In the tarot, the suit of swords corresponds to the mental realm, for, just like a sword, the mind is double edged. It can cut through confusion and generate new ideas, but it can also lead us through a labyrinth of unproductive thoughts.
When we don’t know how to use our minds in a soul-aligned way, the mind ends up using us.
What does this look like? In a nutshell, we equate our thoughts with reality with far too little questioning of the leaps and assumptions the mind loves to make, and then we take action based on this faulty chain of “reasoning.” Or, just as likely, we take no action at all because we feel stuck.
The Ego Comes a Knockin’
An example from my own life: My husband and I just moved last month, and I’ve found myself more prone to ego chatter as I work to rebuild my healthy routines in our new home. In the midst of all of this, I went to a class taught by one of my favorite teachers, and I found myself ruminating on the way home over things that I’d said, wishing I hadn’t been so quiet and shy, and on and on and on the ego chatter went.
The following day, I ran into a friend who is also a student of this teacher, and he was telling me what a great experience he had connecting with our teacher over lunch, how the teacher had commended him on such and such, and so forth.
As soon as I said goodbye to my friend and got in the car, I could feel my ego mind ready and raring to go–oooooh, baby! Let’s do this! My ego was practically foaming at the mouth as it dove head first into Comparison Hell, a realm it knows all to well.
Cue The Witness
But then, my Higher Self stepped in, and I was able, instead, to just watch as the ego splashed around in the mud, riling up emotions and churning out more cyclical thoughts. To be sure, I was still feeling all of the emotions and sensations–embarrassment, the sickness in my stomach, the heat rushing to my chest and face, jealousy, the ants under my skin–but I was also aware that there is a part of me that is not that.
The ego came up with a plan–it loves its plans–which, as always, consisted of only two options, both unappealing. Here’s what it offered me:
- I could break away from this teacher and the student group I was a member of, even though they was having an immensely positive impact on my life.
- I could obsessively compete with my friend, so my teacher would see that I was better.
Really, ego? That’s all you’ve got for me?
The thing is, me five years ago would have believed these thoughts through and through. I would have felt genuinely stuck, agonizing between leaving the group or trying to find a way to look better than my friend.
And while it might seem easy to spot the ego’s game, reading it here in black and white, how often do you find yourself in situations where you feel truly torn between two unattractive options that seem, legitimately, like the only game in town? How often do you listen to friends as they flip flop back and forth between alternatives they have no real desire to pursue?
How the Ego Keeps Us Stuck
Ninety-nine percent of the tarot readings I perform are about dilemmas generated from this ego space. It’s no wonder that we feel stuck–we don’t want to move forward in any of the directions the ego is presenting, and when we believe these are the only roads out of our situation, it makes sense that we stall or even try to move backward.
The problem is rarely our actual circumstances, as counter-intuitive as that might sound–the problem comes down to our information source.
Think of the ego as a news channel, like Fox News, for example. If you base your view of the world and the decisions you make on this one information source–well, you’ll have a very limited view of the world, and your decisions will reflect this limitation. You’ll find yourself facing similar circumstances no matter where you go or whom you’re with, because the lens through which you’re viewing and interpreting these different circumstances remains the same.
The ego likes to boil everything down to black and white, because it doesn’t have the ability to process more complex situations. The issue is that reality, by its very nature, is complex, so when we’re relying on the ego’s simplified snapshot of events, we are automatically disconnected from reality. We are living in our heads.
In mainstream culture, we’re taught that this is the only way to go. We’re taught that relying on anything other than our heads is foolish, and this further strengthens our belief that our ego chatter is real and must be heeded.
The thing is, if this method was working as well as promised, we’d see it. We wouldn’t be riddled with anxiety and depression, feeling trapped in our own lives, stuck between a rock and a hard place. The proof is in the pudding. It’s time for us to see the limitations of the ego.
The ego mind is meant to be a tool. We are not meant to be a tool of the ego mind.
…And How We Can Break Free
In order to shift our relationship with the ego, it’s time to step into our power. We do this by:
- becoming the Witness to the ego’s chatter, rather than diving in, participating, and identifying with the noise.
- questioning everything the ego says. When it presents us with certainties, respond to everything with, “I wonder if…” and “What if I tried…”
- recognizing that we have the power. In every moment, we have the option to listen to the ego…or not. Just because the ego is talking doesn’t mean we have to listen, much less do what it says.
To return to my example, here’s what this practice looked like for me.
While driving home, I watched the ego chattering away about how I should go about competing with my friend, and how I would have to leave the community if that didn’t “work.” The simple act of witnessing the chatter allowed me to see that the chatter is not me. I don’t have to identify with the chatter. It’s just chatter.
When we identify with the chatter, we’re left feeling that we won’t be okay unless we resolve the issue and hurryupandmakeadecision! The ego has to have a plan, pronto, even if it’s a disastrously shitty one, in order to feel safe. You have the power to resist the ego’s frantic planning.
The irony is that this planning actually generates anxiety, even though the ego thinks planning is its only ward against anxiety. Again, the proof’s in the pudding. If the ego’s planning was actually working to alleviate anxiety, why are we so damn anxious all the time, and why do we feel so much anxiety specifically when we’re engaged in this ego-driven planning–what should I do, what should I do, what should I do? It’s simple: because it doesn’t work.
Then, I questioned the ego’s assertions that I could either leave or compete.
“Hmmm…I see that you’re feeling really intense about this, and you’re feeling the need to make a decision immediately, but I’m going to stay open to possibilities, ego. I love this community and don’t want to leave it, and I also love my friend and don’t want to compete with him. I trust that there’s another way, even though I don’t know what it is yet. There’s no rush. I’m open to options that are correct and for the good of all to make themselves known.”
And then I rolled down the windows, breathed in the fresh air, focused on the sunshine, and felt my mind start to clear. In that moment, I noticed that I was driving by a park, and with the ego chatter turned down a couple of notches, I was able to hear my intuition’s guidance to go for a walk.
I pulled over and started to walk. I wasn’t trying to figure anything out; my only “plan” was to be present. To look at the flowers and trees, to feel the earth beneath my feet, and to trust that this was a valid alternative to obsessively planning and trying to figure everything out.
And then, about ten minutes into my walk, the truth washed over me like a calming wave. The truth that I didn’t need to do anything. There was no situation to fix. I didn’t need to leave or compete. That sick, uneasy feeling in my stomach wasn’t a product of the external circumstances; it was generated by my ego. It wasn’t proof that something was wrong and needed to be fixed. It was simply the bruising of the ego. A bruise. Nobody’s dying here. I’m safe.
The ego can convince us of anything if we let it.
It can convince us that everything is an emergency.
That we can only choose A or B.
That we aren’t safe until we decide.
But all this convincing and clamoring doesn’t make it true.
You can choose to shut down all forms of guidance and turn up the ego channel, believing that this will keep you safe and “on track.”
Or you can remain open.
You can trust that there are other ways of knowing.
That planning isn’t everything.
That a life well lived isn’t linear.
That you don’t have to know everything to be safe.
That you’re okay, right here, right now.
And in this space that you’ve staked out, free from the chattering of the ego, the wisdom and clarity you’re seeking…appears.