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Choice-Centered Relating and the Tarot
By Gail Fairfield
Samuel Weiser, Inc.Copyright © 2000 Gail Fairfield
All rights reserved.
Choice-Centered Living: Truth as Change
Change is constant. Or is it? Take a moment and think about things that never change—despite the influences of time, nature, or human intervention. Write down or mentally name everything that comes to mind. Now, ask yourself: "Do these things really always stay the same? Is there any force that will affect them?"
When you answer that question, you'll probably end up with the same short list that most of the people in my workshops generate:
The natural laws on Earth.
As you read this short list, I can almost hear you saying: "Even these things change—at least our understanding of them does." I agree. It does seem to me that, although love, death, or spirit may exist as eternal truths, every person, generation, and culture experiences and describes them in unique ways. And, over time, every person, generation, and culture gains new perceptions of the truth.
Just for a minute, imagine that the truth is in a room surrounded by doors, windows, and audio equipment. At a given time, depending on the doors you open, the windows you look through, and the sounds you hear, your experience of the truth is structured in a unique way. You form a model of it in your mind and heart. Your model is a perfectly valid representation of the truth in that moment. So are the models of anyone else who might be peeking into the "truth room." Ultimately there are an infinite number of models or representations of the truth.
Now, imagine further that any time anyone forms such a representation, it has an impact on the possible models that anyone else might consider. If someone forms a really exciting model and is charismatic about describing it, a whole religion or philosophy can be born. This worldview is, in turn, another valid representation of the truth.
If you really want to stretch your mind, imagine that every time someone interacts with the truth, it changes! If we (you and I, plants, animals, rocks, stars) are all part of the living plasma or ooze of the universe, by growing and maintaining, expanding and contracting, questioning and answering we not only participate in creating models of the truth, we participate in creating and changing the truth itself.
So what's real? What's reliable? If the universe is flexible and evolving, if our understanding of it can change with the creation of each new model, if the truth itself is constantly changing, how can we guide ourselves through the seemingly sloppy chaos of living? How do we find a grounding or a center in the middle of it all? How can we experience the constancy of change as enchanting instead of terrifying? Well, given human frailty, we align ourselves with our favorite models of the inexplicable.
The following stories about four ordinary people illustrate two contrasting models of the truth: the models of fate and of choice. It won't take you long to discover my preference. If you agree with me, the rest of this book will make sense to you.
The Model of Fate
Sam is a realtor who recently visited a psychic to find out what fate had in store for him. As it turned out, she was incredibly accurate. She told him about his past and predicted several things about his future. Her historical information was on the mark and one of her prophecies has already come true. Sam is excited about some of her projections and nervously worried about others. He's waiting to discover whether the rest of her divinations will unfold as she's described them. Since some of her forecasts extend out for two or three years, he has a while to wait. When the waiting is over, he'll know one thing for sure. He'll know whether she's a reliable psychic. He'll either be amazed by her talent or disappointed in her abilities. What he may not know is what he could have done to change the course of his life. He may not know anything new about himself or his potential. He may not feel empowered when considering his options. If he believes that the future is locked in and that his biggest challenge is to find an accurate oracle, Sam is living by a model of the truth called "fate."
Maria manages a shoe store that is part of a chain. Every month, she receives computer printouts from her district manager about her past month's performance. She also receives bulletins that set her goals for the upcoming month. She posts these forecasts so that she and her employees can work hard to make the computer predictions come true. If road construction, a nearby festival, or freakish weather affect their ability to live up to the computer's expectations, Maria feels nervous and insecure. On the other hand, if her figures match the projections precisely, she's elated. Month after month, she wonders whether her sales will fulfill the quota. Month by month, she strives to make sure they do. In Maria's case, the oracle comes from logic and science instead of intuition. However, the effect is no less devastating. Maria is not adapting the computer's goals to fit her own situation. She's not asking why they are struggling to meet external expectations instead of adapting to local circumstances. She's not curious about how they can improve service or satisfy customers. She just wants to make the future unfold as planned. As long as she's locked in to this future, she is also living by fate.
When we operate from the point of view of fate, we're always waiting to find out what will happen. As we wait, we can consult oracles of the intuitive sort in an attempt to predict the future. We can also make logical projections, supported by computers or intellectual reasoning, about what will happen. In both cases, we are trying to find out what will unfold so that we can be prepared for it. In some instances, we even create self-fulfilling prophecies. And in all cases, if we operate from a fate-filled perspective, we're powerless. Even if the psychic or computer fortune-tellers are accurate, we are still trapped by their predictions and may go through our lives looking for better and better forecasters, while personally making fewer and fewer choices.
The Model of Choice
Susan, a secretary at a small manufacturing company, has been offered a position in the sales department. In considering the change of work and the move to commission-based pay, she's concerned about its impact on her life. Her existing job demands about 40 to 45 hours a week and she knows that, in the new job, she would be expected to work up to 50 or even 60 hours weekly. Her parents and friends are impressed with the offer and are encouraging her to take the new job. She isn't sure that she wants to sacrifice any of her other priorities. In addition to her job, she's considering these factors of her existing lifestyle:
Fun and hobbies: movies and coffee bars, sailing, travel; Personal growth: church activities, occasional workshops; Contributions: volunteer work at library Relationships: several close friends, parents and one sister, Tom (currently dating), future partner, children some day; Health and fitness: exercise at gym.
Susan realizes that she has a choice. Just because an opportunity exists, it doesn't mean that she must take it. What she wants is more important than what her parents or friends want for her. If she takes the job, she'll have to cut back on her volunteer work and begin to exercise at home (instead of at the gym) in order to make more time for work. If she takes it, she'll know it's because she wants the increased money and the excitement of learning something new—not just because she wants to please her parents! If she doesn't take the job, however, she can maintain her current priorities and avoid upsetting her lifestyle. In that case, she'll also be deciding for herself. She is making her decision from a model of the truth called "choice."
Joe is a therapist who just got some devastating news. He has found out that David, someone with whom he is beginning to fall in love, has AIDS. He's nearly overwhelmed by his feelings: fear, confusion, uncertainty ... and love. David wants to continue their relationship, but he understands that the new information is upsetting to Joe. Joe is not quite certain what to do, but he is sure that he can decide how he wants to respond to the situation. He knows that he can break up with David and retreat from the pain. He can also back out of the romance and try to become "just friends" with David. Or, he can continue to practice safe sex while exploring the relationship. He knows that it's up to him. He can work from the model of truth called "choice."
Switching Between the Models of Fate and Choice
Sam, Maria, Susan, and Joe have already indicated their orientations with regard to fate and choice. What would happen if they switched models?
If Sam opts to live by choice, he can still visit his psychic to find out the probable direction of his future. He can see her insights as a description of what will happen if he continues on his present path. If he likes that future, he can continue with current behavior, confident that he's creating it. However, if he's not pleased when he glimpses parts of the future, he can choose to change something in his own behavior or attitudes. Instead of being at the mercy of the prediction, he can choose actions and reactions that will create alternatives.
When Maria receives her computer printouts, she can use them as guideposts that let her know where she and her business are probably headed. If the results look good and seem reasonable to her, she can continue on with her current procedures. If she knows that the road construction or the street fair are coming up, she can personally adjust her expectations. When the weather changes, she can adapt her plans. On the other hand, if she doesn't agree with the computer projections, she can decide what to change and how to give feedback to her district manager. Instead of being ruled by the projections, she can use them as guidelines that can help her make appropriate choices.
If Susan decides to live by fate, she can see the job offer as something that she "should" pursue. She can think that, because it's arrived, it's "meant to be." Later, if the job becomes too stressful and parts of her life start to fall apart, she can rage at the fates for assigning her the impossible task of "doing it all." Without questioning her options or changing any of her other priorities, she may end up sick or completely exhausted—and cursing her luck!
Joe can decide that the fates are out to get him. He can think that, just when he finally finds someone to love, AIDS is destroying his happiness. He can struggle with the unfairness of it all, rage at David, and throw temper tantrums. Or he can decide that, because David is in his life, he's "supposed" to take care of him, that somehow rescuing David is his personal mission. Ultimately, Joe can take on the burden of relating to David with a sense of noble self-sacrifice and acceptance of his fate.
These examples may seem obvious—and my bias toward the model of choice is also obvious, to say the least! But it's amazingly easy to fall into the trap of fate-oriented thinking. It's incredibly seductive to think that we can have solid predictions about the future—even negative ones. For most of us, it's easier to celebrate or bemoan our fate than it is to take responsibility for our choices. This is probably because, when we think we know what's going to happen, we feel more in control of the chaos—even if we don't like it. However, I think it's actually much more empowering to live by choice than it is to succumb to fate.
As humans, we can choose how we want to act and react as we open doors, look through windows, and listen to the sounds of the truth. We can choose to reshape or heal the experiences of the past, to enhance or deepen the present, and to deliberately trigger or structure the future. If we are centered in choice, or choice-centered, instead of clinging to constancy, perhaps we can navigate through the chaos of the ever-changing universe. That's my little window on the truth. I hope it's useful to you.
Choices We Can't Consciously Control
Surely we can't choose everything in our lives, can we? No. There are layers of choice that regularly impact my life and yours. At your core are the choices made by your soul. These include the time, place, date, and socio-economic context of your birth, as well as the configuration of genetics that you inherited from your parents. These choices are beyond your conscious control, because, aside from genetic engineering, there's not much that you can change about your birth patterns. You can only learn to accept them.
Equally unchangeable are the choices that you couldn't make for yourself when you were younger. As a child, you were dependent on others for your survival. You were restricted by your age and immaturity, so that the element of choice seemed largely lacking for many years. In some cases, the choices that others made for you were healthy and protective. At other times, their choices dulled your spirit, hurt your body, or limited your self-expression. Unfortunately, just as you can't choose different birth circumstances, you can't really undo the choices that others have made for you in the past. You can only celebrate the positives and heal from the negatives.
At your current stage of life, others may still be making choices that concern you. If your best friend suddenly chooses to ignore you, you feel it! If your mother screams at you over the phone, you react. If my partner accepts a job two thousand miles away without telling me, I raise some questions. If someone is raped, mugged, or killed, we all feel enraged and incredulous about it. Although these present-day scenarios may seem different from our birth or childhood circumstances, they still describe situations in which choices have been made that are out of our control. Predicted or not, these kinds of decisions have an impact on us. We can chalk them up to fate. We can whine, cajole, beg, threaten, manipulate, or negotiate in order to get others to change. But we can't really be sure of directing or affecting someone else's behavior or situation. No matter what we do, there is no absolute guarantee that fate—in the form of another person—will do what we want.
Choices We Can Consciously Control
What's left? What can we control? Ourselves. Essentially, we can consciously act and react as we learn to use our inborn abilities, disabilities, and attributes creatively. The word "consciously" is important because it implies the personal awareness and responsibility of choice-centered living. When we want to create a new direction, we can consciously act, as we deliberately make decisions that set things in motion. When we need to respond to world events or to someone else's behavior, we can consciously react to the situation. All in all, what we can do is to choose our own self-concepts, emotions, thought processes, and behavior. And, the more choices we have in each situation, the more we can influence what happens.
Sam's case is a good example. Like many people, Sam is a single, working parent. He's hired 18-year-old Tina to watch his two children for the summer. For the third time in two weeks, Tina has called at the last minute to say she isn't coming. Tina always apologizes and has a good excuse, but it's still frustrating. Sam scrambles around to find another sitter, but ends up staying home from work. If this happens too often, he knows he'll feel the pinch in his commission check. He's thought of firing Tina, but the children adore her. He feels trapped. It seems that his only choice is to put up with Tina, miss work, and deal with the lack of money. More choices would help.
Maria's district manager, Bob, is just plain inefficient. He takes three meetings to accomplish what could have been done in one; at every meeting, she sees ways to get more done, faster. He also takes forever to implement the things he promises. Last month, he promised Maria a raise, but it still hasn't appeared in her paycheck. While she knows that she'll eventually get her pay raise, the whole situation makes her blood boil. In fact, as Maria simmers, her blood pressure is mounting. Her doctor has warned her not to get so upset, but she doesn't know how else to react. She needs more choices.
Susan has now been dating Tom for about six months. He's been generous and is eager to form a committed relationship with her. Susan likes him a lot, but feels uncomfortable with his persistent criticism of her. He loses his temper frequently and seems to find something wrong with whatever she's doing, thinking, or feeling. Since Susan cringes and feels ashamed every time Tom criticizes her, she's become fearful and defensive around him. She tries hard to live up to his standards, but, no matter what she does, she's afraid that she isn't good enough. She's tried to discuss the issue with him; he thinks it's her problem. Their conversations only underline her feeling of inadequacy. At the moment, Susan feels limited in her choices. She can put up with Tom's behavior and feel bad, or she can break up with him. Neither of these options appeals to her. More choices would be useful.
Excerpted from Choice-Centered Relating and the Tarot by Gail Fairfield. Copyright © 2000 Gail Fairfield. Excerpted by permission of Samuel Weiser, Inc..
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