Changing the Story

Story is everything. Everything is story.

Story-telling is a fundamental part of being human. We all do it, every day, whether we are aware of it or not. We are wired to make meaning, to seek patterns and connections between people and events, causes and effects. This is a critical and wonderful part of what makes us human and what has enabled our species to thrive. But it also gets us into trouble, causing us to imagine connections that aren’t there and to confuse correlation with causation.

And so we need to pay attention to the stories we are telling ourselves, to the meaning we are ascribing to the events and people around us. This is a theme I’ve visited before on this blog, most notably in July 2018, when I wrote three posts on owning our stories, examining the stories we are telling ourselves, and dropping those stories in order to simply experience what is happening.

Those practices have been revolutionary in my life because they bring my awareness to something automatic. Our internal narratives and the meaning we associate with events often function like trances; they are easy cognitive ruts our thinking falls into. It’s incredibly helpful to have tools to help realize when we’ve fallen into the rut.

But sometimes, it’s hard to get out of that rut. It’s easy enough to tell myself to drop the story, but it’s quite another to do that successfully. And this is one reason I have been grateful for Tarot cards.

Whether or not one believes they carry any metaphysical weight, Tarot cards offer us alternative stories to the ones we are telling ourselves. We pose a question, and are given a set of symbols in response. The reader has to take those symbols and tell a story from them that connects to the question posed. If nothing else, I have found that by offering new sources of potential meaning, Tarot cards wrench me from my cognitive ruts and force me to think creatively.

I don’t know how it works, but more often than not, the story I draw from the cards is helpful, and a fuller and richer story than what I was telling myself.

Here’s an example of what I mean. I’ve written a bit before about a big impossible crush I had been, well, crushed by for several years. A Tarot reading was instrumental to finding peace about that situation. At that point I was about three and a half years into the soul-crushing, mind-boggling crush, and I was just desperate for it to end. One day, at a complete loss, I prayed for guidance and turned to the cards. I asked something to the effect of what my experience of genuine romantic love would look like, and I pulled the Sun card. Then I asked who this crush was to me and pulled the Moon card.

It reminded me the line in Romeo and Juliet where Romeo compares Juliet to the Sun that casts aside the lesser lights. And while the Moon’s archetypical meanings are normally around illusion and delusion (which are themselves apt to describe that whole mess of a situation), in the moment I saw a different truth: that while, yes, the moon’s dim and shadowy light can play tricks on us, it’s also what lights our way in darkness and it’s better to walk in its light than to have no light at all. It helped turn this thing that had been weighing on me for so long into something that, while certainly deeply unsatisfying, could at least point me in the direction of something that was real, good, true, beautiful, and holy.

And so, thinking through the medicine of this card released me from the cognitive rut I had been in and set me on the path to more creative and helpful thinking about this confusing situation. (If you want to know where that ended up, you can read my old post “Skyline of the Heart“.)

This is just one example but I think it’s illustrative of one of the blessings this sort of practice can provide. It offers an alternative to what I’m thinking and in so doing, forces me to think creatively about what its medicine might mean in my present circumstances.

For meaning-making people, this helping hand to challenging the meaning we’ve made can be very welcome and helpful indeed.

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