Creating Meaning from Challenge


Birth and rebirth

Nine years ago today, I gave birth to my first child, a son. It was as wondrous and miraculous as a birth is, but it also gave way to a horrific hospital stay in which I didn’t sleep for five days straight, ultimately leading to a six-week debilitating battle with untreated postpartum depression (read also as: clinical anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, obsessive thoughts, and eventually losing the ability to effectively care for myself). Those weeks, and the following months and years of recovery and sifting through the rubble were among the most difficult of my life. The day I finally found my doctor – April 9, 2008 (etched into my memory like stone) – was a new beginning and a chance for rebirth.

The risk of vulnerability

Recently, I was asked in conversation by someone I trusted to tell the story of my journey through postpartum. While describing what I went through, and essentially reliving in vivid detail the sheer horror of those days, this person cracked a joke about the symptoms. My initial shock over this surprising lack of empathy gave way to tears in a matter of seconds, and nearly a week later, I still can’t seem to shake the feeling of betrayal. While I recognize that this person’s intention wasn’t to inflict pain at one of my most vulnerable moments, the experience has put into sharp focus for me just how daring it is to expose oneself and how risky it can be to admit and share fragility.

What is life, if not a series of challenges and experiences that serve to teach us more about who we are, what we believe, and how we choose to see ourselves, others, and interact with the wider world?

The courage to share

When clients come to me for a reading, naturally they are looking for answers to things that they feel deeply about. Just in the act of going for a reading, my clients are bravely offering up something they’re vulnerable about and saying to me – I trust you to hold this issue in your hands, call on the unseen mystery of chaos and chance, and weave meaning for me from a series of images, that I might get some light through this darkness, that I might find a way forward for myself.

We must share our stories. We must continue to share them, despite the risk involved, despite the possibility that we might be rejected. We must seek out those who will listen, those who will hold our stories in their hands and treat them with the care they deserve.

We must embrace our vulnerability. We must recognize our shared humanity. We must continue on, knowing that we are all connected, for better or for worse.

Philosophy with a hammer

One of my favorite sayings is the pithy pop-culture mantra “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. Even though it’s the title of a catchy Kelly Clarkson tune, its origin is German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche. More specifically, it comes from his 1889 work Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, number 8 in its introductory chapter Maxims and Arrows: “Out of life’s school of war: What does not destroy me, makes me stronger”.

In the preface, Nietzche cites “a maxim which has long been my motto”: Increscunt animi, virescit volnere virtus. [“The spirits increase, vigor grows through a wound.”]

There’s no denying that human suffering can bring meaning and value to our lives. Andrew Solomon addresses it beautifully in his 2014 TED talk, which I can’t recommend highly enough: How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are.

When we share our stories — our wounds, our failings, our hurts, our imperfections — what we’re really doing is crafting our narrative of triumph, of survival, of perseverance. It’s what Andrew Solomon calls forging meaning and building identity.

The way forward

How do we manage, then, a world that is often hostile to our vulnerability and suffering, and yet so desperately needs brave warriors who are willing to expose their wounds and reveal their shared humanity?

We can ask the cards: How can we bravely share our stories with others and remain open-hearted?


In this response we see the Six of Pentacles flanked by two major arcana cards: The Devil on the left, Strength on the right.

The answer here is fundamentally a question of how we view power and control in light of vulnerability.

Do we view others as beneath us, and do we see our contributions as only going out to those who we deem are worthy of them, to those we feel are “lesser than”? Or do we feel that it’s we ourselves who are powerless?

Do we share ourselves in order to chain others to us, in order to gain something from giving? Do we try to control others and their reactions through fear, intimidation, or humiliation? Do we view the world as a basically hostile place?

Has opening up and exposing ourselves to others been a source of shame for us in the past? Are we used to settling for emotional “crumbs” from those we are involved with?

A two-way street

Give and take has to be balanced. As we offer of ourselves, there must also be a willingness on the part of those with whom we share to open themselves to us. Trust and its inherent vulnerability pave a two-way street: as we share, we recognize our human fallibility and imperfection, and that sharing also asks of the listener to recognize his or her human fallibility and imperfection. It’s a tall order.

So, according to these cards, we can bravely share our stories with others and remain open-hearted when we realize that we own nothing and we control nothing — we let go and share of ourselves as a bold act of creating our own narrative, our own identity, for ourselves. We recognize vulnerability as the core of strength itself, and we are brave enough to put our hands into the lion’s sharp-toothed jaws as an act of giving without expecting anything in return.

We may not always receive understanding when we open ourselves to others. We may even be treated with disrespect or be made to feel shame for our experiences, or for sharing them. However, the very act of opening ourselves and daring to expose our wounds is the heart of strength itself — the bravery of sharing is what we must treasure and protect within ourselves and our hearts. Nothing external can harm that simple, enduring act of courage.



  1. Cara Shelley,

    non a caso proprio oggi mi invii questo post sulla rinascita. Ho lasciato Roma e mi sono trasferita a Bologna e per me qui inizia una nuova vita che adesso sono pronta ad accogliere. Mi dispiace non averti conosciuto meglio e aver potuto coltivato una amicizia con te, ma forse quell’unico incontro e’ stato sufficiente. Te lo ripeto come ogni volta sei stata essenziale e importante nella mia formazione mi hai aiutati ad accettare i tarocchi nella mia vita mostrandomi il loro lato luce. Continuo a studiare i tarocchi e l’astrologia e ho iniziato la formazione in Costellazioni Familiari. Ho finalmente trovato la mia strada. Mi fa sorridere che due carte di oggi siano due carte che erano uscite nella mia lettura con te di anni fa ma che ricordo perfettamente come fossero stampate nella mia memoria. Il 6 di denari per il lavoro e la forza per l’amore. A distanza di anni ti posso dire che adesso non elemosino piu il mio stipendio e sono pronta a mettere le mani nella bocca del leone.Ho anche profondamente capito la perdita (5 coppe) che doveva superare per guarire il mio rapporto col cibo. Quindi grazie. Di cuore. Per quello che fai. Le tue letture e le immagini dei tarocchi accompagnano chi sapra riportarle alla memoria coscientemente. E a volte ci vogliono anni per comprenderle. Non e’ di certo un “quick fix” 🙂 Ho in progetto di aprire un canale youtube sulle favole e tu sei una delle prime persone che vorrei come ospite. Ti terro aggiornata e aspettero con gioia i tuoi post e…..Andrew Solomon non posso mai guardarlo senza piangere come una fontana! Uno dei miei ted speaker preferiti di sempre!

    grazie ancora


    • Carissima Antonella,
      Che bel messaggio che mi hai scritto. Non so come ringraziarti per questa tua apertura e gratitudine nei miei confronti. Ti ringrazio con tutto il mio cuore. Non credo sia stata per niente una coincidenza che ci siamo incontrati. Poi l’importanza di un incontro può essere grande anche se temporalmente l’incontro è breve. Sono piena di gioia di sentire che hai trovato la tua strada. Brava e continua così! Un percorso che non finisce mai. In bocca al lupo con tutto!

  2. Tarot is also a powerful way to share with the beloved dead.

    When I have been most alone, most vulnerable, most desperate, with seemingly no-one at all to share with, I have lit my candle and made my prayer and called upon my grandmothers to guide, strengthen and console me.

    Divination has always concerned itself with the dead, and Tarot is one of the best and simplest ways of turning to them for help and advice.


    • An afterthought -I should have added – I find 3 and 5 card spreads the most successful for ancestor work and traditional decks like the Marseilles and Sforza – perhaps because contemporary packs carry too much of the designer’s personality, the traditional decks are more neutral in this respect

      • Hello June-Marie,

        That’s very interesting. It shows just how incredibly versatile the cards are. I really like the Sforza deck – it’s so beautiful. I use the Jean Noblet Marseilles deck and the one by Wilfried Houdouin, the Millenium – usually I stick with the majors in a 3-card spread on those readings. I learned from wonderful masters of the Marseilles (Enrique Enriquez and Camelia Elias).
        Take care and thanks for reading!

  3. “Just in the act of going for a reading, my clients are bravely offering up something they’re vulnerable about and saying to me – I trust you to hold this issue in your hands, call on the unseen mystery of chaos and chance, and weave meaning for me from a series of images, that I might get some light through this darkness, that I might find a way forward for myself.”

    This entire post resonated with me, but the above quote for some reason struck me in particular – I don’t know, I suppose I just think it’s very well-written.

    Thank you for sharing.

  4. Hi Shelley, Thank you so much for this deep, thoughtful and well written share. I came here via a linke share by Donna Hazel in the Tarot Agora group on FB and I’m glad I did. I love the synchronicity of this post. We had been discussing mental health and the Tarot in the group, and not long after that I decided I had to share my own healing journey in the most candid post I have ever written. It was very hard but I was so richly rewarded because everyone did exactly what you said here in this post: they reciprocated by showing their own vulnerability and the struggles they still face on the journey. The last remnants of shame are giving way to the Light… so thank you for being another brave fellow traveller who has come to realise and act on this reality. Tikkun Olam. Many Blessings, Lisa

    • Lisa! How wonderful! I am a huge fan of synchronicity. The more we become aware of it, the more we find it. 😉 I’m so happy you stopped by and happy you’re here. Blessings to you as well!! Thanks for sharing.

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