The Fool – Alone but not Lonely

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, yes,  that can feel lonely at times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Death Card – Signs, Symbols and Candles Burning Bright

“Mortality is not kind, and do not let anyone tell you it is; if there is such a thing as wisdom, and I have serious doubts about its presence in my own life, it lies in the acceptance of the human condition and perhaps the knowledge that those who have passed on are still with us, out there in the mist, showing us the way, sometimes uttering a word of caution from the shadows, sometimes visiting us in our sleep, as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”

James Lee Burke – “Robicheaux”

I love that sentence, not just for the incredible poetry of Southern writing, but especially for the last part:  “as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”

If someone you loved intensely dies you know that feeling of being in a basement too well.  Suddenly they’re . . . gone. All of their magic, all of their thoughts, their words, their touches and glances, have disappeared forever.

No matter what your spiritual beliefs may be – and I personally believe very strongly in an afterlife – the physical body, the material presence of the person you loved is gone.

There is, I think, a natural reaching out which most of us do after a death.  Trying to somehow contact the other person, to imagine them and how they are. Are they confused and disoriented?  Are they blissful and satisfied? Are they finally out of the pain that they were in and experiencing peace? There’s just that burning need to touch them, to feel their spirit one more time.

Religious people will tell you that they’re in heaven having pancakes with Jesus and, by golly, they have REAL maple syrup in heaven, not Mrs. Butterworth’s.  Spiritual people will tell you that they’re on, “the other side,” and dancing on rainbows or cruising through the astral plane. Psychic mediums may be able to give you very detailed descriptions like, “She’s in the garden and she’s wearing a white lace dress and your dog Skipper who died twenty years ago is there with her.”

And it’s all very comforting and sweet, all of those well intentioned words and Hallmark cards, but what we really want is to be able to see our loved ones for ourselves.  Instead, it’s like we’re, “in a basement with no windows.” We can’t see up and we can’t see out. We can’t see them.

If you actually talk to people who are grieving a death you’ll find an amazing number of them HAVE felt or seen some sort of a contact from their loved ones.  Maybe a pair of earrings suddenly appear on a bedside table, or a long lost note from them falls out of a book, or the lights flicker on and off whenever the dead come to mind.  There are signs and signals from them and, yet, we can’t quite get through to them. No matter much we miss or desire that contact we just can’t touch them.

It feels, of course, like a great big Cosmic Door has been slammed shut.  We’re on one side and they’re on the other. We may hear a faint murmur of their voices but we can’t get past the door.

Oddly, though, Death can be the start of a journey that will take you to much greater heights than you could have ever imagined.  Getting through that goddamned door can become a Quest.

The Sioux tribes believe that people who are grieving over Death are closer to Spirit World than normal humans.  That the veil between the two worlds is thinner for them, that the Spirits hear them more clearly, and that their prayers have greater powers. Certainly deep grief feels that way.  It’s as if you exist in a world apart from ordinary life and you see and feel things that others who are aren’t grieving can’t see and feel.

In other words, people who are close to Death – either their own or a loved one – are existing in a Sacred Space.  There is no other time when we are more likely to ask the right questions and get the right answers than when we are in the presence of Death.

Death leaves clues and symbols for us that point to a higher, Spiritual realm. What we do with them is up to us.  We don’t have to understand them at first, we just need to acknowledge that they’re real.  Yes, those earrings DID appear out of nowhere. Yes, it IS odd that a note from my husband fell out of a book just as I was thinking of him.  Yes, the lights DO flicker on and off for no reason when I talk about my dead child.

And, yes, it’s entirely possible that our departed loved ones are still here, “as bright as a candle burning in a basement with no windows.”

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. ”