Ahimsa, Love, and John Wayne’s Therapist

I ran across an interesting quotation from Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level :  “If you have any sort of a problem, send love at it.  If you’re dealing with a bully, send love at him.  If your life is stuck, send love at it.”

It’s fascinating because it makes love into an active proposition, rather than a passive state of being.  He’s not talking about just sitting in a meditative state of love, he’s talking about consciously generating it and using it to solve problems.

There is a principle that’s called, “ahimsa,” which is one of the five Yamas, or ethical rules of behavior, in yoga philosophy.  It’s widely translated as non-violence or doing no harm to any living thing.  I know a lot of Buddhists and Wiccans who have incorporated that idea into their lives.  If they find a spider in their house, they carry it outside and let it live rather than squashing it against the wall.  It’s a basic measure of respect for life and not taking it or harming it.

If we dig a little further into the idea, though, we find Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras saying, “once ahimsa is mastered, even wild animals and ferocious criminals will become tame and harmless in our presence. … Ahimsa, rightly understood, is the ultimate weapon; it turns one’s enemy into a friend, thereby banishing the possibility of further conflict.”

In other words, send love at them.   Use love as an active force to dissolve other people’s aggression.

One of the problems with sending love at people and things that threaten us is the limbic system in our brains.  That’s that very ancient part of our brains – sometimes called the crocodile brain – which is responsible for the fight or flight reaction.  If it detects a threat, it immediately dumps massive amounts of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into our systems.  Our heart rates go up, our blood pressure goes up, we become hyper focused on the threat, and our thinking brain, the prefrontal cortex, pretty much stops functioning.  We’re ready to fight like hell or run like hell, whichever action is most likely to help us survive.

The thing is, it’s very easy for other people to reach right past our conscious minds and our spiritual beliefs and tap into that fight or flight reaction.  If someone at a business meeting makes fun of us, or a coworker is nasty to us, or a friend puts us down, we reflexively, unconsciously go into fight or flight.  We can see that happening in the Five of Wands:  everyone is madly swinging their clubs at everyone else and no one is stepping outside of the conflict and thinking things through.

The problem with fight or flight – aside from being a really unhappy, miserable way to go through life – is that aggression breeds aggression.  If you get up in my face, I’m going to get right back up in yours.  Which will make you even more aggressive, which will make me even more aggressive and on and on until someone gets hurt or someone flees.  It’s a self-feeding cycle that inevitably leads to someone being wounded, either emotionally or physically.

And that’s the genius behind Ahimsa:  it short circuits the fight or flight reaction by changing the energy field.

To put it in New Agey terms, incompatible energies cannot exist in the same energy field.  If we’re actively generating love and nurturance and caring from our heart centers, then hatred and anger and aggression can’t enter into that field.  One of two things will happen with the people around us who are generating anger:  (1) they’ll go away because their anger isn’t compatible with our love; or, (2) they’ll change into more loving, mellow people in order to be compatible with the energy we’re putting out.

All of that starts, though, with our actively, consciously generating love and applying it to our problems.  It’s not just a state of being that we sometimes live in and sometimes lose sight of.  It’s beginning to see love as a very powerful force for change and not just some wimpy phrases on a Valentine’s card.

It makes perfect sense when we think about it.  The Buddhists have an old aphorism that we don’t take darkness OUT, we bring light IN.  We don’t just sit in a dark cave and imagine that there’s light – we actually light a candle.

It’s not an easy place to get to, certainly not in our society.  We’re constantly programmed that violence and anger are solutions, rather than problems.  Our heroes carry guns and know karate and drop bombs on other people.  Love, on the other hand, is seen as something that’s weak and wussy, appropriate, perhaps, for mothers who are nursing babies but not very useful in the, “real world.”  Love, when our tough guy heroes encounter it, is something that happens TO them, something that they have no control over and have to put up with, despite their best instincts to the contrary.

Changing that paradigm is going to involve embracing the idea of love as being much, much stronger than hatred and rage.  As being an irresistible energy that’s an undercurrent in the universe.  It’s going to involve realizing that people who are living in constant anger are the ones who are really afraid and the people who are living in love are the ones who have the courage to embrace life to the fullest.

It’s sort of like imagining John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in a bar, face to face with the BAD HOMBRE’.  They’re glaring back and forth at each other, their hands are resting on their pistols, and everyone else in the bar is hiding under the tables.  The music slowly builds to a crescendo and at that exact moment of the highest tensions in the scene, John Wayne reaches over, hugs the bad hombre’, and says, “I love you, man.  I’m sorry that you’re having to live in such a terrible, negative space, and I know a good therapist I could recommend.  Here, let me buy you a drink and we’ll talk about it.”

It works.  Try it.

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Spring Equinox, the Four of Wands, and the Spiritual Joy of Chocolate Covered Bunnies

Exploring the lost – and found – joy of spirituality.

I haven’t celebrated easter in a very long time.  I’m not a christian, so I don’t feel any particular connection there.  I was also reared as a catholic, so there may actually still be a little subconscious hostility left over as a result of recovering from that heritage.  

This year, though, I decided that I was really going to celebrate the Spring Equinox.  I won’t belabor the fact that the christian churches never met a pagan holiday that they didn’t steal or co-opt, and that easter is obviously a take-over of the celebration of Spring.  We all know that.  What I hadn’t really consciously flashed on, though, was that I was letting the christian holiday interfere with MY holiday in more ways than one.

It’s been a bitch of a year and a bitch of a winter, not just for me but for the entire world.  There’s been a lot of death, a lot of depression, a lot of darkness and craziness and it’s gone on for a very long time.  So when the first golden daffodil started popping open this year, I could feel in my very bones that I wanted to celebrate.  I wanted to embrace that light with everything I had.

I decided to build a Spring Equinox altar.  That, along with incense and candles, is one of the few positive things about growing up catholic.  I’ll build an altar anywhere, anytime, at the drop of a freaking hat.  And then I’ll stick candles on it and get some incense burning, by Goddess.

I spent hours cruising through our local stores, purchasing the, “ingredients,” for my little shrine to Spring.  As usual, Dollar General was a treasure trove for low priced holiday decorations.  I bought glittery eggs and plaster bunny rabbits for fertility symbols.  Candles and chrysanthemums and sea shells.  Virgin of Guadalupe’ votives to represent the Goddess. And more bunnies. I went home and dug out my crystals and my pentagrams and my chalice and athame’, and began assembling the altar.

About half way through the process I realized that I was having a hell of a good time.  I actually found myself laughing out loud as I arranged the items on an old coffee table and rearranged them and rearranged them again.  I put my statues of Tara and Quan Yin in the center of the table, strung white christmas lights around the shrine, lit incense, and laughed some more.

It was fun!

And it really hit me like a hammer:  organized religions didn’t just steal our holidays, they stole our fun.  They took every single pagan holiday, turned it something dark and solemn and serious, and systematically tried to wring every bit of joy and laughter out of it.

Easter is a prime example of that.  The pagan celebrations of Spring had a HUGE amount of fun attached to them.  Much like the Four of Wands, there was dancing, drinking, revelry and the people who were doing the celebrating didn’t just eat chocolate bunnies, they fucked like bunnies.  A LOT.

And then along came organized religion.  Suddenly the celebration of Spring was all about death.  All about a very kind – and perhaps fictional – man being tortured, crucified and killed.  And, yes, I know that christians like to say that easter is all about re-birth, all about christ rising from the tomb, but it’s really not.  It’s about death.  

It’s like they took my beautiful, golden daffodil and threw a bucket of blood on it.

There’s been that same strange dance between pagan joy and organized religion for centuries and I’d have to say that – all in all – we pagans are winning.  Organized religion took over the mid-winter festival and declared that it was the birthday of Jesus, a very solemn occasion, doncha know?  We countered with christmas trees and presents and twinkling lights.  Organized religion took over our festival celebrating the end of the season of light and declared that it was, “All Souls Day.”  We came right back and said, “Nope, it’s Halloween – break out the masks and candy!”

They said, “Easter,” and we replied, “Chocolate Bunnies!”

The point is that you can’t repress the joy of true spirituality.  William James pointed that out in The Varieties of Religious Experience a long time ago.  The hallmarks of someone who has had a true spiritual experience are joy, compassion and love.  

To put it another way, if we’re not having some FUN with our religions, we’re not connecting with any sort of spirituality AT ALL.  If we’re afraid to laugh in church, we’re in the wrong church.

So this year I’m starting again.  Like my little Spring Equinox altar, I’m assembling the, “ingredients,” of my spirituality.  They will include feathers and crystals and bells and, yes, some chocolate bunnies. And I may rearrange them and then rearrange them again, but I’ll be laughing while I do it.

Wishing you a joy-FULL Spring Equinox and BIG smiles.

The Five of Wands, Compassion, and the Invasion of The Trumpster Amygdaloids

Developing compassion for Trump supporters based on their inflamed amygdalas.

I’ve been trying to reach a space of compassion in my heart for rabid Trump supporters and it hasn’t been easy.  Any time that we see pictures of them, they seem to exist in a sea of snarling, angry, hate-filled faces.  Their social media posts are contemptuous, bigoted, ill-informed diatribes that frequently feature images of people with guns, swastikas, and confederate flags.

They, “feel,” very much like the Five of Wands.  A group of people swinging clubs as fast and as hard as they possibly can and rarely connecting with anything useful.  

There’s not much there to love or empathize with. It became much, much harder to feel a sense of common humanity with them after they stormed the Capitol Building on January the Sixth.  They exhibited all of the rage, fury, and mindlessness of a lynch mob and it’s plain that people would have been seriously injured or killed if the Trumpsters had been able to reach them.

I DO have a need and a perceived duty to feel compassion for my fellow humans.  If we believe, as I do, that we are ALL Souls at our core – small sparks from the Sacred Fire of the universe –  then we need to treat one another with the same respect that we would show for the origin of the Sacred and the Divine.  The rabid Trumpsters, then, could be perceived as wandering, confused, temporarily misguided human Souls.

But they’re such assholes.

I mean, they’re really, really REALLY hard to like.  I don’t like their politics, I don’t like their snotty, condescending attitudes, I don’t like their hatred or their guns or their racism.  So I was having an extremely hard time trying to come up with one thing, just one thing, where I could find some common ground and tell myself, “Yeah . . . THERE’S something we have in common!  There’s a basis for some empathy and compassion.”

And I finally settled on their amygdalas.

The amygdala, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a walnut shaped organ at the base of our brains.  It’s probably the most ancient part of our brains which is why it’s referred to as, “the crocodile brain,” meaning that it’s on about the same primitive evolutionary level as a crocodile.  

It’s also in charge of the fight, flight, or freeze reaction.  If we’re confronted with danger, the amygdala fires off and our brains and bodies are flooded with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.  We’re on full alert and we’re instantly ready to fight like hell, run like hell, or freeze in place.

Also – and this is VERY important with understanding the Trumpsters – when the amygdala is fully activated the prefrontal cortex, which is the THINKING part of the brain, the RATIONAL part of the brain, shuts down.  Turns off.  Quits working.

One other curious fact about the amygdala is that the more it’s activated, the more dominant it becomes.  When we’re constantly frightened or angry, the amygdala actually GROWS in size and our bodies become like a sea of stress hormones.

Even to a rational, normal person, the last four years have been extremely irritating.  Until they took Trump’s Twitter account away from him, there was a constant, never-ending barrage of Twisted Trump Tweets.  Many times a day there were messages that basically said, “Be afraid!  Be very, very afraid!”

The Socialists are coming for you!

The Communists are coming for you!

The Chinese are coming for you!

The Mexican rapists are coming for you!

The Anitifas are coming for you!

The Democrats are coming for you!

The liberals are coming for you!

Toilets that you have to flush twice are coming for you!

Be afraid!   And – also –  be very, very, very ANGRY!

For most of us the tweets went from being stupid to being annoying to, “Doesn’t that guy EVER shut the fuck up?”

But now imagine what those tweets must have been doing to the rabid Trumpsters.  These were people whose amygdalas must have already been pretty active since they voted for Trump and his fear and his anger to begin with.  Then add a four year stream of poisonous messages from the Tangerine Troll and they had to have gone totally into Tilt.

If the amygdala actually grows every time we get angry or become frightened, they must have amygdalas the size of freaking watermelons.  And if the prefrontal cortex shuts down every time the amygdala fires off, well shit, they haven’t had a rational thought in years.

Bless their little hearts.

So I’m using that as my basis for compassion.  These people aren’t just assholes.  They’re actually suffering from extremely inflamed amygdalas, aggravated by shrivelled prefrontal cortexes.  I’m even beginning to think of them less as rabid Trump supporters and more as Amygdaloids.

“Yes, it was tragic.  When he was born he seemed perfectly normal, but sometime in his later development turned into an Amygdaloid.  No known treatment for it, you know.  Just . . . tragic.”

There now.  I feel better already.

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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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 Five of Wands and a Committee of Egos

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

Except, they’re not.

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

So what the hell’s going on here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse Cards in the Tarot

One of the most frequent reasons for people to consult a Tarot reader is relationships, specifically romantic relationships.  This includes the full gamut of topics from, “Does Bobby like me?” to, “Is my marriage worth saving?”

You may find that a prominent subcategory of that topic is physically and/or emotionally abusive relationships.  People who are in abusive relationships are frequently desperate for advice and guidance.

You may also find – as any cop, social worker, or emergency department nurse can tell you – that the questioner may not even be willing to admit that he or she is in an abusive relationship.  They may be deeply ashamed of it. They may have been victims for so long that they’re afraid to reveal the truth, afraid that talking about it will only bring more abuse down on their heads.

It can be very puzzling to a reader.  You’re looking at a reading that indicates that something is very, very wrong in the questioners life and, yet, they assure you that everything’s fine.  There are, however, a few cards that can tip you to what’s actually happening.

NINE OF WANDS


The picture kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  This card may well indicate an abusive relationship though at this point – given that this is a Wands card and, thus, ideas card – the abuse is probably more verbal than physical.  A couple living in a constant state of verbal warfare with nasty, wounding arguments.

EIGHT OF CUPS

A card of stealing away in the night, this may indicate someone who is literally fleeing from a really bad relationship.  This can be a relationship that is SO bad that the questioner is leaving town to get away from his or her partner.

FIVE OF SWORDS

This is a card of really ugly power games and can indicate a person who is a serious sadist.  Deep wounds are being inflicted here and they may be actual physical wounds as well as emotional wounds.

SIX OF SWORDS

This appears to be a fairly placid card on its’ surface but there are undertones that can indicate abuse. As I said in the original definition from my book, “Just the Tarot,” this is a card of leaving troubles behind and moving toward better times.  A journey from rough waters to waters that are placid and calm. There is a definite element of escape, of fleeing in this card.

There is also an element of hiding and of turning your power over to someone else and asking them to guide you to safety.  The woman and child are cloaked and bent over, as if to conceal their identities.

I have seen this card frequently in the context of an abused wife or girl-friend fleeing to a women’s shelter or finally, finally calling the cops to stop the abuse.  

SEVEN OF SWORDS

This card doesn’t so much indicate physical abuse but may point toward a form of emotional abuse.  The questioner may be involved with someone who is stealing his or her power in a relationship, belittling them, and grinding down their sense of self-worth on a daily basis.

EIGHT OF SWORDS

Again, the picture pretty much speaks for itself.  A person who is literally being held prisoner in a terrible relationship.  The blindfold can indicate a high level of denial on his or her part, refusing to even acknowledge, much less deal with, the fact that they’re in deep shit.

TEN OF SWORDS

This may well be the scariest of the abuse cards.  It’s the end of the power cycle and the subject lies dead on the battlefield stuck full of the swords that he or she tried to wield.  A reminder that abusive relationships can have horrible endings.

NINE OF PENTACLES

I’m including this card in the post, not because it shows overt physical or emotional abuse, but because it may show a certain form of emotional or financial bondage in a relationship.  The woman in the card is to all appearances happy, content, and surrounded by wealth. One of the key elements of the card, though, is the blindfolded hawk. This card may indicate a person who has – perhaps willingly – surrendered his or her freedom for financial security.  There can be a great deal of inequity and inequality of power in a relationship like that and that can certainly lead to abuse.

THE DEVIL – UPRIGHT OR REVERSED

The Devil can, of course, indicate a whole slew of other things besides relationship abuse but it’s almost always there when abuse is present.  You have to be a wee bit cautious in automatically assuming that, though, because human sexuality covers a whole spectrum of behaviors. I have never personally understood it but there ARE people who enjoy giving and receiving pain as a part of their sexual experience.  If it’s mutually agreed on, it’s none of our business.

Despite that, The Devil can be a clear indicator of a relationship that has gone very, very wrong.  The man and woman are chained but the chains are obviously loose enough to be slipped off if they chose to do so.  There is an element of voluntarily sinking into a terrible, poisonous relationship and elevating the very worst of human nature into a so-called, “relationship.”  The abuse here can be emotional, physical and spiritual.

THE TOWER

The Tower can show abuse but it’s probably just happened.  The Tower is sudden calamity, a bolt from the blue, a shocking development.  Chronic abuse can go on for years. It may be shocking to others to discover it’s been going on but it’s certainly not shocking to the victims or perpetrators.  Depending upon the surrounding cards this may indicate the very start of the abuse cycle.

THE MOON

As I said in my original definition:  The Moon shows that the questioner may be involved with someone on a very primitive, unconscious level and that there may be deception on the part of the partner or, more likely, denial on the part of the questioner.  There is a lot of emotion present but it may not be of a healthy, evolved nature.

This card can show the depths of rationalization and deception involved in an abusive relationship.  Everything is murky, shadowy, and there’s no clear path out for the victim.

So those are the primary cards that may indicate an abusive relationship.  They don’t always indicate that but you’ll be able to tell a great deal by the surrounding cards.  I would also emphasize that these are by no means the only cards that can indicate abuse. Abusive relationships can be incredibly complex and so can the readings for the person being abused.

King of Wands

A red haired man sits on a throne holding a staff.  His cloak and the back of his throne show salamanders eating their own tails.  A lizard sits beside the throne.

A man who is highly intelligent and verbally adept but somewhat detached emotionally.  He may be extremely interesting and highly informed and will be friendly and helpful. Don’t count on forming a deep relationship with him, though, because he seldom lets anyone get too close.

Reversed:  He is still clever, witty, and amusing but may be somewhat deceptive.  At worst, he may be a pathological liar or a sociopath. Someone you might enjoy having a drink with at a party but you wouldn’t want him to know where you live.

EXAMPLES:  The easy going charmer.  Puts you at ease, makes you laugh, and you always listen when he speaks because what he has to say is usually interesting.

A visionary artist who’s more inclined to spend her time with her paints and canvases than with her friends.