Overextension. Burnout. The classic depiction of tarot's 10 of wands shows a figure carrying a heavy burden that is more than they can sustain. They are exhausted and whatever enthusiasm lead to this moment is long gone.
The risk of following a passion - be it work, love, a dream, a cause - toward utter depletion is far too common to ignore. In my opinion, the prevalence of burnout and overextension is a spiritual version of a public health issue. It breaks my heart and makes me angry how many friends in all sorts of situations from doctors to teachers to non-profit workers have had to leave their jobs after a few years because the system has sucked them dry. Lovers, too, who are trying to make it but feel isolated and left with the emotional and logistical burdens of time find themselves asking “can I take it anymore?”
If this sounds familiar, then read on. The tarot has some good medicine to help you tend your inner fire, stamina and stability over the long haul, and 3 commitments to make to yourself for prevention.
Wands: The Path of “Purpose and Passion”
The suit of wands explores an individual’s purpose and passion. I love this perspective from tarot as “purpose and passion” can take the form of whatever gets you “fired up,” including the gifts and skills that may be/come your career as well as your life’s’ important relationships; sexual, romantic and creative in nature. This is some of the best stuff of life, and the suit of wands has many cards that are energizing and inspiring.
The arc of the cards leading up to the 9 of wands is powerful, beautiful and exciting. In 9 cards, we get to see the brilliance that is possible when authentic desire opens into visionary love, dedication and perseverance. It’s the version of aging where you get better and cooler and more confident and more respected with every new chapter in both love and work. Not without some struggle along the way by any means, but in general it’s an upward trend. So it’s a real slap-in-the-face shock to end it up with the 10, which seems to say that a life of purpose and passion ends with burden and isolation.
Although I’ve been practicing tarot for close to 20 years now, this year the context in which the tarot was created is really striking me. I wrote about this in my last tarot post on Death and the Emperor, acknowledging the European cultural roots of the tarot AND our current economy and government. So, at risk of being a slightly broken record, I’ll say it again; I blame the capitalist heteropatriarchy. I blame the non-profit industrial complex. I blame isolationist nuclear family models of relationship. A life of purpose and passion is the greatest possible gift, and it should not be another natural resource for industry or individuals to tap and discard.
10 of Wands in the Feminist Future
In the Motherpeace deck, instead of an individual carrying a heavy burden, we see a group of women in ecstatic dance. If you just look at the two images together, it’s pretty hard to see how they could be connected to the same wisdom tradition with any integrity. Vicki’s image just sort of looks like a drug-soaked hippie music festival, right?
That is, until you discover the depth of her work in challenging patriarchal norms. The power of this card is the dream/memory/vision of a context that honors each individual's path of purpose and passion while ALSO centering the importance of collective culture. Throughout the wands in a traditional deck, you see the individual over and over again. Or the individual in a normative institutional structure, like a wedding. In the motherpeace, the wands are dedicated to the interrelationship of our individual paths within the context of meaningful community.
In the 7 of wands, girls argue with each other to figure out who will take leadership (and responsibility).
In the 4 of wands, rather than a wedding we see a cohort of girls in a coming-of-age ceremony...the same girls who have become mature women by the 10, and who have seen each other through a lifetime of heartfelt effort. These women have shown up for each other at births and divorces, at failed efforts and big successes. It makes sense then, that at the end of the Motherpeace suit of wands, we see ecstatic dance in a collective setting.
Is the dance joyful because all things are possible when we have support?! YES. Is the dance one of surrender because when we have community we can let go of responsibilities that no longer serve us, trusting that someone else will carry the torch if need be?! YES.
If you get this card in a reading
It’s time to assess sustainability and reciprocity in your current situation. No matter how passionate you are, you are also a real, whole person and need to take breaks, enjoy the scenery, and be met in your most important endeavors. Tarot is a great “tough love” teacher, and in this case it might be time to face some difficult truths. Can you stay? Should you stay? Are you in the best situation for your purpose and passion to shine AND be fully valued emotionally and materially?
And, perhaps most importantly, the practical wisdom for right now and the long run is that the best burnout prevention is welcome meaningful support. So, ask yourself: are there people around you that you can cultivate a deeper relationship with? A co-worker that you can share your heartache with? A friend who would help watch your kid while you work on your new small business, or someone who might trade you for bodywork after a stressful event? The small ways we care for each other make a big difference in time, because they change the context of our lives.
The 10 of wands wants you to take seriously the physical, emotional and spiritual toll of overextension. Since this is such a common issue in modern life, we have to look at the collective and individual components. It will take all of us leaning in to help each other in radical, practical ways, to move in the direction of the motherpeace image. But we all want that, right? We all want to get to the end of the road and feel like dancing when we get there. So I want you to make a commitment today to these three things:
Commit to honest inventory on a regular basis: Am I over-extended? Burned out? At risk for either?
Where are the opportunities to cultivate intimacy and holistic visibility? You can’t carry it all alone, so commit to nurturing authentic connections, new and old.
Reciprocal support is the key to shifting the personal and cultural narrative, and it flows from those authentic connections. Commit to asking for help when you need it, and offering help when you can.
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