Initially, today’s blog may not seem to have much to do with yoga, but I ask you to come along for the ride. As always, I promise to tie it all together in the end.
I use the tarot cards as a form of dharana, or concentration, one of the eight limbs of yoga that I covered briefly in an earlier blog post. We will deep-dive into dharana today, but first, what are tarot cards or what is the tarot? From a purely concrete perspective, a tarot deck is made up of 78 cards, 56 of which are minor arcana, 22 of which are major arcana. Each card carries with it a symbolic meaning, which can vary depending on whether the card arises in an upright position or reversed position. If you are interested in learning more about the tarot, I highly recommend Brigit Esselmont’s website.
There are numerous beliefs about how the tarot work. Some believe that the cards can be used to commune with the spirit world to get messages from beyond (God, angels, departed loved ones – people have different beliefs). Others, like me, believe that the cards are a way to access our own subconscious and intuition.
One insight I have gained as both a human being and clinical mental health student is that what we want and need, the path that would nourish our soul and mental well-being, is often buried under layers of crap messages from the outside world or mental messages we habitually repeat to ourselves based on past trauma. Do I really want to go to medical school, or am I applying because I know it will make my parents happy? Am I exercising to strengthen my body and mind, or am I pushing myself too hard to shape myself into society’s ideal? Is this promotion right for me, or am I only taking it because society tells me I need to make as much money as possible?
I’ve faced all of these doubts in my life and at least 9 million others, and I’m sure you have your own dilemmas. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people (myself included) make decisions on autopilot, without listening to their intuition. This leads to disappointment and suffering – mentally, spiritually, and physically.
The physical practice of yoga, asana, helps us get in-touch with our bodies so that we can perceive what the body actually wants and needs. Is this the right place to hold chair pose, or am I dipping too low because I’m trying to impress my teacher, classmates, or the gremlin that lives in my brain? As we get more in-tune with our bodies, we can adjust our movements and diet for optimal health (something I will cover more in a later blog).
Dhyana, or meditation practices such as Yoga Nidra, help to silence the thinking mind and get us more attuned to our deepest longings. Depending on your spiritual position, you could view these as messages from God, the Universe, your True Self, whatever works for you. A secular view is that you are tuning in to what Dr. Glasser called your Quality World – the life that would be ideal for you - not someone else (as an aside, Dr. Glasser was wrong about A LOT, but I think he was on to something here).
Skipping straight to dhyana (meditation) without dharana (concentration) can be tricky, though. For years I tried to meditate without much success, and I recently realized it was because my mind was still too busy to listen to my True Self. In Yoga Nidra, the body rotation serves as dharana. When I have a specific problem I’m mulling over, I like to use the tarot cards to cultivate concentration.
When I read tarot, I light a candle, ground myself by placing both feet on the floor, close my eyes, and focus on the situation at hand. I concentrate completely on this single inquiry as I shuffle, then place, the cards. I’m going to hit you with some woowoo for a minute, but then I’ll bring it back to a more secular explanation. Personally, I feel an energetic pull from my fingers to particular cards that are almost always related to my query. In my opinion, the energy from my True Self is reaching out energetically to the relevant cards. Once I have the cards, I can concentrate and meditate on the message to find some guidance in life.
Even if you don’t believe your energy body can reach out to a card, I still believe you can use the tarot as a form of dharana. Just the act of focusing all of your attention on your situation, then concentrating on the meaning of the card, can help you tune in to your highest self.
I had an example of this just last week. I was weighing a situation endlessly in my mind and decided to read the tarot. For one of the first times, the cards that arose did not seem to have anything to do with my situation. The more I meditated on the cards and my situation, though, I realized I had been looking at the problem in the wrong way and focusing on irrelevant information and anxieties.
Thus, I do not think tarot is telling us what to do. Rather, I believe the cards give us an opportunity to concentrate and meditate on our situation so that we can find the solution that is likely buried beneath a pile of shoulds.
I hope this inspired you to try tarot for yourself. If not, what methods of concentration do you use to prepare for meditation?