From Pema Chodron's No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattva:
Emotional turmoil begins with an initial perception—a sight, sound, thought—which gives rise to a feeling of comfort or discomfort. This is the subtlest level of shenpa, the subtlest stage of getting hooked. Energetically there is a perceptible pull; it’s like wanting to scratch an itch. We don’t have to be advanced meditators to catch this.
This initial tug of “for” or “against” is the first place we can remain as steady as a log. Just experience the tug and relax into the restlessness of the energy, without fanning this ember with thoughts. If we stay present with the rawness of our direct experience, emotional energy can move through us without getting stuck. Of course, this isn’t easy and takes practice.
When I read this, I thought of the 4 of Swords Tarot card. Numerologically, the four brings stability and equanimity to the realm of thoughts, judgements and assumptions. After all, it's really a thought--a story we tell ourselves (including "for" or "against" attitudes) that generate powerful emotion in the first place.
In fact, in her newest book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change, Chodron writes:
In My Stroke of Insight, the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor's book about her recovery from a massive stroke, she explains the physiological mechanism behind emotion: an emotion like anger that's an automatic response lasts just ninety seconds fromt he moment it's triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that's all. When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it's because we've chosen to rekindle it.
The fact of the shifting, changing nature of our emotions is something we could take advantage of. But do we? No. Instead, when an emotion comes up, we fuel it with our thoughts, and what should last one and half minutes may be drawn out for ten or twenty years. We just keep recycling the story line. We keep strengthening our old habits.
And, unless we examine the ways we get "hooked" by our emotions--fueled by our need to be "right" or "justified"--we'll just keep repeating the same old patterns...missing what's present, what's real and what's fresh.
You may be interested in a previous blog I wrote on this topic, especially as it relates to this card, called 4 of Swords and Painful Thoughts.
So often we hear the same tired meanings for this card that don't range past interpretations like "rest", "recuperation", "taking a break" or "seeking peace and quiet".
While this card can certainly mean those things, it can mean so much more--especially when we factor in numerology combined with all that falls under the realm of the swords suit.
If you consider reversed Tarot cards, as I do, then the 4 of Swords, reversed can indicate being "hooked". Thus, this card upside down offers us a choice point where we can decide to just let it go and move on (given the 90 seconds has already passed, of course). Depending on what other cards surround it, the 4 of Swords reversed can indicate areas where we have chosen to fuel negative thoughts and emotions by extending a 90 second incident into days, weeks, months or even years.
Here are some combinations with interpretations to give you an idea of what I mean:
Fool + 4 of Swords, reversed = Refusing to forgive a foolish act
Empress + 4 of Swords, reversed = "Hooked" by something your Mom said or did
Tower + 4 of Swords, reversed = Refusing to let go of things surrounding trauma
3 of Swords + 4 of Swords, reversed = Assuming you'll always be marginalized as before
6 of Cups + 4 of Swords, reversed = Refusing to move on from nostalgia. Longing for "the way things were".
8 of Wands + 4 of Swords, reversed = Beating yourself up for something done in haste
See how it works? If the Wheel of Fortune shows up, you can be sure that "chewing the cabbage twice" or bitterness is a long-standing life pattern. If Judgement shows up, as well, we now have a karmic aspect to the situation. Regardless, we always have a choice about what we think. We can always choose again. We can always choose differently. We can choose according to our own heart and intuition rather than "the crowd".
Does it take courage? A lot of inner work? Yes, especially if "stinkin' thinkin'" in an igrained habit.
But it's not impossible. And that's why teachers like Pema Chodron, Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle exist: to get us past our painful stories into freedom.
What about you, dear reader? How do you see the 4 of Swords card? What about the combos I shared? Would love to hear your insights!