How a Brain Aneurysm Diagnosis Transformed my Tarot Practice


If you knew that you could die at any moment, suddenly and without warning, how would you live your life? What would you walk away from without a second thought? What would you communicate? How would you start living? 

If you knew that you could die at any moment, suddenly and without warning, how would it change your spiritual beliefs? How do you imagine it might change your Tarot practice? 

What kinds of questions would you ask of your Tarot deck if you were face to face with the possibility of death, often on a daily basis? How would you relate to the cards? How would you relate to yourself? 

What would it mean to rethink everything you thought you knew and believed that the Tarot could be? 

These are the questions I started asking myself when I was diagnosed with a fusiform brain aneurysm in December 2017. The diagnosis came after a period of enormous stress and anxiety, compounded by excruciating head and neck aches, followed by a number of mysterious symptoms that seemed to warrant no less than an MRI. From there, the unthinkable: an enlarged, inoperable blood vessel in my brain stem, to be monitored for the rest of my life. 

The diagnosis was in and of itself a kind of torture: a threat to the body that could take my life at any moment, and nothing could be done about it until the threat was underway. The degree of trauma, terror and grief I experienced around this was indescribable. Almost overnight, Death swept into my life and took up permanent residence. 

I knew that this news would irrevocably change my life -- what I didn’t expect is how deeply and profoundly it would shift my Tarot practice.

At the time of my diagnosis, I had been teaching folks how to read Tarot for the present moment for about two years. The core of my work is centered around inviting students to view and utilize the Tarot as a helping tool around fear, discomfort, and trauma. This method of reading is called Soul Tarot, a way of interpreting the cards that I developed through using Tarot as a tool in my own healing journey after a PTSD related breakdown in 2014. Applying the Tarot as a kind of salve to experiences of panic, trauma, anxiety, and hypervigilance was something I became adept enough to teach, with great passion and enthusiasm.

Tarot was unquestionably the deepest medicine, most beloved tool, and clearest bridge to God in my life. 

After my diagnosis, I stopped being able to read for myself. 

Oh, don’t get me wrong: I tried. I pulled constantly, as you might imagine someone in my situation would. Every time I would feel a headache, or sharp pain in my neck, I would turn to my deck, as I had done each time I experienced anxiety or trauma that was too big for me to get on top of, to help me know what was really happening.

This time, I wasn’t getting answers. The clarity and relief I so desperately longed for was met with silence. I was enraged at God. I felt lost, abandoned by my cards. What had worked for me around those prior experiences was not working for me now.

It took an unraveling over many months to understand the kind of transformation that was taking place within me, and within my practice. It took some time to understand that I was being invited to ask different questions of my deck.

Every time I asked a question with even a hint of future, a hint of “why,” the deck was silent. If I brought my terror of sudden death to my deck, it was silent. Over time, I started to experiment with asking questions for the present moment. Not, “What is the outcome of this headache,” or “Why is this aneurysm here?” I never got answers to those questions. Instead, “What am I being invited to pay attention to in this moment?” always yielded a deep and generous response, one that included my head, and the fear I had around it.

I slowly began to realize that the cards and my guides were teaching me to work with my deck in a new way, a different way. They were helping me to gain new skills, to lean on Tarot for an anchor to be with what is, with the full spectrum of my experience, without trying to change, alter, or move out of it. Everything could come with me: the headache, the hyper vigilance, the fear, the specter of death. It was all present, and all medicine, helping me to grow and expand.

What does it mean to look to the Tarot for what is? It means that we start with what is actually happening around and within us at any given moment, rather than trying to leapfrog over it to get to what’s next. How do we read Tarot for what is, without attempting to change or bypass what’s here? By noticing what is present with and around us. By asking what we can offer our attention to. By asking what hurts, and then slowly learning to stay with the wound. By tending and listening, rather than fixing. By rethinking the way we have used, interpreted, and reached for our decks.

What is the value in being with what is, especially when we might believe that Tarot can offer us a peek into our future? Simply that there is no future. It is not a fixed state. We are birthing the most aligned future for ourselves in every moment that we agree to be awake to what is. When we pull cards for the future, we are only glimpsing into one window of possibility. We are in an ever changing, co-creative dance with the future, propelled by our choices and our free will. What we pull in one moment will inevitably change, and this is something to celebrate.

The medicine that resides in the present moment, no matter how uncomfortable or uncertain, is a gift beyond measure. When we attempt to bypass the present moment and move into the future, we rob ourselves of the limitless potential and wisdom of what is here. It is only when we open our eyes to what is that we truly create the capacity for change. From there, true evolution is possible.

My aneurysm is truly one of the greatest gifts of my life, my most important, revered, and respected teacher. It has become a kind of oracle, helping me to make decisions for the good of my body. If I had been unwilling to be present with it, I might not have been available to receive the gifts that it brought me. It has helped me to shift things that weren’t working in my life, and helped me to cultivate the courage to reach for the things that did. It has helped me to mature, to become softer, and far more present in my relationships as a result of living with this diagnosis. My connection with Spirit and my intuition has blown open past what I ever thought was possible. My work as a Tarot teacher has become so much stronger than it was. It has helped me to rest in the unknowns of life. It has allowed Death to become a friend and ally. All of these gifts and treasures, a life I am so grateful for, and I have this amazing, powerful, serpentine little aneurysm that could to thank for it.

We don’t know what’s going to happen — and the Tarot can help. It can be the roadmap that guides us back home again and again. It can help us be with anything, and I mean anything, that arises in our life. A whole world of guidance, wisdom and compassion, embedded in these 78 miraculous cards. It all begins with one little question: what are you being invited to pay attention to?

If you would like to learn to use the Tarot in this way, I humbly invite you to consider my new Tarot course, Tarot for What Is, which was conceived through my experience with the work above.

To learn more about the course, go to Enrollment opens on Monday, August 12th!