Old Souls, Young Souls and Reflections on the Death of Thich Nhat Hahn

Upon the death of Thich Nhat Hahn . . .

The great spiritual master, Thich Nhat Hanh, just died.  And the world took little note of his passing.  There was a brief note from the Dalai Lama. The United States State Department put out about a three paragraph memo recognizing him.  The Pope, as near I can tell, didn’t say a word.

I actually scanned through the pages of my FaceBook friends and found a total of three people who mentioned his death.  There were far more discussions of the death of a rock star named Meatloaf than there was of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Initially, I was fairly dismayed.  And saddened.  And a wee bit shocked.  I can’t tell you how many memes I’ve seen on FaceBook over the years that were quotations from Thich Nhat Hanh.  I’m sure you’ve seen them, too.  They’re usually posted with a picture of someone meditating or doing yoga or sitting blissfully under a tree.  I would guess that the number of them I’ve seen runs into the hundreds or possibly the thousands. 

 I found myself wondering – did all of those quotations actually mean anything to the people who posted them?  Did they read his books?  Did they watch his videos?  Did they in any way absorb anything that he said or believed?

I remembered a few months ago when Ram Dass passed over and there was very much the same reaction.  “Oh, yeah . . . I heard something about that.  Oh, well . . . he was pretty old, wasn’t he?”

Between the two of them, these people had a MASSIVE spiritual transmission.  They brought concepts and perspectives to the table that have helped millions – literally millions – of people across the world.  I don’t know what I expected at the news of their passing but it wasn’t, “Man, did you hear Meatloaf died?”

I know as I’m writing this that they’d both be laughing at the idea that their deaths were somehow important.  Both of them stressed throughout their decades of teachings that the whole, “my death matters,” rap is just an ego trip.  Ram Dass said that, “death is not an outrage,” it’s the most natural thing in the world.  Thich Nhat Hanh said that there is no death and no birth, just transitions of our forms.

Still, I think they were both exemplars of the fact that LIFE matters.  That the way we live our lives, that the amount of love and compassion and caring that we manifest matters very much.  In the middle of an ocean of pain and suffering and cruelty and despair, they continued to repeat that one simple, brave message:  love each other.

So . . . I  ponder over the fact that this beautiful human being, this compassionate, loving, deeply insightful man could pass away and it made such a tiny ripple on the consciousness of the world.

I think that the answer is probably that people have become accustomed to NOT having any sort of a spiritual practice, in the sense of consciously integrating spiritual values into their daily lives.  There’s a sort of a cliche’ in Texas about the good old boy Southern Baptist businessman who goes to church on Sundays and Wednesdays and screws people over the rest of the week.  When you ask him why he’d behave that way, the response is, “Well, that’s just binness (business).”

In other words, there’s a clear demarcation in his mind between spirituality – which happens on Sunday and Wednesday – and business, which happens on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  There’s a sort of a spirituality cubby hole in his existence that needs to be filled, but he manages to keep it very much in the background for most of his life.

I would guess that, for many people, posting, “spirituality memes,” on FaceBook operates in much the same way.  It’s a way of saying to others – and to ourselves – “Hey, I’m actually a deeply spiritual person.  See – I just posted a meme from Ram Dass or Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron.” And then our friends shine that right back at us and that fills that spirituality cubby hole.

Spirituality becomes a sort of a bon bon rather than a steady diet.  It’s something we post, not something we live.  It’s scratching an itch, rather than wondering why we’re itching to begin with.

I know that neither Ram Dass nor Thich Nhat Hanh would say, “Yeah, people are pretty much shallow assholes.”  I suspect they would say, “Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to do.  We need to get back on to our part of it.”

I’m finding a lot of comfort in a paradigm from the 1960s, which is that there are Old Souls and Young Souls.  If you’re an Old Soul, if you’ve been around the reincarnation cycle a few thousand times, then people like Thich Nhat Hanh resonate a lot more deeply in your heart than they might for a Young Soul.  This isn’t to say that being an Old Soul is somehow superior to or better than or wiser than a Young Soul.  It’s not an elitist trip.  It’s not a superiority trip.  It’s just being in a different place on the path.

The world seems to be awash in Young Souls right now and the best thing to do seems to be to constantly and consistently repeat that message from Ram Dass and Thich Nhat Hanh: love each other. 

Ironically, they’d both agree with the assessment of the Young Souls that their deaths didn’t really matter.  But their lives did.

Love each other.

Namaste’ Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Entropy, Coyote, The Tower Card, and That God Person

A brief exploration of why god didn’t make shit happen.

I have a lot of friends who are atheists.  While I disagree with them (leaning more toward polytheism myself), I can’t blame them for feeling that way.  When humans talk about god they tend to get plumb ridiculous.

It isn’t hard to imagine where the idea of god originated.  We can visualize one of our very ancient ancestors standing beside a tree scratching his crotch when – KABLAM!!! – a giant bolt of lightning hits the tree and blows it into a million smoldering pieces.  Being a thinking primate, our ancestors’ initial reaction was probably deeply profound.  Something along the lines of, “HOLY SHIT!  WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THAT???”

A little later, he probably tried to reason out exactly that question:  “What in the hell was that?”  He would have noticed, of course, that whatever IT was, IT had come from the sky.  From up there, somewhere.  Therefore, he would have arrived at his initial conclusion:  there MUST be a, “somewhere,” up there.  There must be some place up in the sky that the lightning monster came from.  Just for ease of discussion, he thought, let’s call it, “heaven.”

So did the lightning monster fall out of heaven?  Did it slip over the edge and tumble down to earth?  No, he’d reason;  upon consideration it was much more like it was THROWN from the heaven place because it hit really hard.  As he turned this over in his brain cells, it would dawn upon him that if it had been thrown, then there must be someone up there in the heaven place who threw it.  And when we throw something at someone, it’s usually because we’re pissed off.  Therefore, the heaven person must have been pissed off at me, he thought, and he threw a lightning monster at me, but he missed me and hit the tree.  Poor tree.

So just in the space of a few hours, he’d worked out that there was a place in the sky called heaven, that someone lived in it, and that he had a very bad temper that caused him to throw things at people he was pissed off with.  And he decided that, just for ease of discussion, he’d call that heaven person, “god.”

Now, of course, the next step would be to figure out why god was pissed off and, logically, it must have had something to do with what our ancestor had been doing when the god person threw the lightning monster at him.  And when he thought back on it, he realized that he’d been scratching his crotch.  “Aha!” he thought.  “The heaven person must not like crotches because . . . um . . . we use them for sex!  That must be it!’

And just like that, he’d invented the concept of sin.

So we can see that our incredibly wise ancestor was able to come up with the notions of heaven, god, and sin, and deduce all of that from the presence of a lightning bolt that hit a tree.  Brilliant, really.

There were a few flaws in his reasoning about god that would come back to haunt us.  First of all, the god person seems to be a bit on the irrational side.  Why wouldn’t he like crotches?  They’re perfectly nice human apparatuses that make us feel really good, so what’s his problem with them?  Especially as the idea that the god person actually MADE us evolved, it seemed more and more problematic that he wouldn’t like our genitals.  If he didn’t like them that much, why didn’t he just make us with something else between our legs, like, I don’t know, a flower or an extra foot or something?

Second, we can see that god has a really bad temper.  A really, really bad temper.  If he didn’t like what we were doing, he could have just sent a nice angel with a handwritten note that said, “Hey, that’s really irritating, so knock it off.”  But, no, he has to blow up a tree.

Third, we see that this god person is very strongly associated with bad things happening.  If a tree blows up or there’s an earthquake or a flood or a tsunami, it’s because god is PISSED.  It’s a punishment, presumably because we’ve been playing with our genitals again.

We can see that idea pretty clearly illustrated in the Tarot card called The Tower.  Most of the Tower-Being-Hit-By-Lightning myths have to do with punishment for human hubris.  Those idiots were trying to build a tower so high that it would reach to the heaven place and the god person got pissed and blew up the tower, just to show them that HE owned the heaven place and not them.

There’s actually a conundrum hidden in The Tower card that theologians have wrestled with for centuries.  If god loves us, and god’s all powerful, why does all of this bad stuff keep happening to us?  I mean, if he can control everything, why doesn’t he just make good stuff happen to us?  Why is there cancer and fires and floods and why do terrible, terrible things happen to people?

The traditional answer goes right back to the idea that god is an extreme control freak with a really bad temper.  He WANTS for good stuff to happen to us, but we keep doing the wrong things and so he HAS to make bad stuff happen to us.  Because we’re crotch scratching sinners, doncha know?

Native Americans had a slight shift in that perspective that makes a major difference in how we view the world.  They noticed that there is a factor in the universe which physicists would later label as, “entropy.”  The definition for entropy is, “a lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”  Another way of putting it is that any organized system will start to disintegrate.

On a practical level, that means that just as soon as we get things arranged to our satisfaction, they start to fall apart.  It’s like when we clean our houses and then a week later they’re a mess again.  Entropy snuck up and bit us in the ass.

Native Americans built that into their theology and we might call it, “the shit happens,” principle.  Yes, there are loving, benevolent gods who want our lives to go perfectly well and want us to be happy.  But sometimes shit happens.  And when it does, it’s because of the Trickster Gods, like Coyote and Raven.  The benevolent gods are busy weaving a beautiful tapestry of life, but the trickster gods are over there in the corner unraveling it as fast as they can.  They’re entropy and they’re making the system disintegrate.

On the one hand, this allows us to have loving, caring gods.  On the other hand, it explains why shit happens.  In this scenario, the lightning bolt that hit the tree our ancestor was standing next to would have been sent by Raven or Coyote.  And they would have been laughing their asses off when they watched him jump.

That turn in their theology was actually a very important step.  First of all, it acknowledges that shit happens.  Second, it says that shit happens, JUST BECAUSE.  It doesn’t necessarily have a damned thing to do with us or whether we’ve sinned or we’re scratching our crotches again.  It just happens because entropy is a part of the fabric of the Universe.  Coyote or Raven are always there, turning our orderly, sensible worlds upside down, JUST BECAUSE.  So it gets rid of the concept of sin and we don’t have to feel guilty about our genitals anymore.

Most importantly, though, it gets rid of the nutso, bipolar, control freak, mean bastard that we’ve had running heaven.  It’s not OUR fault that shit happens, but we also don’t have to invent a crazy god to explain it.  No more vengeful patriarch who’s just itching to throw us into eternal flames.  No more voyeuristic stalker who’s counting how many times we masturbate so he can punish us for it.    No more crazed Jehovah demanding that Abraham shove a knife into his son’s chest to prove how much he loves god.  

And, all in all, the heaven place is  much nicer without him.

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

The Sun Card and The Uncarved Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being Your Own Magician: The Magician Tarot Card

“If we do not consciously live our best lives we are destined to unconsciously live our worst.” – Sylvan

I was recently reading about Dorothy Maclean, cofounder of the Findhorn Community and author of, “To Hear the Angels Sing:  An Odyssey of Co-Creation with the Devic Kingdoms.”    She’s done extensive channeling with the Devas, the beings that oversee the development of forms, for instance of plants.  These two quotes really jumped out at me because of messages I’ve been receiving from my guides:

What I would tell you is that as we [the devas] forge ahead, never deviating from our course for one moment’s thought, feeling or action, so could you. Humans generally don’t seem to know where they are going, or why. If they did, what powerhouses they would be! If they were on a straight course, how we could cooperate with them!

Why go around like zombies, following this or that external guide when all the time your only guide is within you?

The Magician Tarot card premises that each person is his or her own Magician.  In other words, we all – individually – channel down energy from the Astral and use it to create our lives and our environments.  We don’t need to hire anyone to do it, we don’t need to consult with a priest or a shaman to do it, we don’t need to have any secret knowledge to do it.  We ALL do it, ALL the time. We are creating our worlds every single day, whether we know it or not.

And for the most part, we don’t know it.

Here’s how therapist Gay Hendricks put it:

 . . . one thing I want you to accept about yourself is that you’re already a manifestation genius – I guarantee it.  Now all you have to do is hitch your genius to your heart’s desires instead of your default programming.

In other words, we are manifesting our lives and our environments every single day but, because we don’t realize it and don’t realize what we’ve been programmed to believe about ourselves, many of us are manifesting a load of crap.  If, for instance, you were raised in a highly critical family and your parents were always telling you that you’d never succeed, guess what? You’ll manifest a whole lot of failure because that’s what you were programmed to do.

So step one in being your own Magician is realizing that you ARE your own Magician.  You ARE manifesting your world right now and, as Hendricks said, you’re already a genius at it.  You don’t need to practice because you’ve got it down.

Step two is getting really, really straight in your mind and heart about what you WANT to manifest in your life.  And, yes, a lot of us have trouble with that. It can go something like this:

What I want more than anything is to be happy.  And to get into Debbie’s pants. Of course, Debbie makes fun of me and we’re really not compatible so if we have a relationship I won’t be happy.  I could lie to her about wanting a relationship and then I could get into her pants and that would make me happy. Only then I’d have to admit that I was a hypocritical jerk and I hurt her feelings just so I could get into her pants.  And that would make me unhappy. On the other hand . . .”

Or as the Devas put it:  Humans generally don’t seem to know where they are going, or why. 

The trick – the Magic Trick – is to manifest consciously.  To take the time to do the self examination and thinking about what you want, where you want to go, and why.  Take the time to figure out what you were programmed to be when you were a child and see if that fits with what you really want to be.  Take the time to meditate and learn to listen to your heart and your spirit guides. And then make your magic happen. Be your own Magician.

Why go around like zombies, following this or that external guide when all the time your only guide is within you?

“Just the Tarot,“available on Amazon.com

The Sex Cards in the Tarot

Everyone likes sex!  Well, nearly everyone.  I actually read an article recently about people who don’t like sex in any way shape or form and don’t feel any sexual desires.  They’re calling themselves, “asexuals,” and actually have their own organization.  How about that?  What an interesting world.

Anyway, nearly everyone likes sex and there are certain Tarot cards which definitely indicate its’ presence in a persons life.  It can be handy to know when it’s likely to pop up in a relationship, whether you’re interested in the other person or not. Come to think of it, it could even be handy for people who are official Asexuals because they’d know who to avoid.  Nearly everyone, right?

FOUR OF WANDS

Two people dancing beneath what looks very much like a wedding gazebo.  There is an element of sex here but in the more traditional sense of marriage and an on going union.  A happy card that includes the idea of sex without actually signifying it outright.

TWO OF CUPS

A man and a woman hold chalices and gaze into each others eyes.  This is a card of profound bonding and love, the start of a serious relationship.  While it can often indicate something as mundane as a good business partner or a best friend, it can also indicate a deep romantic and sexual relationship.

THREE OF CUPS

Three women dance together, chalices raised in mutual salute. Sex is not necessarily a central theme in this card but it’s a possibility because the central theme is PARTY!!!!  This is a card of joyous celebrations so why not sneak a little whoopee into the celebration? May also indicate a happy three way relationship.

THREE OF SWORDS 

A heart pierced by three swords.  This can often indicate a monogamous relationship in which one of the partners has decided to be not so monogamous.  He or she may be screwing around and it’s breaking the partners heart.

THE EMPRESS

An Earth Mother type of woman reclines on a couch holding a sceptre loosely in one hand.  Again, The Empress is not exclusively about sex but it’s definitely included in her vibrations.  Unlike her sister card, The High Priestess, who appears to be a little prim and proper, The Empress is openly sensual.  She reclines comfortably on her couch, legs slightly spread with a definite, “come hither,” look on her face. If you’re involved with The Empress, expect a good time.  On ALL levels.

THE HIEROPHANT

An individual who looks like a pope sits stiffly on a throne between two pillars while two monks bow down to him.  The Hierophant is mainly about organized religion and dogma, so it may seem strange to include it in this post. The point, though, is that The HIerophant is about CONVENTIONAL religion rather than spirituality.  In that sense, if this card shows up in a reading about a relationship you can expect it to be a very CONVENTIONAL relationship with very CONVENTIONAL sex. In other words, always the missionary position, probably with the lights turned out and only when the kids are fast asleep.  If you’re into sex toys and trapezes in your boudoir, RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY . . .

THE LOVERS

A nude man and woman stand in a Garden of Eden setting while a snake climbs a tree next to the woman and an angel hovers over them.  As the name indicates, this card is about love and not JUST love but triple whammie hit in the head with a sledge hammer love. These two people are absolutely thunder struck and there WILL be sex.  Really good sex.

THE DEVIL

This is obviously the same couple from The Lovers, only they’ve been driven out of the Garden of Eden and are now sporting horns and tails while a demon hovers over them instead of an angel.  There is a very strong element of sexuality here but it’s not what you’d describe as happy sex. Instead of joy we find pain and enslavement. It can indicate sexual addiction, BDSM games that have gone WAY too far into pain and humiliation,  or the sexual element of a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. And, to me at least, it’s a sad card: it’s taking one of life’s greatest joys and turning into something sick and twisted.

So there you have it.  When you see these cards in a reading think about sex.  Or think about it anyway – it’s always fun.

Angels, Spirit Guides, and the Tarot

We seldom see the Tarot referred to as, “a Spirit Guide.”  Which is weird.

There are many, many online courses about contacting your angels and spirit guides.  Thousands of videos online telling you how to do it and/or how to maximize your contact with your spiritual helpers.  Dozens and dozens of books on the subject.

So . . . it’s pretty widely accepted that (a) there are benevolent, loving beings out there who want to help us; and (b) we can learn how to be in touch with them.  But, curiously, the Tarot isn’t usually included in those discussions.

A part of that, of course, may stem from the fundamentalist christians horror of all things occult.  We’ve seen the ghost hunter shows on television where a couple of little girls are playing with a Ouija board and two minutes later thousands of creepy demons and ghosts are whizzing out of the kitchen cabinets.  Tarot decks have been painted with the same brush for decades despite the fact that the images in them are chock full of angels. (See my previous post, “The Angels of the Tarot.”)

Another element is that most people who read the Tarot don’t really THINK of it as a means of getting in touch with our angels or spirit guides.  We just think of it as, “Asking the Tarot for advice.” Of course, that begs the question of who or what is giving the advice. Is an inanimate deck of cards somehow capable of cogitating about our problems and giving us the best insight and solutions?  

In one of the better online courses about contacting your spirit guides and angels, Roslyn Light suggests journaling as a means for receiving messages from them.  There are some people among us who are able to be in direct contact with higher beings and see them and hear them. Others may receive guidance through synchronicities and so-called coincidences that occur in their lives.  A book falling out of a shelf and opening to a certain page with a pertinent message, for instance. For others answers and solutions may appear in the writing they do in their journals.

And, for some of us, the very best way to get in touch with our guides may be the Tarot.  Which makes a lot of sense when you actually think about it. It’s said that beings from the higher planes communicate with us in symbols and images rather than verbally.  There is probably no other source on earth that is richer in images and symbols than a deck of Tarot cards. In other words, it speaks their language.

Indeed, it seems entirely possible that this is exactly what the Tarot was designed to do.  It may well be a tool conceived by minds far greater than ours to allow us to have direct communication with the higher spiritual realms and the beings who dwell there.

And all we have to do is ask.

The Fool – Alone but not Lonely

In the first (or the last, depending on your perspective) card of the Major Arcana we see The Fool starting off on his Spiritual Quest, a dog barking at his feet, his eyes turned toward the heavens.

And he’s very much alone.  But maybe not lonely.

What starts us on a Spiritual Quest?  It’s certainly not because things are going swimmingly.  Sometimes it just a chronic, nagging feeling that something in our lives is just not quite right.  Sometimes it’s a sudden flash of insight that’s like the first rolling stone that starts an avalanche.

Frequently it’s some life event that knocks us ass over teakettle and forces us to look at the fact that our assumptions and beliefs have been wrong all along.  That what we took for granted isn’t worth a bag of spit. The death of a loved one. The suicide of a coworker. Surviving a crash or a deadly disease.

Even then, many people will embrace what might be called “a pseudo-quest,” or perhaps, “an aborted quest.”    Shocked and shaken right down to their toes by some near catastrophe they respond by pulling the covers over their heads and crawling into the safe, warm womb of organized religions.  Like the men kneeling in front of the pope in The Hierophant card they look to others for spiritual truth rather than seeking it in their own hearts.

The person on a true Spiritual Quest is there because he or she HAS to be.  The choices of pretense, dull lassitude, and being a comfortable member of the herd no longer exist for them.  They have a burning desire to know – or at least seek – the truth and that desire can’t be ignored.

And, yes,  that can feel lonely at times.

For one thing most people aren’t really very interested in looking at the verities of Spiritual life.  The next time that you’re at a family gathering just casually mention that everyone in the room is going to die sooner or later if you don’t believe me.  You may not be invited back and, if you are, I guarantee no one will want to sit next to you at Thanksgiving Dinner. People actually seek out toys, money, meaningless sex, and anything else they can think of to AVOID talking about death and they don’t appreciate it when someone puts the subject right up in their faces.

A second factor, though, is that your Spiritual truths are YOUR Spiritual truths and not necessarily anyone else’s.  As you tread your way down the path of The Fool you will discover certain things that you know in your heart are true but the people around you, even your loved ones, may think that you’re out of your mind.  Or very much a Fool.

I remember when I first realized that visualization actually causes the things we visualize to manifest in our lives.  And I don’t mean just reading about it or acknowledging it as an abstract idea. I mean actually sitting my butt down, doing the visualizations and having them actually manifest.

I was blown away.  “This,” I thought, “is magic.  Real, honest to goddess, freaking magic!”

And that realization was followed by a whole series of other realizations.  If my thoughts and emotions can cause things to manifest in my life, then my life is . . . a manifestation of my thoughts and emotions.

Which means that I made this mess.  Not my parents, not my environment, not my culture, not random circumstances.  This thing I call my life is . . . ME. My thoughts. My emotions.

Which means that I’m responsible for it.  It’s my karma that I made. BUT . . . it also means I can change it.  And, man, that’s not just magic . . . that’s freedom!

It was a major turning in The Fool’s Path and I was tremendously excited about it.  The people I tried to share it with . . . not so much. My New Agey friends sort of yawned and said things like, “Oh, yeah, I think I read something like that a long time ago in Ram Dass.  Or was it, ‘A Course in Miracles?’ Maybe it was, ‘Codependent No More . . .”

My more conventional friends either edged slowly away or their mouths hung open for a moment before they changed the subject.

I realized eventually that it was MY Spiritual truth.  It was a result of my Tarot readings and my studies and my meditations and it fit perfectly at that exact moment in MY life.  The fact that other people didn’t understand it or know it or really, really dig it in their own hearts didn’t matter. What mattered was that I had found one of my truths.

And there’s a Spiritual truth in that realization, too.  Just because you’re alone in your beliefs doesn’t mean you have to feel lonely.  In all likelihood the people around you don’t share or understand your truths because they haven’t done the work that you have or they just don’t care.  That doesn’t diminish what you know by one little bit. Every truth that you find along the path is a jewel to be treasured and uncovers a little bit more of who you really are.

The Star Tarot Card – Ishtar, The Dalai Lama, and the Re-Emergence of The Goddess

Just who is the mysterious woman in the Tarot card, “The Star?”  She’s one of what I call, “the astronomical cards,” that are grouped together at the end of the Major Arcana:  The Star, The Moon, The Sun, and The World.

For some reason it seems easier to relate to the other three cards today.  Perhaps it’s because they are so intimately interwoven with our daily existence.  We live on and with Mother Earth/The World. The Sun makes us happy and marks out our seasons.  The Moon controls the tides and is strongly connected with women’s fertility and men’s insanity.  

But what about The Star?  What comes to mind? Anything?  Not much?

The first known examples of the Tarot emerged 1500-ish.  We know that most of the natural philosophers (they didn’t have scientists, yet) were still using the Greco-Roman model of the universe at that time.  The Earth, of course, was the Center of the Universe because we are SO important. Then extending all around the Earth there was a great circle of a sphere which contained space and the moon and the sun.

The latest, most up-to-date thinking at that time was that stars were actually holes in the sphere that surrounded us and that the light they radiated was heaven shining through the holes.  Which is why heaven is, “up there,” even today.

BUT . . . there were also stars that moved around.  We call them planets now days but the thinking back then was that if they moved around, then, by golly, they must be alive because that’s what living things do and that’s what dead things don’t.

Now, it’s interesting because the Greeks (and their intellectual suck ups the Romans) decided that if there were magical, celestial beings whizzing around in space then most of them must have penises.  Yes, I know . . . there’s poor lonely Venus and she’s a female, but every other, “living star,” was a male. Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Mercury, Pluto . . . not a vagina in the whole lot of them.

The rest of the world took an entirely different approach, however.  In most cultures there was no doubt that if stars were living beings they were definitely females.  And that’s what showed up in the Tarot, which we are told was a product of medieval Europe and which was still going by Greco-Roman thinking.  A woman. Odd, isn’t it?

In, “The Alphabet Versus The Goddess,”  Leonard Shlain makes a very strong case that all early civilizations were Goddess-based cultures.  And we can posit that Star Goddesses played a prominent role. The Sumerian/Babylonian Star Goddess Ishtar is portrayed here as her symbol, an eight pointed star:


And here we have an early Tarot deck version of The Star, with . . . ahem . . . an eight pointed star hovering over the Star Woman.


Or take the example of Tara, the Hindu Goddess who crossed over into Tibet.  She is portrayed with seven eyes – two in her hands, two in her feet, and three in her head – because she sees all of our suffering .


When the Buddhists arrived in Tibet they announced that Tara was actually the feminine counterpart of the bodhisattva (“buddha-to-be”) Avalokiteshvara and came into existence from a tear of Avalokiteshvara, which fell to the ground and formed a lake.

Right.  Another example of a man giving birth to a woman.  We know that happens all of the time.

Tara is thought to be the oldest still worshipped Goddess in existence and she was in Tibet a LONG time before Buddhism arrived.  Tara actually means, “Star,” so we can guess that Tibetan society was originally a matriarchal culture centered around the worship of a Star Goddess.

If you want a clincher for that, the term, “Dalai Lama,” literally translates as, “High (or exalted) Mother.”  If the original Dalai Lama didn’t have breasts it would have been a damned peculiar title.

When a Tibetan Buddhist wants to talk about compassion and pure, unadulterated love, they use the the example of the love that flows between a mother and a child.  Several of them that I’ve run across – such as Tulku Thondup who wrote, “Boundless Healing: Meditation Exercises to Enlighten the Mind and Heal the Body,” – expressed frustration in trying to convey that concept to Westerners because we tend to have such screwed up relationships with our parents.  Mother EQUALS love in their culture, if not in ours.

So we can perhaps begin to cobble together a picture of who the Star Woman actually is.  She is a Goddess. A mother. Unconditional love. Compassion. Always there, gently shining down to guide and protect us.  The blessing of feminine energy.

And perhaps, as the Goddess archetype continues to re-emerge in the world, that image and that feeling will once again seem as normal to us as The Sun, The Moon, and The World.

Let’s hope so.

Karmic Re-Set with the Nine of Swords

I remember the last time I pulled the Nine of Swords in one of my personal readings.  I had a very spiritual reaction, which was, “Well . . . shit.” Swiftly followed by another, which was, “Why me?”

It probably wasn’t one of my better days.

The Nine of Swords absolutely screams, “karma.”  The individual is lying in bed with his head in his hands, a perfect image of someone who has just awakened from a screaming nightmare.  The quilt on the bed is covered with astrological symbols showing past incarnations in different signs of the zodiac. The swords behind him seem locked together like the bars in a prison cell.

There can be no doubt that this is someone who has just realized that he’s accumulated some terrible, terrible karma and is going to have to pay a serious price for it.

There’s another way of looking at it, though.

If you’ve spent any substantial time in spiritual exploration then you’ve had that, “Ah HA!” moment when you realize that you are a co-creator of your life.  It goes something like this:

I control my thoughts.  My thoughts cause my emotions.  My emotions cause my energy vibrations.  My energy vibrations, through the Law of Attraction, determine what’s going to manifest in my life.  Therefore, I control (or create) what’s manifesting in my life.

To put it more succinctly, if I’m broadcasting a lot of negative vibrations I’m going to attract a lot of negative crap into my life.  If my vibrations are positive, positive things will flow into my life.

There’s a real rush that goes along with that revelation.  We feel very liberated from random circumstances and from people victimizing us.  We realize that all of this isn’t being done TO us, we’re making it happen to ourselves, which means that we can change it.

But there are a couple of, “Well . . . shit,” moments that go along with that.

The first one is, “Well . . . shit . . . I made this.  This is MY karma. I’m totally responsible for this mess.”

It wasn’t our abusive fathers, or our crazy ex-wife or husband, or the country or culture we grew up in, or the opportunities we did or didn’t have, or anything OUT THERE.  We manifested all of it into our lives or we chose to NOT manifest something better. We made it.

Well . . . shit . . .

The second appallingly scary moment happens when we realize that it means that we’re also creating what happens next.

Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 Step Programs have a saying:  “You can start your day over whenever you want to.” In other words, if you’re having a terrible day you can always take a deep breath, reconnect with your serenity, and change how your day is going.

Tibetan Buddhism embraces the concept that we can start our karma over whenever we want to.  No, we can’t escape the unfolding of consequences from our previous actions but we can make those consequences a lot better by starting to live our lives with love and compassion and the creation of good karma.

And when we realize – truly realize – that we are creating our lives right now, right here, with the choices that we’re making, that we’re starting over,  that’s a pretty heavy responsibility.

For one thing we have to get really clear on just what we DO want.  What are my values? What do I want in my life? Peace? Serenity? Happiness?  Family? Sex? Money? What do I want to create in my life? If all of this isn’t just stuff that’s happening to me, if it isn’t just things that people are doing to me, if I’m MAKING my life . . . what do I want it to look like?

And if we’re going to choose to consciously create our own lives – and we don’t have to, we can stay unconscious – then we have to consciously choose, every day, every hour, to control our emotions, our vibrations, and our manifestations.  

And that’s not easy.

Well . . . shit . . .

The Temperance Card, FaceBook, and Donald Trump

No one is born a racist.

When we see very young children of different races playing together there are no feelings of inferiority or superiority based on physical appearances.  True, there is a natural, childish wonder that they bring to everything they encounter.


“Why is your skin brown?”

“Why is your hair yellow?”

“How come your eyes turn up at the corners?”

Children wonder about everything because it’s all shiny and new to them, but they don’t judge what they’re encountering.  Racism is a judgement that’s added into their naturally innocent minds by adults who are too stupid to know better.

And, “adding in,” is what the Temperance card is all about.

When most of us hear the word, “temperance,” we automatically think of moderation or even abstinence.  If you’re from the United States you may think of the temperance movement and Crazy Carrie Nation rampaging through saloons, destroying liquor bottles and barrels with her hatchet.  

Another, alternate definition, however, is, “to mix together in the proper proportions.”

An example of that is the tempering of metals, in which other metals are added to the original metal to increase it’s flexibility or strength.  And that is clearly what the angel in the Temperance card is doing. She isn’t abstaining from something or being moderate; she’s mixing two things together.  And that, of course, brings up the question: “What two things?”

Think of it this way:  we’re all born with a particular nature which we call, “being human.”  Arguments between philosophers and (later) psychologists have gone back and forth about exactly what that means.  How much of, “being human,” are we born with (our nature) and how much do we acquire or learn from our parents and culture (our nurturing?)

The nature versus nurture debate remains pretty open ended.  We’re still finding out that some components of our behavior are learned, some spring straight from our instincts, and some are instinctual but with learned components added on to them.

We don’t really have to get into that debate for the purpose of discussing this card.  Let’s just grant that there is a basic human nature that most people are born with and that as we grow and age we learn additional things, acquire new skills, and gain more knowledge.  Nothing controversial about that, right?

But, again, the question is, “What’s being mixed?”  What’s being added to our basic natures as we go along in life?

There are, of course, elements that our parents, relatives and teachers add to us before we’re really old enough to make rational decisions about whether or not we agree with what they’re adding.  And that pre-rational programming can really sabotage us later in life. Psychologist Gay Hendricks was born to a single mother in a small, Southern town. His mother abandoned him soon after his birth and he was reared by his grandparents.  While he was financially secure growing up, his grandfather was extremely distant emotionally and seemed to hold Gay in some way responsible for his daughter giving birth out of wedlock and ruining her reputation.

It wasn’t until much later in life that Hendricks realized that he was manifesting older, emotionally withholding, critical authority figures in his life and career.  Basically, he was playing out the script that had been implanted in his subconscious when he was far too young to judge whether it was valid: old men judging him and finding him lacking.

So, yes, it’s very important to figure out what may have been, “added to us,” when we were young.  But there also comes a time, if we are fairly evolved people, when we consciously CHOOSE what’s being added to our basic natures.

I have friends who get on FaceBook every single day of the week and post endless streams of news stories about what a rotten, despicable, corrupt, son of a bitch Donald Trump is.  And I agree. BUT . . . I don’t want Donald Trump in my head all day. (Hell, I don’t even want him in my universe for one minute.) And so I CHOOSE to acknowledge that reality – yes, the Cheeto King is one twisted sister – and then LET IT GO.  I don’t want to internalize that kind of poison.

And that seems to be the deal:  we can’t choose what’s out there or control what other people are doing or saying.  But we can choose what we internalize and make a part of ourselves. Burying your head in the sand and pretending that people like Trump don’t exist not only isn’t the answer, it’s downright irresponsible.  As Louise Hay said, “You can’t clean the house if you don’t see the dirt.”

Going back to the analogy of mixing different metals to temper them, we can consciously ask ourselves: “Does this make me stronger and more flexible, or does this make me more rigid and brittle?  Do I want to add this to my Self and make it a permanent part of me, or do I simply acknowledge it and let it go?”

We can consciously seek out the positive and look for things that will make us grow and evolve.  Maybe read that book on Buddhism or try that class on mindfulness meditation or take a few minutes to watch that YouTube video on Spirit Guides.

At the end of the day we are our own alchemists.  We get to choose what ingredients we’re going to put in the magical, mystical potion called life.  And that’s called Temperance.