top of page

What does it all mean?

I'm not going to apologize for this post. It's different. Some will find it useful...others will not. In some ways it's not practical. In others it is everything about how the cards can be used.

This builds on my previous post on meaning, which was a specific cycle or journey that the suits of the Nockwood cards represent.

Big question... probably the biggest question.

Why do we seek meaning to life? Is it to establish who you are? To learn about yourself in relation to others? To find yourself, your meaning, your ultimate purpose? Should we set ourselves the task of discovering, creating or make something valuable in the world that will have value to others? Should we aspire to making a contribution? Is life simply a journey, a dance (to quote Alan Watts), where the 'here and now' is all that matters? Or is it something bigger, an inner and outer journey, both celestial or physical, temporal and eternal?

Is that question even the right one to be asking? Is 'meaning' even discoverable, findable, tangible, like some holy grail? Or is meaning something we create? An illusion or the mind, an artifice, a contrivance, a deception that gives us our sense of continuity where none exists. Maybe 'meaning' works something like an immune system to our complex, unpredictable, constantly changing environment. Without it we would have no sense of self, sense of belonging, no beliefs or values and no sense of permanence or progress.

Maybe 'meaning' is simply a set of evolutionary checks and balances that give us a sense of our places in the world. Like hunger and thirst (physical instincts), love and fear (emotional instincts), could 'meaning' be an 'experiential instinct' that gives us the will to live, or rather to keep on living. Such an instinct would be very valuable in evolutionary terms, keeps us finding a better place in the world than the one we are currently in; keeping us settling and re-settling, leaving and returning, discovering and learning. An 'experiential instinct', a shift in how we experience the world around us, might also keep us bound together as a tribe, a community, a faith, because our chances of survival are so much greater as a group than alone. A simple hit of endorphins that evolved as our antidote to the uncertainty and unpredictability of our environment.

We are comfortable with the concept of behavioral instincts - behaviors that has helped us survive in a world full of life-threatening dangers. 'Fight', 'Flight' and 'Freeze' being three physiological responses to threats or stresses. It's not so hard to believe that a similar mechanism might create an experiential instinct that cause us to us to see meaning/order/certainty where, in reality, none exist. The parallels are very similar.

Fight = 'holding on' = Confirmation - our bias to reinforce existing beliefs

Flight = 'letting go' = Contradiction - our tendency to behave/act in ways that are irrational

Freeze = 'staying put' = Continuity - our assumption that the future will resemble the past

So, my thought here was that we have evolved an 'experiential instinct' that allows us to create 'meaning' from random and disconnected events. Our perceptions of the world, our emotions in relation to those perceptions and our experiences of that world are subjective, rather than objective. Our mind makes us think they are objective, but most evidence would support the fact that they are not. They are just random, unpredictable events within a complex, ambiguous and volatile environment.

If it is the case that our experience of the world around us (our sense of meaning and purpose within it) is merely an artificial construct of the mind, then, could we not create our own sense of meaning, optimize our experiences of the world and contextualize ourselves in ways that trigger our 'experiential instinct' for 'meaning'. Essentially, could we not hack our minds to see the world around us as our ultimate fate and ultimate joy of life - our nirvana. Almost like a spiritual transcendence without the mysticism or hocus pocus.

Before getting into how we do that, I want to spend a minute on some thoughts around experience and the mind. If, as I'm advocating, it is possible that we have an 'experiential instinct', that alters our perception and experience of the world, then we need to understand a little bit more about different types of experiences and how the mind processes them.

Not all experiences are equal. There are different levels of experience as expressed in the diagram below. We literally have millions and millions of experiences every day, the majority of which are simple, physical stimulations of our senses, the things we touch, smell, hear, see and taste. Not all of these are we even aware of. When we are in new and unfamiliar environments we perceive more, when in familiar and safe environments we perceive less.

A small subset of these physical experiences trigger an emotional response, some of which are automatic - such as the previously mentioned flight, fight or freeze responses. Some of them more associative, triggers to recall past events (memories), some of them more intuitive, gut responses and primal drives like sex, food, warmth, comfort, recognition etc.

An even smaller subset of these emotional experiences go on to impact our rational and reasoned mind. Some of these are recalled from memory, some of them we respond to in the moment, but they trigger some conscious or thoughtful reflection and consideration. Thoughtful experiences are where we make connections. We consider the experience and its relationship to other experiences. We reflect on it and might start to group it with other experiences and create constructs, ideas, theories, hypotheses and beliefs about the world around us.

And these three types of experiences are where most of us (at least in western societies) spend our lives - bouncing between the lower levels of physical, thoughtful and emotional experiences. Reacting and reflecting. Sensing and feeling our environment. Anticipating, reminiscing, planning and enacting. Making independent choices that basically boil down to aspiring to and desiring the more pleasurable experiences and avoiding and recovering from unpleasant ones.

The most rare type of experiences are the transcendental ones, the ones that feel like they have 'meaning'. Some connection to something bigger, more important, out of our normal day to day experience. Ecstatic. We have these experiences when we experience something that makes us feel small, looking down from a tall mountain; looking up at the infinite night sky; seeing our new born child for the first time. The experiences we call awe, wonder, magic, serendipity, fate, fortune, luck, superstition, spirituality or divine intervention. These experiences are qualitatively different from the lower level experiences. They give us a sense of something bigger than ourselves and beyond our reasoning, these experiences seem meaningful, poignant, even inspirational.

You might also say that we feel this same thing in our dreams. Dreams are rare glimpses into our day-to-day experiences somehow made more meaningful. They are experiences that have gravitas and significance, so much so that we are often certain that they carry some deeper message, maybe a harbinger or omen of something in the future. Alternatively, it may be the other way around. Maybe our dreams are not meaningful, in and of themselves, but maybe dreaming is our psyche's way of dealing with, or making sense of the experiences of the day. Dreaming might simply be a by-product of processing all of the days events onto an experiential hierarchy, from meaningless to meaningful, and in flagging certain events as 'meaningful', our mind is able to create it's own personal sense of 'meaning'...those experiences not flagged with 'meaning', ultimately being lost and forgotten.

If (and that's a big 'IF') this is the case, and dreams are by definition, retrospective creations of 'meaning', how do we achieve more than fleeting glimpse of this transcendent joy? How can we carry 'meaning' with us and bring 'meaning' to our current and future selves? How can we hack our minds to see meaning in our daily lives, to inform our actions and be there with us through all that follows? Wouldn't that change everything? Wouldn't that impact all of our lives, indeed all of our consciousness?

After using the Nockwood cards for a while, I've come to believe that part of their power is in self-reflection and preparation for 'meaning' in our lives. I don't say 'finding' meaning intentionally, because I am not convinced that meaning is 'found' - rather that it is created. The difficult part is not 'finding' meaningful experiences, the difficult part is being prepared and ready for them so that we can take advantage of them. This is where I believe reflection, preparation, ritual and process is absolutely essential. Most of us fall too quickly into habit and non-reflection and we need help to kick ourselves out of these lazy and convenient ways of thinking. The Nockwood cards kick us out of habit and help us be more deliberate and self-reflective. Reflection, especially self-reflection, is the process by which we come to understand the powers we have, the powers of other people, minds, things, nature and other unnatural forces around us. Understanding and reflecting on the context you are in and the full range of the choices and resources you have, is important if you are to make something happen in the world.

The Nockwood cards are a tool of the imagination, not in the creative sense but in the sense of image-ination - prompting your mind to think of specific images/scenarios/stimuli that you might experience. The suits of the cards are born of an analysis of the full spectrum of 'motivations' that drive human behavior and the combinations of these symbols create complex layers of meaning. Additionally, laying the cards out in a particular spread brings an additional layer of meaning to the images and symbols on each card. The deck of Nockwood cards was also carefully designed to have perfect balance, equal parts of different dynamics that can also go to create meaning:

Generality vs specificity (perspective)

Inner vs outer (stimuli)

Self vs others (psychology)

Subjectivity vs objectivity (philosophy)

Organism vs environment (biology)

Independence vs interdependence (society)

Power vs control (law)

Optimism vs pessimism (future)

Awakening vs crisis (enlightenment)

Temporal vs eternal (time)

Intuition vs reason (will)

Achievement vs failure (success)

When used correctly, the Nockwood cards give our imagination (our faculty of consciousness) a work out. They turn future experiences into a 'form' that is specific enough for you to remember and easily call to your attention, not just in the moment of the reading but also on an ongoing, daily basis.

The power of the cards is that the combination of symbols, imagery and position (in a spread) turn future experiences into a form that is easy for us to reflect on. This preparation and reflection, is something like a waking dream, different reactions and responses to the stimuli get categorized into our consciousness at all levels, sometimes meaningless and sometimes profoundly meaningful. Many of the people who have had Nockwood readings have described this profound response. It is not unusual for them to be moved to tears of joy or sadness at the cards 'meaning'.

Over time, and with repetitive, ritual use, this preparation and reflection leaves practitioners more ready and able to act with purpose and meaning. The imagery and associations become lodged at the higher levels of their mind and like a psychic muscle memory, they inform their actions, making them more able to realize the full potential of meaningful life experiences.

Which brings me to some parallels between this thinking and Gnosticism.

I'm no expert. I've only just started to explore it but on preliminary view, much of the wisdom and knowledge shared and written about by early Gnostics seems very much aligned with this train of thought...maybe I should rename the cards GNOCKWOOD.

According to Wikipedia Gnosticism is:

Gnosticism (from Ancient Greek: γνωστικός gnostikos, "having knowledge", from γνῶσις gnōsis, knowledge) is a modern name for a variety of ancient religious ideas and systems, originating in Jewish-Christian milieus in the first and second century AD. Based on their readings of the Torah and other Biblical writings, these systems believed that the material world is created by an emanation of the highest God, trapping the Divine spark within the human body. This Divine spark could be liberated by gnosis.

What strikes me is that this 'divine spark' that the Gnostics believed was within us all, might in fact be the same meaningful (transcendental) experiences that are so easily overlooked and rarely experienced. The Gnostics believed that it was only through ritual, wisdom and self-control that a state of Gnosis (transformation) could be achieved.

Like the Nockwood cards they believed in a duality of human existence that was divided between the 'Pleroma' (the divine forces) and a physical universe created by the 'Demiurge'. - Equivalent to Nockwood's 'Earthly' and 'Divine' powers.

I spent a fair amount of time digging around some of these ancient constructs and ideas. I don't have time to go through them in detail here, but the long and the short of it is that there's a lot of ideas and constructs in these ancient Greek and early Christian writings that seem to align with the Nockwood cards. What that means, I've no fucking idea. It's just interesting....Please feel free to send me messages or comments on the topic.


bottom of page