The Fool, The Buddha, and the Corona Virus

Some Tarot interpretations say that the bag or satchel that dangles from the end of the pole on The Fool card is his karma. That he is a new born soul dancing into life and the memories of his experiences and actions – both good and bad – are carried with him into his next incarnation in that little bag.

And that’s a good question for all of us as we face this very profound experience of a world wide pandemic: What will we carry with us when it’s finally over?

Shit happens. We all know that. A lot of the time we experience life less as the Captains of our Fates and more as the silver ball in an old fashioned pin ball machine. We aren’t thinking, we aren’t planning, we aren’t really conscious of what’s happening to us or why. We just keep hitting and being hit by those paddles, bouncing around from one place to the next until a bright, neon sign lights up and says, “GAME OVER.”

And then we’re dead.

Did it make any sense? Did our journey through all of the joys and pains, the triumphs and shit sandwiches actually MEAN anything? Or was it just a random series of events that left us bruised and battered and ultimately puzzled over why it all happened?

A large component in that equation is consciousness. Actually being aware of what’s happening to you right now, right this moment and actively SEEKING for meaning.

Let me give you an example from personal experience. My life partner, Carol, died a couple of years ago and eventually I joined a bereavement support group, also known as a Grief Group. Basically, it’s a small group of people who have lost a loved one and we sit down together once a week and talk about that experience. In other words, we’re trying to find some meaning, some understanding of what we’ve gone through and where we go from here.

One of the most positive things I’ve carried out of that group is the realization of how very much alike we all are in the face of something that is as monumentally dreadful as death. It doesn’t matter if you’re an 81 year old great grandmother or a 25 year old newly wed; death is experienced in much the same way. There are periods of shock, then numbing, then panic and horrible anxiety, overwhelming sadness, and the feeling of being totally lost in the world. There can be great nobility and growth in that process if you can somehow stay connected to your feelings and look for answers. What does it mean? Why did they die? Why am I still here? What am I supposed to do with my life now?

And, sadly, there are other people who experience very little growth and get no spiritual or emotional insights from the process. They throw themselves into a flurry of social activities right after the funeral and, when they have to be home, they turn the t.v. up as loud as it can go and stay on the phone as much as they can. They spend as little time as possible in that Sacred Silence that follows death and they think as little as possible about what it means. In a phrase, “they move on,” from the grieving period as fast as they can. If they’ve lost a husband or a wife, they remarry or re-partner within a year, as if their loved one was an interchangeable part rather than a precious human soul who intermingled with their life stream.

In other words, they don’t carry anything out of it.

Perhaps that’s a form of basic, animal wisdom. As the Buddha said, all sentient beings seek to be happy and to avoid suffering, so there’s nothing unusual about not wanting to hurt. But he also said that suffering is inevitable. No matter how much we might wish otherwise, we each have our portion of pain and how we deal with that suffering – IF we deal with that suffering – that moment in time is the anvil on which we forge our karma. It isn’t just what we go through – it’s how we consciously integrate what we go through. Did we learn anything from the experience? Did we grow and evolve as human beings? Did our compassion and ability to love others increase or diminish? Did we make what happened to us MEAN something in our lives?

So . . . here we sit in the midst of a major historical event. And none of want to be in it. I haven’t met one single person who has said, “Damn, this is exciting! I’m so glad I’m here to see this happen!” But, we’re still here, like it or not. A lot of people are going to die before this all over. Many more will lose people they love with all of their hearts and souls. There’s going to be suffering and we know that.

Right now, millions of us are locked away in our houses and apartments, waiting for the storm to blow through, hoping we won’t be one of the people who are swept out into eternity by this goddamned virus. I guarantee you that many of us are spending this time with the television turned up as loud as it will go, constantly on the phone, constantly on the internet, constantly trying to be too busy to think or feel. They can’t wait to, “move on,” and, “get back to normal.”

In other words, they won’t carry anything out of it.

Right now, we are ALL fools dancing on the edge of a cliff. We can take the time to sit down and meditate, to read, to journal, to REALLY talk with people we love, or . . . we can turn up the volume on the t.v. If there’s one thing we should all know right now it’s that life is precious, time is precious. We can fill that little bag The Fool carries with some new found wisdom, compassion, and meaning. We can actually ask what all of this means, why we’re here, and what we’re supposed to do next.

Or not.

Tarot Readings, Archetypes, and God-Fearing Southern Women

I recently heard a very nice woman describe herself as, “a good, God-fearing Christian.”  And it really gave me a bad case of the creepy-crawlies because it’s such a death blow to any true spirituality.

I spent a substantial portion of my life in the Southern United States, so expressions like that aren’t anything particularly new to me.  Many people in the South are not only God-fearing but they also have a lot of things, “put the fear of God,” in them. God, for them, is a pretty scary dude.

I didn’t really think much about those sayings until recently, when my life took a drastic turn toward the worst and I had to reassemble the jigsaw puzzle that my incarnation had become.  When confronted with the death of a loved one and the financial disaster that ensued, I began a spiritual quest of sorts, trying to put some meaning back into a life that had become dangerously Meaning-Less.

The Tarot was a big part of that quest.  In reading after reading it provided a basic framework for understanding where I was in life and where I wanted to go.  It was my touchstone through the darkest times l’ve lived through.

One of the most profound lessons it taught me was, “don’t be afraid.”  The readings were . . . well . . . readings. It was like, “Okay, THIS is happening in your life and THAT’S happening in your life, and in order to move forward you need to do THIS and then THAT.”  Or, to put it in more concrete terms, “Okay, the Death Card is in your life right now and so is The Tower, so you need to channel The Hermit and retreat and heal and then you’ll get the spiritual lessons of The Hanged Man.”

It was a road map, really.  Or, perhaps more accurately, a sort of a spiritual GPS system that kept telling me, “Okay, now turn right and go 12 miles more . . .”  And I learned to see that everything that was happening to me was a necessary step on the road.

I learned to trust.  To trust in the process of life and in the Universe as a loving, benevolent energy that was always there and always supporting me.

That’s a necessary pre-condition for any serious spiritual quest.  You have to believe, deep in your heart and mind, that you are ultimately safe and that you are moving toward something or someone that loves you.  Otherwise, why would you do it? Why would you deliberately seek out something that could harm you?  Something that’s scary?

Let’s look at the way that we, as Westerners, usually view the whole God thing, whether consciously or not.  We see the universe as a sort of a triangle or pyramid. God sits at the very top of the pyramid and everything – all the energy and forms in the universe – flow downward from him/her to us, who live very close to the bottom of the pyramid.

In most mystical traditions and many non-western religions, God is seen as a sort of pure, loving energy that flows down to us, but becomes more diffused and faint as it enters the physical realm where we exist.  The quest for the holy grail, then, becomes a quest to bring ourselves more in alignment with that pure, loving energy and to expand its presence in our lives.  

We may use a variety of means to get there – meditation, psychedelics, yoga, loving/kindness, etc. – but there is a basic belief that the underlying energy in the universe is love.  That it nourishes us and completes us and comforts and guides us through the dark times in our lives. Conscious contact with that energy heals us.

But . . . then we have the Judeo/Christian/Islamic model of the universe.  It’s still a pyramid with God sitting at the top, but God is a sort of a psychotic, abusive, completely unpredictable father.  And not only does love flow down, but a LOT of punishing, sadistic shit also flows down. This God is, a “jealous God,” a, “fearful God,” a God who claims to love you but is perfectly willing to pitch you into eternally burning flames if you even question what he tells you to do.

This is a God who blows up cities because there are gay people living in them.  Who tells Abraham to tie his son down to a stone altar and thrust a dagger into the child’s heart.  Who destroys Job’s family and his bnlife over a casual bet with the Devil.

This is one sick puppy.

There is no, “God Card,” in the Tarot.  We don’t think about it but it really is a curious omission.  The Major Arcana contains nearly all of the archetypes that blow through our lives:  death, love, luck, rebirth, judgement. But no God. And God IS kind of a major archetype, right?

Historians tell us that the first Tarot decks emerged in the 15th century, a time when Europe was absolutely obsessed with and dominated by the Christian God-Model.  The scary, crazy dude who you kind of hoped wouldn’t notice you and do something awful to you. That may be the very simple reason that the creators of the Tarot decided to just leave the God-Model out of the deck:  because a malevolent, harmful God is a complete short circuit to the spiritual quest.

If there’s no belief that you’re moving toward love and healing, why would you go there?  And if your God is a foul tempered narcissist who is off of his medications, why would you think there’s any genuine love flowing out of that?

The model of God emerging out of the Middle Eastern religions – the angry, hateful, capricious, male god of war – has been an absolute spiritual disaster for the Western world.  We have been deeply wounded by it and we need to KNOW that and begin to consciously heal our hearts and minds. And the way to do that is to move toward love.  

Always.

The Ace of Cups and Generating Your Own Hugs

Psychotherapist Virginia Satir rather famously said, “We need 4 hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”   And there’s a lot of truth in that. Babies who aren’t stroked and touched and held develop a syndrome called failure to thrive and can actually die from not  receiving enough contact.  There are many, many recent studies showing that animals also require an abundance of physical touching to develop and maintain healthy bodies and nervous systems.  What one psychologist referred to as, “skin hunger,” has been linked to depression, apathy, heart disease, and a lack of empathy.

The conundrum, of course, is that a lot of us don’t have anyone to hug.  Eleanor Rigby is real. A recent survey by Cigna found that an astonishing 46 percent of U.S. adults report sometimes or always feeling lonely and 47 percent report feeling left out.

Just think about that:  when you pass someone on the street there’s almost a fifty percent chance that he or she feels very much alone.  And the same thing may be true when you look in the mirror.

So where do we get that hug-energy that we need to be happy?

We might consider getting frequent massages, which is fine, but most of us can’t pop for 60 to a 100 bucks a week.  And we can’t go around hugging strangers because, as The Searchers have already told us, they’ll break our little bottle of Love Potion #9.

We might find the help we need in contemplating The Ace of Cups.  As I said in my original definition:

 It emphasizes the divine origin of love and how it flows into the world and nourishes all that it touches.  The lotuses echo the Buddhist symbol for the divine in the human spirit. They begin life in the mud and yet grow into the air and produce beautiful flowers.

The scientists who documented the need to touch and be touched ignored an important part of the phenomenon because it’s not in their purview:  love. It doesn’t help us at all to be touched angrily or hit or jabbed or abused. Quite the opposite, it’s worse than not being touched at all.

No, what makes us grow, what makes us thrive, what makes us healthy is being touched with affection.  That’s what a hug is, right?

The Heart Chakra is attuned to the vibration of love and love is what makes it healthy and glowing and open.  It doesn’t in the least bit discriminate about where the love is coming from, it just vibrates to that energy.  The love can come from another human being or a pet or a divine entity or from . . . our Selves.

Psychologist Gay Hendricks believes that we only find true abundance when we cease viewing ourselves as consumers of abundance and start viewing ourselves as generators of abundance.  In other words, we don’t have to look for external sources of abundance because we can make it ourselves.

And that’s true of any energy, including love.  The Heart Chakra doesn’t just receive love, it also generates it and, paradoxically, in generating it, it receives it.

When we have genuine, conscious compassion, when we practice loving-kindness, even when we pet our dogs or cats, we’re generating love straight out of our heart chakras.  It’s not hard. We don’t have to be meditation masters. We can just sit and visualize the face or touch of someone we love, really feel that love, and every time we do, we surround ourselves with love.

Or, to put it another way, we give ourselves a hug.  We can do it 4 times a day, or 8 times a day, or – if we want to grow – 12 times a day.

As The Beatles said, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”  And we can make as much as we want to. We ARE the Ace of Cups if we choose to be.

The Three of Swords and Healing a Broken Heart

Did you know that having a broken heart can actually . . . well . . . break your heart?

There is a medically recognized condition called, “broken heart syndrome,” that can cause all of the symptoms of a heart attack and lead to hospitalization.  Although it’s most commonly associated with middle aged women it can strike anyone and it’s brought on by intense grief such as the death of a loved one, a divorce, or breaking up with a lover.  One side of the heart actually enlarges for a period of time and fails to beat normally causing chest pains and shortness of breath.

The Three of Swords is a perfect illustration of that pain.  Most of us have been there: being deeply, completely in love with someone who betrays our trust, or falls out of love with us, or, sometimes, dies.  It literally feels as if we’ve been stabbed in the heart, wounded to our very core.

The question then becomes, how do we recover from that?  Or do we? One strategy, of course, is to just swear off falling in love and vow that we’ll never be suckers like that again.  Oh, sure, maybe we’ll have sex every once in a while – maybe a LOT – but we’ll never fall in love with or completely trust another human being again.  Ever!

Probably not the best plan.  In one of her always excellent podcasts called, “The Courage to Love,” Tara Brach asserts that moving away from love is actually moving away from the best and most authentic part of ourselves.  Which is not hard to recognize when we stop and think about it. When do we feel best about ourselves? When we’re loving and kind.  When do we feel best about the world? When we’re receiving love and kindness. It really IS hard wired into us: even a baby happily recognizes a smile and is frightened by a scowl.

As Brach points out, though, it can be difficult to remember that.  We are right now JUST starting to evolve out of that fight, flight or freeze response that’s always lurking in our amygdalas.  When someone shuts us down, when someone breaks our hearts, it feels like danger, like a terrible threat to our very being and we want to fight back against them, run away, or become emotionally frozen in place.  (Never again! Ever!)

We do have a couple of assets that we’ve evolved into, though, that can help:  consciousness and intentionality. We can consciously recognize our emotions and just sit with them.  “Okay, I hurt like hell. I feel betrayed. I feel like I can’t trust anyone.”  And that’s okay.

And we can intentionally move toward love.  “Okay, I really hurt but I recognize that I’m a loving, caring person and I’m not going to let someone else remove love from my heart.  I claim my autonomy and I choose love.”

We can also remember that the Heart Chakra just feels love and it doesn’t discriminate about where it’s coming from.  It’s wonderful to receive love from another human being but it’s not the only source.

When we’re broken hearted we can bring in a lot of self-love.  We can write out affirmations about what good, loving and deserving people we are.  We can visualize ourselves bathed in love and compassion and we can be especially nourishing and kind to ourselves.

Divine love can be another source for many people.  In Red Tara practice meditators will visualize Tara hovering before them, sending golden beams of love into their bodies and hearts.  We can do the same practice and replace Tara with the deity, spirit guide, or angel of our choice.

And, of course, we can just love.  Love generates love. The more we act with loving kindness and compassion toward our fellow travelers on the earth plane, the more the heart chakra opens and heals.  The more it opens, the more love we attract and receive.

“Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.” – The Desiderata

Strength as a Force

The Strength card is almost a parable in a picture.  A beautiful woman crowned with flowers gently closes the mouth of a ferocious lion.  The symbol of eternity floats over her head, reminding us that this is no ordinary strength that she embodies.

We all have different images and ideas that come to mind when we use the word, “strength.”    For many of us the image may be similar to the one depicted in the Swiss Tarot.


Here there is no gentle woman, but a muscled, ferocious man throwing the lion to the ground.  No doubt he ripped it’s head off and wore it for a top hat to remind every one of how butch he was.

That’s definitely NOT the concept of Strength that the Waite Tarot is trying to convey, nor is it in keeping with the images from the oldest Tarot decks.  This type of Strength has nothing to do with brute force and much more to do with love.

And that can be very hard for many of us to wrap our heads around:  love as Strength.

But even stranger is the concept of love as a Force, as it’s portrayed in the Marseille deck La Force.


Therapist and self-help author Gay Hendricks gives this advice:  “If you really want to change something love and accept it just the way it is.”  And that implies something quite a bit stronger than just the surface of the statement.  It implies that love can physically change things.

If you’re confronted with a bully, love him and he’ll change.

If you’re having hard times financially, love it and it will change.

If you’re having marriage problems, love it and it will change.

This isn’t just a matter of, “mere,” attitude adjustment, either.  It’s not learning how to feel better about something that stinks. It ACTUALLY changes things when you love them.

Which means that love is a force.  Or to put it another way, love is an energy.  It’s something that you can feel and something that can be projected into your world to make things better for you.

You can also approach that concept by examining some other emotional energies like hate or anger or pain.  If you walk into a room where there’s just been a really angry argument you can feel it. The anger is palpable even after the people who argued are gone.  If you meet a really negative person your first reaction is, “Boy, does HE have bad vibes.” If you walk into a slaughter house or a county jail the energy can literally make you sick to your stomach.

On the other hand, if you walk into a meditation center you immediately feel calmed and soothed by the energy that’s being generated there.

I got a wonderful tip from family therapist and counselor Jil Chipman:  “You can be happy any time that you choose to be.”

If we practice mindfulness then emotions can become a choice rather than random forces that batter us around.  We can sit and think about things that make us happy and literally become happy people at that moment. And there’s an energy and vibration that goes with happiness that we emanate when we are in that state.

In the same sense, if we think of things that we love we become loving people at that moment and there is an energy and a vibration that we emanate when we are in that state.

We are literally generating an energy which we call love and it’s literally a physical force that can change things for the better.  And that’s Strength.

The Lovers and The Devil – That Old Black Magic Called Love


Falling in love always seems like a magical experience.

You see someone across the room at a party and suddenly a giant, sizzling fireball shoots directly from your second chakra into theirs, or vice verse, and you involuntarily shout, “Zounds!”

Well, you’d shout, “zounds,” if you were at a party in the Middle Ages.  Today it would more probably be, “holy shit!” or, “wow!” or, “OMG . . . WTF?”

The point is that it’s often sudden, totally unexpected, and irresistable.  It’s like an outside force has taken over your conscious brain and turned you into a stuttering, romantic, totally bedazzled, HAPPY fool.

The scholars tell us that the notion of romantic love first appeared in the Middle Ages (zounds!).  Presumably before that, “Romeo, wherefore art thou?” was more a matter of, “Me, Tarzan, you Jane, let’s . . . ahem . . . reproduce.”

That doesn’t seem likely, though.  Solomon had some pretty steamy stuff going on 900 years before Jesus appeared and even talked about how much he enjoyed, “eating my honeycomb,” on his wedding night.  Must have been a very sweet woman.

Despite it being a wonderful, magical experience, there have always been a certain number of men who find it problematic.  One assumes they feel it’s not manly to be turned into a gibbering idiot by another person and that someone must have put a damned spell on them to make them feel all gooey inside.  The word, “glamour,” is directly descended from the word, “glimmer,” which means to cast a spell on someone. We speak of beautiful women as being, “enchanting,” and an enchantment is, of course, a spell.  And look at this version of The Lovers from an old Swiss Tarot deck:


Yep, that’s still Cupid shooting his arrow but there’s also a nasty old hag of a witch cackling away on the side.  She obviously just slipped him some Love Potion #9 and he doesn’t know if it’s day or night.

So we’ve pretty much got the picture on falling in love.  It’s overpowering. It’s magical. It seems to be beyond our rational control.  The Waite Tarot takes that a step further and shows it as a holy, sacred experience, guarded by an angel.  An experience as innocent and fresh as the Garden of Eden.

But wait. ( Or maybe I should say, “But Waite.” ) What’s that snake doing in that apple tree on the left hand side of the card?  Who invited him to the party?

Which brings us to The Devil card.


It’s the same naked couple but they’ve got an entirely different angel hovering over them.  And they’ve sprouted horns and tails and the guy’s tail is on fire. Typical male – only thinking of one thing, right?

Now, The Devil card can have a lot of meanings.  Materialism with NO spirituality. Violent sex. Black magic.  Just plain evil. But in this context, let’s look at it as the opposite of romantic love.

Say it’s fifteen years after the couple fell in love.  They’ve got three kids and a mortgage they can’t afford.  The wife just caught the husband playing hide-the-sausage with the baby sitter but doesn’t feel like she can leave him because of the kids.  And she is SO not interested in going to bed with him again. Ever.

They’re still the same couple and they’re still together, but their love has been transformed into a chain that binds them together in emotional slavery.

If you’ve ever been in a loveless marriage, or even knew someone who was, then you know that it shares some of the characteristics of romantic love.  It’s overpowering. It seems to come out of nowhere. It turns normally rational people into gibbering fools. But eventually, it makes you dead inside.

And I would guess that there is a further message in this couple appearing in The Devil card.  Living in a loveless union with another human being isn’t just wrong, it’s evil. It robs both of the partners of the love that they deserve, the love that makes us grow and blossom into full human beings.  It defeats the purpose of our being here on the earth plane, which is surely to learn love and compassion.

Here’s to love!

The Star Tarot Card

 

the star

A nude woman kneels beside a placid body of water.  She holds pitchers in both hands and is pouring water out onto the ground and into the body of water.  The sky above her is spangled with stars and a bird sings in a tree.

This is one of the loveliest cards you can get in a reading and indicates hope and good things to come.  

Her nudity indicates both an innocence and a freshness, a starting over without the trappings of a former life that may have weighed her down.  Her foot in the water indicates that she is fully in touch with her emotions while the other foots placement indicates that she is well grounded.  The singing bird denotes happiness and the fact that she is freely pouring out the contents of the pitchers indicates abundance.

Basically, this card means blessings and sweet times ahead.  If life has been hard for the questioner or he or she has experienced poor health they can expect wonderful improvements in the very near future.

REVERSED:  The questioner is letting self doubts and pessimism seep into his or her spirituality.  There has perhaps been a new and wonderful start but doubts are beginning to spring up.

A Few Extra Thoughts About The Star:

I’ve been collecting books about the Tarot for decades.  One which has gone out of print described The Star as, “The Star of Hope.”  I have to say that from my experience that’s exactly right.

Sooner or later we all go through one of those awful periods that are marked with the appearance of cards like Death and The Tower.  Sometimes we feel totally demoralized and defeated. Sometimes we feel like we’ve been beaten right down to our knees, bowed and bloodied, and unable to get back onto our feet and move forward.

But it’s the nature of life that if we hang on long enough, if we don’t give up and become cynical and jaded, a glimmer of hope will enter our lives and we begin to see the possibility of being happy again.

One might just say, “Well, hope springs eternal in the human breast,” and leave it at that.  We are, after all, a pretty hopeful species. We do tend to rebuild and regenerate after disasters and catastrophes.

I think, though, that there’s something a little more to it, at least as far as The Star is concerned.  I think that there are times in our lives when we get periods of grace, periods of blessings, when we’re protected and helped by higher powers or higher realms.  When we have peace and contentment, many times after our hardest struggles.

The Tibetan Buddhists have a wonderful way of looking at karma.  If you’ve led a really, really good life (or many of them) and you’ve helped a lot of other Souls then you’re likely to reincarnate in really, really good circumstances in your next life.

BUT – they warn – even a large accumulation of good karma can be used up so it’s important to keep living a good life and to keep helping other Souls.  It’s sort of like a karmic piggy bank: you have to keep putting some more good karma back into it or sooner or later you’ll run out.

It’s likely that something similar happens when we go through really bad times.  When life absolutely beats the shit out of us and we endure the pain and suffering – AND WE CONTINUE TO HOLD LOVE IN OUR HEARTS! – then we earn that period of grace and blessings.  We earn that Star of Hope that surrounds us with its’ light and protection.