Monday, June 27, 2011

This one's for Lee - the Hanged Man

It’s two-thirty in the morning, and I can’t sleep. this is becoming common, and kind of feeding itself. I get up and work, drink tea, putter around the house, and suddenly it’s four, and the birds are up and about. I don’t sleep late in the mornings, and end up tired and sleeping in the afternoon. Living alone, blind, and largely indoors, time is kind of disappearing. It’s hard to remember what day it is, or what happened on what particular day. Sometimes this is frightening – a feeling of shorelessness.

I’m starting to pack tomorrow, to move into my new home. I guess I’m feeling ‘void of course’ (astrological language for between signs). I think in Tarot we’d call it the Hanged Man.

The Hanged Man is the Ordeal by Water. He calls us to let go completely. Of everything – landmarks, lifebuoys, external results, manifesting the external reality. The experience is very uncomfortable. Reality starts to get cloudy and insubstantial. Landmarks disappear or become ambiguous. The gift of the Hanged Man is that when you do despair, let go of all the markers, reality can change because you’re not holding on to it any more. I speak of it with some clarity when I see it in someone else’s cards, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, but now that it’s come to me it’s hard to be clear.

For me the difficult part is the despair. I come from a lineage of strong-willed people, tough-minded durable ironic Ottawa Valley Irish, people who saw half their babies die, building lives on miserable land grants of granite and thistle, eaten alive by mosquitoes and flash-frozen by the ferocity of the Ontario winter. They consoled themselves with whisky and Calvin, grimly confident that after they had survived this world they’d go to Hell.

But oh my, they were strong people. A few of the old-timers are still around, tall, indomitable, big-boned people. I draw comfort from finding them in myself, knowing that whatever life dishes out, I’m up for it. When I was in grade eight I discovered the Henley poem, “Invictus”, which I found deeply inspiring. ‘It matters not how straight the gate/How charged with punishment the scroll/I am the master of my fate/The captain of my soul.”

That carried me through a lot of hard times. Becoming blind is a fairly rigorous discipline. It never gives you a break.

My computer screen becomes increasingly difficult to see. At some point I have to make the terrifying leap to voice-only. I have recurrent dreams of theft, of my computer monitor being stolen. It took me a while to get it. That’s what’s happening to me. At some point using the computer will become like playing a game of chess with no board. This evening, working on my China book, I couldn’t remember the Colour of a certain character’s hair. I hadn’t noted it (I keep a ‘data’ folder for vital information about all my characters so I don’t have to comb through text) and I had to go and find it. It broke my heart. Despair that had been gestating all day broke out of the dykes and flooded everything.

I called a good friend, a fierce intelligent woman, a cancer survivor, compassionate but not always sympathetic. As soon as she answered the phone I began to cry. “I n-n-n-eed someone to t-t-tell me I C-C-CAN!!”

It took her a bit to understand what I was asking for, because I couldn’t stop crying. She talked me through it in the way she has, interspersing stories of her new cat and her hard years as a single parent along the way. Afterwards I noted that she never did tell me I could. In her gently ruthless way she held the possibility that maybe I can’t. “Just take it in sips,” she said.

Rather than encouraging me in any belief, she allowed me to let go into the despair. The Major Cards are the Transformers. Some of them bring a specific emotion – it’s how you know they’re in the room. In the case of the Hanged Man it’s despair, the death of the mind “alone in a wide wide sea”. The gift of the Hanged Man is a new reality. I spent the day there today and next time I see this card in someone’s reading I may bring a little more humility to the work.

My friend’s name is Lee. She is a healer and a shaman. If she had a website I’d send you there, but her web is in the middle of her wild tangled fragrant impenetrable garden. If you can find your way through the roses and honeysuckle she may offer you tea, or her healing sting, or a cat to hold. Whatever it is, you’ll never be the same. If you really want to find her, ask me, and I’ll ask her.

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