Creative Explorations With Tarot

October 13 was the full moon in Aries, which might account for my energetic impulse to sign up for an online class with Kiala Givehand called Pull, Pen, Paint.

While browsing the web for a full moon tarot spread, I came across Kiala’s course, and I was immediately hooked. She, along with several other artists, writers, astrologers, and intuitive Tarot readers, guides participants in using Tarot and oracle cards to chart a visual journey of self-knowledge.

In one of the first lessons, she shares some online places to find card spreads-today I went to Kim Krans’ page, The Wild Unknown and tried her “Awareness Spread.”

I recommend going directly to The Wild Unknown for a more detailed explanation of how this spread works, but here I’ll give you the basic order: The bottom card is the creative center, the second card is the heart center, the third card is the lower mind, and the fourth card represents the higher self.

I’ve taken a few IRL introductory workshops in card reading from Alice, Tarot Queen here in Atlanta, so I’m familiar with the basics. Alice does readings in person and through Skype in case you’re looking for someone to read your cards. She’s highly intuitive and has been studying the Tarot for a decade; she’s quite knowledgeable and kind, a perfect teacher for a newbie like me.

In addition to Alice’s teaching, I’ve also read 78 Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack, and I’m currently working my way through Mary Greer’s Tarot for Your Self, a workbook that guides the reader through ways to use Tarot for self-discovery and creativity.

All of this is to say that I only read the cards for my own purposes, although from time to time I’ll get out my deck with friends and let them tell me what they think their cards mean to them. It’s like helping someone interpret a dream. Only the dreamer knows for sure if your interpretation rings true.

Without going into all the free writing I did for this Awareness Spread, I will share a few of my conclusions. For the third card, representing worries or mental habits that might be interfering with my creative endeavors, I pulled the Devil.

Honestly, I didn’t need to ponder this one too much. I’ve gotten into a habit of scouring the news every day to find some sign that maybe the Orange Menace will be deposed. It’s an unhealthy preoccupation. I’ve let that devil take up too much mental real estate.

The Queen of Swords represents my higher self. This card is part of my birth card constellation in the sun sign of Libra, so I immediately identified with her. Swords are ruled by the element of air. It’s Libra season and the air is cooler finally. In Ayurvedic health teachings, fall is the season of vata, the air element, and this dosha happens to be the strongest for me. In fact, I tend to be highly anxious if I don’t tend to grounding myself.

I love this time of year, before the holidays when it’s good to be outdoors again in Georgia. I feel the confidence this queen of swords displays. Clear minded, able to express myself, and excited about the possibilities that await with my writing and with a bit of dabbling with paint.

Beltane Tarot Reading

Monday I attended a fabulous Introduction to Tarot workshop with Alice Tarot Queen at Full Circle Studio in Atlanta.

Last night, the midpoint between spring equinox and summer solstice, I tried my hand at reading the cards, and lo and behold, I drew three Major Arcana cards!

It kind of freaked me out a little, like how important is this moment?

My question was, “What insights do I need to decide about my future travels?”

This is a question I’ve been considering, and I’ve come to the conclusion after a focused free write that I want to return to Spain for another pilgrimage, but it’s not going to be this summer (unless I win the lottery!).

I’ve taken this semester off from teaching to heal from a second fracture in my right foot, and I’ve finally found a pair of hiking boots that feel comfortable. Looks like I’ll be hiking in the US this summer, though.

Here is my reading of the three-card pattern I used, representing past, present, and future.

The Sun, past

The Sun card represents joy, freedom, optimism, vitality. When I think about the most liberating and joyful days of my past travels, my first pilgrimage to Spain naturally comes to mind.

The freedom I experienced on the way to Santiago in 2015 was as big as the sky, even when my feet and legs ached and my clothes were drenched in sweat.

Temperance, present

Temperance speaks to me of healing. I’ve taken this semester off from teaching to rest my mind and heal my foot, which I fractured in 2017 on a second pilgrimage and later fractured again in the fall of 2018.

I couldn’t return to Spain last summer because I was still healing from my injuries, and when I increased my mileage, I had a second stress fracture.

Also, 2018 was a time of intense anxiety about the midterm elections. This current political climate has elevated the anxiety levels for so many of us elders. We want to leave this life with the peace of mind that the younger generations will inherit a just society that is working toward a healthy planet Earth.

We are connected to the earth. The Earth is alive, and we are part of it. The Earth’s health is connected to our health.

During this last year, especially last summer and fall, my mind was on helping with the midterm elections. I didn’t do nearly enough, but I made phone calls, wrote letters, and nagged my friends and family about voting.

Thankfully, Lucy McBath won in our district by running on a gun reform platform. Her election is a sign that enough people near me want to live in a safer, healthier world.

Wheel of Fortune, future

What a card to draw for the future! The Wheel of Fortune indicates karma, changes in circumstances, and fate.

I’m not sure what to think about my future travels when it comes to karma. What will be the consequences of my past actions when it comes to the places I go?

Some of my yoga buddies are planning a two-week trip to India for a yoga retreat with a well-respected yoga teacher in our area. But the trip is in November, and I might return to teaching by then. I do wish I could accompany them! If money were no object, I would.

I don’t have a strong desire to teach English Composition anymore. Adjunct professors are paid abysmally low salaries for the classes they teach. Read “Death of an Adjunct” for more insight. I’d like to find a different way to earn money, but I still haven’t found it.

So my future travels depend on many circumstances–finances, health, and time. After all of this thinking and writing, I am determined to return to Spain for another pilgrimage, but it won’t be this summer.

I’ll be traveling closer to home, hiking with my new boots on the beautiful trails of North Georgia.

Yoga on the Porch

This past April, my father passed away after a six-month illness. It’s too soon for me to write about the experience we went through as a family, but I can talk about my own health.
I had been experiencing early morning anxiety since November, around the time my dad got sick, and then I started waking in the night with panic.

By the end of April my nerves were completely shot and my “fight or flight” response was firing 24/7.

I ended up finding a wonderful doctor whose integrative approach is helping me recover, and in the meantime, I’m spending my mornings practicing gentle yoga on my back porch. 

My backyard is completely wild and overgrown, a place that could definitely be tagged as a wildlife refuge in the middle of the suburbs. All I hear in the early morning is the wind in the trees and birdsong. 

May we all experience healing and wholeness, the feeling of wellbeing, of feeling safe and secure and at peace.

Camino On My Mind

A few weeks ago I watched an interview between Oprah Winfrey and Shirley MacLaine on Super Soul Sunday. Speaking about her pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, MacLaine said something to the effect that, “The pilgrimage doesn’t truly begin until you’ve come home.”

My pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela began in May, 2015. I left San Jean Pied-de-Port, France on May 26 and arrived in Santiago June 28. During those 34 days of walking I meditated, wrote poems, met friends, cried, laughed, sang, ate good food, hobbled with shin splints, slept amid snoring pilgrims, and threw away the remaining antidepressants I carried across Spain.

Eight months have passed since I came home to Georgia, and I have been off antidepressants this entire time. It has been hard.

Since November, I wake in the morning with the fiery pain of nerves in my solar plexus. It takes an hour of  mindful breathing to slowly make my way out of bed at 8:00 am. Once I’m up, the rhythms of the day take over. The sun warms my muscles, the others in my family wake up, and the pain under my sternum dissipates.

Buddhist teachers would tell me that my suffering comes from expecting only good feelings. The trick is to watch the feelings come and go without identifying with them. But the pain! It’s sometimes impossible not to lose myself in the misery.

Some might wonder why I don’t go back to my psychopharmacologist for a new prescription. If I were suicidal, I would seek treatment, but I am not. I go to a counselor who helps me with moving the energy in my body. She also gives me suggestions for healing old wounds. I know that everyone is different, and I don’t recommend that anyone ditch their meds because of my experiences. I took antidepressants for twenty years.

I live with the hope that by entering the suffering I will eventually pass through it. I also practice what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “watering the seeds of joy.”

One to two hours of vigorous exercise works to exorcise my inner demons. I take long walks. I swim one to two miles at a stretch. I practice yoga. I’m grateful for the circumstances in my life that allow me the time I need to take care of myself.

Now that spring is around the corner here in Georgia, my thoughts are on the Camino again. I long for six hours of walking a day, no cell phones, computers, chores, or familial drama. It’s the kind of retreat I crave.

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A Day In the Life, Thanksgiving 2015

Yesterday I woke at 7:00 and, once again, stayed in bed until the anxiety passed. I meditated for twenty minutes, focusing on the breath and relaxation.

I let the dogs out and made coffee. Coffee works its magic by returning my optimism to me, especially if I make it half decaffeinated. A little goes a long way.

But the sink full of last night’s dirty dishes soured my mood. I had asked for help, but the men in my family see no problem with leaving the countertops dirty for a day or two. Since I’m the one with the problem, I end up cleaning, and I’m left with resentment.

On top of the dirty dishes, I had to forgo working on my Camino travelogue so that I could drive my father to the hospital. He has a staph infection in one of his heart valves, but he refuses any more surgery.

His only other option is to go to the hospital every day for six weeks to receive an infusion of antibiotics that go directly to his heart. His insurance won’t pay for in-home care because he is “ambulatory,” but he’s too weak to drive. My siblings and I are sharing the daily driving with my father’s wife (my parents divorced years ago) so that she doesn’t have to do it all.

When my son Freeboarder saw my glum mood, he tried to lift my spirits. “I know you don’t want to sacrifice your day of work,” he said, “but think of the good karma you’re generating.”

I know Freeboarder’s right. I know I have to help my father, in spite of our fraught relationship over the years. I have to help him because he is a part of me, because he is at the end of his life, and because underneath his stoicism he couldn’t help but be afraid. This is one of those moments in life when to help might create momentary resentment that in the long run contributes to overall happiness.

So I brought Dad homemade tomato and roasted red pepper soup and made him a few grilled cheese sandwiches.

On the way into the center, while I was parking the car, Dad almost fell. He walks with a cane and has arthritis in his spine and neck, so he might have stumbled, or he might have felt faint from weakness. But a male nurse happened to be walking right next to him as Dad started to go down, and the nurse caught him.

After Dad and I left the cancer center where he’s receiving his treatments, the sun was still bluing the sky at 4:30, however faintly. We were both still alive. We marveled at the miracle of the nurse who caught his fall, a guardian angel who appeared at the right moment to spare Dad more pain.

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A Day In the Life, November 13

I forgot that today was Friday the Thirteenth until I hit the retaining wall with the back of the car while pulling out of the driveway. I don’t believe that Friday the 13th is an inherently unlucky day, but of course there’s the power of suggestion at work on our susceptible unconscious minds.

The wood retaining wall is now askew until S.A. bangs at it a few times with a sledge hammer. That was our proposed solution after he came out to assess the damage this evening when I came home from teaching. Part of the reason why I hit it, I think, is because it hurts to turn my head very far to the right because of the surgery I had on Tuesday.

I snuck in a quick three-mile walk today before leaving the house to teach. The air was crisp, the sky blue, the leaves still yellow and red in places. I could feel the tugging of the stitches from the skin cancer surgery as my arms moved with my pace, so I slowed down a bit.

Walking across campus on the way to class I passed a beautiful young woman who was carrying a vase of yellow roses to her car.

A man wearing a suit stopped me and said, “Would you like a Bible to add to the glory of the day?” I’m now in possession of a green, pocket-sized Gideon Bible that contains psalms and proverbs.

I thought of Michelle Castleberry’s poem “The Gideons” from her book Dissecting the Angel, where she writes about wanting to pass out Bibles for the Gideons but not  being allowed since she was a girl.  I also thought about the Angry Preachers I would encounter at the university where I used to work. They would plant themselves in the middle of the quad and tell just about everyone they were going to hell. Those preachers were filled with anger and fear.  At least the man I met today was kind.

Because of the stitches, I skipped the swim I usually take after my Friday afternoon class. After teaching for almost three hours, swimming laps renews and relaxes me. Instead, tonight I’l do a lying down meditation, one of the guided meditations from Jack Kornfield’s audiobook,  Guided Meditations for Self Healing.

***

Update: I couldn’t lie still for the mediation because I was just too anxious, so I took a very hot bath with sea salts and soaked for twenty minutes. I continued to focus on the breath, and eventually the salts and the hot water drew the nervous energy out of my body. This is a trick I learned from my therapist, and for me it works like a charm.

What Living Out of a Backpack for 6 Weeks Has Taught Me

This past weekend S.A. and I drove to Florida to pack up his mother’s belongings and ship them to the assisted living apartment she moved to in Chicago.

She told us she wanted all of her clothes, but after stuffing a garment bag and five suitcases with all the items we could manage, many racks of evening gowns, dresses, skirts, blouses, wraps, bags, and shoes remained, so we made the decision to give her lifetime collection of finery to charity.

I hoisted her beautifully arranged outfits into industrial-sized garbage bags and with the help of one of my MIL’s neighbors,  drove them to a local thrift store that services the homeless and veterans. Other bags went to Goodwill, and others to Salvation Army.

I felt sad to see my MIL’s artfully selected skirts and blouses crammed into bags. Why didn’t she give some of this clothing away over the years? Now that she’s older, she stays  in her muumuu most of the day, and when she goes to the grocery she puts on the same sweater and frayed pants.

On the Camino, I had to pare down my belongings because of the weight. To keep my pack under 15 pounds, I had only one pair of spare shoes in addition to my boots, four shirts (two too many by the standards of micro-lightweight packers), one pair of thermal Smartwool leggings to wear as pajamas and as pants for the evening, three pairs of underwear, two sports bras, and four pairs of socks.

I will admit that when I walked around the streets of Pamplona, Burgos, and Leon in the evenings, cities that the Camino passes through, I felt somewhat oafish compared to the neatly dressed Spanish women out on the streets with their beaus or their families. But walking the Camino is a lesson in humility if nothing else. I had to let go of my vanity if I was going to make the distance to Santiago.

One of my Camino  friends, Carolina,  a lovely blonde  from Brazil, said that when she arrived in Santiago she would treat herself to a dress and some make up as a way to celebrate and restore her sense of beauty.

I ended up finding a nice summer dress on one of the main streets of the historic part of town  in Santiago, and it has become my main dress. I took it to the beach and to the mountains, I’ve worn it to almost every poetry reading I’ve attended this summer in Atlanta, and I might even bring it on my next pilgrimage–it’s lightweight,  dries quickly, and can be worn over my thermal leggings.

Decatur Book Festival, photo by Lisa N. Allender. I'm wearing my Camino dress bought in Santiago at the end of my pilgrimage.

Decatur Book Festival, photo by Lisa N. Allender. I’m wearing my Camino dress bought in Santiago at the end of my pilgrimage.

Before emptying out my MIL’s condo I had already begun the process of paring down my own belongings. I’ve had to face my proclivity to hoard books. I have them piled up next to my bed, stacked on shelves in every room, and even stored in boxes in the garage. I’ve donated many of them to Goodwill and other organizations, and I will bring others to the library.

But giving away or selling possessions is only a physical manifestation of other more important aspects of my life that I need to give away. Just as I let go of my vanity on the Camino, at least for the most part, now I’m working on letting go of fear and anxiety.

If I feel a vague twinge of negative energy, my tendency is to tell myself a story that gives me a concrete reason to worry. So these stories are what I’m going to let go. I’m letting go of fear. First I will give fear a gentle squeeze on the shoulder, then I will pat it on the back and wish it a safe journey. Goodbye, old friend, buen viaje.

With a lighter load, I go on my next walk.

The North Jetty on Casey Key, Nokomis, FL.

The North Jetty on Casey Key, Nokomis, FL.

How Can I Be at Peace when Fear Nibbles at My Heart Like a Mouse?

In Parker Palmer’s  column at  On Being,  he writes about allowing  his life’s unfolding  to be guided by open-ended questions that look at the big picture.

Here is an example question he gives at the end of the post, which he arrives at after some give and take with the wording:  “What do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?”

Questioning the universe and then listening for its wisdom seems like a gentle and good way to live a life. In yoga there is a similar practice of sankalpa, translated as an intention, a resolve, or a wish.

When I practice yoga nidra, a 45-minute relaxation meditation, at the beginning of the session I allow a sankalpa to manifest itself in my mind. Sometimes I have a clear image of myself realizing my wish. When I was preparing for my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, I would see myself walking on an open road under a blue, blue sky, experiencing total freedom. And ultimately, at moments, this freedom is what I experienced.

When my son returned from India, he told me he learned that a yogi makes plans, sets an intention, and then lets the intention recede from his conscious mind. In other words, he doesn’t fret over the outcome. All his actions will lead toward the manifestation of his wishes.

I like the practice of posing a question and waiting for the stream of life to unfold. By allowing a question to guide us, our very lives become the answer.

My question is this: How can I feel more at peace in my heart and mind, and how can I share this peace of mind with others so that they too can experience peace?

In a way, the question is a mission statement for a life, but since it’s open ended, it doesn’t presuppose that we already know how to achieve the outcome or even what that outcome will look or feel like.

When I came home from Spain on June 30, I was not anxious at all, even after discontinuing all the medications I had been taking. Now, two and a half months later, some of the old anxieties are creeping back, and even though I continue walking, meditating, and reading inspiring books, it’s rare that I don’t feel the pain of some ancient grief bubbling up.

The difference now, after the Camino (A.C.!) , is that I don’t take any pills to muffle the gnawing, nibbling discomfort. As I learned from the gentle teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, I say to the anxiety, “Oh, hello old friend. What do you have to tell me today?”

My old friend anxiety says: Keep walking. Keep writing. Breathe deeply and slowly. Listen deeply. Be patient.

Chattahoochee River, Late Summer

Chattahoochee River, Late Summer

*** If you take medications, please don’t stop taking them because of what you read here. I’m not a professional therapist of any kind, and I only speak of my own experience. I have taken different anti-depressants for decades, and I think they might have helped me at one point or another. They certainly seemed to help. But I have the support of a therapist, my family,  and many years of life to help me face my inner demons, and I believe I am ready to do this one day at a time, breath by breath.