When I started doing clinical work, I was struck by how rare it was to hear therapists talk to patients about intuition.
At that time, I was running groups in a program for people with eating disorders. I knew from experience just how deeply disordered eating can sever one’s ties to intuitive knowing. I remembered the days in my own life when being asked, “what does your gut tell you?” felt like a cruel joke.
Our connection to intuition (High Priestess) can be lost in many ways. A life governed by cognitive distortions and arbitrary rules leaves little space for intuitive knowing. If we have not been able to make a home of the body—if it has been invaded by predators or is otherwise unsafe—we are not available to receive the subtle signals of intuition.
Some among us live whole lives without knowing the sound of the still, small voice. Others lose trust in intuition when we mistake it for the drive to recreate traumatic experiences.
Unresolved trauma can show up as the unconscious hunt for situations that are painful, unsafe and intensely disruptive. We may feel what we believe to be intuition pulling us toward situations that seem sweet on the surface but turn out to be wolves in sheeps’ clothing, waiting to re-enact painful dynamics from the past.
I believe that a big part of healing is re-establishing our connection with the intuitive self. It is learning to recognize the difference between being pulled toward what is truly right for us, and the unconscious drive to resolve trauma by replaying painful narratives over and over again.
There are few cards in tarot that illustrate the hurried ego more aptly than Knight of Swords. Always rushing, this is the part of the psyche that wants the quickest, shortest route to all the things we desire—which are usually idealized notions of incessant fulfillment and uninterrupted joy.
It is also the part of us that secretly longs to be rescued from the work that a hearty life requires. It is the part that is most easily lured into taking shortcuts riddled with psychic traps and bad bargains.
Jungian analyst Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés wrote of this dynamic:
The poor ego is always looking for an easy way out…Deep in the wintry parts of our minds we know there is no such thing as a work-free transformation…But another part of our natures, a part more desirous of languor, hopes it won’t be so, hopes the hard work can cease so slumber can resume. When the predator comes along, we are already set up for him, and we are relieved to imagine that maybe there is an easier way.
The “poor ego” is the Knight of Swords. It is the part of us that says, “this is it, this is the one I’ve been waiting for” with each new lover, or job listing, or project that feels particularly promising.
It is this aspect of the human psyche that gave birth to the mythic knight in shining armor; a rescue fantasy so embedded in the collective consciousness that none among us are immune to projecting it onto any person, place or thing. It is a part in all of us that is ever lurking, waiting for that fast ride out of what a meaningful and fulfilling life requires: work, comfort, pain, change, repeat.
The predator (Seven of Swords) that Estés writes about is the good-on-paper lover with the red flags jutting out of every orifice. It is the fast friend group that appears to welcome you with open arms, but with whom you have to warp and shrink yourself beyond recognition to be with. It is the job that promises you will want for no material thing, but will leave you too drained to do your art.
The ego may rush to say “yes!” to that thing, eager to relinquish the steadfast and true to be relieved at last from the burden of saving one’s own life. It is the part that so badly wants the predator to be a permanent waiver from doing the work, that it is willing to believe just about anything.
Defending the Soul from predators and traps (Seven of Wands) is a dirty job, but those who want a life of meaning must do it. It takes a certain tenacity to commit to the long game instead of doing the quick back alley deal where too much is given for too little.
Fruits torn from a tree before the branch is ready to release them never taste as sweet. Fruits hurried are downright sour. Do not give up on your slow route to success so quickly. If you have been doing the long, honest work, if you have felt the promise of things taking shape (Ace of Pentacles), try to trust it for one more day. And then another, and another.
Protect the things that you’ve chosen, sewn, watered, hauled out in the sun when you would have rather stayed in bed, and watched grow from seed. Don’t be so quick to sell them out. When you build a good life the slow way, you are training the ego in patience.
Trust that things are moving forward (Eight of Wands). Use your gifts. Hone your skills. Heal your stuff. Do your best. And for the love of all that is good and true, keep an eye peeled for predators and traps.
Commit. Right now. To doing the work. So that you will never again fall prey to a promise of being rescued from it.
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