Free Association: A Writing Meditation
Free Association was coined and developed by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, as a technique to access the unconscious. In its original practice, the patient would lie on the couch, allow his or her thoughts to wander, and say whatever came to mind, coached on with inquiring, open-ended questions by the psychoanalyst. In this relaxed, aimless and wandering state, the mind was free to explore and the unconscious would come through.
But free association doesn’t only have to happen on the psychoanalyst’s couch. When pulling tarot cards, we want to access our intuition, which is the bridge to the wisdom of our unconscious. Thus, free association is an excellent tool to get us there.
This meditation uses the basic principle of free association (sans couch and psychoanalyst), and is inspired by a writing exercise taught to me by Christopher DeLorenzo of Laguna Writers in San Francisco. The result is an excellent method for tapping into the deep symbolism of a tarot card without the help of any books, deriving a personal meaning, and discovering hidden aspects of the self.
What you’ll need:
- A tarot deck
- A few pieces of paper
- A pen or pencil
- A timer or stop watch
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. Bring your focus to your breath to clear your mind, then begin shuffling your deck. Leave your mind open to receiving whatever the cards have to give, or inquire, “What wisdom do the cards have to offer me today?” Then cut the deck and draw the first card on top.
- Write down five of the most distinguishing details of the card: a color, the main figure, the location or element, a symbol or shape, an object. If not all five of these categories are abundantly clear to you, don’t worry about using them. Just write down five details that stand out to you the most.
Yellow Blue Black
Beggar Queen Horse
Mountain Ocean Wind
Sun Fish Pentagram
Dog Pebbles Muscle
- Set your timer for one minute. (Use a timer that you can set and reset very quickly, as you will be doing this five times.)
- Look at your first word and then write any associations to that word that come to mind. This could be words, phrases or complete sentences. The most important thing to remember during this minute is to keep your pen moving the entire time. Don’t erase or edit, don’t overthink or question your thoughts, just keep writing.
- When the timer goes off, stop writing. Even if you are in a flow or the middle of a sentence. Reset the timer for another minute and repeat the process with your second word: write any associations to that word that come to mind.
- Repeat this process with the third, fourth and fifth words.
- When the timer goes off for the fifth word, lay down your pen immediately. Don’t write any more.
- Pick up your tarot card again. What do you see now? What associations that you have written down ring true and speak to you about what you are feeling and experiencing? How are seemingly disparate associations connected? What new insights and reflections are surfacing?
At this point you may want to close your eyes and meditate on all that has come up for you. Or you may want to pick up your journal and write down your thoughts, ideas and insights. This exercise has a tendency to spark the creative process, so don’t be surprised if you end up writing an entire essay or story!