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Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Scary Tarot Reading and The Spiritual Gifts of Quitting, Letting Go, Giving up, Throwing in the Towel, and Surrender

One weirdly cool, drizzly spring day.

I was seated on the carpeted floor of an unfamiliar suburban bedroom, in a house I'd never been in before, and would never be in again. Gauze curtains filtered the grey light; a lamp was set to low. I was surrounded by stuffed animals, shelves of them, and glass ones, too, and photos and other mementoes. Vague New Age music wafted from a stereo. Before me, on the floor, was a length of colorful woven wool from Lowicz, Poland. Atop the wool rested my Golden Tarot deck of tarot cards.

The door of the room opened, a stranger entered. I can't tell you anything about this person; to do so would violate confidentiality. I can say I'd never met this person before. I was attending a gathering, and I was reading attendees' tarot cards.

I greeted the querent – a person who gets a tarot reading is called a "querent" – and I shuffled the cards. I asked the querent to focus on a question. I told the querent not to tell me the question. When I felt ready, I splayed the cards out on the Lowicz weaving. I selected eleven. I kept their backs to me until all were selected. Once the eleven cards were in place, I turned them all over.

Once I saw all of the querent's cards, tears attempted to escape from my eyes. I disciplined them. I looked up at the querent. I suddenly felt a new respect, along with a deep sorrow.

"You're asking about something big," I said.


"Big and hard."


With this confirmation from the querent, I allowed some tears to escape my eyes.

There are a handful of tarot cards that querents fear. Even people who know little about tarot often know these frightening cards. This querent got all of those cards.

I felt as if each card weighed many pounds and was resting, not on the floor, but on my body. I felt myself sinking under their weight. I felt any inner effervescence, any bubbles of enthusiasm, crushed flat.

I honestly don't know if there is anything to tarot other than a system we can use to dialogue with our inner selves. In other words, I don't know if any supernatural factors are involved. That being the case, when I read, I try to wrench value for the querent from a variety of sources. Will talking out the problem with a card reader help? If so, I can be a sounding board, a source of advice. Will interpreting the evocative pictures on the cards help? We can try that approach.

I always attempt to find some positive route toward the future in each reading. I don't want anyone leaving the reading feeling depressed, hopeless, or trapped.

I stared at the cards. Reviewed their meaning. Reviewed their positions in this reading. Reviewed how others might interpret this reading. I began to cry again. I looked up at the querent.

"Look. I don't know if there is anything to this tarot. I do it for fun, for a chance to talk things out, because I'm interested in folklore and symbolism and things like that. Can I just tell you what these cards are saying?"


"Okay. Forgive me but this is the single worst reading I've ever seen. I'm overwhelmed. The odds against getting all these cards in this order are pretty high. The cards say you are dealing with something very big. It has had a huge influence on your life."


"Yes. Not just, like, say, a passing negative medical diagnosis or a financial catastrophe. This is something that has been a huge obstacle for you for a very long time."


"And you asked the cards today for some hope, some ray of light. Forgive me, but the cards are offering you no hope."

"That's what I expected. You're telling me what I know to be true."

"That's it then," I said. "That is the message. Someone, your guardian angel or guide, is letting you know that you are heard, you are seen. And they know. The angels know. God knows. You are dealing with great difficulty. That is reflected in the cards."


"When I do readings," I said, "I always try to see some hope. Forgive me. In this reading, I see no hope. I do not see the outcome you desire. I see no road to achieving that desired outcome."

I looked up. I expected to see pain, disappointment. On this suddenly beautiful human face, the suddenly intimate face of a stranger, I saw strength, and resignation. At this gathering, as one does when one is at a strange gathering, I had been assigning, "Attractive; not attractive" status to each new face. I hadn't noticed this person. Suddenly I realized that this person was beautiful, in the way that a rugged tree growing from a sheer ocean cliff, battered by wind and waves, is beautiful.

This person was ahead of me. This person had known for years what I was just finding out, through the cards.

I felt some relief. Yes, the cards were accurate – relief. Yes, the querent knew how deep of a hell they'd been assigned by life. I wasn't breaking any news.

Freed of those anxieties, I looked again at the cards. And I began to cry again. Because I saw two things I had missed before.

"You are not alone," I said. "May I ask, are you a Christian?"


"Okay, then I can say this to you," I said. "As bad as this is, Jesus is right next to you."

I saw that the card right next to the card representing the querent in the reading was a card I associate with Jesus Christ. There are three such cards. One communicates, to me, Jesus as the epitome of divine love. Another card communicates, to me, Jesus as miracle worker. The card right next to the querent's card is Jesus at his most tender, and his most human.

"I see one other potential positive route for you in this reading," I said. "The card in the advice position is" I hesitated. "It's advising you to give up. Just, give up. There is nothing you can do. You know it. Let go. Let go."

The querent, who had been so stoic, melted a bit. Nodded. Perhaps there was a tear. I'm not sure. The light in the room was dim.

Suddenly I realized that this person was beautiful, in the way that a rugged tree growing from a sheer ocean cliff, battered by wind and waves, is beautiful.
Later, after the gathering ended, I chatted with someone who knew the guests. I received more information about this querent. The cards were an accurate reflection of the life this person has faced, and continued to face. 

I've faced a lot of tough stuff. I'm angry at God about that. But I acknowledge that there are people out there whose lives are much worse, and who live with pain I will never know, pain I hope never to know. This querent is one of those people. Decades of agony. No happy ending.

I was haunted by this reading, and this encounter, for days.

In my mind, I went over and over the cards. Was there not some avenue of hope which I had missed?


Well, then, what of that advice I felt so drawn to speak? "Just give up." What the hell is that? America is a can-do nation. I want people to feel hopeful. Why tell a stranger to give up? Aren't we the "Never, never, never, never give up" people?


The ten of swords is one of those tarot cards that people who know nothing about tarot find frightening. It depicts a man, face down; ten swords penetrate his back. Behind him is a desolate landscape; beyond that, a very garish, goth, striated sky. I love how tarot readers interpret this card. Their interpretations are one of the reasons I am attracted to tarot, whether tarot offers any supernatural routes to wisdom or not. We all face moments like this when we feel utter defeat; how do we interpret those moments, when they occur in real life?

The best interpretation of this card that I ever read demanded physical participation. "Lie down on the floor in the position of the man on the ten of swords," a tarot reader once advised a querent.

The querent's response, "Huh? You want me to lie down on the floor?"

Yes, the reader insisted. "Lie down on the floor in the position of the man on this card."

The querent did so. And immediately discovered that it was a very comfortable position. All muscles relaxed. Struggle ceased. Ah. Yes. Ah.

Tarot readers notice something else about the man on the ten of swords. His hands are in the same position as the hands on the hierophant card. The hierophant is a pope. He holds his hand in a gesture of benediction or blessing. Two fingers point skyward. Two fingers point toward the earth. The hierophant is a "pontiff," or bridge, between heaven and earth. A pontiff is a bridge builder.

That the dead man's hand is in the same position as the hierophant's tells us: "Yeah, this is the end. Give up. Surrender. But guess what. Earth is not the only reality. Remember, there is a heavenly reality, as well. What may feel like pointless suffering, only to end in defeat, here, could possibly have a totally different meaning in the heavenly realm."

Tarot readers see something else in the ten of swords. They see the distant sky. It could be dusk – the end of the day that saw the victim's death. It could be dawn. A new day approaches, a new day when the victim's story could change. Whether dusk or dawn, the flamboyant contrasts of the distant sky remind us that rebirth follows death.

I think of my querent. I hope that this person does give up. Give up on the decades of false hope, false leads, bucketloads of money spent on expensive experts who offered only dead-ends.

I realized that once this person does give up, they can enjoy what of life they can enjoy. Don't spend this weekend striving for something that can never be. Spend this weekend at the beach. Act as if your life is carefree. Act as if you are blessed. Laugh at what you can laugh at. Let it go. Let it go. Let it go. Don't read the latest paperback promising a new, fast solution. Go to the movies. Relax.

Quitting can be a blessing.


American culture tells us that giving up is not done. We never give up. We insist that tomorrow is another day, winners never quit and quitters never win, and every story has a happy ending.

I remember when my brother Mike Goska was dying of cancer. He was skin and bone. Hairless. It was so clear he had a countable number of breaths left on planet earth. And people would insist to him, "Can't wait to see you get better!"

By denying what was really happening – this beautiful young man, husband and father, was leaving us forever – those in denial totally missed what gifts the moment did offer. The gifts of surrender, of quitting, of letting go.

The death of dreams. Once you allow that reality to sink in, once you stop fighting it, once you stop wishing life were something it is not, you find, in that moment of bleak ten-of-swords surrender and defeat, gifts you would not find in the posture of clinging, in the land of denial.

I've had to give up on my scholarly work. I talk about that in this blog post. I try to understand this spiritually. I researched and wrote my dissertation against all odds. I kept going, because I thought it was the right thing to do.

I wonder. Why does God urge us onward only to later urge us to surrender? And, is it God urging us onward? Well, look at the Bible. God is constantly urging his people to do this or that. But then that moment comes when God's workers must quit. No one in all history quit more dramatically than Jesus. "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me … Father, into your hands I commit my spirit … It is finished."


I am a Christian, and I do read tarot cards. I write about that in the blog post, "Can a Christian Read Tarot Cards?" If you'd like to comment on whether or not Christians can read tarot cards, please read that blog post first. Thanks.

I am reminded of a frequently circulated series of quotes from Twelve Step. I don't know who created this document, but I love it. I'll paste the full text in the bottom of this blog post.

Letting Go

Author Unknown

To let go doesn't mean to stop caring for you, it means I can't live your life for you.

To let go is not to cut myself off from you, it is the realization that I can't control you.

To let go is not to enable you, but to allow you to learn from natural consequences.

To let go is to admit my powerlessness, which means the outcome is not in my hands.

To let go is not to try to change you or to blame you, I can only change myself.

To let go is not to care for you, but to care about you.

To let go is not to "fix" you, but to be supportive of your efforts.

To let go is not to judge you, but to allow you to be a human being.

To let go is not to be in the middle arranging all the outcomes, but to allow you to effect your own outcomes.

To let go is not to be protective of you, it is to permit you to face reality.

To let go is not to deny reality, but to accept reality.

To let go is not to nag you, scold you, or argue with you, but to search out my own shortcomings and to correct them.

To let go is not to adjust everything to my desires, but to take each day as it comes and to cherish the moment.

To let go is not to criticize and regulate you, but to try to become what I dream I can be.

To let go is not to regret the past but to grow and live for the future.

To let go is to fear less and love more.


  1. DANUSHA. YOU GET IT. BRILLIANCE, FAITH, BEAUTY. MY comment was going to be what you posted from the 12 Steps. This touches me more than you know and I feel the crying thing deep inside. But not crying for the querent whose read was not encouraging. For the beauty and cycles of life itself...and for the fact that the positive in this reading was indeed the truth...and that there ARE worse things than death...ultimately, all comes to pass, cycles continue, death is rebirth and life eternal. I have also read the 10 of Swords as a not-so-terrible harbinger...10 is a completion...nothing more can happen on that front, whatever it may be at that moment. It is a conclusion of one and beginning of another. God is always there, in all of us. At all times. We have but to look and listen. Thank you. Surrender is not always defeat. Acceptance is not giving up, it is dealing with the truth in the moment in order to clear the way of distraction.

  2. Letting go is essential in life and in death, too, if one has the chance. Great post. Love to you and thank you for your deep emotional and intelligent work in the world. Many have benefited. I know I have, best friend I never met. Christina Pacosz

    1. Christina, thank you. Polonia needs more like you!

  3. Yes. Americans would have looked at Jesus' Passion and said he was giving up. But, of course, that is without the big picture and sometimes we have to trust (when we let go) that the big picture outweights our small focus. Jesus was being obedient, which is another way (sometimes) of saying "let go" ... let go and trust, let go of your destructive ways ... and all the things you talk about above. :-)

  4. Thank you again for reminding me why I check your blog at lunch before I check the newspaper!

  5. This tarot card reading really looks very scary to me. I think that I should also learn it to frighten the other psychic readers and tarot readers around my area and prove myself the best of all.

  6. Beautiful post, enjoyed reading. Tarot reading is something I love the most.

  7. Love this post! I've been going through a lot of online tarot reading and found this text the most enjoyable so I just wanted to say thank you.

  8. With the help of a professional, tarot readings can help individuals get a better perception of who they are, the choices they should make and what the future holds.