The 3 of Swords

The 3 of Swords - Tarot Card from the Rider-Waite Deck

Representing connection; the 3 of Swords is associated with our attempts to look inward in the pursuit of understanding. This aligns most closely with the idea of self-criticism, through which the 3 of Swords represents the risk posed to us by doubt and insecurity or unchecked anxiety.

In the upright state the 3 of Swords is a warning that our own lack of ambition, lack of faith in our ability, and our own insecurity collectively serve as the barriers that hold us in place. If we do not overcome our self-doubt, we will never realise our potential. Imposter Syndrome is the belief that others know more than they actually know, and the act of discrediting what we know diminishing its significance resulting in the belief that we do not belong where others do. The 3 of Swords represents our internal state disturbed by this feeling.

In the inverted state the 3 of Swords represents this disconnection between our introspection and self-criticism. The difference between criticism and critique is such that the former, criticism, destroys with no other intention, the latter, critique, deconstructs in an attempt to rebuild with greater strength, an act we associate mostly with the idea of a mentor or external source of validation that attempts to mould our thoughts.

When we look inward and criticise the self, this act should only be entertained in the pursuit of understanding and growth, lest it amplify our doubt and become our inner saboteur. For you to serve as your own mentor you must remember that your analysis of your internal state has to be framed as the identification of weakness combined with the means to overcome or develop that weakness into a strength.

Where you identify weaknesses that you cannot overcome, your focus should shift to acceptance, mitigation, and compensation; accept that you won’t be capable of improving this aspect of your life and focus instead on how you can counter balance the impact that has. A word of warning is given here, that there are enough external forces in this world that will doubt our ability, we do not need to add to them.

In the Rider-Waite deck this triple force comprised by the lack of ambition, lack of faith in our ability, and lack of confidence is depicted as a heart pierced by three swords holding it in place. These three forces are ultimately rooted in thought, how we think about ourselves shapes our expectations of others until they become impossible to meet, and in turn lowers our expectations of ourselves until we expect negativity and reach a point of immobility where we cease to try because we already expect to fail – but it is important to remember in contrast the only true failure is the failure to try everything else is a learning opportunity. You did not walk with competence the first time you tried to do so as a child, it took time, and many downfalls before you achieved the stability, and control needed to master the skill, do not let feelings of incompetence at the outset prevent further learning, you had to be taught at one point how to use a spoon, all learning has humble beginnings.

In self-reflection the 3 of Swords serves as a prompt to audit our thoughts, this time in terms of their impact on whoever or whatever the target of our communication may be. It is also possible here again to consider ourselves as a recipient not just a sender.

Where the Ace of Swords represented thoughts and ideas that were novel and only beginning to take root, and the 2 of Swords represented the amount of time we spent contemplating these thoughts and attempting to communicate them, the 3 of Swords is an opportunity to focus on established thoughts and ideas, and established connections to things that we influence or that influence us in this way. In this regard the 3 of Swords is an opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the Ace of Swords and 2 of Swords combined.

As a recurring theme, an audit is the best way to proceed as this suit is heavily dominated by metacognition, we need to raise our perspective above our thoughts and examine them. As a reminder metacognition in essence is defined as thinking about thinking – not in terms of overthinking the subject but in terms of stepping back and analysing the act of thinking in itself.

As a recipient, to audit the impact our sources of communication have is rather simple; first we make a list of sources of information, this should include the people we interact with, and the things we read, or watch, or listen to which impart information. Once this list has been made, we then take a timeframe, a day, week, or month for example, and log how much information is imparted and the impact it has. Which news sources do you consume, how many times did you check them, which people do you interact with, how many conversations did you have with them, how many websites did people send links to you for and how many did you click-through and consume the content from?

This may seem excessive, and in ordinary circumstances arguably it is, but you have to understand that you are attempting to diagnose what you perceive to be a problem, and diagnosis requires investigation, you need to gather evidence and analyse that data rather than relying on your impressions because these are often wrong.

The simplest example to give of the misleading nature of our impressions, particularly when it comes to the impact our environment is having on us, is to demonstrate discomfort caused by temperature fluctuations. We believe that hot or cold absolute temperatures make us uncomfortable but this is not the case. The human body is not physically capable of gauging absolute static temperatures – you physically cannot feel “hot” and “cold” in absolutes. The human sensations of hot and cold are determined by a differential; you only feel hot when your environment is getting hotter, and you only feel cold when your environment is getting colder. You can do a very simple experiment to prove this using 2 bowls of water, one filled with ice water and the other room temperature. Place your right hand in the ice water and your left on the table. Wait until your right hand feels cold and then place both hands in the room temperature water. Your right hand will feel hotter than your left because the difference in temperature is greater. If you keep both hands in that water until you become acclimatised you will eventually reach a point where the water does not feel hot or cold it only feels wet. Interesting to note as an aside the sensation of wetness again is a differential, you only feel wet when you are partially exposed to liquids, when you are completely submerged in water you do not feel the “wet” sensation.

Our lives are built on misconceptions and truths that we hold to be true because our depth of reason is shallow, we do not question our beliefs recursively beyond a certain level. It’s important to be objective and step back and analyse your thoughts from time to time and try to get to the root of an idea and how it formed in the first place.

Using social media as an example, if you regularly read your twitter feed then this is a source of information, to audit its impact on your internal state take a piece of paper and make 3 columns labelled positive, neutral, and negative, then take the first 100 tweets in your feed and for each tweet add 1 to one of the columns depending on how it made you feel. At the end you should have three totals showing you the overall impact your feed is having. If there are 10 strokes in the positive column, 30 in the neutral, and 60 in the negative then 10% of your feed is making you happy or having a positive impact, 30% is having no immediate effect, and 60% is making you sad or having a negative impact.

The question here is simple, “What impact is this having?” but the execution admittedly requires some effort discern. You cannot rely on your immediate perception as it is inherently biased by your emotional state, you need to remove that emotion by finding a means to measure the impact with a metric of your choosing that you can then look at objectively. Once again where this analysis relates to your interaction with others you should create metrics that measure their behaviour, and where this analysis relates to your internal state these metrics should measure the changes within you.

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