Closing the Door on Bad Habits

The pathway of healing is not a wild, untamed path. It is a manicured path, a watered path,  a tended path. The sweet bloom of integration can only unfurl under certain conditions; as Miles of Sideways puts it, “Pinot is very temperamental. Only the most nurturing of growers can bring it into its fullest expression.” If the soil is barren and the ivy has strangled the yarrow and the birds have no seed to feed on, we won’t be sustained. The wild, untamed path is that of epiphany and revelation. The tended path is that of returning to wholeness.

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I know this logically. I think most of us do. But to know it in our bones and to have the strength to trim back the vines and cut back the shade is harder to summon than a thought. It takes willpower, self-control, and dedication. It also takes a leap of faith.

As of today, I have gone a week without smoking cigarettes. This habit, so taboo in contemporary society and even more so in the witchy/metaphysical/new age community, was the vestige in a string of bad habits I’ve managed to break over the years.  I felt shame over the fact that I smoked, but I smoked anyway. A dear friend’s mother died of lung cancer, and still I smoked. Neighbors would slam their windows shut in reaction to my morning smokestack behavior, but still, I smoked. I justified it based on the fact that I had rid myself of all other vices; indeed, that marriage and motherhood were largely incompatible with the word “vice”. As I spoke from my righteous soapbox, however, my convictions felt hollow. I knew that I was harming myself. I knew that my values and beliefs violently clashed with the habit, but I simply didn’t stop. I was the modern day St. Augustine; “give me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

But a week ago, it was time. How could I possibly dedicate an entire month to healing without considering the dire effects that smoking was having on my body? How could I ask others to bravely move through their suffering if I wasn’t willing to let go of my own self-harming behavior? Smoking hadn’t made sense for a long time, but I clung to it like a well-loved, ill-fitting jacket. I’d long outgrown it, and it was time to finally bite the bullet and move on.

I’ve had cravings. I’ve been irritable. I’m experiencing insomnia the likes of which I haven’t seen since I spent the summer of 2008 in Norway (ever wonder what it’s like to live and work in a country/season where it doesn’t get dark?) But my energy seems boundless. I’m happier, lighter. Everything seems clearer, somehow. And my muse has flown from her tower to perch comfortably on my shoulder, and oh, how happy I am that she’s here. Sometimes taking care of yourself means letting go of things you love because you know that you’ll be better off without them. Sometimes healing means trimming back the overgrowth to make room for a new, beautiful direction.

Much Love Seekers,

Jessi

Summer Lovin’

Every year, it’s the same–I wake up one morning, step outside, and just know that midsummer has arrived. The heat rises from the earth and the pavement, the mayflies hatch and glint in the sunlight, the tree-branches buckle beneath the weight of fully grown leaves, and the echo of drum circles heightens my focus like meditation chimes. I love to honor the season’s transitions, to wake up to the shifting of the elements and resonate with the world as it is in the moment. In the summer, this is effortless for me. I feel at home in the cotton caress of shifts and scarves, delight in the way the breeze lovingly plays with my skirt hem and tickles my calves. The well-being and balance I feel is unparalleled, and I spread my arms wide and drink it in while it lasts.

Summer is the season of love, of suspended inhibitions, of ersatz gatherings and weekend bazaars. This energy practically begs us to open ourselves, to set aside duty and expectation and seize the opportunity for universal communication. I find my rituals become more spontaneous and my tarot readings more intuitive–it’s almost as if the collective unconscious is speaking through me, offering primal and cosmic insights that speak to the wellspring of human consciousness itself. Gorgeous literary quotations worm their way into my mind and present themselves through my interpretations, connecting me to my deep love of literature and resurrecting the ghosts of the novel prophets of yore. Their messages are broad and profound like the gentle rolling of placid seas, and just as welcome.

The core is communion and compassion. Self-love. Channelling the wave of emotion outwards like a beacon of hope. Here and abroad, there is a strong opposition to opening, to accepting, to being in peace with the world as it is and striving to create safe spaces for everyone.  I imagine an open heart as a giant bubble that expands and welcomes the world in its embrace. I imagine, and as a witch, I believe my imaginings hold weight. They will not stop the hate. They will not stop the suffering. But they will not feed into it. They will not perpetuate it. And so I whisper my wishes of love into the soft summer breeze and hope that they fall on the ears of someone who needs it the most. I hope, and I dream.

Love, and Love, and Love,

Jessi

The Beautiful Dynamism of the Two-Card Spread

Anyone who travels in the circles of my twitter sphere knows that I’m a fan of the two card spread.  The simplicity of the one-card is almost too simple–done as a daily draw, it tends to reinforce traditional interpretations which, if you’re starting out and still getting the hang of meanings, is great.  If you’ve got that madness on lock, however, the two-card spread can be an accessible (and extremely effective) method of exploring the intuitive aspect of tarot; in other words, it introduces relationships that expand on our understanding of the cards and how spreads function holistically. The best readings I’ve given (or received, for that matter) have paid close attention to the nature of these relationships, creating an arc and a narrative that lays the situation out in a way that makes sense. When we allow the cards to speak to one another, we make room for revelations in ourselves and our querent, allowing for greater clarity and catharsis. This experience, I believe, constitutes the “mystical” aspect of tarot–it’s almost as if we’ve tapped into some greater truth, some pure and holy message that our querent was meant to receive.

Since I post a daily two-card draw to Twitter, I’m limited in my interpretation (140 characters, to be precise).  At first, I viewed this as a potential roadblock to the quality of the readings I would give.  As I went ahead with the project, however, I realized that the text limitation was unexpectedly expansive–if I was going to do this in a way that resonated, I was going to have to dip into my poetic arsenal and address these things macrocosmically. Instead of truncating the standard interpretation of the cards and crushing them together (which you still really don’t have space for), I would have to address how the cards played off of one another and attempt to express that dynamic in a pithy, wide-ranging way.  For example, here are the cards that I pulled for this morning’s spread:

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The Seven of Swords is indicative of theft and deception, whether subjectively or objectively. Temperance speaks to the need to maintain a fluid balance in the various areas of our lives, the need to constantly consider the whole rather than becoming fixated on certain parts. A general reading that only mildly considers the relationship between these cards may go a little something like this: “Beware the stranger who threatens to subvert your achievements. Even if you discover the culprit, exercise restraint in your reaction.” It’s simple, to the point, and it certainly touches on the meanings of both cards. The connection between them, however, seems disjointed: treating the “culprit” justly doesn’t  explore why you’re being deceived in the first place.

Here’s the interpretation that I actually posted: “Never take more than you need. When you make use of something, you deny others the chance to. Make it count.” It doesn’t speak to the meanings of the cards specifically; rather, it answers these questions: what do deception and temperance have in common? How does the notion of temperance relate to acts of deception? Why did the figure in the Seven of Swords leave two swords behind? What does temperance mean when it’s applied macrocosmically; in other words, how does temperance function in the societal and natural world?

When I first saw these cards, I recognized in the imagery that one spoke of balance while the other spoke of imbalance; five swords were taken while two were left behind. This suggested that this pair was at odds, and I’d need to offer a bit of “guidance” to unite them. The theft depicted in the Seven of Swords sparked me to think of resources, and how the figure was almost weighed down by how much he had seized. I looked back at the Temperance card and saw it as depicting the perfect balance of resources. Then I took it to  a macro place and considered the ethical and environmental implications of the unequal distribution of resources and the general cycle of environmental pillaging we seem to be stuck in. I was reminded of the manner in which tribes of indigenous Americans approached the use of buffalo–only taking what they needed and using every single bit so that more would be left over for future hunts and future generations. Thus, my interpretation was born.

This is certainly a lengthy process, and very much a dynamic one. Had I drawn these cards on another day, my interpretation may have been different, but it still would have addressed the interplay between the two. Performing this exercise trains our minds to consider how the archetypes speak to one another, therefore increasing our associations and our ability to “think on our feet” when it comes to interpreting spreads. None of these cards exist in a vacuum; they are presented as a deck precisely because there are unifying elements between each and every one of them. It is our responsibility as tarot practitioners to honor these relationships and incorporate them into our readings so that our querent can understand their obstacles in a holistic way. Decisions don’t exist in vacuums either; we only make empowered ones when we’ve considered the various factors that inform and contribute to them, and the more information we have, the better the chances that we’ll make decisions that truly resonate with what we want and need.

Love and Light,

Jessi

 

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Traversing the Wormhole of the “Culinary Underbelly”: An Exploration of the Magician

In his book, Kitchen Confidential, chef/author/travelogue god Anthony Bourdain reveals in shocking detail the twenty-five years he spent as a chef and cook in the “culinary underbelly” of the restaurant industry. As one would expect, there are palatable tales: his incomparable dining experience at The French Laundry, for one. But Kitchen Confidential is not a book about food. It is a look into Bourdain’s hero’s journey, a catalogue of his descent into drugs and obscurity and his re-emergence as the head chef of the respected Les Halles restaurant. And as much as I enjoyed his painstakingly crafted descriptions of 15 course tasting menus (I worked for the inimitable Marc Vetri for a time, and by the grace of his conjuring hands was able to dine on food of similar quality), his book ranks among my favorites for the inclusion of a single chapter: “The Wilderness Years”. In these pages, Bourdain admits to seeking out the highest paying gig so he could feed whatever habit he was gripped by at the time. His decline is mirrored by the descending quality of the restaurants in which he works and by the slow extinguishment of his passion for food, ending in a shitty diner and a shittier walk-up apartment and the feeling that there must be more to life than feeding the beast of desire and addiction.

For Bourdain, there was more. Much more. And it was because of a simple shift in his decade-skewed paradigm: he began to believe. To believe that more was possible for him. To believe that he could “choose life”, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it. To believe that life was a choice, and not a tide that tugs us in and out at its whim. The moment he acquired this belief, he changed his direction. He became The Magician incarnate.

When I first read “The Wilderness Years”, I recognized them as my own. I’d been toiling away as a server for the better part of five years, buckling beneath the pressure of short term deadlines and trays heaping with entrees of varying quality. The pressure was enough to break anyone’s spirit and sanity, but we found ways to cope: cigarettes, booze, and drugs, namely. At the end of a body-warping shift, we’d shed our uniforms in cold, dark hallways and emerge in the trendy street clothes our tips bought us and beeline it to the nearest watering hole. When I worked at Amis, that bar was Dirty Frank’s, a dive that’s somehow stayed a dive despite the press it’s gotten over the years. We drank pickle-backs: shots of whiskey followed by shots of pickle-juice. And we drank beers on top of that, but by the end of the night, no one was quite sure what or how much we had consumed. Sometimes the evening ended in someone’s apartment amidst a haze of pot smoke. Other times, it ended with a drunken stumble down 13th Street and a sloppily hailed cab. I’d picked up right where I’d left off in Edinburgh, but this time, I had no straight, studious days to balance me out. Somehow I always got home, but it wasn’t always pretty; one night I walked halfway across the city with sleet slicing at my face because I simply couldn’t function well enough to tell the cab driver where I needed to go. The map was in my blood by that point, so I trudged on, knowing that I’d find my way to my doorstep.

One night, I couldn’t find my way home. The path I walked had deviated so far from the map of my mind that I traveled the streets like a shadow. I wasn’t plagued by darkness; I was darkness. And in that moment of pure and utter nothingness, the world was a microscopic point and an infinitesimal expanse all at once. When the ego is stripped down to its bare essentials, identity is precarious, but possibility is endless. It is from this fiery pit that the phoenix emerges, that The Magician is born.

The Magician is the embodiment of possibility, of new life that has found its agency. When we distance ourselves from our persona, we are no longer governed by it; the expectations we have of ourselves drift away, allowing our true gifts and talents to work through us and manifest in the world. We begin to believe in ourselves, in the primordial concoction of air, fire, earth, and water that dictates the true nature of our souls. Because The Magician has all of the tools at his disposal, he can shape the world as he sees fit. And before he could make use of those tools, he first had to crack through the crust of reality.

A month after I became a free agent, I left the restaurant industry. I look back on the years I spent there with mixed emotions, but I feel that I was fated to make that deviation. Without debasing myself so, I may never have shed enough ego to realize how free we truly are, how our view of the universe shifts the universe and shifts us.  Though my departure happened three years ago, I feel as if I’m finally discovering the usefulness of the Magician’s tools, and with any luck, I’ll wield them with as much power and confidence as that glorious archetype.

Much Love,

Jessi

 

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Releasing the Anchor: An Exploration of the Five of Cups

In 2005, I got on a plane and flew to Scotland. The cabin was cramped and the pressure made me achy; I flooded my senses with artists and playlists, but the songs (dear friends, now) couldn’t distract me from the feeling that I’d left a limb in my homeland. I’d worked my ass off to arrive at this very moment, had sacrificed hours to writing and thinking and strategizing, and now that the fruits of my labour were comfortably nestled in my lap, I was afraid.

I passed the first week mind out of body. As the haze subsided, I began to remember: I stopped at a pizza shop after I handed my fat scholarship check to the bursar. I gazed through the storefront window as I carelessly gnawed on my food, trying to process the curvature of Edinburgh’s centuries old buildings as something real. I went to the pub with my housemates that first night, legally guzzled Stella Artois as a twenty year-old and kissed a boy I didn’t know to make me feel like I existed. The phone lines gave me trouble, so I didn’t speak with family. I mingled with the other foreign transplants, traded stories and cultures, but never touched on what I was missing.

I drank more. Woke up reeling. Looked in the mirror and hardly knew myself. I imagined the deaths of my grandparents and wondered if I’d be able to get back for their funerals. I threw myself into the “uni” culture: studious and straight by day, wild and club-hopping by night. I exposed myself to the city and finally saw what I was; I drank from the two cups before me. Yet, the ties of home tightened and slackened like the ropes of a boat docked at harbor: as soon as I surrendered to the bob of the tide, the anchors of guilt and uncertainty jolted me back. I turned to the tipped cups, became lost in the patterns of their spilled contents. How was my family doing without me? Would I be able to readjust when I got back? Were my unclosed chapters being written by someone else?

The Five of Cups illustrates our fractured heart: unable to move on from the ties of the past, unable to face the offerings of our futures. This strange limbo cloaks us in the darkness of disassociation; our unresolved issues flood into our present consciousness, clouding our vision and influencing our current experience. Meanwhile, we lose the plot of our stories. We keep reading and re-reading the same chapter, never getting to the end of the book.

When the Five of Cups appears, it is a call to face the shadow aspect head on. It is so easy drift through shadow like an aimless traveler looking to an overcast sky for guidance. While looking up, our shadows pass through us unseen, triggering our sorrows in the process. We must look straight ahead and recognize them, and do the necessary work to find the messages they seek to convey to us.

When I returned from Scotland, I found that I’d left half of myself overseas. I’d unknowingly set down another anchor, and the knots I’d tied were numerous and tight. It took years of facing shadows to loosen them, and in the process, I loosened many other ties as well. I feel that the human mind naturally drifts between past and future while rarely taking the time to focus on the present. The Five of Cups warns us against this condition, and offers us the courage to read on, come what may, and finish the book.

Love to All Who Walk the Path,

Jessi

 

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Dancing With Eris in the Schoolyard: An Exploration of the Seven of Swords

My best friend lived next door. Our parents drank rum and cokes on my back porch while she and I watched TGIF and ate pizza in my living room. We snuck beneath her parents’ bed and raided her father’s vintage Playboy collection.  We made a music video to “Possum Kingdom” using pillows as drums. And when a member of our clique was home sick, we sped around the playground spreading insidious lies about her. We were nine. Our age doesn’t excuse what we did, but it does suggest that we were new to this type of betrayal: the “Mean Girl” betrayal. The unwarranted betrayal. The betrayal that cuts to the quick and leaves thick scars long after childhood had ended.

When I was approached to help my crew spread the rumor, I felt my pulse quicken.  My heart swelled into my throat and my body vibrated like a lightning rod.  I knew that it was cruel and dangerous to say such things about a classmate, but my best friend assured me that it would be okay. I accepted her reassurance and told her that I’d join under one condition: that I be allowed to say nothing. In other words, I’d be granted permission to rejoice in the twisted joy of defaming someone’s character without actively participating.  With my best friend acting as my liaison, the group accepted my terms, and I upheld them: I didn’t speak one false word to a single soul.

When my classmate returned the next day, she was met with sniggers and sidelong glances. I watched the confusion bloom across her face as she shifted her gaze from one cruel kid to the next. As we walked to lunch, she approached a group of girls to ask them why they kept staring at her. They erupted in an explosion of laughter and cobbled together the rumor between outbursts. The electric feeling flooded my body once again, but this time, it conducted pure fear.

During recess, each member of our clique was called into an empty classroom to be interrogated.  When it was my turn, I simply stated, “I didn’t say anything.” I wasn’t lying, but I wasn’t telling the truth either; honestly, I thought that everyone would deny their involvement anyway. When I returned to the hallway, I could see that this wasn’t so: each girl’s head was bent low, eyes studying the patterns that her shoe tips made when she scuffed them across the floor. I tried to make light-hearted conversation, but they ignored me. I tried locking eyes with my best friend, but she sighed and looked away.

My heart contracted. I realized that my silence was far more duplicitous than the rumor could ever be; I was the true wolf in sheep’s clothing and I wouldn’t be forgiven for it.  I will never forget the shame that I felt at that moment; it’s so potent that it surfaces every time I draw the Seven of Swords, regardless of who I’m reading for. When I pathworked this card, I was spirited back to our perfidious whirlwind tango in the schoolyard, and as I peered into the eyes of my comrades in crime, I didn’t see malice, aggression, and hate. Rather, I saw fear, shame, and insecurity: the painful burden of society’s children. Only then did I truly forgive myself for that day, and only then was I able to forgive those whose deceptions had left me with thick emotional scars.

As lightworkers, spiritual souls, and tarot readers, it’s our responsibility to see the truth that lies in deception: a wounded, disempowered soul. It is only then that we can begin to integrate the awesome power of truth in to the fabric of our own lives, and use that truth to help heal others so that they may do the same.

Much Love,

Jessi

 

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The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Last night, I signed up for the World Tarot Exchange. It was right before I went to bed, so I was too tired to censor myself the way that I normally do. In the field where I was meant to type my question, I wrote this:

“I’ve been putting all of my efforts and energy into becoming a self-actualized person. I have a tendency to distance myself from people, partially because I’m uncomfortable with conflict and intimacy, and partially because I’m afraid that I will fail them, or that they will judge me and abandon me. I know that this is a complex of my own making, or at least of my own perpetuation. I feel that it is the largest obstacle that I have in transitioning from a “caged bird” to a “free bird”. Given that, here’s my question: what can I do to overcome this wariness and distrust of others? How can I truly open my heart and be the integrated, compassionate person that I so strongly desire to be?”

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The question poured out of me organically—I edited nothing, changed nothing, and clicked “submit” without a second thought (and it’s more than I can say for this post). I realized that everything I had confessed, vulnerable and incriminating as it was, was true, and that there was value in that truth.

In fact, I realized that truth is the only thing that holds value.

I went into my room and stared at my face in the mirror. I looked into the reflection of my eyes and my pulse began to quicken; it was almost as if I was afraid to look at myself, to try and see myself objectively. The longer I gazed, the more disturbed I became, and the more accountable I became to myself. Myself looked at me accusatorily—what have you been doing to me? it seemed to ask. Why do you deny me with overwrought thoughts and carefully constructed delusions? Who do you think you are to put me in a cage? What gives you the right?

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Nothing, was all I could think in response.

There are many facets to who each of us are, and we fulfill many roles in the delicate web of our lives. How are we to face the constant challenges of life if we can barely face ourselves? How can we expect to be anything but confused if we refuse to see the truth?

The call to honesty is the deepest call that anyone can answer. I know that I haven’t answered it, but that I will not find peace until I do.

The Osho Zen Tarot arrived in my mailbox two days ago, and since then, I’ve been deeply haunted by its imagery. I’m drawn most powerfully to the suit of clouds and the strikingly negative portrait it paints of the machinations of Mind. This faculty has given us the ability to realize our mortality and to perceive ourselves the way that others perceive us. It has also given us the ability to imagine different lives for ourselves, and for many reasons, this is both miraculous and devastating. We have the ability to captain our own ship, to choose life or, as Rents of Trainspotting so aptly put it, to choose “not to choose life”. It is the latter choice that ultimately damns us, that perpetuates the cycle of pain and suffering we seem inescapably drawn to. We are on the brink of an enormous shift in consciousness, one that promises to release us from this cycle, but in order to transition we must undertake the most difficult challenge that’s ever been presented to us. Living in truth, I believe, is the hardest thing that we could ever do. It’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. I have yet to meet anyone who resides in this space, and if I were to apply the scientific method, I’d have to conclude that it’s impossible to do so.

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But I don’t believe it’s impossible. If I’m wrong, I still believe that it’s something worth striving for, if not for the self, than for the fate of Consciousness at large. The Osho Zen addresses this conundrum unabashedly, and promises that the truth already exists whether we acknowledge it or not.

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There are many things that I deem subpar about this post. I could go back and revise it a hundred times and still be unsatisfied. Even so, I think it humbly attempts to answer, at least in part, the call to truth that I feel in my soul, and so I’m offering it to you. I hope that it may, in some small way, help you to shake off your shackles and walk through the invisible walls of your prison. I hope, in some small way, that connecting with you may help me walk through the walls of mine, so we can all be free of “fear, doubt, and disbelief”.  I wish all of us freedom from mind.

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