Conflict and chaos invite us to examine and destroy the structures keeping us confined to old ways of thinking, being, and doing. We emerge victorious not through fighting, but through surrender.
I started learning to work with the Tarot earlier this year, as a tool for cultivating my inner wisdom and deepening into my intuition. I’m working with Pamela Eakins’ book, Tarot of the Spirit, and the accompanying deck, illustrated by Joyce Eakins. This moon cycle, I’ve added daily reading to my morning routine. Each day, I’m shocked at how on-point the card is to what I’m experiencing.
Today, I pulled the Five of Fire — The Struggle.
Five of Fire: The Struggle
Saturn in Leo.
The System — now in question — has taken on a life of its own.
Authority. Bureaucracy. Theocracy. Monarchy.
Nation. State. Marriage. Family.
Structures challenged. Structures defended.
Only Fools move against the Proven.
Am I such a Fool?
— Pamela Eakins, Ph.D.
Even though this is my first time pulling this card, I have been here many times before, though I didn’t call it the Five of Fire at the time.
In Tarot, fire represents the spirit, the will, our lifeforce energy.
At the Five, something begins to move. This phase is about surrender, release, destruction. In the linear depiction of the creative process, the 4 is where a project reaches its initial peak and the 5 is where problems arise. It’s the point at which everything feels like it’s falling apart.
Here’s a visual depiction of how it fits into context:
The Heart of the Creative Struggle
The Five of Fire is the heart of the creative struggle, the point where we are called on to destroy that which no longer serves us. My sense is that if you’re on the journey of personal improvement and spiritual growth, you also find yourself at the “Five of Fire” often.
As I contemplated the right meaning of the Five of Fire and where I am on my own path, it occurred to me that perhaps the way for me to emerge through my own Five of Fire moment is to share my insights with you. So I offer this in the hope that it helps illuminate your path.
I’m far from an experienced Tarot reader. What I share below is what resonated most with me from Pamela Eakins’ interpretation, coupled with my interpretation.
This is simply a “show your work” moment — an inside peek at my thoughts and emotional processing.
By releasing myself from the constraints of structure and rules that tell me, among other things, that I must share only completed works, or have certain expertise on a subject to offer my insights, or have all the answers before I go forward, I am embracing my Five of Fire moment. I hope that this will encourage you to do the same.
Standing on the Brink of Change
You stand on the brink of change, between worlds… . the spirit in a state of chaos. Any attempt to go back to old imagery or ideas … does not work well at this time. Even though there is much disruption, on the deepest level, you do not feel remorse. You know that change must occur. — Pamela Eakins, Tarot of the Spirit, p.86
This is so interesting to me because I really feel this in my body. For the past few years I have felt caught between two worlds, almost like one foot is on the dock and one is on the boat, and I’m straddling both as the boat starts to pull away. Going into this year, my intention was to jump on the boat. Yet I have still found myself tethered back to the dock in some way; the structure I’m trying to leave won’t let me go.
Mind: Swirling in CHAOS
When I visit my mind, it is swirling with chaos. Running lists of thoughts, to-dos, ideas, and possibilities that are moving so fast it’s like they are running away from me. It is exhausting to try to keep up with my racing mind. I have so much uncertainty, and when I allow the mind to take over, that swirl drops down into my chest and stomach in debilitating anxiety attacks.
Yet in this moment, my body feels calm. I felt open-hearted this morning. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I didn’t feel it when I woke up, but I was able to get there. I opened my heart this morning. And when I rest in that open-hearted place, in the deepest levels of my soul, I have clarity on my direction and my purpose.
That’s not to say I have all the answers because I don’t. But I feel resolve — will — to continue to bring my vision to form. I know — in the sense of deep, embodied knowing (the true meaning of “knowledge”) — that I just need to continue to take small steps every day; the “product” that is destined to come into form will emerge from following the process of small, daily action.
What Triggers the CHAOS
It’s only when I start to think about timing; when I begin to wonder (or, more accurately: doubt) when (that) this will come together that I start to get pulled into chaos. When I don’t look at the calendar, when I don’t get caught up in the chaotic mindset of “the holidays are coming, the new year is coming, when are you finally going to extend the invitation to your work,” I feel centered and grounded. And I feel this at depths that I’ve not previously felt ever before.
The teachings around Tarot, like any spiritual and mystical tool, is that each time we revisit a place in the cycle, we are not really at the same place. It’s that saying:
Each time a man visits the river, it is different. For he is not the same man, and the river is not the same river.
I’ve never pulled the Five of Fire before, but it’s not my first visit to this place. The Struggle is part of my path.
The Struggle is my path.
Internal Struggle: Blocks, Disruptions, and Fragmentation
You are in a time of internal struggle. Your energy is heavy and dense. It feels blocked. You feel fragmented and disrupted. Things you have built seem to be dissolving. — p.87
What she describes here really resonates with me. I feel blocked in doing the things I know I need to do like some heavy force is preventing me from sending the emails and making the calls to extend my invitation to those who wish to join me in this experience I desire to offer. Even making simple calls or sending a text message to close friends feels like a huge mountain to climb.
I feel like each time I have started to get traction I have been disrupted. This client needs me. A new real estate opportunity arises (this is where I get caught between two worlds). Each time I start to regain momentum, another disruption enters the picture.
So many of the disruptions that entered my life year involved a destruction of some form: Burnout. Being censored in my personal opinions. Getting hacked (that was in February; it feels like years ago). My grandpa’s death. And then the more mundane things: Broken appliances at one client’s apartment; a leaking toilet in my apartment. Handling repairs to another client’s apartment. More examples of structures breaking down.
Even the self-inflicted disruptions were about destruction and release: clearing the clutter and old furniture out of my home before putting it on the market. That’s a double dose of dismantling structures of my physical foundation: clearing clutter and, eventually, giving up the structure of my home.
Fragmentation: Information and Knowledge
Fragmentation is a great way to describe the current state of my work product. I have notes everywhere: in physical notebooks, on loose sheets of paper, in various digital notebooks and repositories: Drafts, ByWord, Evernote, DayOne.
In the moments when I feel most fragmented, I search for or contemplate new organizing systems. How can I better corral and control all of these elements; to keep from forgetting things, to keep them from slipping through my mind? How can I create a second brain so I don’t forget anything?
I constantly feel like I need a week simply to pull all of those pieces together; to organize them in a way that I can find them more easily and have them in front of me all at once, so I can review them and put them together. They feel like pieces of a puzzle, scattered all over a house, and I need to bring them together and assemble them to see the picture of what wants to emerge.
But What If I’m Not Fragmented?
Suddenly, I realize that what wants to come through me is not in the notes. It is inside me. The fragmentation in my notes, clippings, and mindmaps is external. What is fragmented is the information, not the knowledge.
We turn information into knowledge by breathing life into it, by experiencing it as feeling, and by internalizing it in every cell of our bodies. The Hebrew word ladaat which means “to know,” is used in the Old Testament to convey physical intimacy. Adam knew Eve, and she conceived. To know is to feel, in the depth of your being.
The actual knowledge itself, the full picture of what wants to emerge, is within me. This type of knowledge is embodied — it cannot be forgotten. I don’t need a second brain to remember it, or a better organizing system to corral or control it. I need only to be in my heart and feel it.
Something to think about …
In any creative or growth process, there is a tension between this drive to change and the resisting of change. Eakins describes how at the Five of Fire we find ourselves persecuting new ideas, even when the voice of change comes from within.
There is no more accurate description for me of how I often feel stuck. It’s like I have a tug of war going on inside me. One side wants to move forward, the other side is paralyzed with fear and wants to stay where she is.
And then a third voice pops up to question the resistance: why can’t you do the things you need to do, to create the world you desire to create?
Eakins nails it with such clarity:
You have a strong vested interest in the existing structure; your whole life’s work or savings may have gone into creating or perpetrating it. – p.87
I feel like this is a fitting analysis of my inner turmoil. The pull to change is countered by the pull to protect what we created. This is where we get the triad of creation/maintenance/destruction.
Old Structures No Longer Fit
The process of growth is a process of outgrowing structures. At the most simple level, think of how a child outgrows her clothes and shoes as she grows. Those structures no longer fit her.
We accept this as a natural part of growth when we are young, or when see it in nature. Yet somehow, as adults, we become afraid of the destruction inherent in outgrowing structures that no longer fit us. We equate destruction with something negative when it’s really just inherent to the process of growth.
At the Five of Fire, a whole culture or society may be suffering an identity crisis. Lawsuits occur. Revolutionaries arise. Wars break out. Prophets speak. Poets publish. – p.87
Um, yeah. This. It definitely feels like we are in a Five of Fire moment, culturally.
The Quest of The Struggle
The Five of Fire is about the fall of spirit to the conditions of “man.” It involves the quest to free the spirit — our lifeforce energy— and reconnect with the Oneness from which we emerged.
In our physical world, we seem to work hard at building structures which become the very means by which we are later trapped. Our need then becomes to abandon or destroy such structures. – p.87
I feel like this is the eternal struggle: we build structures and systems to help us achieve what we desire. These same structures eventually trap us. We know we need to destroy them to set ourselves free and allow for our growth. But, because we invested so much time, energy, money, and resources into building the structures, we resist destroying them. And then we feel stuck.
It seems to me that this impasse generally gets resolved in one of three ways:
- An external force destroys the structure
- We work through the resistance to destroy it ourselves
- Nothing happens >> maintenance mode
The first two options lead to growth; the third leads to stagnation, and eventually decline. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.
Does the Creative Process Live at the Five of Fire?
Assuming we resolve the impasse, we find some clarity for a while before we are back in this place. And maybe that is just the path for some of us.
This reminds me of something I just read from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Exploring these issues of struggle, Rabbi Sacks writes about Mozart and Beethoven. By all accounts, music flowed easily for Mozart, but
Not so for Beethoven, for whom it sometimes took years for an idea to crystallise into its final form, with countless drafts and revisions and crossings-out. This was a man who could be angry with himself and with the world, for whom creativity was a struggle from which he emerged triumphant with work that is rarely less than strenuous and full of conflict until its final majestic resolution.
This really resonates with me and my struggles, not so much in hatching the creative seed, but in bringing my ideas to form. The self-directed anger, feeling like I’m struggling with myself and with the world, followed by the triumphant unveiling, only to repeat the entire cycle again and again. And yet there is hope:
The ethereal, mystical, almost other-worldly quality of [Beethoven’s] last compositions, the sublime late piano sonatas and string quartets, are the creation of one who has finally found peace after a life of wrestling with his own angels and demons.
The Tree of Life
Eakins’ book and accompanying deck are rich in their wisdom, and incorporate the elements from the Kabbalistic Tree of Life. On the Tree of Life, the Fifth circle is the Circle of Gevurah, which represents the energy of destruction. In every suit, the Five implies destruction of some sort; the Five of Fire implies destruction by burning. This burning away can mean that there is a surge of will (the masculine energy) that is not yet connected with Binah, the feminine force of emotional attachment. Binah is the sphere of deep understanding.
Without the regulating force of understanding and emotion, the active, energetic force of Fire burns out of control. Thus, we may not realize why we seem to be destroying that which was once dear to us.
Inside, you burn like a fire out of control. There is no cooling force of emotional balance to quell the flames. You experience the uncertainty and burning struggle inherent in the human condition. – p.87
The Extremes of Fire: Burn-up or Burn-out
Immediately I recall my period of burnout from earlier this year and the California wildfires. These are the two extremes of what happens with fire.
Fire needs wind and earth to keep it alive, and water to keep it on track. Without wind — which, in Tarot, represents intellect, the manifestor of idea — and earth, which represents the form of an idea, or grounding — fire will burn out.
When we keep going at the pace of hustle — the always on, always busy, always striving mode — we abandon our intellect and become ungrounded, and our inner flame burns out. When deny our fire access to water — suppressing our emotions of understanding and compassion, the fire will destroy what’s in its path, even if that thing is us.
Eakins highlights the positive aspects of destruction by reminding us that at the Five of Fire, we are destroying that which no longer fits: structures that are obsolete, useless, and outdated.
You are burning clean and purifying yourself in order to move to a higher level. – p.88
This brings to mind for me the laws around how to make a pot or utensils Kosher: you do this by fire: burning it or boiling it.
I recall that I read in my Yom Kippur prayer book that the Hebrew word Kadosh, which means holy, also means “separate.” The idea is that we make things holy by separating them. The Sabbath is holy because it is separated. The laws of keeping Kosher are about separating dairy and meat as a way to promote cleaner eating.
Burning Bridges and Boats
The metaphor of “burning bridges” came to me. We tend to speak of this as something we shouldn’t do: “don’t burn your bridges.” We understand that when we “burn our bridges” we cut ourselves off from those who can support us. The fear of burning our bridges is that we will be without options or opportunity.
Suddenly I see it a different way. Burning bridges might simply be a necessary part of how we elevate to our higher level of consciousness. Perhaps we need to burn our bridges to external resources in order to access the resources that exist within us.
It’s like the saying “If you want to take the island, you’ve got to burn the boats.” The only way you can move forward is to destroy your ability to go back.
The Test of The Struggle
Eakins writes that the test of The Struggle is:
Can you surrender to the catabolic process of destruction and still attune to your basic goodness and caring within? – p.88
Contemplating this question where I stand today, I feel, perhaps for the first time, that my answer is: YES, I can.
The traumatic brain injury I experienced almost three years ago was my initiation to surrender. Prior to that moment, I, like many overachievers I know, equated surrender with weakness; it felt like giving up. Since then, life has provided me with a steady stream of opportunities to deepen into the skill of surrender. I’ve learned that surrender is not weakness; in fact, it takes tremendous strength to surrender — a strength of faith.
Attuning to Truth
As I cultivated the strength to surrender, I built supporting muscles too. I cultivated greater awareness of my patterns, and of the ways my inner critics try to sabotage me. Over and over, I’ve embarked on a path to return to my truth, where I can see my true nature. In that time, I’ve also learned to direct the elements of CARE — Compassion, Acceptance, Respect, and Empathy — to myself.
Realizing the Old Structures Are Dissolving
By no means have I perfected this, but the fact that I can be in a place of extreme change personally as chaos swirls in the external world, and still slow down — or even pause — to take it in and appreciate what’s going on, is progress. The fact that I feel grounded and open-hearted even while acknowledging the fear within me tells me I’ve created space for more. I’ve expanded. The old structures are already dissolving.
Perhaps this is what happens when you visit the Five of Fire enough times. 😉
The Challenge of the Five of Fire
Eakins writes that
The challenge at the Five of Fire is to flow with the process of change. Allow yourself to fail. Allow yourself to lose. – p.88
Yes, this is a challenge. To allow myself to fail or to lose is antithetical to my identity as an achiever, a slap in the face to my inner critic, who works overtime to ensure I win. And yet, what’s possible when we allow ourselves the space to fail?
My inner critic doesn’t like to lose, but what if losing wasn’t about actually “losing” in the sense of competition? What if, instead, losing was about losing the masks that keep me safe? What if losing was about letting go of control?
In that case, it might look as Eakins explains:
In losing all, everything is gained. This is the difference between being in control and being empowered. – p.88
The difference between being in control and being empowered.
This feels like a wisdom I am close to embracing. In the stillness of surrender, I learned that control is just an illusion. We cannot control events or people. We are not even so great at controlling ourselves. Most of our reactions happen at the level of the unconscious. The more we try to control things, the more we imprison ourselves. If we are trying to control how we appear to others, we prevent ourselves from being in our truth. This diminishes our power.
The moment we accept this — the moment we destroy the illusion of control — is the moment we empower ourselves to step into our truth.
This process involves letting go of false hopes and expectations. If you let go, you cannot be disappointed. If you let go of hope, you have nothing to fear. It is only by letting go of hope and fear that you begin to comprehend the vastness of space. This is the first step toward mastery. – p.88
And so here I am again, back in a place of letting go, itself a form of destruction. Release, trust and open were the three words I chose to guide my year, and they have proved prescient in this year of letting go.
What I’m Taking Away From This
Standing now at the Five of Fire, my invitation is to allow myself to fail and to lose. To allow myself to break free of the structures that aren’t serving me, including structures that tell me to write in a certain way, to cover only certain topics, to keep my writing to a certain length, to not reveal too much.
I’ve been taking small steps in this regard, but they have been cautious steps, designed to control my exposure: to rejection, misunderstanding, attack. I have managed to publish daily for 35 days without truly revealing myself. I’m still hiding behind the screen, behind safe listicles and generic topics that scratch the surface of the issues I face without revealing the depths of my experience.
Perhaps now is the time for something bigger. As I write this, I feel like even this piece is a test. Will I have the courage to hit publish, to share my rambling musings with the world, fueled by the fire of my intention to use my experiences and insights to help others? Or will this piece, like so many others before it, be stored within the structures that imprison my other unpublished works, while I opt to publish something “safer” and easier to follow?
Even as I write this, I don’t have the answer.
Herein lies the invitation to my initiation, my opening to ascend to my next level. The invitation is to release control, release myself from structures that confine me and the trappings of an identity that no longer fits me, and to dismantle the structures that prevent me from shining the light of my experience to guide the paths of others.
This is where I am, today, at the Five of Fire. Today, this is my struggle.
Thank you for reading this. I hope this has been helpful to you. If it has, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments, or you can contact me to share privately.