September 07, 2018

What is Tarot Good For?

via Spy vs Spy
I've come a long way with Tarot over the past 15-plus years, and the figurative distance is so far that I often forget why I started in the first place. Well, that's not entirely true: I do remember why I started, and it's because a friend bought my first Tarot deck for me as a gag gift on my birthday. Joke's on me, huh? But I stuck with it not because I enjoyed reliving the joke, but because I think I knew even at the beginning two things which have stuck with me all this time: the feeling that I can't trust myself, and the feeling that I can't understand others.

My entire life I have felt out of place and have had difficulty relating to other people, and I think that this is in large part due to the fact that my father was an officer in the Marine Corps and our whole family moved to a new part of the country (and once even to another country) every 2-3 years. I can't speak for all military brats everywhere, but at least for me the experience taught me that making friends was more trouble than the effort was worth because I would be gone before the friendship ever turned into anything -- or I would just have to be painfully ripping up roots if I let them sink deep. For me this resulted in having an insular family life and as a consequence probably not enough social contact with other people my age. This meant that as a teenager and young adult, I struggled to understand other people's perspectives and how to develop meaningful friendships.

As for the other part, as left young adulthood I frequently struggled with mental and emotional health. I don't particularly want to go into the details, partly because I don't think you're that interested in hearing about them, but also because I'm don't think the details matter very much in this context, but the point is that I frequently struggled to find a sense of personal balance. This struggle for balance is best characterized by the way that when I felt good, I wouldn't be able to see that I was over-extending myself, and when I felt bad I would run out of either stamina or motivation to sustain the things I set in motion and be forced to watch them crumble around me. I've described this feeling in the past as the struggle between perpetual optimist Charlie Brown and his attempt to kick the football which the perpetual trickster Lucy, despite her promises to the contrary, always pulls it out from under him at the most moment.

However, I often also think that my moods are adequately described by the "Spy vs. Spy" comic printed by Mad Magazine because both spies are equally capable of killing the other, both take turns obliterating each other, and neither one appears to be willing or capable of making a choice to stop the fight. Both distrust each other, both are constantly looking for the other around every corner, and both believe that they'll always win. Replace "Spy vs. Spy" with "Mood vs. Mood," and you get an idea what my life is like.

Combine my learned habits as a military brat with whatever it is that I still don't understand which has caused me so many ups and downs as an adult, and you get me: a person who is frequently frustrated with other people because he struggles to understand and relate to them, but who also is frequently frustrated with himself because he distrusts his own mind and struggles to keep the promises he makes even to himself.

When you see me in that context, I think it becomes clear to you why I was initially attracted to the fantasy of psychic divination and its promise of revealing the unknown, but also why after so many other things have fallen away from my life I've continued to keep the Tarot as it really exists: a means to force paradigm shifts, step outside of myself, consider my thoughts and moods from another perspective, and think about myself and other people without relying on my own personal instabilities.

Of course, at least for me the natural conclusion to this discussion is one that many other people have already pointed out: maybe I really can't trust myself? Even if the Tarot is random and no better than throwing dice, it's an effective tool for causing my train of thought to jump the rails. Yes, it's going to be a big mess when the train crashes, but often enough the process of putting it back on the rails helps me decide if I want to change direction, speed up, slow down, or just stop completely.

For a guy who continues to struggle for certainty and avoid over-reaching, that makes Tarot a damn fine tool for self-care.

1 comment:

  1. "[I]t's an effective tool for causing my train of thought to jump the rails." That's really interesting as an idea. In this sense, Tarot differs but little from metaphor and other great figurative language in poetry: designed to make the familiar suddenly strange and, thereby, to effect new insight into the mundane and quotidian. The Russian literary theorist Viktor Shklovsky once said that literary language represents a kind of organized violence done to ordinary language. Tarot, then, might represent organized violence done to your everyday perception of your life. A tool for turning the soil, breaking up the clumps, and making it ready for planting something new...at least until you tire of that, too, and begin turning the soil all over again!

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