Sometimes before I write a blog post, I get out my Tarot deck and ask, “What message wants to come through me today?” I pull a card and see what’s there, and it’s usually a card related to something I’ve been mulling over and want to write to you about.
This morning I did this same little ritual, but I knew what card was coming before I even pulled it. It’s the card that has appeared and reappeared an uncanny number of times over the past few months, and it’s what wants to be discussed today.
The Death card.
If you don’t know much about Tarot or if it feels like a scary topic to you, I want to make clear that the Death card rarely has anything to do with physical death. Only time will tell, but I don’t think pulling this card means that I need to be making my funeral arrangements.
I really wish the English language were more equipped to discuss a topic so vast and personal and painful as Death, because I know I need to use the metaphor in this post, but I aim to do so without diminishing the experience of those who face and walk with the Death of their own bodies or those of loved ones.
While I’m constrained by much of the same language, I don’t mean in any way to imply that experiencing a personal transformation is the same as losing your own life or the life of someone you love dearly.
So, I proceed cautiously.
As you might know from previous posts, I’ve been in the muck and mire of a spiritual transformation for a few months now, and frankly, I’m sick of talking about it. But it’s what I’ve got, and the Death card keeps appearing, so I’m showing up to do the work and share it with you.
I don’t fear the Death card, and actually, it’s often a welcome sight, but this process feels like it’s taking for-e-ver, the way a wet and dark winter can feel. Some days I desperately want to escape to somewhere sunny, but instead I’m here, in damp and rainy Oregon, in the throes of a death of some kind.
Never before have I really understood the waves of emptying that have to occur when we decide to step into a new life.
When we commit deeply to a new path, we enter an initiation period where we have the opportunity to cast away the barriers that have kept us safe but ultimately stuck. With our intentions finally clear, all of the shit that’s kept us where we are also becomes clear, and it rears its ugly head for one last go-round.
We decide, firmly, to expand into a new career, and then we get a seductive offer from a recruiter interested in placing us in a similar position.
We commit to nourishing our body again and suddenly everyone is offering us potato chips and chocolate cake.
We set an intention to leave relationships where our efforts aren’t reciprocated, and sure enough, we hear from all of those people in a week.
This happens because we’re playing with energy systems, some of which are old, deeply ingrained patterns. When we make an alteration on our end (we set an intention for something different), the system overcompensates to try and get things back to homeostasis.
In the process of creating a new life for ourselves, which we may only have an inkling of, we have to be willing to experience a thousand tiny deaths. These deaths take many forms: letting expectations go, releasing tired habits, dissolving harmful relationships, forgiving ourselves, drawing boundaries, choosing not to engage, choosing not to avoid, not worrying about that thing anymore, etc.
Your deaths and my deaths will look very different, but in their essence, they are all about letting go of all the ways we hide from what is true and good for us.
The tricky part about a spiritual dying process is that we may know what has to die, but we often don’t know what wants to be born in its place.
For example, I know which parts of me are dying, and I’m getting better at naming them in order to choose differently. But I don’t know what kind of woman wants to be born after this, because I’m forming her in the midst of dying.
As we release old stories about ourselves, old identities, old job titles, and much more, there is a period of emptiness that follows.
No insight other than the knowledge that we are changing, rearranging, and giving ourselves over to an ancient and natural process.
All I can do in this liminal place is continue to let Death have its way while remaining committed to the healing of myself and, I hope, my community. All there is to do is be courageous and keep moving.
In his book, Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, David Whyte writes:
“To be courageous means at bottom to be heartfelt. To begin with we take only those steps which we can do in a heartfelt fashion and then slowly increase our stride as we become familiar with the direct connection between our passion and our courage. Without some kind of fire at the center of the conversation, a sense of journey through work, life becomes just another strategic game plan…”
We don’t have to know what we want our new, upgraded life to look like; we only need to have a seed of clarity planted in our heart that tells us: this. Not that.
This person. Not that one.
This thing. Not that one.
This workshop. Not that one.
This dream. Not that one.
And then, of course, we have to choose This One. We have to choose the thing, or person, or vision, or thought that resonates with the version of ourselves that we want to give life to--even if our new preferences surprise us.
This choosing makes the dying process much easier, because it is clear, and it fosters “the direct connection between our passion and our courage.”
As we release what’s dead inside of us and take small steps toward a new awareness, we may experience a strong sense of disorientation. In the past few weeks as this internal Death experience has ramped up, I’ve completely forgotten about appointments, I’ve mixed up my days, I’ve misspelled familiar words. I’ve felt totally kerfuffled, which isn’t my normal state.
But it’s a gift, because it tells me that my brain really is changing. My consciousness really is shifting, and the promise of greater understanding is ahead.
Wherever you are in the inevitable process of death and rebirth, and no matter what arena of your life it plays out in (relationships, career, your body, etc.), I hope you’ll remember two things:
Death can be a powerful ally, and you get to decide how you want to relate to it
Reintegrating amidst the transformation will feel clumsy and awkward, but keep making the heartfelt choices that support you in this process
I can’t promise that this will be my last post on Death, because it’s still Winter and I’m sure I have more work to do before Spring bursts onto the scene. I hope that by sharing my experience of this process, you feel permission to surrender to your own small deaths and give life to a more heartfelt life and career.