Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable, but they're never weakness.
— brene brown
out of all of the cards in the major arcana, strength is the one that i have the most familiar relationship with, though this relationship continues to evolve and develop with every experience. ever since i have started working with tarot, it frequently appears and in the fountain tarot it’s depicted by a a woman riding an amorphous beast with a fiery, feisty smile staring right at you. whenever i’ve looked into her eyes, it’s been hard for me not to feel that it is the part of me that has kept me moving forward, making tough decisions to protect and care for myself, and believing in my resilience even when i struggled to believe it.
my card for the year and for the card of april were both strength. after struggling to embrace the movement that the eight of wands (february) and king of wands (march) was demanding from the last two months, i decided that with that synchronicity april would be the month i truly needed to jump off the diving board i had been staring down and take the plunge.
before i get to far into my personal experience with the card of strength, for those who haven’t worked with this card before, let’s take a second to consider its more general meaning.
in the rider waite smith deck, the strength card depicts a woman with a lemniscate above her head in a flowing white dress, wearing a crown and flowers around her, holding the head of a lion as it gazes up at her. it’s interesting to consider, based on the context this card appears, is she exerting dominance and force against the lion, closing its jaws with its tail curled in submission underneath it? or is she stroking it, having tamed it and the lion finding comfort in her touch?
i believe it probably depends on what the lion represents for you, but either way this is not a battle scene. instead, they stand in a peaceful, sunny field with the sky a bright, golden color behind them. it is a scene exuding the elements of grace, fortitude, resilience, and courage. regardless of whether the lion is snarling or being stroked, it almost seems to welcome the opportunity to be tamed and provided guidance through the way it looks up at her, bows its body, and tucks its tail.
the lion will likely represent many different things, people, and situations that we face in life—but centered around the theme that it represents our passions, pride, ego, and the things we do to survive. i find it intriguing to consider how the lion appears so small next to the woman holding its head. i personally see that strength presents an opportunity for us to surrender our desire to fight for our survival or defend ourselves, pride, and passions to our intuition and parts of ourselves that are wiser and not so attached to our egos.
through experience, we learn that we do not have to burn bridges or lash out to get our point across or make healthy decisions. instead, we can make these choices for ourselves in a measured, calm way.
the fortitude and resilience that the woman exudes seems to indicate that we are more than capable of facing the situation at hand, if only we can surrender to our own abilities and trust our true strength to be calm, resilient, and truly courageous in the face of adversity.
how can we embark on this journey? in the words of brene brown, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
MY JOURNEY WITH STRENGTH
in my personal life, i find it intriguing that strength is my card for both this year and the month of april. these past two months, i’ve felt a bit of a struggle with the cards i’ve had. in many ways, i wanted those energies depicted in the cards to do the heavy lifting for me rather than showing up to the do the work and create space to invite the energy in. i wrote about this experience with eight of wands and how i was looking for the external validation and arrival of this energy rather than taking bold action or clearing space myself. as a result, i felt desperate, insecure, and frustrated rather than feeling grounded or like i could trust myself to take those actions.
with the appearance of strength, i realized it was time to jump in the pool and learn to swim.
over the past year, i have been making a lot of intense decisions around caring for myself, implementing boundaries, and choosing to actively heal myself.
first, this past summer i became estranged from my family after years of struggling with boundaries and my expected role in the family. because this had been causing me so much stress for so long, i genuinely felt just sheer relief for months before really starting to feel the grief settle in my bones at the beginning of this year. since then, i have struggled to be gentle with myself and to allow myself the time and space necessary to even be vulnerable about my emotions. in many ways, i felt like grieving at all only affirmed how important my family is or how i need them when i’ve spent years distancing myself and extricating myself from their dynamic. i’ve had to take great steps to let the heaviness of my bones guide me to rest, to be felt, and allow myself to finally cry about the emptiness i feel not over the members of my family, per se, but through allowing myself to palpate the emptiness that exist in these roles in my life.
secondly, i was in a job where i was facing a lot of the same dynamics that were present in my family. it was incredibly stressful to be in my role itself with these dynamics, other than it being incredibly triggering and bringing up a lot of the trauma from my family. i have struggled with money for years and this was the first job where i was truly starting to make enough to start paying down debts, so it took me months of feeling ill and genuinely starting to dissociate regularly for me to recognize enough was enough and i had to choose myself and my health. this in many ways was actually harder than leaving my family because i was still receiving something (a paycheck and financial stability) in exchange for this emotional pain. i had been taught to sacrifice myself and my wellbeing for the sake of money for so many years, that this was a huge form of reprioritization for myself.
this month, i left a side job i’d been working for over 2 years. a few behind the scenes changes make it clear that it just wasn’t going to be fulfilling for me anymore. choosing to leave this job felt actually incredibly intense and was where i truly drew upon the strength card.
i found it intriguing that taking the most radical steps, such as becoming estranged from my family, actually felt easier than starting to implement these new systems and ways of living into the smaller, more everyday components of my life. i think it’s because i was just at such a breaking point with my family that i couldn’t carry that burden anymore whereas it would’ve been much easier for me to just ignore my feelings around these smaller aspects of my life. through choosing to still take actions and extricate myself from these unhealthy, albeit familiar dynamics, even in the smallest slivers of my life indicated that i wasn’t just taking these steps because i couldn’t handle it anymore, but that i was actively choosing to care for myself before things reached that breaking point. as someone who has been taught to sacrifice their needs to others’ priorities and desires for so much of my life, this has been an incredible paradigm shift that has truly shaken me to my core.
through finally leaving this job, after leaving all of these other dynamics i’ve listed, i truly feel like i have cleared the space necessary to move from a point of trying to cope with and handle unhealthy dynamics and old thought patterns, to a point of healing.
there is now space for me to process, acknowledge, and heal from these experiences and create new thought patterns without simultaneously having to justify these same dynamics being in my life in any capacity, no matter how small.
through making this transition, i feel like i am now able to look at the entirety of my work in the past year and hold myself tight. i have felt a great deal of joy and sadness simultaneously well up in my body. i look at the card of strength, see that part of myself that believes in my strength smile back at me, and i want to cry. i want to thank myself for continuing to fight for what feels like forever.
i feel like i have been fighting through life, through these dynamics, trauma, and emotional abuse for the past seven years. the entire time, that small part of me has chosen to fight, to dig deep and believe in myself and my ability to carry forward even when i wanted to collapse, to give up the fight, and just succumb to these forces and people around me. when i look into the eyes of the woman in the card strength, i want to say to that part of myself, “thank you for saving me.”
during our latest interview with lisa nagel on our podcast, she presented a beautiful analogy about the different ways of clearing space and letting go that nature presents. in the interview and other aspects of her writing, she talks about how beech trees and oak trees release their leaves. beech trees release their leaves all at once in anticipation of their new leaves coming in whereas oak trees hold onto many of their dead leaves until a new bud comes through and releases that old leaf.
in the past, i’ve always been a person to hop from stepping stone to stepping stone. it was okay if the path meandered, but i was always building and always moving forward with a new opportunity to replace the old one. in leaving these two jobs, and i suppose my family in many ways, i feel like the beech tree. i released all of these relationships and commitments with nothing to fill their place.
i have had to become familiar with this void and sitting with emptiness. the emptiness of not having a family, of not having another career based job lined up, and not having another stepping stone to jump to. i’m currently not able to justify my worth through an exemplary paycheck or title. through this void and through the card of strength, i’ve seen the opportunity to lash out, act from my ego, to return to that ability to claw my way through life and fight for survival, and try to fill this void with something, anything, so it won’t just feel so empty—but i’ve dedicated myself to the act of surrendering.
i have become the lion. with my tail curled underneath, i bow to the wisdom and intuition that i hold within me. after years of having to fight for survival. this time, i have fought enough to clear this space to be able to listen, to be able to sit in space and time, and just listen to that void and do the work i need to to be prepared for the opportunities i see ahead of myself.
WORKING WITH STRENGTH
if you are working with the energy around strength, first and foremost, i recommend that you watch the ted talks by brene brown and read a book or two of hers such as daring greatly. her entire body of work exudes the energy of strength through finding the connection, creativity, and opportunity that vulnerability in the face of fear provides—and how this personifies true courage.
i highly recommend listening to our most recent podcast episode with lisa nagel where we discuss inherited trauma and ancestral healing—which requires this ability to show up, be vulnerable and gentle with ourselves and our healing process while recognizing our resilience.
otherwise, when working with strength or if you are wanting to invite the energy of strength in your life consider a few of these questions when meditating, journaling, walking, or even driving. just let them settle in your mind for a moment and find surrender in the answer provided.
what does the lion represent to you?
how have you had to fight for yourself in your life?
write a list of ways that you are strong and instances where you have demonstrated your strength
what do the words strength, vulnerability, and surrender mean to you?
what ways are you comfortable being vulnerable?
how do you let go and clear space?
what habits and survival mechanisms does the lion represent for you?
what steps can you take to release those mechanisms to your wiser, compassionate, vulnerable self?
if you’d like to work on this intention through spell work, feel free to utilize the sigil i’ve included below by drawing it on a sticky note and placing it on your desk, stirring it into your food, writing it on your palm, drawing it in your journal, writing it down and burning it, burying it, or letting it dissolve in water—whatever works for your intention and how you wish to activate the sigil.