He had the kind of boyish grin that never impresses me on a cisgender heterosexual male.
Let alone a near stranger. The rules are different with kink play – non-normative activity between consenting adults. Even where intimacy would normally be absent, with the help of an idiosyncratic fetish or interest, connections can spark.
And when I spoke to him, I felt like an elementary kid in a dark corner of a schoolyard, teasing out the particulars of a game we both know better than to play.
Not safe and yet it is. This is how kink goes.
By the time I stood across from him waiting to receive his moderated malice, I had done most, though not all, of my due diligence. I shared what I thought was the largest elephant in the room – my past PTSD and past avoidance of his favorite kind of play. That I had no idea how it would affect me to let him strike me in ways similar only to how I’ve been struck in my past and not for play.
I felt his fist and fingers, was wrung fresh out of air and fell, face first into sensation too old to be familiar. He was right. It was nothing like before. Genuine ill-will is nothing like vindictiveness built on a scaffold of respect and trust. And huge as it was for me to offer up my limbs this way, my trauma was not the largest elephant in the room.
My response to the play was atypical. Just how does one determine the safe threshold of pervasive dizzinesses? Disorientation? Nausea? Somehow he did. He had me lay down and took my pulse. Masked his face in a layer of controlled concern and fired off a series of questions that seemed too technical for laypeople. What did he say he did for a living again?
I’d left out seemingly irrelevant information about my health during negotiations. (Learn from me folks, never do this.) After answering more questions about my health than most doctors ask he said, “you’re fine and will be fine, but this thing you’ve had going on, you can’t ignore your health anymore.”
That comment and that scene led to a health breakthrough.
When do we ever check each other’s pulses and confirm with our own eyes what would happen to our bodies under extra stress? Standard interpersonal relationships don’t usually require extensive knowledge of the body. Nothing quite risky or nuanced enough happens.
So much of the time we wait for notices from without about the status of our bodies. But not just that, we rely on indicators outside us to learn about our emotions, desires, and boundaries. We remain reactive and are like the outsiders often depicted in the Five of Pentacles. Hoping for the mercy of forces just beyond us. We no longer even know what we can access, within our bodies and without. And then we worry.
It’s popular in spiritual community to deny the benefit of worrying and then misuse it.
Worry is often proportionate to our will to survive. Depending on how, or if, it’s interpreted it can turn into anything from cemented victimhood to unflinching motivation. One person, a kinkster let’s say, worries about the location of nerves, the regulation of blood sugar, the resilience of skin.
Another person might worry about the perception of those around them, cautiously avoid any behavior that might alienate them from their community, and leave the intricacies of their bodies and interpersonal communication to the appropriate professionals.
The trick is to focus and funnel the worry worth having.
I worried about that scene, the aforementioned kinky play, about what might happen to my body. But I stayed with it. It seemed a worry worth having. The play was a gateway into a deeper knowledge of self and health. It also led to a bigger form of surrender – the moment when I walked into an office and asked a stranger to help me heal my body. And it wouldn’t have happened, except for one extraordinary tarot reading.
It was and still is, the largest face-up pull I’ve ever done.
It started with so many major cards I had to use two decks. I was taking a Tarot and Psychology course through The Hermit’s Lamp. James Wells was leading us through a short yet profound exercise that it would take me years to process. Two and counting so far.
The first part tells my life story – 18 major events. More than half of them represented by challenging cards. It’s why I’ve got plenty to say about difficult cards; they are the first words in my intuitive language. Only in recent years has the darkness lifted.
The next part of the reading was made up of things to come. James led us as we weaved our futures, consciously and in a shape of our choosing. And out of the future chapters came a story. In it, I could already see the seeds of a new kind of vulnerability being sown:
There was a mystic who sought the guidance of the universe. She asked for the sense of things, the key to healing and resolution. The universe became a tightrope on which she could practice her walk, and once she mastered it, she was given a seed to carry in her belly, to mimic the earth in its enlightened balance.
The seed reached out to touch the universe, recognizing its mother in all things. The seed and the universe locked eyes and lost themselves in heightened awareness. This balanced gaze became the light and darkness that gives life to all beings
My spiral began with the High Priestess. A symbol of unprecedented vulnerability. This card triggers the extension of the divine antenna. This card signaled to listen to that which was previously unheard. To allow, no, invite a quiet, ecstatic, and engulfing chaos.
The next day I’d be under the fist of a boyish new friend whose attention, equal parts vicious and mindful, would wake me up to myself. It would be another eight months before I remembered the High Priestess and a promise to myself to split open and listen to what was in there.
I was on a spiritual retreat in Sedona.
One of my loves and I traveled with a group to visit places of power and dialogue with the divine. I’ve always rejected the notion of prayerful requests, no matter the terminology – attraction, manifestation, mercy.
I chafe at the idea of making requests of the universe and passively waiting to receive. Or maybe I chafe at the receiving. Either way, I wasn’t expecting a miracle. Not from without. Not from within. It happened on Bell Rock – yet another breakthrough.
Our group’s leader told us to find our spots and listen for guidance.
I found a place at the bottom of Bell Rock, right beside all the other visitors. The spot neither demanded nor afforded me anything, not an ounce of privacy or insight. From where I sat, I saw my love slowly making the ascent up.
I felt the urge to follow, see how far I could get. They’ve rock-climbed for years so I knew I might not be able to follow. Could I stay in my spiritual lane while focusing my attention on another? I got up. Uncertain about my intentions and continually checking in. Is my spot following them right now?
My love wound the spiral of the rock, from the flat parts to the parts that slant and you need take on all four. At some point, I noticed the tiny pebbles skidding under my boots making them surf the rock face like a tide. My heartbeat was thunderous in my throat. This can’t be my spot when I feel so out of place, so small, and so afraid.
There was a battle between the parts of me that wanted to expand and the parts of me that wanted to get back to solid ground. Just when I’d lost sight of the allure of my lover’s back, just when I was certain it was time for me to stop, I felt the impression of a hand on my back and heard in my mind, “I am here, follow if you want to. I’ll never let you go where you aren’t truly safe.”
And then I felt a very familiar presence. The one when I feel when I’m uncertain. The one I lean into for insight into risks. My deepest instinct or highest priestess-self embodied. Calm took hold of me.
My love noticed me for the first time and slowed, surprised to find me on their heels at a part of the rock no others dared climb. They took my hand and bore witness to my ever-growing terror and doubt. Do I belong here when I am so afraid?
We ended up on a sliver of earth with space only to glue our backs to the rock and dangle our feet in the air beneath us. The top was out of reach, but we were close.
I hadn’t needed to wait to hear from the divine – the inner dialogue was deafening. I listened to an endless stream of doubts and reassurances and anchored in my body the feeling of a person who could swim through a sea of terror and keep moving.
When you want to breakthrough, and you feel like you can’t, the body is the gateway
It shows us fear and pain and limitation and tells us in equal parts, turn back before it’s too late and also don’t you dare turn back. We have to grow the ears for it. We have to cultivate the trust in our vision and see with our limbs and six senses the truth of the world.
Even when we’re guided, it falls to us to make the meaning of experiences that will ultimately serve our highest purposes. It’s up to us to see the world as it is, a story filtered through the universes of our bodies. It’s up to us to keep moving, to stand and to climb.
The view from breakthrough is turned on its side; we have to be willing to hang
To get it wrong. To learn better. To be right. We get to process the raw data of the senses like so many computers and decide what form the information takes. Are we staying in our spiritual lanes? Always hitching a ride to others? Are we tending ourselves? Or closing our eyes and ears and hoping for the best?
Are we willing to fall? Again and again? And break the bones that have yet to break? And when we feel the cortisol dump, the likes of which takes days or years to regulate, are we willing also to let go? Move on to the truth of our resilient bodies, ever-ready to be over it?
To breakthrough – keep asking.
The right questions, the wrong ones. Doubt and believe accordingly. Knowing the difference takes practice. Use the senses. It helps to have any kind of practice, especially physical.
We like to talk about “grounding, ” but what if for the most part, we don’t need to? Rather than “getting into our bodies,” how about noticing we never left? With tongue, nostrils, eyes, ears, skin, and mind. Or even just two of these?
The infirm, alternative, or atypical have the jump on the rest. We either grow the capacity to notice or despair. Alternative relationship styles, challenged health, past trauma, and neurotypical variance often mean more noticing. I write about the Hanged One a lot. I wrote a fillable worksheet through the lens of this card to aid in working with trial and noticing. Use it if you like. No signup needed.
Featured decks: Tarot de St. Croix first edition by Lisa de St. Croix Devera 2013, Osho Zen Tarot Padma St. Martin’s 1995, Aquarian Tarot Palladini US Games 1970