Tarot by Candlelight (In the Cards)

Today I lit several candles and drew cards from the Dreams of Gaia deck. The themes of the cards I selected were to plant seeds of spirituality. I consider my spirituality to be inclusive of mindfulness and nature, with an openness to considering inner wisdom, collective interweaving and the Unknown. A web search revealed that there are apparently others who consider themselves to be agnostic Pagans, so that may be another label that would fit for me.

It is far too easy for me to lose myself in a sense of isolation and to forget the minuteness of my life on a cosmic scale. Something about seeking what the cards reveal in a darkened room helped me to reconnect with the sense of mystery that the analytic nature of my mind can dismiss. I would like to more fully integrate my practice of spirituality into my everyday life in a way that transforms the labor I have to perform from merely putting in time into an outflow of the deeper sense of meaning I, at times, know exists.

The seeds I would like to plant would be to widen my perspective. I would like to be with myself in difficult moments and, in this being-with, to know that whatever my experience may be, there is compassion for it outside of the boundaries of who I am. Perhaps that is another label that the cards draw me to in considering my spirituality, one who seeks compassion. What physical practices, such as lighting a candle, set the scene for you when you delve into your spirituality? What are ways in which you integrate spiritual practices into your daily life?

Inspiration for Intuitive Cards (Today's Daily Work of Art)

I have been working on my In an Open Hand intuitive card deck for at least a year and a half now. It contains 64 cards, each with a different word and prompts for different parts of self for reflection. It is also split into seasons. I’ve finished the prompts for fall and winter, but have much left to do for spring and summer. I’ve been waiting impatiently for spring to be on the horizon so that I can get back to creating in this way again. As I wait for signs winter is lifting, I decided to spend some time reflecting on the process so far.

If you are interested in creating your own intuitive deck, here are a few tips and ideas about how you might go about doing so, based on what I’ve learned from my own experience:

  1. Decide on a few themes that have a numerical basis to them. For example, I’ve incorporated moon phases, seasons of the year, body systems and the like into my deck. This allowed me to create “suits” as well as types of cards within each suit. Doing this allows for a more intimate focus on a particular area of your inner world and can help to give you some direction.
  2. Consider the purpose you would like your deck to serve in your life and what you would like to learn from it. Intuitive to me speaks to exploring my internal experiences, but it might mean something else to you. What I love about making my own set of cards is that I am not conforming myself into someone else’s way of conceptualizing things but can be as free as my imagination will allow me to be.
  3. Do words or images speak more to your inner world and your intuition? If images are how you process, you may want to begin by creating the artwork for each card and then letting your ideas flow from there. I am much more comfortable with my writing skills, so I’ve started with laying out my ideas in language and am still working on finding a way to represent them visually.
  4. For which type of person do you want your deck to be accessible? As a non-binary person, I’ve been extremely frustrated by the strict gender binary most tarot and oracle cards incorporate, so it was important for me to find a way to represent my spirituality that would not reinforce the gender binary. Even if you are the only one who is going to use the cards you create, spend some time making sure you are welcoming all parts of self and not solely the ones with which you are most comfortable.
  5. Take your time. I have gotten a lot of fulfillment from having an ongoing creative project with no set end-date and a maximum amount of flexibility. I feel inspired by having something in my life that isn’t focused on deadlines, productivity, making an impression or fitting in. It is possible that you might start creating an intuitive deck and find yourself led in another creative direction. Be open to possibility.

If you have dedication to inner work and/or creativity, what wisdom or inspiration do you have to share? What word or image would feel appropriate to your day today? What does it mean to you to attend to your intuition?

Seneca Rocks in West Virginia--rocky cliffs rising from green trees into a sky with clouds

When I Wept at the Beauty (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s card prompted me to recall a pleasant memory. What came to mind was a memory of one of the first times I experienced nature as something more than scenery but instead as a revelation. I was in graduate school and decided I needed a bit of a break. I drove, by myself, several hours to a small cabin rental in West Virginia. What I discovered in that state was breathtaking (and contrary to the aspects of West Virginia that are typically emphasized).

My travels took me through switchbacks, which are curved roads up and down mountainsides. I felt uncertain as to whether I could successfully navigate my way to my destination. Finally, I arrived in an area that opened skyward, and, looking to my right, saw a shear rocky cliff jutting out of a mountainside, surrounded by dense forest. I felt tears welling up in my eyes because I had never seen anything so awe-inspiring in nature. I *think* it was Seneca Rocks but I’m not certain.

Once I reached the vacation lodging, I found that the cabin was perfect. It was secluded enough to allow for privacy, but not so isolated that I felt alone. I was able to draw and cook and spend time in inner work in a way that I had never before accessed. It was my own spiritual retreat.

I spent time in nature as well, hiking into the forest until I arrived at a meadow with butterflies and tall grass. There was a stream running beside the campground bubbling with clear water and pale grey rocks. In the evenings, I sat out on the porch of the cabin enjoying the starlight.

I’ve wanted to return to this site again, but something tells me it was a bedrock moment in my life, one on which the whole of who I am becoming was built that cannot be recreated. It was within a few months of this trip that the full extent of my childhood trauma came clear to me, as though I needed to give myself the time and space to allow for its unfurling. As I contemplate the elements of self-care and self-expression that I most cherish, I engaged in nearly every one of them in the span of those few days, save true mindfulness as I had not yet encountered teachings on it. I started becoming myself there; it was the moment of glancing up and seeing the cliff and knowing at my core that there was more beauty than sorrow at the end of it all that inspired me. Even if I never return to West Virginia in this lifetime, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

What place(s) have left you awestruck in their natural beauty? What moments do you look back on as turning points towards a deeper understanding of yourself? Where has Nature met you when you most needed Her to?

Eight Mindfulness and Spirituality Practices to Start the Year Well

As we start the new year, I am more determined than ever to fully engage in the present moment as much as I can and to have that moment be held as sacred. I’ve included ideas here for myself as well as for you about how to enable this process. These practices might also be thought of as including self-reflection, sensory processing and grounding techniques.

1. Writing a poem

I am writing a series of poetry dedicated to animal encounters. This process has felt sacred to me as I draw deeply from each moment of time in which an animal and I exchange meaning. Other series I think would be interesting to try include weather patterns, plants, seasons and the sky.

2. Drawing a nature scene

I prefer my time in nature to be a slow process. What I mean by this is I am not focused on moving quickly through it by mechanical means like a jet-ski or ATV and that I let go of trying to “conquer” any aspect of it, such as completing a trail in as little time as I can. I once joined a walking group and spent so much time outside for a season, but the focus on walking fast and talking completely detracted from any mindfulness. Activities such as sketching and drawing can require tremendous patience and repetition, which enables me to pause and to be rather than do.

3. Practicing Breathwork

I shared recently that breathwork can potentially affect the brain-body connection in PTSD. Knowing this inspires me to spend time simply in awareness of my breathing. For those who do not have much free time, even a few minutes between activities can serve to help us recenter.

4. Connecting with nature through each sense

I love forest therapy and the relationship it encourages between mindfulness and nature. My favorite practice is to notice how each sense is affected by being outside. With a bit of planning, this encounter can be tailored to an individual’s sensory needs and abilities.

5. Engaging in a Body scan and movement

I sometimes find myself reacting emotionally to a situation, and, only after I get some time for self-reflection, do I realize that my physical state either contributed to or has been impacted by the encounter. Spending time checking with each body system and sending it healing energy helps me feel grounded.

In the past six months, I’ve also educated myself about ways to stretch specific parts of my body such as my toes. Doing so not only frees me of physical tension, but it also helps me expand my sense of inhabiting every aspect of who I am. Becoming embodied can be a challenge for those of us who have endured trauma, but doing so has allowed me to more fully process other aspects of my identity such as being trans.

6. Drawing a card

I believe that qualitative as well as quantitative data and information are useful, and I find that using tarot and oracle cards helps me release some of my compulsions towards liner thinking so that I can also take in “big picture” viewpoints. Experiencing insight through not only written but also through illustration is also enabled through the inclusion of various decks I have.

7. Listening inwardly

I’ve shared my process for doing inner work. I sometimes find myself wishing I could pause social encounters, check in with myself, and then reengage. I may need to find a way to do this IRL as so much of my out-of-body, out-of-time response is due to not having enough brain power to process my internal and external experiences simultaneously. When I make time for this practice, I often realize that much of the anxiety and anger to which I’d been reacting for hours was due to an inability to fully hear myself.

8. Holding Sacred Ritual

There is a good deal of overlap between the practices I’ve listed above and scared ritual in which I might engage. I have at times kept to a Pagan calendar as well as honored the full and new moons, but I did not find myself relating to these holidays any more than I relate to the ones most Americans follow. Ritual, for me, works best when it is held in anticipation or response to lived events. In particular, I want to engage in it at times where I feel scattered from myself and in need of reconnection.

Conclusion

Which of the mindfulness and spirituality practices that I’ve shared have you found to work the best for your needs? What else would you add as beneficial? What barriers, if any, might you need to overcome to allow yourself to be in the scared moment?

Self-Reflection on Injustice (Today's Daily Remembrance)

Today’s Daily Remembrance card asked me to ponder what I’ve learned from experiences of injustice. I think that there is a primary lesson that I have absorbed, which is mostly in terms of how I want to treat others. I also believe this is a topic for which there is much left for me to learn.

The main injustices I’ve experienced in my life are profound experiences of betrayal. I was sexually abused by my father when I was a child (as well as a few other male relatives of his). My mother witnessed his abuse and did nothing to stop it. She abused me herself on one occasion. My faith community was not aware of my experience, but shaped my worldview to cause me to believe that I am the defective person because of the anger and bitterness I continue to harbor towards my family. Finally, many of my personal relationships have ended because I perceive the person to invalidate the fallout from the trauma I experienced and/or to dismiss the truth of who I am in various aspects of my identity.

As a result of these experiences, I’ve deepened my commitment to the following principles: (1) believing survivors, (2) educating myself about the needs of people who are oppressed and advocating for their rights and (3) working to have those to whom I have an obligation in terms of social roles (in terms of my job) and/or those who I deem to be safe people feel validated and treated with integrity. I also attempt to own my part in conflicts so that, even if I cannot continue in relationship with someone because they’ve betrayed my trust, they know that I do not hold them responsible for my own issues.

I suppose that part of the lesson I continue to need to learn in relation to injustice is to acknowledge that I feel extremely stuck when someone does not own their part in a situation and refuses to apologize to me. I don’t ask people for apologies as I think they are likely to be insincere, but maybe I need to try. I cling to anger far longer than the real-life situation dictates as a way to protect myself from feelings of grief and pain at being harmed. I am unsure of how to let go in situations where forgiveness cannot be offered because no responsibility was taken. The ownership I need to take here is: “I don’t know how to move past this because you haven’t seemed to recognize that your actions harmed me nor have you apologized for your part in this situation.”

The other aspect of experiencing injustice with which I continue to struggle is calling it out in the moment it happens. I recently had a friend act in a way I perceived as lacking gender inclusivity. I was able to share a response that stated my point of view in a palatable way, and immediately felt calmer when my friend responded in kind. I suspect that getting out my thoughts and feelings in the moment might allow the other person to correct course before more severe relationship damage has occurred. I tend to dissociate when these incidents happen which then often prevents me from doing so. That’s another place of ownership: “I responded from a traumatized place and wasn’t able to give you an opportunity in the moment to realize the effect your actions had on me.”

It feels so good to write out the sentences of taking ownership over my responses to instances of being hurt by another person where my betrayal-injustice buttons are getting pushed. I can imagine myself being better equipped to respond effectively to someone who said them to me if I had harmed them and had not come to terms with the harm I’d caused them. At the same time, I am immensely capable of feeling guilt and apologizing to people, so I don’t know that I need to hear these phrases as much as I need to utter them to others. How has injustice affected you in your life? What have you learned from it? What statements might help you address experiences of it in your life?

Questions Asked and Answered (Today's Daily Remembrance)

For the Daily Remembrance prompt today, I drew a card that prompted reflection how spirituality has assisted me in healing. Where I went with this query was to focus on a big question I feel is unanswered in my life. I also decided to consider how my sense of spirituality impacts my response.

The largest unresolved question I have is whether the trauma I suffered as a child has permanently altered my capacity to have long-lasting and deep connections with others. If it has, I feel that I can give myself permission to decentralize relationships from my priority list. If it hasn’t, I feel that I need to keep striving for new and better relationships. “Can I heal my attachment issues” is really at the heart of it. I’m sure the answer isn’t yes or no, but probably somewhere in between. Actually, if I sit with it longer, “will I regret failing at relationships when I’m older” is what drives me into attempts to right my issues.

As I hold space for myself, what I come to understand is that I have a deeply-held belief about myself that I (mostly) do the best I can at any given point in time and that, in my crash and burn relationships, it was the other person who tended, more than me, to fail to take responsibility for their own healing and relationship skills. That’s what I believe on a cognitive level to be true, but emotionally I feel that I ruined everything because I have attachment problems.

My attachment problems certainly do not help relationships go well, but what actually goes on (especially the more I work on myself) is that others do not listen to or absorb my honesty about my limitations, and instead treat me as though I should not have them. They are incapable of setting healthy boundaries, apologizing for their behaviors or owing their role in a situation after triggering me, no matter how deliberate I am in explaining what went on inside me as a result of their actions.

I suppose the answer to what I’ll think when I get older about my relationship failures might be that I wish things had been better, but that I worked as hard as I could to stay true to myself and that it is all I could do. In looking backwards now, there are a few people I regret losing and ways of responding I’ve used that I see as immature, but I feel sorrow for myself in those moments, not anger. I’ve learned mightily from my personal failures about what not to do; I have not had enough successes, if I’m being truthful, to say that I’ve learned what to do.

My spirituality interfaces with these dilemmas in that it gives me access to my inner world, to the parts of me that are stuck in trauma, to the parts of me that want to fight everyone I meet and to the hopeful parts of me that believe kind people must exist somewhere. My embodiment and connection to nature ground me and give me the holding space people are, by and large, unable to provide for me. My appreciation for cycles, such as the sun and moon rhythms, allow me a framework for acknowledging the adaptations and changes that are inherent to life.

Collectively, my spiritual practices show me that I am not alone and that there is more to life than other people. In response to my question about whether my attachment issues can be healed, the sacred space I make for myself continues to provide the same answer: this isn’t the only question that matters. It is okay to ask other questions and to explore other types of connections. Maybe people won’t ruin or save me in the end; maybe life isn’t the type of experience to be won or lost based on how much love we’ve accumulated by the end or how many “try yet again” restarts we’ve attempted. Perhaps I’ll never fully resolve my trauma and my attachment issues and my failure to do so won’t be the final truth of which I’ll be cognizant. Maybe the smell of a puppy’s breath or the softness of dandelion fluff or the sound of birch leaves in a fall breeze are what I’ll cling to as life slips away and I’ll find the answer to questions I haven’t yet contemplated.

I would be so appreciate to hear your big questions, the types of things you circle back to again and again and feel like your life is dedicated to attempting to resolve. Do you ever question the question? It is would be mind-blowing to know if there is anyone who has a rich sense of an inner world but who doesn’t relate to life as a puzzle to be filled in. Finally, I would love to know how your sense of spirituality affects your responses.

A lake in winter with the sun gleaming off of it and leafless trees lining it in the distance.

Visiting a Body of Water (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure was very cold! The weather has taken a sharp turn into winter where I live, so my photo shoot was brief and I was left with numb fingers after only a few minutes. It was worth it, though, to visit a local lake that never fails to astonish me with its beauty.

I know people who love to sit in front of a fireplace or bonfire and feel that their cares melt away in the flames. Observing a body of water, especially a river or lake, has the same effect on me. I especially appreciate that, although the surface itself is so alive and ever-changing, even more is happening below, out of sight. The combination of unknowable depths, fluidity and quiet power that water holds makes it the element to which I most strongly connect. What is your element of choice? What effect, if any, does being near water have on you? What does it represent to you?

To Become (In the Cards)

Today’s card draw involves focusing on hopes and dreams, from a place of tender care for their fragility. As I sat with this invitation, what came to mind is a desire to create opportunities for self-reflection and self-compassion that encompass present-moment awareness. Ideally I would like these spaces to extend beyond myself, but I think experiencing them inwardly first is an initial step.

I’ve concluded in recent weeks that relationship drama pulls me away from the central source of my joy, which is my connection to the universe through my inner world. In trying to work from the outside in, I end up in situations that are unsafe for my parts, and which then force some of who I am into hiding or which cause me to feel isolated from other people. My healing has to flow from my Source, from the inner well of Spirit that I believe is available to everyone. Other people cannot reassemble me; I am my own unity.

To form and extend this indwelling of connection and clarity, I believe compassion for self as well as energy directed inward is necessary. My inner being needs its own workspace for creativity and spirituality in order to flourish, as well as a cozy den in which relaxation and downtime can occur. How much of my life have I wasted in social situations that were unfulfilling, trying to meet the needs of my parts without listening to them? How unloving and unconscious have I been in relating to others by coming from a place of scarcity and drudgery?

I exaggerate here, but right now writing this, I feel like if it takes me 99 years to come to myself whole, and I then spend my final year truly present with another, might that not show more love than expecting each other to heal our un-examined and unmet wounds without any inner work? I in no way want to make it sound like my path is everyone’s path; many people become their best selves through their relationships with others. I am harmed by attempting healing through relationship more than I am helped, and the window into myself I’ve opened has shown me another path forward. To what extent is your deepest meaning and fulfillment found in relationship with others? With your inner world? In other passions?

The In-Gathering

As I worked through what I need after feeling invisible, experiencing invalidation or simply having a stressful day, I realized my inner world is best honored by ritual. My spirituality is at its deepest when I follow my own natural rhythms. Whenever and wherever, I can honor each part of myself. I invite you to customize the following for your own practice.

Setting the Scene

Create a space for ritual. This can be as simple as lighting a candle, laying out a special cloth, or brewing a cup of tea. It can be creating an elaborate altar or traveling to a place in nature to which you feel called. All that matters is that it is made sacred by your intentional presence.

Begin by centering yourself on your breath. Invite your senses in, one-by-one. If you having trouble focusing, play calming music or listen to nature sounds.

A Safe Place for All

In turn, welcome* each part of self. Some I chose to honor are the vulnerable, the eager, the nurturing, the brave and the wise. You may have other parts that need representation. Allow each to share with you whatever they want to share, without judgement. Ask the other parts to sit back and grant space while each one shares. Parts may make a request of others, which should be held with care.

Body, Heart, Mind and Spirit

After each part has shared, concentrate again on your breath. Inhabit every corner of your body. Listen to your body as a whole and through its systems, observing what it needs. Focus on what it may want to reveal or release.

Allow your emotions to channel and course through your body. Meet each one with a loving embrace. Notice them shift and dance.

Attend to your mental state. Notice the pattern and pace of your thoughts. Observe them come and go.

Finally, turn to your Spirit. Allow it to reveal itself to you through your senses. Touch the moon and sun cycles, the sky, earth, rain and fire and the season. Let nature guide you deeper into your soul.

Symbols of Love

Breath again, and ask of yourself, all of yourself present, what love looks like here and now. To the best of your ability, provide this love to yourself. Note any hesitancy, and then move through it with care. Embrace yourself.

A Closing Prayer

Finalize your ritual by spending time in quiet meditation, honoring yourself for making time to gather yourself whole and to recognize your worth. Incorporate whatever words and movements feel holy in this moment. Be the prayer your soul needs to feel.

*If you are new to inner/self-work and you hold a trauma history, this practice could be destabilizing. I encourage you to first work with a trusted therapist before engaging in this ritual and to take as slow of a pace as needed. Self-care practices such as spending time in nature, running a gentle bath or settling into your breath may be safe places to start to connect with parts of self.

At the Center (Daily Works of Art)

In the last half-year, there has been an internal shift unlike any I can remember experiencing. I’ve started T during this period of time, so I’m certain that coming into alignment with myself as a non-binary person has played role in this change. My image of myself has been transformed as I’ve created my present.

I’m a relationship disaster. I get close to people, building up connection and hoping that “this time” something will stick and it won’t go sideways. Every single time, though, that there is a breach of trust, when I feel betrayed, used or mistreated, my trauma surfaces to an insurmountable level and the whole thing breaks apart. My deep-rooted attachment issues win the day, no matter, it seems, how much I try to will them into the background or how hard I work in therapy to undo them. I get re-traumatized and cut more deeply after every experience. I do not heal and I do not grow in my capacity to love by failing at it. The only beings I’ve ever loved are my dog and myself. Relationships with others matter and I will continue to engage in them, but they do not complete me.

My career is equally unable to give me a sense of fulfilment or meaning, despite the fact that I know what I’m doing is valuable. Every trigger I experience there makes it harder to show up the next day. I wade through it, but I don’t derive my joy or sense of purpose from it.

I care about the human condition and the planet, but I’m not an activist. Even though topics such as human rights stir my passions and I advocate for equity, I am not enough of a True Believer ™ in any cause to dedicate my life to it. I find meaning here, but it is fraught with disappointment and despair to an intensity where it is not enough, on its own, to sustain me.

I’m left, then, with the possible sources that most people turn to for their deepest nourishment a shallow bowl of thin soup. Finally, after twenty years of suicidality and less-than-ness, knowing myself to be a loner, a Not a True Believer ™ and an unmet career potential achiever, I may have hit on why I’m here. This dish is a rich stew, with layers of flavor and body.

My core is my inner world. I know my interior to a level of detail I’ve rarely encountered in others. And yet, I scrub the corridors of my mind and sweep the reaches of my heart and still I uncover things about myself I didn’t know before. And I refuse to see the gift of self-knowledge through the lens of navel-gazing self-absorption. We die alone. Life is coming to that realization and finding a reason to keep living.

I haven’t found my inner world in order to escape there and shut myself off from reality. Instead, my physical experience is at the center of my inner world. I live embodied. No, I’ve found my core because it is the root of my spirituality and creativity. I have something to honor and something to express because, in knowing myself, I find my entryway to the universe. I do not live to romance a perfect love, to make the world a better place or to achieve a capitalist monument to money, fame or innovation. I exist to live present, sacred and as a witness to the present and the sacred.

I’m a nature photograph of only the trees and the mountain. No caption to draw attention to the threats of the future. No human figure outlined as the subject. No metaphor for the accolades I’ve garnered. Only the holy now and the lens to see it.

My way of being is not the best or the singular way through life. I fully support those whose center is the periphery of my image—the happy family camping, the environmentalist chained to the tree, the goal-setter summiting the peak. There is pain in finding my focus, because I think it is trauma more than biology that has led me to it. A life unspoiled as mine was might have a depth I cannot achieve in which everything I’ve described is blended into a harmonious entree. But my point is simply that I have something for which I exist, even if it isn’t typical, appreciated or noticed. I’ve found my purpose. Attempting to compel myself to locate it elsewhere is a distraction from my fundamental source of joy and hope. I’m in this light, of this breath, reflecting divine presence.