The Nine of Wands, Buddhist Emotions, and Having Sex While We’re Water Skiing

On the emotional nature of ideas.

In the Tarot, each suit of the minor arcana represents a different realm of the human experience.  Cups represent emotions, pentacles are physical possessions, swords are energy, and wands are the intellectual realm of ideas.

At first glance, we’d hardly associate the Nine of Wands with ideas at all.  A man stands there clutching a wand, a fearful, almost paranoid look on his face, and a bandage tied around his forehead.  He looks like he came out on the losing end of a bar fight much more than he looks like he’s swarming with ideas.

When we  stop for a moment and ponder just exactly what ideas really are, though, the card starts to make sense.  We all have thoughts – a  LOT of them – from the moment that we wake up in the morning until the moment that we fall asleep.  Some meditators call our thoughts, “the mind stream,” because they feel like an endless stream constantly rushing along from one point to the next to the next.

And, let’s face it – many, if not most of them, really aren’t worth much.  The Buddhists talk about, “monkey mind,” which basically means that our minds are like monkeys jumping randomly from one branch to another, with no particular order or meaning.  Rather than having truly great thoughts, our thoughts are more like:

-did I turn off the coffee pot?

-why is the cat crying?

-remember to buy more cat food.

-what am I making for dinner tonight?

– should I wear brown socks?

-who invented toast?

-I think I’m a little hung over.

-where’s the alka seltzer?

-remember to buy alka seltzer when you get the cat food.

All of those thoughts occur in mere seconds and they go on like that all day, every day.  Most of our thoughts, then, are just immediate, fleeting responses to whatever’s happening in our environments at any given moment.

There are, of course, more organized thoughts that we generate with problem solving activities.  That’s where we sit down and really concentrate on how we’re going to get from point A to point B, how we’re going to get through work activities or budget enough money to pay the rent.  How to organize our shopping lists and plan meals before we go to the grocery store.  What we’re going to say at a business presentation and how to prioritize the points that we want to make.

Yet another type of thought is what we could call intuition, where an idea or a notion just seems to pop up out of nowhere.  We may be shocked or surprised or delighted by an intuition because it frequently has little in common with our usual thinking patterns and provides us with a whole new way of looking at a problem or even life in general.  When someone asked Einstein how he’d come up with the theory of relativity, he said that it, “just dropped in,” while he was playing the piano.  Intuition may occur as a thought but there’s no feeling that we somehow generated it.  It really is as if someone or something else dropped it into our mindstreams.

Now, one thing that all three of these ways of thinking – rapid responses to our environments, organized problem solving, and intuition – have in common is that they all appear to be relatively innocuous, relatively harmless.  It’s hard to figure out how you could go from them to the character in the Nine of Wands who looks like he got the snot beaten out of him.  What the hell happened?  Did he beat himself with his own ideas?  Did someone else dislike his ideas so much that they beat him up?

We find a clue to that process in Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.”  In his discussion of the, “pain body,” (the accumulation of subconscious emotional pain that we all carry) he states:  “. . . emotion is the body’s reaction to your mind . . . An emotion is the body’s response to a thought.”

In other words, thoughts never occur in isolation.  There are always emotions attached to them.  With many of them, the emotions, like the thoughts themselves, may arise and fall away so rapidly that we’re not even aware of them, but they’re there.

To use the example from above, we might think, “Remember to buy more cat food,” and not even realize we’re feeling anything.  Just below the surface though, there may be a fair number of emotional reactions, like, “I love my cat, I hate the smell of that fish flavored cat food, I miss my other cat who died, it all costs so much and I’m so worried about money . . .”  Love, hate, sadness, worry, all flashing through us over a damned can of cat food.

We might think that thoughts obviously can’t hurt us.  We can think of a purple polka dotted hippopotamus or the theory of relativity and neither of those thoughts is going to hurt us or anyone else.  They’re just ideas.  But – again – they’re ideas with emotions attached to them, and, yes, emotions can hurt us or help us.

If we obsessively ruminate over unhappy thoughts all day, that will hurt us.  It causes our blood pressure to shoot up, our bodies are flooded with cortisol and adrenaline, our serotonin levels drop and we become much more susceptible to depression and disease.  

If we interrupt those obsessively unhappy thoughts with the memories of something that made us happy – a vacation, great sex, a good friend, water skiing,  a vacation where we had great sex with a good friend while we were water skiing – that will help us.  Our blood pressure drops, serotonin levels increase, stress hormones drop, our immune systems get a boost.

So a good first step in not getting beaten up by our ideas is to consciously realize that every thought has some emotional component to it.  Every time we think something, we feel something.  The more aware we are of that, the more aware we become of what we’re actually feeling and we can gradually start to eliminate the thoughts that make us have bad feelings.  Like fish flavored cat food.

Another thing that can help us is to meditate a bit on the Buddhist notion that NOTHING HAS ANY VALUE.  At first blush, that may sound like a radically nihilistic notion.  “What the hell do you mean, nothing has any value?  I’ll tell you what has some value, Bubba – my new IPhone.  THAT’S what has some value.  Exactly $799.98, plus shipping, that’s how much value it’s got.  Don’t tell ME nothing has any value.”

To express the idea a little more clearly, nothing has any INTRINSIC value.  It only has the value that we assign to it, the value that we project into it.  An IPhone is just a piece of plastic and electronic components.  There’s nothing in it that’s intrinsically, “happy making,”  until we decide that IPhones make us happy.  Or unhappy.

Buddhists put a little finer edge on it by saying that we assign one of two feelings to virtually everything we encounter in life:  attraction or aversion.  Either we like it, in which case we want it, or we don’t like it, in which case we want to avoid it.  

The tricky part is in realizing that there is NOTHING that’s either likable or unlikable until we decide it’s likable or unlikable.  It’s wonderful to realize that because it gets rid of a whole host of unconscious motivations like greed, prejudice, possessiveness, materialism.  Literally, nothing has any value unless we want to think it has some value. Nothing’s good unless we think it, nothing’s bad unless we think it.

It also makes us deliciously responsible for our own lives because we’re no longer victims of circumstance.  How many times have we all said, “I’ll be happy when I get a new car, or a new computer, or a new job, or a better lover, or a nicer house?”  We chronically think that there is something or someone OUT THERE that will magically make us happy.  And if it’s OUT THERE, then we don’t have any control over it.  It’s something that happens to us or it doesn’t, either something outside of us makes us happy, or we’re just doomed to be miserable.

Once we realize that it’s our own thoughts that are assigning happy or miserable feelings to the things out there, that we are unconsciously deciding that some things are attractive and some things are aversive, then we control our own happiness.  Or we can be just as miserable as we want to be.

Happy, sad, mean, joyful, miserable.  They all start with thoughts and we, and we alone, make our thoughts.

The Hierophant, The Sky Thingie, and Noshing at the Spiritual Buffet.

An exploration of religion versus spirituality as illustrated by buffet lines.

The Tarot card The Hierophant shows us a Pope-like figure seated on a throne, with acolytes bowing down to him.  In a general sense, The Hierophant represents all that is traditional, conformist, and conventional.  In a more specific sense, he represents dogmatic religion, as opposed to spirituality.

The basic idea here is that if you want to learn about religion and what it teaches, you go to a priest, a pastor, a rabbi, or an imam.  If you want to learn about spirituality, you meditate or you take psychedelics or get involved with a tradition such as shamanism or ecstatic dance.  Religion involves learning about other people’s interactions with the divine.  Spirituality is about having your own interaction with the divine.

I started thinking about all of this the other day when I read this passage from David Michies sweet little book, “Buddhism for Busy People:”

“One of the refreshing things about Buddhism, however, is its insistence that you should only take up those practices which benefit you.  If certain aspects aren’t helpful, simply put them to one side.  You can always come back to them later.  You won’t go to hell because you don’t believe in karma.  Nor will believing in it guarantee you a place in heaven – like everything else in Buddhism, it is what you DO that counts, not what you say you believe.”

I was contrasting that in my own mind to a Catholic priest I saw on a news show recently inveighing on the subject of Catholics who supported a woman’s right to have an abortion.  “We don’t agree with, ‘super-market Catholicism,’ “ he said.  “You’re not allowed to push your cart down the aisle and pick out this part of the Catholic faith but reject other parts.  You have to accept the entire doctrine or you’re not really a practicing Catholic.”

The differences in the two approaches couldn’t be any clearer.  Buddhism is basically saying, “Hey, here’s what we think the truth is but you need to pick out what works for you.”  Traditional religions are saying, “Here’s what the truth is and you need to agree with it, even if it seems like nonsense to you.”  The Buddha actually encouraged his followers to debate him on concepts  they disagreed with and cast aside whatever they thought was wrong.  On the other hand, it’s Catholic doctrine that whatever the Pope says about faith is infallibly true.  Always.  From god’s mouth to his ear.  Period.

The difference in those approaches probably lies in ancient human history when our cultures had shamans rather than priests and pastors.  Our ancestors undoubtedly found the world to be a scary place that was full of mysterious and sometimes life threatening occurrences.  We can easily imagine a cave woman leaning against a tree enjoying a rainstorm when -KABLAM!!!!!!!! – a bolt of lightning blows the tree into splinters and flings her twenty feet through the air.

Her first response would probably be something along the lines of, “Holy shit, what was THAT?!?”

As she clambered to her feet, though, and brushed the mud and splinters from her loin cloth she’d have a brilliant insight:  something must have CAUSED the lightning thingie that blew up  the tree.  And since the lightning thingie came out of the sky, whatever caused it must live . . . up there . . . in the sky.  

She’d probably spend many nights around the cave fire discussing this with the other tribe members, comparing notes, and arguing about the exact nature of the . . . Sky Thingie . . . that threw the . . . lightning thingie . . . at the tree.  What was it like?  Was it like a human being?  Why would it do such a thing?  Did it hate trees?  Perhaps it had been aiming the lightning at the woman and missed her and hit the tree?  Did it have poor eyesight, then?  What was it so pissed off about, anyway?  Was it a male or a female thingie?  And if it was a male thingie, did it have . . . you know . . . a thingie?

So there would have been many complex disputations arising out of the tree being hit by the lightning.  At a certain point, a cave person would step out of the shadows and say, “Hey, I had a dream about the Sky Thingie that threw the lightning thingie.  He says that if you’ll sacrifice a goat and not eat shellfish he won’t do it again.”

“Oh, really?” someone might reply.  “So the Sky Thingie is definitely a male?”

“Well, yes.  And he has a beard and wears sandals and sits on a golden rock.”

“So, you can talk to him, then?  Did he say why he’s throwing lightning thingies at us?”

“He did it because you didn’t sacrifice a goat and you ate clams.  Those are the rules.  He told me.”

Thus was born the shaman:  a special class of human beings who had knowledge of and were able to intervene with supernatural forces.  He or she would no doubt have been seen as just as important – or more so – than the tribal hunters, fishers, or gatherers.  After all, she had a special relationship with the Sky Thingie and could protect the tribe from supernatural temper fits and, um, sky anomalies. 

The tribe would have soon realized two things:  (a) like all humans the shaman was mortal and would die at some point; (b) therefore, he needed to train other shamans to take his place and keep a record of the Sky Thingie’s rules.

Thus were born priests and religions.

As the centuries passed and the priest/shamans had more and more visions and wrote down more and more rules from the Sky Thingies, the rules got more and more complex and began to include things like:

  • Don’t eat bacon.
  • Don’t trip blind people.
  • Don’t have sex with sheep.
  • Don’t work on Saturday.
  • It’s okay to have slaves, but only for seven years.
  • The Sky Thingie loves you and if you don’t believe that we’ll kill you.
  • Always capitalize the Sky Thingie’s name.  If you don’t, we’ll kill you.
  • Never draw a picture of the Sky Thingie or we’ll kill you.
  • Women are property and they should cover their heads and faces.  Or we’ll kill you.

You can tell from the last few rules that things started to take a nasty turn somewhere along the way and that the priests and religions were getting more powerful in society.  Not only had they established themselves as the only people who could interpret what the Sky Thingie wanted, they could also kill anyone who even tried to talk to the Sky Thingie on their own.

That’s really the point that we’re at with many of today’s formal religions.  They consist of centuries of barnacle-like accretions of irrational rules that can only be interpreted by the priests and pastors and rabbis.  Intelligent self inquiry is NOT encouraged.

Which is why the Buddhist approach is so refreshing.  

Formal religions have rules like, “Don’t eat bacon because the Sky Thingie says not to.”   Buddhist discussions are more like:

“Don’t eat bacon.”  

“Why not?  I really like BLT’s.”

“Do you want to be happy and avoid pain?”

“Well, yes.”

“Do you think pigs want to be happy and avoid pain?”

“Um . . . well . . . yes.  I suppose they do.”

“Do you think it’s painful to be raised in a tiny pen and killed when you’re young?”

“Well . . . yes.”

“Would you be happy if someone cut you up, fried you in a teflon pan and slapped you on a piece of bread with some tomatoes and lettuce?”

“Well, no.”

“Then don’t eat bacon.”

And, of course, even then, you’re free to eat bacon sandwiches if you want to.  No one will kill you and you won’t go to hell.  You might reincarnate as a pig, but, hey, fair’s fair, right?

As long as we’re on the subject of food, think of it this way:  religion is like being invited to a huge Thanksgiving dinner.  There are platters full of turkey and mashed potatoes and baked yams and apple pies and cornbread dressing and green bean casseroles with those strange fried onion things on top.  

Maybe you really hate baked yams or green beans and you just want a little turkey and dressing with mashed potatoes and gravy.  But, no, there’s a huge scary guy with a baseball bat at the head of the table and he says that you have to eat EVERYTHING!!!  Especially the green beans and yams.  Or he’ll kill you.  And then you’ll go to hell.  Gulp.

Spirituality, on the other hand, is more like a buffet line.  You walk along, looking at the varieties of food and you only pick out the food that appeals to YOU.  You don’t force down every single thing on the line just to prove that you’re faithful.  If you feel like a shrimp salad instead of Swedish meatballs, that’s what you get.  

“Meditation?  Yes, I think I’ll take a bit of that. Hmmm . . . Wicca . . . does that fit on my plate right now?  Maybe as a side dish?  Oh, look . . . it’s affirmations and positive thinking.  Man, I haven’t had those in FOREVER.  Yum. . .”

There are no priests or pastors standing at your shoulder telling you that you REALLY want the roast beef instead of the tacos.  YOU choose what’s nourishing for you at that moment and take a pass on what doesn’t feed your soul.  And it’s an all you can eat buffet.  You’re always free to go back for second helpings.

But maybe skip the bacon sandwich.  Just consider it.

Bundles of Sticks, Ajahn Brahm, and the Ten of Wands

Finding closure on experiences that don’t make any sense.

Should we carry our past with us or just throw it away?

The Ten of Wands shows a person plodding along, carrying a large bundle of sticks.  The, “sticks,” are wands, the suit of the Tarot that represents ideas, so he’s actually carrying a massive number of ideas.  

If we take a little closer look at the card we notice a few odd things about it.  First, he’s not at all carrying the sticks the way that we’d expect.  If we pick up a big old honker of a load of sticks, we’d throw them over our shoulder, right?  Instead,  he’s carrying them in front of himself, with his head pressed into the bundle. 

Second, the sticks are all crossed up at the bottom and going in different directions at the top.  If someone asked us to lug a large pile of sticks across the yard, we’d probably throw a rope around them and tie them together, not carry them in a loose, unwieldy mess.

Third, he’s definitely not watching where he’s going.  His head is tilted down, as if he’s watching each step he’s taking, rather than keeping his eyes on his destination.

So just by looking at the face of the card, we can deduce quite a few things about it.  This guy is probably an intellectual, or at least someone who thinks a great deal, because he has many, many ideas that he’s carrying around.  His ideas don’t really, “fit,” together, and they’ve become quite a burden for him.  In fact, he’s so involved with carrying his ideas that he really has no idea where he’s going.  He’s so lost in his ideas that he has no perspective on his life.

The Australian Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, tells a funny story about sticks.  When he was a novice monk he was strolling through the forest with his teacher, the head monk at the monastery where he was studying.  The master suddenly picked up a stick from the forest floor and asked, “How heavy is this stick, Ajahn Brahm?”  And then he threw it away and asked, “How heavy is it now?”

The point, of course, is that something is, “heavy,” only when we hold on to it.  It’s the act of PICKING IT UP AND CARRYING IT that makes it heavy.  We don’t look at a stick on the ground and say, “Oh, crap, that’s heavy.”  We only say it when we try to pick it up.  It’s our act of grasping something that makes it seem heavy, not the thing itself.

Human beings are natural storytellers.  We all reflexively try to make sense out of our lives and weave the events we experience into a coherent, sensible narrative.  We have an innate drive to try to make sense out of what happens to us and so we’re constantly reviewing our pasts and rearranging the puzzle pieces of our lives into some sort of a rational structure.

We don’t just say, “Well, I lost my fucking mind and decided to quit my job, leave my husband, and move to Montana to grow dental floss.  Just for no particular reason.”  Instead, we say, “After several years of marriage I felt a yearning for solitude and spiritual growth that could only be satisfied by disconnecting from social obligations that had become increasingly mundane.”  

That feels ever so much better.

We need to feel that it all makes sense, somehow.

From a Buddhist perspective, constantly trying to make sense out of our pasts is tantamount to picking up that stick.  It only becomes heavy, it only becomes a burden, when we grasp it and carry it around with us.  In fact, Ajahn Brahm actually recommends writing, “this is my past,” on a stick and throwing it as far away as we can.  Just let it go.  When we’re not carrying it, it’s not heavy.

Now, modern psychology has a different take on it.  Therapists tell us that it IS important to try to make sense out of what’s happened to us and to strive for a sense of meaningfulness in our lives.  Bottom lining it, that’s why we go to therapists:  because our lives aren’t making any sense and we need someone to help us sort it all out.

I suspect that for most of us, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.  If we wake up one morning and have no past, we may have suffered a psychotic break.  Or, in the case of people like Eckhart Tolle, perhaps we’ve had a massive revelation, a huge psychic shift that made us realize how absurd our previous thinking was.

For those of us who are neither psychotics nor enlightened spiritual masters, though, just tossing our pasts out the window isn’t an option.  It seems we can’t just NOT think about it.

Which brings us to that tired, but still valid, word:  closure.

We think of closure as having worked through a problem or a process in life until we’ve made sense of it, until it fits logically into our coherent narrative of what our lives mean.  If we go through a divorce, for instance, we may go to a therapist and try to figure out why it happened.  What was our role in the relationship breaking apart?  What was our spouses role?  What did we do wrong?  What did we do right?  What can we learn from it to make our future relationships better?  Eventually, when we’ve talked through all of those issues, we start to achieve closure and we’re ready to move on from it.  We haven’t necessarily thrown the stick away, but we’ve made it a hell of a lot lighter to carry.

There are other issues, though, that we can never seem to make any sense out of.

– If you were badly abused as a child, that doesn’t make any sense.  You didn’t do anything to deserve it and there’s no logical or emotional reason it should have happened to you.

-If you’re an open and loving person and you got chewed up and spit out by a malignant narcissist, that doesn’t make any sense.  You didn’t ask for it, you didn’t deserve it, and it shouldn’t have happened.

-If the new boss from hell fires you from your dream job because he’s a sexist or a sadist, that doesn’t make any sense.  You were a great employee, there’s no justice in it, and it shouldn’t have happened.

So there’s a kind of a subclass of experiences that we all have that we could call, “doesn’t make any sense,” experiences.  Those are the experiences that get really, “sticky.”  Those are the experiences that we pick up and carry with us.  We go over and over and over them, trying to figure them out, trying to make them somehow fit into our narratives, our story.  But they never do.

“Doesn’t make any sense,” experiences are the ones that are most likely to wound us spiritually and emotionally.  They keep us stuck.  They keep us wounded.  They keep us living in pain.

Oddly, though, they’re also the experiences that are easiest to let go of, if we think of them in the right way.  If we’ve honestly, sincerely, conscientiously tried to figure them out and we can’t do it, we can just say, “Well, fuck it.  This doesn’t make any sense.”  And then we can put that experience in a nice, “doesn’t make any sense,” box, tie a brightly colored, “doesn’t make any sense,” ribbon around it, and toss it in the nearest river.

Maybe we’re not enlightened or smart enough to throw all of our, “sticks,” away, but we can throw some of them away.  We can consciously choose which parts are valuable and which parts are worthless.  We can drop some of the burden and make it a little easier to move forward in our lives.  

And that’s a good start.

The Chariot Card, Setting Intentions, and Magical Stepping Stones

As I’ve said in previous posts, the most astounding thing about the Chariot card is something that we usually don’t even notice. The Charioteer has no reins and the Sphinxes have no harnesses. In fact, the Sphinxes are sitting on their asses, pointed in different directions.


And it IS astounding that we don’t notice that . . . but not really. The Charioteer is, after all, one hell of an impressive looking guy. Tall, handsome, big shoulders, noble face. I hate him. (Whoops, who said that?) Seriously, if you just encountered the Charioteer casually you’d assume that this is someone who has it all together. He has incredible, beautiful armor, moons on his shoulders, a magical crown, a glowing square over his heart chakra, and a hell of a ride.


But, ultimately, he has no direction and, therefore, he has no real power.
And that may be why he’s dressed up in his finest duds: so that we don’t notice that there’s really nothing there.


Eckhart Tolle talks about this a lot. The ego loves things. New I Phones, new cars, designer clothes, new houses. The reason is that the ego identifies itself with things. The more things it’s got and the more expensive they are, the bigger and more powerful the ego feels. That isn’t just a new computer – that new computer is a part of and an extension of ME. And the more things I’ve got, the more ME there is, right?


Of course, it’s all a shell game, a little illusion that we sell to ourselves and others to distract from the fact that most of us tend to be pretty hollow shells. Drop us in the middle of a forest with nothing but the clothes on our backs and what do we have? Drop death or disaster on us, something that truly takes away all of our things, all of our ego extensions, and what do we have?


That’s the question. That’s what the Charioteer has to begin to find out. How to become something more than a flashy appearance. And the beginning of finding out is called, “Intention.”


Buddhists have a lot to say about intention, and particularly Right Intention. The intention to practice harmlessness, to at least do no harm if you can’t actually do some good. The intention to practice loving/kindness, to remember that all sentient beings deserve our compassion and empathy. But those are steps on the path, and first we need to see the path itself. Where does Intention come into our lives?


It can be as simple as a realization like, “Oh, I am SO fucked up.”
Or feeling sad and alone and miserable and being tired of feeling that way.
Or being an alcoholic or an addict and being sick and tired of being sick and tired.


It’s whatever makes you stop and think, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I don’t want to live like this anymore. And, of course, “I don’t want to be here anymore,” leads to, “So, where DO I want to be?” And that leads to, “I want to be over THERE.” I want to be happy. Or I want to be more spiritual. Or I want to feel more evolved. Or I want to be more helpful and loving to the people around me.


Once we’ve got that, once we understand that we don’t want to live in that painful space anymore and we’ve got a vision of a better space that we’d like to be in, then we have a goal. And once we have a goal, then we’ve got a direction to move in, and then we’ve got steps that we can take.


“I want to be a more spiritual person. What can I do about that? (1) Pick up a copy of that book on angels I’ve been wanting to read. (2) Actually sit my ass down and meditate in the morning. (3) Promise myself that I am NOT going to get pissed off at that ditz who sits next to me at work and I’m going to try to respond with loving kindness, instead. (4) Try to post something on FaceBook that’s a little inspiring instead of bitching about the quarantine . . .”


The second that we actually set an intention, that we actually say, “I want to go from Point A to Point B because Point A pretty much sucks,” then the stepping stones along that path magically appear. Then the Charioteer has some reins and the Sphinxes are harnessed and we’re MOVING somewhere.


Stay home. Stay safe. Be blessed.

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. ”