Preparing for a Tarot meditation session on the Lovers, it struck me: the invitation of the Lovers is to look.
The card’s call is as simple and as challenging as looking. On the simple end of the continuum, something comes into our awareness, we see (or touch or taste) it, and move on. In these times, we always seem to be on the move as we: read the ticker tape headline news at the bottom of the TV screen; eat our breakfast muffins while driving in the car; glance at the sunsets before running into the house to make dinner.
But a deeper looking is possible and described beautifully by the contemplative William McNamara, “People, trees, lakes, mountains. You can study things, but unless you enter into this intuitive communion with them, you can only know about them, you don’t know them. To take a long loving look at something –a child, a glass of wine, a beautiful meal-this is a natural act of contemplation, of loving admiration.” The problem? “All the way through school we are taught to abstract; we are not taught loving awareness.”
This past Friday, I had the epiphany that the deep meaning of the Lovers card is a call to this contemplative awareness, a call for us to take a long loving look. And I fell in love with the card in a new way.
It’s hardly possible to see the Lovers card as unlovely, but until this realization, my understanding of the card floated on the surface. The title of the card itself gets in the way of going deeper. The message that grabs you is about finding, having, keeping your true love; what could be more enticing! (Enticement is wonderful, but it can be an entrapment, which, of course, connects the Lovers to the Devil card, where we lack freedom due to obsessions, addictions, judgments, and limited perspectives … but this is for another blog post.)
When the card comes up in situations where love is not the presenting issue, I often fall back on the idea of choice. The card has a traditional meaning of having to make a choice. This makes little sense when looking at the pictures of most modern Tarots, but the classical, 16th century Tarot de Marseilles shows a young man standing between two women, one older and more established one younger and more alluring. Cupid hovers above. He is going to have to make a choice.
I’ve used these interpretations of the cards and they are valid, but this past Friday I opened up to a deeper personal understanding of the card. I had been sitting at my computer all day, mostly writing a proposal, but periodically checking the news and looking at pictures of the ecological damaged caused by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
These pictures were ugly: sea turtles threatened, a pelican dirty and weighted down by oil, the messy pile of blackened, dead shrimp, and marsh grass sinking in dirty brown waters. I didn’t really want to look. I barely glanced at first, but then was called back to pay more attention. And these images that had been merely ugly became heartbreaking. And in that heart break, I felt more connection to and a great empathy for the creatures of the Gulf and the human residents who depend on them for a way of life that is being destroyed.
It is not comfortable to be in a place of heartbreak, but in the face of this disaster and our current earth realities, it is necessary. Nature writer Gretel Ehrlich, in her meditation on how the heating up of our climate is eliminating cultures of cold, speaks to this need to look at the horrible; “We don’t look because heartbreak might imply failure. But the opposite is true. A broken heart is an open heart, like a flower unfolding from its calyx, the one nourishing the other.” When we take a long, loving look at the heartbreaking, we open ourselves and move into a new place that is unsettling, but in which nourishment is still possible.
Carrying this new insight, I went home to spread out a dozen different Lovers card from my collection, I was struck by how many pairs of eyes were looking back at me. Of course, there were many couples directing their long, loving looks at each other, but there were an equal number of eyes looking out at me, showing me partners standing together to face the world. What were they seeing? Those Lovers looking out at me were seeing heartbreak for the situation in the Gulf. From their place of being supported, they are able to take in what ever appears before them, and they are calling on us to do the same. This invitation to look is what can break us open for the healing of ourselves and the planet.
The Gaian Tarot Lovers (pictured above) was a particular inspiration for this new view and I’ll be writing on that next / soon!