Two of Swords with Wheel of Fortune

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche

A for-sure guaranteed inevitability that will definitely happen at some point in life is where we come to a crossroads, that place of indecision. Chicken or fish? The one that comes in gray or the one that comes in black?  Date the one from Arkansas or the one from Missouri? Call an Uber or call a cab?

Of course I cited examples that could be filed under small potatoes minutia. There are the biggies like coming out of the closet, or taking a job in another state or province, whether or not to quit our job, or whether or not to deliberately disseminate our glorious bouquet of DNA throughout the universe. Those are the ones that make us lay awake at night with our eyes wide open, counting bits of ceiling popcorn.

These episodes of paralysis-inducing ambivalence on what we truly desire is not as it seems. We like to believe that our vacillation stems from the fact that we want Option A as badly as we want Option 2. Let’s keep telling ourselves that we are the flag on the tug-of-war rope with the equally covetable options vying for our final decision.

But here’s the truth: the very thing that gets us stuck between Scylla and Charybdis is fear. Fear of being permanently encumbered with the result of making the wrong choice. It’s not that we want what’s in the left hand and right hand equally, we are afraid of being disappointed with what we ultimately chose and letting the unchosen option get away, never to see it again.

It seems to me that we stand at these crossroads looking in one direction or the other as if the road will always continue in that chosen direction. The reality is no matter which decision we make, that path will lead us to another bifurcation at some point. Every choice presents us its reward through what it used to tantalize us, yet it also calls for sacrificing something else we desire.

We are never permanently stuck with the results of a decision. What we chose inevitably leads to the next mentally rending decision at some point down the road, like a set of Matryoshka dolls with another point of decision within the preceding one. We could decide to bivouac in the middle of the intersection and refuse to take a path if we find ourselves that paralyzed. However, life is avaricious for change, it insists on exacting its toll of metamorphosis, it throws entropy in the face of the static. If we think we can avoid regret by not choosing, life will choose for us and we will invariably receive neither option.


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.

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.

Five of Wands with Two of Pentacles

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

One of the most tear-jerkingly beautiful aspects of the internet is the fact that it is a bastion of steadfast opinions and convictions. At any time when there’s that little argumentative tickle waving a feather across your uvula you can hop online, sling your bag of world view talking points over your shoulder, and wander the landscapes of Twitter and Facebook and the comment sections of blogs and articles to scatter your seeds of stalwart convictions on all things political, social, and ethical.

Where else can we dive into the deep end of dispute, armed with confirmation bias and an absence of eye contact, or even an ad hominem or the Godwin’s Law nuclear option in case our talking points turn to tissue paper, and walk away knowing we are right? What a fantastic venue social media and forum threads provide us for wiping away any niggling self-doubt we might hold toward our own personal convictions. If we can’t be troll slayers in our own right, we can be their king.

What about when we lose power to our house and we have a low battery warning flashing at us on our smart phone? Then what? Who do we argue with then?

Whenever we find ourselves having trouble making a decision, we are essentially in a heavy debate with ourselves. This lacks much of the satisfaction of debating with others; when we argue with other people we can simply glance at the cue card displaying the right buzzwords, memes, and pundit points and deliver them adroitly with a parenthetical so there! When we argue with ourselves, however, we either hold dearly to opposing ideals or wants, or there is no driving desire to nudge us toward a particular choice.

The irony here is that our ambivalence is fueled by the same Sterno that keeps our online contentions hot. It is less about having a need to be right and more about being afraid of being wrong. We juggle one option over another in fear of choosing the one that will send us down the well of wrongness, and we lack the self-trust to be able to climb out like the proverbial mule if we end up getting buried for dead.

If we can take ten steps beyond the myopia of the moment, we can see what lies beyond our indecision. Often it’s a matter of looking at the bigger view, at seeing our greatest goals even if they are seemingly unrelated to the bifurcated path we face, and working backwards to see which choice will take us in that direction. There may be something we need to give up in the short term that has contributed to our vacillation, but it is easier to surrender when we see the greater vision.

Interestingly, our ambivalence invariably comes from not knowing who we are rather than not knowing what we want. When we see ourselves from the perspective of who we are and who we want to be, the ability to move toward a given option becomes much clearer.

Ace of Cups with Two of Cups

Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan
Witches Tarot by Ellen Dugan

Have you ever heard the expression A sorrow shared is halved, a joy shared is doubled? Yeah, I had to sit on that one for awhile. I heard that expression and I found myself thinking, how is sorrow like a piece of cake? Does that mean if I eat a big ass piece of cake, I’ll be sorry due to an ensuing belly ache, but if I each half as much cake, I’ll only suffer half the amount of intestinal distress?

Don’t throw these little axioms my way as I am bound to overthink them.

I eventually absorbed the meaning of the first half of the expression. The other half seems quite self-evident to me. Even in its apparent obviousness it’s something I seem to forget at times.

How often do we use the statement overflowing with joy? There are occasions we feel such ebullience we can barely contain it, that it goes sloshing over the container of our emotional reservoirs to stain our grandmother’s crocheted tablecloth with the saccharin delight of whatever happened to turn us on. We radiate our enthusiasm to such a degree that our sunny disposition inflicts third degree burns on the more morose members of our audience.

What I want to focus on here is shared as the operative word in that expression. Simply running around as a personal celestial object-gone-wild shouting “Woot!” and flashing our globes of exuberance at every passerby may only serve enough to elicit a “Thanks for sharing” muttered sarcastically from a set of lips pinched shut on one side. This is tantamount to how zoo imprisoned primates share of themselves with their human viewers on the other side of the cage.

By sharing I’m referring to showing others the location of the wellspring into which we dipped our overflowing chalice. It’s not enough for us to simply show others that we are happy and expect that they will merely experience joy by proxy. Possibly, maybe. But when we leave do we take our joyful ball home and the game of feeling delight ends for the others? Or do we show them the rules of the happiness game so they can continue to play when we are no longer in their presence?

If we carry our candle into a room and offer our light, we cannot simply serve as the only light source. We must tip our flame to the candles of others so they can continue to shine on their own as well. We may need the flame we ignited for them when we might someday find ourselves in the dark.

The Empress with Two of Swords

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

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Should I have said “Spoiler alert”? Did I give away the theme of this blog post by posting the ending of that poem? Can you add me to the list of perps guilty of riding that old broken mare well past the point of her prime?

Maybe yes, maybe no…

Regarding the maybe yes, this is indeed referring to that point of decision, that choice, that fork in the road, toss of a coin, bifurcation of probabilities. This, however, extends beyond deciding whether or not to wear the black or tan pants or deciding if you want to have fish or chicken at the wedding reception of your cousin’s sixth marriage, or even if you want to go to the wedding as you skipped the second through fourth and you may not get invited to her next three if you don’t attend this one.

This goes into the realm of decisions where there are serious ramifications and reverberations of consequence that extend well into the future from whichever choice is made. We find ourselves weighing two beefy hefty thick decisions, knowing our lives will go in completely disparate directions whichever we choose.

Most commonly, this type of decision ends up getting based on what we might be able to foresee as the outcome of a given option. We examine each path and try to ascertain all the events that will follow from that choice and how our lives may turn out accordingly. We basically throw our crystal ball down the lane and hope it hits the head pin of predictability.

Frost wasn’t necessarily indicating the road less traveled as being the one that isn’t popular with the cool kids. He might have meant it to be the road that had no signposts or waypoints or hadn’t been driven by the Google Street View car. That road could have led to a Waffle House or an Ikea, to a Queensryche concert or to Rhyolite, Nevada.

The point is, he had no way of knowing where that road would take him. He could take Madison Avenue which goes to Cookie Cutter Lane with makes a right at Sure Bet Street and guess what? He ended up exactly where he thought he would. Safer? Probably. Happier? Insert shoulder shrug here. The allusion here is when it comes to making a big decision, sometimes there’s nothing more like jumping into a glacially fed lake to make all your cells come alive than choosing the decision that lies beyond the Monte Hall curtain, that takes you everywhere, anywhere, and nowhere in particular.

Got a choice? One outcome is a given the other a mystery? The choice should be obvious… it’s not the obvious choice. Me winking while I wrote that is totally implied.