by Carrie Sanders
I once had a palmist take one look at my hand and say “Ooh, it’s Little Miss Not Enough.” This is a perfect example of the 4 of cups tarot card. The traditional image portrays a person (sometimes male, sometimes female) sitting under a tree with his arms crossed gazing at three cups before them, and another cup being offered by a hand in a cloud. At the most basic, cups represent emotions and aspects of life that you care deeply about- relationships, opportunities and choices that evoke the heart. This card is an image of being so emotionally stuck or apathetic that everything is met with a “meh” and a shrug. They are refusing what is on offer like a petulant child. I am reminded of a friend’s child on her 9th birthday. When she was asked what she thought of her cake she responded with a sullen: “Well, it’s not my favorite.”
The querent who pulls a 4 of Cups card is caught between reflection and action. It’s a card of divine discontent and refusal to see the strength of the number 4, which creates a balanced foundation to build upon. Cups are literally being offered to you from the heavens and you are too oblivious to your own good fortune to appreciate them.
When the bottom dropped out of my marriage and I traveled for 6 weeks from China to the US via Europe (the trail of tears), I was completely blind with pain. A dear friend was driving me to the airport in Amsterdam for the 5th leg of my trip across the world to stay with friends in yet another country when I started to cry about all I had lost: my home, my husband, my life in Shanghai. She quietly said “Do you know when I got divorced I also went bankrupt and I had no money to move out so I lived with that man for another year? Do you know he didn’t sign the divorce papers for 7 years out of spite?” It was call to snap out of my self pity and see what was actually before me. I left an awful situation and my heart was broken, but I had the cups of friendship, money, and freedom before me. That 4th cup being offered at that moment was perspective. I had the good sense to accept it.
I always thought the worst thing that could happen was for my choices to be taken away from me. I have found that it is actually much worse when you have choices but don’t care about any of them- in fact a lack of interest in life is a classic symptom of depression. Soon after I returned to the US I accepted a job opportunity in the Middle East. Within 6 weeks it became clear that the company was not viable and I had to leave the country suddenly, which began another cycle of travel, uncertainty, and what-does-it-all-mean confusion. I ran again to Europe to experience a full blown existential crisis. I remember wandering around Rome and thinking, “Is this the point of my life? I just wander around the world and look at things?” I was in ROME for god’s sake! I was relatively financially solvent, unencumbered by obligation, healthy and employable. My cups were full my emotional bandwidth was totally depleted. It’s a feeling akin to when my grandpa broke his hip but was otherwise in good health and was approached by the nursing staff to discuss physical rehabilitation- his simple response was “You know, I just don’t have the gumption.” He died within weeks.
At times it seems that the world can echo your own feelings of inadequacy. When I arrived in Krakow after my midnight run from the Middle East, I stayed at a hotel owned by a friend of mine. There was some confusion as to the length of my stay as I was completely undecided about my next step. When I asked the Polish landlady to extend my stay, she seemed irritated by my lack of planning. She had a word with my friend and asked, “How old is your friend Carrie and why doesn’t she have anything?”- meaning a job, a family, a house, or a plan. At 41, clearly you should at least have at least one pot on the burner.
It’s a fair question. It’s the same question I howled into a poncho bunched into a pillow the first night I stayed in my own tiny Krakow flat. I shivered under a towel through the dark hours because I hadn’t had time to shop for bedding prior to moving in. Why don’t I have anything? I felt like I made the right choices. I waited until I was 37 to get married to a man I had known for 10 years. Astrological compatibility seemed guaranteed- we were born on the exact same day. I worked my entire life. I put myself through school. I had money in the bank, took lots of vacations, and loved the hell outta my dog. I thought my cups were full by any measure- and perhaps they were for a time- but lightning hit the tower and all my cups were shattered in an instant.
I write this from my flat in Krakow Poland with an unknown future, as the pigeons coo mournfully and slam themselves against my kitchen window and Carole King plays on repeat. I have adopted a different approach to taking my inventory now. It’s simplified and liberating to accept the cups that appear now and ever after with graceful gratitude.