The Four of Cups, The Five of Cups, and Finding Gratitude in Painful Times

There are a lot of people out there right now talking and writing about how to create abundance.  One of the things that they all agree upon is the need for gratitude as a part of the process of manifestation.  

Whether you’re working with angels and spirit guides or an agnostic trying to get the hang of the Law of Attraction, all of the teachers and financial gurus will tell you to start with a grateful heart.  If you’ve only got a few bucks in your pocket, be grateful for them before you try to manifest more. If you want to have stronger, more positive people in your life, start by telling the people who are already in your life how much you appreciate them.

But sometimes we get stuck and it’s really hard to pull up that attitude of gratitude.  It could be that we’ve had some sort of a terrible loss. It could be that our lives are going through one of those phases where everything just sucks and we finally have to say, “Jesus, why is this shit happening to me?”  Or it could be that it’s just one of those times when we need to feel sorry for ourselves a while.

Gratitude is an emotion, just like love, hatred and anger, so it’s appropriate that the two cards in the Tarot deck that deal with a lack of gratitude are in the suit of emotions – the Cups.

In the Four of Cups we see a man sitting on the ground, arms crossed in defensiveness or rejection, staring at three cups standing on the ground before him.  A fourth cup is appearing out of thin air but he doesn’t even see it. The Three of Cups is, of course, a card of celebration and happiness so we can conjecture that the cups he’s staring at represent the loss of some major source of happiness in his life.  Perhaps he’s broken up with a lover or he’s been fired from a job that he really liked. In any case, he’s so focused on the past that he’s not perceiving the new opportunity, the cup floating in the air.

Contrast that with the Five of Cups.  This is a card of MAJOR, life changing loss and deep, deep grief.  He’s dressed in the black cloak of mourning and the wine from the three cups is spilled upon the ground, gone forever.  And, again, he’s so focused on his loss that he can’t even see that he has two cups left which are quite full. An example might be a man or woman who can’t focus on their children because they are too deep in grief over a spouse who has died.  She has literally turned her back on happiness for the time being.

So, knowing that gratitude can be a major factor in manifesting an abundant, spiritually satisfying life, how do you even GET to it when all you can feel is a sense of loss?  Sometimes cognitive and spiritual reframing is the answer.

In the case of the Four of Cups – the loss of a relationship or a job – try to see that cup that’s hanging in the air.  Ask yourself WHY it happened. Is it clearing the way for a deeper relationship or a better job? What employment or relationship skills did you learn by going through this?  How is this going to make you a better or a stronger person in the future?

You can even take it to a deeper level of analysis if you like.  Is this some kind of a script from a childhood trauma that you’re playing over and over again?  Are you subconsciously manifesting lovers who will reject you or make you miserable? Are you seeking out jobs or bosses who won’t appreciate you?  Can you bring that to full consciousness and turn it around? Can you feel grateful for the growth?

In the case of the Five of Cups, it’s a much rougher road.  It’s hard to find anything positive about someone you love dying.  True, deep grief is devastating. It can actually make us physically ill and sometimes it drives us to a despair that’s so deep we can’t imagine it will ever end or we’ll ever smile again.

Yet, it can cause a major and ultimately beneficial shift in our perspectives.  If we are at all honest with ourselves it will drive us to real and permanent reevaluations of our lives.  It causes us to ask what in the hell it’s all about. Is there really life on the other side? Did my loved one survive in some form?  Are there spiritual beings? If she was taken and I was left behind, what am I supposed to be doing with my life now? Surely I have some life purpose that’s higher than watching television and eating junk food.

It’s like a ball of yarn that’s come completely unraveled and you have figure out how to roll it back up.  Or a jig saw puzzle where you have all of the pieces but you’ve lost the picture of the assembled puzzle. All you can do is start at the edges and try to put life back together in a way that makes sense.  Eventually, though, it adds a much greater depth and meaning to life.

Gradually, horribly slowly, we do begin to recover from grief if we choose to go on living.  And, yes, it gives us a sense of gratitude for life and for the love we experienced with the person we lost that’s more profound than we could have ever imagined.

Gratitude can always be discovered.  Sometimes we just have to look for it a little harder.

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.”