I’m looking at my very rare playing cards with a Mayan motif, and think about all the prophecies concerning the end of the world. Why are they so popular?
As a woman of words by training (the Zen way and the academic way), I see that the reason for the popularity of all apocalypse stories has to do with meaning, of course. Somehow there’s meaning in knowing that the world ends, because you then get in a hurry. It’s now or never, your legacy, the idea of ‘making a difference in the world’, or the idea that you’ll be remembered. There’s urgency regarding purpose. ‘You’re here for a reason’, the astrologers say, along with many others following mainstream religions.
But life has no meaning, and you’re not here for any purpose whatsoever. You can create a meaning about all that, but creating meaning has no meaning either, even though creating meaning can entertain yourself and others quite grandly.
I see that when there’s an existential crisis anywhere, it’s related to accepting the fact that life has no meaning, while, however, entertaining the idea that creating meaning has meaning.
As a person of Zen orientation, allow me to laugh my wits out. As an academic whose focus is nothing but how language works and for what purpose, allow me to laugh even more. Language is no more a reality than the reality I create with words. Words do not equal reality. Words are just words. Saying to yourself that you’re here for a purpose is serving yourself just that, words, not the presupposed purpose.
‘But you tell fortunes with the cards’, people say to me, when they have a hard time wrapping their heads around the seeming incongruity between predicting the future with the cards and having zero beliefs about anything whatsoever.
But you see, things are simple: Just as your body demands no meaning as its condition for existence, so there’s no meaning in believing the stories in our heads about things having meaning. My lungs don’t go speculating about how meaningful it must be to breathe. They just perform their function. Why is the brain any different?
Granted, we live according to stories, and the stories we tell with the cards are excellent, but that’s not because we need stories for our existence. In fact, the less stories, the more the enjoyment of what the body is ‘thinking’.
We can create meaning with words, and if we can’t do that, we can participate in other people’s creating meaning with words. Ask all the big religions about it, and they’ll all sign your entertainment survey. There’s lots of it. There’s value in stories.
But are all stories equally good? They aren’t.
What I see myself doing with the cards is probe this very question. I’m surrounded by stories, and I can tell a few myself, but are they any good?
Some would say that it depends on the purpose, or the context the stories are told within. Indeed. Context is king, as some smart folks have already conjectured. The financial prediction market is full of fortunetellers. They tell a story of numbers, probability, and statistics. I tell the same kind of stories using the cards, rather than math and economy variables.
But what if you’re one step further in your questioning of the meaning of life? What if even the story about my lungs not needing a purpose or meaning to function is just an imagined story in my head about there being a body to begin with?
Now, I don’t want to induce any vertigo effect in your heads with these questions, especially as I experience that myself all the time when I go laughing like a crazy Zen monk, putting myself in a very uncomfortable position, but I want to invite you to consider listening to what you’re saying all the time. Do you believe your words? If you do, why? Because they’re funny, entertaining, clever, convincing, strong, brilliant, or magical?
Now ask your cards as well: What is the purpose of believing in words? – including the performative ones that you say in church, the ‘I do’ thing, or the words of pride you offer your children when they do something well, or your partners when they exceed your expectations, or the cursing you bestow onto your imbecile boss and colleagues, or the ones who start a war of rumors against you?
Are you laughing yet? If you’re not laughing yet, read your cards for this very question: Why am I not laughing at ALL the words already?
We can all ask: Is there meaning, a purpose to life? Am I here for a reason? What is my path? We can even read the cards for all of that, but we can also read the cards for the inverse of the situation.
Therefore, let me close here with my Mayan cards, but not in response to a question. Rather, let me use the cards as a full stop to this invocation and benediction: ‘May we all laugh at the meaning of life. May we create or enjoy ‘meaning’ but may we also be free of believing that our creation or enjoyment has meaning. Let us all laugh to the hereafter. Amen.’
4 Diamonds, Ace of Clubs, King of Spades
There’s value in the well-structured ideas. Being on point is powerful. But what meaning, asks the King of Spades. Shovel it up.
I read the cards for this. Shovel it up. Bury the nonsense. I read the cards for the message that’s always like a breath of fresh air. What meaning? My cards are on the table right now, and I’m reading them like the Devil. What I see doesn’t have to have meaning. It just needs to stare me in the face.
The Playing Cards Foundation Course is open for registration until Wednesday. Learn to read with playing cards without attachment to ‘traditional’ nonsense, stories that promise the garden of Eden, yet delivering exactly nothing, or the words, on my word, regarding mastery over night and how you can capitalize on it. Learn to read the playing cards so you can laugh your wits out every time without feeling guilty that you’ve managed, yet again, to not rise to the standard for prescribed, normative compassion. I’m happy to welcome you in a club where you’ll be in a league of your own.