When the Teacher Becomes the Student - A Lesson in Humility

One of the things my first tarot teacher taught me, which has stayed with me over the years as a tried-and-trusted insight - and one that I frequently write about - is that the two things guaranteed to compromise a tarot reading are "doubt" and "awe".

Detail: Queen of Swords from The Röhrig Tarot, created by Carl-W. Röhrig © US Games, Inc.

This knowledge has stood me in very good stead in my own readings, and I hope it has helped those I've taught as well.

This week, however, I came face-to-face with another learning lesson, in a very personal way. And this time it wasn't a lesson in doubt and awe, but a lesson in humility.

I remind myself that when I say that tarot is a transformational tool, that transformation always cuts both ways. Carl Jung said that, "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed." In moments like this, I remind myself that to think I am unaffected by my working with my cards is an exercise in denial, and often an act of hubris.

When I work with tarot with others, I, too, am opening to transformation. The contact between myself and another, and myself and the cards is a chemical reaction that does not exclude me. I am no catalyst; I am right there, involved, in the alchemical process.

You see, for a long time, I adopted the belief that my beloved tarot deck - The Röhrig - was for clients only. I had this notion that I needed the deck to be in some way 'clean' for clients, and not to involve myself with it. I believed this so much that my own readings with the deck appeared to stop working; and so I stopped working with it from a personal standpoint.

Life went on. I chose another deck for my own readings - one that was good enough, but didn't feel like it was quite what I needed, let alone wanted. Gradually, I lost contact with the cards as a means of self-reflection. I told myself that that was how it was meant to be, and in a way I was right, because I had something to learn from it.

And so, one day recently, I realised:

It was my own failure to accept myself that was reflected in the cards' failure to connect with me - or, more accurately, I with them.

No, I had told myself. No. These cards are not for me. I'll read for myself with another deck. That feels clean and clear, I told myself.

Funny how the defences work; funny how the rational mind tries to fit a square peg in a round hole, and reason away something that is, at its heart, irrational and unreasonable.

But when we are able to heed the call of what feels quirky or somehow askew in our thinking, and look at that off-kilter-ness as fully as we can to find what lies beneath, then we make ourselves available to the truth.

That truth for me was that I didn't feel I deserved the same lucid reflection that I offered my clients from a deck that feels simultaneously like an extension of me, and also completely alien. In some way, I felt - how strange, now, to consider this! - that the cards would turn me away. I was having a prodigal son moment with my own deck, fearful of punishment, admonishment, judgement, and therefore silence or, perhaps worse, deceit.

I'm writing this in blatant terms, but the dance has been far, far more subtle than this. It had been playing out in the unconscious, until it surfaced - bubble-bubble-POP! - with that influx of emotion that accompanies the recognition of what is real.

I had been projecting my own unconscious unworthiness on to my cards, in a masquerade that I was explaining away with an excuse that sounded quite sensible: client-only deck; keeps things clean.

Clean from what, though? From me? And why would I be un-clean? An avenue of questioning worth pursuing, for sure. But the real healing is in picking up the cards, asking them what we want to know, and then trusting the answer that we're given. The real healing is experiential in nature, and not intellectual. The real cure is in the prodigal son knocking on the door of his father's house - risking that request for admission - and then surrendering to the response, with all of the risks that that brings.

For some of you reading, this may feel like nothing, a non-event. For me, this has been a pattern of defendedness throughout my life, and a moment of self-recognition that has been like a home-coming.

I say often that my relationship with my cards is like a love affair. And this lover has stayed, consistently. It is I who have ducked and dived, and chosen to walk away at times. And when I come back, they are there, waiting at the door.

As if I had never left at all.