace of Cups and Generating Your Own Hugs

Psychotherapist Virginia Satir rather famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”   And there’s a lot of truth in that. Babies who aren’t stroked and touched and held develop a syndrome called failure to thrive and can actually die from not  receiving enough contact.  There are many, many recent studies showing that animals also require an abundance of physical touching to develop and maintain healthy bodies and nervous systems.  What one psychologist referred to as, “skin hunger,” has been linked to depression, apathy, heart disease, and a lack of empathy.

The conundrum, of course, is that a lot of us don’t have anyone to hug.  Eleanor Rigby is real. A recent survey by Cigna found that an astonishing 46 percent of U.S. adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely and 47 percent report feeling left out.

Just think about that:  when you pass someone on the street there’s almost a fifty percent chance that he or she feels very much alone.  And the same thing may be true when you look in the mirror.

So where do we get that hug-energy that we need to be happy?

We might consider getting frequent massages, which is fine, but most of us can’t pop for 60 to a 100 bucks a week.  And we can’t go around hugging strangers because, as The Searchers have already told us, they’ll break our little bottle of Love Potion #9.

We might find the help we need in contemplating The Ace of Cups.  As I said in my original definition:

 It emphasizes the divine origin of love and how it flows into the world and nourishes all that it touches.  The lotuses echo the Buddhist symbol for the divine in the human spirit. They begin life in the mud and yet grow into the air and produce beautiful flowers.

The scientists who documented the need to touch and be touched ignored an important part of the phenomenon because it’s not in their purview:  love. It doesn’t help us at all to be touched angrily or hit or jabbed or abused. Quite the opposite, it’s worse than not being touched at all.

No, what makes us grow, what makes us thrive, what makes us healthy is being touched with affection.  That’s what a hug is, right?

The Heart Chakra is attuned to the vibration of love and love is what makes it healthy and glowing and open.  It doesn’t in the least bit discriminate about where the love is coming from, it just vibrates to that energy.  The love can come from another human being or a pet or a divine entity or from . . . our Selves.

Psychologist Gay Hendricks believes that we only find true abundance when we cease viewing ourselves as consumers of abundance and start viewing ourselves as generators of abundance.  In other words, we don’t have to look for external sources of abundance because we can make it ourselves.

And that’s true of any energy, including love.  The Heart Chakra doesn’t just receive love, it also generates it and, paradoxically, in generating it, it receives it.

When we have genuine, conscious compassion, when we practice loving-kindness, even when we pet our dogs or cats, we’re generating love straight out of our heart chakras.  It’s not hard. We don’t have to be meditation masters. We can just sit and visualize the face or touch of someone we love, really feel that love, and every time we do, we surround ourselves with love.

Or, to put it another way, we give ourselves a hug.  We can do it 4 times a day, or 8 times a day, or – if we want to grow – 12 times a day.

As The Beatles said, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”  And we can make as much as we want to. We ARE the Ace of Cups if we choose to be.

The Three of Swords and Healing a Broken Heart

Did you know that having a broken heart can actually . . . well . . . break your heart?

There is a medically recognized condition called, “broken heart syndrome,” that can cause all of the symptoms of a heart attack and lead to hospitalization.  Although it’s most commonly associated with middle aged women it can strike anyone and it’s brought on by intense grief such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or breaking up with a lover.  One side of the heart actually enlarges for a period of time and fails to beat normally causing chest pains and shortness of breath.

The Three of Swords is a perfect illustration of that pain.  Most of us have been there: being deeply, completely in love with someone who betrays our trust, or falls out of love with us, or, sometimes, dies.  It literally feels as if we’ve been stabbed in the heart, wounded to our very core.

The question then becomes, how do we recover from that?  Or do we? One strategy, of course, is to just swear off falling in love and vow that we’ll never be suckers like that again.  Oh, sure, maybe we’ll have sex every once in a while – maybe a LOT – but we’ll never fall in love with or completely trust another human being again.  Ever!

Probably not the best plan.  In one of her always excellent podcasts called, “The Courage to Love,” Tara Brach asserts that moving away from love is actually moving away from the best and most authentic part of ourselves.  Which is not hard to recognize when we stop and think about it. When do we feel best about ourselves? When we’re loving and kind.  When do we feel best about the world? When we’re receiving love and kindness. It really IS hard wired into us: even a baby happily recognizes a smile and is frightened by a scowl.

As Brach points out, though, it can be difficult to remember that.  We are right now JUST starting to evolve out of that fight, flight or freeze response that’s always lurking in our amygdalas.  When someone shuts us down, when someone breaks our hearts, it feels like danger, like a terrible threat to our very being and we want to fight back against them, run away, or become emotionally frozen in place.  (Never again! Ever!)

We do have a couple of assets that we’ve evolved into, though, that can help:  consciousness and intentionality. We can consciously recognize our emotions and just sit with them.  “Okay, I hurt like hell. I feel betrayed. I feel like I can’t trust anyone.”  And that’s okay.

And we can intentionally move toward love.  “Okay, I really hurt but I recognize that I’m a loving, caring person and I’m not going to let someone else remove love from my heart.  I claim my autonomy and I choose love.”

We can also remember that the Heart Chakra just feels love and it doesn’t discriminate about where it’s coming from.  It’s wonderful to receive love from another human being but it’s not the only source.

When we’re broken hearted we can bring in a lot of self-love.  We can write out affirmations about what good, loving and deserving people we are.  We can visualize ourselves bathed in love and compassion and we can be especially nourishing and kind to ourselves.

Divine love can be another source for many people.  In Red Tara practice meditators will visualize Tara hovering before them, sending golden beams of love into their bodies and hearts.  We can do the same practice and replace Tara with the deity, spirit guide, or angel of our choice.

And, of course, we can just love.  Love generates love. The more we act with loving kindness and compassion toward our fellow travelers on the earth plane, the more the heart chakra opens and heals.  The more it opens, the more love we attract and receive.

“Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.” – The Desiderata

The Five of Wands and a Committee of Egos

The Five of Wands is almost painful to look at.  All of that conflict! All of that fighting! All of those guys whacking each other with their staves!

Except, they’re not.

If you look a little more closely at the Five of Wands you see that NO ONE is getting hit.  Not one single staff has landed on one single head. Look a little closer and you see that they’re all holding their staves with one hand, which is a little awkward for close quarter combat, right?

So what the hell’s going on here?

When you stand back and get a little perspective on the painting you can see that the staves are actually starting to form a pattern as they’re being waved around in the air.  One side of a pentacle is forming and we can assume the other side is coming eventually.

Wands, of course, represent ideas or ambitions and pentacles are possessions or earth based manifestations.  The short hand on this card is that a variety of ideas are coming together and will manifest into a single, material form.

We might call this, “co-creation by committee.” Or more accurately, co-creation by ego.

Ego gets a bad rap a certain extent of the time.  Aside from being that distracting voice that won’t shut the hell up when we’re trying to meditate, there are some things that ego is very good at doing.  Ego is great for making out grocery lists, or remembering to change the oil in the car, or paying the bills on time. Ego is not only good at planning for the future, ego can plan six or seven possible futures simultaneously AND be obsessed with the past while it’s doing that.

One thing that ego is NOT good at, though, is co-creation.  It’s almost as if acknowledging that someone else might have a better idea is a threat to ego’s very existence.

As Eckhart Tolle said in “A New Earth:  Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,”

“There is nothing that strengthens the ego more than being right. . . For you to be right, of course, you need someone else to be wrong, and so the ego loves to make wrong in order to be right. . . Being right places you in a position of imagined moral superiority in relation to the person or situation that is being judged and found wanting.  It is that sense of superiority the ego craves and through which it enhances itself.”

And when you put a group of people in a room together, all of whom are convinced that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, you end up with the Five of Wands.  They’re not just waving their wands around, they’re waving their egos around. They’re not TOUCHING each other, not synthesizing each others creativity into a real group effort and so it’s very difficult to bring a coherent, complete vision out of the gathering.

Real co-creation requires that we step out of our egos for awhile and actually listen to other people’s ideas and inspirations.  That we operate as equals and acknowledge that each person brings valuable gifts to the table.  

There was a very popular book written by Thomas Anthony Harris in the 1960s called, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”  The premise of the book was that we’re all on equal footing spiritually, no one is a superior or an inferior. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross flipped it a little and said, “I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”

Either way you look at it, THAT’S the point where we start to have real co-creation with other people.  When we leave the ego by the door to guard the umbrellas and actually listen to each other.

The Moon Card, Lunacy, and Multiple Realities

I have an ex-relative who is bipolar and – in the time honored tradition of many bipolars – about every two or three years he decides to stop taking his medications and blow up his life.

After a certain amount of sleep deprivation during the manic phases he’d start making statements like, “A coven of witches is sending energy beams at my head.”  And, because of my belief systems, I’d have to actually stop and wonder, “Well . . . IS a coven of witches sending energy beams at his head?” And, no, they weren’t, probably because he was an obnoxious, shallow, self-centered twit and why bother to curse someone when they’re doing such a good job of it themselves?

It did start me thinking, though, about so many of the things that we take for granted in New Age terminology, things which would have been considered totally loony tunes about 75 years ago.

Auras. Energy fields.  Spirit Guides. Telepathic communication.  Totem animals. Chakras. These are all so commonplace and accepted today that you can actually go into your therapist’s office and discuss them with him or her.  Perhaps they’ll even recommend a therapeutic massage to clear a blocked second chakra.

It was a far different story in the 1950s, though.  If you told a psychologist that you saw glowing auras around people, or that you were receiving guidance from invisible entities from another dimension, or that particular animals communicate with you telepathically, you’d be on your way to the nearest locked psych ward.  And there you would be rewarded for your beliefs with electroshock therapy or insulin shock or even a lobotomy if you continued to cling to your, “delusions.”

It actually makes me wonder if some of the mental patients back then were simply experiencing phenomena that our society had no explanation for or grasp of at the time.  Maybe they WERE talking with angels. Who knows?

A few advanced thinkers such as Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing emerged in the 1960s and suggested that perhaps schizophrenics were actually experiencing EXACTLY what they were reporting and the best, “treatment,” was to just care for them and let them heal on their own.  For the most part, though, if you held New Age beliefs in the 1950s or the early 60s, you were MAD, darling. Quite, quite mad.

The Moon is the Tarot card that has traditionally represented psychosis and delusion.  The light in the card is murky and objects are out of focus and ill defined. A crustacean crawls out of the still pool of the unconscious while a dog and a wolf bay at the glowing orb overhead.  A rope on the ground might be mistaken for a snake, a dark bush for a lurking beast. The lines of reality are blurred and indistinct.

That may well have been the way that a person who was channeling or highly sensitive to psychic phenomenon would have experienced the world in the 1950s.  So what happened between then and the emergence of New Age philosophy in the 1970s?

Well, the 1960s happened, obviously.  A fairly substantial number of people took a fairly substantial amount of psychedelic drugs and began to view the world and life as magical rather than mundane.  There was a reemergence of occultism, Tarot cards became commonplace in any hippie household, and people began to talk a lot about astral travel and, “vibrations,” of energy (“I’m picking up bad vibes, man.”)

I think one of the most defining moments, though, was the publication of, “The Teachings of Don Juan,” by Carlos Castaneda in 1968.  A new term entered the common lexicon:  “nonordinary reality.”

As Castaneda employed it, it was used to describe the three worlds that shamans pass through on their journeys, but it fit so perfectly with all of the spiritual views that were emerging in the 1970s.

There was suddenly an acceptance that there isn’t just one consensually shared reality.  That there can be many, many different realities and they can ALL be just as true and just as valid as the, “reality,” that most people cling to.

Today we recognize the sacred connection that The Moon has with the human body and mind.  We watch Her cycles, draw down Her energy, and gather together to celebrate when She’s at her zenith.  The,”lunacy,” of the past has become the sanctified vision of the present.

We can finally share those, “nonordinary realities,” with each other and continue to grow and evolve spiritually through that shared knowledge.  How sweet is that?

“I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours.”  – Bob Dylan

The Four of Cups, The Five of Cups, and Finding Gratitude in Painful Times

There are a lot of people out there right now talking and writing about how to create abundance.  One of the things that they all agree upon is the need for gratitude as a part of the process of manifestation.  

Whether you’re working with angels and spirit guides or an agnostic trying to get the hang of the Law of Attraction, all of the teachers and financial gurus will tell you to start with a grateful heart.  If you’ve only got a few bucks in your pocket, be grateful for them before you try to manifest more. If you want to have stronger, more positive people in your life, start by telling the people who are already in your life how much you appreciate them.

But sometimes we get stuck and it’s really hard to pull up that attitude of gratitude.  It could be that we’ve had some sort of a terrible loss. It could be that our lives are going through one of those phases where everything just sucks and we finally have to say, “Jesus, why is this shit happening to me?”  Or it could be that it’s just one of those times when we need to feel sorry for ourselves a while.

Gratitude is an emotion, just like love, hatred and anger, so it’s appropriate that the two cards in the Tarot deck that deal with a lack of gratitude are in the suit of emotions – the Cups.

In the Four of Cups we see a man sitting on the ground, arms crossed in defensiveness or rejection, staring at three cups standing on the ground before him.  A fourth cup is appearing out of thin air but he doesn’t even see it. The Three of Cups is, of course, a card of celebration and happiness so we can conjecture that the cups he’s staring at represent the loss of some major source of happiness in his life.  Perhaps he’s broken up with a lover or he’s been fired from a job that he really liked. In any case, he’s so focused on the past that he’s not perceiving the new opportunity, the cup floating in the air.

Contrast that with the Five of Cups.  This is a card of MAJOR, life changing loss and deep, deep grief.  He’s dressed in the black cloak of mourning and the wine from the three cups is spilled upon the ground, gone forever.  And, again, he’s so focused on his loss that he can’t even see that he has two cups left which are quite full. An example might be a man or woman who can’t focus on their children because they are too deep in grief over a spouse who has died.  She has literally turned her back on happiness for the time being.

So, knowing that gratitude can be a major factor in manifesting an abundant, spiritually satisfying life, how do you even GET to it when all you can feel is a sense of loss?  Sometimes cognitive and spiritual reframing is the answer.

In the case of the Four of Cups – the loss of a relationship or a job – try to see that cup that’s hanging in the air.  Ask yourself WHY it happened. Is it clearing the way for a deeper relationship or a better job? What employment or relationship skills did you learn by going through this?  How is this going to make you a better or a stronger person in the future?

You can even take it to a deeper level of analysis if you like.  Is this some kind of a script from a childhood trauma that you’re playing over and over again?  Are you subconsciously manifesting lovers who will reject you or make you miserable? Are you seeking out jobs or bosses who won’t appreciate you?  Can you bring that to full consciousness and turn it around? Can you feel grateful for the growth?

In the case of the Five of Cups, it’s a much rougher road.  It’s hard to find anything positive about someone you love dying.  True, deep grief is devastating. It can actually make us physically ill and sometimes it drives us to a despair that’s so deep we can’t imagine it will ever end or we’ll ever smile again.

Yet, it can cause a major and ultimately beneficial shift in our perspectives.  If we are at all honest with ourselves it will drive us to real and permanent reevaluations of our lives.  It causes us to ask what in the hell it’s all about. Is there really life on the other side? Did my loved one survive in some form?  Are there spiritual beings? If she was taken and I was left behind, what am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Surely I have some life purpose that’s higher than watching television and eating junk food.

It’s like a ball of yarn that’s come completely unraveled and you have figure out how to roll it back up.  Or a jig saw puzzle where you have all of the pieces but you’ve lost the picture of the assembled puzzle. All you can do is start at the edges and try to put life back together in a way that makes sense.  Eventually, though, it adds a much greater depth and meaning to life.

Gradually, horribly slowly, we do begin to recover from grief if we choose to go on living.  And, yes, it gives us a sense of gratitude for life and for the love we experienced with the person we lost that’s more profound than we could have ever imagined.

Gratitude can always be discovered.  Sometimes we just have to look for it a little harder.

Introverts/Extroverts – The Three of Cups and The Hermit

Have you noticed that the term, “introvert,” is gradually being redefined on social media?  There are more and more people who are coming out of the closet and saying, “I really don’t LIKE going to parties.”  Or talking about how happy they are to NOT be in a relationship. Or just putting up posts like, “Thank god, it’s Friday, I’m home, alone, silence, blessed silence . . .”

When I was a kid, “introvert,” was kind of a shameful term.  It implied that you were an odd duck, an eccentric, a wallflower.  That you were painfully shy and that you had no social skills. You weren’t alone because you wanted to be alone or you enjoyed being alone;  you were alone because you just found it too painful to be with other people. Poor thing.

What’s emerging now is that it’s more of an energy set.  Extroverts genuinely enjoy being with other people, being at parties and in crowded social situations.  They draw personal energy from that. It recharges their batteries.

And, conversely, they feel energetically depleted if they spend too much time alone.  They feel that something’s wrong in their lives and that they really, really need to get out and be with other humans.  

And that’s okay.  That’s just the way their energy fields are set up.  Being alone is exhausting and being with others lights up their chakras.

And it IS a matter of energy.  If you look at a card like the Three of Cups you can just feel the energy pouring off of it.  These are three people who are having a hell of a good time. They’ve worked hard, they’ve been successful and now it’s time to PARTY!  There is a synergy there, a combined energy that recharges all of them.

When you look at The Hermit the energy isn’t so blatantly obvious.  He’s alone, standing on his mountaintop, quietly looking off into the distance.  But, my, my, how his lamp does shine. He’s not lonely. He’s quite happy living in his silence and contemplation.

That’s what’s changing, I think.  There is a growing recognition that there’s nothing WRONG with introverts.  They’re not horribly shy. Far from being socially inept many of them can be quite entertaining because they’ve had the time to think, to read, to meditate and contemplate and they actually know what they think in much greater depth than many extroverts.

Their chakras operate in almost the opposite fashion of extroverts, though.  Being in crowds sucks the energy right out of them and being home alone replenishes them.  They prefer one long, in depth conversation to the 40 mini-conversations you might have at a party.  Most of them genuinely like other people, they just need to encounter them in small, measured doses or in a one-on-one, deeply intimate relationship.

And, thanks to social media, they’re finally getting a chance to express all of that and realize that there are a lot of people out there who are just like them.  One more place where we’re learning to celebrate our differences instead of condemn them.

It’s all just energy.