Sort of me, sort of everyone.
The two of swords from the classic Rider-Waite tarot deck.
Swords are ideas, concepts, situations, words. The two of swords is about being frozen with indecision, trapped between choices, unable to move forward and truly accept either choice. It might be a choice between two things you love or the choice between trying and giving up. My little edit is amplifying the stress one feels in that spot. Lonely, weary, and cold. Robe wet with dew, ass hurting from the stone bench. Bearing the weight of the long night. Muscles cramping and straining… yet dropping one sword won’t free you. The only escape is a truly new perspective… but gained at what cost? The night goes on.
Most of us aren’t very good at happiness and remain there about as long as we might on a skateboard or a pogo stick. Part of it is being carried about by the natural ebb of flow of events. But we treat happiness like the universe was giving us a shoulder massage and finally hit the right spot with the right pressure. “Oh yeah, that’s it! Keep doing that!” we say with gratitude as the universe moves off, perhaps sticking its finger in our eye as it goes. “Stupid universe” we can’t help but feel. That’s one issue, that a high watermark for happiness based on good luck, is like the apogee of the roller coaster: For best results, hold your hands in the air, scream with a crazy ecstasy, and laugh with your friends about it later. We don’t often learn much from our highs, and when they pass we may feel rather flat inside as if we had been fooled into joy, then returned to the disappointing truth. Again.
This feeling that reality kind of sucks is a large but subtle challenge. It grows out of the individual blend of shame, grief, and fear that plays all day through our minds like an infernal top 40 radio station. Every moment of grief, fear, and shame becomes a piece of track connecting it to the next, and the next. This continuity becomes the world you recognize as your own, the self you recognize as you, and defines your expectations of what your life can be. Worse yet, it becomes reassuringly familiar and all of us need a place in our lives that IS reassuringly familiar. Part of the self then defends the borders of this dismal place against change. When we are happy, there can be a feeling of disequilibrium that the agents of our inner life work to “correct”. This is not usually something we are conscious of doing.
Things have to get pretty bad to form big enough cracks in your familiar world to shine a light on how mechanically self-defeating this is. This opportunity is almost always offered up by a broken heart. This can be a moment of true change if we consciously question and explore the reasons for the heartbreak. Feeling unlovable, and simple, robotic codependence being the most common. If a sufficiently bright flash of understanding happens, during this critical moment of searing pain it is possible to step outside of the templated sad story. This is a prison of belief taken for granted, you must achieve a minimum distance from your life story to see the path to freedom.
A broken heart contains escape keys. Find them, and head for daylight. Discover something new.
The tarot card “The Tower” suggests outright catastrophe and tragedy.
Its true meaning is the collapse of a misconception that we believed and protected for too long. A flawed and unstable investment that falls under its own weight. The suddenly revealed falseness of a deep belief that has held us prisoner. Tower moments are the terrifying thing we need to grow. People have devoted their entire lives to forestalling dreaded tower moments. If they succeed, that is the real tragedy. That is the veneration of the old dead skin rather than shedding it.
These quotes all shine a little light on the tower from different angles.
“A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.” – Seneca
“Disappointment is considered bad. A thoughtless prejudice. How, if not through disappointment, should we discover what we have expected and hoped for? And where, if not in this discovery, should self-knowledge lie? So how could one gain clarity about oneself without disappointment?” – Mercier
“You cannot protect yourself from sadness without also protecting yourself from happiness”. – Jonathan Safran Foer
“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.” – Lao Tzu
Simone Weil: “Imagination and fiction make up more than three-quarters of our real life.”
“It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.” —Epictetus
“Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” –Joseph Campbell
“It’s better to conquer grief than to deceive it.” – Seneca
I know the way you can get
When you have not had a drink of Love:
Your face hardens,
Your sweet muscles cramp.
Children become concerned
About a strange look that appears in your eyes
Which even begins to worry your own mirror
Squirrels and birds sense your sadness
And call an important conference in a tall tree.
They decide which secret code to chant
To help your mind and soul.
Even angels fear that brand of madness
That arrays itself against the world
And throws sharp stones and spears into
And into one’s self.
O I know the way you can get
If you have not been drinking Love:
You might rip apart
Every sentence your friends and teachers say,
Looking for hidden clauses.
You might weigh every word on a scale
Like a dead fish.
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.
We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”