Friday, June 3, 2011

6/4/11-6/5/11—Getting Out and About

Weekend Reading: Experience (The Chariot) from the William Blake Tarot. Get out and about this weekend. If you've been putting an errand off, this is the time to complete it. In fact, you may feel pulled in many directions, but stay the course. Your efforts will pay off. And be on the lookout for the unusual while you're out there. You're likely to see something that will make a good story.

6/3/11—Conjuring the Best for All Involved

Today's Draw: The Lionface of Sticks (Knight of Wands) from the Sideshow Tarot. What are you so intent at conjuring? Have you thought really thought it through? And are your wishes for your own benefit or for the benefit of all involved?

Get a load of this dude. He's determined to conjure SOMEthing. And, judging from the power in his stature and focus, you're pretty sure he's going to get it. It's like every ounce of energy within him is fixed on whatever is in his sights. The only thing is, I can't quite get a fix on whether or not his intentions are good. It's so hard to tell with a lionface. ;)

I stopped by Trader Joe's (a supermarket) tonight on my way home. Outside of the store was a thin frail woman in a sari with a cute baby girl. They were sitting on the pavement and the woman held a sign saying she had three kids and couldn't afford to feed them. I reached into my purse to give her a couple of bucks and all I had was 10s, so I gave her one of those instead.

Probably because I'm on the verge of my time of the month, I started to cry twice in the store, thinking about this woman and how humbling it was for her to be in this position. I rarely see women asking for money. She was Indian and I wonder if anyone passed her by just because of that. Her toddler looked healthy, just playing on the sidewalk. I wondered if people doubted her intentions because the little girl looked so happy and healthy. But I also thought about how things have come in our country that a lovely lady like this was panhandling. That a little girl like that was being raised on the pavement in front of a Trader Joe's. I was glad that no one was complaining to management and that they let her stay there. I was grateful I could help. And I have to say I was ashamed that I was going to give her "a couple of bucks" when I am so blessed as to have a wallet full of tens. We tend to question the motivations of people who ask for money. But in my mind, there's no tougher job than working an intersection in DC in summer or getting nasty looks from the middle class as your child plays on the pavement at Trader Joe's while you ask for food and money.

As I was driving home from there, I thought of what I wanted to wish for her. Like the Lionface of Sticks, I believe we can create anything with our focused energy. And for everything I wished her, I immediately thought of the negative consequences that could occur from that wish. If I wished for abundance for her, how would she get it? What might she have to do to earn more than enough for her family? If I wished for her children to be well taken care of, I imagined that she might be separated from services might take them away and they might be raised well, but without their mother. So finally, I just wished them what I usually wish for people—the best for all involved. 

Each of us has a Lionface of Sticks within us...a power to conjure for ourselves and others. But with that comes responsibility. It's the old "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it." So usually when I conjure things for myself, I ask for feelings instead of things. You can't go wrong asking for feelings. And I usually also include the intent of "for the good of all, according to the free will of all". That covers me on a karmic level and, frankly, I don't want anything if it comes at a cost (on a soul level) to someone else. Receiving something like an award may mean that someone else doesn't receive it, but that's a personal cost, not a soul cost. And that's an important distinction.

I believe we have to be especially careful when we wish things for others. We cannot possibly know their path. We cannot possibly know what is needed for their soul's evolution on this planet. We may think we know, but we don't. Other people's fates and business is between them and their god and is not for us to mess with. So I always come back to "the best for all involved" because it doesn't mess with the agreements their soul has made with their god for this lifetime. It doesn't assume we know what's best for them. 

It's actually one of those wishes that's fulfilled before you even wish it. And it's more for our own peace of mind than anything else. Because, on a soul level, life only brings what's best for all involved anyway. It may not always seem that way, but that's only because we're focused on these experiences in this lifetime, rather than the big-picture needs of our eternal soul. Tonight's interaction was just one more example of that. In fact, I'm pretty sure I made out better on our deal tonight, because she gave me the gift of driving home just how fortunate I am to be on the above-water end of today's economy. We were two strangers, able to serve as angels for each other. And that's a beautiful thing...the best for all involved.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

6/2/11—Diving for Pearls

Today's Draw: The Hierophant from the Pen Tarot (Majors Only). How do you feel about organized religion? Do you believe what you're taught or do you look deeper? And who is endowed with the privilege of two-way communication with God?

The Hierophant, sometimes called The Pope, is a master of religious knowledge. He's well educated in esoteric teachings and is considered a liaison between man and God. Although he is, of course, a spiritual man, his teachings and beliefs are traditional. He will deliver his church's interpretation of the Bible and will not veer much from that in his mind or heart. He holds great power over those he teaches and must not misuse this power.

In the Pen Tarot, all the cards are in black and white, with just one hint of color. For The Hierophant, that flash of color is in the golden crossed keys you see on his collar (or is it definitely a he?) These keys relate to Saint Peter and signify the keys to heaven or, some people say, the keys to spiritual knowledge. His hand is held in a sign of benediction or spiritual blessing. And the artist accompanies this card with the following poem:

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below.
—John Dryden

We've had three very powerful spiritual cards so far this week. The first was about spiritual initiation, the second was about finding spirit within and this one is about spirituality and religion. Two things occurred to me when this card came up with its poem. But I think both point to the same conclusion. 
The first thought that came to me was about Harold Camping, the man who predicted the recent rapture. People follow preachers like him for the same reason they follow any preacher—because they're either looking for something to believe or already have beliefs and what he said was aligned with what they wanted to hear. It doesn't matter whether it's Camping or Joel Osteen (who are both Christian evangelists and missionaries, though many would consider them at opposite ends of the spectrum), the message they deliver, who they say holds the keys to heaven, the way they interpret the Bible, the energy they put forth, etc., all that sounds like the way they think it should be. So they follow them. 

And soon they don't have to worry about how to interpret things themselves, because pretty much everything they hear from their preacher sounds about right. And, besides, they believe Camping or Osteen or whoever has a direct line to God and they may or may not be confident about their own direct line to God (if they believe they have one) and so they take what is preached on faith. And they spread that word to others at every opportunity because they so believe it to be true and they want everyone's soul to be saved like theirs is. And when you ask them what they think about gay people, for example, they tell you what they believe God thinks. And all of this, all of it, comes from the preacher's interpretation. Which comes from what he learned. Which came from a book that was written by men who heard it from God...or heard it from men who heard it from God...and wrote it based on their memory of the conversation. In their own words in the vernacular of the time. From their point of view. And all of that was written in Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic, depending on who was doing the writing. And yet people today nonetheless have zero doubt that their truth is THE one and only truth down to the last detail.

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below. 

Which brings me to my point. The truth exists within each and every one of us. But, more often than not in this country, we're more willing to adopt another's truth, rather than look inside our own hearts. Some will read what I wrote above and feel it was a criticism of Christianity. It is not. It's a criticism of organized religion. ANY organized religion. If you have put your books down, wiped your mind as clean as possible and connected honestly to God and still believe he frowns upon a certain type of person or will send someone to eternal damnation for their beliefs, then I fully support you in that course of thought. I really do. My personal belief system is that God shows himself to people in the way they need to see him in order to see him at all. And I suppose I have to extend that to people who believe only what they're taught, too. But if you haven't looked inside...if you haven't dived below the straws scattered along the surface, whether you're pagan or Muslim or Jewish or otherwise...I urge you to. I urge you to find God's voice within you and not coming solely from the mouth of someone else.

Which leads to the second thing I want to say in response to the Hierophant card. And that is that, with the exception of evangelical Christianity (like what is preached by Joel Osteen and Harold Camping), all organized religions in this country are losing ground. The evangelicals have had no growth, nor shrinkage in size. And the people who are leaving the other religions are moving toward "none" or "spiritual, but not religious". This "none/spiritual" group, in fact, is the third largest "religious group" in the country, behind Catholics and Baptists. I'm not making this up. There was a major study conducted.

Many of these people are frustrated by the dogma. They feel that the teachings of the church no longer align with some of the things they feel in their heart. Take the homosexuality issue, for example. If God is good and perfect and created us all in his image—and if you believe sexuality is not a choice—then how can God say they're wrong to be that way? Inconsistencies like this start to wear on people and, as they question the teachings, they find they no longer feel a place in the church. And not knowing any other avenue, they just make do. I know people like this...people who believe in God and believe in Christ, but cannot justify what they feel inside with what's taught in the church.

Errors, like straws, upon the surface flow;
He who would search for pearls must dive below. 

Growing up in a Christian nation, you often hear that the keys to kingdom are given only to some. That holy men have a clearer line to God. That certain people go to heaven and others go to hell. And that we need to be careful so that we don't end up there, too. And being careful includes a long set of rules passed down through thousands of years from a different society struggling with different if nothing is ever supposed to change. Remember when divorce was the worst thing a couple could do, according to the church? In Christ's time, people died when they were 30. Til Death Do Us Part wasn't that hard of a commitment to make.

The point I'm making, mostly to the 15% of you that are "spiritual, but not religious" is that your line to God has just as good reception as anyone else's. Dive below. Go inside. See what's true in your heart. If it's different than what I believe, that's cool. I haven't even told you what I believe, outside of the fact that I believe God shows himself to everyone in the way they need to see him. And if you don't believe that, that's cool too. But at least explore what you believe without all the dogma.

This dude, the Hierophant, is changing. He still has valuable wisdom. He still bases his beliefs on his teachings and texts. But he is no longer some spectre outside of us telling us what to do. He is inside each of us. We're all Hierophants. We all hold the keys to the kingdom. We are all spiritually blessed. And we all know what's true in our hearts.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

6/1/11—Making a Date With Yourself

Today's Draw: The Hermit from the Tea Tarot by Marcia McCord. When was the last time you had a date with yourself? Or took yourself out on a personal retreat? Have either of these things ever occurred to you?

The Hermit tells us it's time to be alone. In silence. No distractions. No music or computer. No knitting or scrapbooking. Being alone in the car doesn't count. Nor does being alone while your husband snores next to you. The Hermit is about you spending time with you. Alone. On a quest within. And in Marcia's card it seems our Hermit is making a date of it and relishing her time with herself.

I spend time nearly every night, just me with me. I sit on my back deck and gaze at the stars and think. And when I'm done thinking, I then spend time in meditation, clearing my head. So while I'm distracted all day long with this and that, I still myself and come to peace at night before bed. I'm out there now as I'm writing this, though this is distracted time. But you can be sure that when I'm done writing, I'll do my Hermit thing and listen to what's going on inside me. That's what the Hermit does, after all. He shines his light on those dark corners of our self that we rarely take the time to visit. 

There was a time that I also used to take myself out on play dates. Back when I lived in Old Town Alexandria my lifestyle was different. I would take the day off, buy myself some baubles, treat myself to lunch, maybe get a massage. It's been forever since I've done that. I don't know if it's because I don't have the time or the energy. Probably the latter. I had a pretty full life back then. 

And then there were the retreats. Back before I had dogs. I would take off for a few days at a time with the purpose of going somewhere alone to be without distractions. Cape May or the mountains, usually. I remember an epic hike up in the mountains where the trail took me past multiple waterfalls. This was back when I was really fit, and still it took everything out of me. There is something about physically and mentally taxed that aids in spiritual connection. In Native American cultures, people will go on Vision Quests where they fast and set out into the wilderness for some days alone. There, at their weakest, they will connect with spirit in a profound way.

These days when I travel I always take the dogs with me and I WANT to take the dogs with me. Somehow a retreat isn't the same, though, when you have to keep an eye out on another entity, even something so benign as a dog. My B&B I like to go to comes close, though, to letting me feel alone, even with the dogs with me, because we know the place and I feel comfortable letting them run free. It seems the further we get from people, the more we feel comfortable really escaping within.

Silence and time alone is important for all of us, I think. We fill so much of our lives with noise and distraction. And life moves so quickly that we turn around and years have passed and we wonder where they've gone. It's as if our head is always outside our body, working ten steps ahead of it. We never take the time to just sit with our mind within us, solidly silent, connected to divinity...feeling that connection and recognizing our true identities as part of that divinity. It's a place more beautiful than any other place you could be...a feeling more profound than any other feeling...a relationship more intimate than any other. And yet, even I, who makes a point of meditating ALMOST every day, is willing to pass it up now and again. 

I know the word meditation scares people. Many have tried and "failed". So think of it as reverence. Taking time to sit in reverence, listening for that still, soft voice within if you can. Make a deal with yourself that you'll think of all the other crap in 10 minutes. It takes practice, but it comes. I've been doing it for nearly 30 years, so it's easy for me. But on those days when it's harder, I visualize a clean sheet of white paper, floating in from 100 feet above, drifting left, then right, then left, then right as it gets closer and closer to me (think of the floating feather in Forrest Gump, let it twist and turn as it falls). And when the blank sheet finally reaches me, it's all I see. Blank. White. Still. Nothing. Each time you practice that, you'll be able to hold the "nothing" longer and longer. And sooner or later you can just go to nothing on command. 

Anyway, this is something to consider today...cultivating a practice of being alone with you. No distractions. Even if it feels uncomfortable at first. Just check in and see how you're feeling. Feel your body. Quiet your mind. And

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

5/31/11—Embracing Your Initiation

Today's Draw: XII Initiation (Hanged Man) from the Shaman Tarot. Are you facing a major life transformation right now? Are you willing to earn your way to a new phase of your life? Was there a particular turning point that changed your level of commitment to change?

The Hanged Man is a card that talks about time in suspension, seeing things from a different perspective, voluntary sacrifice and surrender. In the Shaman Tarot, it is renamed Initiation and speaks of the shamanic practice of sacrificing a part of yourself to be in the world of spirits. Before being accepted as an interlocutor with the spirit world, a shaman is usually initiated by the spirits by being beset with some sort of physical or psychological crisis, known as shamanic illness. If the individual survives this, they will have sacrificed a part of their humanness to have one foot in the spirit world and one foot in ours. 

A similar rite of initiation can be observed in the times of transformation in our own lives. As we change careers or transition from a long-term relationship, there is usually some sort of internal crisis we go through before we're free to step foot in the new world. In some cases, that crisis is more physical, involving physical illness, pain or transformation. At the time, we're likely to think of it in any other terms than "initiation", but that's what it is. Right now I know a number of people in a state of initiation and would be interested to hear, either on my blog, on Facebook or over messaging how this perspective changes their attitude toward what they're going through. 

What it comes down to is that our progress through life must be earned. Or, to re-coin a phrase, anything worth having is worth earning. We must move through the fear to get on the other side of it. And that's what most of the "price" of admission is...moving through fear. Change is a scary thing because we're moving from a state of predictability into a state of the unknown. For example, even in a bad relationship, you know what to expect. You can predict how today will go. You know how it impacts you physically, emotionally, financially, socially and otherwise. But who knows where you'll land in those areas if you leave the relationship? In this way, there is comfort in the suffering you go through by staying. 

I once heard that change happens when the pain of sticking with the status quo becomes worse than the pain of changing. I see it in my own life with my weight issues. Today I'm seeing my nutritionist for ANOTHER month with no weight loss to report. Every month I'm determined to make a difference. And every month I end up right back where I started. Despite my pictures, I'm not someone who just needs to lose 10 or 20 pounds. I'm what's considered obese. Less obese than I was a year ago, but still not past the accepted definition. It's both physically and emotionally painful for me, as it has been for much of my life. But the pain of doing what I have to do to make significant progress is, right now, greater than the pain of remaining the predictable. 

There is nothing anyone can say to change where I am. I was thin for nearly a decade in my 30s. I know what that feels like and how relatively easy it was for me to maintain back then. So it's not as unpredictable as many changes people go through. I know what to expect, good and bad. And there's the rub. I didn't like the person I was back then. I wasn't the spiritual person I am now. And there's no reason to believe I would change for the worse at this time in my life, but there is something "safe" in my size right now, no matter how painful it is for me. This internal and external struggle is my initiation. It's not something I talk about very often. I'm the kind of person who doesn't bemoan the things I don't have and am not willing to get. I know and accept that everything we achieve in life is earned and if I'm not willing to do what it take to earn it, then I don't get it. Simple. But it is a relevant example of what we're talking about today. And I like the idea of seeing it as an initiation. 

So what are you earning right now? Or what have you recently earned? And what can you share with others to help them through their own stage of initiation?

Monday, May 30, 2011

5/30/11—Calculating the Cost of Winning

Today's Draw: The Five of Swords from the Legacy of the Divine Tarot. How much does winning mean to you? When has winning cost you more than you gained? And where do you draw the line at what you'll put up with in a debate?

The Five of Swords is one of those tricky cards in the tarot because different people interpret it differently. You'll hear "victory through surrender" and "victory at all costs", along with a host of other interpretations. So this is one of those cards where I rely on context, imagery and/or my personal interpretation of it to guide the way I use it in a reading. And my personal interpretation usually involves an argument or a battle of ideas, rather than a physical battle or turf battle. 

But taking a good look at this card today, what I saw was a man standing with destruction all around him. He has captured the enemy's swords and shields. He is the only one left standing. And yet his face reads as though he's just coming to the understanding that his victory has come at a great personal cost. And so it goes sometimes when we clash with others over beliefs and opinions. The things we say, the ways in which we conduct ourselves and the price we were willing to pay to win often means that nobody wins. 

There is a thing Dr. Phil says, "would you rather be happy or would you rather be right?" Too often in relationships, people go for "right", rather than keeping the peace. I can think of countless times I've gone for "right" and have lost or damaged relationships because of it. I can also think of many times someone else has gone for "right" and, because of the weapons they drew, lost me from their life. And, fortunately, I can also think of countless times I've just let the battle go and let them feel they were right....or admitted I was wrong and given them that victory. 

Two battle tactics that will always be guaranteed to take me out of the competition, and quite possibly lose me from your life, are name calling and trying to put a guilt trip on me. Name calling is verbal abuse and crosses a line in my book. I've been called names all my life because of my size and my spiritual beliefs and made a decision a while back to rid my life of that element as best I could. I rarely give name callers a second chance in my life, even if I'm not the object of their name calling. If they'll do it with you, they'll do it to you. And the second thing that turns me off is guilt trippers. They elicit the opposite response from me, in fact, and absolve me of feeling any guilt over anything I've done...haha. Just letting everyone out there know. If you want a quick way to get rid of me or put distance between us, try one of those two tactics. It will change the way I see you and you will some, if not all, of my respect. 

Although I rarely see it in discourse, I once had a friend who used manipulation or control in an argument we had. He warned me I wasn't allowed to respond. That he was right and I wasn't allowed to say anything about it. He demanded an apology for something I didn't even know I wasn't "supposed to do". He suggested that I didn't have a side and his was the only truth. Based on this and his behavior in other interactions—all the rules of engagement he had that I apparently kept knocking up against unwittingly—the price he placed on winning that last argument made it the last argument. On my part, I had an opportunity to keep the peace, issue an apology and go on with my life. But putting up with that kind of controlling behavior became too high a price to pay for that friendship.

And I'm not blind to the fact that walking away from a relationship is a price I put on "winning". In my mind it's not about winning, however. Perhaps that's a convenient way of seeing it. But there are certain behaviors that aren't welcome in my life. They're behaviors that disrespect a friendship...things like dishonesty and disloyalty. Walking away from friendships is not something that's done lightly or over one incident. It's a pattern of behavior that is often raised to fever pitch in an argument or debate. The way people behave in situations like that reveal a lot about what is at their core, imo.

Whether as part of an argument or not, we put forth behaviors every day that either nurture or poison relationships. Sometimes we're not aware of what we're doing and there are plenty of well-intentioned ways to help a friend open their eyes to their actions. There's no need for name calling, guilt manipulation or ultimatums. Those things don't nurture friendships. Everyone has a line somewhere that people can't cross safely. And on the way to that line are other lines, each of which loses you a little respect when you cross it. In our friendships, work relationships and love relationships, we have an instinct as to where those lines are. Part of relationship and learning about each other is feeling out the boundaries and knowing where they stand. I feel like I'm a pretty respectful arguer and fighter. I don't call names or use peoples' vulnerabilities against them. I don't tend to play games. I will reiterate my point until I feel heard, however, which people may find annoying. But that's the crux of what most clashes of ideas come down to...everyone just wants to be heard and know their opinion matters. It's about respect.

The way I see it, people occupy various levels of development in different areas of their lives. Someone who is less developed in, say, the area of impulse control, may be further developed in the area of partnership, for example. We all have individual paths to walk and different lessons to learn in this lifetime. And those different paths can make us compatible or incompatible, ready for each other or not ready for each other.

There's nothing wrong with winning. But we all have to understand that most battles of ideas just cannot be won. As long as opinion or belief are involved, there is no winning stance. And almost all arguments are over opinions and beliefs, from religion and politics, to what season is the best season of the year. There isn't one among us who can't stop at some point in an argument and check in with ourselves and ask two questions, "can this battle be won?" and "is this battle worth the cost of winning?" Because it's those battles that can't be won that often degrade into name calling and histrionics. The way we approach debates and disagreements speaks volumes as to how much we respect ourselves and we respect others. The "swords" we claim along the way and the armor we disassemble to fuel our egos can often leave us, like the warrior in the picture, standing alone.