A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality

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If the Gown Fits, Wear it!

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.24.22 PMI’m re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves. It’s a classic tome about initiating and recovering one’s feminine power and intuition, and it’s richly woven with fairy tale and archetypes. At the same time, and not coincidentally, I’ve embarked on two processes that promise to illustrate Estés’ thesis right here in my own life.

Project Number One: De-cluttering Home and Office

“In Eastern European fairy tales, brooms are often made of sticks from trees and bushes and sometimes the roots of wiry plants. Vasalisa’s work is to sweep this object made of plant matter over the floors and the yard to keep the place clear of debris. A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.”

As I come inside for the winter, my body and mind crave the warmth and coziness of home. Every year at this time I naturally gravitate to projects that beautify, organize and simplify my home. For a second year in a row I have joined a Facebook group devoted to spending December and January clearing cluttering. Already I have painted my living room a yummy Mid Century Modern turquoise and I’ve picked out a scrumptious orange to splash on an entry wall. I’m finishing an aspiration set last year for a “paperless” office by going through old receipts, files and books and removing everything that I can do without. I’m clearing out computer files, downloading and disposing of CDs and beginning the enormous task of digitally archiving a lifetime of photos. It’s a lot to consider doing but I allow myself to go one step at a time. And the rewards are substantial. I can feel my creative power surging when I care for my home and office, both extensions of my own body and self.

Project Number Two: Accepting Mentoring

“I like very much this initiatory task which requires a woman to cleanse the personae, the clothing of authority of the great Yaga of the forest. By washing the Yaga’s clothes, the initiate herself will see how the seams of persona are sewn, what patterns the gowns take. Soon she herself will have some measure of these personae to place in her closet amidst others she has fashioned throughout her life.”

I have had many mentors in my life, some teachers or family members, others bosses. All have profoundly affected my capacity to step into greater and greater levels of awareness. Likewise, I  have mentored others, countless people throughout several careers. I’d like to think I made a difference with guidance, advice, permission, or just plain ol’ reassurance. So when I recently needed to cut back on volunteer obligations to focus on growing my business, I felt the need to ask for and accept what I give naturally. Instantly, a woman I very much look up to for her grace, wisdom and business smarts accepted me under her nurturing wing. For this recovering do-it-all-myselfer, it felt good to set the aspiration, to summon the courage to make the request, and to receive a heartfelt acceptance.

In our very first conversation I described to my mentor the age-old dilemma of knowing what to charge for the work I do. Without missing a beat she wrapped me in the most loving and empowering feminine metaphor, as cozy as my grandmother’s afghan. She said that determining the worth of my work is like designing and donning my very own custom-made gown. It is a personal process and I alone get to decide. Such wise words spoken in a way I could hear them! I was not surprised when just days later they were reinforced in my discovery of the Estés quote above.

Feminine inner work is rife with, well, feminine archetypes, images and metaphors. Here I’ve shared Estés’ womanly images of cleaning the home and wearing beautiful clothes. What images are haunting your dreams and musings, urging you to follow your intuitions and reclaim your power?



The Coward confronts Father Time

“Fear is a symptom of loss of authority; when we give away our authority, we should be afraid.”  Caroline. W. Casey, Making the Gods Work for You

This month's full moon is in the sign of Capricorn

This month's full moon is in the sign of Capricorn

I celebrated yesterday’s Super Full Moon in Capricorn with a full-on, no holds barred Saturnalia. If you’re visualizing party favors, drinking games, sumptuous feasting and orgiastic pleasures, uh hum, get a grip on yourself. Saturn gives us what we need, not what we prefer. Mine was a more serious celebration.

I started the day by reading Holly Alexander‘s fine Examiner.com article on the subject, praising myself for really tuning in to the vibe of the day. After all, I have been feeling a renewed interest in setting career goals and working hard to tick things off my TO DO list, a very Saturnian mind-set. Of course I should have known better than to get smug, for that is exactly the thing Saturn least tolerates. After working all morning I swaggered to the mailbox around midday to find a large envelope from the IRS and a jury summons. My solo Saturnalia was officially under way.

The other thing Saturn despises is a cry-baby. What to do?

Risking everything, I ranted to my cat Loki, named, ironically, for the Norse God of mischief, no doubt another Capricorn trickster at my side!  I raved about the injustice and insensitivity of large government agencies while Loki napped, secure in his zero-income tax bracket. I left a voice mail for my accountant, emailed my astrologer and had myself a little pity party. That’s when I looked up to see the pile of books a friend had recently returned to me. At the top was the fine book, Making the Gods Work for You, by renowned astrologer Caroline. W. Casey.

Mid-sniffle I opened to the chapter on Saturn.

One thing I love about Casey’s work is her understanding of how difficult it is for the modern urbanite to swallow astrology whole. She insists that astrology is not a belief system, but rather a language that “provides the vocabulary with which we can begin a detailed investigative exploration of the psyche.”

Casey goes on to say that all acts of belief, even in science (gasp!), are superstition. This idea conforms nicely with Buddhist thought. And Saturn would agree. As Casey puts it, “even if, owing to some fluke, we happened to believe in the ‘truth’–it would still be a booby prize, because the act of belief is an abdication of autonomy.” Didn’t the Buddha say the very same thing we he stated, “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own common sense”?

Here’s the point about Saturn as the ultimate mascot for achieving mastery and authority over one’s life: sooner or later we all have to deal with the boundaries of form, structure, time, laws, discipline, and responsibility, and this is a solitary endeavor. We can choose to tackle Saturnian realities head-on or we can let their shadows loom over us in the form of depression, inertia and fear. Via one method or the other, whether conscious self-inquiry or shadow-boxing with demons perceived to be outside ourselves, Saturn will have his way with us.

I know this first hand. With Saturn in Capricorn, in the first house, directly on my Ascendant, my most pressing life project has been to face my fears. On my path to complete authority over my own life, I have repeatedly encountered bullies. I am finally beginning to understand that it is only in facing my own fears that the bullies will retreat.

There is certainly no bully feared more than the IRS. If I understand the teachings of many spiritual traditions, the closer we get to resolving an issue, the harder it seems to bash us on the head. Perhaps this means I am finally ready to let go of the big fears about setting my own rules, being worthy of earning a right livelihood and becoming the true author of my own life.

Yes, I celebrated in true Chronos (another traditional name for Saturn) style yesterday. I quit crying and got to work. I filled out the Jury Summons Deferment form, citing my need as a sole proprietor to focus on my small business. I then called the IRS and spoke to the supervisor of the auditor “handling” my case. He apologized profusely for bungling the paperwork during my recent audit and assured me that it was unlikely that I would hear from them again. Hmm.

Scratching my head, I got back to work, one more fear checked off my list.


The Apollo Archetype

self portrait by Asher Daniel

self portrait by Asher Daniel

Archetypally speaking,  if we’re going to move from the Fossil-fuel Age to the Solar Age, we’re going to need a mascot, and the Greek god Apollo is the likely choice.

My recent fixation with Apollo started several months ago when I took the diagnostic self-test in Peter Lemesurier’s fine book, “The Gods Within.”  Who knew that I was a prissy, controlling, self-centered, overly rational and eternally boyish adolescent trapped in the body of a middle-aged woman? The truth is that I am not alone.  No matter one’s gender or station in life, our western culture prizes staying in our heads. Orderliness, youthfulness, and the fascination with science and technology rule the day.

I sat with a client the other day to use her Sacred Contracts chart to access higher wisdom about a thorny life issue.  As we settled in, she opened her spiral-bound pad to a drawing that stunned me because the day before I had made the same sketch. In her version, a circle filled with third-eyes radiated six paths and six negative spaces, twelve rays in all. Each ray pointed to an idea or course of action, like a solar-powered TO DO list. We had both taken our personal mundane issues and applied symbolic sight using the image of the sun.

I saw the Sacred Contracts sun-dial illuminating our way, and I felt connected to the wisdom of the ages. After all, mystics have always sought their answers in the larger perspective, and in doing so have “discovered” every human science from astrology and astronomy to physics and meta-physics. Apollo shows us that our discoveries in the world are fueled by the search for the self.

Just as a magnifying glass can concentrate the vast solar rays to burn a pin-hole into a blade of grass, we can use the powerful Apollo Archetype to harness overwhelming universal themes and bring them to bear on our own earthly issues.

For me, it’s easy to conjure the Apollo Archetype because I live with an adolescent boy. My son (pun intended), stands right on the precipice of puberty. He is poised at the perfection of childhood energy, innocence, purity, and light-hearted joy. Not afraid to play, he is in love with discovering his own mind;  he is giddy with appreciation for technology; and he is innocently enthralled by competitive team sports. He has left sloppiness behind and arrived at gracefulness.  At the end of his 12th year, not yet sullied by the messy chaos of falling in love or the trauma of making life-altering decisions, Asher is the very embodiment of the Greek god Apollo.

Everyday I am inspired by Asher’s energy and enthusiasm. I am amazed by his ability to stay in the batter’s box, feet planted, a fast-ball racing toward him at 60 mph. He knows going up that even the best batter has only a 30 percent chance at hitting the ball, and a much slimmer chance of making it to first base. Yet he stands in the box and faces doubt, fear and distraction. I challenge myself to do that same dance at my desk each day.

It is no wonder that the first step in healing and integrating Apollo energy is to bring everything into the light of day, where shadows lose their power. Thus, cities pass “sunshine laws” to expose lawmakers’ actions and redress corrupt back room deal-making.  Daily, all over the world, hidden banking practices come to light during these trying economic times. There is a new level of transparency of human endeavor as scientists discover the most detailed mechanisms of the mind and body. Spiritual bookstore shelves burst with modern stories of enlightenment, examples of the harnessing of Power (the sun simply radiates energy), rather than the exploitation of Force (fossil fuels must be extracted by mechanical means).

As Lemesurier points out about Apollo Therapy, “We need to let his heavenly light back in to dispel our self-imposed darkness. And not only on the psychological level,  but on the bodily level too.”

Clearly, it is time to lighten up, to see ourselves in a new light, and to shine our lights. I would encourage anyone in the grips of depression, despair or hopelessness over personal or global issues to study Apollo and become intimate with his true nature. Consider being a spiritual solar-panel. Harness the power of symbolic solar sight to generate and radiate your own individual contribution to the world.

Like it or not, we must expose ourselves to illumination while integrating the deep shadows cast by this important archetype if we are to redeem ourselves and our world in the Solar Age.


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Turn magical thinking into symbolic sight

My magical friend Clare

My magical friend Clare

Is there somebody in your life or in your own head who constantly tells you to be realistic?

“Get real! Don’t be such a dreamer!” Or how about my father’s favorite saying during my childhood: “Get off your high horse!”

That was music to the ears of my Magical Child. Whenever I got the message that I was unrealistic in my expectations, too idealistic or just weirdly creative, I took my dreams inside and spun fantastic scenarios of the life I would lead when I became an adult, the sovereign of my own material realm. I’m grateful that my childhood magical thinking generated friendly companionship when I was lonely, spiritual guidance when I was lost and a creative life plan that I am just now beginning to understand and implement. To put it another way, no matter what went on during my upbringing, I never stopped meditating on my own happiness.

Yet we all eventually outgrow adaptive or self-soothing childhood day dreams. We arrive one day at a decision point. Do I take this job or that one? Do I stay home with my child or go to work? Do I marry or stay single? Many of us decide, then and there, to throw away the dreams, do the right thing, GET REALISTIC!

Now the good news. After years of laboratory testing, I have reached my findings on how to achieve lasting happiness. My studies show that becoming more realistic is not the way to go.

Please don’t quit your day job or stop flossing your teeth regularly. But neither should you throw out the inner dreamer just because the reality-Nazi in your head screams more loudly.

I recommend transforming your childhood magical thinking into adult symbolic thinking. There are several advantages to this strategy.

First, your inner child is more in touch with what really makes you happy. She is also gentle, innocent and motivated by love. She is neither expecting to get hurt nor bent on hurting others. Imagine a world — I often do — where EVERYONE is doing what makes them happy. I dare say that is a shang-ri-la worth visualizing!

When we access symbolic thinking we shift into the realm of potential. We open new possibilities for ourselves and we inspire others with our newfound vision. Often, a paradigm shift, alone, is enough to resolve our issues.

Take my mole “problem,” which has generated a fair amount of discussion on Facebook. Some have expressed squeamishness. Others have inquired about the causes of the problem and compared my situation to the state of their own lawn. (The funny part is that I don’t even have a yard.) Still others want to know what can be done about them, you know, the moles. All these approaches, quite normal and rational, belong in the realm of reality.

Funny that, aside from the question of how to properly dispose of a dead rodent, I bypassed reality and ran straight for the symbolic. My Magical Child loves the creepy factor of stepping on dead rodents in the middle of the night. That always gets a squeal and a giggle. She laughs at the irony that the former owner of the house is a Ms. Moles. She’s enthralled by the fact that there have been five moles in five straight days. She is inquisitive; who knew that moles came in so many different sizes, shapes, and nose lengths? And she breath-takingly awaits future mole sightings, especially in the bedroom.

My grown up magical child, the one who provides my faculty of symbolic insight, knows that I have been working with facing my fears: resistance to making a living for myself (bringing home tasty rodents for my family); fears of digging down deep to get the bottom of my current life challenges; procrastinating job “hunting” and researching (digging into) my field. And, wouldn’t you know it, there is my life-long phobia of rodents. HAH! Symbolic sight helps me laugh at myself. It’s pretty funny to find myself projecting my fear of earning a living onto my nine pound brown tabby!

A friend replied after reading my last post, “I wish I had your positive attitude.” Well, I attribute my attitude simply to the stubborn habit, born long ago, of looking for the symbolic meaning first.

Sigh. I still have to pick up the dead mole at the foot of the bed, but I’m so grateful for the new insight dragged in with it.



A mundane mystic faces her fear of loneliness

one of my early visitations

one of my early visitations

Last Monday I left Chicago, and the second part of the year-long CMED Sacred Contracts Workshop, all pumped-up about my experience.. During an intensive four days led by renowned teacher, Caroline Myss, I worked closely alongside five other individuals, a crew of six navigating the waters of personal transformation. In the end we each produced a Chronos/Kairos/Cosmos Chart, a holographic depiction of the obstacles sabotaging our personal growth. As every spiritual seafarer knows, one must be able to see below the tip of the iceberg in order to safely navigate the chilly depths.

During the workshop and in the presence of my crew, I asked to transform my fear of being alone. This is a deeply protected fear that prevents me from fully expressing my gifts. My struggle looks like a craving for distractions, anything to divert myself from the privacy of my own soul. I would rather go to lunch, watch a movie, call a friend, or throw a party than to sit silently listening to my heart. In the past, such avoidance created a lengthy depression and broken marriage. Lately I am more prone to to take time for myself, no matter how uncomfortable I feel. Still, I sometimes resort to an unhealthy focus on others. It’s not that I choose activities that are a waste of time, it’s that I use them addictively, to avoid rather than to confront myself. Soon I have squandered a whole day or a whole week, and still I am fearful, lonely, and searching for an antidote. I have run headlong into the states of mind that I hoped to avoid!

Working with my Sacred Contract has helped me to see that when I shun solitude I resist the full expression of my true self.  I am, by nature, a reclusive Mystic/Renunciate dressed as a vivacious, hedonistic Lover and Storyteller. Through the voyage into my archetypes I have come to know that these paradoxical identities illuminate my own personal path to liberation. Still, the Hermit and Lover spar constantly; the Renunciate and Hedonist challenge one another at every turn.

In her seminal book Sacred Contracts, Caroline Myss describes the oft-misunderstood Mystic:

“Many want to believe that they have mystical inclinations, yet underestimate how arduous the genuine mystical path is. When they find out, they’re usually happy to let someone else have this role.”

I’ve been looking all my life for that someone else to play my role for me. Others may approach their life path through the pain of illness, the chaos of anger and blame, the grief of abandonment and loss. My lifelong challenge is to accept the excruciating loneliness of the mystical path. I have tried everything to avoid my destiny, but none of my plans have worked out. So these days I pray for acceptance and peace, that I may gracefully fulfill my dharma.

With the Mystic in the 6th House of my Sacred Contracts Chronos Wheel, my acceptance is to be found in the humble act of “peeling potatoes,” as St. Theresa of Avilla, dubbed it.  The Sixth is the house of fetching wood and carrying water. There is nothing glamorous or ecstatic about getting up each day, making breakfast, caring for my child, going to work, tending the pets and the plants. My work is to accept the humanity of my earth-bound existence rather than to pray for a heavenly release from suffering.

I don’t know that I will achieve my highest aspiration, to attain enlightenment for the sake of others. But if I do, perhaps it will be by staying home, listening to my child, making hot soup, and quietly chronicling my own mundane mysticism.


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The artist and the lover in bed together

Brian Lockyear, "Yin & Yang," Woodblock, ed. 25, 10 x 10 inches

Brian Lockyear, "Yin & Yang," Woodblock, ed. 25, 10" x 10"

“If you cannot caress your canvas, or your sculpting medium, you cannot caress your lover’s body — and if you can caress your lover’s body, you are an artist.”

from “Entering the Heart of the Sun & Moon” by Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen

I am captivated by the process of falling in love. Being spiritually oriented as well as intellectually inclined, I can’t help gazing in wonder at the gift of love’s arrival in my life. In the moments when I am not actually gazing into my lover’s eyes, not physically entangled in his embrace, I simply must see love through the kaleidoscope of the various spiritual disciplines I pursue. I feel compelled to read about love and to chronicle my personal experience of the depth and height of the universal.

My Buddhist leanings dance with the Sacred Contracts work I will once again study intensively next week in Chicago.

In the book excerpted above, Entering the Heart of the Sun & Moon, Ngakpa Chogyam and Khandro Dechen discuss a little-known Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practice known as Khandro Pawo Nyi-da Melong Gyud or Vajra Romance. Spiritualizing relationship or relating spiritually involves two aspects. The first is to actively, consciously recognize the enlightened, complimentary qualities in one’s lover as a way of empowering those qualities in the self, for the betterment of all. Secondly, the romantic need to see, smell, touch, taste and hear one’s beloved, is opened wide to consciously include all of life, other people, our wider community, our experience of our own mind, our physical reality and everything. In Nyi-da Melong Gyud lovers challenge themselves to open to all of life and  to sustain the “falling in love” indefinitely through self-awareness and mirroring.

I have to admit that this practice perfectly illuminates my own sacred contract. With the Lover in the seventh house, I find that my passionate nature best expresses itself in interaction and relationship with others, but also in the spiritual pursuit of the inner or sacred marriage. My Mystic is devoted to a path of union with the Divine, in all forms. My Storyteller must talk about it even though my Coward fears such lofty pursuits!

Interestingly, I have fallen in love with an Artist. My beloved is currently following his heart. He recently left the safety and predictability of a long career in computer science to pursue his dream to become an architect and designer. His contract simply demanded creative freedom and self-expression. Fueled by a similar late-bloomer’s passion, we are meeting one another on familiar turf. Our union reminds me that the Lover and the Artist are quite happy in bed together, thank you!

It’s easy to see what the two have in common: a bridging of the spiritual and the material through passion, self-expression, appreciation, idealism, devotion and a desire to surrender to the chaos of creativity. In this light it would seem that the Artist and the Lover are one and the same. Instinctively we know that it is not so! (In my work as an archetypal consultant, I help my clients untangle such fine distinctions in order to uncover their own contracts for self-realization, self-guidance and growth.)

How then do the Artist and the Lover differ? I believe it is exactly in the dimensions of male and female described well in many Western as well as Eastern sources. The Artist defines his passionate relationship to the world  through creation (form) while the Lover passionately appreciates the creation (emptiness). Are they not the Yang and the Yin, the convex and the concave as Chogyam and Dechen express it?

And what of the romance that arises between them, the continual dance of emptiness and form? As a Lover I am experiencing the interplay as an illumination of my own inner Artist. In the process of being in love, I feel alive to express my joy, enthusiasm, and gratitude in the form of my medium, the written word. At another time in my life, an experience of love resulted in pregnancy and the birth of a tiny human being, the ultimate creation!

Likewise my beloved, the Artist, experiences the dance in his creative output, a masters thesis complete with renderings, models and prose. But through the lens of romance he also plays to his inner Lover. He connects with a newfound passion and appreciation for his work, a satisfaction present only when there is a beloved present to accept/receive his gift.

The Lover and the Artist thus reveal themselves as the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine of the creative archetypes. They dance as the Dakini and Daka, receptive and active romantic forces. In love as in art, it matters little which gender plays which role. The enterprise depends more on the dynamic foreplay of lover and beloved, the inspired ah ha with which the artist seizes his brush. Each sees the perfect enlightened complement in the mirror of other. Emptiness into form, form into emptiness. Both enter the spiritual dimension beyond time and space, beyond happiness and suffering, beyond gender, beyond self, the boundless creativity of the present moment.

May the Lover and the Artist enjoy a long and timeless love affair!

(thank you, sweetie, for the inspiration and the artwork!)


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April Fool’s Day; The Archetype of the Fool

There are questions about the origins of April Fool’s Day, favorite of pranksters around the globe who play practical jokes on family and friends. Legends says the day became notorious during the reform of the Julian Calendar and subsequent adoption of the Gregorian Calendar in the late 1500’s. Spring had been the traditional advent of the new year. So when King Charles IX of France announced that the new year would commence on January 1st, those who stayed with the traditional April 1st were called “April Fools.”

Regardless of origins, the day reminds me of two traditional archetypes, the Trickster and the Fool. One perpetrates the hoax and the other is the unwitting and gullible victim. Or is he? To explore another interpretation of the Fool, let’s look at Tarot.

In traditional Tarot decks the Fool universally resembles a vagabond or traveler. He carries his knapsack in a carefree manner, skipping along on a bright sunny day, picking the flowers as though he has neither a destination nor an agenda in mind. He gazes toward the sky, seemingly oblivious to the yapping dog or other ferocious creature nipping at his heels. His meandering would seem quite innocent if he weren’t about to step off a huge precipice. The Fool, in his reverie, remains completely oblivious that he is about to plunge into an enormous chasm onto the rocky waters below.

Countless cultural images of the Fool abound. A few come to mind:

Mr Magoo of cartoon fame. Interestingly, promotions for the 1997 movie version starring comedic actor, Leslie Nielsen,  depict a man tugging a small dog “heeling” on a leash, about to step off a skyscraper building into the cavernous Manhattan street below. The image is taken directly off the traditional medieval Tarot card! Check it out.

Raj Kapoor in Shree 420. Another movie icon, Raj Kapoor, classic Bollywood star from the 40’s and 50’s. In the famous 1955 movie, Shree 420, he wanders the countryside, Charlie Chaplinesque, rucksack on his shoulder, savoring the Maharashtrian countryside. Falling into one trap after another in the big city, while being taken as a country bumpkin, he is nevertheless guided by his own innate wisdom and despite many wrong turns, ends the story as a hero. If you watch the movie on video, first check out the great Wikipedia explanation, complete with translation of some of the iconic songs, because the subtitles are poor. (Or engage a Hindi speaker to watch along with you!)

The Jester in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The Jester is a variation on the Fool. In this famous version, he is the only character who actually tells the truth. The Jester or Buffoon, while taken for an entertainer, is often the trusted truth-teller and the only one brave enough or stupid enough to utter the truth in front of the King. His lack of status, standing or ego attachment gives him a uniquely wise voice.

In the Tarot, the Fool begins the journey chronicled by the 21 Major Arcana cards. Innocent and carefree, he knows without knowing that the journey will be long and dangerous. Who of us would begin the spiritual path if we knew the trials and dangers ahead? The Fool reminds us to: enjoy the trip rather than fixate on the destination; travel light, with a light heart; take time to smell the roses; follow our bliss rather than worry about what others think of us. In the act of falling, for he is surely about to do just that, the Fool reminds us to let go! As the butt of the April First prank, he reminds us to laugh at ourselves, not take ourselves too seriously. In the end, the Fool transforms into the Hero and yet he has enjoyed his travels rather than struggled and fought.

Of course he has his shadow side: ignorance, unawareness, blindness to what is. He can be aimless, spacey, idealistic and an airhead. But in our stressed-out, overachieving culture, is that such a bad thing? In his light side, the Fool is the ultimate symbol of the enlightened one or Buddha within. He has let go of his ego. He fears nothing, not even his own death. And he has had a good time doing it.

On April Fool’s Day, let’s celebrate the Fool, the true hero of the day!