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.

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The Empress with Ten of Wands

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Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche

Between the ages of six and ten, what I consider the halcyon days of my youth, I lived on a military base in the Panama Canal zone. Save for when I was in school, I spent the majority of my time dressed inappropriately for entering any business establishment, donning only a pair of shorts in a climate that had only two seasons: rainy and dry.

The base was located on an isthmus, which offered a choice of two beaches on which I would play inexhaustibly that were only a handful of blocks in either direction of our quarters. They afforded me a bevy of entertaining choices: hermit crabs to catch, low tide that stretched a quarter-mile out to expose knee-deep mud sand, the washed up carcasses of manta rays and horseshoe crabs, a large moss covered trunk of driftwood the size of three Escalades upon which we would play that we creatively dubbed “The Big Log”, large fist sized chunks of pumice that would float ashore and smelled like a fishmonger when you scrubbed it on cement.

Regardless of how romantically I reflect on those childhood years, they were still ladened with tedious chores assigned to me. One of the most loathsome of all the chores I was given was mango pickup duty. Sure, having a mango tree that spread its limbs the breadth of the entire yard in which it stood dead center may sound like a treat, offering fresh mangos with skin that tore gently away from the fibrous golden yellow meat, sweet juice that ran down your forearm, bursting with the smell of the tropics. Nonetheless, for every delectable fruit one could eat, there was a dozen of its cousins strewn about the yard, casualties of overripeness, impending rot and fermentation, a veritable beacon for creepies and crawlies and buzzies.

Imagine the privilege of scooping up handfuls of rotting mangos, that once sweet fragrance having transformed into rancid syrupy stench, with leaves as stiff as cardboard in accompaniment, all the aforementioned detritus constantly battling and defying the tines of the rake. This is the chore that made a half hour of work feel like it dragged on more painfully than the first Star Trek: The Motion Picture with the extra twelve minutes of film. On one attempt to shirk this drudgery of a chore I was presented with a choice: either finish the cleanup before my parents got back home, or be grounded for two weeks. Employing the wisdom of a seven year-old I chose the latter.

Nothing will remind you that you are a kid blessed with living in a tropical paradise more than being confined indoors. If I thought raking rotting mangos felt like an eternity, being grounded made the chore feel like shore leave.

Forty years later, in the thick midsection of adulthood, I still sometimes have to catch myself when menial tasks of daily living feel so Sisyphean, when I climb into my mental time machine and go back and whisper in the eight year-old’s ear, raking mangos once a month ain’t nothin’.

I honestly believe we lose sight of the meaning of housework and weed pulling and bill paying and gutter cleaning whenever we declare that these are things that have to get done. The implication here is that these tasks and chores and responsibilities are meted out by the gods of grownupness, that we are condemned to forever have to pick up our socks and put away our toys. We so often forget that these tasks are not sentences, they are actually steps in a process. During those moments when we can stand back and appreciate the sweet charming home we live in, or look at our children with glowing parental pride, or appreciate the peace that surrounds us, these are comprised of a multitude of tasks that were applied layer by layer to build upon the moment that we stand in that is making us smile.

If we were able to fully indulge in a life of nothing but leisure, it would be a life that was not created. The body is toned because the workout was strenuous. The tomato is sweetest because the soil was turned. The beauty displayed on the canvas of life was comprised by many stiff and tedious strokes as well as the ones that glided smoothly and softly. When we see these tasks in that light they become so much less grueling. This Zen saying encompasses it all quite well: Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

Eight of Wands with Seven of Cups

Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche
Cosmic Tarot by Norbert Lösche

Once again, I come to this blog with a couple of cards that seem to have a bit of a personal message. Whether you are anything like me, or nothing like me, or somewhat resemble me from the knees on down, there may be a message in these two cards for you as well.

First of all, I want to preface this post with the promise that this is in no way another New Year’s themed memorandum. I’m not vowing to eat more of this or less of that, I’m not planning a lifelong commitment into a workout regimen that will actually fade out in the third week of the year, nor am I promising to be nicer or less snarky to myself or anyone else. I’m not really a resolution maker, as I’m a proponent of the “the best time to start anything is now” credo rather than saving it for a monumental milestone marker date that’s highlighted on a monthly calendar containing pictures of puppies in baskets.

For me, why decide to start something anew on the annual Day 1 when there are so many things I have yet to complete? Admittedly I am one of those forms of folk that like to have a myriad of projects, many irons in the fire.  My grandmother, having recognized the multifaceted attention span that is inherent in us Gemini, often tossed me the “jack of all trades, master of none” idiom (or its Barbadian equivalent) as a harbinger of a life filled with the detritus of incomplete endeavors.

As I take inventory of the works-in-progress that lay strewn about in my mental hopper I see a fictional story, a non-fictional writing concept, an improvement on the coffee roaster, the continuing pursuit of my certifications for work, the next assignment in line toward my metaphysical theology degree, another podcast or reawakening the dormant one, a little music recording… that’s only to name a fraction of them. The list is inexhaustible yet exhausting to ponder. A small thread of anxiety shows itself when I try to discern which deserves the lion’s share of my attention.

Each and every one of these endeavors excites me, so I cannot begin to prioritize them by importance. That’s the trouble with these multiple interests; as each moment passes one of these happen to stop on the wheel’s flapper to say “pick me”, yet the wheel gets respun time and time again as the sun marches across the sky. How do I decide what is most important or most deserving of my time, or which I want to do above all others?

The trick here is to step back and look at it all from a thousand feet away. When all these little projects and interest get displayed on a single large canvas, they take on a completely different perspective. I can look at all these accomplishments I’m aspiring to complete in one singular theme. The question is not about importance or priority or ultimate desire, it is one of purpose and point, not about what I want to accomplish, but who I want to be.

As I stand back and soak in these endeavors in perspective panoramic, I seem to see a mish-mosh of disparate plans and projects, but my Gemini soul gazes upon the vista with great pleasure. I see a collection of tiny pieces of projects, each of which in turn catches the sun as it crosses the sky to create a glint to catch my attention at that moment in time, only until the next piece winks its light at me with the shifting azimuth. It is delighting in the distractions of the dabblings. It is the pleasure of engaging in a tarantella with a myriad of projects that exhilarates me. It is essentially the pure joy in being a jack of all trades, much more gratifying than being the master of one.