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.

Happiness, Meaningfulness, and the Four of Pentacles

The importance and differences between happiness and meaningfulness in our live.

In her wonderful book,The Power of Misfits: How to Find Your Place in a World You Don’t Fit In, Anna LeMind references a study by Roy F. Baumeister on the differences between happiness and meaningfulness.  In some cases, the two experiences may overlap, but they aren’t always synonymous.

It turns out that human beings crave both happiness and meaningfulness.  The Buddha tells us that all sentient creatures want to feel happiness and avoid pain, and we share that drive with the birds and the bees, the turtles and the spiders.  Bring on the happiness, baby, and take away that pain.  That’s an old blues song, I think.

Where we differ from most of the animal world (we believe) is that we also need to have a sense of meaning in our lives.  Having a lot of orgasms may make us extremely happy, but it doesn’t necessarily bring any meaningfulness into our existence.  If we’re lying on our death beds reviewing our lives, we’re not likely to say, “Man, I had 20,000 orgasms.  Now that’s a life well lived.  My life really meant something.”

According to this study, it’s actually pretty easy to define what makes us happy.  Being happy involves three major components:

  1. – having our needs satisfied.  That’s a pretty simple one.  If we’re hungry, it makes us happy to eat.  If we’re cold, it makes us happy to get warmed up.  If we’re horny, it makes us happy to have sex.
  2. – having the sense that we can obtain what we need and want.  In other words, not just eating when we’re hungry but knowing that we have the powers and abilities to get out there and get that food all on our own.
  3. – feeling good most of the time.  That’s kind of a no-brainer, but it’s true.  People who mostly feel good are mostly happy and people who feel lousy are mostly unhappy.

None of those three factors necessarily make us feel that our lives are meaningful, though.  Feeling good, for instance, is very strongly associated with being happy, but not necessarily with feeling meaningful.  People who are very healthy tend to be happier than people who are sick, but both healthy and sick people have an equal shot at leading a meaningful life.

Having the powers and abilities to get what we need and want is another one that may make us happy, but it doesn’t necessarily bring meaningfulness along with it.  In our society, having the power to get what we need and want usually means having money.  If you really, really, really need and want that new computer, you have to have the dough-ray-me to pay for it, right?

But even money has a very strange relationship with meaningfulness.  In the Tarot, the suit of pentacles represents material possessions and money.  In the Four of Pentacles, we see a guy who’s really having a love affair with money.  He’s got his feet resting on money, he’s got his arms wrapped around money, and he’s got money sitting on his head.  What a happy guy!

Probably.

Maybe.

Could be.

The study found that people who have plenty of money tend to be happier people, BUT they don’t necessarily report living a life that’s more meaningful.  On the other hand, NOT having enough money makes people less happy and their lives feel less meaningful.  So it’s not really the money that counts, it’s the lack of it.

Here’s another interesting little snippet of information that’s about life being easy versus life being hard.  We’ve all known people who appeared to be unbelievably lucky.  It’s like anything they want just seems to fall into their laps with little or no effort on their parts.

And we’ve also known people who seem to be unbelievably unlucky.  No matter how hard they work, no matter how much they struggle and strive, life consistently turns into a shit sandwich for them and their desires and goals slip away like vapors in the wind.

Unsurprisingly, having an easy life makes people very happy.  And having a hard life makes people unhappy.  But neither one of those is linked in ANY way to a sense of meaningfulness.  You can have the easiest life in the world and still feel like it doesn’t mean anything.

There’s another fascinating element with meaningfulness and happiness, which is TIME.

We know how the mindfulness meditation people are constantly hammering at us about, “Stay in the present moment!  There’s no unhappiness in the present moment.”

It turns out they’re right!  Happiness is very highly correlated with living in the NOW, in the present moment, rather than ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

But, unfortunately, it’s also inversely correlated with having a sense of meaning.  The more you live in the present moment, the happier you’ll be, but you also sacrifice a sense of your life having any overall meaning.

Why?  Because meaningfulness is a function of time.  The greater the span of time in your life that you’re contemplating, the greater a sense of meaningfulness you’ll have.  If you think about what yesterday and today meant, the odds are that they didn’t mean very much, unless something extraordinary happened.  On the other hand, if you think about what the last ten or twenty years of your life meant, you’re much more likely to see patterns and meaning.

And the same thing applies to the future.  The future gives the present moment meaning because it involves us in taking purposeful actions meant to create that future.  What we’re doing today is meaningful because it has a purpose – making the future.

So we have this odd conundrum.  The more we stay in the present moment, the happier we’ll be, but the less meaning we’ll derive from our lives.  The more we dwell on the future and the past, the less happy we’ll be, but the more our lives will feel meaningful.

The study also found an oddity in our perceptions of happiness and meaningfulness.  People tend to view happiness as being relatively fleeting, something we feel momentarily and then it gets away from us.  And they feel that meaningfulness is more permanent, something that will last long after happiness has disappeared.  Which is just not true.  Both meaningfulness and happiness tend to be fairly stable and long lasting.  We probably just feel that happiness passes quickly because it’s so intimately related to the present moment, which is always appearing and disappearing, appearing and disappearing, shazam!

Which brings us to the probable reason for why meaningfulness is so important to human beings.  The author concluded that MEANINGFULNESS IS AN ATTEMPT TO IMPOSE ORDER ON FLUX.  Life is chaotic, man.  Life is constantly changing, constantly transforming, constantly shazamming from one thing into another and then another and then another.

And it drives us nuts.  We need a sense of stability, of orderly progression, of the past moving logically into the present which will then move logically into the future.  We need to be able to connect the past, present and future of our lives in a MEANINGFUL way.  Otherwise it feels like life is something that just happened to us, rather than something we lived.

If all of this sounds very complex, it’s because IT IS.  We are very complex.  To seek happiness is to be alive.  Every single animal on the earth seeks happiness.  But to seek meaning is distinctively human.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we do.  Meaningfulness is not necessarily the same thing as happiness, but it’s just as important.

Happiness, Capitalists, Yellow Rocks, and Radical Meditators

Most people who are on a Spiritual Path eventually come to hold beliefs which conservatives consider, “politically radical.”  It’s ironic, because most people who are on a Spiritual Path have very little interest in politics, except to casually observe it as another form of human insanity.

When I use the term, “radical,” I mean it in its original use from the latin word, “radix,” or root, as in, “the root of a plant.”  To get radical is to get at the very root of something, to get to the place that it all grows out of, so to speak.

Let’s take the example of the Six of Pentacles.  It shows a richly dressed man, scattering coins to beggars, and holding a scale so that he can measure exactly what he’s giving away.

You couldn’t ask for a better representation of the, “scarcity,” view of life that’s at the root of our society.  There simply isn’t enough wealth to go around and some people have it and some people don’t.  Those who DO have it, should share it with those who don’t have it, but they need to be very, very careful about not giving too much away, because there’s never really enough.

In real time, we see that happening with the gazillionaires who live in penthouses, fly around in private jets, take vacations on yachts, and are DESPERATELY WORRIED that poor people might be getting too many food stamps.  Having enough to eat without working for it at minimum wage jobs is bad for their character, doncha know?  Makes them lazy and dependent.  Pass the champagne, darling . . .

As we move into a deeper level of spirituality, though, we begin to understand that there’s another model for looking at life, which is the, “abundance,” view.  The Universe and Mother Earth seem to be richly, almost insanely, abundant.  There are enough seeds in one tomato to plant an entire farm.  There are enough sperm cells in one tablespoon of semen to repopulate the world.  Women’s bodies produce far more eggs than they could ever bear as babies.  And, yes, we could produce enough food to feed every hungry person in the world.

And we begin to realize that the problem isn’t that there isn’t enough, the problem is that some people are spiritually sick and want far more than their share of the abundance.  Even worse, they want to be sure that other people have less than THEIR share, because they believe in their hearts that wealth is scarce and if they have more wealth, they’re better than other people.

Eckhart Tolle talks about this quite a bit in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Oprah’s Book Club, Selection 61)  In a nutshell, the Ego always wants more STUFF, because the Ego believes that the more STUFF it has, the more important it is.  And, as a part of that contrast, if you’ve got less stuff than I have, then I’m just that much more important!  If I drive a BMW and you drive a Honda, I’m better than you.  If you have a two hundred dollar computer and mine cost five thousand, then I’m better than you.  If I live in a McMansion and you live in a trailer, then I’m better than you.

And so we get hypnotized into this weird dance of thinking that our STUFF makes us, “better people.”  But, as Tolle points out, it’s just a sugar rush, not real nutrition.  Yes, the new computer (or car or house or jewelry) makes us happy for a while, but then it doesn’t anymore.  So we have to buy more and more and more stuff to keep getting that rush, but somehow happiness keeps slipping away from us every time.  

If we keep walking down the Spiritual Path we realize that the STUFF doesn’t really make us happy, not for long.  As we continue to evolve, we start to get a glimpse of happiness WITHOUT the stuff.  Maybe that revelation comes to us in our meditations or our dreams or journals, but we begin to get just a glimmer that the material stuff really has very little to do with happiness.  We can actually BE HAPPY anytime that we want to and we don’t need a new computer to get there.

And that, my friends, is a RADICAL idea!  That goes right to the root of our whole economic system and way of life.  It short circuits the entire capitalist system which is based on consumers being convinced that they need to keep consuming STUFF in order to be happy.  If we quit buying all of that crap that doesn’t really make us happy, then the gazillionaires who are selling us all of that crap that doesn’t really make us happy are going to lose a lot of money.  

Dangerous, dangerous thinking!  LOL – it really is.  It’s why they killed Jesus.  “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.”  WHAT????  Kill that guy!  Quickly!

The point is that as we explore and grow spiritually, our values change and we become less and less in synch with society as whole.  We realize that, ultimately, what all of us want is love and happiness.  And we realize that love and happiness flow out of our hearts, not our possessions.  Possessions and materialism itself start to feel like a form of insanity, which it can easily become.

Consider the example of the genocide committed against Native Tribes in the United States.  We killed hundreds of thousands of Tribal Peoples in the Dakotas and Northern California because they were sitting on land that contained gold.

From their point of view, we were totally out of our minds because NO ONE HAD TOLD THEM THAT GOLD ISN’T JUST A ROCK.  Why kill someone over a rock?  Which, by the way, it IS just a rock.  You can’t eat it.  You can’t fertilize your fields with it.  You can’t make clothing out of it. Other than being pretty, gold is totally useless.

Except that somewhere, thousands of years ago, some asshole said, “I have this pretty yellow rock and you don’t, so I’m better than you.”  Since that original asshole, wars have been fought, untold numbers of people have been tortured and killed, and whole civilizations have been decimated, all because some people wanted to have ALL of the pretty, yellow rocks. 

 It really is monumentally nuts, when you think about it.

It’s my fervent hope that, as we move out of the ego-based scarcity model and into the new spiritual paradigm, we’ll see materialism begin to wither on the vine.  Contrary to their paranoia, that doesn’t mean we need to have a revolution and take all of the rich people’s stuff away from them. There’s plenty to go around and if their yellow rocks make them feel better, so be it.  

That’s abundance.

That’s radical.

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The Nine of Wands, Spiritual Post-It-Notes, and Being Okay With Not Being Okay

I was recently watching an interview with Brad Yates, author of A Garden of Emotions: Cultivating Peace through EFT Tapping, and he made the point that social media can have the inadvertent effect of making us feel pretty inadequate.  It can slide us right into the, “comparison trap,” and we start to think that there must be something really wrong with us and our way of thinking.   I sat right up and took notice when he said that, because it rang a major, huge, giant brass bell in my head.

What he was talking about was FaceBook, “positivity.”  If we’re involved with the New Age or New Thought movements at all, we run into a LOT of positivity with our on-line friends.  We get up in the morning, crank up our Internet Machines, and there’s a virtual blizzard of Spiritual Post-It-Notes.  Things like, “I am SO grateful for this beautiful morning!”

Or, “I count my blessings with every breath!”

Or, “Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships!”

Or, “Always live in an attitude of gratitude!”

And –  as actual human beings – sometimes we feel like shit.  In fact, sometimes we feel like shit a lot of the time.  But we’re looking at all of these bright, shiny thoughts from all of these bright, shiny people and THEY don’t seem to feel like shit all of the time, or even some of the time, or even, for god’s sake, EVER.  

Almost inevitably we slide into comparing ourselves to them and start thinking that there must be something really wrong with US.  How come I don’t feel like a million dollars every single goddamned day the way that they do?  I must be a really low-vibes, depressing/depressed human being because a lot of the time I hurt and I don’t feel very freaking grateful.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that if someone says that they’re grateful, happy, joyous and free EVERY SINGLE DAY, they’re either shallow or they’re a saint or they’re in denial or they’ve got some really, really good weed.

All right, granted, there are some people out there who really are happy most of the time and more power to them.  Some of them were born with a basically happy disposition.  Some of them have worked very, very hard to get into a place of grace and joy.  I’m not denigrating or diminishing that at all.  

Most of us, though,  don’t wake up grinning every single freaking morning. For some of us life feels very much like the Nine of Wands tarot card:  we’re still standing, we’re still upright and strong, but we’ve had the crap beaten out of us by life and we’re pretty wounded.

And that’s okay.  

That’s where we’re at.  That’s our starting point on the map for the rest of our journey.

Mike Dooley, who has done such wonderful teaching about manifesting and visualizations, often compares reaching our goals to setting a GPS in our cars.  We feed in the information about where we want to go and then the gizmo just takes it from there.  We don’t argue with it or second guess it – we just follow the directions.  In the same sense, he says, we can just set our goals and then let the Universe take it from there.  We don’t need to constantly obsess about the details (what he calls, “the poisoned hows,”) because the Universe will keep popping up new road signs and different paths to get us there.

Implicit in that, though, is the idea that we KNOW where we’re located at the beginning of the journey and we’re HONEST about it.  If I’m in San Jose and I want to get to Phoenix, but I tell my GPS that I’m in Dallas, it ain’t gonna work out too well.

And, in just the same way, if I’m beat up, knocked down, drug around, and life has beaten the stuffing right out of my meditation pillow, putting up Spiritual Post-It-Notes about how grateful I am ain’t gonna work out too well.

Unfortunately, social media sites are generally piss-poor places to be honest about what we’re really feeling.  It’s difficult to admit publicly that we’re NOT the Great and Mighty Wizard of Oz and there may be a lonely, sometimes sad, sometimes frightened person behind the curtain who’s just pulling levers.  It’s especially difficult when so many other people seem to be doing so well.  At least, all of their posts say they’re doing so well.

In a way – and perhaps a healthy way – this impossibly cheerful positivity has intensified since the start of the pandemic.  People really ARE struggling with depression and fear and loneliness and we’re trying to encourage each other to stay in healthy, positive frames of mind as much as we can.

So it may be a good, temporary coping mechanism.  Maybe we DO need to be as optimistic and up-beat as we can be, until we find our way out of this weird, scary virus maze.  It’s what we used to call, “whistling past the graveyard,” and in this case the graveyard is very real and it’s got a half a million Americans in it.

Long term, though, simply pretending that everything is alright when it’s not, doesn’t really work.  It doesn’t get us to our destinations because we’re not being honest about where we’re starting from.

Brad Yates went on to say that there are no such things as negative emotions.  WOW!  But . . . but . . . but . . . I thought I was supposed to be happy all of the time!

Not.  

Repeat – there are no such things as negative emotions.  There are no BAD emotions. 

There are emotions that are uncomfortable.  There are emotions that feel sad or that arise out of situations that are depressing or painful.  But they are all our emotions, they are all part of our story, and they serve to tell us where we are before we take the next step in our journeys.

In 1967, Thomas Harris published a wonderfully cheery book entitled, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”  In a nutshell, it promulgated the idea that we’re all just fine, we just misunderstand one another sometimes, and we should always remember that you and I and – gee whiz! –  pretty much everyone is . . . well . . . okay.

To which Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, that amazing wizardess who spent a lifetime studying death and dying, replied:

“I’m Not Okay.

You’re Not Okay.

And That’s Okay.”

And it really IS okay.  It’s right where we’re supposed to be when we take our next step on the journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Loneliness, the Five of Pentacles, and Robin Williams

Some mornings I wake up feeling six kinds of crazy and twenty kinds of lonely.

There’s an old song that Don Mclean wrote about Vincent Van Gogh that has the verse:

“Now, I understand, what you tried to say to me,

How you suffered for your sanity . . .”

And the truth is that there are a lot of us out here who, “suffer for our sanity.”  We live through dark times, alone times, times when we’re so depressed, so far down emotionally and spiritually and energetically, that the pistol to the head, the bottle of pills, the fifth of whiskey calls out to us like the sweet voices of the Sirens.  “Come here, baby;  let me wrap my gentle arms around you and we’ll just be so peaceful and sweet and the pain will stop.”

For the most part, most of us survive.  We don’t take that path that Vincent walked down, we cling to our lives and our dreams, and we keep trying, even though we feel six kinds of crazy and twenty kinds of lonely.  We don’t embrace the Siren’s gentle arms and drift off into forever.

Many of us become highly adept at hiding our pain in plain sight.  We’re the funny ones, the comedians, the people who are always laughing, many times at ourselves and the sense that our lives are ridiculous.  Remember when Robin Williams killed himself and so many people were shocked?  “What?  Robin Williams?  How can that be?  He was always kidding, always joking.  Why would he kill himself?”

Six kinds of lonely and twenty kinds of crazy.  That’s why he killed himself.  To those of us who live out here on the fringe, it was no surprise at all because we recognized him as one of us.  In his senior album at Redwood High School he was voted both, “the funniest,” graduate and the graduate, “who is most likely NOT to succeed.”  

That speaks volumes to those who can hear.  Yes, we like him, but, man, he is NOT one of us.

The Five of Pentacles has always struck that same chord for me.  The two beggars are, above all else, outsiders.  They struggle along in the snow storm, crippled, wrapped in rags, while behind them a joyous light shines through a church window.  One imagines the parishioners inside: fat, happy, warm, singing songs of praise to Jesus, not even aware of the people outside their window who are, “suffering for their sanity.”

They are NOT one of us.  They don’t belong.  They are Out Siders.  Literally.

If you’re six kinds of lonely and twenty kinds of crazy, that’s probably a big part of your reality.  You don’t belong.  You’re not part of the group.  You don’t fit, “in.”  That’s certainly been my experience.  I’m in my late sixties and I still feel as profoundly isolated as I did when I was a kid.

So how do we deal with that?  If we are really and truly the odd ducks, the square pegs that don’t fit in the round holes, the crazy outsiders who don’t have a place in the herd, how do we NOT stumble into the same endings as Robin and Vincent?

I think that a good beginning is to just HONOR our weirdness.  And I really mean, “honor,” it.  Robin Williams and VIncent Van Gogh were worth a million – no, two million – bank executives and lawyers and accountants and other very, very successful people.

Why?  Precisely because they WERE outsiders.  They saw the world differently and they held up a mirror or a canvas and they said, “Look!  Can you see it?  Can you see the way it looks to me? Can you see the starry night?  Can you see how funny and amazing all of this is?”

Being alone is HARD, man.  Many people have been touched by that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, during this pandemic.  Being physically alone, not being touched, not being hugged, and loved and cherished – it’s all hard.  But being alone for all of your life, feeling like you’re always on the outside of that church window looking in . . . that’s the hardest.  That’s twenty kinds of lonely, if you let it be.  That’s six kinds of crazy, if you let it be.

The Hermit is very much alone.  He stands aside from the rest of society but he also holds up a shining lamp in the darkness.  He honors who he is, and he realizes that his wisdom is a gift to the world.  Make no mistake about it, though:  he’s been lonely and he’s been crazy and he’s suffered for his sanity, but he won through in the end.  It’s just a path that some of us have to walk.

Shine on!

The Seven of Wands, Donald Trump, and Conservative Brains

Pssst . . . there’s a psychotic in the White House . . .

Or

Pssst . . . Donald Trump has been sent by god himself to save our country.

Depending on which news channel you watch you can hear either message any day of the week.  No matter where you fall in the spectrum between those two opinions, there can’t be any doubt that we’re experiencing a major conflict in values in the United States right now.  Call it a war between the haves and the have-nots, between the Left and the Right, between the Democrats and the Republicans – call it whatever – there’s no doubt that a LOT of people are pissed off and willing to talk (or shout) about the differences in their values.

A more productive way to examine it might be to take a look at the ground of those values.  What are people’s basic beliefs about the world and their place in it?  How do they experience life itself? Do they view the Earth as a beautiful cradle that holds sacred life or as a never-ending battle field where only the tough survive?

In the Seven of Wands we see a figure who is literally under siege.  He has the high ground but combatants are coming at him from every angle.  He’s perched right in the middle of a battle and he has to fight or perish.  The world he inhabits is NOT a safe place, to say the least.

That stuff happens and we’ve all been there at one time or another.  Sometimes you do have to stand up and fight for your ideas or your ideals, for your positions or your principles.  The question, though, is whether that’s a temporary situation in our lives or the way that we view life in general.

We’re certainly hearing a lot of rhetoric that indicates a very, very fearful world-view.  Be afraid of Mexicans. Be afraid of Black folks. Be afraid of the Chinese. Be afraid of Muslims, and immigrants, and foreigners, and liberals, and socialists, and gay people and even be afraid of toilets that you have to flush too many times.

Be afraid.  Be very, very, very AFRAID!!!

And, of course, there’s the corollary proposition that flows out of that fear, which is that anyone who isn’t afraid is an idiot, a chump, a fool, a snowflake.

But what if we look at all of that fear from a different perspective?  What if some people are just hard-wired to view the world as a hostile, scary place?  Is it possible that they just can’t NOT view life that way?

It’s an intriguing question, because – if true – those people are probably more deserving of our pity than our anger.  They’re suddenly transformed from angry trolls into rabbits quivering in terror in their self-imposed cages.

Consider this:  the amygdala is the part of the brain that contains our fight or flight reactions.  In other words, that’s where anger and fear hang out in our brains. Brain scans performed at the University  College of London actually showed that conservatives have LARGER amygdalas than liberals and are more reactive to fear.

A 2008 study found that conservatives are MUCH more sensitive to stimuli which they view as threatening, such as sudden loud noises or scary images.

A 2012 study found that conservatives tend to have what psychologists call a “negativity bias.” In other words, they view their environment in largely negative terms and tend to see it as threatening.  Liberals see butterflies and conservatives see spiders.

Now, if all of that fear and anger really is hardwired into their nervous systems, if their brains really are predisposed to fighting or fleeing, we can’t do much about that.  We can’t expect someone who is color blind to suddenly appreciate the different shades of blue.

But what we CAN do is to have a shift in our own perspectives.  What we can do is to try to have more compassion for these people who are trapped in a rather hellish world of anger, fear, and contempt.  They can’t NOT be that way and that’s very sad, in addition to being very dangerous.

H.L. Mencken once observed that the average anglo saxon goes to bed at night terrified that someone is hiding under his bed and wakes up in the morning convinced that someone has stolen his socks.  

That’s a humorous way of putting it but it’s a way of life – and experiencing life – for a lot of people.  Some people don’t just get the Seven of Wands in a reading – they ARE the Seven of Wands.

And we have to find a way to live with them.

Donald Trump, Pharaohs, and the Peculiar Royalty Cards of the Tarot

\If you’ve ever studied the Tarot you know that the definitions for the royalty cards in the Minor Arcana pretty much suck.  For every suit of cards – wands, cups, swords, and pentacles – there are corresponding royal figures: the Page, Knight, Queen, and King.  The definitions for these come about as close as any of the cards to the stereotypes of Gypsy fortune tellers muttering that you’re about to meet a tall, dark stranger.

Unlike the definitions for all of the rest of the cards, these tend to be very gender and age specific.  As in, “An older, dark haired man with a hatchet face will play an important role in your life.” Or, “A troubled young person with red hair may cause mischief.”  Or, “A very strong, dark haired, materialistic woman will be difficult to defeat in legal problems.”

Perhaps the definitions are so awful because the very concept of royalty is so NOT the Tarot.  The Tarot is not about, “exceptionalism,” or people who are removed from the normal human experience by virtue of their wealth or power.  

The Minor Arcana cards describe common human experiences and states of being that we all go through.  Poverty, disappointment, broken hearts, celebrations, love, hate, passion.  The Major Arcana describe archetypes that blow through all of our lives.  Illumination, spiritual quests, death, lovers, evil, power, sudden turns of fortune.

In a word, the Tarot is, “egalitarian.”  Egalitarianism is, in its original meaning, the doctrine that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.  We see that built into the Declaration of Independence:  

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Of course, we know that the people who signed that document were, for the most part, rich white dudes who owned slaves and would have been horrified at the possibility of women voting.  Nonetheless, let’s look at the truth that underlies the statements that they didn’t live up to.

We are ALL of us much more alike than we are different.  If you take it right down to the core, right down to the bedrock of existence, we are ALL Souls on the earth plane trying to do our best and figure out why in the hell we’re here and what we’re supposed to do next.  Just forget for a moment all of the strange earth plane illusions of skin color, gender, countries, languages, creeds and religions, wealth, poverty, genius and stupidity. Underneath the whole, bizarre, flashy, Mardi Gras parade of colorful costumes and masks, we’re Souls on a common journey.  On the Soul level, we are all equals.

Which is why the Tarot works for everyone.  It’s about that bedrock of human experiences that every person on the planet shares in common.  It’s about what we – ALL OF US – encounter in our lives.

Being a King or a Queen, a Knight or a Page . . . except metaphorically and momentarily, those are NOT experiences which most of us will share.  And so those cards seem like rather odd appendages to the Tarot as a whole.

Karl Popper, who was one of the most prominent philosophers of the 20th century, once wrote an essay called, “Is There Meaning in History?”  And the first sentence in his essay was, “No.”

His point was that history is mainly about the egomaniacs, killers, misfits, and psychotics who seized power, created thrones,  and caused endless misery for their fellow Souls, and NOT about the majority of people who were living during their periods of time.  The French, for instance, are fond of remembering the, “military genius,” of Napolean while ignoring the millions of deaths that the little over-compensated dictator caused.

Americans love to talk about their cowboys but not so much about the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans to make room for the cowboys.

The real story of the pyramids should be about the slaves and artisans who built them.  Instead, we remember them by the tricked out, inbred Pharaohs whose bodies they contained.

On the current scene, Donald Trump is an extremely wealthy man who has taken over control of the world’s most powerful office.  He, not us, will be remembered in the history books. But on a Soul level, he’s a rather pathetic old man who’s stuck in his first and second chakras, whose own mother didn’t like to touch him, who’s had a series of mail order wives he’s cheated on, who never had a pet and who, as near as we can tell, has never been loved by another human being. Pretty sad.

In all probability, decent definitions for the royalty cards in the Tarot won’t emerge until we give up our fascination with and admiration for royalty and the ultra-wealthy. 

At that point the definition for the King of Pentacles may be, “A totally materialistic, shallow soul who is obsessed with money to a point of crushing anyone in his path.”

And the Queen of Cups might be, “A pathologically jealous bitch who will destroy anyone she views as a potential rival.”

And the Knight of Wands might be, “An intellectual zealot who will ride right over anyone who disagrees with his elitist, fanatical point of view.”

It’s just a matter of looking at the real Kings, Queens, Knights, and Pages in, “history,” and seeing how they really behaved.  What human qualities do the royalty cards really represent?  What kind of a person was Henry the Eighth?  Was the Sun King all that sunny? How horrible were most of these people?

We may have to create a special card to represent Trump, though.  Maybe the King of Putz? I’m open to suggestions . . .

The Eight of Pentacles and the Death of Creativity

The Eight of Pentacles looks like a pretty happy card.  A craftsman sits at his bench carving away at one pentacle after another and seems to have several of them displayed, as if they were for sale.  My original definition of the card in my book, “Just the Tarot,” pretty much agrees with that:

Profiting from your skills.  Learning new skills that will advance your career.  Possible promotions or awards at work.

And, yet, as an artist and a writer, I have to say, “Ugh.”

And, “Yuck.”

In some ways the Eight of Pentacles is sort of the anti-creativity card.  Real creativity involves an interesting balance between competence and incompetence.

If you’ve ever gone through the pains of starting a new job or you’ve supervised someone who was new at their job, you know that there’s a definite learning curve.  For about the first six months you can count on a pretty high level of screwing up. The new employee has to learn new skills or – in some cases – unlearn what he thought he knew.  At about six months to a year, she’ll start to develop the abilities to perform the job and, after a year, it should be easy peasy.

We see a lot the same thing with artists.  Having a creative vision isn’t enough. The painter has to learn how to blend the colors and which brushes to use.  The wood carver has to know which chisels do what and what types of wood have smooth, tight grains that will take the details of the carving.

You study it, you practice it, and you learn it.  I used to refer to that as, “getting the knowledge out of my head and into my hands.”

But, the thing is, the second you’ve REALLY learned it, the second you can do it perfectly over and over and over again . . . you’ve stopped creating.  You’re just repeating.

That’s what I see when I look at the Eight of Pentacles:  a line of perfectly carved pentacles that are all exactly the same.  It would have been really cool if some of them were orange and some of them were purple, if there were a few folk art pentacles mixed in with some abstract pentacles.  

But there aren’t.

Henry Ford invented the assembly line in 1913.  It was a novel concept at the time: a product moving down a line, being assembled by a team of workers.  Each worker was highly trained in doing one separate part of the assembly, over and over and over. Doing exactly the same thing day after day after day until they retired or dropped dead from boredom.

It was a brilliant idea for a capitalist and an absolute soul killer for the workers.  Real creativity involves trying something new that you don’t actually know how to do perfectly.  It’s a meshing of your skill set with unknown territory that results in something unique and different AND increases your skills.

Unfortunately, we don’t see a lot of that in our work places.  We see people stuck in jobs where they do one or two things over and over again and are never challenged and never grow.  We actually give them awards for that and congratulate them on knowing how to do those one or two things better than anyone else, on accepting the concept that they should be, “good”, but not creative or different.

The Eight of Pentacle is a safe card, a card that shows that nothing bad is happening to that person.  But nothing particularly wonderful is happening to that person, either.  The real story is in the definition of the Eight of Pentacles Reversed:

 Employment problems that may involve a need for retraining or learning new job skills.  Possibly the questioners position being eliminated or some sort of a reshuffle of employees that will place him or her in a job requiring different skills.

In other words, THAT person is going to have to GROW.  It’s all really a question of choosing emotional safety or choosing growth.  Sit in the nest or jump out and learn how to fly.

Life is way too short to choose safety.