Buying a Couch Changed My Life

I’ve spoken about the home in indirect and direct ways before. It sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to say that buying a couch changed my life. But there’s a bit to it. For some backstory, I grew up moving around a lot and going to a lot of different schools. Not only that, but I grew up with an American mother and French father. So I spent nearly a decade living in France, during which I was considered the American girl. It didn’t help much when I moved to the US, since I was the French girl here. I was always the outsider. Even at home. I spent a significant amount of my childhood in my room alone. I parented myself, and eventually, I played parent in a lot of ways to my own mother.

I come from a very dysfunctional and abusive background – I won’t get into all that here. But I want to set the stage for showing how I was able to overcome some of this through creating sacredness in my own apartment now. When I was a teenager, I shared a room with my mother (it’s as bad as it sounds, worse even). Every few months, she would go through massive purging, in which we would get rid of a significant amount of items. A lot of it were things we realized, if just days later, that we actually really needed. So I really got into the habit of deep purging.

I continued this self-enforced deprivation for a long time. When I was in college, there was a point where I was doing laundry two to three times a week because I had so few clothes. And this may work for some people, but in combination with fears around never feeling like I had enough, this was a toxic cocktail for self-loathing enforced by significant material deprivation.

I’ve previously talked about minimalism in the following articles: Clearing Out (written while in an abusive relationship) and Why I Failed at Minimalism. And for a while, I considered myself a minimalist. I realize now that I used it as an excuse not to settle down anywhere and do the healing work I needed to do. After all, that shit was terrifying. I would have to look at nearly two decades of abuse that lingered and messes with every facet of my life.

I came to a point where minimalism (or deprivation under disguise of a social phenomenon popularized by Marie Kondo) was an excuse to keep moving from place to place. It was an excuse for home never being a satisfying place to be. It was an excuse for home to be sterile, frantic, unwelcoming, and even frightening – replicating the “home” of my childhood.

Probably the most significant, clearly identifiable turning point in my adulthood – and you may laugh – is when I bought a couch. My friend and I went to Home Goods in February – yes, I bought my first ever couch at the age of 29. Before that, I just had a desk in my living room. I would joke that I lived like a frat boy. Picture a nearly bare apartment with some IKEA furniture – but without a TV or gaming console. Books instead.

So my friend and I were in Home Goods and I could not figure out for the life of me which couch was “good” or “comfortable”. My friend put the most wholesome peer pressure on me – “buy the couch, it’s okay”. I sat on it in the corner of the store with her for a good ten minutes, not saying anything. My brain was short circuiting. Who the fuck was I to own a couch? What gave me the right? My brain went blank save for the nasty little voice. It reminded me that I’d had a roommate in college who burned down our apartment. What if that shit happened again? Why bother getting a couch?

Being up at the cash register was another good ten minutes of brain fog. But I bought it. I bought the fucking couch – and this heavy chonk in my living room feels very grounding. The first night I had it home, I was afraid to sit on it. I remember the delivery man looking at my stunned face after he’d set it down and going “you should enjoy it.” He didn’t know what saying that meant to me.

My gorgeous couch now sits in my living room, and I sit on it with my cats. I fluff up the pillows every single day and look over at it so many times throughout the day (including when I’m on work Zoom meetings) that you’d swear someone was sitting on it. It’s light grey and makes me think of a couch a nice older woman would have. It’s respectable – not the gothic couches I had all over Pinterest boards. But better because it’s in my own apartment and I used my own money to buy it, and the style is going to age well.

So when I say buying a couch changed my life, I mean that it was a significant symbolic statement to the universe that I’m ready and willing to settle in. Not to settle in a location, or to settle down. Not to never move again. No – it’s symbolic for settling into myself. This big bulky anchor acts like it – reminding me daily of the power that comes from waiting, studying, harvesting only that which is ready to be plucked.

And come to think of it – my three card Tarot spread for today ties in perfectly with this conversation. I drew Judgment, the King of Cups, and the World. When I saw this trio, I thought of the advantage I now have of mature (King of Cups) discernment (Judgment) over each piece of my life and myself (The World). Through liberating myself to settling into the symbolism of placehood, I’ve opened myself up to personal growth in a way I never had before. I’ve given myself an investment that only I could give myself. Nobody was going to do that for me. My parents abandoned me far before the age that I could properly develop my identity and self-esteem. So part of my recovery was giving myself the little space of home that I never had.

Why a couch? Why did it take a fucking couch to get me to this place? I have some theories – but maybe I’ll explore that more another time. For now, I can say with a sense of humor that a couch changed my life.


Using the Tarot for Self Exploration

In previous articles, I spoke about some of the ways to incorporate spirituality into the day-to-day. One of my methods is using the Tarot to hone in on insights. Social isolation has given me the opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with this tool. Every morning, I journal and consult the Tarot for information about a specific question, from clarification about my dreams to elucidation about happenings in my life. There are different types of exercises with the Tarot that I do that help to ground me and learn to trust my inner guidance.

Reading Narrativizations of the Major Arcana

One of the most potent ways that I have worked with the Tarot is through learning about the story of the major arcana. The major arcana is comprised of 22 cards (including the Fool) that correspond with archetypes of human life. This sequence starts with the Fool (0) and ends with the World (21). Each card shows a part of the human growth journey, through the initial naïveté of youth and ignorance all the way through the integration of the self. Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom and Motherpeace are great resources for this type of study. They go through the imagery that appears on the cards, as well as histories and philosophies of the card meanings. Since Tarot decks have different imagery, it’s important to grasp the fundamental insight of the major arcana from a variety of sources. I regularly work with more than four decks. They each have different imagery for each cards. So I am able to apply my knowledge of the archetype mixed with the visuals distinct to the deck that I’m working with.

Learning to Trust My Own Interpretation

I was initially drawn to the Tarot because I saw it as a tool that provided external guidance. That, of course, I could not wholly rely on. I had the same belief of the Tarot that a lot of people have – that it’s a fortune telling game. However, the more I work with it and get to know my deck collection, the more I have come to terms with the Tarot being a tool of reflection.  That is, I see in it what my subconscious mind cannot quite openly express. As I learn to trust my own intuition again, I have been working steadily to rely less on the description booklets that come with decks. Instead, I sit quietly with the imagery for several minutes until I see a story arise. Once I see a story, I speak it out loud and I also write in my journal about the reading.

Moving Out of the Fear Mindset

When I first began working with the Tarot, I was misinformed about cards like the Tower and the Devil. I assigned them the meanings that they seemed to be associated with, or I relied on the booklet meanings. These were often morose and unhelpful. I sought out books and online resources that could explain the cards in a way that weren’t so straightforward. The Tarot is not always so literal. So it was not helpful to see a card depicting great bodily tragedy and tie that into my life. Of course there is always the chance that the card can have a literal meaning. But that is highly unlikely. I learned to work with the Tower as a card representing emotional or spiritual upheaval, which makes more sense in the context of my life experience. And I learned to read the Devil as a card about sexuality and repression.

Spreads for Self Exploration

With learning to trust my intuition more, I have challenged myself to create my own spreads. The traditional Celtic cross and past-present-future spreads were not resonating with me.

Multi-Deck Three Card Spread with Clarifiers

The most common spread I use is choosing two to three different decks and over-hand shuffling until I have three fallout cards from each deck. In the following, I used the After Tarot and the Fountain Tarot.

I glean three different messages that create a story from one deck, then use additional decks as clarifiers. So in the example above, my base deck (the deck I choose the base the reading around) is the After Tarot (on top), and the Fountain Tarot (on bottom) clarifies each of the cards that it sits below. This method has given me some very clear and precise readings.

Single Deck Three Card Spread

Normally, a three card spread would involve positioning past, present, and future cards (in that order). I find that I don’t work well when time is described too rigidly by the cards. I rarely ask questions that have to do with timelines, due dates, and cutoffs. I often ask for clarification about things that are happening, or dreams.

In the above spread, I used the Ember and Aura Tarot (indie deck) and asked for some guidance about reframing a belief that I’ve been carrying that is not serving me. I read all three cards to build a story about how to form a new belief that benefits me and helps me move peacefully in the world and in my relationships. I can use this as a journal prompt or simply sit with the cards.

Every time I do a spread, I write down the cards and my interpretation in my journal. I also take a photo of each spread in case I want to revisit it later.


Capture and Freedom

To me, capture is the sense that I cannot fully express my individuality. And freedom is full expression of self. Navigating the world that we live in with a sense of freedom is unheard of because we live within the bounds of systems that rely on us to have needs. I was visiting my bookshelf this morning, mourning for the loss of a great many books that I gave away in my minimalist adventures. I found that there were unread books that I still stirred a great interest in me. Since we are in social isolation, I find it very rewarding to remind myself that I have far more tools that I thought I did. I don’t need to rush out to a book store right now. I have a couple of hundred books waiting to be read for the first time, or revisited.

So on to capture and freedom. One of the books I revisited this morning is OSHO’s Love, Freedom, Aloneness. I own several of his books and I enjoy OSHO’s perspective immensely. Lately, this book is highly pertinent. Coming into this world as a child without a solid family system has always weighed on me and made me feel less-than. As I go through this social isolation without a single other soul for support, I find that it’s more important than even to understand that there is nothing innately wrong or bad with being alone. I have known this, of course, but to read literature about it solidifies and validates my experience. Eventually, I would like to validate my own experience and philosophies without relying on books like these.

As an additional point, I have always found that I much prefer to be alone than to be in company. And our modern society views this lifestyle as dangerous and anti-social. So I have spent a considerate amount of my time masking this need for aloneness with relationships that were wholly unsatisfying, draining, and damaging. We are washed with so many pieces of information that tell us that we need to have this relationship, and that relationship. When  force myself into society’s mold, I feel suffocated and it takes me months to regroup and recharge after a stint with “normalcy”.

The chapter I was drawn to during today’s reading is called Solitary and Elect. Here, he speaks of the requirement for society to have needful citizens. Without needs, society would not be possible. Further, he says “you need to be needed; you have a deep need to be needed. If nobody needs you, you feel useless, meaningless. If somebody needs you, he gives you significance; you feel important.” This is a common web I see in workplaces, where an individual may start a position with the goal (conscious or subconscious) to make themselves indispensable. This is done through means of excelling, or more covertly and irresponsibly, through means of creating output in a way that cannot be duplicated with ease except by oneself.

He talks about therapy too, in that we pay someone to listen to us so that we can feel worthy of being listened to. Unfortunately, those raised with improper attachments who recognize that they are deprived of a listening ear end up paying a lot of money for something that others receive for free. Of course, there are some more complexities to the therapy example as we look more deeply at attachment theory. But on a base level, when the community improperly socializes a child, they grow increasingly needy for lack of attention or shut off that mechanism entirely and become distant and wholly uninvolved.

OSHO speaks of meditation as the disturbing to intimate relationships because it brings in spirituality, which he refers to as religion. Note that I am going to use the term spirituality instead because oftentimes, when people think of religion, there is a connotation of organized religion. In a relationship, one would rather have they partner be a drunkard than a mediator. With spirituality, “the fear is that she or he is trying to become sufficient unto herself or unto himself”.

Rather than enjoy the bondage and capture, because it feeds our ego, the alternative is to choose solitary life. This does not mean being alone. It means rather than one is happy whether or not someone is walking by their side. “He never waits for anybody and he never looks back,” he continues. In aloneness, one is whole. The capture is in relying on others to feed the ego. The freedom is in being fine with or without a person and circumstance.

Achieving this state of freedom has been highly complicated by people, naturally. They have words on a page to sell. It is important in this process to understand that there is no escape from society. The imperative path for me to take is allowing myself to be drawn towards the things that I find a natural affinity to. It is not admitting capture; it is living in semi-bondage and recognizing my worldly limitations, while growing in mind and meditative practice. Freedom may surely not be attainable, but we can all work within society to cultivate attitudes of non-attachment and aloneness.


Weaving Spiritual Practice Into Daily Life

In my last post, I talked about how I use Tarot to aid with my memory and constructing my personal narrative. All of this is work is done in the context of my ordinary life. During social isolation, I have allotted myself more time for my spiritual practice in the mornings, while taking a lunch break, and in the evenings. This has allowed me to increase my knowledge and comfort with some of the tools I use, as well as deepen my comfort with some of the practices I have been using for a long time to self-soothe and re-center.

Journaling

The spiritual habit that I engage in the most is by far writing. At the moment, I keep a vegan leather bound journal by Magic of I. My other go-to is squared Moleskine paper cover journals in dark blue. I have a stash of those ready since I write a significant amount. Every morning, I begin my day with at least a paragraph. I have very vivid dreams each night, so I try to write them down before I forget them. Then throughout the day, I return to my journal and make addition entries when I feel that there is something worthy of noting, when I feel anxious, or when I have a bit of extra time.

I write about anything that is happening in my day and how I feel about it. I will also jot down any triggers or sudden memories that arise. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I have been having a lot of memories flood in recently about my past, and it’s important that I record them so I can acknowledge the memory and perhaps dig into it a bit more.

Tarot

In addition to writing in my journal in the morning, I also make it a habit to work with Tarot. I generally am drawn to the Angel Tarot, the Rider Waite, or the Herbal Tarot for these readings. My questions are loose and I generally just try to get a feel for the day, including anything what I should pay attention to or watch out for. These readings serve two purposes – deepening my knowledge of Tarot and working on my self-awareness.

I pick three cards (and sometimes clarifiers), write them down in my journal, and then work on a short narrative about how the cards tie in together. After my morning reading, I often revisit Tarot at least one other time during the day or night. With my second reading, I may draw some accompanying oracle cards to draw out a more robust message. Oracle cards also help me to soften up a reading. Tarot can be a harsh truth-teller at times, so it’s not a bad idea to work with oracle in the same reading. This is especially if you haven’t been working with Tarot for long, like me.

Planetary Positions and Moon Phases

I work with the Magic of I 2020 planner to determine if there are any astrological events that I should be paying attention to. For example, we have currently entered Taurus season. I take this into account when I interact with people at work and in my personal life. During this time of the year, I am reminded to focus on comforts at home and enjoy the pleasure of food. Since LA doesn’t have drastically contrasting seasons, it is easier for me to work with the astrological periods for rebalancing and shifting my focus.

One way that I work with planetary positions is by consulting readings in correspondence with my own astrological birth chart. With this, I can highlight parts of my life that I should be paying special attention to. If anything these readings, which I obtain through the app Co-Star, are points that I can think about. I can choose whether the message is applicable or not, and this helps to ground me. Seeing myself as impacted by gravitational circumstance really helps to differentiate and remind me that I must let go of what I cannot control.

Maintaining a Home

There is something profoundly healing to me in maintaining my own apartment. I grew up moving a lot, and never feeling like I had a home. I never felt grounded. So I am working this year on creating a feeling of home in my apartment, regardless of how long I will actually be living here. This means that I light candles, burn incense, care for my plants, make delicious meals and baked goods, and put artwork I’ve created on the walls.

It is remarkable how much of a difference in mentality I have now that I feel more settled in my apartment. To show my thankfulness for all that I have, I take care of what I have. I don’t neglect it. I make my home into a living space. My two cats help me immensely with that feeling. They instantly make me feel like I’m home, but those extra items of comfort add to it all. And I’ve learned that feeling like you have a home is not a luxury, but a necessity. Home can look like a lot of different things, and for me, I’m still figuring a lot of that out.

Music

I play music a lot of the day; it’s very healing. If I’m particularly stressed, I will even have some nature sounds on during a conference call when I’m muted. Throughout the day, I listen to a variety of music, from Classical to R&B to pop to alternative. I have a variety of different playlists of Spotify, each with a different sound for a different mood and time of day. When I am not listening to music, I like to have speaking as background noise. I don’t have a TV, but I put on YouTube videos of people talking about things that interest them. That’s been a big saver during social isolation since I live alone. It’s nice to hear another human voice speaking.

Music is spiritual to me because I use it to obtain slightly altered states of consciousness. If I want to get into a deep mode of writing, I have a playlist for that. I crank up the volume and put on my noise cancelling headphones. I know just those songs that are going to push me into that state of creativity. I’m not sure if I’ve managed to train my brain to respond that way to the playlist, or if they inspire creativity on their own merit. I expect that it’s a combination of both.

 


Tarot, Memory, and Personal Narrative

I will start off by saying that I’m thankful to the many people before me who’ve opened up about their occult interests. Because of them, I’m able to speak openly about my usage of Tarot and oracle cards to deepen my self knowledge and help to narrativize my life journey.

I kept this side of myself under wraps up until pretty recently partly because of the fact that I work a “normal” office job and didn’t want this interest to impact my professional life. But the new atmosphere of self exploration has really enabled me to come out with some of my alternative interests, and I am happy to share them.

I was first drawn to Tarot about four years ago when I purchased the Aquarian Tarot deck. I don’t remember where I got it, probably online. But it sat in my room for a long time. I had the learned false understanding that Tarot was evil and that it was somehow tampering with fate or the future. When I cracked open the pack, the cards themselves were intimidating, as the symbolism was difficult for me to grasp. There are 78 cards in each Tarot cards, each of which has a distinctive meaning. I jumped in too deep and too quickly. I started with laying large spreads, or card formations. I relied heavily on the booklet, not realizing that I could learn the cards based on imagery and intuition.

The Aquarian deck wasn’t around long. If you’ve stuck around my blog, you’ll know I’m a failed minimalist who used to compulsively purge items. It was a couple of years before I purchased another deck. This time, rather than dive straight into Tarot again, I stumbled onto oracle cards. These decks generally have fewer cards, and they do not follow a specific formula like Tarot does. Oracle cards tend to be easier to read, providing a word or sentence with accompanying imagery. These decks usually also come with a booklet of thorough descriptions for each card.

When I became comfortable with reading oracle cards, I moved back to Tarot by purchasing the Rider Waite Smith deck. This is the most widely used deck and recommended to beginners. The imagery can be frightening at first, especially when you see cards like the Tower and the Ten of Swords. But I was able to soften how I view the cards after learning the symbolism more in depth. I am now very comfortable looking at the deck’s imagery.

I learned Tarot by sitting with the cards, working with them daily, and reading a good amount of literature on the meanings of the cards. The beauty of Tarot is that it encourages you to trust in your remembrance of the meaning, and also to engage your inner trust to bring the messages together. Tarot is a lot like writing in that it takes seemingly disparate concepts, figures, and abstract symbols, and requires you to weave a narrative. It connect concepts, and enables the reader and the answer-seeker to work in collaboration to strengthen their conceptualization of the matter they have brought to the table for questioning. One of my favorite things about Tarot is that it is not an absolute. It’s rather a practice in seeing possibilities, living in the flow of life, and reawakening trust in self.

Tarot and Memory

I have had a weak memory for my whole life, and I believe this has come from continuous and prolonged childhood neglect, abuse, and trauma. There is research indicating that if you do not receive the proper emotional attachment to a parent figure in infancy, it will permanently damage your brain. Many resources discuss how devastating your childhood can be on the remainder of your life. Every adult relationship is impacted. There are ways of healing, and it takes time for some. Others unfortunately never see themselves as the lovable and completely whole, unique people that they are.

With the outbreak of COVID-19, I have had a lot of time to myself to sort through painful memories. Part of this recent recover of memory seemingly has to do with the fact that we are all socially isolated. However, I have socially isolated myself on and off for my entire adult life. So I believe that part of the reason for the influx of memories has to do with my deeper and more consistent engagement with Tarot and oracle cards.

I have been reading Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom, which walks you through the Major Arcana. This is the first 22 cards of a Tarot deck that represent various stages in a human’s life on Earth, from the Fool to the World. These archetypes can stand for stages like motherhood (the Empress), the influence of institutions (the Emperor), intuition (The High Priestess), Death, and so on. These are universal archetypes that all of us go through. When I look at the images and see them as part of a greater order and story, I am able to form some sense of the experiences that I have gone through. I feel connected to humanity through the pain and beauty that has entered and left my life.

More personally, I have been able to connect details of my life to cards, as they spark a connection for me to explore. Sitting with the Star card, which is associated with Aquarius (also my astrological Sun sign) has triggered memories from my childhood that involve the feeling of the card. If you have not seen it, it shows a naked woman pouring water into a body of water and onto land. She is the calm after the storm. She rests in nature and I view her as unbothered. When I was a child, I was unbothered and connected with nature when I kept a diary of the plants I encountered at my local botanical garden. Memories like this help me to construct a more composed collection of instances that can help me with strengthening my sense of identity.

As someone with my background, it is important for me to have daily rituals like using image association to trigger memories. It enables me to collect data about my identity, which without kindling, would lay a path for me to remain a shell of a person like I was expected to be as a child. When I look at images, remember something, and then write it down, I solidify my place in this world. I encourage myself to take up space and to work towards expressing myself more fully.

Tarot and Personal Narrative

I have been working with Tarot daily in conjunction with journaling. This is the most effective way that I have found to lean into my spirituality, while remaining grounded and practical. I find that the combination enables me to whirl the world of symbolism and mystical messages into the tactical act of writing pen to paper. The practice feels well rounded to me, as it employs color stimulation, meditative awareness of visual details, and engaging the analytical act of writing down concepts and self-reflective streams of consciousness.

The diversity in stimulus boosts my ability to formulate my personal narrative. As I learn more and more that it’s okay for me to have and express my personal identity, I find that it’s more and more important to work every day to connect the neural passageways that reinforce to me that I’m multi-faceted, hold a range of emotions and beliefs, and can continue to learn and grow. I quoted Orwell in my last article in saying that the true way to destroy someone is to undermine and dismantle their understanding of their own personal history.

Tarot has helped me slowly build up my own conception of where I came from, what my past looks like, why I’ve done certain things. Importantly, it’s also provided contrast with my past self in encouraging journaling as a counterpart to picking cards. In this process, I have been able to record my process of identity construction, and can track progress. Journaling in accompaniment of Tarot has also given me a historical document to reference when I am in need of clarification for timelines and recollection of specific details.

Writing my personal narrative has been the most effective technique so far during my process of healing, and will continue to be an important part of my life. It is the text that will never see the light of day, but perhaps it is the most important body of literature that I will produce. That’s since it’s the one place where I am able to be fully, completely myself. And in that, I will one day be able to provide public-facing writing that may have an impact on others.

But back to Tarot. It is far from evil, as I’d previously thought. It is an incredible tool for the process of diving into the self, including the good parts and the not-so-good parts. The Tarot is non-judgmental. It’s simply a representation of the parts of life that make us human. It’s neutral. It requires you to come up with a lot of your own answers. It pushes you to get to your own core to tap into the things you already know. It doesn’t condescend. All the imagery is laid out. It doesn’t put a time limit on your session; you can walk around with the same card for days.

Tarot is a tool for the self, the whole self. It reminds you everyday that you’re perfect just the way you are, and that things are happening because that’s just life. And it’s okay. Life is moldable, malleable, inevitable, and incredibly, insanely thought-provoking and transformative. Life doesn’t pause. And I hope more people feel open and vulnerable enough to engage in self-healing practices that they feel drawn to. A lot of people are suffering in the world, and we can make the biggest difference by caring deeply and profoundly for our individual wellbeing.