"I've only known for ten years that 'No.' is a complete sentence."—Jane Fonda
If you consider the Self as a skeleton, and all of the wants, needs, and that which you hold dear to be the skin on your bones and the muscles and sinew that helps us move, you start to have a picture of what it is to be a human. You begin with this plain and simple person. You are happy. You are a combination of your genetics, your soul, and your environment. It's pretty idyllic for a bit, as you start turning into yourself. You read books, you listen to music, you turn like sunflowers to those things that light you up. In short, you build yourself.
The problem comes when other people start flinging things at your developing self and screw it all up.
These words usually (not earlier, if we're lucky?) start hitting us at about the time we find our anger and more complex emotions. They label us as wrong, and the image of "right" is handed to us. These labels stick in us like thorns. They cover up the skin that we're building and make us wish to be not-us. We wish to be different, even when we're still unfinished. We change course to please others, and that which pleases us gets left in the background.
The thorns have lots of different names. Ugly. Stupid. Fat. Weird. Bossy. Difficult. Different.
All of these names mean the same thing: You are not enough. You are not smart enough. Pretty enough. White enough. Feminine enough. Right enough. You need to change the everything about yourself so that you match up to these arbitrary standards that move around when you're not looking.
It took me approximately thirty-six years to pull most of the thorns that I'd accumulated over the years out of my skin. At 44, I've only just stopped bleeding.
I wrote a book about pulling out the thorns. Tarot Elements: Five Readings to Reset Your Life breaks down our complex selves and histories into five distinct sections and readings. The Earth reading talks about our Home. The Air reading, our Mind. Fire is our Body, Water our Heart, and Spirit our Soul. I thought it would be easier to reset your entire life if you take one part at a time, you know?
There are five tarot readings in the book that help you take yourself apart, remove the things that make you bleed, and move forward from right here and now.
It's not easy to look at your life so closely. To forgive the you from the past or to change habits. It's not easy to decide that this life right here is not the one you want. In order to find the correct path, you have to turn around and go back a bit. To forgive and bless Yester-You so that you can truly see that you tried. That you really truly tried your best, and that the opinions of others Are. Not. True. Sometimes you need to take a few steps back to get a good view of what's really going on in your life. Is it good, or is it comfortable? Are you happy, or just less annoyed than usual?
For example, there is a difference between a house and a home. A house is a place where you live. A home is a place that lives with you for the rest of your life. If someone asks you where home is, do you think about your parents' house? Your grandparents'? The apartment you had after college? If your answer is anywhere but the home in which you now live, the Earth reading is for you. This reading helps you look at your life objectively and see what might have become furniture for you. Have you gone through your storage area lately? How about under the bed? Do you really need all of those sheets? What if you donated them to an animal rescue place? You'd have more room and make some animals happy. These are the benefits to squinting at your life and getting a bigger picture of it.
The Air Reading asks you how bored you are, really. Do you like your job? Do you feel like you belong? Like you're challenged? Do you feel excited about doing the work and being a part of that environment? In my experience, being bored causes people to get into trouble, and being dismissed causes people to spiral into anger and depression. I never suspected that my job was the problem until I was in my forties. I would always blame myself for the problem and try to make it work. When I couldn't and I left (or was asked to leave) I'd go to a job that suited me a little better and damn—what a difference.
The Fire reading asks you to look at your body in the same specific and calculating way that you will look at your heart and soul. What is sticking to you that doesn't belong to you? Which habits and behavior patterns are getting in your way? Can you meet yourself exactly where you are and move home from here? This is not a beauty magazine reading to tell you how to get thinner thighs in thirty days. Your thighs are just fine the way they are. This is about becoming okay with where you are today, forgiving and thanking yourself in the past, and making a plan for the future. There is no shame or blame here. There is only walking away confident.
Can you pull those thorns out? It's hard. After a while, they become like layer of armor that protects us from the world and all of the bad things in it that might be pointed at us. Carrying these insecurities and anxieties with us keeps us from trying too hard, or for trusting too easily. They work really, really well—until you notice something.
The thing about armor is that yes, it keeps everything away from you. But it also keeps everything away from you. If your thorny armor is keeping you from living your most authentic life, it's not worth it anymore and it's time. Time to bleed a little and heal a lot.
Then it's time to move on, unburdened.
Melissa Cynova (she/her) has been slinging tarot cards for thirty years. Her first book, Kitchen Table Tarot, won the Independent Publishing Award for Best First Book and COVR Visionary awards. Her second book, Tarot ...