What’s the difference between sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and why does it matter?

Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, related to Sacha) is a British researcher who developed the idea that Autism is caused by an ‘extreme male brain’. This is a very controversial hypothesis. It’s the idea that Autistic people, regardless of gender process the world ‘through a male lens’, have typically male interests, and struggle with tasks that women are supposed to be better at. Men are typically better at systemising, which is recognising and understanding patterns and systems, and are not as ’empathetic’ as women. Therefore, the idea is that Autistic people are extremely ‘male’ in terms of the way their brains work. 

There are issues with this, such as that the questionnaires used to diagnose Autism typically contain a lot of questions about ‘male’ topics, so there is almost certainly confirmation bias at play here. It also erases the experience of non-binary people, Autistic people who are more feminine, and many trans people. 

An issue that has arisen from people hearing about this theory stems from a misunderstanding of the word ’empathy’. People hear ‘Autistic people are less empathetic’, and think that we are uncaring, unable to love, and even equate Autism with conditions such as sociopathy. This can be very stigmatising. 

Many Autistic people struggle with a concept known as ‘theory of mind’. This is being able to interpret others’ thoughts and behaviours as separate from your own. For example, a test used to diagnose Autistic children involves showing cartoon images of a doll being hidden from a character, and asking the child if the character knows where the doll is. Someone who struggles with theory of mind may think that because they know where the doll is, the character must also know. 

This is where the idea of a lack of empathy comes in. If you can’t understand what someone else is thinking, how can you be empathetic- that is being able to feel their emotions as they do. From the Cambridge dictionary, empathy is defined as:

the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation

Colloquially though, that’s not really how most people view empathy. Many people think of empathy as caring about another person. Therefore, when they hear that Autistic people may struggle with empathy, they think that Autistic people struggle to care about people other than themselves. 

Sympathy is defined as:

(an expression of) understanding and care for someone else’s suffering

It’s really quite a subtle difference, and in colloquial use, the difference is subtler yet. Sympathy doesn’t require a person to feel what the other is feeling. Sympathy is when you say sorry to someone because they lost a loved one, empathy is feeling the same sadness that they do.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that Autistic people never feel empathy. I can only really speak for myself, and I certainly feel sad for someone else when something bad happens to them. I can feel pain when I see another in pain. My issue is that unless someone tells me how they feel, I can often miss signals in body language or vague language that perhaps neurotypical people would pick up on. Sometimes I don’t know that something even makes another person feel a certain way unless they tell me. But as soon as I know, I can feel something for that person. Whether it’s the same as they feel, can neurotypicals even claim to know if they do that? You can’t really know.

What I’m more interested in as a concept is compassion. I talk about it a lot in my tarot posts. I like it because I see it as more powerful. It’s a skill, you can learn it, get better at it, and best of all, there’s evidence that you are less easily exhausted. Empathy burnout is definitely a thing and it’s a problem. It’s when you have spent so much time caring about someone and feeling their pain, that you get exhausted and can’t empathise with others as well. You know when you see adverts on TV over and over again from charities about starving children, abused animals, people affected by natural disaster, and the shock starts to wear off. You care less. That’s dangerous. 

Here’s the abstract for an interesting journal article about compassion vs empathy (check references for source). Some of it is a little hard to understand so I’ll bold the important parts:

Although empathy is crucial for successful social interactions, excessive sharing of others’ negative emotions may be maladaptive and constitute a source of burnout. To investigate functional neural plasticity underlying the augmentation of empathy and to test the counteracting potential of compassion, one group of participants was first trained in empathic resonance and subsequently in compassion. In response to videos depicting human suffering, empathy training, but not memory training (control group), increased negative affect and brain activations in anterior insula and anterior midcingulate cortex—brain regions previously associated with empathy for pain. In contrast, subsequent compassion training could reverse the increase in negative effect and, in contrast, augment self-reports of positive affect. In addition, compassion training increased activations in a non-overlapping brain network spanning ventral striatum, pregenual anterior cingulate cortex and medial orbitofrontal cortex. We conclude that training compassion may reflect a new coping strategy to overcome empathic distress and strengthen resilience.

Compassion doesn’t require feeling what the other person feels. That is why it’s less likely to lead to burnout. The article mentioned above shows that compassion and empathy even come from different regions of the brain. When you feel compassionate, you want to relieve another person’s pain. You don’t have to feel their pain, you might not even want to, initially. Compassion extends to people you don’t like, even people who have done terrible things. Compassion is recognising the inherent similarities in all human experiences and showing unconditional care. Compassion isn’t feeling sad when another is sad, it’s feeling love for them.

Thich Nhat Hanh said: In the eyes of Great Compassion, there is no separation between subject and object, no separate self.

I’d like to introduce you to a meditation that I learned from the teacher who ran my high school’s meditation club. It’s the practice of metta, also known as lovingkindness. 

Close your eyes, take a few breaths, and imagine yourself holding a ball of light. Imagine this ball of light contains your compassion. If you have aphantasia, perhaps you could stare at a candle or draw instead. 

Say to yourself ‘May I be well, may I be happy’ and let the ball of light envelop you. 

Think of a person you love and say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light also enveloping them.

Think of a person you are indifferent to, maybe an acquaintance. Say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light enveloping them.

Think of a person you dislike and say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light enveloping them.

Think of the building or area that you are in, say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the ball of light enveloping all of the people inside it.

Think of the country you are in. Say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and imagine the light enveloping everyone in that country.

Think of the world. Say ‘May you be well, may you be happy’ and visualise all beings on the planet being enveloped by that light of compassion. 

Take a few breaths, and then open your eyes.

how-to-meditate
Source

 

References:

http://www.spectrumnews.org/news/profiles/simon-baron-cohen-theorizing-on-the-mind-in-autism/

http://www.spectrumnews.org/news/extreme-male-brain-explained/

https://academic.oup.com/scan/article/9/6/873/1669505

Court Cards: Rational Swords

This Might Hurt Tarot

The Suit of Swords contains some of the most painful cards in the tarot. The sword can be used to cut through illusion, and it is used by heroes. But it also can cause pain and suffering. In tarot, the swords represent thoughts, communication, and the mind. Many of us harm ourselves with sharp and painful thoughts, and sometimes we hurt others with angry or hurtful words. 

How will you use the Suit of Swords? Each of these characters uses the swords’ potential in different ways. If you are careful and have good intentions, you can use this suit to appreciate your intellectual side, rationality, and an ability to see through illusion. Being able to recognise fake news is a good quality of this suit. But if you have bad intentions, this suit can lead you down a dangerous path.

Page of Swords: This Page is a little detached from the real world, and loves to learn new information. Always asking ‘but why?’ they are endlessly curious. They are known for being smart, but are still very inexperienced, as all pages are. The Page of Swords is a student, and wants to know the truth. The Suit of Swords is associated with the card Justice, so this page may have a very black-and-white view of what is right and wrong. Their inexperience can prevent them from seeing nuance. They love reading books and learning facts, and have great potential in academia.

Knight of Swords: Like the page, the Knight of Swords may be dogmatic and think they know it all. They hate being wrong, or perhaps just can’t accept it. Like all knights, they are impulsive, so they might learn something and run with it, rather than looking for nuance. They might be a bit of a fanatic. On a positive note, swordsy people can make excellent activists due to their love for justice. They are well-intentioned and idealistic. 

Queen of Swords: The Queen of Swords has been through a lot of pain in their life. They may have done a lot of difficult work related to personal growth to get to where they are. The Rider-Waite-Smith depiction of this card includes butterflies, which shows that the queen has gone through a metamorphosis. This queen is very wise and intelligent, and always knows how to give excellent advice. Deep down, they may feel a lot of sorrow, but they use that to inform how they deal with the world around them. Though they may not always be the most sympathetic person, they certainly have a lot of compassion. They wish for a fair world.

King of Swords: The King of Swords is a rational authority. They may be a little closed-minded, having had a lot of experience and studied for such a long time that they have lost their beginner’s mind. They may be arrogant and overly logical, denouncing the use of emotion in any decision-making process. They are perceptive and can see through you if you try to lie to them. They are honest and say things how they are even if it’s hurtful. They have excellent life skills, but maybe not so many people skills. 

Ten: Cycles and Endings

Borderless Rider-Waite-Smith

Card 10 of the Major Arcana is Wheel of Fortune, which represents how your fortune changes, how you can be doing great one day and then be at rock bottom soon after. Have you ever been stressing out and dissatisfied with life, and then the next day something truly terrible happens and you wish you could turn back time to when you were just dissatisfied over nothing important? I’m sure the character in the Ten of Swords wishes they were the Ten of Wands, who in turn wishes they were the Ten of Cups or Pentacles. It’s all relative.

Take a moment to appreciate what you have today, because one day it will be gone. That doesn’t have to be a depressing thought. Without the changing seasons, the seed can never grow into a tree. If the leaves don’t fall to the ground and decompose, new plants can never sprout. 

The number 10 is an end to a cycle, and what happens when it ends? A new one begins. Rebirth.

Ten of Wands: The character in this card is clearly overburdened. They can’t even see in front of themself. It reminds me of the feeling of burnout, when you’ve taken on so much sensory input, used up all your spoons and you feel like you’re about to drop. Sometimes it’s just not worth it, and you have to drop what has become too overwhelming for you. The person in this card could delegate their task, give some wands to someone else. They could have said no before taking all the ones they have. There is choice. Sometimes we don’t feel like there is a choice, especially if we are taking on all these responsibilities for the sake of someone else. But you can’t fill someone else’s cup if your own is empty. 

There’s a story from Buddhism called The Raft Parable. Someone discovers he must cross a river and decides to make a raft to get to the other side. He puts a lot of work into it, and succeeds in crossing the water. When he gets to the other side, does he leave the raft or take it with him on land? He should leave it right, otherwise he will be overburdened. When something is no longer serving you, even if it was useful before, let it go.

Ten of Cups: This is like when you get to the end of a story and the last line is ‘And they lived happily ever after.’ Do you ever wonder, what does that even mean? What did they do next? 

If you pull this card, take a moment and ask yourself: ‘what is my end goal?’ What would be your happily ever after? Does that even exist in real life? This card asks you to find joy in life, appreciate the love and friendship you have, and never stop cultivating it. Life takes constant effort, and as stable and harmonious as the people in this image appear, they have to keep supporting and appreciating each other to keep that harmony going. 

I also think these characters look like when actors bow to the audience at the end of a performance. Don’t let your life be just an act. 

Ten of Swords: When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change — Avatar Aang

This is a pretty disturbing card to look at. It probably feels like there’s no coming back from that. Remember though, that in the tarot, swords represent thoughts. They could represent having negative thoughts about yourself, thinking that you can’t possibly move on from whatever bad things have happened. Remember that as 10 is the end of a cycle, it means a new one will begin. Now you might be at the bottom of the Wheel of Fortune, but tomorrow maybe not. If you can change your perspective even a little bit, you might find a way to move forward. Like the phoenix, you can always be reborn and change your path to a better one. 

Ten of Pentacles: We see several generations here enjoying their time together. The old man has achieved material wealth and abundance, and as his life cycle comes to an end, he can pass that on to the next generation, allowing them stability and comfort. I think the dogs look like greyhounds, which are famous for being lazy and loving to relax. Because the pentacles represent the material world, this card may be asking you to consider what else do you want to achieve if your physical needs are met? Sometimes it’s so hard to get to that level of stability that you might not have thought about what comes next. 


I hope you have enjoyed my exploration of the numbered cards of the Minor Arcana. Next I will be writing about the Court cards: Page, Knight, Queen and King, starting with the Wands suit. If you have any ideas for what you’d like me to talk about after the Minor Arcana is finished, please let me know!

Nine: One-Track Mind

This Might Hurt Tarot

It feels like I’m being called out if I’m procrastinating and pull a Nine of Wands. The Nines cards all ask you to do the work, the kind of work depending on which one you pull. Work isn’t just what you do to make money, it’s also working on yourself to improve your mental health, or working on your relationships so that they go as smoothly as possible. 

Like The Hermit, card 9 of the Major Arcana, sometimes you have to just close the study door and get stuff done. Avoid distractions, have time to introspect. In balance, this is healthy, and necessary.

Nine of Wands: After you’ve done planning and preparation, it’s time to buckle down and get on with it. Rachel Pollack interprets this card as meaning that you are trapped in conflict and can only see enemies around you. Sometimes when you have been working on something for a long time, you develop an attachment to it, and can get defensive if anyone points out any criticism. Maybe it’s because you’re exhausted and can’t face having to edit a paragraph in an essay, or you feel like you can’t practice a song or speech even one more time. 

I find that in these moments, we can experience a lot of growth. When things get hard, and we persevere and do better than we expected as a result, what a huge accomplishment that is. If what you are doing is truly worth it, you can power through a little longer. And then of course you deserve the most glorious rest. 

Nine of Cups: The Nine of Cups is known as a ‘wish fulfillment’ card. It’s about enjoying the simple pleasures in life. Think of the song Feeling Good by Nina Simone. Write down things that bring you joy and revisit it anytime you need a little sunshine in your day. Here’s some examples to get you started:

drinking a cold glass of water, taking a bath, watching a sunset, playing with a puppy, being in nature, smelling a new book, fresh bed sheets, hearing rain hit your window, kicking autumn leaves, eating comfort food.

Nine of Swords: I think of this as the insomnia card. It represents nightmares, not being able to sleep for worry or fear. It’s usually about something that you’ve got out of proportion, the monster under the bed. It’s a horrible feeling of dread, but when the morning comes, it often fades away a little. If you pull this card, make plans for how to cope when you get these feelings so that you are more prepared.

Insomnia is truly one of the most horrible experiences we commonly experience. If you can’t sleep because you’re worrying about something, it might help to write down what is bothering you to revisit in the morning. Don’t lie in bed tossing and turning, get up and try to do something relaxing for a while before trying to sleep again. If you get nightmares, it can help to re-frame what happened in the dream in a more positive way. Take a moment to make calming or comical changes to what happened in the dream. The killer chasing you with a knife finds that the knife spontaneously turns into a bouquet of flowers, the exam you didn’t study for turns out to have been rescheduled for next week. 

Nine of Pentacles: This is the card you can think of coming after the Nine of Wands. It’s about accomplishing something, usually in a material way. You’re self-reliant and self-aware, knowing who you are and how to achieve what you want. 

Think of the skills and attributes that you have and think about how you can use them to enjoy abundance in your life. Think about what you’ve achieved and how you got there. If you feel that you’re still at the beginning of your journey, this card encourages you to have self-confidence. Create your own life, and be certain that you can achieve things. Side note, it took me ages to notice the cute snail in this card! Pentacles can represent nature, so notice the natural abundance of planet Earth, and remember to be grateful for the beauty that exists all around us. 

 

Seven: Mindful Decisions

Rider-Waite-Smith Borderless

According to Biddy Tarot, the number seven means reflection, assessment, and knowledge. Take a look at these cards and notice if you can see those ideas playing out. The Seven of Pentacles has a man looking like he is reflecting on some work he’s done. The Seven of Cups depicts someone assessing various options before them. And if you remember that swords represent thoughts, the person in the Seven of Swords is perhaps stealing knowledge.

Think back to The Chariot, which is card seven of the Major Arcana. We talked about the idea of monkey mind, which is when your thoughts jump back and forth like a monkey leaping from tree to tree. We can use mindfulness to give the monkey mind a job. Focus on breathing, or what you can sense around you in the current moment. In each scenario above, I think mindfulness can be used to improve the outcomes. 

Seven of Wands: In this card, someone is trying to hold the high ground and fight off others who want to knock them down. It depicts a more serious conflict than the one in the Five of Wands. Have you been in a situation where someone is trying to discredit you, and you’ve felt defensive and had to stick up for yourself? In any situation, remember first to take a moment to ask yourself or your tarot deck questions such as:

  • Why am I feeling defensive?
  • How can I best stand up for myself?
  • Where is this other person coming from?
  • What can I learn from this situation?

Sometimes there is absolutely a need to stand up for yourself or others, in times when you see oppression or injustice. But rather than instantly react to a situation, make sure you are approaching it effectively, and from a place of compassion. For sure, get mad, feel those emotions. And then like The Chariot, channel them well. 

Seven of Cups: So many options. This person is in awe at the treasures contained in the seven cups before them. But some of them might be a bit fantastical and unrealistic. Cups represent emotions, and sometimes when making decisions, we allow strong emotions to cloud our judgement. No decision can be made entirely devoid of emotion, but mindfulness will help you to make better choices. Rather than just grabbing a cup, and perhaps accidentally being bitten by the snake, take the time to evaluate your options. If you have a strong emotional reaction to one particular option, ask why. 

If you pull this card, also consider whether you have too much going on right now. Having too many options can be paralysing. If the person in this card can’t decide, they might walk away with nothing at all.

Seven of Swords: I saw a meme about this card on Reddit that is really fun:

4l331fy1zznqiGvG23tYWj5_igWTXyHDMCBsX8llJ1I

In this card, someone is sneaking off with more swords than they can possibly use. They’re also carrying them by the blade which seems like maybe they didn’t think this through. This card is all about impulsivity and dishonesty. If you are prone to making decisions on impulse, this card asks you to take a moment to consider the consequences. This character is probably going to hurt their hands on those swords. The suit of swords is logical and rational. If you pull this card, consider where you could use more honest and direct methods of communication in your life. That means being honest with yourself as well as with others. Are you making a decision because it’s the best one, or are you avoiding something?

Seven of Pentacles: The person in this card is looking at the product of their hard work and taking time to reflect. It takes a long time for seeds to grow, and any project or idea that you take on is the same. Take some time to feel accomplished about what you’ve done, figure out if you’re on the right track, and make plans for future growth. 

The suit of pentacles is very grounded, so if you pull this card, it’s a great time to try a grounding exercise. I’ll leave you with a technique called Box Breathing:

  1. Close your eyes, and breathe in while counting to four. Try to focus on your breath.
  2. Hold your breath for the count of four.
  3. Exhale for the count of four. 
  4. Repeat the above steps four times, or until you feel calm and grounded.

Five: Dealing With Setbacks

Modern Witch Tarot

So far on this Minor Arcana journey, we have conceived of and set out on a new journey, a new project, maybe a new relationship. So far we have had success, but then the inevitable setback occurs. It’s okay to be disappointed when this happens. 

The Fives are difficult. It’s common to feel a bit disillusioned in your reading when you pull one of these cards. But conflict is a part of life, it’s another step in the journey, and you can work through it. In numerology, the number 5 represents humans. What is more human than messing up? 

Card 5 in the Major Arcana is the Hierophant, and it’s certainly not the most popular card. It can seem a bit stuffy and controlling. It is natural to want to go against that and find your own way. There are many pros to that, but it also means you’re more likely to learn from your own mistakes. 

Five of Wands: In this card, we see people battling each other with sticks. It doesn’t look like a serious fight, no one is hitting anyone else’s body with their stick. It might be a play fight, or maybe it’s a silly argument. This card asks you to pick your battles. It’s easy to get stressed out by bickering with your loved ones, and sometimes it’s best to walk away from a fight that no one will win. 

I try to avoid spending a lot of time on social media because there’s always someone trying to pick a fight and if you get sucked in, you just feel bad for no reason. Of course if it’s about something important, sticking up for yourself is great, but the Five of Wands represents those tussles that are pointless and will only do you harm to engage in. 

Five of Cups: In this card, we see someone whose cups have fallen over and they have lost what is inside. They don’t seem to notice that there are still two upright cups behind them. Remembering that cups represent emotions, we can see that this card is showing us that when something bad happens, it takes a while to remember the good. Feel the loss of the three cups, let that go through you, and then take a breath and appreciate what is left. 

This card reminds me of the stages of grief. The person is in denial of the cups behind them, they might be angry and depressed about the loss in front of them. Eventually they will notice the ones behind them and think ‘well maybe I can salvage this…’ and then acceptance. 

Five of Swords: This card is similar to the Five of Wands but where wands represents passions, swords represent intellect and thoughts. What is the hill you want to die on? Sometimes when we have an argument where we both think we are right, we pick tiny holes in the other person’s logic, and one of us ends up humiliated. No one really wins. The Five of Swords reminds us to avoid being defensive and lashing out. In the image, the person in front won the swords from the other people. But did they really need three swords in the first place? What really did they gain, and those other people lost everything they had. 

If you pull this card, think of a time where you might have been petty to someone else, and consider apologising or reconciling with them. If you are the one who was wronged, try to let it go, as other people’s actions only affect you as much as you let them, after the fact that is. 

Five of Pentacles: This is known as the card of poverty. The kind of hardship that is devastating to go through. The loss of everything, stability, abundance, a sense of identity. We see people out in the cold, walking past what could be a church. Do they see the potential for shelter, or would they feel unaccepted there? There is a sense of being an ‘other’ here. If you are struggling just now, don’t be too proud to accept help. Everyone needs their basic needs met, and you deserve kindness. 

If you are in a position of privilege and you pull this card, consider reaching out to others with compassion and warmth. It makes all the difference in this world where the gap between the haves and the have nots is so vast. 


If you are going through a hard time like these four cards depict, I wish you all the best. Next time we will begin to come out the other side with the cards numbered six. 

 

Four: Breathing Space

Rider-Waite-Smith Borderless

In the Major Arcana, the card numbered 4 is The Emperor. The Emperor represents structure, stability and leadership. It also represents having good boundaries and being able to stick up for yourself. When we look at the Four of Cups and the Four of Pentacles we can see that kind of imagery quite strongly. 

Think about the last time you had too much on your plate and had to say no to somebody or to something. Even if you really wanted to help, or were excited by the project or idea, you just couldn’t manage it. 

You’ll see a lot of people in the business of ‘positivity’ telling you that you should say yes more, that only good things will happen. This is an aspect of something called Toxic Positivity. You might have heard of this term, or you might be thinking ‘wait, what, how can positivity be toxic?’

If you strive to avoid suffering, you will feel worse when inevitable suffering comes your way. You feel like a failure, that you’re not trying hard enough. There are of course ways to reduce pain in the various parts of our lives, but sometimes, you have to just sit with it and let it pass on its own. 

Anyone who has struggling with mental ill health will know that when people tell you to just cheer up, it doesn’t magically cure you. It is a form of erasure and ableism to deny someone their lived experience. That’s why shaming someone for not being able to adhere to ‘positive vibes only’ is counterproductive and harmful. 

Similarly when you take on everything and never say no, you are bound to get burned out. Sometimes it is time to take a break and just do nothing.

Some people really struggle to do nothing, because that’s when the painful thoughts and feelings start coming in. You get restless and want to do something just to take your mind off of everything you’re repressing. It’s hard, but try to sit with those feelings, even if only for a few minutes at a time. Don’t dwell on them and don’t push them away. If it helps, write down what you’re thinking. 

Understand that as you learn to see yourself through these difficult thoughts, they will loom less, and you will be better prepared for dealing with hard times further down the line. 

Let’s have a look at what we can learn from these four cards.

Four of Wands: This card is about appreciating what you have right now. Have you ever heard of a depth year? It’s this idea that you should take a year where you don’t buy anything new for your hobbies, you don’t learn new things, only improve on what you already know. Started to learn guitar a few years ago and lost steam? Pick that up again rather than get the ukulele you’ve been eyeing up in the local music store. Read the pile of books you bought ages ago that you never got around to. 

The people in this image are celebrating. This represents reflecting on everything you’ve achieved so far and feeling great about that, rather than thinking ‘what’s next?’

Four of Cups: The person in this card looks very apathetic. They don’t notice, or don’t feel up to accepting this fourth cup they are being offered. There’s something called Autistic inertia which can be really difficult to deal with. Even doing things you enjoy like your hobbies, or basic everyday things like eating, become a slog and you can’t make yourself get up to do them.

Alternatively, maybe you just don’t want that fourth cup, you don’t need it. Being able to stop before you get in over your head is a really good skill to have. Be aware of your limits, don’t run out of spoons.

Four of Swords: I’ve heard that some people see this character as someone who has died. They almost look like they’re made of stone. To me, that’s how it can feel sometimes when you’re so burned out, you can’t even get out of bed. You’re stiff and can hardly open your eyes. Sometimes you’ve had so much going on lately, you haven’t even processed it all yet. If you pull this card, it might be time to take a mental health day off work, or take some time to just take care of basic things like eating and sleeping until you feel a little more energetic again. 

Four of Pentacles: Traditionally, this card represents a miser. He is protecting his pentacles, his wealth. Maybe he’s being too materialistic, or maybe he just has boundaries and has been giving too much lately. This card can represent self-care. 

Think about the word ‘selfish’. It’s too often misused. According to Oxford Languages, selfish means:

(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one’s own personal profit or pleasure.

An action is selfish if by doing it, you profit, and don’t care about anyone else. But colloquially, we often call someone selfish for doing something for their own good even when it doesn’t negatively impact anyone else. I don’t think that’s selfish. It’s okay to prioritise yourself sometimes. So long as no one is hurt, you’re allowed to protect yourself. It’s up to you whether you think your motivations are good or not, so if you pull this card, take a moment to think about the difference between being miserly and selfish, and looking after yourself in a healthy way. 

 

Two: Yin and Yang

Taijitu

A taijitu, commonly known as the yin and yang symbol portrays two opposing forces held in balance. You can see in the dark half, there is a little light, and in the light part, there is a little dark. It shows how everything is connected, and that differences are only surface deep. This symbol is not only found in China, but was also depicted in Roman and Celtic art. What else does the number two evoke?

The number two implies duality, balance, exchange. It could represent a relationship between two people, or having to make a choice. Looking back at the Major Arcana, the card with the number two is The High Priestess. We talked about how she can represent seeing the difference between how you perceive a situation versus how someone else might see it. On a surface level, the number two does not allow for very much nuance. As you can see from the symbol above, there are no shades of grey with the number two. When we look at the Two of Swords, we see how that can be an issue.

From left to right: Modern Witch, Sasuraibito, This Might Hurt, Star Spinner

Two of Wands: The two wands surround the woman in this card like a doorway or a gate. She looks out as if she is contemplating what to do next. She looks almost bored, fed up of what her life is like just now. The Two of Wands tells us to combine that fiery wands energy with a plan and some solid decision making. In the Rider-Waite-Smith version of the card, the character is holding a globe in his hand. He can do anything, go anywhere, but must ensure he can follow through and not impulsively follow whatever comes along first. 

Two of Cups: This is a sweet and vulnerable card. It can represent beginning a new relationship, or having some kind of deep and emotional exchange with someone else. That could be in the form of therapy, or maybe a close friendship. As the number two represents balance, and cups represents emotion, this card could be reminding you to keep an eye on your feelings. In a new relationship, you don’t always notice red flags, for example. If you struggle with your mental health, take a moment to recall if you’ve been feeling particularly down or especially up recently. Be mindful of how you can create balance in your emotional life.

Two of Swords: In this card, a woman is blindfolded, but this doesn’t seem to be forced upon her. It is like she herself does not want to see what her options are. She doesn’t want to make a decision. Maybe she is only seeing two options, when there could be many more. She may be struggling with black-and-white thinking. The way she holds those swords is like she is defending herself. If someone were to approach her to help, she might lash out. Swords represent thoughts and intellect, so if you draw this card, consider if you might be overthinking a situation. Try to get another perspective before dooming yourself to either picking the bad choice or the less bad choice. 

Two of Pentacles: Pentacles represent mundane and practical matters. This card can represent work-life balance. It reminds us to manage our time appropriately so that we don’t become overwhelmed. How can you balance your priorities so that nothing is neglected? Is that even possible? If not, this card may be asking you to make a choice. What can you give up so that your life is more balanced? You might be able to keep all the plates spinning right now, but how sustainable is that?


What do you think when you see the cards above? Are there aspects of your life that need more balance? It is always worth taking time to re-evaluate your priorities so that you are living life, not just existing. 

19. The Sun: Healing Your Inner Child

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

The Sun is such a happy card. In the traditional imagery, a child joyfully sits atop a horse, as the sun shines down and sunflowers grow tall in the background. This card represents release, liberation, and feeling totally alive. The baby represents innocence, the banner victory, and the sunflowers represent happiness and positivity.

But if you look at this card and have mixed feelings because you are reminded of your own less-than-joyous upbringing, you are not alone. I want to talk about healing your inner child so that no matter your previous experiences, you can begin to enjoy the positive vibes of this card.

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Have you ever had a really strong reaction to something that shouldn’t have been a big deal? You may not know why you felt that way- the root cause. It might be that you hit a trigger of something that affected you when you were a child. Your body remembers, even if your conscious mind doesn’t.

Buddhist monk and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh said:

The cry we hear from deep in our hearts comes from the wounded child within. Healing the inner child’s pain will transform negative emotions.

He says that in order to heal our inner child, we must listen compassionately and practice mindfulness. He describes mindfulness as a way to improve your mind’s ‘circulation’, assisting your mind to do what your liver and kidneys do to get rid of toxins. How do you remove these metaphorical toxins from your mind?

When you were a child, you were largely unable to understand the nuances of adult communication. If a parent was angry about something, you may have thought it your fault, not understanding things like a stressful work situation, or mounting bills. If an adult said something cruel to you, you may have believed it must be true. An adult said it after all.

If your childhood experiences were particularly difficult or abusive, you will likely need the help of a therapist to untangle all the threads of your life and heal from those experiences. But there are some things you can do yourself to help the process along. Not everyone has access to a therapist, but that doesn’t mean you are a lost cause.

Think about the parts of you that are most childlike. Playful, vulnerable, impulsive, needing security. Try to visualise those qualities as being your younger self. If you have any photos from your childhood, looking at those can help. You may want to look into Internal Family Systems Therapy, which uses the idea of ‘parts’ within your own mind as a way of healing from trauma. It relies on the idea that the mind is multiplicitous, that is, made up of multiple, sometimes contradictory parts.

In a way, you have to re-parent yourself. Think back to things that happened to you that weren’t okay. Talk to yourself, visualise picking your child self up and giving them the love and support that you needed at that time. If this is too hard right now, try recalling happy memories and visualise being a positive and supportive influence on your child self. If you have issues with visualisation, such as aphantasia, consider writing a letter to your child self instead.

It can be harder to be compassionate to yourself than to others. This is why visualising child you is important. Treat that child like you would any other. Tell them you are proud of them, that they deserve the best in life. Tell them the good things about them, how smart, or kind, or creative they are. Remind them that you are there for them and they do not have to be afraid. Imagine (if you can) playing with the child and spending time with them.

If you pull The Sun, imagine that child in the image is you. You are innocent and joyful, you can be silly and playful, and you are protected.

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The lotus grows only in muddy water.

 

 

18. The Moon: Cognitive Distortions

The Moon is such an important celestial body for all of us here on Earth. The word moon comes from the word for ‘month’, which shows how important it is for us when it comes to measuring time. The Moon’s gravity causes tides, of which there are two high, and two low in 24 hours.

The Moon has been, and in many cultures continues to be used as a way of marking time. According to the Chinese Lunar Calendar, today (12th August) is in fact the 22nd of June.

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Source

We only see one side of the Moon, because it is in synchronous rotation with Earth. Occasionally we can see about 18% of the far side, but we didn’t see the rest until 1959. This can make the Moon seem very mysterious. Before the far side of the Moon was photographed, I wonder what humans used to think it was like.

The Moon is also associated with many deities such as Artemis, Selene, and Hecate. In China, they have Chang’e, who flew to the Moon after drinking an immortality elixir. In Japan, Tsukuyomi angered the sun Goddess Amaterasu so much that she created day and night so that she would not have to be near him.

Let’s look at The Moon as a tarot card:

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Middle: Rider-Waite-Smith, Top left: Sasuraibito, Top right: Star Spinner, Bottom left: This Might Hurt, Bottom right: Modern Witch.

I love how strange it looks. The Star Spinner version depicts Chang’e who I mentioned above. There’s a quote in the Sasuraibito Little White Book for The Moon that I love:

You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather. – Pema Chodron

This card represents illusions and fears. It gives you a feeling that you’re not sure if what you’re seeing or experiencing is real. Think of the word ‘lunacy’ meaning madness, which comes from another name for the Moon: Luna.

According to A. E. Waite, who co-created the RWS deck, the wolf and the dog represent fears of the mind when there is only reflected light to guide you. Your animal self, fight, flight, or freeze. The crawfish represents universal fears.

This card has a lot to teach us if we are struggling with mental health, or if we are neurodivergent and struggle with masking a lot. I am reminded of the concept of Cognitive Distortions, which are thought patterns in which you interpret reality in a negative and damaging way. If you have ever done Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), you will have heard of these:

All-or-nothing thinking– Also known as ‘splitting’ or ‘black-and-white thinking’. This is when you see a situation as all good, or all bad. There is no grey area or in-between. Often perfectionists struggle with this one. Recognise that everyone makes mistakes, no one is perfect, and that you can overcome difficulties without getting everything right. Accept what you cannot change, and know that you’ll get it right next time.

Overgeneralising– This is when one bad thing happens and you think ‘this always happens to me!’ This is a distortion which I think can be improved by gratitude journaling. If you log the good things that happen to you, you can read them back when you’re feeling like nothing good ever happens.

Filtering– This happens when you only remember the bad things out of something that happened. Dwelling on the negative will hurt you. It’s important to recognise when something bad has happened, as rejecting bad feelings will hurt you just as badly. But don’t let the bad outweigh the good.

Disqualifying the positive– This is when something good happens and you dismiss it as a one-off. Alternatively it can mean that someone said something nice to you and you think they don’t mean it. Remember that people say nice things because they care about you.

Jumping to conclusions– It can be frustrating when someone says what they think you mean before you even get to say anything right? So when you’re communicating with others, let them tell you what they mean, and don’t assume. This can also be associated with self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think you can’t achieve something, you probably won’t try as hard and you’ll end up being right. Try to keep an open mind.

Catastrophising– This is where you think the absolute worst case scenario will happen. I recommend letting your mind go down that path and make a quick plan for if the worst does happen. That way, you’ll see that no matter what happens, you can cope. And it probably won’t be that bad anyway.

Please remember that this is just one view, and that CBT does not work for everyone. If you find learning about Cognitive Distortions useful, then great. If not, then feel free to throw that idea out and find something else that resonates with you. My other recommendation when thinking about The Moon is the book The Gift of Fear. This is a book about using your intuition or gut instinct to empower yourself.

When you pull The Moon, take a moment to meditate or journal about fears and illusions, and ways that you can use your own intuition to see through them. The Moon doesn’t ask us to solve anything just yet, only to begin letting your mind work through things.

If you are struggling with your mental or neurological health, please contact your GP. I find tarot to be useful as a self-help tool, but it cannot replace therapy.