Going Down

It is the weekend and my day is filled with books, coffee, and incense. I put on some good music and sat in front of my altar for a while. On my altar sit a variety of things. It is less a geometric space akin to a physical mandala as some altars are, but more a gathering of importances. The Morrigan is there, as is Hermes. I also have a coyote’s jawbone, various candles and stones, and more.

I sat for a while, letting my mind wander. Yesterday I had felt the pull into the Chthonic world and didn’t really venture into it. I wasn’t ready. But today I was rested and keen. A friend had been texting me (she has impeccable timing) and our conversation does as it does. I remarked to her that Niflheim had changed for me, or rather my understanding of it had changed. It wasn’t a realm of flatness, of emptiness, but it was utterly saturated to the very particles of mist in hurt. I like that word, hurt. It is a better word than just pain. Hurt has a spectrum to it. It can be small, or it can be deep. It is enormous or it is an annoyance. Because it is so filled with hurt, any movement brings more hurt. It isn’t that it is a flat realm, but we numb out to the hurt.

In explaining this, what came to mind was a too hot bath. When entering into it, it is painful and for a while it is seemingly unbearable. Yet you remain very still and don’t move and eventually you numb out to it. You like it. But if you move a little in any direction, it hurts again and you regret moving. The edges of you blur and it is like as though you fill the tub. Getting out, likewise, hurts and you feel naked and sharp from the world around you. You are cold, distinct (cut off, separate) from the world around. So while in the bath you quit moving. You remain utterly still. Any movement brings pain.

As I sat there remarking on this, I was reminded of a time when depression was quite common to me. It had an addictive quality to it. I welcomed the embrace often. This entered my mind while I sat there thinking. What are we without pain? Pain lends a poetic meaning to the mundane. It lends the importance of the existential to our days. Were it not for a little pain, we’d go through days unaware that we’re rushing toward our death and never taste the beauty of life… that it simply exists at all. Hel’s beauty is all the more by the nearness of her horridness, it more horrifying because its clear disfiguring. They are inseparateable.

I had been wanting a tarot spread for an investigation into this chthonic realm. Nothing seemed to fit. I thought of circles, but to create a circle I’d need a lot of cards. I didn’t want a square or triangle. It had to be directionless (matching Niflheim) and yet everywhere.

As I sat there, pondering this, my mind imagined a picture of a black hole, how it shows the effect of gravity upon one dimension. The brain twister for me is to imagine this on all dimensions, where the never-ending hole goes infinitely inward. But for thinking along the axis mundi of the self, this one dimension is applicable. What draws down?

Then it came to me, that I was going down. So I used a three card spread, starting from the top and going down. Each card being pulled by the card below. I could continue to go further and further if I wanted, using as many cards as necessary. I stopped at three.

Six of Cups – pleasure

This is emotional pleasure, or rather the lack of it as the inverted nature of the card made it seem pretty clear. This isn’t anything new. Who doesn’t feel times of meh, blah from time to time? Life isn’t always about constant happiness and joy. Sometimes we just don’t feel it. This may be no big deal, but I’m reminded here of cold and flu season. It isn’t that there is a season when the virus is out, it’s always out. It is that our immune systems are particularly taxed in different seasons. Winter can be hard for our immune systems and the virus that is always there is harder to fend off. So it is that if entering a period of blah, a lack of joy and emotional pleasure, I can be pulled down by something.

Five of Pentacles – worry

Worrying about material problems, poverty, health, etc… With this card being inverted, the negative nature of it intensifies, at least how I understand it. Worry is an interesting word. To worry means that one’s thoughts are running rampant with worst case scenarios and what if’s. But when we say that we’re worried, we don’t mean to tell someone that our thinking is running off the rails. Instead we mean that we feel the emotional stress of worrying. Worry is deemed a useless emotion by the Stoics, who counsel that the sage, recognizing what is in our control and what is out of it, doesn’t worry. This card too counsels not to dwell on the past or future, but instead on the present in order to get out of emotional pull of worry. And this has been a stressor of mine for the past year, this constant worry. But stilling myself, listening, I can see a theme that is worse underneath it all.

Six of Pentacles – success

Success is an ambiguous, loaded word that means many things to many people. What is success? Is it merely collecting a paycheck? I’ve actually turned down offers at employment before, offers where I would have made a good living. One of which was $65,000 base (not including bonuses and more) in the mid 90’s. Success to me isn’t paycheck or the like, it is something else. I wanted to matter and to make an impact. When I first started college I would stay up at night and diagram out ideas about the mind. I wanted to investigate it, study it, and help others. Still do. Yet it has occurred to me, quite a few times over the past year, that I’ve squandered my opportunities. Some of my choices may have taken me down a wrong path. I may not be able to be successful in my attempts to study the mind. I may be looking at a future of one job to another job, never really able to fully pour myself into anything of importance, my ship having sailed. This is, for me, more depressing than being poor or homeless. I’d gladly live in a small container if I had the ability to be a part of what I love.

I sat back and looked at the spread. It gave me clarity. I could see how it would continue to pull me down. Layers. It was also a surprise. Because I had been expecting the usual love/romance connection that my thoughts sometimes turn to. Yet as I looked at it, it made sense. One thing that hinders me is the cultural baggage of unworthiness because I’m not successful. I budget to be able to go out on a date. I still remember while I was in college, a full time student and working bar shifts, that I called a woman that was dating to tell her that I couldn’t afford to drive to see her as the last bar shift was a crappy one and I’d not made much money. She roasted me. What kind of loser can’t afford a lunch date? Didn’t I have savings? Didn’t I have credit cards? Couldn’t I plan? And more. I could go on about this for a while but I’ve made my point.

I wondered about the spread. It made sense to me. Again, I could keep going further down if I chose to, but I was deep enough. What I was wondering now was moving. Sideways. Recalling the image of the bath and how we feel pain if we move, what would bring pain here? I wanted the pain because that is what also brings meaning. There is a time for depression and stillness, but sometimes it doesn’t serve our self. If it were a matter of simply entering into depression and letting that be that, we’d all be sages. The world is filled with suffering, but the individuated soul is rare.

I drew two more cards and placed them to the left and right. I placed them partly between the 2nd and 3rd draws, meaning connected, but not entirely connected, to either. These were hard cards, cards I didn’t feel like doing, didn’t want to do, but needed.

Three of Wands – virtue

The juggling person here shows skill, but also playfulness. There is a balance here. Wands are fire. Fire is movement. There is the call here to do something. Juggling looks like a waste of time. What purpose does juggling serve? None! How does it solve my material worries? How does it solve my health worries? The dread that I have that I’ve missed my chances? I wonder how I can make some strategic move to solve problems, and this tells me to play? But it is more than that. When one is in a state of Flow one is essentially in a state with a mixture of play and skill. In such a state we are quite happy. I’m in such a state when I’m finding patterns and connections.

Nine of Cups – happiness

This card is emotional and physical well being. It is professional and financial success. It is really a wonderful card to receive. But how does one get it? Being cups it is emotion. It counsels me to be open, welcoming.

Sitting back, looking upon these two cards I imagined them twirling around the center axis. Much like two planets twirling around the gravity of a star, or a black hole. They were not inside the pull of it, but were satellites. They also impacted each other, counterweights, as it were.

Wands and cups, fire and water, spirit and emotion. There was an opposite nature to them, but also a commonality, a connection. I’m told to move, to be open to new things, to actively take care of my body and emotions, to take an almost childish joy in things. As I ponder this mixture of meanings I am struck by how similar it is to how I would be/feel/act if I were successful in all things. In my mind, were I to be my best self and become successful, it wouldn’t be a result so much as a way. My successful self isn’t rich, or married, or published. On the contrary, it is a playful self, open to new things, skillfully applying some new art to a problem, accepting of the love of other people, leaning into the challenges that came over the horizon. I’d worry less about the opinions of small minds and withered hearts, and instead I’d extend a hand where I could.

Looking upon these two cards I’m reminded of many different philosophers of the connection of virtue and happiness. Happiness, according to Aristotle, is a result of living with virtue. Virtue is how one lives mindfully with suffering as tempering one’s character.

I have much to learn.

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