Uncomfortable Curiosity: The Page of Cups

Once during a weekend trip, my partner, his other partner, and I decided to play a board game. My partner’s partner is a board game enthusiast and they had a brand new indie game still wrapped in plastic. It was so beautiful and intriguing that even though I am entirely unfamiliar with that kind of game, I wanted to give it a try. 

As we removed the pieces from their wrappers and set up the board on the dining room table, we realized just how complex this game was going to be. This was on an afternoon in early winter. It took an hour and a half to set up the board and read through the rules, and during that time the sun had gone down. Both my partner and his partner had played this general type of game before, so even though the game was complicated, they could at least see the overall structure. I, on the other hand, had nothing. It was difficult for me to understand what the game’s objectives were and what basic gameplay even looked like (each player’s turn had at least 5 separate steps.) As the sun went down and I sat there at that dining room table listening to the rules, I began to get angry, and then very, very sad. Without warning, I was fighting back tears and I had no idea why. As we were about to begin the game, I apologized, said I was tired, and laid down in another room to cry.

Why on Earth was I so upset about a board game? I was bewildered by why I felt so bad (I mean, I was sobbing) but I knew that I didn’t want to repress the feelings or blame them on someone else. I just allowed myself to be with myself as I went through it. 

After a while, a thought struck me: this wasn’t about the board game. This was about something from my past. Almost immediately, an image came to my mind of myself as a child sitting at the dining room table on darkening early winter evenings, despairing of ever understanding my math homework. Feelings of worthlessness and frustration about math were a constant companion in childhood and my teenage years, but I almost never think about them anymore. However, getting lost in byzantine board game rules felt similar enough to those childhood scenes to trigger feelings from years before. I realized that I had never healed from this part of my childhood, I had just forgotten about it. But my body hadn’t forgotten. 

*

Every instance in which we are triggered is an opportunity to work with the Page of Cups. While some may think that triggers only happen in the context of PTSD, my definition of trigger is any time our body-mind reacts to an event in the present as if it were something that happened in the past. In my case, my adult self was listening to the rules of a complex board game, but my body-mind reacted as if I were a child unable to understand her math homework and unable to get the help she needed. This is a non-intellectual, instantaneous response that involves the whole nervous system. The work, then, is trying to bring the trigger into conscious thought so we can heal the patterns that keep our nervous system stuck in painful loops.

The Page of Cups in the Smith-Waite deck looks kindly at the little fish that popped out of their cup—which can symbolize emotional or psychological material arising from the unconscious. The Page of Cups is not less developed than the Knight, Queen, and King of Cups, but they embody curiosity and willingness to learn from unexpected thoughts and feelings. Willingness to learn is one of the qualities that distinguish the four Pages from the other court cards. 

While The Moon might symbolize material from the unconscious erupting into everyday life, the Page of Cups is about our relationship with that material. If the Page appears in reverse or is close to several Fire cards in the spread (suit of Wands or certain Major Arcana cards), it might suggest that we’re unwilling or not ready to work with that material right now. But in any case, the appearance of the Page of Cups means that we’ve found a piece of the puzzle.

Once I recognized that I had been triggered, I was able to take care of myself. I allowed myself to fully feel the feelings and cry as much as I needed, I told my partner what was going on and asked for support, I was able to understand what kind of food and sex I was craving. And after a few hours, my nervous system was able to relax. I think about what might have happened if I had not been curious about my feelings. I would have gone away from the experience thinking that I was really just that upset about a board game. Or maybe I would have taken it out on my partner or his partner. Or maybe I would have just concluded that I am crazy or broken. Instead, I allowed a deeply buried wound to disclose itself and gave that wound much needed care.

Summoning Page of Cups energy isn’t something that comes naturally to most of us, by the way. Often, we’re taught to repress and be ashamed of our feelings from a very young age. It took me years of therapy and meditation and self-help books to instinctually turn toward my feelings in that moment. Now that I know the energy embedded in this card, I can consciously call upon the Page of Cups whenever I am triggered and don’t know why.

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