Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Booknote: Mindful Tarot

Lisa Freinkel Tishman, Mindful Tarot: Bring a Peace-Filled, Compassionate Practice to the 78 Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2019.  ISBN: 978-0-7387-5844-2.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: mindfulness, wellness, Tarot
Format: e-galley
Source: NetGalley

I wanted to like this book, but it did not really work for me. Yes, the author has a doctorate, accolades, and credentials, but this book left a good bit to be desired for me as a reader. And the only reason I mention about the author's credentials is that many other more prominent reviewers brought them up as part of their positive reviews. Credentials are not an automatic proof a book is good or not. This book overall is not bad, but it has issues readers may want to consider.

The idea of integrating mindfulness with Tarot is very appealing. At a time when concepts like mindfulness and wellness are popular, including workplaces touting wellness programs (disclosure note: my own workplace touts a wellness program), a book like this makes good sense. The main issue with Mindful Tarot is a lack of balance. The author at times spends so much time on the mindfulness part that it is easy to forget this book is ostensibly about Tarot. In addition, the author too often spends more time telling stories of personal travels to various places and locations for meditation, retreats, so on that one wonders if we are reading a travelogue or a personal travel journal. There is nothing wrong with either one of those things, but I wanted a book on Tarot. What we do get on Tarot is just not that substantial. Given the promise of the topic, it seems like a lost opportunity. I feel this book could have been more. The book does offer a good amount of wisdom bits, but you have to wade through a lot of other stuff to get to them.

Despite its main issue, the book still offers some good things. The vision of the book sounds great. The author writes:

"Mindful Tarot is a complete practice: a practice that is as much about learning to live a more abundant and mindful life, as it is about deepening our connection to that wondrous gallery of 78 archetypes, the Tarot." 

The author also asks some good questions, such as:

"What if Tarot, when practiced mindfully, could teach us to live with this much joy and beauty? What if it could help us turn toward the world, even in the midst of confusion and trouble, embracing what is with clarity, with love and with a sense of possibility?"

On a side note, the author adds value to the book in the form of mp3 files available on her website. That material is supplementary, so I did not consider it in reviewing the book.

Another issue to consider is that the author can and does get a bit preachy on progressive values and issues. I am mostly OK with it, but for other readers this may be a consideration.

Additionally on the positive, the book does offer various exercises to try out. Sadly for this review, the galley did not always render the spread layouts properly on the e-reader. Still, the exercises are good things to try out (and I am sure they will look better in the print edition). The author does also provide ways, some of them very simple, to change outlook, to be more mindful of the present instead of too focused on the future. Once the book gets to the card meanings and actual lessons in Tarot, it gets better as a resource. Also note that you can look over the works consulted section for additional sources of study.

For libraries, I would say this is a very optional title. I probably will not acquire it for our collection (we are an academic library). For public libraries, I'd say this is likely optional as well. If you have a good amount of readers interested in wellness and mindfulness, then this book could be added to a collection of similar books. However, if you are looking at it as a Tarot learning book, there may be more accessible options out there.

In the end, I just thought it was OK.

2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

As I said, the author presents some good points, and she even quotes others as needed. For example:

"In a recent blog post, Tarot expert May K. Greer quotes educator Parker Palmer's famous dictum: 'Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.'" 

As an educator and librarian, I found her view of Mindful Tarot as inquiry to be intriguing and something I could see and possibly apply to my own Tarot journey. On inquiry, she writes:

"Inquiry forms a crucial component of Mindful Tarot as well. Mindfulness practice requires the clarity and precision of inquiry. Like a good wine connoisseur, we need ways to observe and articulate nuance. With its deeply rich vocabulary of archetypes and images, Tarot invites us into a finely tuned interpretive practice. We may think that the cards respond to the questions we ask, but the practice of Mindful Tarot reveals that the reverse is actually more accurate." 

To emphasize:

"When we spread out the Tarot, it is we who are responding to the questions posed by the cards." 

A side note. The author emphasizes the need to immerse in the Tarot, to learn its language. Sure, she is not interested in the occult or esoteric. On this, she writes:

"This mindful approach is not so interested in the occult or the esoteric. I'm not concerned with psychic or intuitive revelation. I'm not turning to deity, or channeled guides, or ascended masters, or any other veiled and hidden authorities. I'm also not striving to 'translate' as particular card in isolation, plugging a meaning from some expert source elsewhere. In truth, I am simply not concerned with what's 'elsewhere.' I'm hoping instead to hunker down right here." 

As I often say, you do you. In my case, I do read some occult and esoterica because I want to know things like Tarot's history and how we got here. But I also read books like this one. I think, and this is now an observation based on experience and some reading and study, that you do need to study as well as intuition, and maybe even a bit of mindfulness. What often irks me about some "intuitive" folks is the idea they just flat abandon or refuse meanings or other information because they got intuition. I've come to learn in my journey so far that you can use intuition but you also need that "book learning" (how much of that book learning you need can vary, but I would argue you do need it to some degree. You can decide how much or how little, or none at all. As I said, you do you. I have a pretty good idea how much I need it my learning along with intuition).

On another side note, a lot of learning in Tarot and cartomancy when I think about it is not unlike when I was learning critical theory (I was an English major in a previous life). There are different theories in criticism, and you study them, find the ones that best work for you, and those are the ones you apply in your work. In order to bend their rules, well, do you have to know what the rules are your are bending. So, and again, my view, intuition, book learning, occult, esoterica, astrology, kabbalah, so on and now mindfulness are part of that larger picture of study. I study some here, some there, find what I want to focus on more and what to focus on less, but they are always in my toolbox, and I can draw on that toolbox when I do readings. If nothing else, having specialized knowledge is good, but if you can supplement that with other theories and techniques, your reading is enhanced. Again, your mileage may vary.

If nothing else, getting back to the book, you need to know where you came from to know where you may go. To learn a language, learn it well, master it, you need both those vocabulary lists and immersion in the language experience. As a teacher who has taught languages, I understand that as essential, and as the author shows, this goes with mindfulness. She adds:

"To be sure, studying meanings is an essential part of the process, along the journey, in the same way that studying vocabulary lists is so critical for learning a new language. Indeed, Mindful Tarot requires our willingness to dive into the language of the cards as a whole." 

You also need context to be balance:

"When I practice Mindful Tarot I'm using everything I know about 'dictionary meaning' as well as context." 

Here is a good piece of advice the author provides:

"Read the guidebook that came with the deck, but don't rely upon it like a decoder ring. Read the meanings I provide, but don't rely upon those either. Make your deck yours." 

Another bit of good advice:

"But gravitate toward any Tarot deck you like-- even if its artwork or schema departs dramatically from the Waite-Smith imagery. As you practice with your deck, incorporating the readings below into your own inquiry, allowing your cards to pose questions instead of defining answers, over time you will undoubtedly weave your own sense of the integrity and wholeness of the Tarot in your life." 

At this point, once more, I cite the Rivera Tarot Corollary to Ranganathan:

"Every deck (Tarot, oracle, etc.) its user/owner/collector, and every user/owner/collector their deck." 

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