Daily Archives: August 17, 2013

#augustbreak2013 Day 17


wildunknownmailI bought my first tarot deck 20 years ago. I love all kinds of divination practice — I Ching, tarot, Q-Cards. I know there are those who consider it a dark art, of the devil, but I believe it’s a way of communicating directly with God (whatever name you use for this wise and compassionate energy). It’s like prayer, opening my heart and listening deeply for answers to my questions, a way of requesting guidance.

I spent a lot of time choosing my first deck, researching different styles, considering image and color, meaning and origins. It even mattered to me where I bought the deck, it had to be the right place. I ended up with a Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of academic and mystic A. E. Waite, one of the most popular decks, a good one for beginners. I bought it in Boulder, Colorado at the Lighthouse Bookstore on Pearl Street.

me with that first deck, maybe even the first reading, 20 years ago

me with that first deck, maybe even the first reading, meaningful enough that we took a picture

I only used them a few times before a friend asked to borrow them. Now I know better, that your deck has to be yours, that it’s a sacred relationship and you can’t loan that out. At the time, I said “okay,” and I never saw that deck again.

It’s taken 20 years to get another. In the meantime, I used the I Ching and my Q-Cards, or sometimes would even use a book — making a request for guidance, some kind of sign, opening the book to a random page, reading a line or paragraph and considering what truth it contained for me.

With my new deck, I’d seen it around for awhile. People I love and respect use it, and there was just something about it that spoke to me — the dark hand drawn lines, the bright colors, the story of the artist, The Wild Unknown, “founded on the belief that there is a place of wonder, gentle beauty, and clarity within each of us.”

wildunknownfirstcardI pulled my first card this morning. I asked the deck what message it had for me and took a card without even shuffling — because this was the card the deck came to me with, brought to me of its own accord, no shuffling necessary, it came ready to tell me what it had to tell. I pulled it, the Eight of Swords, and recognized it right away, felt a “yes” deep in my belly. This cocoon metaphor has been with me for awhile, the transformation from one manifestation to another that requires a complete melting of everything into a soup of nothing, eventually reconstructing as something beautiful with wings, tender and fragile but possessing the power of flight.

Even so, at first I was disappointed. The message is “trapped, powerless,” believing yourself a victim, “no way out, no available choices.” This touched a nerve, a raw and tender spot in me, and at first I resisted it — I am not a victim, I always take personal responsibility for my experience. I propped the card up on my desk and set my meditation timer for 15 minutes, contemplating what it might mean for me that “Your perceptions keep you from opening your wings and taking flight.”

The card asks if the suspension is because of you or others, and the more I looked at the card, the better I understood its message — I am the one holding myself still, the reason I am not free. This is why there is a Ganesh on my writing desk and why I sometimes chant his mantra, Remover of Obstacles, knowing that I am the only thing in my way. It is me creating the trap. I placed each of those swords, believing they would protect me. What I didn’t understand when I made that tight, sharp circle is that I’d also trapped myself. Any attempt to spread my wings, to move from that spot, and I’d slice my wings to bits. Stuck.

wildunknowneightofswordsUnderlying this desire to protect myself is a fundamental confusion, not just that THIS isn’t a safe place, but that safety is even possible. There is no safe place. No matter what I do, change is inevitable, impermanence is real. The only true freedom is to accept that, surrender to the truth that safety and control aren’t possible, to let go of certainty altogether. I can’t keep myself safe. I can’t keep Sam or Eric safe. I couldn’t keep Kelly or Obi or Dexter safe. I can’t keep anyone or anything I love safe, ever. I have no control, no power over what happens. There is no secret, no protection.

We have so much fear of not being in control, of not being able to hold on to things. Yet the true nature of things is that you’re never in control. You’re never in control. You can never hold on to anything. That’s the nature of how things are. ~Pema Chödrön

In allowing this truth, I’m able to see situations as workable, able to be of benefit, to do what I can to ease suffering. To do so requires a simple and yet almost impossible choice, “Real safety is your willingness to not run away from yourself,” (Pema Chödrön).

Self-Compassion Saturday: Susannah Conway

I believe that by being the best and most healed version of ourselves we can truly make a difference in the world. ~Susannah Conway

Susannah Conway is one of my favorite women, “Photographer/writer. Aunt. Author of THIS I KNOW: Notes on Unraveling the Heart. Born-again Londoner.” Every time I think of her, I can’t help but smile. I’ve written about her before, told you that,

I started following Susannah’s blog and immediately adored her. She is consistently honest, open-hearted and funny, willing to share her “wobbly bits” along with the brilliant beauty of life. Her words and photography are gorgeous and authentic, and at times heartbreaking (in the very best kind of way, cracking you open to let in the light).

I’ve taken many classes with her, one of my favorites being Blogging from the Heart. I’ve learned so much from each course, about how to live creatively, authentically, and how to compassionately share what I know, what I create. I hold her in my heart as an example of how you can live through (with) grief, how to sink deeply into yourself and from that place be your most creative, productive, authentic, funny, brilliant self, and how you can make a living doing what you love and in so doing be of great benefit to the world — even when you make mistakes, even as you struggle.


I was lucky enough to meet Susannah last summer at the World Domination Summit, to hang out with her, to attend her reading for her book This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart — which felt to me like a love letter to my own possibility. As I’ve said before, the book is a map of one woman’s personal journey through bereavement and rediscovery of self, but it is also offered as a guidebook for those making their way along the same path, traveling through that same territory of loss. And yet, as Susannah says, this “is not a story about grief, although it informs everything I’ve learned about life. This is a book about unraveling the layers of our lives and exploring what we find in order to better understand ourselves, our relationships, and our path.”

image by susannah conway, her beautiful hand, her brilliant ring, and her precious book

Susannah’s book (as does all her work) embodies, through both word and image, the tender heart of sadness, not shying away from the reality of it, the truth that life can kick your ass but that we can also lean into joy and be softened by beauty, can and will encounter grace and know love. We may have tears streaming down our face or feel bad about our thighs, but with our eyes and heart open wide to both the brutality and beauty of life, we can heal, we can live a wholehearted life.

Susannah is every bit as smart, kind, and funny in person as you would expect her to be, while also managing to communicate that self online and in print. When you read her words or take her ecourses or watch one of her videos, you know you are connecting with a real, no bullshit person. I am so happy to share Susannah’s perspective on self-compassion with you today, (and P.S. at the end of this post, you will find information about a special giveaway involving a very special book).


image by susannah conway

1. What does self-compassion mean, what is it? How would you describe or define it?

To me it means extending the sort of kindness, gentleness and understanding to yourself as you would to a loved one, someone you love unconditionally.

2. How did you learn self-compassion? Did you have a teacher, a guide, a path, a resource, a book, a moment of clarity or specific experience?

Well, first of all I should say I’m still learning it. Or rather, still practicing it, as I don’t believe it’s something I’ll ever have down pat. It’s a daily practice, and some days are better than others. Losing my partner in 2005 set me off on this path to self-compassion. Falling into grief and losing everything I had built around me, literally and emotionally, meant I questioned everything I thought I knew about the world and my place in it. Bereavement, and the resulting therapy I had for many years after, helped to take off my edges, basically. I think there is a moment when you’re in the deepest depths of despair where you have to make a choice of whether you’re going to save yourself and swim towards the surface, or just let yourself drown. I choose to swim, and from that moment on I started learning how to take care of myself. How to be KIND to myself, because everything else seemed so shit — I wasn’t able to turn on myself anymore. That was the beginning.


image by susannah conway

3. How do you practice self-compassion, what does that experience look like for you?

I try to be very gentle with myself. Not always easy as I have high expectations and am quick to slide into negative thoughts. I do a lot of journalling. I say no to things I really don’t want to do (rather than doing them and feeling resentful). I eat well and am slowly learning to like the gym as I truly want my body to be strong and healthy — feeling physically well helps me on so many levels. As a self-employed person I have a tendency to work hours that are far too long, so I’m trying to take off a little more time here and there, just for more headspace and rest — that feels very self-compassionate. When I’m hormonal and feeling crazed I go as gently as I can, knowing that’s the best way to look after my heart.

4. What do you still need to learn, to know, to understand? What is missing from your practice of self-compassion, what do you still struggle with?

Patience. In all areas, in all ways, in everything. Patience.

image by susannah conway

image by susannah conway

I’m so grateful to Susannah for sharing her perspective, especially what she had to say about self-compassion being a daily practice and the importance of being gentle with ourselves. She reminds me, yet again, that I can trust myself.

Special surprise giveaway!!! I have three copies of Susannah’s This I Know: Notes on Unraveling the Heart to share. All you have to do is leave a comment, and next Saturday I will put all the names into a list randonmizer, a virtual hat, and pick three kind and generous readers to gift with their very own copy.

thisiknowTo find out more about Susannah, to connect with her:

Next on Self-Compassion Saturday: Courtney Putnam.

P.S. If you didn’t see the first post in this series, you might want to read Self-Compassion Saturday: The Beginning.