The title for this post describes my efforts to deliver the message offered by these cards:
Believe it or not, I have six single spaced typed pages of notes stemming from these three cards. Yet I know, in my gut, that these cards tell us something quiet simple.
The notes are torn up – here it goes, in 100 words or less:
The only thing that tempts us is what lay in the shadow. What shines a light, clearing the shadow? Though I usually ask questions and suggest that we not rush in with an answer arbitrarily filling up the opening that a question can create… I’m going to jump in here. What clears the shadow? How ’bout our middle card: Mercy. More specifically, what clears the shadow is the awareness that mercy stems from.
I’m talking about Compassion.
Seventy seven words. Done. If anyone is interested in a little backstory we’re probably looking at something closer to 1500 words. Anyone game?
We are once again using The Vertical Oracle for our ongoing inquiry. Three cards above are: The Ordinary; Mercy; and Chapel Perilous. They have fallen in a pattern we have used several times in this past year – a three card hinge. Let’s look closely at images at both ends before we look at what they hinge upon.
The Ordinary is a simple enough image: a frame consisting of repeating (maybe retreating, maybe advancing) arched white doorways contrasted by a dark center. The center image shows us a buff-colored hand holding a dark red apple against a black background. There isn’t anything unrecognizable or complicated about it and there may even be an ease within the simplicity of it. Yet it holds a reverberating provocation. It reminds me of Eve.
And Eve… reminds me of… temptation.
Balancing The Ordinary is Chapel Perilous, the house of all things blurred and shadowy. It is a phantasmagorical image. A shrouded figure with glowing green eyes holds a picture of the swirling wilds of outer space. Is this a true devote, a mystic and visionary, a fanatic? There are numbers superimposed over the shroud, a credit card perhaps? Money that really isn’t yours, but is available for a price. Is it a price you can pay – do you know in advance the overall impact that living on credit exacts? A hypodermic needle shoots through the center – is it full of life-saving serum, addictive substance, or deadly poison? A woman dangles from the wings of a butterfly – is she being lifted through healthy transformation or is she just riding out a mind numbing fantasy while she drifts through life? And behind it all is the blurry image of a magnet. What lures you in, what are you drawn by, what pulls you. What is so compelling as to be irresistible? Are you clear about what pulls you in or do you just know you want it?
What do you want? What do you really want? Let’s look at Eve once again.
The story of Eve and Adam is a familiar one, so familiar that it may warrant new eyes. Have you ever heard or looked at something so often that you’re not really hearing or seeing it but only your long held assumptions about it? Or worse, you see and believe only what you’ve been told about it? The comedian Steven Wright used to do a joke where he claims his complete understanding of a situation by saying, “I know that like the back of my hand.” Looking the back of his hand quite naturally as he makes that claim, a look of shock suddenly washes over his face and he utters, “What the hell is that?”
It can be that way when we really take the time to look.
Eve and Adam were perfect. That’s how the story has been told. Two perfect human beings just hanging out in Eden, free to do as they please. Almost. God had a two part imperative for them: don’t eat the fruit of this tree or that one either. The forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is often depicted as an apple, an ordinary apple.
Our first card, The Ordinary, could contain a message reminding us to appreciate the world in which we live, to pay attention to the beauty that we often overlook. An ordinary apple is beautiful, don’t underestimate that, and perhaps we are even tempted by its allure. But it is possible that there is something even more ordinary, more basic to human nature, going on here.
What was the ordinary thing that tempted Eve? The serpent incited doubt in Eve by asking her why was it, exactly, that God told her not to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. God told Eve and Adam that if they ate fruit from the tree at the center of the garden they would die. But the serpent doubts that and tells Eve that surely she wouldn’t die. The serpent also implied that God was holding out on them. What God wasn’t telling them, according to the voice from the shadows, was that if they ate the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they would become like God.
Eve, poor thing, was tempted to become God-like. Can you blame her? We begin to get hints about the hinge card: Mercy. But before we jump there too quickly, one question: What are you tempted by? Get as honest as you can here. What is it, really? Is it the the thing itself that you want? Or might it be what you think that thing will get you?
What was Eve really tempted by? If she ate from the tree of knowledge, she’d become like the gods. Would you be tempted? Honestly, would you? Now you have the advantage of hindsight, as you know how this story goes – or you at least know what others have told you it means. But imagine for a moment that you were given a command – from God, no less – and you have been told the consequences of disobedience would be costly. Yet you’ve been offered an enticement as well. Would you be tempted, even at a high cost, by the potential payoff of becoming like the gods?
The Ordinary might be a card that provokes us to ask if we value the ordinary, things like simple red apples, our hand at the end of our own arm, the doorways we walk through. Are we aware of our surroundings and do we appreciate them? That is a question you might ask yourself. And that isn’t unrelated to questioning what tempts us? Awareness being the common denominator here. It isn’t very likely that we’d appreciate our surroundings if we are not aware of them. Awareness implies that we see, and know clearly, things as they are – not just as we would like them to be.
Eve teaches us about our own humanity. She had an ordinary human desire and so do we: to become like the gods. We want to be in control. Isn’t it ordinary to desire god-like control over life? Just look at our sweet, perfect, Eve. She had absolutely everything she could possibly want. If even she was tempted, what chance do we have?
When I ask would you be tempted if you were Eve, I was being tricky. It isn’t a question of would you. It is much closer than that. Have you picked up on my little trick? What am I really asking you?
Are you tempted, at every turn – right now in your life – to be god-like? Jot down a list of what you desire. Give yourself five minutes right now to actually do it.
Did you write the list? Can you now take everything on your list and sum it up into one overall desire? What is it, really, that you want? Go deeper – what would the things on your list get you? What would anything you’re tempted by get you? If all of your disappointments and failures were washed away, what would that get you? If what you feared could be eliminated… what would that get you? Here’s another question: how much time do you spend in Chapel Perilous?
Underneath it all it is common to desire control. To become god-like. Have you ever defended what you want? What is that defense, really? Don’t we each want control – total control? But usually the desire for control is hidden, blurred, resting in the shadow. We want to make more money because it would resolve our financial difficulties. We would finally be in control. We want so and so to just love us as we are – we want to control what others do, think, say, feel. Most of us want to control what we ourselves do, say, feel, think! And we want that i-pad – oh, I don’t know why, maybe just because it’s cool. But that want tugs at us – want want want want want it! If I was king of the world, I’d….
We all want control. And when we want it and forever are unable to get it (because even if we got that i-pad, it would be obsolete in no time and we’d have to get a new one!) it causes us grief and suffering, it causes us to dwell in the chapel of our own self-created illusion that everything would be okay if I had control over it all.
Have you seen how thorough your desire for control actually is? What desire could you possibly have that doesn’t have the desire for control within it? Find one. Find one desire that isn’t based on personally owning god-like control. Go ahead, eat fruit from that forbidden tree. Go ahead, have your eyes opened by it.
What happens in the moment you see your desire for control? See it. Let yourself be shocked by it. And notice what happens in that moment when you actually look and see for yourself. What is there?
Mercy? Compassion? They arise simultaneously with awareness, don’t they?
A moment ago I asked if you blamed Eve for being tempted. If you put yourself in her position – if you were offered god-like control, would you be tempted. Compassion isn’t something we have to try to muster. If we see clearly, if we are aware… compassion and mercy are beyond choice. They just are.
You can examine that from the other side as well. Recall a moment when you experienced compassion and mercy toward yourself or another. Was awareness simultaneously present?
Look at the card this reading hinges upon: Mercy.
Her eyes are open. Are you willing to open your eyes and see where you fall into the Chapel Perilous? Can you let go of your desire for control and allow a willingness to see clearly? Can you ask yourself and be willing to ask deeply: what is it that you are tempted by?
Go all the way with it, go as far as you can and then go a little farther. And please, let me what you find there.