I can’t take credit for the title of this post. It is a sentence from the book Knowing Woman by Irene Claremont De Castillejo, a psychoanalyst who trained with Carl Jung. The book was written in 1973 but its principles are still just as timely today as they were more than 40 years ago.
We have forgotten how to allow.
Plants grow out of the earth perhaps with our help, but they do it on their own. Our hearts beat without our direct intervention. But in our lives, we push and force, demand and obsess. We have forgotten how to allow our lives to unfold with grace, patience, and gentle abiding.
By this I don’t mean to say that we must sit back and do nothing in our lives. I don’t think that attending to our lives, like we attend to a garden, means complacency or apathy. A gardener doesn’t neglect his or her garden. The gardener tends to the garden, giving it what it needs so it can get on with it and do its thing.
This is what we can do in our own lives. More allowing of the “unfoldment” of our true selves, by allowing it to happen, tending to our soul’s messages, listening rather than talking (mental chatter). Getting silent. Abiding. Allowing.
There are several cards in the tarot deck that represent this principle, and I am quite familiar with them because this is an issue I struggle with in my own life. As a textbook type A overachiever, whenever I’m not producing, excelling, planning, reaching, and aspiring to bigger, better, and greater, I tend to feel restless and anxious. I’ve actively worked to become more comfortable with allowing in my own life, but it’s a struggle against feeling that I’m wasting time or being lazy.
However, just as nature has cycles of planting and harvest, and just as farmers allow their fields to lie fallow and not produce anything for a season in order for the soil to regenerate, we too have the need for cycles of action and rest. That may seem like a totally obvious statement. But how many of us truly, actively cultivate this concept, by creating space for allowing and for conscious rest in our lives? Not sleep. Rest.
Here are three cards that teach aspects of this concept. It can be an especially hard one to embrace for those of us in an overachieving society that often values production, consumption, action, and utility over abiding, allowing, unfolding, and acceptance.
The Hanged Man is the quintessential card of allowing. He’s hanging, bound, immobile, with his hands behind his back. Whether the hands are also tied or whether he’s actively taking a “hands off” approach is almost irrelevant, because the point is that he’s absolutely not taking any action. The halo in this card indicates to me that this is a conscious abiding. He isn’t fighting the fact that there’s not really anything he can do at the moment. He’s accepting it. When we put up resistance against the fact that we’re in a period in which there’s simply nothing more we can actively DO to move things forward or change a situation at the present time, we must consciously wait, abide, and allow. The Hanged Man does just that. He understands that sometimes, especially when you don’t know what to do , the best thing to do is nothing at all.
I’ve seen this card come up in many different circumstances in which the querent was trying hard to effect change or create an outcome, but the situation had pieces of the puzzle that were beyond his or her control. A client whose mother had cancer, and the client was needing to simply accept and let the situation unfold rather than push for resolution, because the situation had too many components that were beyond her control in that particular moment. She had to allow the experience to unfold on its own timeframe, not hers. Another who wanted desperately for a relationship to get back on track, and yet the ex-partner needed time.
If a plant isn’t ready to burst forth through the soil, if it’s not time, no amount of cajoling on our part is going to make it happen before that. It doesn’t always depend on us alone. We’re one piece within a macrocosm of interconnectedness that we don’t conduct.
There used to be these analogy questions on the high school SAT (college prep) test in the US. They would pose comparisons between words and you’d have to make the connection. I loved them. They took them out of the test, but I thought of one to illustrate this concept:
a) BOSS: EMPLOYEE
b) DOG: OWNER
c) HEART: BODY
d) PENCIL: PEN
We are to the Universe as the heart is to the body. We’re part of a larger system. We must simply do our part in order for the overall system to work properly. The rest of the system knows how to do its job. The plant knows how to sprout. You do you.
So many situations in which we are called to quietly observe, allow. Hands off. No action. Conscious waiting. Abiding.
The Four of Swords: full stop. The man in this card appears to be resting in a church, but could even be a sculpture on top of a tomb, for how still he is. Is he meditating? Dead? At total peace and complete rest?
This card shows when we must actively stop (sounds like an oxymoron). I run into this one a lot. I have so much resistance against it. Yes, of course I sleep at night. But if you asked me to stop during the day and meditate for 20 minutes, my entire body and psyche resists. Stop? You must be crazy! That means wasting time, and I can’t waste time. I’m not lazy. There’s way too much to do. And so on.
When the Four of Swords appears, heed its advice and simply rest. Rest, rest, rest and stop. I’ve seen this card come up with people who had health issues and were trying to exert themselves too much too early in their recovery. Or with people like me, who spin out of control because they haven’t yet accepted or internalized the knowledge that abiding and sitting aren’t expressions of wasted time or uselessness. And, in situations in which we’ve completely and totally exhausted our physical, mental, and emotional capacity to fight a situation any further. Surrender. Not giving up. Surrendering.
Oh, God. The Moon. Can I get a collective groan for The Moon, please? Oh, this one. It’s such a struggle for me. Here not only must we allow events to unfold, we must also gently embrace and accept (or wildly kick and scream and rage against the need to gently accept, which is more likely how you’ll find me) that there is deep uncertainty and even confusion and bewilderment about what to do, where we’re going, and where this situation is heading, and that’s part of life. Not only: it’s an essential step in the overall journey. Can’t go around, gotta go through. Ugh, right? I’m sorry, but who wants to hit the bump in the road, when we have to sit with our feelings of not knowing what’s going on, where we’re headed next? Having to admit that we don’t know everything? Having to face the fact that we feel lost? Having to stop resisting our anxiety, worry, feeling completely out of the picture? Um, yeah, no thanks.
There’s a path forward; we can see it in the card. It’s like a threshold. In the distance we walk through a boundary of two symmetrical towers. There is a way forward. But not until we cross through the valley of the howling wolves, the nighttime confusion, the emergence of creepy crawly things from the depths of our unconscious that need recognition and acknowledgement. It’s dark, hidden, even at times scary. But the more we try to avoid it, the more it’ll howl after us.
Allow uncertainty. Accept not knowing. Validate your feelings of inadequacy, “lostness”, confusion. These are parts of you. They deserve recognition. Abide, attend. Don’t push away, no matter how icky it feels. This is a reflection of now, so don’t run away from it.
And so: we have forgotten how to allow. But we can practice. De Castillejo uses a popular parable that Carl Jung espoused in his lectures: that of the rainmaker. The rainmaker knows how to allow. He arrives in the drought-stricken village, and everyone is in a panic because they’ve tried absolutely everything and damn it all, they can’t make the rain come.
He arrives, goes off in a quiet hut, and he sits. He sits for three days. He finds inner balance. He attends and allows and abides. Then on the fourth day, the rain comes.
The people think: what did he do? We’ll go ask him what he was up to in that little hut those three days, and next time, we’ll do that. And he tells them, I didn’t do anything. “I felt out of balance, so I sat for three days until I felt attuned with the natural energy and order of things (the Tao). After that, it rained.”
He didn’t cause the rain to fall. He allowed it to fall.
Allow your life to guide you. Work in harmony with the forces of the Universe that are there to help you co-create. Practice non-attachment to outcomes. Experience what it feels like to admit that you’re not in control, that you don’t know what comes next.
Remember how to allow.