Imagine if any time you had an urge to act on an impulse that you knew was bad for you, you were fully attuned to your power to choose (The Devil). Think of the things you would do if you could maintain this awareness. Think of the things you would stay not doing.
A couple of good things to know about urges is that the more we do what they tell us to do, the stronger they get. Conversely, the bigger we make ourselves, clearing a path for them to pass through without tightening in around them and reacting, the weaker they get.
An urge is a chance to practice transcendence; overriding the tug of internal events on your behavior. The idea here is spaciousness. You will give in to urges as you’re doing this work. Make space for that, too.
If you are very used to believing everything you think and feel, having thoughts and feelings without acting on them might appear too big a mountain to climb. I urge you to resist laying down at the trailhead. In the spaces where we balk at what feels insurmountable, so much growth is on offer. Remove your slippers and sit at the feet of impossibility. Let the complete absurdity of an effort be your teacher.
Because imagine this is your life: You decide what matters most to you. You are so clear on the illusory and impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings that they cease pulling you out of alignment. This is a life in which you don’t have to avoid or suppress anything. You only have let things bloom inside you and then wither. Knowing that your internal events are not the thing you take orders from. What deep power.
I will never forget the first time a healer I respected called me a healer. I was born a healer, believed to be standing on the shoulders of a long line of healers, but I think I began leaning—only in stirrings, and ever so slightly—toward the calling in that moment.
Many people believe that their wounds make them unfit to be a healer but I say the opposite is true (Queen of Cups). I think that people who have not known suffering, and do not currently know suffering (and that part is important) are useless to the struggling.
My experiences with pain are my training. They inform everything that I do. When I sink to the bottom of loss and bury myself in grief, when an irredeemable mistake wakes and captures me in the night, when my rage unloads on a person who is in deep pain themselves if only I’d stopped to listen—this is my classroom. It is my quest, my journey into the unknown. To find a treasure, a skill, an insight, a pearl, and to bring it back. To put it in my art.
This is part of what makes creative work so important. It can give purpose to struggles that may otherwise feel senseless. It can up the ante of recovery and healing. I might not always love myself, but I will always love people. So even when I don’t want to do what’s “healthy” for me, I want to at least learn how to do it so that I can share it with someone who will use it for good.
Purpose has a way of making you want to do hard things. To stop playing with what is illusory and baseless (Seven of Cups). To budget your energetic output like you would your cash (Six of Pentacles). To learn the difference between a cool success defined by expectations, and the warm fulfillment of using your gifts for good.
I once heard a therapist say to a group of people with mood disorders that there are two types of power: positional and personal. The thing about positional power (The Chariot), is that it comes with limitations, at the Soul level. These limits are manmade, but because this kind of power is also manmade it can be stripped from you if you deviate. Personal power, on the other hand, is your birthright. Clout chasing only takes you so far. You will see, when you achieve something you believed to be very precious, and feel nothing.
It is probably true that we must learn the rules of an overculture before we can effectively disrupt them. That is perhaps why The Emperor, Hierophant and Chariot are among the first few cards in the Major Arcana. First you learn the rules, then you break them well in service of a greater good (Three of Wands). Not in service of ego, accolades, or an unconscious need to recreate an old dynamic.
Some believe rule-following is itself a virtue. This could be true if rules were virtues-based, but too often they are not. And so, it is the work of the creative to name and interrogate the rules we live by, so that we can determine which should be broken, and which should not.
If psychological flexibility—or the ability to experience distressing internal events while continuously moving toward values—is the ideal we strive for, we have to watch for what makes us more rigid (The Chariot). It’s not only social rules that get us, it’s also the rules we set for ourselves.
I must not eat after 6pm. I must avoid anxious thoughts. I must go to happy hour every Friday, like my coworkers. I must never make mistakes. I must get married. I must only have certain kinds of lovers or friends. These kinds of rules can turn us to stone. In all aspects of life, may we interrogate our rules. And challenge them when they make our lives small.
So what does breaking unhelpful rules require of us? For starters, a willingness to be disliked. A willingness to be judged. A willingness to be afraid. A willingness to feel uncertain. A willingness to feel anxious. And since the first rule of making change is to expect pushback, I think you’d better be willing to deal with that, too.
This applies when breaking the rules—be they overt or unspoken—of a relationship, a family system, an organization, a culture. A revolution that happens without opposition is boring, and not at all revolutionary.
I don’t think that revolutionaries, black sheep and troublemakers are unafraid to break rules, they are just more willing to be afraid. They are willing to climb the mountain of learning to have urges and not act on them. To choose alignment more often than fleeting pleasure with a lasting price tag. They are willing to do all this in service of the creative destruction of what no longer works. What a brave pursuit, a radical act of strength and vulnerability.