I'm still thinking about Arcana Rising, the latest offering from Kresley Cole in her Tarot-card based series, The Arcana Chronicles. In this original world, each card of the Major Arcana has been incarnated as a young person with paranormal powers. In Arcana Rising, we are introduced to the idea that some of the Minor Arcana cards may also be incarnated and what that might mean for our protagonists. The Minor Arcana roughly correlates to a deck of cards someone might use to play rummy; there are four suits with numbers from one to ten and four face cards (one more than in a regular deck, actually, but one can still "read" Tarot from a regular deck, if one is so inclined). In a Tarot reading, the significance of a card is dependent on its placement in the spread, but regardless of position in a particular reading, some cards of the Minor Arcana are more ominous than others. One of the worst cards to draw is the Ten of Swords (equivalent to the ten of spades). In the most popular version of the Tarot deck, the Rider-Whaite Tarot, the Ten of Swords depicts a person lying facedown on the ground with ten swords sticking out of his back. The imagery is explicit and disturbing. In Arcana Rising, the female protagonist, Evie, who is the Empress card (these books are easier to understand if you have some basic knowledge of Tarot to begin with; because it’s always been an interest of mine, I particularly love these books), is talking to her grandmother about how to proceed in the "Game," in which she is supposed to fight the other incarnate cards until only one wins. Evie's grandmother teaches her the most important lesson of life, that, "When you can't change your situation, you must change yourself. You must rise and walk, despite the ten swords in your back."
I've always heard variations on this theme: you can't control what happens to you, just how you react to it and you can't change others; we have no control over outcomes. And I get it—but what if I'm not strong enough to change myself or accept the outcome, even if I hate it? What if I can't do it—whatever "it" is—without a crutch? Or at all?
We have so many crutches from which to choose. We can get drunk, or engage in better living through chemistry, or numb out to the TV, or the computer/iPad or even—gasp—books. We can shop—online or in stores—and engage in retail therapy. We can have too much sex or gamble to excess or become workaholics or overeaters. I'm painfully aware of the myriad of ways we can anesthetize ourselves so that we can't feel the swords in our back—or anything else, for that matter. And the swords are still there. Not good.
What to do? What does it mean to change ourselves? After all, it's hard to function while being impaled by ten swords. And maybe the bad situation is temporary, or at least the acute phase is temporary—like an illness or injury, or even if we are grieving a death. But maybe the situation is our new normal, and we rebel against this evolving reality, denying its truth so that we don't need to deal with its consequences.
I've had a small taste of that just this week. I had a boating accident and damaged my knee. A severe MCL sprain and a medial meniscus tear. Big time owie. And just like that, life changed for me. Routine tasks, like, say, getting out of a chair or turning over in bed went from automatic to excruciating. My plans for yoga teacher training were now in jeopardy. Getting to my bedroom on the third floor was now a major undertaking. Would I need surgery? How long would this breathtaking pain last? Would I regain full function without having to favor the leg? Who has time for this? Why me? Am I getting old and decrepit? This was my second muscle/ligament tear in two months. Am I falling apart?
I'm a bit embarrassed to say that all of this precipitated a pretty significant pity party to which I invited my nearest and dearest. Shockingly, while everyone came to say ‘hello’, no one wanted to stay at my sorry soirée. Actually, neither did I. Boh -ring. So I decided to get up off the pity pot and take matters into my own hands, getting some effective help (beyond the advice to elevate and ice and stay off my leg and take painkillers). And while the swords haven't moved–I still have a bum knee, and I'm still in pain—my attitude about it is totally changed. Hope is on the horizon and action is the watchword of the day. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started to look on the bright side and do something to ameliorate my suffering.
So maybe that is what Evie's grandmother meant by rising and walking, despite the swords in our back—awareness, acceptance, action—the A-Team of growth and change. But, in reality, dealing with a bad knee is one thing, dealing with the rest of my reality is something else again.
There are so many things about myself I want to change. I would like to be less reactive with my children. I would like to be more disciplined with exercise and food. I would like to develop and stick to a writing schedule and get my fiction work off the ground. I would like to be more positive and persistent. I would like to have more faith in a benevolent universe and the trustworthiness of people. I would like to be less fearful.
I get that meaningful change must come from within, although it took a while to get with that particular program. I think that I have finally—finally— accepted that it's me, and not everyone and everything else. I've given up the fantasy that life would be perfect if only…fill in the blank… the kids would behave, my husband would appreciate me more, I would never have to deal with another idiot driver (not that those things wouldn't be awesome), etc. etc. etc. But life isn't perfect and sometimes we have ten swords sticking out of our backs, which can really ruin one's day.
The life lesson here that Evie's grandmother was trying to convey is simple: pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. We have control over our internal landscape and not much else. No matter what the situation is, we can always rise and walk, even with ten swords in our backs. We may be riding and walking to our just rewards, our final journey, but even death can be approached with dignity and fearlessness rather than martyrdom and abdication of responsibility for ourselves. These are indeed tough lessons, but I'm indebted to Evie and her grandmother for the good and necessary reminders to rise and walk, regardless of whatever swords are protruding from us.