Thursday, November 4, 2010

Further on the Eight Of Swords; the lessons of compassion,detachment and acceptance

In the comments on the previous article about the Eight Of Swords, I mentioned the business of detachment and how that doesn't necessarily mean physical detachment or leaving a situation but rather not being defined by it - being "in it but not of it". This is a tricky business for some.

I've started this post with Van Gogh's Starry Night. I was looking for images that could depict a person's attempt to break through isolation and convey a unique and at the same time relatable feeling. This image speaks to millions of people both in it's beauty and in it's poignancy. Although Van Gogh's life held a lot of suffering, his work ultimately has been a legacy of the vision he needed to share. Some experiences of suffering, like Vincent's, seem inescapable and sadly not all have happy outcomes.

The key thing to (hopefully) overcome in what the Eight Of Swords describes is isolation. Whether it is our own difficulty or that of someone we care about, the tools we can work with are compassion, detachment and acceptance. We can hear, we can try to listen and out of that to understand. At the same time we can never know entirely what another person's experience is and we have to be rooted in some degree of well being if we are to be of any good.

Many of us grow up believing that to be compassionate we must feel what the other person is feeling. How often in a caring situation do we feel compelled to say "oh I feel badly for you". We are often taught that this is compassion, but what good does it do? True we need understanding and the ability to relate and empathize to a degree, but this needs to be balanced with our own healthy well being.

A lesson I have often seen with the Eight Of Swords is that sacrifice for others must be balanced with our own demonstration of responsible self care. The alternative is suffering for others, a kind of martyrdom. When we do this we actually are making others responsible for our state and we are not living our own potential. The other side of the coin is not selfishness but rather a sense of sharing what we can, and what others can receive. Being responsive to, not responsible for others while being whole and responsible and accountable for ourselves. This is a life lesson that I'm not great at. It's a learning we move through many times. I can say it get's easier and along the way there is a lot of beauty, even in the hard stuff.

I will only give brief mention here of those (happily few) that often want to make others feel responsible for the state they are in, or in some way apologetic for not being in their suffering with them. But these people are rarely and only momentarily satisfied. All I can say in regards to them is a big thank you to whoever invented call display. I usually don't avoid the call altogether but that brief pause gives me fair warning where my boundaries can be in place. That's a swords lesson in itself!

Detachment is not being aloof or uncaring, far from it. It is about being responsible for one's self so that you are in good shape to be of service to others and to be a healthy demonstration. A healthy nurse can better look after people. A good teacher doesn't necessarily have all the answers but rather the tools that they are willing to share to find answers. If a good friend has the flu we don't say "here, sneeze on me, we'll both be miserable", but rather we avoid the sneeze, bring them soup and wash our hands and take our vitamins while doing so.

This is a challenging lesson, especially with those nearest and dearest when trauma is going on. Being caring means that of course we are affected, but it's also the recognition that we can't be in the same place as those directly suffering, nor would it be constructive to try. I learned this in some of the deepest grief situations my friends have gone through, both in loss and in facing their own passages. I learned that it is sometimes better to say "I have no idea what this must be like for you", because it was the truth. At the same time it is important to try to relate and understand.

Compassion is about knowing that others move through these situations and we can learn from those experiences. The circumstances are often not that unique (if they were there'd be no such thing as country western music, or Shakespeare or any form of art) but our individual experiences are.

There is comfort in knowing others move through similar situations. That's a big part of creativity. Music is a great example of people relating over heartache, joy and hope and most forms of art are about people expressing their individual experience and perceptions in a way that others can identify with, each in their own unique way. It is one of the things that makes the symbolism of Tarot useful. It is a way of relating these common themes with a degree of intuitive understanding from the reader and in what the person being read can relate to.

The painting at right is called "Old Man In Sorrow (On The Threshold of Eternity) - by Vincent Van Gogh".

Being in the Eight of Swords state also means having compassion with one's self. This is not narcissistic victim-hood or self pity, rather it is being a friend to ourselves, being able to drop the ego's expectations, the false armor of pride that isolates us. Being open to the experience of others is often an important start. It means giving up the familiar identification with pain, though what have we really got to lose?

This also has another word running through it all, acceptance. Acceptance is not a resigned giving up or (as I said in the comments section before) playing "possum" to a tyrannical force. It is also not about trying to run from or deny the circumstances.It's about seeing it as part of the journey, useful in our understanding and compassion to others and yet not the entire definition of ourselves.

All of the Eights are our relationships with circumstances. They are not the totality of ourselves, simply where we are momentarily on our journey. We might get stuck in them for a while (or choose to stay stuck). Swords are about conflict but they are also about our responsibilities in working with boundaries, making decisions, articulating ourselves, dropping the unnecessary baggage and protecting what is important.