On the floor with Osho: the Transcendental Game of Zen
This is a story about a journey within—what I call inner travel. It is a self-exploration, a walk through the shadowy places of my inner landscape to illuminate the source of my creative block: myself.
“Know thyself and you will know the Universe. Humans are a microcosm. Absolutely everything that exists on the outside exists within. The answer to every question can be found in our inner worlds — that’s where we find the antidote to all our ailments.”
—Sri Prem Baba
I am sitting atop a meditation cushion on the living room floor, shuffling Zen Tarot cards. The rising sun is beaming through the wide-frame windows, creating bright squares of light and geometric shadows on the hardwood floor. I’ve never given or received a proper Tarot reading, but desperation leads to improvisation. I follow the instructions and lay out eight cards in a key formation.
I’m sitting here, splayed out on the floor at sunrise, because I haven’t written anything decent in months. Actually, I haven’t written anything in months…maybe a year, maybe longer — I’ve lost count. My creative energy is weak from disuse like stagnant water breeding disease. I’ve run out of ways to procrastinate, and there are no more external circumstances to blame, so I’ve arrived at my last resort…Osho’s Zen Tarot: the Transcendental Game of Zen.
I’ve toyed with this Tarot thing in the past, picking a single card to reflect upon or opening the booklet to a random page for some flash wisdom, but that’s the extent of my experience. Now I’m sitting down with these cards as if they were Osho himself — a living, breathing, enlightened master who could lead me to the light switch in a dark room.
There are eight rectangles face down on the floor and together they form a giant key — a layout that promises to bring insight into hidden aspects of a particular issue. My particular issue is the resistance that keeps me from writing something meaningful. Or writing anything at all.
I consider the possible outcomes of this beyond-the-mind game. Best-case scenario: something shifts, the block clears, and I’m flooded with creative energy and inspiration. Worst-case scenario: I kill some time, waste a few journal pages, and earn another productive procrastinator badge.
Osho, Spirit, Universe, show me the truth about what is keeping me in this cycle of self-sabotage. Why am I so afraid of writing these stories? What is the root of this resistance? I’m prepared to see the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God/dess.
I flip the first card at the bottom of the key formation, which represents the aspect that’s being repressed, and it’s WE ARE THE WORLD. There’s an image of Earth in space lined with brightly-colored figures that are holding hands and dancing. The rainbow people encircling the planet represent humanity, collectively rejoicing and celebrating the power of creation. There are seven billion expressions of this creative force on Earth — each with its own unique purpose, its own gifts and talents, its own hidden treasure to unveil.
Osho tells me, through the text in the accompanying booklet, that this card represents a time of communication, a time to share the inner riches that I hold inside for the good of the whole.
Okay, no big deal. My ability to communicate and contribute to the world is repressed. My inner treasures are sitting inside a cardboard box collecting dust. I’m off to a good start.
I remember a time when I returned from a year working abroad and found myself in the eye of the economic shit storm of 2008. There were massive layoffs in the publishing industry, and Wall Street guys were applying for bartending jobs, so I decided to escape New York and bounce around the U.S. for a while hoping to find my next landing zone. Somehow, through a series of misfires and fumbles, I ended up moving to the buckle of the Bible Belt and working as a legal secretary in a litigation firm.
My first “real job” (not counting my service industry stints in high school and college) was similar, except back then I was a fresh-out-of-college-22-year-old, considering law school, and making slightly more money with far less experience. Almost seven years later, I found myself farther back on the same road, some unknown force driving me through the fog. I floated there, in that space in between, for more than two years. I woke up each day feeling a little smaller, lesser than the day before, more suffocated with every breath — like I was shrinking. My life was like a tiny ball of Saran Wrap wound around itself.
One morning, a tall middle-aged man with short salt-and-pepper hair strolled into the firm’s lobby. His gray pants were tailored and he wore a button down shirt with no tie. He was well groomed but there was something loose about him like he would rather be in a t-shirt and jeans on a farm. He introduced himself with a slight Southern accent and a charm-your-mama smile.
His attorney was stuck on a conference call, so this gentleman stood at my desk and struck up a conversation. We shared stories about our mutual love of music. He asked about my past lives in California, New York, Italy, and Laos. I inquired about his nonprofit work and his adventures as a pilot. We talked about family, writing, and Buddha.
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” he wondered.
“Go ahead,” I replied.
“What are you doing here? Sitting at this front desk?” he asked.
My stomach tightened.
“Well, this job pays the bills…and I don’t really have a better plan at the moment,” I admitted.
“What if you could wave the magic wand?” he smiled.
Are you serious?
“What if money were no object and you could do whatever your heart desired — whatever made you happy?” he asked.
“What would you do then?” he wondered.
Oh, you’re not joking. Um, what would I do then? I wondered.
I scanned the foreign landscape of my heart.
What do I desire? I asked.
I waited for an honest response.
Okay, any response works — just make something up.
The fluorescent lights interrogated me from above.
Hello? Is there some passion or dream or magic in here somewhere?
YO! WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY?
I sat there, frozen, my bare legs glued to the black leather desk chair.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” I said. “I have no idea.”
Hot tears streamed down my face.
I drift back to the floor spread and adjust my weight on the cushion slightly, stretching out my crossed legs. A prickly sensation in my left foot runs up my calf.
How long have I been gone?
I shake my leg, forcing it awake, and turn my attention to the second card, THE DREAM—this represents the feminine aspect of the issue. The illustration shows a sullen peasant girl gazing up at a projected daydream of Prince Charming and his imaginary princess.
This card calls attention to the fantasies of fairytale love — the kind of love that saves the princess from the tower (the kind of love that assumes she needs saving in the first place). The brutal truth, Osho writes, is that neediness drives one to seek love and acceptance from others, and the fear of being alone is at the root of all romantic fantasies. But real love, the natural state of one’s being, is a deep well sourced from within.
When one turns inward to find real love, the booklet explains, there is no falling or seeking. When the illusion is broken the sullen peasant girl connects with her own inner richness, the flow that’s been there all along. And then she gives that love away freely — without exceptions, without conditions, without a thought for its return.
But in the dream, in the illusion of love as an acquisition, someone or something delivers you from yourself — a partner, a job, a house, a child—which sounds simple enough. Love is shipped and happiness arrives. Finally. But there is only one kind of love that can be brought to your door and that love is conditional. Conditional love demands respect and reciprocity, it begs for appreciation and acknowledgment, it whispers expectations and judgments. Its story runs deep.
I know this love.
Is this the only love I know?
One winter morning, I sat on a meditation cushion and listened to another guru’s thoughts about love. This was the daily satsang, a gathering where students absorb a master’s wisdom through his spiritual discourse. Sri Prem Baba sat in a teak-framed chair with large white cushions on a slightly elevated platform, his olive Brazilian skin in contrast to the loose white curls that hung at his shoulders. His gray beard framed a beaming smile, his dimples like exclamation points.
Prem Baba explained that when we seek love and acceptance outside of ourselves the foundation of that love is built on emotional neediness and a fear of not having, or being, enough within.
“This is what makes us seem like a beggar sitting on a box of diamonds,” he said.
Baba went on to explain that the beggar was lost in the illusion of scarcity and separation; he lacked the awareness to see that he was connected to the source of All That Is, so he sought help from outside. The beggar didn’t realize that he was sitting on a box of diamonds, a wealth of inner riches that would provide everything he needed for his experience in this lifetime—an infinite well of unconditional love.
As Prem Baba spoke, I closed my eyes and saw myself as the beggar, rattling my cup, hoping someone would deem me worthy enough to toss a few coins my way. When I attempted to envision myself sitting on the box of diamonds, I couldn’t—the scene was fuzzy. I tried to bring the box into focus and when I could finally make out the diamonds my first instinct was that they must belong to someone else.
Prem Baba encouraged us to awaken from the dream of the beggar and share our inner wealth freely with the world. When you truly give love, he explained, the neediness to receive it disappears. When you awaken and see the box of diamonds, he continued, you will recognize that you’re connected to an abundance of unconditional, unwavering love, and there will be nothing left to seek. Once you are united with this inner source, only then can you truly love another.
“May we love instead of wanting to be loved,” Baba concluded.
But how does this — this illusion of unworthiness, this dream of separation, this addiction to conditional love — relate to my writer’s block? Sure, I seek love and acceptance from others instead of tapping that source within myself, but how does the dream of the beggar connect to my stagnant creativity?
Is there a fear that I won’t be accepted if I share these personal stories? Am I playing small, afraid of my own creative power, frightened by the thought of exposing my inner world? Perhaps I’m waiting for some creative Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet and deem me worthy—to drop the perfect opportunity, the perfect idea, or the perfect words into my beggar’s cup?
Maybe it’s all of those things…or none of them. Sometimes the punch lands a few days later. Osho is in no rush.
I flip the third card, the masculine aspect, and it’s THE CREATOR. I smile and shake my head.
Osho, always the comedian.
The creator is depicted as a bald guy in a silk robe holding a glowing orb. He has mastered the fire of passion — he doesn’t repress it or allow it to rage out of control. This King of Fire is completely integrated, Osho writes, there is no difference between his internal being and his external expression in the world.
Sounds like some serious Zen shit to me.
Osho outlines two types of creators. One focuses on objects — the poet, the painter, the sculptor — a creator of things, forms, items one can behold. The other type of creator, the mystic, creates herself as the masterpiece. Here, the work of art lies within. If you become this kind of creator, then how do you know when the inner work is ready to display? If there’s no final draft, no finish line, no product, then how do you know when it’s time to share the creation with the world?
Is there anyone in here who’d like to chime in with an answer?
Nope? Just me? Okay.
I remember how hard it was for me to tell people that I was “a writer.” I would momentarily freeze after I’d uttered the words like a thief caught on camera waiting to see if an alarm would go off. I mean, technically I had a very-fucking-expensive master’s degree in journalism, and I wrote blurbs, service pieces, and blog posts for reputable national magazines. But that wasn’t really writing — not to me anyway. “Writing” in that context involved pitching an idea, waiting for someone else to decide whether it was worthy, and then employing the voice of the brand. No first-person narrative, no depth beneath the service writing, no coloring outside the lines. After all that time I spent “writing” there wasn’t much energy left for the real thing.
A couple years ago, during one of my what-the-fuck-am-I-doing-with-my-life phases, I discovered something called the rose meditation. At the time, I had no idea what an energetic sponge I was and how much debris I’d absorbed living in New York City and working in Times Square. Still, something struck me when I heard the description of this active form of meditation.
“The rose meditation releases energy that isn’t yours, protects you from absorbing the energetic frequencies around you, and aligns you with a higher vibration — your spirit, your intuition, your inner guidance.”
I was sold.
A few months later, I went to a rose meditation retreat in Brooklyn. I knew that I needed some form of guidance, and the inner kind didn’t sound so bad. What I didn’t know was that in this workshop I would also learn an energy healing technique called aura reading. And if you’d told me, the Old Me whose rational mind and professional existence was based on hard facts, that one day I’d be reading auras my response would’ve been something like, “Are you high?”
A year later, during the second level of this aura reading training, a dozen of us were seated in a small room trading readings when my Creator of Things identity was challenged. A man sat across from me in a wooden chair, eyes closed, explaining the images and messages being transmitted from each layer of my aura, squirming slightly as the energy passed through his body.
I know, I know. Just stick with me here, okay?
The current message related to the fact that I’d grown so accustomed to lying to myself, fallen so deep into the illusion of my own fairytale, that I wasn’t sure how to distinguish the truth from the lies.
“Why did you become a writer?” he asked.
“Well, I knew I could write and I was decent at it, so it seemed like a logical path,” I replied.
Now I was the one squirming in my chair.
“But I don’t feel like I’m really writing. I’ve been working as a research editor and writing little things on the side, but that writing doesn’t feel meaningful or real to me,” I continued. “So, to be honest, I don’t really feel like I’m a writer.”
“No, not ‘to be honest.’ That’s the lie,” he said. “The truth is you are a writer. The lie is you are not yet a writer.”
I’m not buying it.
“I want you to say, ‘I’m a great writer,’” he prompted.
“Uh…I’m a great writer,” I said, squirming.
“How does that feel?” he asked.
“It feels like part of me believes it,” I replied.
“You have all this creative energy, but it’s locked down. There’s a big NO here,” he said.
You’re telling me.
“I see an image where you are three or four, and you’re playing with clay or Play-Doh or something. It’s like you’re creating something that never existed. Someone misunderstood what you were making and humiliated you. Then a fear was introduced—a fear of creation…” he paused. “It feels like your creative impulse was shut down because of some kind of shame.”
My stomach churned. A distant memory felt just beyond reach but it disappeared before I could grasp it.
“I feel a lot of judgment here,” he continued. “I wonder, is there something you’ve written that you’re proud of?”
I tried to respond but only a small squeak was audible. I felt like a cannonball had just been shot into my gut at close range.
“Is there anything you’ve created that you’re proud of?” he pressed.
“No,” I whispered, choking back tears.
“Okay, so this is it. This is the key,” his voice softened. “This feeling that you’re not worthy of creating something that’s beautiful, fill it with love. This belief that you haven’t created anything in your life that is worthy of admiration…this is the lie,” he said.
This is the lie.
Remembering this exchange I begin to cry. I can see that confused little girl with Shirley Temple curls wanting to create something unique — something that had never existed, something magical. But shadow entered, the color faded, and the clay dried up. The little girl retreated, shrinking into the corner, and her vision was gone.
I hear Osho’s voice in my head, blasting like an internal loudspeaker, calling me back to the cushion. I return to the spread in my living room, tears running down my face. The booklet in my hand screams up at me: “Using whatever skills you have, whatever you have learned from your own life experience, it is time to express yourself.”
Yell louder, Osho, I want that little girl to hear you.
I take a deep breath and refocus on the cards lying upside down on the floor awaiting my attention.
Are there really five more cards to go? I can’t sit here all day like this. Maybe I should take a break…make some food, switch out the laundry, check my e-mail. Whose idea was this anyway?
I reach for the next card hesitantly, and return to the booklet for guidance before I proceed. What does this card represent again? Oh, yes. This is the meditation — something to focus on or reflect upon in relation to the issue.
I flip the fourth card and, oh fuck, here’s SORROW. The image is a distressed monk in a burgundy robe set against a gray background. He is hunched over, sobbing, reaching his hand up to cradle his head — he is in complete despair. I feel the energy drain out of me just looking at his face. I don’t want to read the card’s description. I don’t feel like hearing his story. Maybe this isn’t my kind of game.
I resist the urge to distract myself. I hear a chorus of voices pulling me in different directions.
Seriously? Tarot cards are making me cry? Come. On.
Time to check Instagram.
This is such a waste of time.
Did I leave the light on in the bathroom?
I look at the face of the man on the card, Ananda, Buddha’s cousin and devoted disciple. The story goes that after Buddha died Ananda sat weeping at his side; the other disciples didn’t understand why he was so upset. Buddha achieved enlightenment, he died fulfilled, this should be cause for celebration. But Ananda didn’t cry for Buddha, he wept for himself. After forty long years as Buddha’s right-hand man, Ananda still hadn’t attained. It’s said that Ananda sat up all night meditating, sitting inside his sorrow, and by morning he was enlightened.
I consider the path: Sorrow, 5 miles ahead. No more services for 100 miles. Next up: Enlightenment.
I don’t see the appeal.
When I look down that road, the path to sorrow, it branches out in every direction with no discerning landmarks to lead me one way or another. I feel this immovable force inside me emerging and I step outside myself to greet it. A vision of a little girl appears; she resembles the character from my aura reading. She’s playing in the dust, sitting in the middle of the road where all the paths meet. I ask her if she’ll take a walk with me to see where these roads lead.
I tell her we’ll go together, that she won’t be alone, but she still won’t budge. I try to explain why it’s important to go on this journey; I even try bribing her with chocolate.
I sit down beside her.
What if we just look down the road from here? We can see what’s out there in the distance but we don’t have to go anywhere.
She looks up at me.
I consider flipping the next card in the sequence and coming back to this whole sorrow business later. But I feel for the little girl who’s stuck here; I don’t want to leave her again. I decide to peek down one of these paths from where we sit. The first road leads to my hometown in northern California. As I focus on this path, images and memories begin to flood in like a movie playing in fast-forward.
The first scene that came into focus was from the summer before my freshman year of high school. I ran off the bus from dance camp and hopped into my grandmother’s burgundy Jeep Cherokee. I was giddy and there were remnants of glitter on my face.
“Your grandfather died,” my mom said when I got into the car. “The funeral is next week.”
For most of my life, my grandfather had essentially functioned as my father. He was my protection, my safety net. My parents were divorced when I was four, so I lived with my mom and my maternal grandparents from a young age. After my grandpa died, the walls around my heart went up. The emotional shut down wasn’t apparent to me at the time, but I discovered it years later when I overheard my mom talking to a friend of mine.
“Kristina didn’t even cry at her grandfather’s funeral,” she said. “I haven’t seen her cry in years.”
I hadn’t considered it until then, but she was right. A few nights later a vision of my grandfather appeared when I was lying in bed. I could see his face; I could smell his aftershave. He used to call me bambolina, which means little doll or pretty girl in Italian, and I heard his voice inside my head calling me by my nickname. I cried myself to sleep.
Another vision arrived on the hometown path and my paternal grandfather appeared. I saw my family standing around his casket. My dad’s dad was one of my closest friends; we had a special bond. He spoke the truth even when it was unpleasant or it made him unpopular. He was one of the first people who sounded the wake-up call for me when I was lost and unconscious riding in the passenger seat of life. He was a catalyst on my path of awakening—a beacon in the fog.
I saw myself standing at his funeral, more than 20 years after my first grandfather’s death, wondering why his casket was so small.
Could that little box really contain the enormous spirit of this great man?
Suddenly, my attention was drawn back to the dusty path of sorrow. Farther down the road, I saw a vision of my little sister as a young girl; she was dressed up as an angel for Halloween. My stomach kicked and flipped. In this vision she still seemed alive, innocent and embodied, but I knew that she wouldn’t make it to her 27th birthday. Flashes of her car accident cut through this angelic sight—that same burgundy Jeep Cherokee, rolling and crunching—and visions of the crash rushed through my mind. I heard loud screeches and glass breaking. I felt fear rushing through my body like hot water as death set in. I sensed the entire scene as if it were me driving that Jeep. This vision has been with me since the day she died.
I return to the cushion and this grief feels like an arrow stuck in my heart—the shaft snapped off, the point still buried deep inside. This is what leads to the door of transformation. This is the sorrow I’m being invited to meditate on. The pain isn’t here to make me miserable or to punish me, Osho’s booklet explains, it is here make me more alert—to focus my attention.
Look at me, the grief says, Don’t turn away.
I am here, the sorrow says, Sit with me.
I am your friend, the sadness says, I deserve love too.
The words in Osho’s booklet guide me and ask me to stay: “Go deep, to the root of this pain. Experience it as it is, without blame or self-pity.”
What is sorrow like without a narrator, without a story?
I knew Prem Baba, Osho, and some part of myself wanted me to go into the core of this sorrow, to find the scared little girl at the center of this maze. But I sat there, in the middle of the crossroads, unsure of which way to go, sensing that this despair was connected to a deep, transformative joy. I saw a dark energy rising in the distance like a pregnant rain cloud. This sadness beckoned, but it didn’t drift any closer—it didn’t move and neither did I.
I flip the next card quickly (before I find a way to talk myself out of it). The next three cards are insights into the body, the heart, and the being.
The body card is PAST LIVES, and I see an hourglass shape holding a whole cast of characters. The top half of the hourglass is surrounded by what looks like a cosmic vagina. Outside the center, where the top and the bottom meet, there are two brightly colored lizards guarding the space between the two worlds. The lizards seem like spiritual bouncers; they are the guys who decide whether to allow these past life characters entry into the conscious mind. The present life is enough of a challenge, so one must be prepared to carry the energy from other lifetimes before these stories can be revealed.
I like to think of past life energy as different costumes packed into the infinite space of a Mary Poppins carpet bag. Each outfit is connected to an identity—each carrying its own life story. Sometimes a person gets typecast, playing the same role over and over again, and the cycle goes on as long as the character continues to follow the script. But if the actor becomes aware that she’s also the writer and the director of these stories, there’s an opportunity to shift the energy — to rewrite the next scene and break the cycle.
The first aura reading I ever received opened with one of these loops from a past life. There was an image of a young man in a smart looking suit wandering along the beach, walking in circles. From the outside this man looked successful and put-together, everything seemed to be under control. But he was in denial about his inner chaos; he tried to manage it by avoiding it altogether. This young man was so disconnected from himself and his power, that he floated through life without exerting any will or making any conscious choices about his direction. His life happened to him.
There was something familiar about this autopilot existence. I saw similar patterns in my present life: the attempts at achievement, the sense that I had to keep moving even though I had no idea where I was going, the feeling of walking in circles and arriving back at square one time and again. And I could certainly relate to his attempt to keep the inner chaos at bay and maintain the meticulous image of “having it all together.”
The young man from this vision continued to visit me after his appearance in my aura reading. He showed up in my mind’s eye during my morning commute, walking with me through Times Square as I dodged tourists and Disney characters. He was there when I pushed my way through the revolving doors on 8th Avenue and paused to stare at the paper birch trees displayed like zoo animals behind glass. The birch trees grew inside a small cube carved out of the ground floor of the building; there was no entry into the open-air garden where they stood. The vision of the man stayed with me, walking an endless loop in my mind, as I made my way to the elevator bank and up to my desk on the 6th floor.
I felt this man’s powerlessness, the drain on his spirit, and the rigid box that contained him; I felt the strain on his body and the hollowness of his heart. He was like those birch trees on display—trapped on a tiny island of soil with nowhere to grow. It was his story that inspired me to rewrite my own. So, about a year ago, I decided to leave that building and that life and write a new story.
Except I haven’t written a damn word since.
The sixth card, NEW VISION, is the insight into the heart. The image reminds me of an Alex Grey painting: scientific, spiritual, and multi-dimensional. There is an outline of a circle sitting atop a square with a triangle in between and soft wings float between the geometric shapes. On the bottom of the card, a form crawls on its hands and knees with roots climbing up its body like veins. Above this earthly figure a spirit dances ecstatically through the cosmos.
In this new vision, there is an opportunity to see life in all its dimensions — from the depths to the heights. When you connect to the ultimate, the booklet explains, you are no longer separate. The human being is the bridge between the worlds of form and formless — between Earth and the cosmos. In the same way, the heart is the meeting point that connects mind, body, and Spirit.
The heart has its own intelligence. It can make decisions and offer guidance, but one must choose to move the central command station to the heart instead of the mind. Through this heart-centered approach, Osho writes, the full spectrum of life can be experienced.
When I learned to connect to Spirit through meditation, I began the painfully slow process of dismantling and reprogramming the control panel in my mind. I found subtle ways to override the dictator inside my head, and in this new place of stillness, I found another voice to guide me—a voice that whispered instead of screaming. Later, I realized that I’d gone straight from mind to Spirit, passing over my heart space entirely.
One day, when I was feeling heavy with the weight of a big decision, I sat down to meditate and talk to Spirit. But a different voice came through instead like I had picked up a nearby radio broadcast on my cosmic channel.
You’re seeking an answer to this big question and you haven’t even considered asking me. Why don’t we talk? You’re looking for guidance everywhere but here, inside your own heart. It’s my job, you know, to guide you.
So, instead of talking to Spirit, I decided to connect to my heart and listen to what it had to say. I had no idea what my heart space looked like or felt like; the random broadcaster was right…I didn’t come here often. The first image that appeared when I tried to envision my heart space was a blue grotto that reminded me of the Amalfi Coast. I saw myself floating inside this electric blue cavern, with a dolphin bobbing on either side of me. The water felt like a warm bath, and the air was salty and calm. The neon blue light that illuminated the cave seemed to be emanating from my body.
Suddenly, my inner critic broke the silence and the vision faded.
Why is my heart inside a cave? Shouldn’t it be somewhere that’s more open and free — like a meadow or a mountain peak or something?
And isn’t electric blue more of a third eye vibration? Shouldn’t the color be green or pink if I’m in the heart?
Luckily, I was used to this sort of interference. I knew that intuition always came first, so I decided to stick with the blue grotto scene and dismissed my mind’s suggestion for a redesign. Besides, dolphins seemed like a pretty legitimate guidance system and blue was my favorite color. I returned to the sea cave with my dolphin buoys, and I imagined connecting my heart to the Earth’s core through the ocean floor and to the center of the Universe through the top of the cave.
Remembering the vision of creating this heart space, I wonder if I could travel to this place to write. Maybe this sea cave could be my remote office. Perhaps my heart has more to say.
The final insight card, the insight into the being, is POLITICS. Oh, boy. The image on the card is disturbing, as is the current political climate in the Divided States of America. There’s a Joker-type character with dark green hair wearing an olive green button down shirt. He has what my grandmother would call “a shit-eating grin” on his face, and he’s holding a smiling white theater mask. There’s a brown rattlesnake with yellow clouds covering its body coiling around the mask’s handle and winding up toward the Joker’s face.
This freakish man, despite his resemblance to the president-elect, represents the politician that lurks within each of us. This inner politician lives in one’s mind; it tells lies and plays games, manipulating and scheming to stay alive, doing anything within its power to remain in control and retain its pole position. This fast-talker speaks with a forked tongue, changing his opinions and desires on a whim, maintaining a constant state of disturbance and distraction. He knows just the right moment to flip-flop and then he flops back to flip again.
I’ve watched the grand drama of my inner politician play out for some time now. These voices of judge and victim, of criticism and blame, of superiority and inferiority, of good and evil, of light and dark, are like an endless seesaw ride — up and down, back and forth, slamming into the ground on both sides.
Eventually, I stopped believing the stories and witnessed both perspectives from a place of neutrality. I didn’t affiliate with either party and from this middle ground I could see the false power they each wielded over me. The inner war was never-ending and victory was fleeting. Each voice would change its tone and its tactics as soon as it got what it wanted and the cycle continued.
My shadow work with Prem Baba was the first time I examined the thread of these stories and followed the voices in my mind back to their source. I went beyond my self-sufficient, keep-it-all-together mask to see what was behind it. I visited the home of the judge, the domineering inner dictator that I knew so well, and I saw so much shame — abuse, humiliation, abandonment. When I went deeper, I found a cowering victim hidden in the basement. Many of the same memories and stories lived there, but the script was flipped. This voice didn’t criticize, it blamed. The victim told stories of not enough, it always spoke in lesser than, and it had an excuse for everything.
Not-so-coincidentally, my shadow work was also the first time I became aware of my stifled creativity. Although I witnessed the block back then, I couldn’t see all the layers that are apparent to me now as I sit flipping through these cards in a trance. In the past, I experienced obstacles outside myself like giant boulders blocking the road, but my shadow work with Prem Baba showed me that I was the boulder. Unfortunately, the knowledge that I was the boulder wasn’t enough; I still didn’t know how to get out of my own way.
I return to my seat on the living room floor and all the cards are staring back at me — a swirl of colors and shapes, characters and visions—all but one. The last card represents the understanding that comes from the integration of all the aspects revealed so far; this is the final puzzle piece.
This whole exercise seems like a surreal dream, a psychedelic version of “This is Your Life.” Some of the guest stars seem to have nothing to do with my creative block, yet they have everything to do with it at the same time. I see all the pieces of myself, all my inner travel companions on this strange trip, lined up before me: Osho, the man with the magic wand, Prem Baba, the beggar, the King of Fire, the little girl, my grandfathers, my sister, the lost man on the beach, the dolphins in the grotto, the inner politician.
Hail, hail, the gang’s all here.
We’re almost there, gang.
I flip the last card…
And it’s REBIRTH. Hallelujah. The rebirth image shows a camel hidden in the fog at the bottom of the card, a roaring lion balancing on the camel’s back, and a young child emerging from the lion’s chest. The child is playing a flute and towering over the animals below. I recognize this symbolic image as an illustration of the process of transformation that Nietzsche describes in Thus Spake Zarathustra. This evolution, from the camel to the lion to the child, is what Nietzsche called the three metamorphoses of the spirit.
In this myth, the camel is loaded down with obligations and instructions from parents, teachers, authority figures — it carries other people’s ideas about right and wrong, good and bad, should and should not. And the camel uses this heavy load, put upon it by others, to transform into the lion. The lion rebels and runs from the crowd, standing alone and proudly roaring his truth. When the lion destroys the structure imposed on him by society and connects with his authenticity, then the child is born. The child integrates both the obedient camel and the rebellious lion, but doesn’t identify with either of them. The child is true to herself — spontaneous, innocent, and playful.
“When a lion roars in front of a mirror, do you think the mirror roars?” Osho writes. “The mirror does nothing, it simply reflects. Your consciousness is only a mirror.”
In the game of Zen, you are young, you are old, you are alive, you are dead, you are ephemeral, you are eternal, you are neither coming nor going. And all these states are just reflections in the pool of consciousness—they are nothing and everything all at once.
I sit on my cushion staring at the floor and reflecting on my Zen play date. I hear Osho’s voice inside my mind.
What did you learn from this exercise? Osho inquires.
Nothing, I reply.
Exactly, he says, I am simply a mirror of the wisdom you hold within.
I scoop up the key formation on the floor, returning the cards and the booklet to their box, and I sense the real key in my hands. I grab my laptop and begin to write.
I am sitting atop a meditation cushion on the living room floor, shuffling Zen Tarot cards…