After various travels at the weekend, I’ve received rather a lot of guidance. No, not from a guru deep in meditation, you might ask. Way more pedestrian: the repetitive advice from male and female announcers: ‘At the top of the escalator, please step forward/‘Use the litter bins provided/In the airport/Walk, don’t run/‘This is a smoke-free zone.’ There’s no way to interpret those as messages from the Universe, though I did try.
So there it is: we must be managed via public service announcements (PSAs, if you will). Without these ghost voices telling us what to do, we’d be falling off escalators, gaily throwing around empty sandwich packets and offering round a packet of B & H in the departure lounge. While some PSAs are surely for safety and insurance purposes (ie we’re not responsible if we told you not to do it) the warning against an infraction of the rules guilt-nibbles the soul like a digestive biscuit crumbling in hot tea. (I just deleted ‘just’ in that last sentence or I’d be contradicting my last post, The J Word.)
Here’s my train favourite: ‘Anyone without a valid ticket will be prosecuted.’ I’m seeing myself in handcuffs being dragged out of the toilet to a waiting police van. (Flashback to sitting on the train loo, forgetting to lock the door, which opens before a queue of people when another passenger tries to get in. No announcement saying, ‘Don’t forget to lock the toilet door,’ which would have been way more use than listing what’s on offer at the buffet car.) Of course I have a valid ticket. I always do. But that PSA, repeated a dozen times on the Mackem Express to London (translation: Sunderland, in the north east of England) trips me into a negative spiral. I could secretly have committed a crime. I might have an invalid ticket and be ejected at Hartlepool. And I don’t know anyone in Hartlepool, etc etc. It’s laughable, I know, but that ridiculous self-doubt is not only mine – on visiting a friend, I saw this note taped to the stove: ‘The gas is off. You don’t have to check again.’
Moments before that pernicious PSA on the London train I’d been thinking about the upcoming meeting with one of my publishers to talk about Nature’s Hidden Oracles, my next book. It’s about how to divine with natural findings such as leaves, stones, feathers and flowers when you’re out on walks. I reflected that on the beach, in the park, or your garden, there’s no interruption to the flow of ideas, of daydreams. No audio-interject telling you to walk on the path or step carefully over the stream or beware of the mud. The natural sounds of nature help us quietly connect with our intuition, or own knowing (and that’s one reason why being in nature can lower blood pressure and ease anxiety). Nature offers us a private and unique connection to the earth and with our sense of self. We’re appreciating what we see through our own filter and giving it meaning – from the pattern of rippled sand at low tide to the whisper of the leaves in wind. This is the real ghost voice, speaking; not the disembodied vocal loop played in commercial buildings and on public transport.
Freedom from this kind of sonic pollution gives us space to open up to new possibilities and to simply be with ourselves. When that’s not possible on planes and trains, let’s have some positive messaging instead: ‘Have a lovely trip.’ ‘Travel broadens the mind’ (I don’t mind clichés). Music, even. Or, ideally, silence, which as we know is golden (I’m on fire with the clichés, here) – unless you’ve forgotten to lock the toilet door on a train. In which case, give me that swift reminder, any day.
Nature’s Hidden Oracles is published in May 2020 by Godsfield Press, £10.
Image: From a trip to the isle of Arran, Scotland, December 2019. The west of the island near the standing stones of Machrie Moor.
Ever noticed how ‘just’ precedes just about everything that’s supposedly easy? ‘’Just write the book!’ (I leave the writers among you to smirk at that one.) Or, ‘Just… run a marathon. In bare feet’. (I blame Nike’s ‘Just do it’ advertising campaign, intended to galvanise us into some sporting hell). Or the favourite, ‘Just get on with it (rebuilding your house, learning Mandarin, finding enlightenment). In all, I reckon ‘just’ is the opening gambit of the self-help devil.
Then there’s ‘just’ in restaurants and shops. I call this one Just Feel Bad.
At lunch today my Dad orders his usual half a bitter (that’s beer, if you’re in the US). ‘Just a half?’ the server enquires, with a niggling look.
‘No,’ breezes my Dad. ‘I’ll have five pints to myself, if it makes you feel better. Then I’ll get in my car.’
In the real world, rather than my fantasy dialogue, he replies, ‘Yes. Just a half, please.’
Marketing subtext: You could have ordered the whole bar! Or a bottle of Bollinger! But all you want is a boring half of bitter.
Congratulations – you’ve confirmed your status as Scrooge of Drinks.
Today, ‘just’ has become interchangeable with ‘only’’, and implies lack: an alleged need unfulfilled which can only (I’m on a roll here!) be redressed by buying more. And more. (Since studying and writing about Switchwords, I’ve become more aware of language and its impact; see my book, Switchwords: Use One Word to Get What You Want.)
And yet, the word’s original meaning is ‘exactly’ (later, it came to mean ‘recently’, as in ‘I just bought another tarot deck and hid it under the bed so my husband/cat won’t know about it’). Which brings me to tarot and the Justice card, because tarot, like only/just, swims in the background of my everyday experience. As ‘just’ first denoted precision, exactness, morality and adherence to the law, the word gives the card its meaning. Strength and Temperance, the other surviving virtue cards of the major arcana* are similarly direct. You get what you see – a judge in session, a woman holding a lion’s jaws, an angel pouring water between two cups.
How to interpret Justice
In readings, I’ve found the card can be literal – a legal process, a lawyer, being judged. Yet, if this doesn’t apply, there is another way to go. I like to consider Justice as the sister of Temperance, as both cards may be interpreted in terms of balance and retribution. As justice wields the sword, she oversees the mind: a call to get practical, to put your affairs in order and make careful and right decisions. Temperance, with her cups, strives for emotional balance. These sister cards have in common the theme of precision. Not a drop of water is spilled from Temperance’s cups. Justice’s sword is perfectly upright, the scales of balance exactly level, which gives a visual right angle and a handy metaphor: the right angle, or outcome.
Rewind to the restaurant: my Dad asks for half a bitter. ‘Exactly a half,’ the server confirms. A completely different scenario, as the server confirms they have the order exactly right. Or, as I’d like to say, just so.
*The tarot’s ‘lost’ virtue cards, Prudence, Charity, Faith and Hope, became submerged into the Hermit, Temperance, High Priestess and Star respectively – see Tarot of the Heart, my majors-only deck that includes the lost virtue cards.
There’s a woman standing on stage in a small, dark theatre in London. With a flourish, she holds up a Kellogg’s cornflake box, and rips it to pieces (luckily, no cornflakes inside). She looks at the debris and asks for a volunteer. A million hands go up – this is The Stand-Up Psychic Show, so everyone’s up for a reading – and one woman takes to the stage. The reading that follows is insightful, funny, and very accurate. There’s a huge round of applause.
The presenter on stage is Becky Walsh, an intuitive, TV presenter and author with a background in theatre and stand-up comedy. Becky’s demonstration always stayed with me, because she proved you could divine with literally anything to hand: since that time, I’ve divined with stones, shells, tea leaves, plants, flower petals, egg whites, salt, flour – you get the drift – and wrote up some of these techniques in The Divination Handbook.
Little did I know I was about to venture into new divination territory until last weekend, when meeting two friends in York for a rare day off the writing schedule. I realised I didn’t have my tarot cards with me, so we thought about casting divination stones in the park (I do a lot of stone-casting at home by the beach) but got distracted by hunger and the Vikings in the streets, all dressed up for that weekend’s festival. Heading for food along the packed, cobbled street, we found the perfect location: The Real Ale and Pizza Pub (also full of Vikings in full regalia, carousing, etc).
With much oohing and finger-licking, we polished off a whole pizza each. Then Rachel piped up: How about we read our plates, Liz? She explained this impulse as, ‘I don’t know, it’s just that… bit of crust on that plate, sort of sticking out, is really annoying me.’ An annoying crust? Who knew.
The minute Rachel suggested pizza-reading and Julie nodded in agreement, I recalled not only Becky and her cornflakes box, but the celebrated British psychic, Arthur Molinary (who read for Freddy Mercury). At one of Arthur’s classes at the College of Psychic Studies in London, we’d been given a bowl of sand each. He walked past each bowl and made a random pattern in the sand with his fingers. ‘Now, interpret!’ After that first black feeling of panic, we all began to divine meanings, and to offer Arthur interpretations as he made his way through the class. So, at that moment of pizza-reckoning, I reasoned that a pizza couldn’t be far off an impression in sand. And after all, there’s that time-honoured tradition of reading with food: from chicken entrails (yuk, indeed) to apple-bobbing at Samhain.
These are of course, summaries of just some of the issues that arose from each plate. For confidentiality reasons, I’m not matching the plate to the person (although anyone who knows me will probably guess which was mine).
The stack of scraped-off ham, stacked by the cutlery: Feeling emotionally shredded. The two large, half-eaten slices, clearly cut: a good front. Boldness, doing what you say you’ll do; taking a practical approach. Three clear portions of remaining food: divided time and loyalties. Compartmentalising life to cope with pressure.
Angle of the knife and fork: Forced space; setting very clear boundaries. The multiple pieces of leftover crust and base suggests a multitude of projects. Drawn to three pieces in the centre – two upright crusts and a broader piece between them felt like there would be three primary projects to focus on. It may be time to push the others aside.
The single piece of crust to the left: worry, irritation. The horizontal stack of crusts: planning, working through a series of projects or problems in an ideal order. Getting through work is foremost, as the crusts are at the top of the plate. The need to clear out negative energy; a longing for space. Lots of ideas, but presently scattered thinking – like the blackened crumbs.
Of course, you can try this with the remnants of any meal. Reading without preparation, on the hop, also helps free up your imagination and intuitive knowing: there’s no pressure, and you might be surprised at your insights. And, if you’re feeling a little too welded to one precious deck of tarot, LeNormand or oracle cards, give yourself some time away and read with whatever you have.
After all, we all need a day off from time to time.
Thanks for reading.
In Game of Thrones, Bran Stark sees the Three-Eyed Raven in a vision-dream, which leads him to discover his future identity; visitations from the Raven trigger revelations of the past, present and future. The bird as cosmic messenger goes back to ancient Roman and Greek augury, and its folklore equivalent, today, is the magpie counting song. Remember the ditty – One for sorrow, two for joy; three for a girl, four for a boy?
Over the years, other corvidae made their way in to the Magpie Rhyme – jackdaws, crows – and ravens. Musing on this, as you do, I came across a nineteenth-century variant and as soon as I read it, jaffa cake in hand, I saw connections with the tarot’s minor arcana. One raven (or magpie) for the Aces, two for the Twos, and so on.
One for sorrow,Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons, M A Denham (London, 1846)
Two for luck; (or mirth)
Three for a wedding,
Four for death; (or birth)
Five for silver,
Six for gold;
Seven for a secret,
Not to be told;
Eight for heaven,
Nine for hell
And ten for the devil’s own sell!
So, the Aces are sorrow, are they? No! They’re all positive! I hear you protest. I baulked at this, too – unless we’re looking purely at shadow, or reversed meanings, here. But bear with.
If we take each line of the rhyme as a question, perhaps we’ll find a way to integrate the shadow and reversed interpretations; to investigate a card rather than see its meaning as fixed (my Masters of Tarot workshop at The Omega Institute in New York State last summer took a deep dive into card symbols as live entities – do check out Omega for the great 2019 speakers).
Back to the ravens, our minor arcana messengers. As for those positive lines of the rhyme, we get to put in an additional layer of interpretation. I’ve been reading cards and writing about tarot for over thirty years now, and need to stay woke, as they say – to know when I’m pulling back into those ingrained card meanings I absorbed from tarot books aged nineteen, joss sticks a-burning in my bedroom.
So, here’s how the minor arcana story might evolve with our Magpie Rhyme.
The Aces: One for sorrow
Where’s the sorrow? Is there a defeat concealed within the victory of each upright Ace? If we take the Aces’ reversed meanings, we’re immediately immersed in their shadow aspects of failure – and resulting sorrow. But given I’m not looking at polarised interpretations here, how about merging the upright and reversed meanings, and consider: Did this victory require a sacrifice? Was this worthwhile?T
The Twos: Two for luck (or mirth)
Where’s the uplift in the Twos? Perhaps there’s advice here on dealing with the stalemate of the Two of Swords – to not take it all so seriously, to take a Fool’s leap. The Two of Cups is naturally positive in its upright position as the forerunner of the celebratory Three. The Two of Wands is all planning, preparing for action and decisions, while the Two of Pentacles is decision pending – for both, we might need a bit of luck to send us in the right direction. And add in that it is possible to feel joy, or mirth, at the possibilities the future can hold brings an energy into the Twos which might otherwise feel static.T
The Threes: Three for a wedding
So here’s the first natural alignment, with the Three of Cups. Three merrymakers, toasting. They might be at a wedding, or party, but life, at this moment, is good. The wedding theme also brings to mind early Lovers cards (Etteila’s man, woman, and priest) and Marseilles cards which showed a third person with a couple, indicating choice and possibly affairs. The three in the Three of Swords can be seen as the shadow side of love, with its attendant heartbreak, but what if this card is also an invitation to see truth and commit to ourselves? For the Three of Wands and Pentacles, we’re in action – creating, travelling, forming alliances. Action requires commitment; nothing happens without it, and if we take a wedding as the ultimate symbolic commitment, then we see guidance, here, on how to maximise opportunities.T
The Fours: Four for a death (or birth)
As Denham couldn’t be sure of the meaning here, it’s likely he was quoting two versions of the rhyme, tying them together in one neat contradiction. But keeping in mind the Fool and the World, with beginnings and endings intertwined, we might ask of the Fours: What needs to die so that something else can be born? With the Four of Swords and Cups, it’s breaking an impasse. With the Four of Wands, we’re in a temporary paradise before the tests of the Five (very Lovers). With the Four of Pentacles, the fourth line of the rhyme might be advice: don’t hold too fast to what you have. Change is coming.T
The Fives: Five for silver
Silver being not quite good enough. It’s not gold, after all. The Five of Cups urges us to look at what we still have after suffering loss, as does the Five of Pentacles. Silver also reeks of betrayal, that Judas-silver, and the humiliation we see in the Five of Swords. In the Five of Wands, we might ask ourselves: is this test/opposition/ego situation worth my energy? Am I fighting to be second-best? Silver is also associated with the Moon – with psychic knowing, twilight states and soul-searching. With the Fives of Pentacles, Cups and Swords, we might ask ourselves, ‘How has it come to this? Then, ‘What intuitively is my next step?’
The Sixes: Six for gold
In the Six of Pentacles, we literally have it – generosity and compassion. Then, there are the golden years remembered in the Six of Cups, as nostalgia and the return of the past. The gold within the Six of Swords may represent the best we can give ourselves as we move away from conflict: the gift of peace. And the Six of Wands, as a victory card, talks of a golden reputation, when efforts are publicly acknowledged: on our Game of Thrones Tarot card, we see Daenerys Targaryen riding out from Astapor with the freed Unsullied slave-warriors. As a question, line six of the rhyme could be, ‘What’s worth fighting for? What’s at stake, and what do I value?’
The Sevens: Seven for a secret
Ah, the mysteries: perfect for the Seven of Cups. And so too for the Seven of Swords – theft, underhandedness, or perhaps lateral thinking: a strategy that must be kept under wraps. For the Seven of Wands, we have hard work; anticipating problems, defending values. There’s an immediacy to this card that I like: it has aim, and represents the groundwork needed before a project can fly, depicted in the flying wands of the Eight. With the seventh line of the rhyme in mind we might ask, ‘What’s the secret ingredient? What’s the hidden advantage in this situation? For the Seven of Pentacles, there’s a similar theme, as we see a gardener contemplating his crop. Add secrets and mysteries to the interpretation, and we see that the gardener is at a more critical point than he might realise. The first phase is complete, and he may be satisfied with this, but there’s also the realisation that he needs a strategy. Can he grow more? Can he be even more creative? And if so, what’s the secret of continued and future success?
The Eights: Eight for heaven
Here’s the Eight of Pentacles: perfectionism, ambition, and the earthly pursuit of a higher goal – perhaps a minor heaven-and-earth expression of the Magician. The Eight of Cups and Eight of Swords bring departure and decisions. I see the Eight of Cups’ departure as natural choice; there’s no drama in this leaving as it’s part of our life path, a re-alignment with who we need to become. The Eight of Swords is an invitation to release ourselves from restriction, to decide to be free. If we interpret ‘heaven’ as Higher Self, both cards appeal to us to listen to the Higher Self in order to be free. In the Eight of Wands we have eight dynamic wands flying heavenwards, bringing messages, signified by the raven on Game of Thrones Tarot. These three cards with a higher/heavenly interpretation might then ask us, ‘Are you listening?’
The Nines: Nine for hell
Call to mind the Nine of Cups, and it suggests benevolence and wishes granted rather than a hellish dungeon. Yet, of course, we create our own reality. Which begs the question: which reality are we creating? Even with this positive card, there’s a hint of the smugness we see in the Four of Pentacles. Are you fully aware what you’re manifesting? The Nine of Swords (little drum roll, if you please) is, of course, the hell of anxiety, and it’s created by our thoughts. Now for the Nine of Wands: the card of the psychic wound, the need for self-defence, vigilance and strength. If we see hell as enslavement, perhaps the Nine of Wands suggests self-torture. The Nine of Pentacles might be a gold mine, a place of extreme comfort: what we visualise when life is hell. And then, could this card be interpreted as a form of wish-fulfilment? Is there a plan that underpins the wish? And is this the real goal – material comfort?
The Tens: The Devil himself
Finally, the Tens. (I had to slurp a second cup of tea to get this far.) Following on neatly from the hell of the Nines, the last line of the magpie rhyme introduces the Devil himself. (In northern dialect, ‘sell’ means ‘self’.) If we see the Devil as a surfeit of ego, the Devil can be us, to the extreme. Which doesn’t feel comfortable when interpreting the Ten of Cups, naturally, with all its happiness and sense of completion, or the auspicious Ten of Pentacles. But, if we take it back to the Nines, hell is the shadow outcome depicted in the Ten of Swords. In the Ten of Wands, we have the burden, the accruing of work, responsibility, and the potential neglect of the self. Add the Devil to the cards’ traditional interpretations, and we might ask: ‘Where’s the temptation? Am I sabotaging myself here?’
If we related the ten lines of the rhyme to the major arcana, I’d align them as follows:
One for sorrow: Justice, reversed
Two for joy: The Star
Three for a wedding: The Empress
Four for a death/birth: The Hanged Man
Five for silver: The Moon
Six for gold: The Sun
Seven for a secret: The High Priestess
Eight for heaven: The Magician
Nine for hell: The Devil
Ten for the Devil’s own sell: The Chariot, reversed
Of course, the Magpie Rhyme is a moral tale. Being single is sorrowful, there’s joy in companionship, then the lovers are married, have a child (or the child dies in childbirth or later – children’s rhymes always have a dark side). The silver and gold represent accruing material wealth, then we move into the cosmic realm of the secret mysteries, heaven, and hell. With the devil ending the sequence, there’s excess – before it’s all stripped away and we begin again with the sorrowful One.
Thanks for reading, tarotistas.
Now before you think I’m about to delve into Doreen Virtue’s conversion (see Lisa Frideborg Eddy’s excellent blog for this), here I’m talking about the tarot virtue cards: Strength, Justice and Temperance.
Given that the major arcana cards were not originally numbered – this came later – I wondered what would happen if the deck’s three surviving virtue cards vanished, just for a moment and then how the remaining cards might reconnect. Would there be another story?
Why, you might say. Why oh why, Liz. Well, while researching the Hermit, I found myself pouring over the symbols in a fifteenth-century engraving, The Triumph of Time (above), inspired by Petrarch’s lyric sequence poem Trionfi. (It’s the kind of thing I’m drawn to when I have a cup of builder’s tea in one hand and a Jaffa cake in the other.) Anyhow: in this image, one of the predecessors of the tarot Hermit, I recognised a number of symbols pertinent to other major arcana cards. First up, the chariot of our Hermit, or Father Time, is redolent of card VII, the Chariot. Artists inspired by Trionfi included triumphal chariots for all six paintings in the sequence, but the connection for me is the sense of force and determination: more Chariot, less Hermit. The chariot’s wheels are clock faces, which suggest the Wheel of Fortune, the next card. Father time’s chariot is speeding along – as does time, symbolised by the hourglass. His crutches represent infirmity and his wings, the onset of ascension. These original symbols in van Heemskerck’s illustration seems to embody both the Chariot and the Wheel of Fortune. Time, like fate, is beyond our control. It moves quickly, a chariot chasing after our egos, or quest for Fame. With Strength vanished, we get the Chariot, the Hermit and the Wheel as a trifold lesson on time.
Drop Justice, and we have The Wheel of Fortune followed by the Hanged Man and Death. This makes a kind of narrative sense: life deals us what it will – we enter the world between worlds (the Hanged Man), and if really unlucky, we die. (If we see Death as the Black Death of the Middle Ages, Death’s Danse Macabre would have felt literal rather than symbolic). Without Justice, Death feels even less discriminating. There is no human intervention, or judge to pass sentence – no orderly process of assessment. There is simply Fate, a hanging, then a dying. But what if we see the Hanged Man as a response to the Wheel? Again, without Justice, the arbitrator, there’s no go-between, nothing telling us how to respond to or interpret the world – we must be guided by our own knowing. The Hanged Man exists on the earth plane, but he is in a spiritual bliss-state, beatific, glowing. When exposed to the vagaries of Fate and the universe, which has ultimate power over us, we are changed by the experience. The Death that follows, then, is the death of the ego.
Drop Temperance, and we get Death followed by the Devil and the Tower – the unholy trinity of change, bondage and chaos. With no angel of Temperance between the Devil and the Tower, we hurtle straight from temptation, addiction, entrapment or lust into an almighty calamity, which eventually brings a release. (There’s more to say on this, of course – see The Ultimate Guide to Tarot, which dives deep into the symbols of these wise, dark cards…)
Without the virtues of Strength, Justice and Temperance, there’s no reckoning; no pause in which to find order or assimilate our experiences. With these cards in the deck, we are called upon to seek the higher ground, the higher self; to find a greater authority either within ourselves (Strength, Temperance), or externally (Justice). The moral lesson, then? Perhaps, that we can intervene in our own stories and respond accordingly – whatever happens.
There’s also virtue in exploring the ‘lost’ virtues of the tarot, too, if you’re interested: once, there was Prudence (absorbed into the Hermit, Justice or/and The Hanged Man); and Faith, Hope and Charity. Faith may have made her way into The High Priestess; and Hope most likely into The Star. My theory on Charity is that she surfaces as Temperance by way of Chastity – but that’s another story, coming up in Understanding Tarot.
Thanks for reading, tarotistas… til next time.
Welcome to my Magic Hour. It’s 10.40am on a bright morning by the sea in Sunderland. From 10.30am to around 11.30am every morning, I feel a shift in energy – an opening up of possibilities, a creative surge. (Here I am, writing!) It’s the hour of the day that holds most potential for output. Yet, before I realized I had a Magic Hour, let alone what one was and how to make the most of it, I was running a rather different schedule:
Go to the post office/bank/buy a birthday card
Have a snack
Pop out for a coffee
Clean the house a bit (nothing too strenuous)
Go to the supermarket (the need for one item is enough to prompt a visit)
Email. Any email.
Online browsing – ‘research’
Phone a friend, etc. etc.
And after this, I tell myself loudly, I will write.
It’s 2.30pm, but I have half the mental focus than at 10.30am. I’ve wasted the Magic Hour on VSTs (Vitally Significant Tasks). The idea that shopping in the morning is a key to unlocking all those ideas for poems and tarot spreads and talks and books. One trip to Morrison’s for a pan scrubber, and everything will just flow (as if a pan scrubber were a fairy tale object that will transform into a fully finished book…). Get that parcel posted and it’s out of the way, sending a message to the Universe that the Great Work will be effortlessly downloaded. When skirting the edges of new creative territory, I believe that all I want is space to create. But faced with that space, I’ll fill it with anything, then find a way to validate anything. So I had to get a hold of myself, somehow. Hence the Magic Hour.
Bear with. I wonder if this fetishising of the mundane is partly due to the popularity of mindfulness. I get mindfulness, I really do: I commissioned the million-copy bestseller, The Little Book of Mindfulness, and I’ve tried to practise some of the techniques illustrated by its author, the psychotherapist Patrizia Collard. I’ve had the odd idea while cleaning the kitchen, mused on a problem on a mindful walk, and tried to stay in the moment. And that’s great when you genuinely need that kind of time– to keep the left brain busy with a task so the right brain can play around a bit. (Rituals do that for us – in tarot, shuffling the cards is part of the preparation to enter an altered, right-brain state. Laying them in a spread keeps our hands busy.) A physical task lets other doorways open. But what if preparation – rituals, research, or ways of clearing the way, becomes the problem? If you’re already doing the creative work, and you’re in that magical slipstream of creative output, the mindful stroll in the garden might be just the ticket, because you’re probably in a phase of processing what has already begun. And these half-sensed ideas need space to surface. But if you’re trying to get something new off the ground – whether a business idea or other creative venture – the mindfulness approach may just delay the inevitable: giving an idea tangible form. To feel the fear and begin at zero. To look at that blank screen, or a scribble of strange notes you made on the bus, and start to create a framework – a pathway for real output. When I’m skirting the edges of new creative territory, mindfulness, I’ve realised, is not the answer.
Reading an article in The Guardian, I was struck by a particular quotation (there I go – reading the Guardian online in bed…) A journalist with deadline anxiety was trying out life coaches to help her get her novel written. She consults a corporate guru at his apartment in Mayfair, and asks for help to stop procrastinating and get on with it. (If you’re outside the UK, Mayfair is a rather exclusive area of London). She told Mr Mayfair she spent her ‘free’ time researching. Which involved a lot of TV and reading lots of other writers’ novels. In response, he said,
‘It’s time to start being the producer. Not the consumer.’
Hmm. I reflect that I do watch a lot of films. And that my distractions are about being that consumer. Snacks, coffee shop, shopping. Then there’s inviting others to be our distractions – the phoning a friend, responding to emails in the hope, perhaps subconsciously, that these exchanges will abate the hesitancy, the fear of beginning. I’m not sure how cleaning door handles and doing laundry fits in; but it’s certainly displacement activity. And there’s clearly a pattern here: Consume, Distract, Avoid. The procrastinators’ Eat, Pray, Love.
Distractions often fulfil a need to be doing something towards your project. Whether this is getting the shopping out of the way so you don’t have to leave the house again, ergo Then I will write, to watching a film that’s on the same theme as that new project, it’s just a way of circling, feeling you’re getting closer to your heart’s desire without having to begin. A bird scouting the territory but never landing. I can say this because although I’ve had seventeen bookspublished, the procrastination issue never entirely goes away.
So, I looked at the energy levels I experience over the course of one day. I naturally want to do stuff in the mornings. Worst time: 2.30–4.30pm. Best times: 10.30–11.30. Second best times: 4.30–7pm. So, I’m tackling the big stuff – new ideas, new work – in the Magic Hour of the morning. Do humdrum stuff in the afternoon, like paperwork and emails, then return to my project after 4.30pm. I might have a nap in the afternoon (thank you, menopause). It’s really worth noting which parts of the day light you up and which don’t, because when you have the luxury of working with your own flow, you stop giving away precious time to tasks that really don’t deserve one hundred percent focus. Make sense? (If you’re interested learning more about planning your work-at-home days, see My Creativity Journal, Cico Books, 2018.)
Reflecting on my ‘energy clock’, I also realised that I schedule tarot clients in the morning whenever possible and very rarely read after 7pm. I know it seems obvious, but looking at my tarot diary confirmed I’d got my Magic Hour right.
Back to the Mayfair guy. He makes our journalist accountable. She has to check in with him daily (texts, etc.) to say what’s she’s done, what she’s doing. And this is her key: having someone to answer to. That worked for her, and she’s nearly finished the book she’d been trying to write (but not writing) for five years. She did find the time – perhaps she switched her consumer time to producer time. Turned off the TV and became involved in her own story.
Since embracing my Magic Hour, new projects are awakening, taking shape.