Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Long Goodbye: Part Three

The Seven of Cups indicates the paradox of choice, and the difficulty of choosing when too many opportunities and options seem to beckon. Unable to decide which course it would be best to pursue, we starve and waste away like Buridan's ass paralyzed into inaction by an unpredictable future. The card was telling me what I already knew, what I had been experiencing for the past few months as I tried to juggle an increasing number of obligations while fighting to keep down my frustration at not making very much progress on any of them.

Obligation and Divination

Throughout my life, I have been pretty good at following my intuition, listening for the cues of my subconscious to help guide me in making important life decisions. It was this kind of listening that led me to choose the college I ended up attending — where I met several people who would change my life, where I had the opportunity to do independent research that eventually led me to my Pagan path, and where I earned a degree as valedictorian of my college class. It was by listening to my intuition that I found myself moving across the state to the lovely city of Pittsburgh — where I first entered a graduate school program and then left it for being wholly unsuitable to my personality, where I found a job as a waitress (against everyone's hopes and expectations) and spent five years wandering spiritually and intellectually in ways I never could have if I'd settled down and gotten a "real" job. It was intuition that led me to seek out a connection with Jeff, who happened to have connections in Pittsburgh through both family and work and who eventually took a leap of faith of his own and moved here to be with me. And it was intuition that prodded me into taking a trip across the ocean to the land of my ancestors, despite being terrified of both airports and flying, and having never traveled alone or abroad before.

But these were all times when a singular opportunity presented itself, and I had a simple choice to make: stay, or go. Now, I found myself in a much more complicated situation, with almost endless possibilities any of which might be fruitful depending on how I chose to direct my energies. I also had more responsibilities and obligations, not least of which were the children to whom I'd soon become a stepmom. And so I also had a pressing sense that it was important to make a choice of some kind and follow through with it, rather than languishing passively and allowing Spirit to drag me along where it would. I had spent a lot of time cultivating my will and honing my skills — now, I felt a strong and definite call to step up and be active in my own destiny, to act out my gratitude for the blessings of my life by taking a more directive role in the work I would do in the future. But of course, that work still needed to be grounded in Spirit and soul-longing.

So now seemed to be a good time to look towards the symbolism of divination to provide some clear, almost blatantly literal guidance where more subtle intuition was failing me. (Or, as the case may more likely be, hinting at an ambivalence and frustration I didn't want to acknowledge or confront.) One evening, after a day of inexplicable anxiety and sadness, when I once again drew the Seven of Cups — it finally dawned on me to follow up with a reading asking for clarity, specifically on my writing.

I drew three cards: one to represent the kind of choice that would lead to a path that was harmful, unhealthy or deeply dissatisfying; one to represent the kind of choice that would lead to a path that would be beneficial, fruitful and spiritually fulfilling; and one to represent a middle way, a choice-that-was-not-a-choice that would inevitably lead me back again to this point of indecision to relearn the lessons I had not learned the first time.

For the first, I drew the Page of Wands, a card of child-like innocence, enthusiasm and charm, often representing someone of exuberant activity and light-heartedness. The Page is the less mature, more child-like expression of feminine qualities in the masculine suit of the energetic wands, and so it is a card of spark, initiative and change, of activities pursued with joy and innocence and no ulterior motives. Yet here, this card appeared in a position representing a harmful or unhealthy choice. I had to admit that I saw myself as having little in common with the Page of Wands, who calls attention to herself with charisma and enthusiasm and delights in her own outgoing personality at the center of activity. It seemed to me that this card was warning me against attempting to behave as a Page of Wands might simply because I perceived her energy and personality as of a kind more desirable to others, and so more likely to make my work popular. One cannot pretend to innocence or light-heartedness. Though I am often full of joy and gratitude, it is not the joy of a light heart, but too often a heart broken open with grief and longing and frustration. Others may attract happy followers and supporters through their child-like innocence, but maybe that was not truly a choice for me — maybe, instead, I would only appear immature and unskilled, fumbling and stupid instead of lucky and skilled, a person only pretending, a poser. I thought of the blogs that had grown wildly popular over the past few years, almost all of them dedicated to frivolity, comics, snarky jokes and intentionally odd or amateurish-looking artwork. There is a beauty and levity that comes from sharing these kinds of gifts, the refreshing silliness that can sometimes capture a spark of insight within the less serious babble. But I'm not sure if it's the kind of gift I have to offer.

What better choice did I have, though? For this question, I drew the Ten of Pentacles, a card of culmination, completion and marriage, particularly the marriage between the material and the spiritual realm. This marriage — a union of art and aesthetics that expresses itself through material media in patterns of balanced and harmonious form — brings with it an acceptance and relaxation into one's natural place in the world, appreciating all the wealth and beauty of the physical realm and a prosperous, happy life. In this card, hard work and diligence to patterns of tradition have brought about success and prosperity, and that prosperity circulates throughout the world as each passes on the gifts to the next, for this is the nature of wealth and prosperity in the natural world: flow, exchange and participation in the larger, immortal patterns of the universe.

This card appeared in the position representing a choice that would lead me to a fruitful and beneficial path, and it certainly seemed to indicate this. With the number ten evoking not only the marriage of spirit and matter but that union expressed through the Tree of Life, there was a formality within the card as well that seemed to provide a distinct counterpoint to the child-like free-form abandon and unpredictable nature of the Page of Wands. I found myself resisting and rebelling against that idea as potentially limiting and restrictive, but at the same time I also realized that I have often thrived best in circumstances that demand formality and structure, and that my work has often been to bring sincerity and depth to these structures and patterns, to bring life to them by imbuing them with my own passion and love. This was how I approached my work as a waitress: performing the actions of service, generosity and congeniality with as much sincerity as I could, always making sure that when I wished someone a nice day, I did so from a place within me that really meant it.

It was this thought that I reminded me of the pathworking from several nights earlier, during my Flamekeeping shift. In it, I wandered through a forest of tall pines leaking sweet sap onto my fingertips. Once again I met the dark Star-Fire Goddess, who asked me, "What is it that makes the sap sweet?" When I did not know how to reply, she chided me, as though reminding me of a familiar lesson: "It is the connection between earth and sky, the roots seeking deep for water, the limbs reaching, striving towards sunlight. It is the movement between the realms, the connection that flows through living veins, that makes the sap sweet." Later, I found myself stepping into the night sky, following Her to a place of star-making deep in some far-distant galaxy that glimmered warmly and darkly like a forge. The hiss of steam and the noise of the bellows surrounded us, the ringing sting of the hammer against the anvil — and I saw the forms being created there, tiny round discs of silver with curling rays, like miniature suns. They looked quite like the amber-centered sun charm that I had bought from the farmer's market in Northern Ireland, except that their centers were empty. I asked the Goddess of the Star Forge why the charms were incomplete. She laughed at me, as though to say, You still don't get it, and reminded me again of what makes the sap rise, what makes the amber harden and glow, the life-blood upwelling from the source.

All this came rushing back to me as I contemplated the Ten of Pentacles — those amber-less stars of my Flamekeeping meditation, and the instruction to fill these pieces with my own life-blood and energy. Tiny silver suns — star-like, like the pentacle symbol itself. I thought of the limitations and formality of poetry, and how I had loved to work in challenging forms whose very restrictions forced me in new directions, how it felt to navigate those boundaries and push against the edges. I remembered how, during the Northern Ireland retreat, someone asked me why I was so careful and precise in how I ate my meals, and I'd felt a moment of embarrassment about how careful and exact I've always been in even simple actions. In some situations and some media, such exactness can so easily seem like arrogance or prudery. But in others, it can shine. Was this card pointing out to me the familiar lesson about medium and message? Was it calling my attention to my own style and approach to the creative process as one that, given the right medium, might take root and flourish, even if in other media it seemed to bring only struggle and misunderstanding?

As I considered these possibilities, I began to feel more and more excited by the idea that I could break away from blogging without it being a sign of failure or immaturity — that I could be free of that particular medium, not because there was anything inherently wrong with it, but merely because it didn't suit me and the demands of my particular process. The more I thought that perhaps there might be an alternative medium where I could really thrive, the more eager I became to get away and seek that out instead.

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