Life’s gotten chaotic again. Overworked at crummy job. Overstressed in Masters program. Overly reliant on Adderall. Old patterns circulating, gaining steam in a pressure cooker of uncertainty.
During trying times, I’ve often engaged in a candlelit ritual where I smoke cannabis, meditate, and draw Tarot cards. I’m going to do this over the coming days to figure out what the heck’s going on in my life — or at least clean some crud blocking me from seeing it.
Tarot Day 1
I’m sitting on my meditation cushion, listening to Hindu mantras, aware of my heart’s Adderall-induced pounding. I just smoked a 90% indica blend called Dubba Bubba — 21% THC, 1.35% CBD. As I shuffle my Rider-Waite deck, a card leaps out and lands on my mandala rug.
The candlelight illuminates an androgynous teen in green tights, wearing no armor, yet wielding a sword.
This card is The Page of Swords.
Since I don’t know what that means, I turn to Skye Alexander’s The Only Tarot Book You’ll Ever Need — purchased, alongside this deck, at Barnes & Noble on Friday the 13th, beneath the full Harvest moon.
CARD: Page of Swords
INDICATION: Risk on a mental or spiritual level; taking up some new line of thought or study.
RESPONSE: This is true. I’m in my first semester of a 3-year Master’s program in Counseling Psychology with a mindfulness focus. My intention: To become an above-ground psychedelic therapist. People involved in psychedelic research, such as MAPS and Johns Hopkins University, predict psychedelic clinics will offer legal therapy in the next few years. But right now, most of them are still Schedule I, right next to heroin. And who’s to say if these predictions will ring true. Not even Nostradamus got it all correct.
So, yes, this new line of study feels a bit risky. And it’s important I keep that in mind, lest I become reckless, and mess it all up like our ‘60s forebears.
I’m not really a “Tarot guy.” I don’t do readings for people. I don’t see the cards as prophetic. I see them as mirrors, with each of the 78 cards reflecting something about our inner nature. They show themes, sometimes hidden, bringing subconscious patterns to light to help process what’s really going on.
As in dreams, we draw meaning based on what stands out, what response is evoked. Through these rituals, I’ve found that the more intention and mindfulness I bring to the approach, the more relevant becomes the reading.
Tarot cards are mysterious. No one really knows where they originated — though, as I’ve discovered, there are some wild theories decorating that esoteric rabbit hole. Through talking to Tarot connoisseurs, I’ve heard theories that it originated in Ancient Egypt, was based on ancient scrolls housed in the Great Library of Alexandria that contained all the knowledge of the ancient world before burned to the ground, is connected to an occult relic called the Emerald Tablet, which written by a mysterious entity known as Hermes Trismegistus, a fusion of Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth — the latter of which gave name to Aleister Crowley’s infamously dark deck — and numerous translations of the tablet have appeared through the years, including one by Sir Isaac Newton, who was way more of an occultist than school teachers realize, and it’s all connected to the Hermetic Qabala which is connected to Jewish mysticism and astrology and alchemy and numerology, and maybe the lost city of Atlantis, and is believed by adherents to hold the Key to Universal Wisdom somewhere in its symbolic labyrinth.
But who knows the truth these days?
So, I’m not a Tarot guy, but it fascinates me. And I’ve had enough powerful experiences with it to know it can provide great aid in navigating the inner world—especially with the help of cannabis.
As with psychedelics, this work takes honesty. It’s tempting to read cards selectively, to fortify our personal echo chambers. It’s important I acknowledge another part of Skye’s description that stands out—that this Page of Swords indicates someone “having trouble getting it together,” whose struggle centers on insecurity.
Insecurity. An ongoing life conflict. Hating myself, trying endlessly to change, to please. The struggle that’s led me to antidepressants, benzos, and now Adderall. The struggle I believe psychedelics can help heal.
One thing that’s clear in this moment: If I’m ever gonna help people heal deep wounds, I’ve got a whole lot of healing to do first myself.
Tarot Day 2
Four days since last entry. Can’t remember what I wrote last time. Memory sucks these days. I worry about my mind. Been feeling more blank, more confused. Not sure if this a side effect of Adderall, a distancing between body and mind, or something worse.
I tend to freak myself out and focus on the negative. Might call it my default mode.
But here I am again, Adderalled up, sitting on my cushion after an 11:30PM puff of Dubba Bubba. I shuffle the deck, until three cards pop out. I follow my intuition that the middle card is the main card, while the others are supplementary, things to call to mind.
MIDDLE CARD: Seven of Cups
INDICATION: Creative energy and potential; many options available; challenges in choosing specific direction; exploring different roles.
RESPONSE: I am exploring many roles. Psychedelic therapist. Psychedelic researcher. Psychedelic writer. Freelance writer. Novel writer. Short story writer. Journalist. Counselor. I seek to redefine my life. But what is preventing me from choosing a direction?
LEFT CARD: Knight of Swords
INDICATION: Overly aggressive; intellectual focus yielding neglect of other life needs.
RESPONSE: I’ve been in attack mode. Super defensive. Desperate for validation, for opportunity. Unable to sit still due to pressing need for more. Lots of anger. Constant stimulation. Eating and sleeping terribly. All in an effort to get ahead.
Sounds like a lot of insecurity to me.
RIGHT CARD: The Moon, Reversed
INDICATION: Soul calling for help; ignoring self-nurturing; reconnect with feminine side.
RESPONSE: I have lost my center. I have abandoned any cultivation of self-love. With each Adderall pill, I direct more pressure toward myself, screaming to keep moving, to do more, to finally arrive at a place of content, a place of success, of validation.
I allow myself to rest from my strict meditation posture. I lean back against my futon, gazing at my legs stretched out along the mandala rug. I inhale calmly, and I tell my legs, “You are beautiful.”
Tarot Day 3
Too busy for the cushion today, so I’m sitting in a Panera after smoking Dubba Bubba.
Not ideal to read cards in public. Worrying how I’m being perceived — insecurity, back again. Today I draw a Major Arcana card.
CARD: The Sun
INDICATION: Confidence; attainment; past efforts bearing fruit.
RESPONSE: I’ve spent more days sober since starting this piece than I have in some time. It’s felt good, and I feel a new confidence with this psychedelic therapy path. But still I crave something else.
Why this desire for something else, when I’m already feeling good?
I desire to feel better.
Same trend in the relationships. Seeking more, even when this is good.
Tendency is to think what is can be improved — or that my experience of it can be improved.
But what does “improved” mean?
Happier. Lighter. Satisfied.
As if that’s how life should always be.
Insisting on lightness is turning from the hard stuff — rejecting the shadow, fighting our own minds.
The first time I experienced ayahuasca, I felt a dark spirit enter the room. Images arose of maggots wriggling into coffins to feast on the remnants of decaying carcasses, and in the same moment, half the room of total strangers began vomiting into plastic bags, violently spewing gurgling darkness from the bowels of the underworld.
I was terrified. I couldn’t take it. I fought it, tried to subdue it. This darkness laughed at my feeble attempts. This was reality, and in fighting it, I was judging it, creating my own suffering.
We’re taught not to look at the dark stuff. We’re taught to focus really hard on feeling good, on making the darkness vanish.
That’s the advertisement we’re buying, decorating the best-selling pages of self-help books. We’re desperate to alleviate, but we’re finding only palliatives. Who’s helping us navigate this shadow we’re too afraid to behold?
Carl Jung, the Swiss psychologist who gave the unconscious “shadow” its name, once said: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
That’s what this Tarot ritual and psychedelic therapy are about for me. Becoming more conscious of the darkness. Integrating my shadow, that it stops controlling me, for the steering wheels of perception are often unconscious.
It’s hard and painful to look at the pain I’ve buried deep inside. The Sun reminds me to invite confidence, vitality, and success back in. It reminds me that I have everything I need right in front of me, that even amidst darkness, all is very well.
Tarot Day 4
All is not well again. High frequency of emotional struggle continues. Same old shit, piling up again. Took 45mg of Adderall to get through. In truth, I don’t want to quit.
This isn’t a streamlined narrative. But if I presented it that way, I’d be lying. My life isn’t streamlined. Causality feels less chronological than lateral, operating in a field of simultaneity.
CARD: Queen of Disks
INDICATION: Need to connect to the body, to find nourishment, to meet neglected needs; “a stable foundation from which to move forth into the often turbulent forces of life.”
RESPONSE: What is my stable foundation? Haven’t exercised in many days. Been eating lots of takeout food. Drinking beer each night. Slept three hours last night, worked 6am-7pm, then came home to study, and write. Depending on Adderall to get through it.
Here’s a question: is Adderall helping this situation? Or, in convincing me I can take on more, is it actually causing it? Am I mistaking the cause for the egress? Is it possible to find peace with the anxiety underlying this job, rather than try and speed away from it and repeatedly find myself thrust into into a revolting dungeon of its control?
The Psychology of Meditation class I’m taking differentiates between doing and being. I’m stuck in doing—trying to get somewhere that isn’t here, to make something happen that will change things, and make them better. An if, then mentality.
The stable foundation to enter turbulence? Being. Present, mindful, receptive to what is.
If only it were that easy.
Spending 8 hours a day, faking it? Smiling, as if not counting down the hours?
Or, the current path: Getting so sped-up and anxious that for the first time in my life I’ve felt concerned I’m tiptoeing toward an aneurysm.
I thought this writing, this ritual, would help. It hasn’t. I’m as lost as ever before. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to be.
People don’t often consider cannabis a psychedelic, but folks who work with it in ritualistic and therapeutic settings often do. Take Daniel McQueen, whose organization Medicinal Mindfulness is becoming increasingly-well-known through its “Conscious Cannabis Circles.” McQueen’s work fuses shamanic journeying, psychotherapy, and cannabis, and participants regularly wind up thinking the cannabis was laced with something more powerful. That’s never the case. Rather, cannabis’ psychedelic—translated as “mind-manifesting”—potential is unlocked through intentional approach to set and setting, which may take a shamanic form, or may take a psychotherapeutic form, as with Innate Path in Denver.
Since cannabis is legal here in Colorado, it, alongside ketamine, is paving the way for legal psychedelic therapy, being used to help treat depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It’s just gotta be approached as more than a way to get high. When it comes to psychedelics, intention is central.
My life is lacking intention. I react from sped-up emotions, not grounded centeredness. Intention can draw out the insight I desire, so my thoughts stop circulating through these same immovable patterns ad infinitum.
It’s like writing. Without intention for the piece, it proliferates into wherever the rambling mind may go.
So, for this last session, I intend to feel into my heart. The pipe rests on the mandala rug, between my two decks. I intend to smoke more Dubba Bubba than any previous night of this writing. I intend to approach it respectfully, asking for insight, and peace. I intend to ground in this embodied present, anchored in the self-love cannabis and other psychedelics have long helped me feel, the self-love I’ve let slip away.
I intend simply to be.
Tarot Day 5
Tonight feels different. I feel the same anxious patterns that have arisen throughout this process, but tonight, they come with a recollection: These patterns are not me. I am their container. I am their loving mother, nurturing them as children. No thought or emotion is unwelcome, and I am grateful for them all.
I grab the Rider-Waite deck and shuffle for some while. Gazing through the darkness of my room, I see the glowing ember at the edge of the incense become two, forming the fiery eyes of a jaguar. My thought says this is an inaccurate perception. But what makes it less valid than “ordinary” perception?
I do not know the nature of reality. I know only the formulas I’ve internalized to reduce it, navigate it, and convince myself I understand it.
I lean into non-understanding. The jaguar reminds me of my power. The jaguar reminds me how remarkable the world is, how great a gift to experience it.
I’ve nearly forgotten the cards I shuffle when one leaps out. I hold in the light of the candle.
A guru sits calmly before a blue altar bearing nine gold chalices. He’s staring at me, smiling. At peace.
This card is the 9 of Cups—according to Skye, the “best pip card in the entire Tarot deck.”
CARD: 9 of Cups
INDICATION: Great joy and happiness; getting what you wish for; triumph; success.
RESPONSE: All is not solved, and I am grateful. I draw two cards from the Thoth deck, and I’m greeted with the Prince of Cups—blue, beautiful being, male youth, balancing strongly on giant eagle—and The Emperor—red, powerful masculine, fire energy, loving protector.
I’m reminded to invite in these benevolent energies, for they are as valid, and present, as the darkness.
My life may be dominated by uncertainty, yet amidst that uncertainty, there is propulsion. The more I lean into the beautiful things happening, the less I yearn for something more.
I cup my racing heart in my hand. As I exhale slowly. I feel my heartbeat slowing.
The truth is, this diary is only sort of the truth. I wrote thousands more words, and cut them away, finding meaning through the process, co-creating the progression with the reader in mind. There’s an artifice to it all.
For instance, during that final reading, the card that popped out wasn’t the Nine of Cups. It was a card bearing an advertisement for a book about the history of the deck’s creator. I wanted more. So I noticed the card atop the deck was slanted away from the rest. That card was the Nine of Cups, and through it, I have chosen meaning.
A pressing question of psychedelic therapy centers on integration: How do we integrate the value of these experiences into daily life? For me, it’s about creating new structures of meaning, which I experience through story. Stories, like the Tarot, engage with archetypal energies, and such engagement can point the way out of traps we’re caught in—a way we know, yet may have forgotten.
As I turn over the deck to return the drawn cards, I observe the card on the bottom.
It is The Fool. The zero card. The first Major Arcana, the first of the deck. He is the jester, the vagabond, innocently embarking upon an unpredictable journey through mythic realms eternally recurring—in Skye Alexander’s words, “embarking on a new way of life.”
The stories we tell about our lives determine our experience of the world. But no story is ever complete. Once again, we arrive at the beginning, gazing into the great unknown.
Sean Lawlor is a writer studying to become a psychotherapist at Naropa University in Boulder, CO. He would be most thrilled if you connect with him on Instagram.