I took to Facebook in a live session talking about how the Tarot has changed my life, and some tips on how to get started.
I took to Facebook in a live session talking about how the Tarot has changed my life, and some tips on how to get started.
In February of 2019, on a whim and for no particular reason other than curiosity, I began a habit of drawing a single Tarot card each day, looking at it, reading about it, thinking about how the depiction might apply to my life, and writing down a few notes. To my surprise, this practice has changed my life profoundly, and for the better.
For those who may be interested in trying out a similar practice, here are some recommendations on how to begin.
Get your hands on a Rider Tarot deck. There are hundreds, probably thousands, of varieties of decks out there, and many worthy of consideration for a first deck. I recommend starting with the Rider for several reasons. First of all, the depictions on the cards are evocative. They make it easy to conjure up thoughts or impressions or emotions in response to the cards, and that’s helpful because of the way that we’ll be using them. Since the depictions are distinctive, they may also help you more easily remember the associated meanings that you arrive at for each card.
There are also a lot of resources available that are geared to interpreting the Rider-Waite-Smith card images, as compared to other decks that are available. Also, it’s readily available and you can probably pick up a garden variety Rider deck pretty cheap (maybe around $15, or even less if you shop around). It’s just overall a great starter deck for the novice. You’ll probably want to eventually broaden your horizons and at least look at some other decks, and virtually any deck would be okay for starters, but it’s hard to beat the Rider if you don’t have another particular preference.
Visit Joan Bunning’s website, or buy her book. Learning the Tarot is a marvelous course for the Tarot beginner. It’s easy to read and will take you through the history and tradition of the cards, help you learn the standard accepted meanings (and also how to approach creating your own interpretations), and take you all the way to the basics of creating card spreads and reading for others, if you are so inclined.
The entire course is available online, free of charge, so if you can’t spring for the book, you can get the very same information on the website. I would recommend reading and digesting the first five chapters of the course, and then beginning the daily reading practice described in chapter five.
Of course, there are many, many, other great books and websites on the subject. For me, though, Bunning’s material is perfect for the beginner and will get you off to a great start in understanding and using the Tarot.
Develop your own routine. I hesitate to use the term “ritual” here, because it may have some connotations that put some folks off, but it’s a good idea to create a set routine for yourself around your daily readings that help to reinforce it as a habit, and help you get the most out of the practice. In the beginning, I made a big production of my daily readings, lighting incense, taking time to get into the right frame of mind, shuffling the deck in a certain habitual way, etc. I’m a little less elaborate about it now, but there are a few things that I’ve found to be especially helpful.
First, try to do your daily reading in the same place, at about the same time every day. Whatever sorts of “prelude” activities you’d like to include, use them every day for awhile. This helps to condition your mind to the idea that this is a special time, apart from the rest of your daily activities and obligations. It will help you develop and cultivate mental associations that will bring a spirit of attention and openness to the practice each time you sit down with your deck.
Some people like to ask a question before they cut and draw. For me, it has been most helpful to simply set an intention, such as “what do you have for me today?” I’m not addressing the cards with this intention. I’m addressing my own mind and spirit. “What do you have for me? What do I need to know today? What should I learn right now?”
Really look at the card. Part of the power of the Tarot is its ability to draw forth feelings, ideas and thoughts that might not surface for you otherwise. So it’s great to learn the traditional meanings of the cards, but it’s so much more important to get in touch with your own impressions and intuition. Look at the details of the card. Does the expression or action of any of the characters depicted strike a chord with you? Do you like the card or dislike it? Does it make you feel warm and happy, or contented, or uncomfortable, or confused, or joyful, or irritated, or frightened? Who does the card depict in your life? If you were in the card, what would you be doing or how would you feel? Does the card remind you of anything?
I like to spend a little time scanning my own mind and heart while looking at the card before I take a look at the description from the “little white book” that comes with the deck (or from Joan Bunning’s website or another Tarot site or book). Often, I’ll turn up a card and think “I know exactly what this means for me.” Other times I’ll think “I can’t relate to this at all. It has nothing to do with my life or how I’m feeling today.” Either way, I spend a few minutes mulling it over, and then jot down my impressions.
Keep a journal. This part is so important, because over time you’ll begin to develop your own unique personal catalogue of various card meanings, and also you may begin to see patterns that have meaning in your life or that are somehow useful to you. My practice is to create an Evernote for each season of the year, with room for an entry each day that includes the day of the week and date, the card title, my notes and a picture of the card that I take with my iPad. I also post the card each day to Instagram, and upload it to a “Daily Tarot” album on Flickr, so I can look at the series of cards chronologically from time to time and see if any patterns jump out at me, and think about what they suggest.
Sometimes my notes are nothing more than a few keywords. Other times they may include a detailed description of the card, or maybe a longer narrative about a memory, or what’s going on in my life at the moment and how the card relates to it. The main thing is to be consistent in journaling every day, even if it’s only a few words. The other important thing is to write down whatever it is you’re thinking and feeling, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable to do. The journal is for you, and not something you ever have to share with someone else. The real growth often occurs when we’re feeling most uncomfortable or vulnerable, so it’s helpful to face those sorts of things as directly as we can.
Connect with others. Whether you’re using the Tarot as a tool for personal growth, as a hobbyist or collector, as part of a spiritual practice or just a fun pastime, it’s cool to connect with other people who share the interest. There are lots of communities and websites online where you can find others who are interested in the Tarot. I particularly enjoy the community that has gathered around The Hermit’s Cave, Simon Harrison’s popular Tarot-centric YouTube channel. Google and find the sites, social media and groups that appeal most to you.
Enjoy yourself. You may find, as I did, that the Tarot is a powerful tool for personal development. Or for you it may turn out to be a simple pleasant activity, without a lot of gravity – an interesting diversion. For me, it began as the latter and soon took on a life of its own. There’s really no “right” approach, and nothing to fear from “doing it wrong.” So relax and enjoy and just take in the experience.
And whatever your experience turns out to be, I wish you the best, and I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment here with your own stories, resources, questions and ideas.
Here’s to the journey!
This post also appears on Brian’s Tarot website, Cards of Light.
Just a couple of old Hippie songs on a Friday Night.
I’ve been feeling drawn to the acoustic guitar again lately, and have also been remembering how good it feels to play and sing for others. Facebook Live offers an opportunity to share the music without dragging a bunch of equipment out to a tavern, being away from my family, or staying up too late past my bedtime. 🙂
I may do some more of these from time to time. It would be nice to figure out how to make it a little more interactive, and get some decent sound and video quality too. But this will do for now.
Live, from the basement bar at Chez When…
is about 33 square feet
A human body
takes up about
Less than that on her side
How can it be
that it still feels too
close in here?
In the Morning Sun
Her blonde hair
and drooling grin
Make me want
to call that man
we are caught
in an entertainment endeavor
that is fueled by outrage
i used to be outraged
now i am mostly sad
a little confused
and more than a little frightened
because there is no normal
to get back to
We pause at a stop sign on the way to school
Here comes a little black puffball
Skipping and hopping on the end of his lead
Dancing like popcorn in a hot skillet
As he and his tender approach
We see that his is missing a left front leg
Joyful, he is
The Kid smiles broadly catching the man’s eye
And he smiles back
Joyful were we
Gentlest breeze and sweet smell
the silent sentinel
at breath’s gate
Before the seat of the soul
mandalas flow and resolve
the orbit of a far off prayer
wheel their motive
the True Name
the Holy Name
is revealed once more
Einstein said “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” So I’d like to share three absurd ideas with you. If you study them, follow their implications and apply them to your daily activities, these absurd ideas are guaranteed to change your life, dramatically, and for the better.
Though these ideas may seem to be rooted in religious mysticism, I would encourage you to set any notions about religion or theology aside for the time being. These concepts are consistent with our best current scientific observations and thought.
This statement sounds like metaphor or hyperbole, but it is literally true. In fact, it is an understatement. All of what we perceive as material reality, things that seem so solid and durable, are actually vast chasms of emptiness. This is the case whether we are talking about a brick wall, or diamond ring, or the Rock of Gibraltar, or a planet or our own bodies.
When we take a close look at an atom, we see that it is not something “solid” at all. It is mostly vacuum, with itty bitty particles flying around at great speeds and at great distances from each other relative to their size. Even on this level, it would be accurate to say that they are “99% nothing.” When we delve to the subatomic level, things get even weirder and more ethereal. It becomes difficult to make a distinction between what is a particle, and what is a wave. Quantum theory suggests that what we perceive as matter is actually more a collection of fields of probability, rather than something certain and solid.
Although the experience of a baseball bat striking one’s skull will not seem less solid as a result, the fact remains that more than 99% of everything is nothing. It’s a bit imprecise, but not untrue, to say that it’s all essentially vibrations. When people refer to the “vibe” of a location, event or person, they can be speaking literal truth.
Which brings us to our next concept.
This one sounds like a very crunchy Hippie dream, doesn’t it? It reminds me of the old joke about a Buddhist Monk who walks up to a hotdog vendor and says “Make me one with everything.” Cliché though it may seem, this one is true as well.
These vibrations that are at the foundation of what we experience as the material Universe are, in fact, a single vibration. Our best theoretical explanation of how our Universe began describes an infinitely dense single point which contained all that would become time and space. From this initial singularity, energy was sent forth (in the “Big Bang”) which would create all things, sustain all things, and is all things. This sending forth continues today. The Universe continues to expand.
Think of the striking of a gong. Depending on where you stand in relationship to the gong, you will experience the feeling and the sound in a particular way, and you will experience variations as the sound waves travel through time and space. Someone close to the gong will experience something different than someone across the room, or down the hall. And everyone’s experiences of the sound and percussion will change with the passing of time, all from a single gong strike.
This is, I think, an apt metaphor for our Universe. Although things seem to be separate, there is an essential unity. The Universe isn’t filled with different things, as much as different expressions of the same thing. More than 99% of everything is nothing, it’s all vibration, and it is, in fact, a single vibration. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
I won’t go about citing the research here. It’s easy enough to access the scientific literature on all of this should you so desire. I’ll include a couple of links to very basic explanations at the end of this article. For now, suffice it to say that I am a skeptic, and I have become convinced of the truth of these statements.
The first two concepts lead to the third, and it is the one that can be applied practically to better our lives.
Since everything we experience as material reality is really a collection of vibrations which emanated from the single source, it follows that everything we experience is connected in ways that aren’t always immediately apparent to us. It may seem odd, at first, to consider that something “invisible” or “immaterial” such as a thought, can have an effect on material things. Perhaps it would be helpful to think for a moment about “invisible” forces such as gravity or magnetism which we know can exercise action at a distance. We also know from observations of a phenomenon called quantum entanglement that physical properties of paired subatomic particles remain correlated, even after they are separated by large distances in space (or even in time).
This third concept, admittedly, seems even weirder and New Agier than the first two, but there is a great deal of evidence to suggest that it is true. For me, the very well studied and documented placebo effect alone is evidence enough. If thoughts do not become things, then there would be no need for double-blind studies, where results must be shielded not only from participants, but also from the intentions of observers and researchers.
Again, if you remain skeptical of this concept I would encourage you to look at the research yourself.
So, how can we use this concept to improve our lives?
At the top, I promised that if you incorporate these three concepts into your life, it will change dramatically and for the better. I know that this can happen, because it has happened to me.
As we pass through life (or, rather, as life passes through us) we accumulate experiences, associations, notions and memories. Whether we consciously attempt to make sense of it all or not, our minds and our bodies are drawing conclusions. We learn as best we can how to survive, how to avoid pain, how to enjoy pleasure. The problem is that some of the lessons that our minds and bodies assimilate, some of the habits of attention and daily activity, are neither necessary for survival nor conducive to happiness. We take in and practice patterns that become the stories of our lives. No matter how hard we strive to change, we find ourselves experiencing the same things over and over. “It figures,” we say. Over time, we program ourselves to obtain the results we obtain. To change the results, we have to change the programming.
If we want to change things for the better, we have to begin with confidence that our thoughts are inevitably, assuredly, creating our experiences. And the only way we can have that confidence, the only way we can know, is to discipline our minds and observe what happens.
There is a large variety of approaches and methods which have been demonstrated to be effective in changing mental programming. While I won’t presume to prescribe what will work best for you, I will be happy to share three simple practices which have worked for me.
Go on a mental diet. Uell S. Andersen recommends this in his book Three Magic Words. In practice it means dedicating yourself to thirty consecutive days without entertaining a negative thought, about anyone, anything, or any situation. It doesn’t mean that you won’t *have* negative thoughts, but you must not entertain them. Don’t feed them, don’t dwell on them and especially don’t express them. When a negative thought comes, immediately refocus your attention on something else. This can be difficult at first, and I’m not sure if I’ve actually completed thirty consecutive days yet. I do know that it is much easier for me to avoid nurturing negative thoughts now than it was only a few weeks ago.
Practice gratitude. I set aside several specific times each day to recount the things for which I am thankful, and I keep a gratitude journal as well. This has had the effect of bringing a wealth of positivity to my life. It may be the single most effective practice of these three.
Meditate every day. I had tried to meditate at other points in my life, but found it difficult. This time, I kept it very simple. I use some of tbe frequency audio recordings from Brain Sync, and also their guided meditations. I take a twenty minute break mid-morning from my work day, and sit with my eyes closed, listening to the Grace and Gratitude recording. Sometimes I also chant for a few minutes with a Tibetan mala that I’ve had for years. No worries about technique or formalities. Just sitting and trying as best I can to not let my mind attach itself to anything. I usually try to focus attention on the sensation of breath as is enters and leaves my nostrils. That’s it. I find that I’m so much more productive with the rest of my time that I don’t miss the twenty minutes from work. In the evening I’ll spend another half-hour sitting with one of the guided meditations.
I’ve not found any of these activities to be difficult or onerous in any way, and the improvements in the quality of my life have been tremendous.
In case you’re wondering, the ideas presented here are not original to me. They are part of a tradition of American thought that first found rise in the mid 1800s as Emerson and others began to study Indian monist thinking. I would encourage you to study and consider these ideas, and I welcome discussion about them.