The Hanged Man, Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Getting Shazammed

Exploring rapid versus gradual spirit growth and how we have to be our own miracles.

Have you ever been really, really, REALLY unhappy for a REALLY long period of time?  One of those stretches in life where you feel like nothing’s going right, nobody loves you, and the future looks like a whole lot of storm clouds and very few rainbows?

In the South, they’d say, “By god, I’m so down I’d have to look up to see a snake’s belly.”

The Hanged Man shows someone who’s been through that experience.  He’s suffered so deeply that he’s barely survived and now he’s about to travel down a road of spiritual rebirth.  In the meantime, he’s just hanging there in space and time trying to figure out what it all meant and why it happened.

Willam James, the founder of American Pragmatism, wrote a lot about what The Hanged Man goes through in his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (Penguin American Library)  He called it a conversion experience.  In simple terms, that just means that a miserable, unhappy, deeply depressed, highly dysfunctional human being is somehow converted into a person who is happy, joyous and free.

 The most fascinating examples of it are when the conversions appear to happen very rapidly.  A person is full of despair and totally heart sick on Tuesday, but they wake up on Wednesday full of joy and love.

Shazam!  Brand new person!

The classic example of that, of course, is Ebeneezer Scrooge.  I’ve often wondered if Dickens hadn’t read Varieties of Religious Experience.  “Hmmm . . . miserable son-of-a-bitch turns into a happy, compassionate person over-night . . . what an interesting plot . . .”

We can find modern day examples of that experience in a couple of the New Thought leaders:  Eckhart Tolle and Byron Katie.  Tolle was, by his own account, an overly sensitive, deeply depressed, frequently suicidal person.  Katie was an alcoholic drug addict who found herself locked in the attic of a woman’s rehab facility because the other women in the house were afraid of her.  In both cases, they suddenly, “woke up,” one day, finally understanding what life is all about and totally joy-full.

Shazam And A Half!!!!

Of course, the thing they don’t much talk about is that it wasn’t an overnight miracle.  In fact, both of them had been stewing in their own misery for years and years and years before something popped, before that shift in consciousness occurred.  The shift in consciousness took on the qualities of a, “miracle,” simply because the shift appeared to happen so rapidly, but it had been processing in their subconscious minds for a very long time.

Now, I’m not meaning to denigrate either of them or diminish the help that they’ve provided to other people.  I’m actually a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle, but the fact remains that both he and Katie have done a very good job of marketing their, “miracles,” to other people.  Tolle is currently offering a virtual spiritual retreat for ONLY $997.00 (that’s a $300 discount by the way, and DON’T WORRY, you can put it on your Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.)  Katie offers a 9 day workshop for ONLY $3,500 dollars or, alternatively, you can stay at her, “Turn Around House,” for 28 days at ONLY $20,000.

There’s another saying in the South, which is, “Never trust a fat preacher.”  Since I’ve gotten old and fat, I’m going to modify that to, “Never trust a preacher who wears a Rolex.”  

In other words, if someone is selling you spirituality, if they’ve decided that you can put a price on miracles – and it’s exactly $997.00 – it’s appropriate to approach with caution.

Tolle has a deep background in philosophy and psychology and he IS a very profound thinker.  Katie, not so much.  In both cases, though, they aren’t just selling their philosophies or their ideas – they’re selling their miracles.  They’re saying, “HEY!  I was a miserable, unhappy bastard and I got Shazammed.  If you sit real close to me, it might happen to you, too.”  And there’s a definite messianic flavor to their gatherings and their followers.

The unfortunate thing, though, is that you can’t borrow someone else’s miracle.  You can’t even buy it.  Not even for $20,000.  You kind of have to make your own.

Another person who had what appeared to be a, “rapid,” conversion experience was Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.  After decades of hopeless alcoholism, dozens of jobs lost, and hundreds of relationships destroyed, he had a sudden spiritual revelation while lying in a hospital bed waiting to die.  In a phrase, “he got struck sober,” and he never had another drink.

Wilson realized that by far and away, most people will never have a sudden, dramatic conversion experience like he had.  Using Varieties of Religious Experience as a sort of a manual, though, he set out to create a method to consciously create slow, gradual conversion experiences in other alcoholics.  The result of that effort was the now famous 12 Step Program.

And the price of it is . . . nothing.  It’s absolutely free.  Well, they do appreciate it if you drop a dollar in the basket when they pass it, but you don’t have to.

I’m not suggesting that everyone should go out and adopt the 12 Step Program for their lives, and neither would Bill Wilson.  In fact, he designed it specifically for people who were serious alcoholics, and by serious he meant, “almost dead.”

Where I think we can get some helpful insight, though, is that Wilson designed a program for spiritual change that involves a sort of a miracle in slow motion.  He was wise enough to realize that his, “sudden,” conversion was the result of many years of deep suffering and affliction.  He tried to set up a program that would shorten that period of suffering, but he never denied that the suffering was a necessary part of the whole package for alcoholics.

And isn’t that a drag?

I would LOVE to get Shazammed.  I’d love it if an angel would suddenly appear to me at night and say, “Danny, boy, you’re cured.”  Or maybe Glenda, the Good Witch of the North, could whack me with her wand and tell me to just click my goddamned heels together. 

 I mean, damn, why can’t I have one of those really FAST miracles?  

Because – for most people – they never happen.  Most of us have to take the slow, sometimes intensely painful, sometimes tedious – occasionally joyous – route of creating our own miracles.  We have to take the time to sit down with our therapists and do our own emotional work, we have to actually sit our butts down on the meditation pillows and do our own spiritual work. We have to create the miracle that is us.

In a very real sense, we have to design our own programs.  Maybe they’ll involve 12 Steps.  Maybe they’ll involve 36 Steps. Or 210 Steps.  But they’ll never involve 1 Step.  And they sure as hell shouldn’t involve $20,000.  

The bad news is that miracles can take a lot of work.  You can’t catch one by sitting next to someone else who had one. The good news is that they’re free. 

Well . . . maybe a dollar.

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Panic Attacks, Gas Lighting and The Moon Card

Have you ever had a panic attack?

They’re absolutely, 100%, no doubt about it, HORRIBLE.  You can’t catch your breath, your pulse rate goes through the ceiling, your heart is like a jack hammer in the middle of your chest, and you feel like you’re going to die.

And it’s all an illusion.  There’s really NOTHING wrong with you, at all, but it FEELS like the world is ending and vultures are sitting on your shoulders.  

I had a series of them about ten years ago when my life partner was becoming seriously ill.  One of the lovely things about them is that they seem to come totally out of the blue.  With the first one, I was driving merrily along The Great Highway of Life in my little Honda and WHAM!!!  “Danger, Will Robinson, danger, danger!  Be afraid!  Be very, very afraid.”  I somehow managed to get myself to the local emergency room where they examined me and gave me an extremely professional shrug of the shoulders.

“Nothing’s wrong with you, man.  Blood pressure’s normal, EEG’s normal, you’re incredibly sexy and good looking.”

Well, they didn’t really say the part about being sexy and good looking but I’m sure it was on their minds.

I couldn’t believe it.  I was dying and it was just . . . in my head.  Hmmmm . . .

Once I figured out what was going on I did a lot of research on panic attacks.  There are some interesting theories out there about what causes them, but nothing definitive.  Breathing into a paper bag can help.  Benadryl can help.  My favorite piece of advice was, “Think of something else.  Sing something happy.”  Oddly it works.

But I want to go back to the part about them being illusions.  The Moon card is all about psychological illusions.  As I said in my original definition:

Think of seeing the world under the light of the moon rather than the sun.  Shadows and light blend into one another and our eyes and mind see things that aren’t really there.  Or maybe they are.

There is a tendency for the unconscious, unexamined contents of our minds to come forth when The Moon is present.

What I eventually figured out about my panic attacks is that I was living in an illusion and my subconscious didn’t like it.  Not at all.  My partner was becoming increasingly, seriously ill and I was trying to stay very upbeat  about it and reassure her – and myself and her children – that it was nothing to be concerned about, that if we just kept a positive attitude we’d get through it and she’d be just fine.  My subconscious, on the other hand, was looking at it and saying, “Holy shit!  Carol is really, really sick.  You need to pay attention to this, Dan!”

And, when I didn’t pay attention to it, my subconscious said, “Okay . . . well how about this?  How about if I throw an absolute screaming fit and make you FEEL like you’re dying?  How about a nice big fat panic attack or three?  Will you pay attention now?”

I paid attention.  The panic attacks stopped.

The point is that there is something in our psyches that is always watching over us and warning us if we go too far off track, if we get too disconnected from reality.  Eckhart Tolle calls it, “the Watcher.”  Jeffrey Schwartz calls it, “The Wise Advocate.”  I’m referring to it here as, “the subconscious.”  It’s reality based, it’s dispassionate, and it will always blow a very loud whistle if we get too delusional about what’s really going on in our lives.  Some of us may have panic attacks, some of us may start having inexplicable accidents or become very anxious and distracted or angry.  It’s our inner guidance system saying, “Pay attention.  This is serious.”

It’s also a great defense against narcissistic gaslighting.  The term gaslighting is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, where a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.  Gaslighting is standard operating procedure for narcissists at a certain point in their destructive relationships.

As Doctor Ramani explains in this video, narcissists will eventually begin to treat you like shit and betray your trust in every imaginable way.  It’s what they do.  BUT . . . just to make it a little bit worse, they will always tell you that you’re just imagining it.

They put you down in front of your friends – you’re just imagining it!

They devalue or ignore your opinions – you’re just being delusional!

They screw around on you – you’re just being paranoid!

There’s actually an old joke in Texas where a woman walks in on her husband while he’s in bed with another woman and he says, “Now, darlin’, who are you going to believe – me or your lying eyes?”

It’s a funny joke but that’s precisely the level that narcissists operate on.  And it makes their partners crazy, just like in the movie.

But that’s a good thing.  That’s our subconscious, our Watcher, our Wise Advocate, saying, “Something here is very, very, wrong. Pay attention.”

And, if we can manage that shift in perspective, if we can say, “Wait a minute . . . maybe I’m NOT crazy, maybe this really IS happening,” then our so-called symptoms are suddenly transformed into very healthy warning signs.  If I’m depressed, if I’m angry, if I’m anxious – and, yes, if I’m having panic attacks – something is out of whack in my life.  Something in my conscious life is out of synch with my Watcher and my Watcher is ALWAYS right.

When we do that course correction and bring our conscious perceptions back into alignment with our subconscious Watcher, the symptoms disappear.  It’s not necessarily because anything in our environment has changed or gotten better, it’s simply that we’re being honest about what’s going on and there’s no longer a split in our consciousness. 

We’ve achieved integrity as defined by the dictionary:  the quality or state of being complete or undivided. Which is way better than feeling like you have an elephant sitting on your chest and you’re about to die. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Don’t panic and carry a towel.”

And you’ll be alright.

The Sun Card and The Uncarved Block

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.