September 16, 2016: The Hermit by Mary Allen
I had a vision involving my card of the month this month. Sometimes I have a hard time figuring out what to say about the card of the month because I’m not sure exactly where the card and the month intersect—I don’t really know what the card said about the month—but this month I don’t have that problem. This month the problem I have is describing the vision.
Let’s start with the easy part: The card was the Hermit, the ninth major Arcana card. In the Thoth deck the Hermit is an abstract figure: All you see that’s person-like is a hand and a head. The rest of the card is full of symbols: a large paper-hat-shaped crystal, a peacock-feather background, something that looks like an egg with a snake wrapped around it and something that looks like a sperm heading directly ward the center of the card; Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding hell, down in the corner, one dog head looking back at the past or at whatever’s coming from behind, the other two looking forward.
The face of the Hermit is featureless, turning to the side, and the hand is holding a diamond-shaped crystal lamp that contains a small glowing sun. It’s that sun inside that little lamp, held by the hand in the rough center of the card, that seems to be the focal point of the card, and it was that lamp that I saw during the vision I had this month.
I had just been traveling around in the deep dark waters of my earliest childhood via EMDR (it stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; it’s a kind of therapy that helps with symptoms of PTSD and other inner disturbances; I do it once a month with my friend who’s a therapist and once a month with my regular, paid therapist; on this day I was doing it with my friend). There was deep trauma in my early childhood which is stored now in my unconscious, in the very bottom of the basement of my mental house, under some trap door that in regular life you could never get open.
It’s only through the agency and the miracle of EMDR that I can go there at all, how I got there on this day, how EMDR works, is too much to write about now. What I want to say is that at the end of my time down there, when my session was almost over and it was time to start coming up from below, my friend suggested I might picture a container inside myself where I could store those painful feelings until I needed to take them out again. Maybe a container with a lock on it, she said, using an image she’d learned in her therapy training, a good image that works to help many people.
But in that moment it came to me that I didn’t want an interior container with a lock on it, I didn’t want or need to keep those feelings locked away, that was the problem I’d been having all along. And a vision of something started forming in my mind—if mind is a word you can use to describe the vast airy mysterious world of consciousness that lives inside of us or that we live inside and that isn’t inside or outside of anything. In that moment in that place I started seeing something, some image started forming vaguely inside me.
It was familiar but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Some small vessel full of light. Light that would illuminate the feelings I had just dredged up from the deepest darkest place inside me, the subbasement of the unconscious underneath a trap door. A vessel that would hold the energy of those feelings, not keep them locked away somewhere but transform them, turn them into a glowing warmth inside me, starting somewhere around my solar plexus and spreading out, filling me with their light and healing.
It wasn’t until I was on my home that I realized that what I was seeing in that vision was the light in the lamp at the heart of the Hermit card. And then I was stunned by the synchronicity of it—by the way that life collaborates with dreams and the unconscious and the tarot cards, maybe even the ordinary details of the everyday world itself, to talk to us about out deepest selves and about our healing, as if life has a mind and a consciousness of its own that’s just waiting for us to ask it a question.
September 16, 2016: The Seven of Swords and The Wheel of Fortune by Tania Pryputniewicz
Sometimes Mary and I pull Tarot cards we respond to negatively—so we select again. Why not? Even though I’m a Tarot seeker committed to equanimity, I get a wrinkle in the spiritual cape like anyone else when I get certain cards on certain days.
Which is what happened this month when I drew “Futility,” also known as the Seven of Swords in the Thoth deck. We see a central sword starting to fracture under impending tips of six other swords. But notice: the six sword tips are not actually touching or fully breaking the main sword. It is an apt metaphor for how imagined trouble creates fractures in mindset such as feelings of failure or hopelessness.
Not wanting to spend the entire month in a “Futility” narrowed state, I pulled The Wheel of Fortune as my back-up. I felt immediately cheered reading Angeles Arrien’s promise for this card that “expansion and abundance come with the willingness to change and keep things moving by taking risks and being open to new opportunities” (The Tarot Handbook: Practical Applications of Ancient Visual Symbols, Arcus Publishing Company).
Still, I kept my Seven of Swords out of some kind of Tarot allegiance. And both cards spoke to me this month. It started when I got my latest Social Security statement detailing my life earnings. Or not detailing them—years of zeros stared up at me starting sixteen years back (when the first of my three children came along) with a few $500 to $1000 per year earnings sprinkled in there.
I know better than to reduce my worth as a person to my earnings, but I couldn’t help but do the math. The lifetime sum of money, which I started earning at the age of 16, averages out to earnings of just under $400 a month. I hamster-wheeled through my past, reviewing what seemed at first a futility of repeated tasks that have only slowly started to yield financial gain: years of journaling, editing, making art, blogging about writing and motherhood, teaching poetry, blogging, and Tarot writing online, in person, and at writing retreats, editing and publishing poetry, and making poetry movies--all in disparate sequences that prioritized my children, my marriage, and my mental health.
I’ve often felt frustrated trying to figure out how to earn more while keeping the family mobile as peacefully as possibly balanced. But something shifted me out of Seven of Swords angst and into The Wheel of Fortune this month, just as the cards suggested. In part due to the obvious—that I live a privileged life and have a partner lucky enough to persist in a career he loves and secure enough about his own views of parenting that he encouraged me to stay home with our children, and also due to conversations with other mothers. And a conversation with my brother. He listened to me vent on the one hand and then he listened to me talk passionately about the latest group of classes I’ve designed and he said, “You are a fabulous mother. And you are so much more than only a mother.”
All the at-home prioritization is a soul investment you can’t see mirrored in a Social Security statement—a document not set up to account for the cost of childcare for three children, the acting-as-a-taxi time, the doctor time, the food preparation and shopping, the emotional and psychological cost of supporting the wage earner…all those blessed and chosen hidden costs which are truly the cost of presence.
My poet friend said, “You take a pen to that Social Security statement: Next to all those so-called zeros, you write in what you were doing all those years! All those hours of time with your children! Make up your own Social Security statement. You’ve been investing in creating socially creative and responsible adults.”
My shift from Seven of Swords thinking to Wheel of Fortune blessings might also be prompted in part by the Paragrams in my purse, those 1x2 inch cards you can get in a tiny envelope for free at the Self Realization Fellowship Garden just down the block from the Encinitas Meditation Garden with excerpts taken from the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda… which I keep right next to my little red Pocket Pema Chodron….
…which means when I’m sitting in my battered, dusty, blue van waiting for my son to race out of the house in time to catch the school bus--and out he comes with tennis shoes in one hand, back pack unzipped and listing last night’s math homework, bowl of oatmeal in the other hand, milk sloshing out across the van carpet as he slides in--I use those twenty second not to lay on the horn or yell, but to select a Paragram and read it. Or to open to Pema, to read how we are perpetual children ourselves, that all of us eternally long to fall back into our mother’s protective aura, perpetually not feeling “ready” to risk. Pema says we get stuck in wanting to wait to feel fully ready to risk (Awakening Loving-Kindness, Shambhala Pocket Classics).
But we’ll never be ready…so we just need to keep jumping into the fray.
There must be plenty of other mothers and stay-at-home fathers sharing this stymied mix of heart-centered joy/satisfaction of doing right by the kids and low self-esteem that gradually creeps in when we are not earning (or at least not earning as much as the primary wage-earner).
I can do my tiny part to change the culture of how we view stay-at-home moms and dads by changing how I treat myself: I can stop being cruel (goodbye Seven of Swords) about my long list of zeroes…stop seeing them as evidence of a Fool choosing not to earn…and see them instead as reminders of the repeated choice to stay within arm’s reach of my children during the years they needed me.
And I can welcome the Wheel of Fortune: the children blossoming in their independence. From under my son’s door, I hear the lovely strains of his guitar music. On my kitchen table, I see the intricate fern spiral designs taking form inside of my daughter’s Medusa drawing. And under my palm for a second before he’s off to shower, heat radiates up from the sweaty forehead of my youngest just back from skateboard practice.