A Nurturing Environment is Not a Luxury by Elisabeth Schilling

There are two tarot card decks that have accompanied me on my trip overseas this summer: Alana Fairchild’s Rumi Oracle and Lee Bursten’s Tarot of Dreams. In recent readings, I have been presented with messages of place, thus the topic of my post.

But first, Seneca, Stoic philosopher born around the time of Jesus, cautions that people traveling to escape their difficulties are sometimes no better when they have arrived to a distant land because they have not become rid of themselves. Likewise, zen philosophy suggests that it is not our circumstances that matter so much as the peace and calm we create in our inner landscape. Nhat Thich Hanh or Ram Dass or Pema Chödrön (maybe all 3) have a metaphor for the tumultuous ocean – that the sea is often rocky, but it is always calm in the deep beneath. Yet, I see all this as a reminder to be mindful about the added layers of suffering we can create and advice for difficult times when we can’t leave yet. Regardless, I think any wisdom cannot discount the need for a nurturing, healing space when at all possible.

When I was living with my parents after graduating and finishing up the semester teaching at CalState-LA, I sank into destructive patterns of binge eating and unhealthy sleep patterns. I would exist each day as a zombie, stunned by the pain still in my stomach for forcing quantities of food into it at 1 or 2 in the morning that it had not the capacity for. I used food as a means of self-punishment and grasping for control. This went on for a year, more or less, most likely setting me up for health issues in the future. I can only explain that I was disappointed in myself for not having a job lined up directly after graduate school and that parents sometimes don’t love the parts of their children that they don’t understand – and there is a lot about myself they seem to wish could be different, mainly my religious and relational identities and my desire to live in another country. Perhaps as well my contentment with living off less money than sometimes seems to them responsible or safe.

A home that is a refuge is not a luxury. Seneca says on following pages, in the same letter, that certainly, regardless of what he has just written about a person being able to find peace anywhere, says that one’s health will certainly improve if they get as far away from the urban cityscape as possible. In the Alana Fairchild deck I mentioned, there is a card that habitually comes up for me, that of “Sacred Convergence.” In the guidebook that accompanies the deck, Fairchild says about the message this card brings, “You are being asked to drop defenses and barriers towards groups of people that feel good to you. However, those that deepen your spirits or drag you down are to be dispensed with – no matter what games of blame or manipulation they may play to keep you coming back for more. No, that shall not do for your soul growth now. Just step away. Turn toward the connections that feel nurturing to your soul” (60).

Maybe we don’t think enough about how the energies of others can make us unwell. Water molecules alter their arrangement based on the positive or negative vibrations in their environment. When researchers expose water to positive or negative words, music, prayers, or even images, the water crystals freeze in respective ways. If 71% of the earth’s body is water and our bodies are primarily water (as infants we start off mirroring the body of the earth in our own percentages and then decrease as we age), then we are scientifically and physically affected by vibrations around us. It is difficult to honor ourselves in protective ways when others might take offense at us leaving or adjusting the relationship in a way that seems threatening to them, but perhaps we need to let others be responsible for their own happiness as we need to take responsibility for ours. We can follow our intuitive wisdom concerning what others actually need and what they just want from us, hard to do though, when those others are parents, children, lovers, or close friends.

Fairchild asks, “If you want a plant to grow, why not give it the best soil and conditions in which to do so” (60)? As women, we can be taught to sacrifice our own comfort for the comfort of others. That is why it can be confusing to people why a woman sometimes isn’t more assertive or aggressive in leaving harmful or unwanted situations. Why didn’t she just say “no”? Well, have you ever thought that she wasn’t taught from a child to use her “no” regularly and confidently, regardless of whether or not others wanted to hear it? Because I know such a path well, and it takes practice that sometimes comes too late for some experiences. Choice is a complicated phenomenon in a compulsory culture where lessons on agency and appropriate boundaries are sometimes entirely absent in our early education and development.

In the second deck of tarot cards, Bursten’s Tarot of Dreams, a palace card is included in each of the four suits. They express the energies of each suit as an environment, as it is explained in the accompanying guidebook (58). I am particularly drawn to the Palace of Cups. The overriding suit corresponds to water, emotions, and intuitions. The image on the card is of a lush underwater sea with jellyfish and protective Knights of Cups. Bursten describes it as “a cool, serene environment where subtle moods can be explored. [At times,] mysterious processes in the subconscious can only be revealed in such quiet and gentle circumstances [as the card suggests]” (82).

What environments does your journey invite you to create or seek? What relationships do your path of healing require you to adjust?




LaChelle Schilling, Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a book project titled Minimalism, Mindfulness, and the Middle Way, incorporating guidance from sacred wisdom literatures. She is also working on certification as a yoga instructor.

Author: Elisabeth S.

Elisabeth S. has a Ph.D. in Religion from Claremont Graduate University (2014) and teaches philosophy, literature, creative writing and composition in Colorado.

4 thoughts on “A Nurturing Environment is Not a Luxury by Elisabeth Schilling”

  1. Yes, THIS: “Choice is a complicated phenomenon in a compulsory culture where lessons on agency and appropriate boundaries are sometimes entirely absent in our early education and development.” When one is taught that they have instrumental value, not intrinsic value, the concept of choice becomes all tangled up. Can it even be called a “choice” when decisions one makes are all wrapped up in surviving–attempting to hold on to tiny shreds of integrity? All too easy to drown in that “rocky sea.” Finding refuge can be a daunting endeavor. Thanks, LaChelle, for bringing this complex subject to our attention.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Hey dear, sorry for the delayed reply. I think you’ve pointed to it exactly: I don’t think it really can be called ‘choice’ when in such a state of desperation or confusion, etc. You have seen it. I use ‘choice’ as sort of an echo of what “outsiders” would say/think, hopefully pointing out the complicated and fragile nature of it enough that they may get closer to realizing what you and I already know. I don’t do it so strategically as this comment may suggest, but just more as my flow of intuition for a way of communicating. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that you get it. I think we could do well with understanding more and more how the choices some women make are just not choices at all. Because, in that time and place, there was really no true alternative option if you take into consideration all that we are sometimes internalizing and believing and the confusing manipulations and entitled energies that sway an agent to lose it. It’s a losing battle to expect one person to always be responsible for creating, introducing, educating others and holding up appropriate boundaries. And impossible depending on the power imbalances that arise. Thank you for always helping me go one step further in my articulations and thought processes.


  2. Great article and can relate … to come to the place where you forgive your parents, ancestors and culture for not providing the soil needed to thrive that ultimately leads to such silly adult choices in partners, friends and other situations is so very liberating. I have found that the more I like myself, the more appreciative and grateful I am towards every person and situation that led me exactly to where I am at this moment. <3

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Karen. Yes, you bring up a beautiful point that I wish were more easily obtainable: to like ourselves. I believe this very much that self-compassion will all make us kinder and more empathetic. I try to have the first reaction to someone’s lack of kindness to be empathy for their potential suffering. It’s so hard to forgive or to at least not regret, but we can take the focus off the negative, perhaps if it serves us, and focus on how we’ve been resilient and strong to survive regardless. When/even if it is too hard or just doesn’t make sense to have gratitude for harm, we can garner up that “liking of the self” that survived and can survive regardless. Thank you for your comment.


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