Valentine’s Day, The Lovers Tarot Card, Ram Dass, and Snakes in a Tree.

Uh, oh . . . Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.  The Lovers tarot card could almost be an emblem for it. 

 The Waite tarot deck portrays it as a pretty little scene from the Garden of Eden:  a nude man and woman are posed in the foreground while an angel with flaming wings floats protectively overhead.  Their love is pristine and pure and heavenly. Don’t look at the snake climbing up the tree.

I said, DON’T LOOK.  They’re in love. No snakes, goddamnit.

Well, okay.  Probably we can get a better picture from an earlier Tarot deck.

In the Swiss deck, we see a couple who are actually touching each other.  An old hag of a witch has obviously just whomped them with a love spell and – just in case that’s not enough – an angel is about to shoot a Love Arrow right THROUGH that girls head.  

They’re thunderbolted and flabbergasted, glimmered and glamored.  They’re in Love, L-U-V!

And it’s wonderful and it’s fabulous and it’s the best thing in the world.  But . . . what IS it, exactly? What is it that makes our brains pump out floods of endorphins, walk around with silly grins on our faces, and talk about our partners to a point where our friends want to strangle us?

A reductionist would tell you that it’s just chemicals in the body.  Hormones. Random encounters in the process of looking for a mate that somehow become permanent relationships.  Ultimately it’s all driven by the need to fuck and reproduce and then we . . . sort of . . . get fond of each other after we’ve had our orgasms and THAT, by golly, is love.

Ram Dass spoke of it quite differently.  He said that sometimes another person is the key that unlocks us and we’re the key that unlocks them and we exist in love.  That the other person is the vehicle for us to get to love.  And, when the other person dies or leaves, it feels like all of the juice, all of the magic, all of the love has gone out of our lives.

Think about that:  the vehicle that gets us to love.

One of the more interesting meditation exercises we can do is to just sit with the feeling of love.  Open our heart chakras and let ourselves relax into love. It may be that when we start that kind of meditation we need something to refer to in order to start the flow of love.  Perhaps we think of a person we love deeply or a place that brings us great peace or even a dog or a cat or a horse. The thought of the beloved starts the flow of loving energy. The beloved is the vehicle that takes us to love.

As we continue to practice that meditation, though, the need for an outside reference, for a thought, memory, or person to take us to that place of love lessens.  Our heart chakras become stronger and clearer and more open and we find that we can enter into loving feelings spontaneously.

We can just exist in, just float in, a sea of love.  And it feels SO good. At that point we’ve gone from needing something outside of us to, “cause,” love to just being love.

Here’s another way to look at it:  the Buddhists teach us that clinging and desire bring suffering.  We feel miserable and we tell ourselves, “If I just had that ___________ (fill in the blank with new car, new computer, iphone, house, dress, shoes, degree, etc.) then I’d be really happy.”  

And so we torture ourselves with what we don’t have, that thing that will finally make us happy, and the more we lust after it, the more miserable it’s absence makes us feel.  Maybe we get two jobs so we can afford it. Maybe we eat rice and beans for a year so we can scrimp and save and FINALLY we can buy the thing that will make us happy.

And it does!  For a while. But it’s a total sugar rush and after a very short period of time we don’t feel so happy anymore.

And then we start thinking about the NEXT one thing that will finally make us happy and we feel miserable because we don’t have it.

That’s really the basis of capitalist society and advertising:  convincing us that there is some THING outside of us that’s going to make us happy.  And, by golly, when that happiness wears off, we’ve got some other neat stuff to sell you that will make you REALLY happy.  For a while.

Or . . . we can just short circuit all of that process and say, “I’m happy.”  We really can. Like the love meditation, we can start out just thinking about things or places or people that make us happy.  We don’t have to buy them or worry about losing them because they’re our thoughts.

The trees make me happy, the clouds make me happy, my lover makes me happy, my vibrator makes me happy, a stream, or a river, or a lake, or the ocean . . . those thoughts make me happy.  And, as we continue that process, we can eventually move straight into BEING happy, without having to possess anything external to us to MAKE us happy. 

Walmart hates that, but it’s one of the most important lessons we can learn.  Happiness exists independent of things.

And it’s the same dynamic with love.  When our lover leaves us or dies we feel crushed because it feels like we’ve lost all of the magic of love.  But love exists independent of people. We’ve lost the vehicle that brought us to love, but we haven’t lost the love.  It’s always right there waiting for our hearts to open and return to it’s embrace.

And there’s no snake climbing up a tree.  Just love, L-U-V!

The Judgement Card

 

judgement

An angel blows a horn and people rise joyfully from their coffins which appear to be floating on water.  An icy mountain range is in the background.

This card looks kind of creepy – probably because of the gray people jumping out of their coffins – but it’s not.  This card is about judgements of all kinds but especially about self-judgements.

When Judgement shows up in a reading it indicates that a very significant part of a person’s life is coming to an end.  Moreover, the questioner is in a place where he or she can sit back and examine how they behaved during that phase of their lives and whether or not they are satisfied with what they did.

I’ve seen this card come up frequently with home health care providers, for instance, after the loved one they were caring for had passed over.  They had devoted months or years of their lives to caring for another person and then it was time to reflect on the experience and evaluate what they had done.  You can apply the same thing to any important phase in a person’s life, whether it’s the end of a long career or children who are moving out of the house.The basic questions here are what did it all mean and how did I do?  When the card is upright it indicates that the questioner has done well and feels good about it. And there is also the obvious theme of being reborn in this card. I’ve finished that phase of my life, so what do I do next?

There is also, of course, the more mundane matter of legal judgements.  If you’ve been involved with some sort of a court case you can expect a positive outcome.

REVERSED:  The same scenario as with the upright card but when reversed it implies a negative judgement.  The questioner is feeling far from satisfied with his or her own behavior and wishes that she had done better.  Again, this can be applied to any life event that’s coming to an end, whether a relationship or a job.

Pending legal matters will not go well.

A Few More Thoughts About the Judgement Card:

“You’re judging me!”

“Don’t be so judgemental.”

“That’s a value judgement.”

Not to mention visions of crabby, constipated old men in black robes banging little wooden hammers on their desks.

There’s no question that the word, “judgement,” carries a lot of emotional baggage with it.  It, “feels,” like we’re talking about one person condemning another person, something most of us aren’t totally comfortable with.  Hell, I’ve known Buddhists who refused to serve on juries because they were so adamant about not judging another person’s karma.

As I said in my book, “Just the Tarot,” though, the Judgement card is really more about self-judgement.  It’s about taking a hard, dispassionate look at your life and deciding whether you did good or you fucked up.

And then moving on.

We’ve all known people who were in dysfunctional relationships where one person was doing all of the heavy lifting and the other person was letting him or her do it.  I knew one man who was married to a woman who had been brutally raped when she was younger. About five years into their relationship their sex life pretty much disappeared because she was having flashbacks to the rape.  He was a very sensitive, caring man who was deeply in love with her and so he went along with a sexless relationship until it started to make him crazy. He tried to talk to her about it and got nowhere. He suggested that she see a therapist and she refused.  He suggested that THEY see a therapist and she refused.

He finally ended up seeing a therapist himself and discovered that, sadly, a lot of marriage counseling is actually divorce counseling.  After two years of trying to make things work he filed for divorce and they went their separate ways. He still loved her but he realized he deserved a life partner who could love him back.

I mention that particular instance because it contains all of the elements of the Judgement card.  1 – Being confronted with a large problem in your life. 2 – Working hard to deal with it or solve it.  3 – Seeing very clearly that it involved a phase of your life which, for better or worse, is over and walking away from it.  4 – Making a Judgement about your own behavior and evaluating how you did before you move on to the next phase.

It happens all the time.  Women who live with abusers and try with all of their hearts to believe that the man will somehow change until there’s one too many beatings.  Home health providers who take care of parents with dementia until they’re emotionally and spiritually exhausted and just don’t have anything more to give.  People who endure terrible jobs with terrible bosses for years and finally have enough.

The self judgement is sometimes positive and sometimes negative.  Sometimes we can look at ourselves and say, “Yeah, I did really good and I did everything I could have.”  Sometimes we have to admit that there are things we wish we could have done better or wonder if we should have tried a different approach.  

In either case there is strong self-knowledge that it’s OVER.  That chapter of your life is closed out and you’re moving on to the next chapter, hopefully a wiser and more compassionate human being.

Time to be re-born.

compassion-fatigue-lr-knost

 

The Death Card in Tarot

 

Death

This is that card that always causes Tarot readers to rush to say, “It doesn’t really mean death.  It just says death.”

Doncha feel better now?

In some of my readings it actually has meant death, but it was a statement after the fact.  For instance, Death appeared in my readings for months after my partner died but not before her death.  The cards weren’t predicting death, they were just saying, “Okay, someone you loved very much has died and you’re dealing with death.”

In most instances, though, the card indicates a radical, transformative change that is not associated with a physical death.  Rather, it indicates that the questioner is saying goodbye to one phase of his or her life which is, “dying away,” and saying hello to a new phase that will be radically different.  We’ve all had those turning points in life where we suddenly walked down a totally new path and away from what we were accustomed to and Death presages those turnings.

Still, it’s a spooky, creepy looking card and no matter how much New Age Optimism you throw at it it’s still unsettling.  And that’s another aspect of the card: the changes that the questioner is about to go through may not feel at ALL comfortable to begin with.  In fact, they may feel downright scary and unsettling at first. They will lead to positive developments, though, so just hang on and work through it.

REVERSED – A lot the same as in the upright position but the changes will probably be more gradual and feel less like the world has been turned upside down.  There is a warning that the questioner may be resisting necessary change and this could lead to a life that’s stuck in neutral.

A Few More Thoughts on  . . . you know . . . D-E-A-T-H

It’s interesting to note that in the earliest versions of the Tarot the Death card was the only card without a label.  It was almost as if they were saying, “It’s him. You know . . . HIM. Don’t mention his name or he might look at us and then we might . . . you know . . . die.”

To a large extent we seem to share that same superstition in 21st century America.  It’s cliched but still relevant to point out that we have largely sanitized death in our culture.  Most deaths take place in hospitals rather than homes and we let strangers tend to our loved ones bodies after their demise.

Let’s face it:   DEATH . . . FREAKS . . . US . . . OUT!

And isn’t that odd?

Death is the most natural thing in the world.  Everything that is born dies. As the old blues song says, “No matter how you struggle and strive/you’ll never get out of this world alive.”

As Ram Dass put it,”Death is not an outrage.”

So why is it that we hold it in such awe and fear?

Probably because it puts an end to the little magic act that our ego performs every day.  I am immortal. I will go on and on. The entire world revolves around me and my self image and my needs and wants.  Hell, even if we CAN envision ourselves as ghosts it’s usually as pretty much the same body we have now only sort of translucent and vaporous.

Only, NOT.  Your body is going to be . . . you know . . . D-E-A-D.

Buddhists point out that we all have a craving for permanence and security.  It seems to be hard wired into the human Self. We need to feel that we’ll be happy forever.  That we’ll be in love forever. That we’ll go on and on in our little homes and tragedy will never touch us.  That our loved ones will never die and neither will we.

And then Death comes along and blows all of that into a million pieces.  And that causes pain and suffering like we never knew we could endure.

The answer to that suffering seems to be to try to keep an awareness of Death every day.  It sounds depressing and dark, but it’s really not. Knowing – truly knowing – in your heart that you have a very limited period of time lets you enjoy each moment.  It lets you be aware of how amazingly precious and beautiful your life really is.

Yes, it’s the death of the ego and ego HATES that.  But it’s the birth of the Soul. No real awareness of death = no real awareness of life.  As Pema Chodron said:

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. ”