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.

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The Fool with Wheel of Fortune

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche
Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche

When I was a little kid and I first heard the expression when you come to a fork in the road I had a vision of pronged cutlery laying on blacktop. I wondered why it wasn’t a spoon or a knife or an entire set of silverware. I wondered who had lost that fork, and what were they doing eating food requiring cutlery while walking down the middle of the road, and how dangerous that would be as one’s attention would be on getting food to mouth rather than oncoming vehicles. Then I thought maybe that’s how they lost the fork, finding themselves suddenly dodging a Dodge, leaping to the shoulder, thus losing the fork with the quick maneuver.

So as a little kid I ended the question of what to do when encountering a fork in the road with Don’t pick it up as you don’t know where it’s been; most likely in someone’s mouth.

Still, finding an eating utensil on the street as well as reaching a bifurcation in one’s path places us at the point of decision, doesn’t it? In the 49 year old version, it’s whether I take the path that veers left or the one that goes right. In the 6 year old version it is whether or not I pick up the dirty fork or leave it in the road.

Coming upon a utensil in the road might not result in the same degree of ambivalence as choosing between Path A and Path B, especially if we have no idea where either path leads. It becomes even more vexing when we actually know exactly where each path leads but we are not sure which destination we we want. We might wish to experience or avoid one just as equally as the other.

If you spend any time on Facebook or reading those how to make your life more shiny through these inappropriately coined “life hacks”, you’ve likely encountered this tip on helping one break out of the entropy of incertitude: Flip a coin; once you’ve designated sides for each option and while the coin is in the air, you’ll find yourself hoping it lands a certain way, thus clarifying which option you truly prefer.

Here’s what I say; if you were hoping to come up heads to give its nod to Path A, then take Path B. Maybe the devil to whom you are acquainted mans the toll bridge on A Street and, after all, you’ve already met. But I bet you haven’t met Robert Frost, and he’s the tour guide on B Street. Maybe you know A is a smoother ride where B voted down the road maintenance taxes, I don’t know…

All too often we focus on the result or ramification of one choice over the other and we make our decision based on our speculation. We will even find ourselves agonizing and gnashing our teeth over the fact that the road has split before us and, God forbid, we have the anguish of having to actually decide upon something. But let me ask you this; what would be worse, finding we’ve made a bad decision, or having a bad decision made for us?

We hold in each hand the power to control our destiny. Whichever one we open defines our fate, created by our own hand, our own choice. We are not driven by the genetic control system of nature, to go south on instinct when the temperature starts to drop. Sure, we may have chosen to turn left at Albuquerque to find ourselves in the middle of the desert with a warm liter of Mountain Dew, but the beauty of it is the fact that we created that outcome. We carved that circumstance with our bare hands.

Wherever our choosing takes us, we find it will lead us to a new choice. There are no dead ends in living; only for the dead. The truth is that God did not give us free will, it is the power of our free will that makes us gods.

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.

Two of Swords

Two of Swords
A figure sits blindfolded at night before the sea, two swords balanced between crossed arms

At some point while on our path to manifesting our desired outcome we will find ourselves at a crossroad, at a point of indecision. We may even find ourselves completely immobilized at this point, unsure of what decision to make, of which direction would be best for our decided outcome.

There are many factors that may contribute to us freezing in place during our journey. Most commonly this is due to finding ourselves pulled between the desire we have envisioned and an opposing fear, like the flag in the center of a tug-of-war rope. We may be stalled by the fear of success, of the tremendous change it would bring or of a greater responsibility or commitment it would endow us with. We may be frozen in place by the possibility of failure, of not being able to reach the goal we have set for ourselves. Continue reading Two of Swords