For this reading we’re turning to The Vertical Oracle, by Antero Alli and Sylvia Pickering. The first of today’s randomly drawn cards depicts “absurdity exposed.” Have you ever felt like this?
It can be depressing to be so overwhelmed, to be so ill equipped, to face a task so large. Such a situation might even provoke feelings of shame that make you want to hide or rebel. You’ve tried everything you can think of to complete the task before you. Either you took something on that turned out to be different than you expected or an impossible scenario has just been dumped on you and you’re simply expected to deal with it. You might feel like this describes your whole life or maybe a particular situation that you’ve struggled that keeps showing up in your life time and time again. You’ve asked for help to no avail. The advice you’ve received doesn’t work or, worse, makes you feel like your position hasn’t been heard at all.
The second card draw initially doesn’t make anyone feel any better. Look closely at Sylvia, pictured here. The image in black-n-white appears cold; she is laying on a stony surface. Around her torso and pelvis she is tied, bound with straps and wires. Has she been hooked up to some unseen controller? A boulder, or maybe it’s a wrecking ball, hangs just above her abdomen and her head is resting on the mere edge of the stony bed.
Yet her arms lay unrestrained by her side. Her face is almost expressionless. If her face expresses something it certainly is not fear or excitement. Instead of pushing the wrecking ball away or unbuckling the straps she simply appears relaxed. Is her position Futile? Has she just given up? Shouldn’t she do something? What did you do last time you felt like you were in a futile predicament?
The third card thrown may show us a way out and it will, eventually, bringing us all the way back to the beginning.
The bright colors on the card and the word “possibilities” in capital letters offer a hopefulness that is harder to find in the first two cards. The Possibility of relief is what we want when faced with undesirable circumstances. Yet often we hold the possibility of changes in our circumstances at arms length and dwell in fantasy or fear.
We say we want possibilities – the possibilities for a better situation -but what we do is often make claims of if only. We treat if only as if it was the same as POSSIBILITIES. And we have deluded ourselves.
If only this hadn’t happened. If only I could do it over again. If only they would just behave differently. If only I had more such-and-such, or knew so-and-so, or could just get my hands on this-that-or-the-other-thing. Something, if only something other than what is actually going on.
We all want possibilities to befall us like gemstones from the sky. We all want that lucky break. We certainly don’t want things to get any worse than what they already are. But what lay in the realm of the possible could go either way. The bright colors of this card do draw attention, yet the bright sky isn’t exactly clear. Is it a storm brewing? Is is a sunrise or sunset? Kinda scary, eh? So we push away the possibilities before us like they are wrecking balls threatening our bodily existence.
The truth is, if anything is possible… it means that we really don’t know what is going to happen!
Looking at the card once again we have to ask just what is that structure? A temple? A fortress? Alli claims it could be these things and more; it could even be a laboratory. Ready for an experiment?
For anyone familiar with the Rider Waite tarot, POSSIBILITIES might look reminiscent of XVI The Tower. The Tower, though, is a much less ambiguous an image. Clearly The Tower is challenging. It may even frightens us.
And if we’re honest with ourselves, possibilities – even the possibility of relief from futile situations in life – often feel more like our “tower” – our certainty – is crumbling than actually feel like we’re receiving a beautiful windfall. We may want our fantasies to override any sense of futility we experience. But if we are pushing, struggling, fighting against what is happening in our lives, if we resist letting old structures crumble, what possibilities can actually arise? Can any? When futility (or fear, or fantasy) presents itself we have an opportunity to ask: what do I really want? Do we want possibilities, with all the unforeseen risks they entail? Or is what we really want actually control? Asking this question is an act of self honesty: what do I really want? A fantasy? Or do I really want to be alive?
But being alive is terrifying to any of us who lack trust in life, God, the universe – what is, by any name you chose to call it. When faced with futility it is natural to long for the possibility of relief. Yet this is actually a limitation on what is actually possible; it excludes any potentially bad possibilities. How many times have we opted for resistance to possibilities and find the rather obvious scenario that nothing changes and our struggles ensue? Possibilities, a tendency for something to happen, isn’t always easy to want. Our society encourages us to take control of life. The idea of something actually happening might even scare us to death. We may be scared that death itself, and not a beautiful windfall, is what awaits us if we let go of control and allow possibilities to arise.
We are told if you just believe, then anything is possible. But the message embedded in this notion is that you can have what you want, that you can have your fantasy actually come true. Yes, anything is possible. But we’ve already looked at how fantasy and possibility are really not the same thing at all. Fantasy is delusion. So what’s a person to do?
Let’s return to the middle card and take a second look.
If we turn the card so that Sylvia is vertical it almost looks as if she is allowing a pleasant wind to blow across her face. She looks accepting of what is. She isn’t struggling against anything.
And that doesn’t imply apathy. Sometimes it is our first reflexive response to think that if we’re not working on something we are by default apathetic. If we’re not active we must be passive. And we’ve also been fed some value judgments that are easy to just gobble up if they are left unexamined, like: work is good, apathy bad; active is good, passive is bad or sign of a weak character. How do you respond to the feeling of being overwhelmed or bound by a situation? Isn’t one of the choices to actively be passive? What I mean is that one can chose to consciously wait. Waiting is not the same as resisting. And weighing your options is not the same as fantasizing or dwelling in fear. Possibilities become apparent when we pause and open our eyes. Then we commit to one of the possibilities before us. And, you guessed it, things change. Scary. Exciting. Could be better than you imagined. Might not be. That’s life; that’s reality.
When faced with Futility it is so easy to go directly to a desire for the third card of possibilities and skip the acknowledgment that there is “no escape” from reality. But if you want a way out, if you’re looking for POSSIBILITIES, the way is… to go back to center – stop resisting what is. No Escape = trust (which isn’t the same as idiocy or passively letting life drift by) If you don’t confuse fantasy with possibility, what actually happens? Can you relax, like Sylvia, and allow what is true, what possible, to arise? When something arises you can choose to engage with it or not. Possibilities are not a demand, but our resistance is. Resistance to what is real is a demand for control.
How do you let go of controlling everything? For that we go all the way back to the first card, Futility, and examine it’s gift to us. Remember, Alli tags Futility as “absurdity exposed.”Why is it we cling to our struggles? Kinda funny when you look at it.
Let me know what provokes you, what you struggle with and resist, what possibilities you desire and if you see, in yourself, the tension and lack of trust hovering beneath fantasies of if only. Let me know how life moves through you in those moments when possibilities rise – the like phoenix – as you let go of the need to control everything. Can you, can I, can any of us feel the freedom of real possibilities when the absurdity of our struggle is exposed? Can you see how this whole reading folds all the way back on itself? Find the gift of Futility for yourself. I’m always open to hearing about it.