Light & Shadow: Nine of Swords – can you afford to be so certain in life?

The Light & Shadow series – what happens when we pull difficult cards?

9 of swords

It’s common to fear darkness, the unknown or the less known… these cards don’t end at dismay, fear, and calamity. They are raw potential. The energy needed to transform.

– thoughts summing up the birth of this series

If you live in central Texas like I do, no doubt you’ve heard of a little something called Cedar Fever.

In fact, a glance at the Austin Regional Clinic allergy calendar will identify only about two weeks out of the whole year, where you won’t be likely to encounter high levels of allergens. (If you don’t count mold.)

Almost everyone has felt that pressure behind the eyes.

The stuffiness and the lack of sleep. Allergies are a result of a hyper-vigilant immune system. The body detects foreign substances and turns on all the faucets trying to flush it out. Except the faucets are our mucous membranes and we puff up something awful trying to weather the storm of the body’s false alarm.

Forget what you heard, Austin allergies are awful.

Talk to anyone who’s lived in Austin more than seven years, and they’ll tell you about how their allergies are the worst. Google it, and you’ll see half the internet ranking Austin in the top ten worst places to live for allergies. But what about the other half?

The other half of the internet places Austin somewhere in the 50s out of 100. This half diminishes Austin’s near year-round allergy season. Suck it up, this half says, it’s not as bad as Dallas.

So, why such a discrepancy in the rankings?

Austin’s allergy rankings depend on things like:

  • Various pollen counts
  • Consumption of allergy medicines
  • Ratio of Allergy doctors to allergy patients

This is to say nothing of the people that experience symptoms even when the pollen counts are lower, those that don’t take allergy medication or shots and don’t go to allergy doctors. Interpretations of the severity of symptoms vary radically dependent on worldview.

Just as allergies are from an overactive immune response, restlessness, the feeling most often associated with the Nine of Swords, is the result of an overactive mind. Just as with allergies, the assessment and treatment of an overactive mind will depend on the relationship to the struggle.

9 swords

The Nine of Swords struggle is real.

No one wants to see this card. It’s insomnia the night before that interview. It’s the panic attack. Even when it’s positive, your schedule bursting at the seams with exciting events, that time you binge-watched Game of Thrones with someone amazing, it still wears you out.

But why so serious?

We tie ourselves up in knots and stay up all night trying to solve problems or explore possibilities. Even when we feel we’re done with a thought or done for the day, our subconscious mind jumps in wanting to make sure we remember and sort through every detail.

The subconscious mind is like a dog.

Depending on its training and breeding a dog may support, console, or protect its companions. But most minds are more like a rescue dog recovering from a traumatic past. The dog that needs rehabilitation remains on guard, may have more energy than it knows what to do with, and may harm itself or antagonize its owners.

Like anxious dogs, we look for our place to belong and feel safe in the world.

We look for the certainty in our environment. Even when we don’t look consciously, our subconscious minds continue to scan, looking for danger, for solutions, angling for survival and sending us messages that we need to escape, even when nothing’s coming for us.

9 swords

How in the world do we cope with this card?

We’re all in the business of rehabilitating the anxious mind. And in that business, certainty is the enemy.

We want to be sure not to miss out; that we’re safe. We think if we just think long enough, we can be certain. But certainty is an illusion. And as backward as it sounds, doubt is the answer. This is especially so for the anxious mind. Certainty about a foreboding future is what stops us dead in our tracks and sends us into a fearful spiral.

We are sure of the worst. That we aren’t good enough. That we need to keep our defenses up. We keep ourselves up at night with all that certainty. It often feels impossible to tolerate discomfort or uncertainty.

Explore your edges when you can, and they will grow.

And when we can’t explore, we can weather the storm and trust that our season of struggle will pass.

How do you change the automatic responses of the mind?

The same way you handle the rescue dog. It takes more than love to rehabilitate the anxious mind. It takes discipline. Highly personalized systems tailored to you. One size will not fit all. 

Just like with our loveable four-legged companions, you may need to find trainers and train your mind for a while. Remember that once you’re in the attack scenario, it’s too late to do the work.

The best measures for the overactive mind are preventative.

Just like with allergies, once the faucets are overflowing it’s too late for the shot that would prepare the body for the season. You can’t force sleep or calm. And even should we choose to medicate the symptoms in the short term, successful rehabilitation will depend on the relationship with the rescue mind.

In preparation for dire situations, we can invite constructive doubt.

Inquiry is a good way to practice this. In our darkest hours, it’s worth it to question our beliefs and ask the question: 

Can we really afford to be so certain in life?

Inquiry and doubt are mindfulness tools that bring peace.

Want to give inquiry a go? Here are questions related to birthdays and celebration, Here are some related to allyship, and here’s a piece where I talk about the transformative power of doubt. I’m no stranger to the Nine of Swords. I pulled it for my Face Up Tarot series a while back.

We often experience doubt as a destructive force.

Can you recall a time where doubt served you for the better? Answer in the comments or tweet me using #difficultcards. Keep in touch!


Featured Decks: Tarot de St. Croix by Lisa de St. Croix, Devera 2013, Centennial by Smith – Waite, US Games 2013, and Raven’s Prophecy Tarot by Maggie Stiefvater, Llewellyn 2015.

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  1. sisu says:

    I literaly pulled this card just last night, or shall I say this morning, at 6 a.m after I’d been trying to sleep for three hours!! awesome synchronicity! I’ll give some thoughts to this whole constructive doubt concept, it’s intriguing!

    • Siobhan says:

      Glad you liked it Paige. It’s been a long while since I’ve thought of this card but once I knew I would write about it, it seemed to be everywhere!

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