It might be during an otherwise perfectly safe reading. The cards show that you do your best. They tell a story with options and hint at future possibilities, but at a pivotal point in the reading, you (or your tarot reader) pulls The Devil. And it’s in a really suggestive position too, like: “your greatest current struggle.” In the best case, you haven’t seen this card before, and you get to learn a little something new.
But in the less favorable and more likely case, maybe you know this card all too well. You see The Devil, with its familiar themes of bondage, gender norms, and inferiority, and maybe your heart sinks a little. You have thoughts like: “I thought I worked on this enough already,” or “how can I finally break this cycle”, or worse yet “but there’s nothing that I’m clinging to at this time!” And, depending on your tarot reader, maybe you get a gentle roundabout reminder about indulgence; or maybe even a frank appraisal of your addictions and insecurities that don’t pull any punches.
Obviously, the message of The Devil will vary in readings and from person to person. Rather than tackling the topic directly I’ll relay my experience with the energy of The Devil. Seems fitting since just this week I pulled it for myself for the second time this summer.
Once upon a time
A while ago a spiritual teacher of mine mentioned in passing that she had done a complaint fast. What’s that? I asked, crinkling my eyebrows and nose in a way that suggests I’m listening to absolute nonsense – when really I’m just curious. My expressive face has ended (and started!) entire relationships over the years.
“A complaint fast is when you stop complaining for a certain period of time, in this case it was two weeks.”
My eyes bulged. And this time I DID make the nonsense face because, at the time, it was not possible. But I was still at that phase of spiritual apprenticeship where I needed to do everything my teachers did. So I considered: what would it be like to stop complaining? I had no idea and I knew better than to commit to crazy without mulling it over. Instead I counted every complaint I made for a day. I went back to my teacher and announced:
“A complaint fast is impossible for me.” She asked why. I asked her: “How many times do you complain in a day?” At least ten, she says. I tell her, “I complain approximately 200 times in a day.”
She showed me the whites of her eyes. She made the nonsense face. For her, 200 complaints in a day were not possible. I told her about my awareness practice of noticing complaints and that I had discovered, possibly as a result of my NYC childhood, that I used complaints to bond and commiserate, to internally correct my behavior, to notice dysfunction, to show enthusiasm and interest, to make jokes, and to assign value. It was weaved into how I communicate, socialize, and think. How was I supposed to stop something I did so often?
“Little by little, maybe the first time, you fail. You try again. You get better.”
The complaint fast was not the first time I questioned a belief and certainly not the last. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron mentions a similar practice called “a reading fast,” where you abstain from consuming art (books, TV, radio, SOCIAL MEDIA, anything that someone else created) for a period in favor of creating your own. I have used her version of this practice over and over again. But the “complaint fast” was the first hypothesis where I tracked my behavior, experimented with new ones, and noted the results. That was five years ago. Today my process is different but my practice is consistent. I’ve run awareness experiments every year since.
fast & feast
Last week I did something I call a Fast & Feast. It was prompted by two things:
- An article I read via Facebook about cell phone addiction and its effects on brain chemistry and empathy and
- My new habit of living with my nose pressed to my cell phone screen, like cell waves are air particles and social network notifications are the foretold medium of enlightenment.
Not good. I need empathizing neurons firing predictably for the long haul. So I made a pact with myself: I would fast and I would feast.
Fast: Give up social media and its notifications for 7 days.
Feast: I fill up the extra 86,400 seconds or so I gain with the amount of meditation my current teacher recommends. Approx. 3-4 times what seems sensible to me. (And most normal people.)
I like to share random stuff on social networks: art, activism, whatever. So I scheduled share time and a single day per week to check on things, but otherwise, I abstained.
What did I stand to gain?
Bull-proof knowledge of how my monkey brain uses my cellphone and a chance to meditate…
A LOT. Something I’ve been too intimidated to try in the past.
What I learned
- I waste tens of thousands of seconds on social networks.
- I spend only thousands of seconds consciously engaging social networks.
- There’s a correlation between morning social network time and the optimal time to do my morning practice. It comes down to a choice between the two. When I abstained I never failed to do my morning practice.
- There’s a direct correlation between evening social network time and my putting off bedtime. When I abstained, I slept early, appropriate amounts, and the quality of my sleep improved.
- While abstaining, my eyes felt more restful and my meditation improved. Although it’s hard to say if it was the abstinence or the meditating 2-4 times a day. That much practice will improve anything.
- Without the satisfaction of internet updates, I became more curious about my own creative process, and I created more.
- When I can opt out of notifications, I experience less compulsion, less distraction, and the gap widened between new information and subsequent new beliefs. Facebook in particular has a ridiculous number of unnecessary updates… and you can’t turn them off.
- As a result of my week there was a greater space between my desire to check and my decision about whether I would check.
- I learned more but this list was getting out of hand…
My cellphone or social networks are The Devil!
Ok. That’s not true. If it wasn’t for that article on Facebook, I might not have noticed my compulsive behavior; but that’s what it looks like when I first face my own unconscious urges. The desire seems pathological, it has no rhyme or reason, and subsequently it looks like the bad guy. It’s especially comfortable when it’s the bad guy outside of me. But the separateness of this desire is an illusion and are the chains that come from The Devil. The truth is my insatiable hunger for what’s novel, amusing, or satisfying and unconscious is universal, brain-wired and entirely human.
We all have the urge. That moment where we start eating because we were hungry and then keep eating even though we’re full, even though it hurts, just because it tastes good. We just don’t all do it with the same things. For one person it’s food, another, social media, another gossiping or complaining, or avoiding failure or discomfort.
The Devil is an invitation to acknowledge both your darkness and your beliefs about darkness, to acknowledge the elephant in the room, and the stuff we pile on top of the elephant to keep it hidden. When you deal with the Devil – What urge, fear, or overindulgence have you been ignoring? Noticing is 75% of dealing with it. You don’t have to slay the elephant, just admit that it is in the room and that it is your elephant.
“It’s their fault I did that…”
“I did it because I felt depressed/afraid/helpless…”
“I don’t know why I do it…”
No one is asking you to wake up one day without urges. But things get pretty interesting when you can widen the gap between fearful or addictive beliefs and compulsive actions. Just because you have a method of dealing with discomfort, doesn’t mean it’s the best method you could come up while conscious.
I have a friend who is giving up gluten for her health. She’s pretty fond of gluten and mentioned it can be challenging when she experiences a craving. I asked her how she deals with it. She says she closes her eyes and imagines that she goes right ahead and eats the thing she wants: what it tastes like, feels like, smells like. She goes for details and she says, she breathes deep. She says by the time she’s done, she feels pretty satisfied and the craving has already passed.
If I tried that I’d go ahead and follow up with eating the thing with gluten but she found what works for her and her body. And if The Devil is about anything, it’s about working with your own urges. One grizzly step at a time. There’s a payoff when you do the work. Saturn, in all his task-master glory, guarantees it.
Face him bravely, dear ones, because The Devil is you.