I 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.
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.”
I 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.
Underlying 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).