It’s late. I’m listening to a mix on Dogglounge (highly recommended), and I’ve just finished my second reading of the night. One of the cards I pulled during the second reading was Death. It was as much a message to me as it was to the querent.
I’ve had a rough couple of weeks mentally, physically and spiritually. Hence the lack of journaling. Long work hours combined with trans-Atlantic travel and a family member in precarious health have wreaked havoc on my schedule. SWT and my tarot practice overall has suffered.
The Death card. It’s meaning: transition, letting go. Allowing what does not serve us wither and fall away.
Things can’t and won’t stay the same.
Perhaps the Cancer new moon that happened earlier this month triggered thoughts of being overwhelmed, not just in me, but friends as well. But I seem to have been particularly sensitive. Thoughts, issues started bubbling up.
One issue was, and is, myself.
Who am I in this world? What do I represent, especially as a black American female immigrant to a European country? (Note that I didn’t use the term ‘expat’ for a bunch of reasons that I won’t get into right now.)
And why - as I approach my 47th year (Feb 4) - haven’t I accomplished all of the things I’d set out to do?
This is where the Death card comes in.
Death and radical change
I’m currently reading The Way of Tarot by Alejandro Jodorowsky. The book was part of a literary trifecta of Jodorowsky’s works given to me by my friend for Christmas (the other two being Manual of Psychomagic: The Practice of Shamanic Psychotherapy and Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy). In The Way of Tarot, Jodorowsky refuses to call the Death card by that name, terming the designation "simplistic."
Referring to the image on the card - using his version of the Marseilles - he states that one of the bones on the ground has seven holes, like a flute. These holes are perhaps waiting for a divine breath to flow through and produce music.
“Therefore it is unthinkable to reduce the Arcanum XIII to the meaning of ‘Death.’ But we can see a major transformation, a revolution or a radical change in this card,” he writes.
One revolution I feel coming my way is a shift in my tendency to play small.
There. I said it.
Playing small, playing myself
I couldn’t put my finger on this feeling until I read this interview with Zen teacher angel Kyodo williams in Lion’s Roar (courtesy a tweet by Oakland Tarot’s Jessica Dore).
When referring to dismantling the social construct of white Western privilege in Buddhism and how she addresses this in her book Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love and Liberation, williams makes a interesting observation about herself. She says she was shocked that she had “spent many years—in the vernacular of black folks back to the days of slavery—keeping my head down.
“By trying to stay smaller than was organic to the situation and to my experience, because I didn’t want to draw the ire of folks in the dharma world. And even though we don’t have any singular institution of Zen or Buddhism, there’s a power structure, one that is often unspoken," williams says.
Substitute “in the dharma world” with “in my relationships,” or “in my family” or “at my job.” And even though she’s refers to the power structure within Buddhism, there are unspoken power structures that we subliminally adhere to in almost every area of our lives.
I’ve been doing this for most of my 46 years, and with concerted effort during the past 16 years in Europe. My inner voice says, “You already stick out like a sore thumb. Stay down. Stay safe. Don’t ask for too much. Don’t demand anything of anyone.
“And for Pete’s sake don’t raise your head above the crowd. It may get chopped off.”
I took this to heart.
I played myself.
Let's breathe y'all
If you look at the Death card (or Arcanum XIII as Jodorowsky calls it), you see the skeleton holding a scythe. Heads, arms and legs are sticking up from the soil. Are they victims of Death’s blade?
Or is Death chopping through the soil in an effort to free those who’ve been buried in the muck?
The muck of structures.
The muck of keeping their heads down.
Jodorowsky gives the card a voice. “Thanks to me, everything turns into dust and collapses. But do not think this is a tragedy. I make destruction a process of extreme splendour.”
That destruction is old habits and ways.
My playing small.
Arcanum XIII is slowly, methodically freeing souls from the soil, sparking change.
My face is still caked with dirt. But I feel the warmth of the sun through the holes.
And I think I can finally taste the fresh air.