The Difficult Conversations Spread

difficult conversationsDifficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, is a book I’d recommend to anyone. My copy has a thing on the front that says “New York Times Business Bestseller” and it’s categorized in “Psychology/Business” on the back, but I’m glad I didn’t let the association with business culture get in the way of reading this book, because it’s truly applicable from the most professional situation to the most personal one.

The authors’ argument is that difficult conversations–those that are difficult to broach or that trigger us emotionally–have three layers to them: the facts, the feelings, and the identity. If someone leaves a comment on my blog saying, “This post was poorly written,” three things are going on: the post itself (the fact), how I feel about being criticized (how I feel), and what part of my identity is being threatened by the criticism. If I am clinging to an identity of being a good writer or a smart person, I may feel defensive or angry–or I may do the opposite and give into despair: “I’m not a good writer after all.” I may respond by arguing about the facts–“This IS a good post, you just didn’t read it carefully!”–when what’s really important, and what are motivating 99% of my response to the comment, are my feelings and threatened sense of identity.

Now imagine a situation where it’s more complex: firing someone, breaking up with someone, telling a tenant that you’re selling the property and they’ll need to move, telling your parents you were sexually abused by a relative 20 years after it happened. Feelings and “identity-quakes” are going to be flying around and this book gives much great advice on handling them.

In preparing for a difficult conversation, tarot can help us, too, because it provides what we–who are so often identified with our identities and who act from our feelings–need: perspective. They get us out of the temporary feelings and thoughts of the moment and give us a space to see what we might be missing otherwise.

I mean, in approaching a difficult conversation you could just ask “what should I say?” and pull three cards, but working with an advanced model for how to think about this will make the tarot spread all the more effective.

The Spread

1. What happened: the facts of the situation. This is important because, as we all know but tend to forget when we’re reacting strongly to a situation, is that every story has at least two sides. Don’t assume that your story is the only story or that you know what the story even is. (An argument about, say, carpet vs. hardwood floors could really, in fact, be an argument in which one person is trying to get the other person to demonstrate commitment, while the other person has no clue about this and simply doesn’t have a preference for either carpet or hardwood floors!)

2. How do I feel about this situation? Seems like a stupid question to ask the tarot, but I find it to be one of the most illuminating. Sometimes the answer is not what you expect, but even when it is, it’s wonderful to see your feelings mirrored in the cards.

3. What identity or sense of self is being threatened, challenged, or changed by this situation? This is the big one. We carry around so many identities without even knowing it, and defend them not even knowing what we are doing. If someone says that I said something racist, I may argue with them about whether or not it’s a racist phrase or that it wasn’t racist because I didn’t intend to use it that way. I may go ballistic, research the history of the use of the phrase/word, or just shut that person out of my life. But what I didn’t know was that my entire response was motivated by feeling that my identity as a good person was threatened.

4. What is my goal in having this conversation? In Difficult Conversations, the authors ask you to think about this. What exactly is the goal? To tell the other person that they’re wrong or chew them out? To express your feelings? To come to an understanding? Before you even begin a conversation, it’s important to know what your motives are–because sometimes the conversation isn’t even worth having in the first place if all you want to do is chew someone out or complain to them about a situation that can’t be fixed.

5. What really needs to be said? Here we’re at the meat of it. What do you really need to say? What is your truth?

6. What is true but doesn’t need to be said? Telling a person that you want to break up with them because you don’t feel emotionally compatible is legit. Also telling them that you think their art is shitty is unnecessary. Sometimes things are true, but that doesn’t meant they need to be said.

7. What is the most important thing to keep in mind? I think of this as much of a how question as a what question. Think of this card as the lighthouse beacon for when the conversation begins to get off track. Sometimes this card will match up with #4–your goal. Sometimes it will be at odds with your goal, in which case you may need to reevaluate your purpose in having this conversation in the first place. You could even use this card as a talisman–bring it to the conversation or wear or carry something that reminds you of it.

dc spread edit.jpg

Here is a sample of this spread that I did recently. I got into an argument with a friend based on issues we’ve had before and now feel that I need to go back and talk about things. I won’t go into the details, but I’ll briefly run through each card.

  1. What happened? Mother of Swords, RX. I lost my temper, let my emotions get in the way of the facts. I was projecting my identity onto the situation.
  2. How do I feel? 10 of Wands, RX. Hell yes. Burnt out, exhausted, tired of having the same argument over and over.
  3. What part of my identity is being challenged? Mother of Cups. This one is funny because both the Mother of Cups and the Daughter of Cups are my significators. My sense of myself as a patient, compassionate person is being challenged.
  4. What is my goal in having this conversation? Five of Pentacles, RX. To undo pain and feelings of misunderstanding/isolation.
  5. What needs to be said? Four of Swords, RX. Some things that should have been said a long time ago, but weren’t. I need to stop covering things over and tell them my truth. These things need to be actionable.
  6. What is true that doesn’t need to be said? Daughter of Cups, RX. I don’t need to bring all my emotional immaturities upfront. I don’t need to go over in detail every time I was annoyed or upset. This is not about emotional venting.
  7. What is the most important thing to keep in mind? The Empress. That my goal is healing and I have it within me to do this.

Wow! I was very impressed with these when I turned them over. So much clarity here.

If you feel moved to use this spread, please comment and tell me how it went! And also consider picking up a copy of Difficult Conversations if you have some especially difficult conversations you need to have, or you have to have these kinds of conversations fairly often.*

_____________

* I bought this book with my own money and am recommending it based on my own experience.

The Wooden Tarot: Court of Blooms

This is part of an ongoing series in which I write about my interpretations of the cards in A.L. Swartz’s Wooden Tarot. You can find the other posts here.

I have some general notes on the court cards of the Wooden Tarot in general at the top of my entry for the Court of Bones. I will add a general note because we’re seeing the third eye on the animals in these cards, which was absent on the skulls in the Suit of Bones. The truth is this: I don’t know much about third eyes, other than the association with insight and inner awakening. As I said in the introduction to the Suit of Bones, well…it’s a bare bones suit! It doesn’t seem to have much to do with spiritual endeavor or intuition. Not surprising that the Courts wouldn’t have a third eye.

In the Suit of Blooms, we’re seeing most of the figures from a more 3/4 view, meaning that we can see their third eye quite clearly. In the Suit of Plumes (Swords), the courts all have an extra eye, but since they are all shown in profile, the implication is that they actually have four eyes. Perhaps this has to do with the suit’s association with intelligence. Rather than the mystical third eye, the courts in the Suit of Plumes have four eyes so they can see the facts more clearly.

Interestingly enough, however, the court cards for the Suit of Stones (Wands) have no third eye (although, to be fair, they have crystals growing directly from their bodies, and why would you need a third eye when you have that?) This is a bit surprising to me, given the suit’s association with spirit and creativity. Mostly, it emphasizes to me that Blooms are THE suit of intuition and insight in this deck. We’re not just talking about cards that deal with emotion and relationships, but with the magical things that hold those relationships together–deep insight into ourselves and others.

Bloom Courts

Page of Blooms

A Blue Angel Nudibranch with an eye in the middle of its head swims inside a crystal ball or a large, round drop of water. The ball sits at the center of a white lily-like flower; water splashes from behind the flower and drips off the petals.

I really have to thank the members of the Wooden Tarot Study Group on Facebook for figuring out what on earth this animal is: Glaucus atlanticus. I figured it was some sort of nudibranch but didn’t have a clue as to the species.

This little guy is TINY–only about an inch long. And yet, they are terrifying because they float on the surface of water and sting to death much larger prey than themselves, including Portuguese Man o’ War. That’s right. This little one inch long creature kills and eats Portuguese Man o’ War. And aside from its small size and terrifying eating habits, this little critter also belongs to one of the most beautiful types of animals in the world: nudibranchs. Don’t believe me? Just look at these pictures.

Despite its power, the Page of Blooms (Cups) upholds the tradition of being the most feminine and delicate Page of the deck (although the Dik Dik, which is the Page of Stones in the Wooden Tarot, will certainly give it a run for its money.) The white lily on this card symbolizes purity and innocence. Eating of venemous jellyfish aside, we might think of this Page as being very passive (as befits Earth of Water), waiting to be discovered by friends and romantic interests and needing to be drawn out of their shell. Once they are drawn out, however, they are potent and passionate–a force to be reckoned with.

Keys: quietly carrying a great amount of sensitivity and passion; shyness in meeting new friends or lovers; an inexperienced lover; quiet, delicate beauty

Reversed: being unsure of how to handle strong emotions; emotional immaturity; sensitivity causing one to fixate in unhealthy ways–such as in self-hatred or by seeking revenge; emotional dependence rather than interdependence

Knight of Blooms

A three-eyed swordfish bursts from the center of a rose. Water splashes all around.

Woah! Here comes the Knight of Blooms, and they aren’t messing around. The swordfish is the perfect fish for this card–it’s a literal jouster! (I guess a narwhal would have been a good choice, too, but I like the non-mammal theme of this suit.) These are beautiful, aggressive fish who have a habit of showing themselves off by breaching (jumping out of the water) and using their bills to slash prey.

The rose on this card continues the Knight of Cups’s long association with romance and idealism. The Knight of Blooms makes decisions based on their gut and is quick in carrying things out. They feel strongly and will do whatever it takes to protect those they love. They can also be quick to take offense and long to hold a grudge. As a lover, the Knight is not a slow burn type of person. They will tell you how they feel up front and take the lead in moving through stages of intimacy.

Keys: passion; emotional loyalty; being honest about your feelings; acting on your gut, rather than waiting to figure out things with logic; being up front with how you feel

Reversed: overly-sensitive; wearing your heart on your sleeve and reacting sulkily or defensively when you get rejected; reacting with anger to feelings of vulnerability; holding grudges against other people and/or shutting them out because they–intentionally or not–hurt your feelings

Queen of Blooms

A three-eyed octopus emerges from a large, pink lotus blossom. Splashes of water surround them, while the moon rises from behind.

What an amazing choice for the Queen of Blooms! Octopus are among the most intelligent of invertebrates. They are strong, they are wily, they are masters of disguise. I dare you to watch this video without dropping your jaw. The octopus can disguise itself so well because it can tell in a split second what color and texture it needs to make its skin in order to blend in with its surroundings. When their amazing techniques of self-disguise don’t work, the pull the old ink-and-run maneuver.

The Queen of Blooms is my significator, so I almost feel like I’m writing a self-description here. I was puzzled at first, once I read more about the octopus, I became convinced that it is the perfect animal for this card.

The Queen of Blooms watches their surroundings closely. They have a strong sense of intuition (this card is often matched with the INFJ personality type) and adapt well to a variety of personalities and social situations. They are a shape-shifter, though, and others may have a difficult time getting to know them. The Queen of Blooms may be secretive–but often for no good reason. They may retreat and hide themselves simply because they want to be alone. However, when they are called upon to give emotional strength, they will do so.

Keys: intuition; the ability to get along with a wide variety of personalities; strength in emotional support of oneself and others; emotional independence and self-worth; having good people skills/being good at “reading” people

Reversed: hiding away; pretending to fit in with unhealthy social situations; shutting others out–intentionally or not; being so secretive it hurts those close to you; being so so socially adaptable as to be without a strong sense of self

King of Blooms

A three-eyed purple and blue betta fish emerges from a large white bloom. Splashes of water surround them, while the sun rises from behind.

And now we’re back on the small end of things. Betta fish are small, very beautiful, and very aggressive fish. The males in particular have long flowing fins and often fight each other–even to the death. Like the Knight of Blooms, the King of Blooms tends to combine showiness with aggression. Like the beautiful fins on the betta fish, which advertise  reproductive prowess, the King of Cups has many qualities that would make them a good long-term partner–not least a willingness to fight for a relationship, even in adverse circumstances.

However, the King of Blooms can also be a moody loner (male bettas are usually kept alone in aquariums because they will kill each other.) Their willingness to fight for what they love may have backfired, and now they will fight to keep others out. Hence the reputation that the King of Cups has acquired for being emotionally detached. Whether the King of Blooms is a fighter/lover or a loner will depend on the context of the reading.

Keys: emotional maturity–often on prominent display; wanting to make a relationship work; someone in a “provider” role for a relationship or family–orchestrating things so everyone spends time together and feels included; putting the greater good of a relationship above one’s personal feelings

Reversed: emotional coldness; being detached in a situation that calls for compassion; feeling hurt or embittered by past relationships