It appears to me that there is a common thread within the queer experience of erasure. Feeling unsafe to be seen is a chapter in almost all biographies of the queer people I know, love, or have heard of. Ignoring, erasing, and invalidating the identities and experiences queer people is pervasively still happening in modern culture. The experience of wrestling with the soul to be witnessed in the darkness of night, in refusal, feels true enough to mention here. Our witness then, is our liberation.
Throughout history, in pivotal moments marking time or ceremony, there is a critical role held by one or more individuals of the group: to witness the sacred act. We see remnants of this practice in our current legal system when individuals are married, or when important legal documents are signed. The actions are not legally binding unless officially witnessed by an outsider holding space. Witnessing, beholding the act, is what makes it so.
We again see power of witness when we consider the realm of mental health and healing. For example, talking openly to your therapist or support recovery group and being witnessed by them in your truth or in your pain, and being held in that act of deep purging, is one of the keys to creating a pathway to healing. The presence of a witness is key for transformation.
We process language-based thoughts and narrations about every aspect, action, and intention of our lives. Most of these thoughts go unnoticed, are automatic. We may be aware of their presence, the constant treadmill of anxiety and pressure, but there they are again the next day, waiting for us. Research suggests that up to 98% of our thoughts on any given day are exactly the same as the day before. The experiences are real, but do they reveal the truth? Can we see them if we are inside them?
There is true power available in the act of writing our truth. In order to write we must step back, view the scope of experience, and process from the inside out. Introspective exploration manifest on the page through the medium of writing transforms the internal observing self into the witnessing self. If we think about it, our bodies have been the witness to all we have ever experienced. Writing the truth of our hearts on the page bears witness to what was otherwise only ever hidden inside. Who better than us to behold our experience in full? From this space we may create our own keys for change.
There are times where we may not have the language to do this. Where trauma or culture, or depression, or religion, or self-doubt clouds our ability to recognize the truth of the experiences we have in an attempt to self-protect. We feel cut-off from aspects of ourselves, unable to access them on our own. This is when we seek the mirror.
In my personal and professional practice, I have found the 78 cards of the tarot (and other decks) to be profound allies in self-work. One of the most striking aspects of working with the tarot is the mirror of experience it provides. So many individuals who seek wisdom from the cards, peer forward and say, “Wow, that’s me! That’s what I’m going through!” The cards are based on an archetypal system, they are designed to reflect the journey of human experience. Coupled with so many hundreds of versions of soulful artwork, the power of their witness is affirming, validating, and transformational.
Coupling the nonverbal experience of card-pulling with the verbal experience of writing we are able to fully witness ourselves and access a deeper truth within than we may have ever thought possible. This personal practice came to me in my mid 20s, when I had found myself in a long-term, classic, empath-narcissist partnership. I was unsure why I felt so crushed, so bleak, so small, so unworthy, why I didn’t ever matter—even in my own life.
The practice and pursuit of providing my Self with the pivotal experience of honoring and witnessing the truth of the pain I was experiencing was the means by which I found the necessary resiliency required to pull myself out of one of the darkest places I have ever known. My formal training came later, but it was me with myself in the beginning. One card, one tear, one word on the page; one emotion, one belief, one step at a time.