I taught myself how to read tarot years and years ago. I could probably still do it, but people take card reading very seriously. Most people don’t realize that it is all a play on psychology, a generous dollop of artifice to mask the fact that the reader is asking prying questions that the querent normally wouldn’t divulge answers to so easily. Normally before a reading, I’d tell the querent that I have no predictive powers. I would politely inform them that I am using several psychological tricks and hacks to get them to tell me everything without them knowing how much they are actually offering.
They normally smile and wave it off. “I know. I know. It’s just for fun.”
Then the Death card gets thrown down, and you can nearly hear their butt clench in fear. That little preface is instantly forgotten, drown in a series of colorfully illustrated vignettes. At that point, I can ask them nearly everything and tell them nearly anything.
In usual conversation, I could never just flat out ask a stranger, “What traumatic incident is still keeping you up at night?” However, as soon as the cards are on the table, digging deep like that is as easy as saying, “The Nine of Swords represents anxiety, a fear that isn’t just felt but is obsessed over to the point of insomnia. A fear has nested in your brain due to some event in your past; do you know what that is?”
Most of the time, things aren’t that heavy, but when they are, I am definitely not qualified to maneuver through someones deep-rooted trauma without fucking something up. So I stopped, but honestly, I miss it. I miss getting in deep with perfect strangers and watching their eyes light up when when they get drawn The Lovers or The Sun card. People just love to believe that their world is filled with a little bit of mystery just below the surface. I like to be the oracle to give that to them, but latent within the act of reading tarot is a subtle concept. That is, our fates are predetermined to some degree and that our fate can be teased out.
That’s a cruel idea to perpetuate, especially with the individuals who are down on their luck. The fact is, anything could happen at any time, and none of us can really do anything about that. The stochastic (there is your word of the day folks) nature of reality lends itself to an infinite amount of possibility, which is an exciting prospect. It adds a lot of weight to everything we do without the pressure of being married to one particular outcome.
That’s what I want to talk about today: separating ourselves from our idea of what the future “should” look like and what the past could have been.
Yesterday, I drew a picture of a fish by squirting mustard onto a sheet of water color paper for the social media platform TikTok. Why did I do this? I’m honestly not so sure. Someone asked me to; so that could be it. I don’t know that person, though. I also don’t really care if that internet stranger finds me impressive. I just sort of did it, clicked save, and waited for the legions of viewers (about ten) to consume my absolutely hilarious, ground breaking content. A small part of my brain hoped to wake up this morning to find thousands of likes and views. Maybe Ellen would have me on her show to squirt out another one of my classic mustard fishes. I’d join the ranks of internet celebrities on the level of Damn Daniel and that one kid that screamed about people being mean to Sonic the hedgehog.
That didn’t happen, evidenced by the fact that you haven’t seen my dumb mug plastered all over the tabloids. In a cosmos of infinite possibilities, there very well may be a universe where mustard fish is the hot new thing, but it is not this one.
I could get really bent out of shape over that, and I think you would be justified in thinking that I was being a little ridiculous for assuming that my shitty condiment art would be my ticket into pseudo-popularity. A lot of our expectations are pretty ridiculous, though, if you really think about it. We all want our futures to look a certain way, and that’s not exactly the issue. Getting married to the fantasy of our perfect future is.
Think about this. Think about the last time you were really, truly disappointed. Maybe your heart was broken. Maybe it made you question who your friends were or where your values presently stand. You had an expectation that wasn’t met, and when it’s all said and done, you feel like you have wasted both your time and your attention. That’s okay too; we can’t help but try to anticipate the future. We can help ourselves by letting go of our visions of the future when their time has passed.
By holding onto what “should have” been, we trap ourselves in a cage of our own design. This is vastly different from acknowledging what our preferred outcome was. Like, I would have preferred to have married someone who didn’t enjoy emotionally eviscerating the people closest to her, but I did. I divorced her, and I made a better life for myself. After all of it, I can’t tell you one way or another how things should have gone; I just know how things did go. I’m better off for it, despite knowing full well that I would do things so differently if I had the chance.
All this is easier said than done, like most important things. I can hear the collective eye roll of my readership right now, rattling around like marbles in a mason jar. I’m not an instruction booklet, but I do want to give you some things to at least think about, which I believe is ultimately more valuable in the end anyway. Besides, this is the internet, no one is twisting your arm to stay. (Oh, god please stay. I can’t take another emotional hit right now this close to the flop of mustard fish).
If trying to anticipate the future is unavoidable, how does one go about quitting our fortune telling job? This may sound a tad patronizing, but why not start doing more things that you enjoy the process of? It requires a consistent practice of mindfulness, but it’s worth it. I promise. Honing the skill of remaining present and in the moment can be a life changing development. It makes interactions with my friends and acquaintances more insightful because my attention is more directed on what is happening than where things are going. It makes the nervousness of prepping for a date an exciting emotional state to play in. It also lessens the sting if things don’t go well.
A great place to begin this practice is breathing exercises. Yes. Just breathing.
Oh, what’s that? The sound of more eye rolls? Hey, you’d be surprised how much of your day is spent on autopilot. Take any given day, and try to make an hour by hour run down. We generally understand what a day in our past consisted of, but we very seldomly just stop and smell the roses. Even when we do stop and smell the roses on occasion, half the time we forget to even enjoy the odor because we are too worried about other, non-botanical related things.
So breathe, dammit. Humor me. Just breathe, and bring your focus on what it feels like to be a breathing being. What does it feel like to be you, to be sitting or standing or whatever you are doing right now. What does your environment smell like? Is there any taste in your mouth? Just breathe and absorb your surroundings as they come. If a thought pops up, let it stay for as long as it likes, but let it go if it is ready to leave.
This is the heart of meditation. It is an intentional heightening of consciousness. This isn’t self consciousness; this is self awareness. That is how you quit your fortune telling job: awareness of the present.
The past occupies our brain because we know what happened there, and regret or nostalgia can leave us wanting to change or revisit it. The future consumes our thoughts because we assume that if we prepare and stress enough, we will be able to control it for the betterment of ourselves and others. The present, though? If your mind was occupied with the present, what the hell would that even look like.
I believe it looks like a life with a lot less stress and a lot less regret. A life consumed by the present is a life of accepting things as they come, if they come at all. Sometimes, that means accepting thoughts of the future and the past, but it also means accepting the reality that we control neither. It means putting away the crystal ball, because the present is the only true experience. The past and the future are illusory, fantasies and highlight reels of our most memorable moments.
Maybe one day I’ll break out the tarot cards again. I might shuffle them up and lay out a spread for a friend or a stranger at a bar, but I think I may tell them something different before hand. I think I would tell them to enjoy the reading in the moment, because the minute the cards disappear back into their box, the experience is over. Any talk of the future or the past were just moments in the present, moments that can be enjoyed then let go of.