Prepare a comfortable seat. Ideally, your spine is upright so your breathing is unobstructed. if you can arrange it, it’s nice to situate yourself in a place where distractions are limited.
Take a minute to get quiet. Close your eyes, breath deeply and slowly from the lowest part of your chest for several breaths. Clear your mind of clutter as best you can. Picture a glass of muddy water (your mind) and picture the mud (your thoughts) settling as you sit quietly.
You don’t have to do this perfectly. Your thoughts are not your enemy. Accept them as natural while you tenderly bring your focus back to your relaxed breathing. Several breaths will center and ground you, even if you can’t notice the difference.
How to Draw a Card
There are many methods for picking a card from the deck. This does not need to be a science. I usually shuffle them casually (not like a Las Vegas dealer) before I choose my card. Other people fan them out on the table first. Some like to cut the deck a few times and restack them. Find a process that feels right for you.
I find it best to write in my card journal as I take in the image. It helps me better articulate the interpretation. The trifold support of the image, the page, and my conscious attention in the present moment is a profound revealer of secrets.
WAYS OF SEEING
Start with this sample of how some have read a particular card.
The mouse card has been read by different people in different ways. (Look at Card #10). My original intention when painting this piece was to represent temptation. He is distressed because he wants the goodies, but he also wants to resist them. Here are several other peoples’ takes on what it meant to them.
1. He is smaller than the cupcakes, they are too much to handle.
2. He is in for a treat.
3. He is surrounded with abundance, beauty, and artful decoration.
4. He’s filled with indecision. He can’t choose, and it’s upsetting.
5. He is not impressed with all the sinfulness before him.
6. He sees so much good stuff but is hesitating. Doesn’t he deserve it?
7. He got caught red handed, sneaking in. He looks guilty.
8. He matches the cakes. Blends in. He’s trying to hold still and look like a cupcake. He’s hoping to be camouflaged.
9. He made them and is giving them away. He’s generous.
10. He worked really hard on them and is expecting a thank you, a reward. He looks like he’s waiting for a reply or didn’t get the one he wanted.
11. I feel like I’m competing with the mouse. He wants them, and I want them, and we’re ready to have a stand-off.
A look at these different perspectives shows how each person is seeing the image through the colored lens of their own personality. I’ve found this painting to say something different each time I look at it. Sometimes it does represent temptation, as I originally intended, but even then the feel of temptation has a changing flavor. After working with the cards for a while, I’ve found that no matter how difficult they were to confront when I painted them, they become like familiar visitors who have more facets than I could count. Like a good movie villain, they aren’t one-sided.
A simple narrative is a good place to start your reading. But there are more aspects of the card that will speak to you. See more about reading an image in the Art Appreciation section
With more focused attention you may find other dimensions of the image that speak to you. One person was bothered by the fact that the cupcake tray seemed like it was floating. Some people have noticed that there is a red halo around the mouse’s head. Another pointed out that one shadow is crooked. These kind of observations should prompt you to look at why that perception caught your attention and what it might say about you or to you. Being truthful about how it makes you feel is also an excellent insight to your mind state.
Color, Shape, Contrast
Read the visual attributes of the image. They can suggest an emotional flavor, an atmosphere, or a blatant statement. Color can shape mood. Shapes can evoke memories. The level of contrast (lights and darks) can make a card spooky or light. Use the Art Appreciation section to delve deeper into understanding how to read images.
READ INTO IT
As you articulate what you see, whether verbally or through writing, try these approaches for accessing your truest response.
Scan the various elements and narratives of the card you’ve chosen. Let the components that catch your eye tell their story. Look closer, going over the image again seeing if anything new pops out at you. I find I can be blind to an obvious feature of the piece until I sweep over it a few times. Readings of any kind are acceptable and helpful. Write down your first impressions and let the words add to your awareness of what the reading means to you.
Like a Dream
You could write about your card as if you just woke up from an vivid dream. When I do this, I first simply report who was in it and what happened. From there I look at the way I described the events, and how I felt when they were happening. These indicators are juicy tell-tale information.
Articulate the emotions, general or specific, that the card brings up for you. As you express the responses that emerge, listen to what and how you’re describing them. Tell-tale phrases or subliminal hints of more nuanced feelings may show themselves. If this level of sensitivity sounds too hard to access, it’s enough to just name an overall emotion that might accompany the card.
Ask a Question
Try keeping a question in mind when you choose a card. The card may give you guidance or help make a decision. The answer you receive may be crystal clear or it may simply suggest a leaning. Your interpretation of it may not be understood until later. The key here is to let go of expectations. Caution against trying to read the future with assumptions about outcomes. Read below about abusing the cards.
Memories and circumstances
A card may bring up a specific memory or situation in your life. Painful or happy, be willing to explore how the happening affects you. Avoid running the story through your usual route of analysis. Your old familiar ways of looking at things do not carry new insights. Just be with with the fresh emotion in the moment, accepting it and investigating it by paying attention. Don’t abandon it because it’s uncomfortable. We can avoid even happy sensations (for interesting reasons) so be willing to sit with that, too. Even if your present perspective seems “unenlightened” it is a great place to start. As long as it’s real, and is happening now, it’s worthy of acceptance.
If your writing explodes into a novella of woes or justifications or questions, bring your focus back to the simplicity of the image. The power of the cards is that they simply and directly encapsulate your complicated plot, prompting you to let the stories go. They have been named and made into an object that is exposed, outside of you, and if you dare, left in the hands of the universe. Your questioning and continued scrutiny mean you’re not allowing the cards to do what they meant to. They carry your doubt and confusion. Your trust that your issues are in good hands will help you gain surprising clarity in good time.
Sometimes the cards don’t mean anything other than what you see. Sometimes a cockroach is a cockroach. (I drew that card one day, not relating to its meaning. Later that day, I saw four cockroaches in my home, when I rarely see one.) Allow for even a mundane or simple interpretation, a reminder of the importance of the straightforward and the everyday. We don’t have to be wise seers at every turn.
A card may speak clearly about your day. It may be obvious to you from the minute you turn it over that the card applies directly to you. It may give you hope, validation, help make a decision, or tell you where your keys are. (So to speak.) Remember this throughout the day to confirm you’re on the right path.
Big Question Mark
Sometimes a card won’t make a lick of sense when you first pull it. Find solace in the saying, “How pale and tedious the world would be without mystery.” Remember the card as the day passes and many times the meaning will show itself. Sometimes it will divulge itself in different ways throughout the day. Your lack of understanding from early in the day will remind you that just because you are confused or can’t see the way, doesn’t mean the answer isn’t just around the corner.
When you draw what looks to you like a very dark card on a perfectly happy day, it is not a bad omen. When you are depressed or angry and draw what you think is a jolly, beautiful card, it is not a prompt to cheer up and get off your pity-pot. Letting go of obvious meanings and a expect a more discerning and penetrating perspective to arise.
On a good day, a dark card can be a reminder that even when we are at our best there are others in the world who are at their worst, that all of our mind states are impermanent and changing. We may reach out to help someone who is suffering. MORE
On a bad day, a happy card can speak to us of hope and comfort. It can remind us to seek help from others who are not in a place of difficulty. It can nudge us to look for hints of blessings throughout the day. MORE
An in-depth look at particular habits or perspectives
I used the following three-step process to investigate my mind states while working on each painting. The movement through the practice is elaborated on in essays on the blog
When you determine what the card is saying to you in the moment, write down any instances in the past (going back as far as possible) where this trait was a part of your life. Pick a few particular people who played a role in the development of this trait, and write about how it felt then, and what you came to believe about yourself in the process.
Write about how this trait shows itself in your life today. Write about the perspectives you’ve developed or hung onto surrounding this trait. List the behaviors that this attribute has spawned. Remember to stop to breath and let the mud settle if you get distracted or blocked.
This is not about predicting or planning. Imagine what a healthy, contented, wise person might do if this mind state was being well-used. Imagine yourself free from attachments to this attribute. Imagine how situations would be dealt with if the trait was used in the service of understanding and freedom.
Caution about abusing the cards
It can become tempting to want the cards to give you the feedback or clear answers that make you comfortable. An expectation that we’ll be told the future, that we’ll be patted on the back, that our situation will be obviously endorsed is asking the cards to obey our ego. Guidance from the cards isn’t like flipping a coin. Its messages span a spectrum of meaning, and the more open and surrendered one is to whatever communication arises, the more powerful they become as a tool.
If the cards bring up fears, dash our hopes, or remind us of distressing problems, this is good information. We want to cultivate an attitude that the worse it seems, the more fascinating it will be to explore it. The WAN project started with curiosity and wonder about humanness, but especially about the less-explored shadow side of human behavior. When cards don’t please your ego, use it as a springboard to write and talk about a more important question than the one you started with: why does it bother you so much?
That said, sometimes the cards have an uncanny ability to relate to what we’re going through, and seem to answer questions in an almost miraculous way. I’ve come to find those experiences delightful, but I have no problem when the cards seem ambiguous or like a buzzkill.