Queen of Swords with Nine of Pentacles

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche
Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche

I truly enjoy being a man. I can’t put my finger on what it is I enjoy about being a member of the member gender, but I like it.

Having said that, my hat goes off to women. As a gender, I find women endlessly fascinating and amazing and captivating and intriguing.

Reality tv would have us believe that women have a propensity to be undercutting and cutthroat with each other. However, when women team together around a common cause they form an impenetrable and effective force that operates like a singular mind. It makes male bonding look like Red Rover played against a wall of wet toilet paper.

As much as I enjoy being part of the clunky blocky gender, I know we are the utilitarian half of the species. At the risk of genderalizing (see what I did there?) we are built to build. We are the beasts of burden. We pull the cart and the plow of daily living. Don’t misunderstand me; that’s not to say that women aren’t capable of being builders and workhorses. Not only are they capable, they can do it while juggling a myriad of tasks and responsibilities and projects and duties. If we men tried to do so, we would collapse under task #3, whining and complaining about how overloaded we are while instantly coming down with a debilitating head cold.

Am I saying that women are all around better than men? Many women would say yes. Many men would be afraid to say no. I am not at all saying that one gender is inferior to another or any of that. What I will say, is where women excel and men fall short to genderalize once again, is in balancing the archetypes of gender within themselves. Women do it so seamlessly and effortlessly they often aren’t even aware they are doing it.

Let’s briefly look at the archetypes of masculinity and femininity so I can more easily drop my point on your big toe: the masculine principle is about outward expression, drive, strength, hardness, aggressiveness, left-brain analytical. The feminine principle is about nurturing, compassion, empathy, softness, right-brain creativity. Women will easily embody their masculine side through being driven, aggressive, determined, tenacious, and strong while not feeling like their femininity has been compromised. Meanwhile, men still have trouble embracing their feminine archetype comfortably, and those that do are looked at sideways by other men. The manly man’s man’s man will still refer to other men as girls in an attempt to demean them, implying that it is negative to be soft or sensitive or to express one’s emotions.

The concept of fortitude seems to be implicitly tied to our gonads as well, as we declare that someone lacking toughness needs to “grow a pair”. I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that a vagina can withstand far more than our hacky sacks. Those things can withstand the force of our derricks then turn around and do the equivalent of passing a melon through a garden hose during childbirth, while a single soccer ball bounce into the male fun zone induces a temporary state of malaria like symptoms, at which point we are no longer afraid to cry.

So to all you men out there reading this post: True strength is showing your vulnerability. We all have within us the feminine side that is begging to be acknowledged. We have an X chromosome just like the “fairer” sex so we have no excuse. Our little dangling Y is not going to shrivel up and be devoured by the big X if we show some compassion, if we exhibit some tenderness. The world will be better off. The overwhelming number of men in political positions would stop being afraid of the beautiful power that women hold and cease with continually trying to suppress it. If we stop and embrace our feminine principles we will find we are capable of so much more than we currently are, much the way women have when they stop believing the bullshit about them being less than any man.


Three of Pentacles with Seven of Swords

Quantum Tarot 2.0 by Kay Stopforth and Chris Butler
Quantum Tarot 2.0 by Kay Stopforth and Chris Butler

Raise your hand if you know a single person that believes all men are jerks or all women are superficial or some other unflattering generalization. We all know that person who has decried every member of the gender to which they normally date to equally and universally have a debilitating character flaw, one that prevents them from finding Mr. or Ms. or M. Right.

Have you ever tried to talk that friend down from the ledge of hyperbole using rough math? I have. I tried it on myself when I was disgruntledly single. We may have seen this broken down in a sitcom perchance. It involves eliminating each subset of the population that is not technically eligible for dating based on gender, age, relationship status, proximity or place of residence, etc. The most common number I had arrived at was an average of 150,000 dateable people, adjusting for the population of where one happens to live in the U.S.

The trouble with using this technique on the cynically lovelorn and such is that they have a poor grasp of mathematical concepts. It’s not simply that they cannot imagine finding one good edible apple in a batch of 150,000. I don’t know… I have to admit, looking through that many apples is far from appealing, especially if many of the ones I find are mealy or worm ridden or Braeburns. Perhaps our friend dated a person with the last name Braeburn, I don’t know, and they left a bad taste in their mouth much like the apple of the same name. I think they fail to understand the concept of the common denominator.

Whenever we find ourselves having difficulty dealing with a certain type of person, we automatically think it is that shared aspect that makes them untrustworthy, be it the type of job they have, their likes for a certain type of sport, their income bracket, their hair color, their political party affiliation… any number of aspects we can put into boxes and apply labels. What we become blind to is identifying the labelmaker.

We will indicate that particular class or character trait and brazenly declare that its possessors are inherently flawed with unwavering certainty. Yet we fail to see that, while not everyone shares our particular perspective, the “truth” in our perspective shares a common source. You see, I am a huge champion of the principle of the reflective property of others; as we deal with people the way we perceive and regard them tells us as much about ourselves, if not more, than it does the other people.

When we believe all X types are not to be trusted, it is due to a lack of trust in our own character. When we see all people of a particular religion, faith, political party, or sorority as being just plain wrong or stupid or greedy or any other preferred ad hominem, we are expressing a deep seated fear of being wrong or appearing foolish. The aspersions we cast on an entire subset of people stems from the grain of sand within that we attempt to disavow as an irritant, surrounding it with our mother-of-pearl to insulate ourselves from the discomfort of introspection. Yet this irritant remains locked in the pearl that we proudly display in the form of self-righteousness toward ourselves and our types. We seem to forget that in the heart of every pearl is a bit of dirty silicate sea floor grit.

I had a former neighbor tell me his vicious dog liked everyone except other dogs and people. With each exception we take with a given type of people we are avoiding acknowledging the exceptions within we are afraid to face to prevent from having to do anything about them.

Knight of Swords with Two of Coins

Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti
Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti

I will start this post by assuming few of you reading this are blacksmiths. If you are indeed a blacksmith-slash-Tarot-aficionado or at least the apprentice of a blacksmith that has an interest in Tarot (or even a Tarot reader’s apprentice that dabbles in blacksmithing) then I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know…

There’s the old expression about putting too many irons in the fire. The expression is as old as the profession of blacksmith, coincidentally enough. The wisdom in this expression warns of the danger of overstuffing your forge with too many pieces of iron with which you wish to work. Each piece of iron has to be heated to just the right temperature to be sufficiently malleable. If it’s not up to a high enough temperature the metal is still too hard to work, requiring twice as much hammering with half as much result. If it stays in too long it gets burnt up and is essentially useless.

The danger of having too many irons in the forge is the smith risks losing track of what stage of heating each piece has reached, lest the smith can’t work the pieces fast enough to get them out of the fire in time. They might pull them once they’ve reached the right temperature but by the time they get to working on the last piece pulled it has cooled down too much to be workable.

Okay, so that’s my brief 17th century Mr. Science lesson. Taking that into the 21st century, this expression is often used when one has too many projects going on. They are trying to juggle a myriad of tasks and doing at best a barely adequate job with each. This horse-and-buggy aged expression is frequently offered as a warning to managerial folks and multi-child soccer moms and uber-artists and the ADHD afflicted and stage managers. I bet dollars to donuts that each will tell you it is a hard and fast requirement of their station, that is if they don’t get distracted and pulled off-course before they can provide you with an answer.

Each of us falls victim to the mayhem of the to-do tempest, becoming the whirling dervish of task coordination. In each case we feel that we are under life’s grand imposition and we flail our arms and animatedly proclaim that we have been compulsorily thrust into a game of 52-card pickup (or 78 card pickup for my fellow Tarot readers). Thus we now have a beautiful justification for providing the attention and quality to each given task that reeks of slapped-togetherness.

I ain’t buying it. What I am buying, however, is the perspective taken by Russell Wilson, quarterback for Superbowl XLVIII Champions Seattle Seahawks. He says, “That one mission week-to-week is to go 1-0”. In a season with 15 games he isn’t worried about how they will do in week 7 against San Francisco or what their schedule looks like on the road or who can stay healthy in the back half of the season. He is only concerned with winning the very next game before him. All else is irrelevant.

I guarantee if we took that kind of approach for each bulleted item on our bloated checklist, we would not be crying out in anguish over the crumbs of time doled out by a cruel taskmaster of a Universe. Unfortunately we behave like subjects under the rule of the tyranny of the urgent. The task whose hand is raised causes us to jump to it in a purely reactionary state, simply compelling us to complete it as hastily as possible in order to strike it from the to-do list so we can scurry off to the next one that much sooner… ad infinitum, ad hamster wheel.

The truth is, there are enough hours in the day, provided we are focused on what it is we want to accomplish. If our goal is to clear the list of as many of the tasks as possible by day’s end, then we will find ourselves subject to a Sisyphean reset when we wake the next day. However, if we see only one item on the list at any given time, the one task before us, when we complete that task having given it our fullest attention we will experience a satisfaction that is beyond measure. The sense of urgency will evaporate along with all the other items on our list and will only become relevant at the time each of them is taken on.

Seven of Swords with Two of Cups

Quantum Tarot 2.0 by Kay Stopforth and Chris Butler
Quantum Tarot 2.0 by Kay Stopforth and Chris Butler

A close friend of mine told me a story involving her and one of her close friends in college. Her friend was seeing a guy at the time, but she suspected my friend and this guy might have had a latent attraction to each other. In order to validate the existence of the attraction she had arranged for the boyfriend and my friend to be alone together sans her. Of course the girl’s suspicions were confirmed and she confronted my friend after the betrayal and admitted to deliberately “testing” her. My friend replied, “If you’re pretty sure I’m going to fail your test and you don’t like the results, then don’t give me the test.”

This whole business of trust in any burgeoning relationship is a tricky one; be it lovers, friends, associates, coworkers, any relationship that is unfolding. I can make you roll your eyes and nod rhetorically if I tell you that trust has to be earned. It is the theme of every banal teenage drama on television. Yes, yes… we know that, David… captain of clichés. Clearly David starts with the letter Duh.

I’ll spare you the wisdom of the banal and venture into the more exotic take on trust. In order for trust to be earned, it has to be broken. It must be tested and strained. The paper grocery bag we carry our trust in has to get wet in the rain and threaten to tear, releasing our grapefruit and eggs and flank steak and box of baking powder and our Crunchy-O’s to the wet pavement just before we reach the car door.

Think about this. Trust has to at some point be challenged. One doesn’t say “I know she doesn’t read my private journal” without it crossing one’s mind when it’s left on one’s nightstand when her roommate is home alone. At some point the opportunity for the breach is realized, and we sit staring at the crack waiting to see if our partner will chip away at it enough to be able to reach through the wall.

But here’s the tricky part, the smoke and mirrors, the David Copperfield’s flair and dazzle, the Penn and Teller’s humorous play-off-the-other-partnership, the David Blaine’s disarming deadpan, the Criss Angel’s saying “close your eyes and don’t peek”. The misdirection is the other person in whom our trust is tested. The real trust issue lies in the self. The need to constantly keep one eye open is a symptom of a lack of trust in our ability to align ourselves with people above board. Even when we find the limits to which we can trust another, we still insist on testing them to validate their untrustworthiness beyond the point of the validation we already received. Are we really testing ourselves to see if we can trust ourselves to not trust the untrustworthy?

This is not to say that it is simply our fault if another person betrays us our shatters our faith in them that should be there by default. It is to say that if we to continue to risk a betrayal from our partner when past examples show it to be inevitable, we are clearly demonstrating a lack of trust in ourselves. Perhaps it is an inability to trust ourselves to make sound decisions in love or in business. Perhaps we mistrust our strength in functioning independently. In any event a constant mistrust of a person with whom we are entering some form of partnership is an opportunity for us to examine where we need to strengthen our sense of self trust. When we find that and we secure that we will see that the partnership will naturally resolve itself to our personal benefit.

Four of Swords with The Empress

Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti
Legacy of the Divine Tarot by Ciro Marchetti

The old adage seek and you shall find may sound simple enough, but it isn’t as clear as it sounds. First, one needs to know what one is seeking. Sometimes that in and of itself is challenging enough to determine. Next, it doesn’t specify what one will find. It only says you shall find; it doesn’t say what. 

Simply put, due to that fact that one is seeking something they will invariably find something. They may not find what they’re looking for, but in the process of seeking something will be unveiled. Sure, you’re sweeping the beach with your metal detector hoping to find that 15th century Spanish doubloon but in the process you dig down in the sand to discover the bedazzled Barbie blouse. You see, the saying doesn’t say seek and you shall find what you’re looking for.

The source of most any disappointment, when you distill it down, is the fact that our expectation has been dashed. We had envisioned and anticipated a particular outcome, but a different option was indicated on the rubber flapper once the wheel came to a stop. One can heed that broken advice and try to hope for the best, expect the worst in a vain attempt to circumvent disappointment but the hope and the expectation cancel each other out, in the same manner as a concert double-billing Rufus Wainwright and Korn.

Many people see Zen Buddhist principles as dull and unrealistic. They look at the idea of pure acceptance of any situation that arrives with the moment as tantamount to chanting Om while getting punched in the face. I like to think they realize the disappointment created from expectation is far worse that the reality of the outcome.

So right here and now I’m going to tell you the secret to life. The secret to life is that it’s a secret. We are soaking in a bit vat of mystery, all of us. We can’t know it, we can’t predict it, we can’t control it. I will go so far as to say it’s the mystery of life that actually turns the gears of our reality. It’s the unknown that moves and drives everything forward. Everything we know to be real and true is a result of reaching deep down into the unformed vat of chaos and being surprised by what we pull to the surface of our being.

So when we find ourselves tired of not getting what we want, we need to simply stop and let things happen, then figure out what we want to do with what just happened. Embrace the mystery. Feed ourselves on the unrevealed. If we knew all the answers ahead of time, we would be so well acquainted with ennui that we wouldn’t see the point of being alive. There’s no better stimulation in life than not anticipating whatever is coming and letting the surprise light up all our senses.

Two of Swords with Five of Wands

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche
Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche

Recently on Facebook I came across this bit of jpg profundity:

If you have to choose between me and someone else, pick them. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with someone who is going to question if they made the right choice.

I will admit, some jpg profundity does make me take pause and mentally masticate on them. Others are just so steeped in rhetoric that, although there is a call to action to “Share if you love your (insert family member here)” I haven’t truly questioned the validity of my love for them when abstaining from hitting the Share button.

However, every now and then one comes along like the one that I quoted above that has me a bit nonplussed. It was curious enough to make me say “huh…”, yet not life-altering enough for me to remember it without having to Google it for this post. In doing so, I found other renditions of this cut-and-paste nugget of wisdom, one of which states:

If you have to choose between me and her, choose her because if you really loved me there wouldn’t be a choice.

…which, as I envisioned the person stating it, made me wonder how she could type that while her hands were firmly ensconced on her hips and her lip half pinched in a condescending smirk.

This led me to examine the nature of ambivalence, further prompted by the cards I drew today. It’s often said that ambivalence is the result of not knowing what we want. I beg to differ. I think this Facebook shareable illustrates quite well that it is more a matter of having and eating cake. Our ambivalence is born of wanting two thing, but not being sure which coffer hides the bigger booty.

As much as I can appreciated the apparent romantic conviction in this quote, I’m not sure I subscribe to it completely. The implication here, specifically in the second version I shared, is that if someone wants to have something or be with someone badly enough the alternative would hold absolutely no appeal. An overwhelming desire for a person or thing should completely eclipse any possibility of that person having a desire for any other.

While that is quite often the case, it is not exclusively. As fickle human beings with frequent fleeting desires, sometimes nothing does us a greater service in helping us determine what we truly want than being presented with two seemingly equally compelling options. I like to give Abraham Maslow a run for his money with my theory of a hierarchy of wants. The idea here is that in any list of desires a person has at any one time, every single desire resides in a hierarchy. Our personal lists of wants are akin to the way Americans like their final scores in sports… without ties.

I have yet to be convinced that two desires share equal ground. Take two desires and place them on a balance scale, one will invariably weigh out over the other. Since we’ve not invented a means of gauging each half of an ambivalent heart space, we just have to have our wants go toe-to-toe, fistacuffs, mano a mano, faceoff, draw at the count of three. There’s the idea that competition creates strength in nature. Without a competing force, complacency thrives and value diminishes. Yet when two species compete for survival, the one that is meant to thrive perseveres. Nature says that the one that should be allowed to survive in her harsh domain is the one that has to prove its right to be there.

The next time we are faced with a seemingly agonizing choice and the pros and cons list between the two seem evenly stacked, we are standing before a brilliant opportunity. We are about to earn a reward far greater than we imagined, simply because the other option which caused our ambivalence actually served to help us determine what we truly wanted. We do not have to lament the one that got away, we can be thankful for the assistance that it provided in helping us land our true catch, then release it to let it find its way to where it was truly supposed to go, thus repaying the favor it did for us.

Six of Wands with Ace of Swords

Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan and Mark Evans
Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan and Mark Evans

When I was in high school I lettered in band and theater. I remember getting some notice from the school that there would be an award ceremony on some given evening and they wanted to acknowledge my achievement. Personally, I didn’t know what it was all about, I had no idea what to expect. I had never lettered in anything as I never participated in sports in high school. The closest I came to entering into a sport was when I considered joining the water polo team. The season conflicted with a play I wanted to be in so I spared myself the experience of aspirating copious amounts of chlorine infused pool water.

I wanted to dress appropriately for this event, so I did my best to scratch up my best wardrobe from a school picture day long gone by. This resulted in a hodge-podge of raiment that consisted of an ill-fitted Oxford of a color that vacillated between neutral and pastel with a lavender knit tie that, as you may know if you’ve ever experienced any slice of 80s men’s fashion, is not unlike trying to tie a Windsor knot with a tube sock. My slacks told a story of having once been worn by a shorter David. The shoes… well, quite frankly I don’t remember the shoes.

I remember sitting in the back of the theater next to my mother and sister (and maybe my father, if my mom had successfully guilted him into attending, but my memory is too hazy on that). I listened to students’ names being called and watched each one that was present march onto the stage to receive their certificate and their pin. I did not find myself getting nervously excited about the accolades, nor was I indifferent to the whole event. I was anxious about walking the proscenium catwalk of teenage growth spurt style illustrated in color-blindness and punctuated with a deficit of fashion sense. My attempt to at least be well dressed was simply not well enough.

I believe I hung those certificates somewhere on one of the walls of my bedroom or my closet door. They were not displayed for the purpose of reminding family members and friends who crossed into my teenage lair of my extracurricular achievements. I just slapped them up there because I thought I was supposed to.

I’ve never understood the grand display of diplomas, awards, recognitions, and bravos framed behind glass and hung on office walls. If people desire to do that, more power to them. However, I’ve heard more stories of people who have become accomplished in one form or another attribute their motivation to a desire to prove to another person or specific peoples that they “made it”, that they’ve “become somebody”.

Isn’t there greater value in pursuing a goal primarily for the value returned from its accomplishment? Far too often many of us set out with something to prove to others, that we will show them once we’ve become successful. We feel that being one of the leaders in the cult of personality will bring even more personal significance to who we are, with our personal ascension toward enlightenment being achieved during the tossing of roses and the thunderous ovation. Then what happens when the last audience member to applaud realizes everyone else has stopped clapping and the curtain draws?

If our motivation toward any goal or achievement is based on winning the approval of another, or to gather around our plaque while nodding to each other the wonders of our excellence, that is a clue that our authentic selves have been left behind in the pursuit of our ambitions. Who we are and what we become needs no outside recognition to be validated, only the recognition that our greatest accomplishments are those that still make us proud in the stillness of our solitude when there is no one else to lay witness to them.