The human mind is plagued with “stinkin’ thinkin’”. From overthinking to overidentification, personalizing to demonizing, our thoughts and beliefs are the root of all emotional suffering.
In numerology, the number 4 indicates stability, foundation and boundaries. Coupled with the Swords suit of the mental realm (which includes communication, thoughts and assumptions), the 4 suggests mental rest and recuperation. The 4 brings quiet and calm to our head space. It’s quiet here—a bit like the atmosphere around the sarcophagus we tend to see in Rider-Waite styled versions of this card.
In this tomb-like womb, we’re insulated from electronic gadgets that beep, vibrate, scroll, ring and chatter. We are unplugged from the squawk box, the internet, the cell phone and the mp3 player.
It is here we can finally disentangle from the endless stream of information, cultural “standards” and peer expectations. We can breathe deeply here. We meditate. And contemplate. In this stillness, we find that our OWN thoughts shake loose. The sieve of quietude helps us separate our deeply held values from those external assualts. And then, we can recalibrate the internal compass to our True North.
Every time the 4 of Swords comes up in a reading, it’s an indicator that my client writhes in the clutches of negative self-talk or some other type of stinkin’ thinkin’.
At these times, which happen more often than not, I know to recommend the simple, yet profound process of inquiry called The Work. Taught by Byron Katie, The Work encourages us to investigate all thoughts, judgments and beliefs that cause suffering.
Just as with cognitive therapist Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotional Therapy (RET), Katie asserts that it’s never a person, situation or discussion that causes suffering, but rather the stories we tell ourselves ABOUT such issues.
In Ellis’s ABC model:
A represents a circumstance or person
B represents the story we tell ourselves about A
C represents our reaction
According to RET, most people jump from A to C. For example, if A represents your mother-in-law and C represents your irritation at her behavior, you would likely say that your mother-in-law (A) causes your irritation (C).
Not according to Ellis, or Byron Katie.
Rather, it is B, the “story” you tell yourself about your mother-in-law that causes your reaction (and hence, conflict and suffering).
If you were to ask behavioral therapists like Albert Ellis, they would likely affirm that each of these extraordinary individuals held very different perceptions than their peers, which then resulted in very different conclusions about life, ability and humanity.
Take self-talk for example. In the face of challenging event such as the loss of a job, one person may spiral in despair, concluding that he is a worthless human being. In Ellis’s model:
A Job loss
B I must be worthless
This is why another individual, in the same situation, may see the job loss as a “blessing in disguise” or “an opportunity to finally enroll in college” or “a closed door always means a window will open”.
For both individuals, job loss occurred. Yet, the reactions varied greatly. In fact, the “story” that engendered feelings of worthlessness hinged on “taking it personally”. One of the Four Agreements (yet another brilliant model for confronting painful thoughts and alleviating emotional suffering) is “Take nothing personally”.
That is, when something difficult happens, why must it always be “about you”? Why the jump to conclude that you are incompetent, worthless, unattractive, stupid, lazy, boring, bitchy or [insert your favorite pejorative]?
When studying resilience and happiness, proponents of Positive Psychology discovered the power of re-framing a situation. They discovered that youth were much more resilient when they didn’t take failure personally, and this resilience resulted in resourcefulness and increased well-being.
Take a look at the woman in the 4 of Clouds card from the OSHO Zen Tarot (the equivalent of the 4 of Swords in most Tarot decks). She can choose to look at the landscape before her as multi-hued, vast, alive, welcoming and pregnant with opportunity. Or, she can choose to place a more dour frame on her perspective, assuming that the landscape before her is gray, barren, hostile and dangerous.
So it is with each of us.
We can choose what to look at and what to look for.
What we focus on gets bigger. (Hint: if you’re seeing certain behaviors or types of people “everywhere”, you may want to check the prescription on your perspective glasses.)
And, like a car at the mercy of a driver’s gaze (and steering!), we can choose where we’re headed—and how much we’ll enjoy the journey—by examining the direction and content of our thoughts.
So when you see the 4 of Swords show up in a reading, don’t be thrown off by images of a stone coffin or a figure laying in repose. No one is going to die. But, if you want, you can put to death those stories that cause you to suffer...one thought at a time.
Loving What Is by Byron Katie
I Need Your Love: Is That True? by Byron Katie
Why Your Life Sucks by Alan Cohen
What You Can Change…And What You Can’t by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.
Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.
Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman, Ph.D.
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
Women Who Think Too Much by Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Ph.D.