Face Up Tarot is a series by Siobhan exploring what happens when we consciously choose the tarot cards in our readings, drawing them face up.
The Tarot De St. Croix 8 of Cups shows a lush canyon, framed at top and bottom with blue sky and several pools.
I first noticed the waterfall with a client.
We noticed how the ridge of the canyon looked like a cup itself, pouring out its contents into the valley below via the waterfall.
Instead of the familiar themes for the 8 of Cups of letting go, we talked about the client’s untapped potential to contain. We talked about the expansive space that existed even beyond the eight pools featured at the bottom of this card. The client allowed themselves to be taken aback by the vastness of it, their emotional resilience as represented in the card. I did too.
In light of this highly personal interpretation, forced attempts at letting go seemed inappropriate. For the client to prematurely cut themselves off from their emotions, especially considering their capacity to process and contain, would be like trying to cut a waterfall in half.
Letting go is common in new age spiritual community. At dark moons, we write what we don’t like, and we burn it. We pray that it’s gone. Deep down, we might even know that this won’t be the last time.
And why not? That’s what some spiritual leaders do. Prop themselves up in impossibly positive narratives where there is no grief, shortcoming, injustice, or pain. Where it makes sense to remove these things from the narrative. Where there are no alternative perspectives to research or grasp. Diverse human experiences become illusions.
I’ve recommended Byron Katie in the past even though you won’t hear an acknowledgment of hardship, poverty, or injustice in her work. She speaks from the ‘absolute truth’ that we create these for ourselves as if in a spiritual vacuum, safe from society. This thinking strikes me as problematic at best.
It overlooks the experience of those with varying degrees of privilege and those without. Basically everybody. It’s a denial of relative reality, and it bars genuine connection in the same motion that it cuts off the denier’s experience of pain.
So why would I read, use, and recommend this work?
Because it’s half the truth. I don’t deny the ‘absolute’ half that identifies illusions and grants each of us superpowers and absolute responsibility. At the same time, a spiritual practice based only in this half is bankrupt and violent. So I kept reading, mindful of the parts that served and the parts that didn’t.
I was surprised to read a passage one day where she grieves. There didn’t seem to be room for grief in her view of the world, since there is no such thing as death. But in the book, Byron acknowledges her natural human emotional connection to her mother.
While logically this grief contradicts what she’s said, the fact that she admits to it displays a more nuanced awareness of reality than I had come to expect from her writing. I’m starting to believe that an emotionally balanced approach to spirituality (or maybe even everything) will always involve paradoxes.
You will let go, and you can’t let go.
Now, when I look at the 8 of Cups, I’m reminded of a quote from the appendix of The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
To help the people who are to be bombed, to try to protect them from suffering I have to come here.
Hanh says this in response to an angry white audience member who challenges his loyalty to his country. “If you care so much, why are you here then?” they asked.
He answers despite an intense emotional reaction. It took all the skill of a Buddhist master to do this emotional labor and not in the absence of anger or darkness; he is obviously triggered. He is obviously human.
He is the figure in the traditional 8 of Cups having turned away from the pristine spiritual castle of detachment to walk toward the difficult work of communing with the ones who have yet to awaken.
What is compassion without the awareness of the suffering of others? What is compassion that can’t traverse tribe (race, class, nation) identity and consciousness? A lie, denial and spiritual violence.
Spirituality is full of tools for this kind of detachment. There are times when detachment is the only way to stay grounded. When surviving trauma. When dismantling injustice, when advocating for compassion. When your awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings is tempered with inclusivity. When you have space to go beyond loving your ‘self’ and your tribe and can acknowledge those that are different than you.
Your tribe is an illusion. But you still have one. Your family, all suffering, human connection. Illusions, but these things still exist. Thus the spiritual paradox. A fully integrated emotional perspective makes room for both healthy enmeshment and detachment.
Periodically, in spiritual communities, I hear about the notion of dropping or transcending race.
We want to believe that everyone can transcend any struggle, that we can empathize and that we can understand. It’s disturbing to think we live in a world where circumstances outside our control could dictate the nature of all of our lives, despite our best intentions and our belief that we exist independently. We like the absolute truths like ‘you create your reality’, because they’re simpler than paradoxes by far. By this logic:
- As a black woman in America, I created the reality where race doesn’t exist and is a fictitious social construct.
- Also, the reality where this fictitious construct is weaponized to maintain insidious, and often overlooked, hierarchical class structures.
- And where eastern concepts, birthed in indigenous cultures where attachment/emotional connection, is totally different than it’s modern western counterpart, are appropriated and misinterpreted, stunting the very same Western psycho-spiritual development that It was purposed with saving.
(That last part was a mouthful. Check out this interview with John Welwood, the origin of the term “spiritual bypass”, to see why I say this. I’ll say more soon at my blog.)
So, I did all that, huh? And the spiritual thing to do is to ignore or deny my personal experiences of systemic racism?
Don’t get me wrong; I know to work on generational scars in my practice. No victim lives here, even as I acknowledge the places where I’ve been cast and molded as ‘victim’. Even though you rarely see me post angry race recriminations, I will also never attempt to deny the experiences of those that do.
How then is a spiritual being to reconcile this conundrum: race does not exist, systemic racism does?
To help the people who are to be bombed, to try to protect them from suffering I have to come here…
With the 8 of Cups there’s reaping, and then there’s ripening.
There is a natural timeline for letting go and also for attachment. That timeline isn’t about what we want; it’s about what is. When we acknowledge our drive to connect and our tribe identity even as we seek to transcend it, we are aligned. When we try to hack off parts of ourselves and the world, it is premature reaping motivated by fear and unconscious dysfunction. It is maladaptation.
Reaping is when we take detachment into our own hands. We decide we are done, and we cut off.
We stifle emotions. We deny the experience of others. We blame. We decide ‘it’s over’ or ‘to drop it’, just like that. We expect everyone around us to do it too – and when they don’t, we feel threatened and resentful. Meanwhile, we bury the seed of that which we want to end. It grows in the unconscious unchecked until it crops up again.
Ripening is allowing ourselves to be full of what is.
Even if what’s true is despair, unfairness, injustice, and all the darkest parts of our humanity. Even if what is true is how desperately we need someone else. Ripening is presence. It is a continuous stream, and its capacity is endless.
Both sides of this attachment spectrum have their dangers. When we allow we can ruminate or cycle emotion, failing to recognize when something is over. When, we detach we can run from the risk of connection, blaming and demonizing others as we’ve already done to ourselves.
Darkness is necessary for transcendence. A diversity of experience and its acknowledgment is needed to be at peace with our interconnectedness. Human connection is the only compassionate option. This is the case even if it means pain for the super-enlightened person who feels that they are entitled to, or have earned, the right to ‘transcend’ pain.
It’s up to us recognize the difference between ripening and reaping.
It’ll take more than parroting pop culture spiritual truisms. We need to make room for both things, the walking toward and away, letting go and connecting with integrity. Our psycho-spiritual evolution depends on it. The waterfall cannot be cut.
What do you believe about ‘letting go’?
Let me know in the comments or use #faceuptarot
As usual, I had more to say about this topic keep In touch to see as soon as I write the rest.
Decks featured: Tarot de St. Croix first edition by Lisa de St. Croix Devera 2013; Smith-Waite Tarot US Games 1971; Dust II Onyx by Courtney Alexander, Black and Sage 2017