Tarot Tuesday is upon us, my babies.
This week’s card you may recognize from that collection of sick vinyl your uncle left you when he abandoned everything that sucks on this earth and hightailed it across the Pacific Ocean to take up residence in Kona.
That’s cool too.
And oh my heck. Do I love me some Led Zeppelin. Which is probably a huge part of the reason that I love card 9, The Hermit (“aonarán” in Scottish Gaelic – assuming I’m not being lied to).
Oh, how I love this dude.
I, too, love to be left the hell alone. This guy and me? We’re like this.
I know you can see me interlocking my index and middle fingers right now.
I mean, I identify with the octogenarian myself, so emotionally, I get this fella. But in terms of symbol, oh I love everything he stands for. Here is the Fool all grown up. Also a wanderer, unencumbered by the things that we surround ourselves with as creature comforts and weights, to keep us from drifting, this guy keeps everything he needs on his back. That’s an aesthetic to which I aspire.
But at this point, for me, Tivo is kind of life.
I have some growing to do before I can fill this guy’s old worn out loafers, for sure.
It’s cool. I’ll get there.
He can carry everything he needs in this world on his back, and it’s not back breaking. Because he has grown to need very little, not just to live, but to be happy as well.
He is at home at large, just out in the world. Unlike the Fool, though, his background is the most calming caesious green-grey hybrid. Also, unlike the Fool, our man needs no canine companion to tell him when he’s getting off track. He has internalized it. He is able to warn himself. Regulate himself. Guide himself.
To help him, to that end, he carries with him a small flame, protected from the elements in a glass and iron lantern. It can see the world around it, and it can be seen as well, but the light the Hermit carries cannot be blown out by the inconstant, fickle wind, nor will it sputter in the rain or snow.
His light is his wisdom. It’s a small representation of the wealth of insight and experience he has gained on his incessant travels. We can rest assured that the light of his lantern is one tiny atom of the wisdom he carries within himself, because he represents the collective wisdom of humanity.
He is so calm, you guys. He isn’t standing on a cliff, or about to walk off one. There is no landscape in the background. There is no future, nor any past of any consequence for the Hermit. He’s perfectly content and well in the present moment, with no need to look ahead, nor behind.
This guy is our quiet, internal, collective wisdom. Our undiscovered selves.
Okay. Let me unpack that a little bit.
So, in 1958, Jung wrote a little manifesto called “The Undiscovered Self,” in which he argues that man must resist the dynamic pressures of society’s varied goals. As factions and groups and cultural events ask us to choose sides and take up arms against the “opposition,” says Jung, we must resist the urge to do just that and, rather, turn inward to seek our own truths. Our own moral codes. Our own rights, and wrongs. Our own best practices. But that’s a dangerous undertaking, as it demands that we face our own gray areas. Our own tendencies toward evil as well as good.
No one wants to acknowledge his own moral duality. We prefer to think of ourselves as always good, choosing to project our own bad onto others.
But to persist in that undertaking, said Jung, is to stagnate. It also puts us at grave peril to the machinations and the agendas of others.
So, basically, Jung started the #resist movement before it was even cool, you guys.
Total hipster. Doin’ shit before it became mainstream and whatnot.
But you have to admit, it would make a badass poster.
Shut up. You love it. You’re printing it out to hang on your bedroom wall right now, and we all know it.
Honestly, the older I get the more I come to believe that every single generation goes through a sort of dark night of the cohort soul, so to speak. Every group of age-related adults passes through a period of sincere concern for the continued existence of the planet, and humanity as a race, and its continued position at the top of the food chain.
We all get our own generation villain.
Donald Trump is clearly ours.
It’s going to be okay.
Probably, it’s going to be okay.
It’s like a bad acid trip, man. You just gotta grab your ass and ride it out. It’s going to suck. And you’re going to have terrifying flashbacks, probably, when it’s all over. But it will end.
Anyhow, The Hermit.
Jung and I tend to part ways when he starts getting all religiousy, but his argument is that, unlike Freud’s notion that man’s main motivation is libido, our innate need for meaning is what propels us. We’re born seeking purpose and fulfillment. Regardless of religious issues, I tend to like Jung’s premise that man needs to find meaning in something greater than himself in order to transcend the simple needs of ego.
The Hermit asks us to accept what to many feels intensely icky.
He asks us to welcome solitude in order to more successfully give audience to our authentic selves, and to the muses that crowd around, waiting for the artist and the writer in quiet moments, to bring themselves and their offerings of art to life. By stepping away from company for company’s sake and getting comfortable with the silence of voluntary isolation.
Only in so doing are we able to truly recognize and accept the dark parts of ourselves that we tend to project onto others instead of admitting in ourselves. The Hermit shows us the way to realize our intense potential for insight, which is a synonym for wisdom.
I recognize intensely the form of the writer in The Hermit. The products of such a solitary act as writing might seem ill-suited to presentation in a public forum. And yet, isn’t that the only reason to engage in the process at all? What good can all the wisdom contained in the reservoir that is The Hermit be if not offered to the world at large?
Not forced. Not preached. Not thrust upon the world. Those unprepared for insight and wisdom will never benefit from it, and especially not when it is shoved on them. But offered freely, with no agenda but the very sharing of insight, it can present an opportunity for the ready and willing recipient to change her life.
The very best narrative nonfiction takes the most subjective, personal traumas and conflicts and uses them to reveal universally poignant truths. It teaches a wide audience something about themselves through the candid and generous giving of self on the part of the writer.
But no one has anything worth writing if they aren’t willing to enter into the quiet, fertile periods of solitude from which all good writing springs. And, more than that, one can put on the Hermit’s cloak and play at insight all she wants, but if she is unwilling to spend those moments in solitude truly and honestly investigating her story – herself – then nothing at all will be gained from a lifetime of such quiet “contemplation.”
It’s no wonder that most people tend to prefer company to the fearful quarantine of self-reflection.
Just like that crazy fire bitch says in Game of Thrones, “the night is dark and full of terrors.” And the Hermit inhabits the darkness of night with a comfort only born of a large investment of time willingly spent there.
It’s scary to retreat into the night to honestly evaluate ourselves. And the prospect of revealing what we learn in those times can be altogether horrifying to imagine. It’s why I spent such a long, long time insisting that I would never, ever write personal nonfiction.
But one of the rewards of the narrative nonfiction writer, aside from gaining an audience willing to bear witness to her experience, is the utter acceptance of who she really, truly is.
It’s rejection therapy, the writing of memoir. It’s exposure to what can be an overwhelming fear – being fully ourselves in the presence of others whose agendas and abilities to criticize constructively are entirely unclear – that, eventually, leads to either desensitization or…like…a really fuckin’ bad anxiety disorder, I guess.
And why? Why should expanding our own self-awareness, and then sharing what it teaches us with others, offering it freely for their own examination, and allowing them to accept or reject it as they see fit…why should that cause such extreme anxiety?
It’s a bit like taking a bite of the forbidden fruit, isn’t it? Who are we to think that we “know ourselves” any better than another? Or to think that we’re entitled to such insight? Who are we to claim to know anything about the unknowable, universal anxieties and truths of the human condition? Who the hell do we think we are to stand up and say, “hey, check this shit out.”
The hubris of the entire undertaking – the potential for narcissistic abuse of the process itself – puts many off of it.
By writing narrative nonfiction of any form, we necessarily set ourselves both apart, and up for criticism. And we open ourselves to the guilt that comes with claiming to have reached a “higher” level of awareness. Not to mention that, having climbed to a different plateau of awareness leaves us a bit lonely in the aftermath, doesn’t it?
It’s the same reason couples who share an addiction issue actively seek to prevent their others from entering recovery. If you get better, where does that leave me? Best that we both just stay right here, in this very familiar pattern of behavior. Because who knows if we’ll both make it through recovery intact?
But, for some, that call to investigation and evaluation is too strong. And the fear of the loneliness, rejection, criticism and guilt that comes along with the writing of narrative nonfiction simply pales in comparison to the potential rewards.
And, when the right rewards are sought – greater self-awareness, the revelation of universal truths through personal example – they truly do outweigh any negative consequences of the endeavor.
The Hermit is so badass. Just look at him, you guys. How can you not love this dude?