By Kara Cavel, PhD, CMSW, LIMHP
Knowing what one needs and how one feels is not predetermined and does not happen in isolation. D.W. Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, believed the caregiver, if attuned to the child's physical and emotional needs, provides a holding environment for the child to experience the feeling of becoming real. Ideally, this happens in the relationship between a child and primary caregiver, but the relationship between a therapist and client can also serve as a source of consistency, predictability, and comfort, facilitating the feeling of becoming real. With the help of the caregiver or a therapist, an individual eventually learns to regulate their emotional states and tolerate feeling what they feel, and knowing what they know (van der kolk, 2014, p. 115).
When we are unable to feel what we feel or know what we know, we become vulnerable to "shutting down the direct feedback from [our] bodies, the seat of pleasure, purpose, and direction" (van der kolk, 2014, p. 116). In other words, we shut down our intuition. When this happens, our inner sensations are ignored. When intense sensations are associated with safety and comfort we can learn to self-regulate and self-soothe. When they are not, we fail to have a sense of agency over our bodies and mind.
In the spirit of Winnicott's work who emphasized the power of play in his work with children, other tools or anchors can be utilized to invite safety in moments of distress. These tools serve to anchor us in the present moment and invites us to tap into our visceral sensations and ultimately the truth of who we are. This brings us to the use of tarot in one's own practice in developing intuition and self-regulation.
Several years ago, a friend gifted me a deck of tarot cards. I was immediately intrigued and wanted to know more about how I could use tarot as a source of guidance in my life. A tarot deck consists of Major Arcana and Minor Arcana cards. The Major Arcana cards are emblematic pictures that represent archetypal themes influencing one's life journey. These archetypal themes are reminiscent of Carl Jung's contributions who also worked with archetypal images and their role within the unconscious. The Minor Arcana cards comprise four suits (Cups, Swords, Wands, and Pentacles) each of which has distinctive characteristics.
At first, I understood the tarot to be THE guide, a power outside of myself, used to give me direction and clarity about a situation in my life. As I began to utilize the cards more and study the purpose of tarot, I began to understand how this power resided within me and not the cards. I became my own "midwife of the soul" a term used by Mary Greer (first coined by Sigmund Freud), an author and teacher of tarot. This allowed me to utilize the tarot to gain access to my own intuition and bodily wisdom. In times of distress, I would remind myself that I already know what I need. I would turn to the tarot to bring that knowing to light.
Recently, I was introduced to Lindsay Mack's work, the creator of Soul Tarot. She interprets and utilizes the tarot as a tool for self-care, healing, and evolution. Her work inspired me to use tarot as an anchor for myself and others. I have found that tarot has served as an adjudicative tool to assist in helping me know what I know, and feel what I feel. It is an unconventional practice used to move into the present moment. The tarot serves as a way to "visually and tangibly clarify another way of viewing our inner experiences, and allows us to be with them in a different way" (from Trauma and the Tarot taught and presented by Lindsay Mack).
Using tarot has given me a creative way to understand my experiences. I have learned to better tolerate the discomfort of not knowing the outcome of an event, and instead tap into my intuition using the cards to guide me. Pausing, breathing, and using the cards to support myself in a particular moment and remain calm and connected to my wisdom, has deepened my relationship with myself and has steadily become a practice of mindfulness, helping me to know what I know, and feel what I feel.
I invite you to consider the use of alternative forms of knowing in your practice to grow your intuition and tap into the truth of who you are.
van der Kolk, Bessel (2014).
The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma.
New York: Penguin Books, ISBN: 978-0-14-3122774-1
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