This spread is an illustration of problem-exploration. You might note that all the cards in this spread have a full range of meanings—or possible meanings, whether from traditional book meanings or in the context of the "story" of the spread. In the context of my situation, however, my mind tends to focus on the details and possible interpretations that concern the thoughts that are uppermost in my mind. As I work with the problem and the cards in their specific positions, I let my thoughts hover over selected aspects of the problem, with the pictorial elements of the cards serving as inspiration. From my perspective, the cards are not "telling" me anything I cannot come up with myself, but they do allow me to focus my mind, and they do "force" me to consider the problem, rather than thinking some vague thoughts and coming to a hazy conclusion that I will never act on anyway.
I haven't been sleeping well lately, so I decided to design a problem-solving spread to explore possible reasons for my disturbed sleep, and what I could do about it. I chose seven questions with which to expore the problem, arranged in a pattern that seemed to make sense to me. I shuffled the cards and then dealt seven from the top of the deck. The numbers below indicate the positions of the cards in my spread and the explanations that follow.
2 5 3
1. The Problem—10 of Swords, also known as the "Lord of Ruin"
This card really does describe the problem well! That feeling of utter exhaustion, being burdened by too many thoughts (the suit of Swords represents the thinking function), waiting for the dawn. The card also makes me smile—when I look at the scene depicted on the card, it seems rather melodramatic, as if the problem is being exaggerated. The fact that I see "dawn" instead of "sunset" also hints that I am not really taking the problem too seriously—yet. I do realise, however, that my thoughts—and my inability to switch them off before I go to bed—are keeping me awake at night.
2. The Cause—XXI: The World, also known as "The great one of the night of time" (Hah, isn't that appropriate!)
So, the cards are "telling me" that the cause of my insomnia is the whole world? The thought is rather funny—talk about exaggeration! And I get it: I needed a "problem" to use as illustration of a problem-solving spread, and since I don't have any serious problems right now, a few nights of interrupted sleep seemed the closest I could get. Except that my mind is not letting me get away with seeing the issue as completely serious. I am feeling tired and somewhat grumpy, but I have not yet reached that point where sleep seems to be the only thing I could ever want for the rest of my life. On a more serious note: those sleep-disturbing thoughts do actually seem to concern "the world," or my world, at least. I am very excited about the book I'm planning to write, and I find it difficult to stop thinking about it even when I should be sleeping. It is a mistake, however, to let the project take over my life (especially my nights), or to consider that my whole world now depends on its success or failure.
3. The Effect—5 of Cups, also known as "Lord of loss in pleasure"
The card strikes me as melancholy, but the phrase "crying over spilt milk" also pops into my head. Too much of that, of course, can lead to depression (one possible interpretation of the 5 of Cups), as can a serious lack of sleep. It would be better to turn around and look at the two cups still standing, than keep sorrowing over something that has passed like "water under a bridge." Three years ago I started a home business. My first project was not successful, and a month ago I decided to pull the plug on it, and to spend more time on the book. Not only am I feeling a little sad to let it go, but also anxious that the current project could go the same way. If I keep dwelling on this, a little sadness might turn into sorrow, or more seriously, depression, and I might not be able to see what I still have left.
It is not surprising that my mind immediately fastens on the source of my income (or potential income) as the cause of my disturbed nights. The project has been right at the front of my mind for almost a year—planning, creating, discarding ideas, honing the central ideas. I look back at the first card—all those sword-thoughts stuck in my back—and I'm struck by the thought that all three cards could be seen as depicting the end of something (The World is the last of the Trumps), but also the strong potential for a new cycle to begin. The despairing figure on the 5 of Cups still have two of those cups upright, and stands in front of a stream that could remind him that in the flow of life, some things pass, and new things come into being. The bridge makes me think of the Simon & Garfunkel song "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." The past (card 2—"Cause") is brimful of the joy of living, while the next two cards are simultaneously despairing, and a little exaggerated.
So far, my "story" tells of hope and optimism, turned to a somewhat exaggerated despair, with the potential for sorrow and the inability to see the good in life; of being replete with potential and a (w)holistic approach to the project, moving to exhaustion and despair (those unchecked thoughts) and the possibility that feelings (the Cups) could come to dominate my mind. What would the next chapter of this story bring?
4. What can I do about it? The King of Swords
Now we're cooking! This King is a master of rational thinking and would make mince meat of any irrational thoughts. He seems well prepared to defend the logical mind. He also seems to represent a calmer approach, and one focused on specifics rather than the exuberant all-encompassing attitude of The World. In contrast to the messy thinking of the 10 of Swords, he is focused on precise, rational thought, and rather than give way to the emotional grieving of the 5 of Cups, he works out a plan, calmly preparing his strategy. Moreover, this King is also a master communicator—exactly what I need for the book. He does seem to represent the best way forward, doesn't he?
5. The next step—8 of Swords
What shall I make of this card? I note that again Swords are depicted, which remind me of the 10 of Swords above. Maybe the next step could involve working on my thoughts—perhaps by taking them out and looking at them, rather than churning them around in my mind when I should be sleeping? I often tend to see this card as depicting "procrastination", but that does not seem to be appropriate here. Unless.... Maybe I should deliberately ignore ("procrastinate on") most of those thoughts and concentrate only on the one or two that are most important for now? From 10 swords sticking in my back, to 8 that I'm walking away from? And keeping a toe in the stream of feelings and intuition (water), so that I don't lose touch with those aspects? These seem like good ideas. What else can I glean from the card?
One interpretation of the 8 of Swords is "feelings of being trapped." That is what I want to move away from—feeling the burden of all those thoughts. I note that the woman is blindfolded: yes, getting some "shut eye" would definitely be a good idea, but I'm looking for something specific: the very next step.
The card could also refer to confused and scattered thinking, but today I see this woman as being in control, deliberately refraining from...something. She is refraining from looking at the other Swords, from looking where she's going. Another possible meaning for the card: "finding a way through"—this woman knows the way, and she knows that if she is going to get to the other side, she needs the blindfold and restraints. She is feeling her way forward carefully, and her very next step will take her to that one sword in front of her, the one she needs, but which she can't find by thinking (using those Swords). So she blinds herself, and lets her feelings (the water) take her forward.
My conclusion: the next step would be to cut away those extraneous thoughts and sort out priorities—in other words, a good brainstorming session, using creative thinking—which involves feelings and intuition, and sets thinking aside until the ideas need to be evaluated. In this way, I could find the one aspect that would take me forward in the most productive way.
6. The outcome if I act on this next step—2 of Pentacles
My immediate thought: "Balance!" Specifically in the area of the physical and work (the suit of Pentacles)—balancing work and sleep effortlessly. There even seems to be an element of fun in the way this guy (or girl?) is juggling those pentacles. The waves in the background remind me of daily rhythms, which would include a good night's sleep.
Blissful. But, suppose I ignore the insights I have derived from this spread, and continue in my style of trying to work on everything at once?
7. The outcome if I ignore my own advice—9 of Swords
Now that is quite clear! I hardly need to reflect on this card, except to remember that some call the 9 of Swords "Lord of despair and cruelty." Enough said!
You may have derived different meanings form these seven cards. The explanations above are specifically mine, applied to my cincumstances and how I 'projected' my concerns on these cards. Working with the cards in this way is tremendous fun (especially when a very apt card finds its way into the spread), but is also an excellent way to focus on several angles of a problem.
This post demonstrates how effectively Tarot cards can help you focus on a problem and its various aspects, and spark ideas and solutions in your mind. Now it's your turn: think of a problem, use this spread (or design one of your own), and get working!