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If you've been working with Tarot for any length of time, you've already confronted at least one of the following challenges:
Eventually, everyone interested in Tarot faces some or all of these challenges: the pressure to deliver The Answer … the struggle to maintain objectivity … a decline in interest as what once seemed magical becomes mundane.
The good news? The key to overcoming these hurdles may be just one brainstorm away.
Inspiration through Integration
And let's face it: using the Tarot as a brainstorming tool makes perfect sense. The illustrations, titles, numbers, and keywords on each card amount to a visual encyclopedia of related ideas. The deck you pick up at the corner bookstore for less than twenty bucks fits easily into your pocket or purse. Do you know of any other creative tool that's more accessible, affordable, or portable?
Writing Putting the Tarot to Work changed my approach to Tarot forever. When I sit down with a client, I no longer feel obligated to go on a quest for "the" answer. When reading for myself, I have far less difficulty attaining a sense of objectivity. Best of all, I feel passionate about working with the cards again—and when I turn the cards over, each one seems packed with fresh ideas and new perspectives.
What happened? As it turns out, while integrating Tarot techniques into my approach to brainstorming, I wound up integrating brainstorming techniques into my approach to Tarot!
Borrowing Brainstorming Basics
At its best, brainstorming becomes a free-wheeling thrill ride through unexpected territory. Though we've often worried about our budget, we've never considered how our budget is like an apple tree, or a brick wall, or a sack of potatoes. This juxtaposition of unrelated ideas forces us to see our budgetary challenge from a new perspective. Suddenly, the barriers to success fall away, and insight leads to innovation and action.
At least, that's how it's supposed to go.
Sometimes, pressure to deliver The Answer before a deadline crushes our creativity. Occasionally, we're too close to the problem to think outside the box; as a result, our brainstorm reflects our internal upheaval. Or, after years of successful brainstorming, the once-exciting process becomes all too familiar. Before we know it, we're scrabbling for progress and banging our heads against the wall, saying, "You know, I used to brainstorm about these kinds of questions…"
Experts—having anticipated problems like these—have devised a number of clever strategies designed to boost the effectiveness of the brainstorming process:
As Tarot reading and brainstorming have a great deal in common, each of these guidelines can be adapted to boost the effectiveness of Tarot readings, too.
Strategy One: Avoid "The Answer"
Is Rhonda really the one for me? If I marry Gilbert, will I be eternally happy? Am I really supposed to take that job de-beaking chickens down at the processing plant?
Often, our hunger for The Answer positions us as victims of fate. When we start asking "Yes or No" questions, we often hope to cast the burden of decision on someone else. In short, we relinquish control of our lives to seventy-eight pieces of laminated cardboard.
Brainstorming experts suggest we can boost our problem-solving ability by leaving the myth of The Answer behind. Problems can have many solutions. Questions can have many answers. Any path we choose can branch off in an infinite number of directions … and the variables governing which path we take aren't always under our control.
So what to do? Rather than believe a reading is a success when it produces The Answer, we reset our expectations. We increase our effectiveness as readers by deciding that successful readings are the ones that produce the most possible courses of action.
Before I stumbled on this shift in thinking, I didn't realize how completely my own set of "one answer blinders" restricted the quality of my readings. With a question in mind, I'd draw a card or a series of cards—and dutifully go about decoding The Answer, as though there were only one answer to be had.
Today, however, when asking, "What does this card mean?" I force myself to consider a minimum of ten possible answers per card.
Let's say I ask, "Should I blow off all the work I have to do today and go see Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King for the eighteenth time?" After shuffling the deck, I draw the Six of Swords from the Universal Tarot.
Rather than search for The Answer, I make a quick list of at least ten possible interpretations:
Some of these ideas are silly. Some of the associations are a stretch. Some of these responses make perfect sense. Some contradict each other. But by abandoning the search for The Answer and forcing myself to consider many possible answers, I generated far more personal insight—and discovered options I overlooked before.
Want to boost the effectiveness of your readings? Avoid The Answer—and reward yourself for generating as many answers as possible!
Strategy Two: Play with Perspective
I didn't think I needed cards to answer that question.
All the same, I shuffled and drew three responses: the Ten of Swords, the Ten of Wands, and the Tower.
I struggled to keep my face neutral. "What do these cards suggest to you?"
Inexplicably, her face lit up with a smile."This is telling me to kill my doubts, carry on despite the difficulties, and strike while the iron is hot!"
Especially when reading for ourselves, maintaining objectivity is always a challenge. Like my friend on the plane, it's all too tempting to see what we want to see—or, worse, to allow the cards to reflect our deepest fears.
When brainstorming, the best way to maintain objectivity is to deliberately adopt viewpoints other than your own. The process is not unlike those debate class assignments where the professor asks students to argue passionately in favor of positions they personally oppose.
How does this work in readings? When my emotions threaten to overwhelm my objectivity, I employ a simple—but powerful—technique. With the spread completed, I ask myself three questions:
When answering the first question, I pretend I thrive on disaster. I force myself to come up with the darkest possible reading I can—and then I ask myself, "How can I make this even more toxic, more desperate, or more depressing?" (In the process, I not only succeed in adopting a viewpoint other than my own—I learn a lot about the fears and insecurities that color my readings.)
When answering the second question, I put on my flashiest pair of rose-colored glasses. I pretend that everything I touch turns to gold, and that the Universe was created for the sole purpose of granting my every wish. (This kind of infinite optimism not only enhances my objectivity—it helps me understand more about how my desires and ego may be influencing my take on the cards.)
Finally, answering the third question tends to bring me back to reality. In my experience, Truth is rarely extreme, and this part of the exercise helps me achieve a more moderate perspective on the issue at hand. (More often than not, these "middle of the road" readings, generated after examining the extremes, are my most accurate.)
When going to extremes fails to enhance my objectivity, I use another powerful technique I first wrote about in Putting the Tarot to Work: WWTD? (What Would the Trumps Do?) The process is simple:
For example: let's say that, following a painful break-up, you're at a loss as to how to proceed with your life. If you connect the Fool with new beginnings, he may recommend you throw yourself into a new relationship right away. The Empress may recommend a visit with a comforting, nurturing friend whose home cooking and warm attention will improve your self-esteem. The Hermit may recommend you spend a little time alone, considering how you might be happier on your own. And the Devil? For now, I'll leave his opinion to your imagination.
With practice and a degree of familiarity with the concepts and perspectives associated with each trump, you can use this technique to generate twenty-two answers, options, or insights in twenty minutes or less!
Want to improve your objectivity while reading for yourself or others? Once the cards are on the table, play with perspective by adopting viewpoints that differ radically from your own.
Strategy Three: Build a Bag of Tricks
Over time, Tarot readers, too, fall into a rut. Before we know it, we start doing the same old thing in the same old way, over and over again. Eventually, boredom sets in, and the cards we once treasured find a place on a dusty closet shelf.
To combat this tendency, I recommend keeping a set of tried-and-true strategies—a library of techniques, reading styles, and creativity boosters—close at hand. When you catch yourself dozing off at the table, deploy one of these solutions as a way of maintaining interest and engaging your imagination.
Some of the "secret weapons" in my personal bag of tricks include:
You might consider keeping a collection of these strategies written on index cards. When you get in a rut, draw a card. Keeping a library of creative strategies on hand goes a long way toward keeping your experience of the Tarot fresh and new.
After purchasing his first Tarot deck in 1973, Mark McElroy began terrorizing other neighborhood nine-year-olds with dire and dramatic predictions.Today, he calls Tarot "the ultimate visual brainstorming tool," and shares ...