“Pain Pep Talk” Reading

Curable is an app that helps users manage chronic pain.

It packs in a lot of ideas, some of which I agree with and some I find frustrating.

Tarot often helps me think about things in new ways and make abstract ideas personal. Despite tarot cards being extremely ambiguous, they can make general ideas much more specific and meaningful.

Today, I got my old Science Tarot deck out. This was my first tarot deck and is now out of print. Each card relates to an idea from either physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, or geology. It’s what got me into tarot as it takes each scientific discovery and turns it into a metaphor for something we each experience in daily life.

Today I used it to think about Curable’s “the pain pep talk”.

This is when you “talk” to your pain as if it is a bully or a child. First, decide who your pain is and what its character is like. Explain to your pain the lessons you have learnt, and commit to resolving the underlying issue or emotion that triggered the pain. Assert your boundaries and tell your pain to stop, and picture it stopping. Curable advises that you plan what to say to the pain before the pain begins or escalates.

I didn’t find this idea to be very helpful on paper (or podcast), but I thought it could make an interesting light subject for a reading.

As it often is, the tarot reading was much more helpful and gentle than I was expecting.

After I look at the cards I often realise how I was expecting to see something judgemental, and then I realise how much I am expecting to be judged and how much I judgement self. I look at the back of the cards and expect to see my failure reflected back at me once I turn them over. I expect to interpret something that says, “you’re doing it wrong, you know you’re doing it wrong, just push yourself and try harder!”

This quickly fell away.

The Spread

This is another one of my own design.

  • Who
  • Lessons
  • Core issue
  • Resolution
  • Boundaries
  • New vision

First card: “who” the fear is and what it wants

This card suggests maintaining a state of balance, which is definitely a strong need for me.

I am autistic and find change and unexpected things incredibly difficult.

Stars are maintained through a balance of inwards and outwards forces: gravity draws the outer layers of the star inwards, while the hot gases within the star expand and push outwards.

When these forces are balanced, the star is said to be in equilibrium. Stars can be in a state of equilibrium for millions of years.

If the star’s gravity becomes stronger than its ability to expand, the star will collapse in on itself. If the star begins to expand faster than its gravity can pull it back, the star will explode.

I feel myself wanting to avoid both collapsing and exploding, but I fear that I am drawn too much inwards and fear – literally – going out. I find it very hard to leave the house.

Perhaps I do not trust my ability to either expand or contract.

Perhaps I need to trust that drawing inwards is a positive trait, and that the two do actually work together. I do not need to expand more than I contract. I can expand while maintaining my centre, my gravity. I can only expand in balance with my gravity.

I fear losing control of both. I already see an answer to this problem.

Second: Explain to your pain the lessons you have learnt

Most plants need water and soil to grow, but orchids need a particular type of microscopic fungus in order for the roots to absorb minerals and water.

Some orchids only need this fungus during germination, others need it for their whole lifecycle.

I’m like that orchid. I cannot grow without certain extra help. For example, lately I have realised that I have been rather irrational in not using ear protection when I leave the house. That is potentially a solution to a very big problem that I have, and yet it has taken me until my mid-thirties to accept it.

Orchids have no opinion on why they need this fungus or what it means. They don’t feel pencils or awkward or anything about it. It’s just how they are.

Third: The underlying issue

I kind of foolishly think I can learn my way out of things and who I am, as if I can unlearn my desire for balance and my need for symbiosis.

I’m not going to ever graduate from being human.

An orchid can’t beat its need for nutrients because of its values or personality.

A star doesn’t worry if it should “push it” or not. It just is.

Fourth: Resolving the underlying issue

Barbara McClintock discovered transposons. These are pieces of DNA code that have different effects depending on where they are located along the chromosome.

The same code has different effects depending on where it is used.

Metaphorically speaking, this points to noticing the tiny details making a big difference depending on where these details present. Don’t ignore them.

McClintock was famously overlooked for decades. She was an outside because she was a woman. She said she received “puzzlement, even hostility” from other scientists about her findings.

In 1953 she stopped publishing her research for fear of being further alienated by her colleagues. Her work was “rediscovered” a decade later. On her decision to stop publishing, she said this:

Over the years I have found that it is difficult if not impossible to bring to consciousness of another person the nature of his tacit assumptions when, by some special experiences, I have been made aware of them. This became painfully evident to me in my attempts during the 1950s to convince geneticists that the action of genes had to be and was controlled. It is now equally painful to recognize the fixity of assumptions that many persons hold on the nature of controlling elements in maize and the manners of their operation. One must await the right time for conceptual change.

This is exactly how I have felt in regards to my illness. Others do not understand, and you cannot help them to understand. I only understand because of my “special experiences” that they have not had.

Their lack of understanding has deeply affected my ability to accept myself, my reality, my needs, my problems, and even some of the solutions to those problems.

Barbara McClintock went on to receive a Nobel Prize for her discoveries.

Both her work and her story chime with me here: she honed in on the genes of botanical adaptations, in a human world that couldn’t adapt to her discoveries.

My underlying issue is like this. I need to adapt and I have insights into this need, but the world around me rejects this reality and marginalises me further for speaking up about it.

Five: Assert your boundaries and tell your pain to stop

This card is literally called compassionate action. Don’t tell yourself off. Kindly notice the details and take action.

The first card is of a star in equilibrium. It represents who the pain is. Not a child. Not a bully. Just the need for balance. It’s me who judges myself for what this balance means and how it manifests.

We know that the underlying issue is thinking that I can just “improve” my way out of it. I need the fine details to be valued, but I live in a world that is obsessed with the big picture.

“Don’t be fussy,” it says.

“Okay, I’ll try not to be,” I say back. “I’ll do better.”

If it wants a big picture though, consider this: the boundaries of our environment reach beyond our planet and to our star (the sun).

Right now, for instance, I am in my bedroom with the sun shining through the window. The sun is 147.18 million kilometres away, and yet it is still part of my environment.

If I am scared of going out, I can consider how an object 147.18 million kilometres away is part of my living space right now, so how far away are the shops, really?

But to get to the shops I need to be mindful of the details, details that are even smaller and ever more detailed-lier than most people’s details.

Compassionate action isn’t just words, after all. I have to do something. And when I do do something for myself I must notice it with compassion. Don’t go on autopilot but know that I am trying my best for myself.

My boundaries are whatever keeps me in equilibrium. My fear isn’t causing me to lose equilibrium, it is a signal that I am losing it. So I need to act compassionately. That is how I will speak to my fear.

Six: Picture the fear or pain stopping

In science, the grand unified theory brings together quantum physics with classical physics. We haven’t achieved this yet. We don’t know how it fits together, we only understand them separately.

Respect what you know about the big and small details even if you can’t seamlessly understand how they work together, know that they do and don’t ignore one for the other.

I tend to focus on getting an activity done as a whole and don’t break it down enough, or see how the details of my routine can fit together.

To picture an end to my fear means getting real about those quantum-sized details and accept them as part of who I am, even if I would like to imagine myself without them, even if I think I can learn my way past them.

I made a collage using the elements from the reading. The insect is a red nose lanternfly, and stands in for the Fool card. A red nose like a clown, or fool 🙂


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