The Nine of Wands, Spiritual Post-It-Notes, and Being Okay With Not Being Okay

I was recently watching an interview with Brad Yates, author of A Garden of Emotions: Cultivating Peace through EFT Tapping, and he made the point that social media can have the inadvertent effect of making us feel pretty inadequate.  It can slide us right into the, “comparison trap,” and we start to think that there must be something really wrong with us and our way of thinking.   I sat right up and took notice when he said that, because it rang a major, huge, giant brass bell in my head.

What he was talking about was FaceBook, “positivity.”  If we’re involved with the New Age or New Thought movements at all, we run into a LOT of positivity with our on-line friends.  We get up in the morning, crank up our Internet Machines, and there’s a virtual blizzard of Spiritual Post-It-Notes.  Things like, “I am SO grateful for this beautiful morning!”

Or, “I count my blessings with every breath!”

Or, “Healthy boundaries make for healthy relationships!”

Or, “Always live in an attitude of gratitude!”

And –  as actual human beings – sometimes we feel like shit.  In fact, sometimes we feel like shit a lot of the time.  But we’re looking at all of these bright, shiny thoughts from all of these bright, shiny people and THEY don’t seem to feel like shit all of the time, or even some of the time, or even, for god’s sake, EVER.  

Almost inevitably we slide into comparing ourselves to them and start thinking that there must be something really wrong with US.  How come I don’t feel like a million dollars every single goddamned day the way that they do?  I must be a really low-vibes, depressing/depressed human being because a lot of the time I hurt and I don’t feel very freaking grateful.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that if someone says that they’re grateful, happy, joyous and free EVERY SINGLE DAY, they’re either shallow or they’re a saint or they’re in denial or they’ve got some really, really good weed.

All right, granted, there are some people out there who really are happy most of the time and more power to them.  Some of them were born with a basically happy disposition.  Some of them have worked very, very hard to get into a place of grace and joy.  I’m not denigrating or diminishing that at all.  

Most of us, though,  don’t wake up grinning every single freaking morning. For some of us life feels very much like the Nine of Wands tarot card:  we’re still standing, we’re still upright and strong, but we’ve had the crap beaten out of us by life and we’re pretty wounded.

And that’s okay.  

That’s where we’re at.  That’s our starting point on the map for the rest of our journey.

Mike Dooley, who has done such wonderful teaching about manifesting and visualizations, often compares reaching our goals to setting a GPS in our cars.  We feed in the information about where we want to go and then the gizmo just takes it from there.  We don’t argue with it or second guess it – we just follow the directions.  In the same sense, he says, we can just set our goals and then let the Universe take it from there.  We don’t need to constantly obsess about the details (what he calls, “the poisoned hows,”) because the Universe will keep popping up new road signs and different paths to get us there.

Implicit in that, though, is the idea that we KNOW where we’re located at the beginning of the journey and we’re HONEST about it.  If I’m in San Jose and I want to get to Phoenix, but I tell my GPS that I’m in Dallas, it ain’t gonna work out too well.

And, in just the same way, if I’m beat up, knocked down, drug around, and life has beaten the stuffing right out of my meditation pillow, putting up Spiritual Post-It-Notes about how grateful I am ain’t gonna work out too well.

Unfortunately, social media sites are generally piss-poor places to be honest about what we’re really feeling.  It’s difficult to admit publicly that we’re NOT the Great and Mighty Wizard of Oz and there may be a lonely, sometimes sad, sometimes frightened person behind the curtain who’s just pulling levers.  It’s especially difficult when so many other people seem to be doing so well.  At least, all of their posts say they’re doing so well.

In a way – and perhaps a healthy way – this impossibly cheerful positivity has intensified since the start of the pandemic.  People really ARE struggling with depression and fear and loneliness and we’re trying to encourage each other to stay in healthy, positive frames of mind as much as we can.

So it may be a good, temporary coping mechanism.  Maybe we DO need to be as optimistic and up-beat as we can be, until we find our way out of this weird, scary virus maze.  It’s what we used to call, “whistling past the graveyard,” and in this case the graveyard is very real and it’s got a half a million Americans in it.

Long term, though, simply pretending that everything is alright when it’s not, doesn’t really work.  It doesn’t get us to our destinations because we’re not being honest about where we’re starting from.

Brad Yates went on to say that there are no such things as negative emotions.  WOW!  But . . . but . . . but . . . I thought I was supposed to be happy all of the time!

Not.  

Repeat – there are no such things as negative emotions.  There are no BAD emotions. 

There are emotions that are uncomfortable.  There are emotions that feel sad or that arise out of situations that are depressing or painful.  But they are all our emotions, they are all part of our story, and they serve to tell us where we are before we take the next step in our journeys.

In 1967, Thomas Harris published a wonderfully cheery book entitled, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay.”  In a nutshell, it promulgated the idea that we’re all just fine, we just misunderstand one another sometimes, and we should always remember that you and I and – gee whiz! –  pretty much everyone is . . . well . . . okay.

To which Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, that amazing wizardess who spent a lifetime studying death and dying, replied:

“I’m Not Okay.

You’re Not Okay.

And That’s Okay.”

And it really IS okay.  It’s right where we’re supposed to be when we take our next step on the journey.

The Ten of Swords, the Death Card, Child Abuse and Forgiveness

It’s hard to put an exact figure on it because child abuse tends to operate in the darkness, but most statistics indicate that about one in five people were abused as children. That abuse can, of course, be a broad spectrum of behaviors from physical abuse to emotional and social abuse to sexual abuse, or a combination of all of those. And therapists will take different approaches in treating those abuses, depending upon the type and severity.

We can simplify that by just lumping it all under one word: trauma. Victims of child abuse suffered severe trauma at a point in their lives when they were totally ill-equipped to process it intellectually or psychologically. Child abuse is normally committed by those who are closest to us – our parents, siblings, uncles, teachers, priests, pastors – and so it involves a deep betrayal of the most basic sense of trust. It leaves its victims with an enduring, often unconscious, feeling that the world is NOT a safe place and that we can never feel secure or at peace, even in our own homes. To use a current phrase, we suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, just like people who have been in combat for extended periods of time.

Eventually, that lack of trust in life, that basic inability to ever really relax into safety, will cause us to build impenetrable walls that destroy the quality of life. We are so wounded that we just can’t let other people all the way into our lives because they might hurt us, too. Very much like the figure in the Ten of Swords, the battle is over and we lost. And how could we not? We were just children when the battle took place.

We may seek help through therapy or spiritual resources in an attempt to remove the toxins, to tear down the walls of distrust and fear. If we’re blessed with a really good therapist or a wonderful teacher, we may actually make progress with our issues and begin to engage in life in a more open, loving way. We still feel wounded, though, pierced with countless swords of pain when we recall what happened to us as children.

And then an odd thing happens somewhere along the journey: our abusers die. Abusers, like everyone else, are ultimately mortal and they age and die like everyone else.

When that happens it can be a very odd time in our lives. There may initially be a real feeling of catharsis, a sort of a joyful crying out into the world: “I’m still here and you’re not, you son of a bitch.” Or there may be a total numbness and lack of grief. After all, they taught us the value of learning to feel nothing again and again and again while they beat us. Later, if we go into therapy, there may be a deep regret: “Why didn’t I confront him when he was still alive? Why didn’t I ever ask her why she couldn’t love me?”

At the end of the day, though, they’re dead. As the coroner in Wizard of Oz put it, “She isn’t simply merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”

Or is she?

The terrible truth of the matter is that, for most of us, they go on living in our own heads and hearts long, long after they’re physically dead. There are constant inner dialogues with them, sometimes dozens a day, that we carry on as if they were right there in the room with us, instead of lying in a grave. There are the critical, shaming voices that intrude on our every activity.

“That was stupid.”

“Can’t you do anything right?”

“Well, THAT was typical. You screwed up again.”

Many times these inner critics have become so natural to us, so much a part of our existences, that we don’t even realize that they aren’t us. They’re the disembodied voices of our dead abusers.

So how do we ever get rid of them? How do we ever get to a point where we can say, “You know what? You’re dead. Go away now?” The answer for me came in the form of forgiveness, but not forgiveness in the normal sense of the word. At least not the way I’d ever thought about it.

At first, the idea of forgiving your abusers feels grotesque, even outrageous. “Wait a minute . . . I was a little tiny, helpless kid and this person beat me (fucked me, fondled me, burned me, shamed me – fill in the blank with your particular form of abuse.) Why in hell should I forgive them? Just because they’re dead?”

Well, there are two reasons and, oddly, neither one of them has a thing to do with the abuser.

First of all, yes, they’re dead. Yes, in a physical sense, they really ARE most sincerely dead. Whatever they are now, they aren’t any longer the specific person who abused us.

And that means that, as Louise Hay pointed out, all that they are right now is thought constructs in our heads. That’s it: they are literally just our memories now and they have no existence beyond that. When that really hit me, when I finally GOT that, my first thought was, “Wow! I’m CHOOSING to live with my abusers. All they are is my thoughts and I’m in charge of my thoughts. This is a choice to continue the abuse.”

And once I got that, I realized that if I continued to keep those thought patterns alive, it was a CONSCIOUS choice to live with abuse.

That’s where forgiveness comes in. Louise Haye also pointed out that forgiveness is, ultimately, an act that takes place in our own minds. We don’t tend to think of it that way. We tend to think of it as always involving another person and it usually has a lot of drama attached. It goes something like this:

“I forgive you for the fact that – even though I was deeply in love with you, had your three children, and was a good and faithful wife who adored you with all of her heart – you just couldn’t keep your dick in your pants and you screwed my best friend. That slut.”

In other words, we’re SAYING that we’re forgiving the other person, but we’re really not. What we’re really doing is pointing out what a total piece of shit the other person is and saying that we’ll live with that, as long as they feel good and guilty about what they did wrong. It’s a power thing disguised as a kindness thing.

Real forgiveness, though, is truly letting it go, not choosing to live in it, and that’s why it’s so important in healing the wounds of abuse. It means recognizing that we’re keeping the abusers alive in our own minds, acknowledging what they did to us and honoring ourselves as survivors, and then just . . . letting them go . . . for once and for all . . . back into Universe. “If hating you means I’m keeping you alive, then I can let go of that hatred. I forgive you, I bless you, I release you.” And in doing that, we’re really blessing ourselves. We’re really releasing ourselves from the prisons they built in our minds.

You can invent your own rituals for doing that. I like to use Nick Ortner’s Meridian Tapping with three rounds of what they did to me and three rounds of letting them go. You might prefer to build a Day of the Dead Altar with their picture on it. Talk to the picture, tell them what they did and how it felt, and then throw the picture away.

Light a candle, meditate on the abuser and then release him or her as you blow out the flame.

Do a Buddhist Sur Ceremony and release them with love and compassion.

They don’t exist anymore. We’re free.