Becoming our own guide

Cards from the Brady Tarot

1) what are we struggling to become – 6 of arrows / passage
2) where are we on the path – daughter of horns
3) primary obstacle – 2 of feathers / success
4) how to overcome that obstacle – mother of feathers
5) outcome around the summer solstice – 10 of roots / wealth
A simplified version of Sarah Faith Gottesdiener’s spread to “Support your becoming

This is a reading meant for those working collectively in progressive or Left social movement organizations, to be applied either in our personal lives or in our organizational work. For more information about this series, read the intro paragraph from this first post.

This reading is about the transformation required to make the hard choices that are ultimately the best decision for ourselves. We cultivate emotional intelligence so we can minimize the inevitable pain we cause to ourselves and others, knowing that we still have far to go. We recognize where we can be our own worst enemy and where we can get stuck. If we commit to tend to our fires and incorporate a practice of beauty and creativity, we can find a way out of the stalemate. The result of this hard work on ourselves is felt generationally, that what we create can result in a sense of security and joy for our ancestors and the generations that follow.

We are struggling to become our own guide. The 6 of Arrows is some respite in difficult terrain. The owl is fleeing what on the surface looks like a rich woods but with six arrows pinned to a rope and falconer’s gloves, this is a scene of escaping oppression. What is behind us and even what may be ahead of us is difficult, but here is a moment of what freedom feels like, what carving our own path feels like. Even if the current situation doesn’t call for it now, we can work to become the kind of person that is attuned to making swift, logical decisions to better our lives. This is about knowing when it is the right time to leave, and the reality that sometimes it’s not possible to continue to struggle through a current situation, but that finding a safer place to call home is the best thing to precipitate our growth. This is a kind of mid-term improvement in circumstances, finding a better terrain of struggle to continue to fight for long-term goals.

With the Daughter of Horns we are at a place in our path of deep emotional work. We are sharpening our emotional intelligence. We are asking questions about why we do what we do. Are we in this organization / community / movement for the right reasons? Have we been barking up the wrong tree but we are so good at convincing ourselves and others of our logic-driven responsibility that we haven’t yet noticed the work isn’t bearing fruit? We need to tap into our waters, and examine what may be unhealthy or unsustainable patterns we’d like to change.

Emotional intelligence in a non-profit organization that will carry you through political and organizational challenges might include 1) having a life outside the organization 2) having relationships of mutual joy and support outside the organization 3) checking any co-dependent relationships you may develop that keep you from building a wider support network 4) understanding what work you want to do there and what it’s an appropriate container for, and 5) cultivating your internal compass for why you make certain decisions and priorities, rather than only seeking some model or ideal to emulate. This is just a sampler pack and you should identify your own parameters for setting boundaries and expectations. 

Now is a time to rewrite the emotional scripts that have you repeating the same patterns that hold you back from who and where you’d like to be. However, you may not be sure exactly where you’d like to be yet. The 2 of Feathers emerges as a symbol of indecision. “Success” here refers having the start of a new project or new idea successfully underway, but uncertainty about where to go next. One interpretation from Cassandra Snow’s Queering the Tarot that really resonated for the context of this spread was a stalemate that requires a “leap of faith” to take the next step. We need to go down a path that might not seem logical at first, but where there is energy behind it. We are being called to not just do more of the same, but to explore what creativity and passion might bring to the road ahead.

I think about how often in our organizing we assert that just more resources, more one-on-one organizing conversations, more community meetings will get us where we need to go to make change. This isn’t wrong, since this kind of intentional grassroots organizing work is resource and time intensive and those who do it never have enough support to do enough to make as much of an impact as we’d like. It’s why you see so many organizations filling the gaps with communications work and online petitions. Those have their place, but they can’t replace transformative human interaction and political development. Still, sometimes we might be wrong about just needing to do more of the same and getting more resources to do so. There’s a reason so much forward motion as the human species becomes possible through a novel, fresh perspective. What are we missing that might crack open the pessimism and apathy that pervades society that collectively holds us back from liberation?

In struts the Mother of Feathers, in other decks known as the Queen of Wands, and she is all sensuality, self-confidence, and assertive creativity. Cassandra Snow reflects that this card shows up for many activists as an answer to burnout. Maybe we finally need to read Adrienne Marie Brown’s book Pleasure Activism and take it to heart and explore practices that feel life-affirming, in direct challenge to the mainstream survival-of-the-fittest culture of death. This takes work to do. Joy and beauty are always available, but they can feel locked away until we turn our attention to their possibility. What turns you on and makes you smile and feel some sense of peace will be unique to you, and must be a practice in attention and cultivating the opportunities to feel into the beauty of life.

I share these suggestions as someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety most of my life. The concept that life could and should bring joy and abundance is foreign territory for me. I have a strong sense of duty, responsibility, and compassion for others and that’s what brought me to social justice work, but those things alone without a balance of life-affirming practice were unsustainable. My recovery includes the flowering arugula in the back yard, planted last September and now featuring hundreds of little white flowers visited by masses of bees. I go out to watch the bees and I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to help feed them in the middle of winter, to have followed my intuition to leave the plants for their full life-cycle. Gardening is a collaboration with the land and its inhabitants, that brings spontaneity and surprises beyond what we can imagine. My heart has dearly needed beautiful surprises.

The 10 of Roots suggests that pursuing our passions has world-building potential. This is a card of security, joy, and generational wealth that comes from setting down deep roots in nourishing soil. It is a reminder that it is day-to-day work to cultivate our gifts and that the outcome can lead to an abundance that more than enough for our families and communities. The work we do now with ourselves and our organizations will continue in some form even after we are gone. How we choose to live now matters. We can live in right relationship with each other and the Earth and work to build a culture of life in the here and now. This has a generational impact with the potential to heal ancestral trauma and make a safer, more abundant world for future generations. It will require finding good soil to work in, emotional intelligence, faith, and creativity, and it will be worth the struggle.


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