Three Techniques For Reading Health Questions

by Douglas Gibb on March 12, 2010

Stethoscope

This post has been inspired by an earlier article called, Eon Quiz and Robust approaches to Tarot Readings.

In that article I posted a quiz that asked people how they approached a health related Tarot reading. The participation from others was incredible, and inspired a follow up post called Eon Quiz I – Health Question.

The discussions that resulted from these two posts focused on two distinct areas; Ethical, and reader style (predictive versus therapeutic).

In this post, I want to focus on the predictive style, and in particular, three techniques that can be used to answer a Health based question. My main interest is in discovering which, if any of the techniques we explore, is the most robust and bulletproof.

We’ll start this article with an example Tarot reading, and explore three possible techniques to use – always with an underlying emphasis on finding the most robust one.

Example Tarot reading

Despite my best efforts to make this post as universal as possible, everyone will have slightly different interpretations on what the positions in the Celtic Cross Spread signify. I don’t actually think it really matters what definition you use for what position. However, for those of you who would like to know how I read with this spread, here is a link to a post where I go into greater detail on this aspect of the Celtic Cross Spread.

The Question

In order to keep this reading lighthearted yet useful, I’ve actually done a real reading … on my friend’s cat. This person asked for a Tarot reading on the cat’s health, and with their permission, I’ve used their reading in this example.

In the example that follows, I use the Thoth deck. In order not to exclude people who are unfamiliar with the imagery, I’ve listed the cards used (and the associated positions) after the image.

An Example Celtic Cross Tarot reading that answers a question on health

A list of the cards used in the above example:

  1. The present: 5 of Cups
  2. The card that crosses the 1st card: 4 of Disks
  3. The card positioned above – it provides clues to the distant future: Ace of Wands
  4. The card positioned below – it provides clues to the distant past: 3 of Swords
  5. The card to the left provides clues on the recent past: Hanged Man
  6. The card to the right provides clues to the immediate future: 3 of Wands
  7. The bottom card in the column to the right of the cross provides clues to the client’s influence on the question (is this the cat?): 6 of Disks
  8. The next card provides clues to the environmental influences (that means anything outside of my friend’s and cat’s control): 10 of Cups
  9. The next card can be read as a potential outcome card and provides clues as to the influence of change (an awesome clue for the future): Prince of Disks
  10. The last card is traditionally seen as the outcome card. Death (…ah…)

1st Technique – Elemental influences

The technique of using Elemental influences to explore someone’s health is quite simple. The first step is to scan the cards and note the distribution of the Elements. Let’s do that now:

  • Fire: 2 cards – Ace of Wands, Three of Wands.
  • Water: 4 cards – Five of Cups, Hanged Man, Ten of Cups, Death.
  • Air: 1 card – Three of Swords.
  • Earth: 3 cards – Four of Disks, Six of Disks, Prince of Disks.

The next step is to use that information to predict someone’s (or in our case, the cat’s) health.

Applying the technique

Normally, in health related questions, the influence of Fire indicates vitality. The more Fire cards the better, particularly if there is a large concentration of them in future positions – it indicates vitality returning to the client. In this particular case we only have 2 Fire cards, yet they’re positioned well within the reading (the future cards).

Alternatively, we only have one Air card ( … Swords are traditionally associated with medical procedures and operations). Does this indicate that it won’t come to that?

There are 4 Water cards and 3 Earth cards. This is a fairly nice balance between the two passive Elements.

What does all this tell us?

Well, there’s clearly more passive Elements than active elements. This indicates that it will take some time (relative to the reading) before the cat’s health either improves or deteriorates. Does this tell us that this illness will be lingering for a while; or at the very least, some time passes before any noticeable change in the cat’s health occurs?

With some active Elements present, especially Fire, we can be assured that things do change, but is it for the better?

I’m encouraged by the presence of Earth Elements. It indicates a strong constitution and that the best possible treatment is provided – the kind that provides the cat with a solid chance to improve.

Why use this technique?

The strengths of this technique lie in its simplicity and ease of use. The technique itself will cost no more than 10-20 seconds of your life. It’s really fast to use and it gives an overall impression of timing, imbalances and blockages in a quick and effective manner.

I use this technique as a way to “get into” the reading. It helps direct the flow of the Tarot reader’s story.

Why it’s not robust

It’s too simple. Although it does provide us with a framework for figuring out what has importance within the reading, it doesn’t actually provide any concrete answers.

This is a great technique to use, but it’s not really a “primary” technique but rather a “secondary” or back-up method to the main method used by the Tarot reader.

It could also be argued that it’s deck specific and relies on certain attributions from systems (in my case, the Golden Dawn) not in keeping with the deck creators intentions. Although it can be adapted, it’s not really a universal method for reading Tarot cards.

One way to expand upon this technique is to look for different types of influences as well as obvious patterns within the spread. For example, the ratio between Major, Minor and Court cards; if there are groups of cards with the same number (such as the Four of Cups, Four of Swords, Four of Disks, Four of Wands bring present within the same reading); if the Court cards are looking at each other; where the Court cards are looking etc.

2nd Technique – Elemental Dignities and Card Pairing

I don’t want to spend too long on this technique because not everyone is familiar with it. For those of you who would like more information, check out a collaborative series of How-To articles that Catherine Chapman and I wrote on Elemental Dignities.

To keep this section of the article brief, I’m just going to read the cards in pairs. I’m going to pair from the outside, and work my way in. In other words, I’ll pair cards 1 and 10, 2 and 9, 3 and 8, 4 and 7, 5 and 6 together. Each card pairing takes us further into the future.

This technique will provides us with an overall story framework for the cat’s health.

Applying the technique

  • Card 1 – Five of Cups paired with Card 10 – Death: Here we have 2 Water Elements interacting with each other. This indicates an emotional evaluation of “events”. There is a fear of loss and saying goodbye.
  • Card 2 – Four of Disks paired with Card 9 – Prince of Disks: This is another pairing where both cards are the same Element. In this case, Earth. The Prince of Disks and the 4 of Disks show us what a strong constitution the cat has. He’s holding onto his life – he hasn’t given up.
  • Card 3 – Ace of Wands paired with Card 8 – 10 of Cups: This is the first pairing in which we have enemy Elements. In card pairing, each card (whether or not they’re “friends” or “enemies”), is considered equal strength within a reading. It seems that where the cat is living (10 of Cups, associated with families) is providing the right kind of healing environment. The Ace of Wands looks to the future, and a return of health. It’s almost giving us a snap shot of “his fighting spirit”, to quote Homer.
  • Card 4 – Hanged Man paired with Card 7 – Six of Disks: Here, the Elements are friendly with each other. Despite nobody seeing any improvements in his health for some time (Hanged Man), his body is strong (6 of Disks).
  • Card 5 – Three of Swords paired with Card 6 – Three of Wands: Again we have two friendly active Elements. Hmmm…this pairing isn’t so clear cut. Remember, both cards are equally strong so it looks like this illness will be around for a while. Perhaps we are looking at an operation and return to health. The Three of Swords, in this case, being an operation and the Three of Wands being a return to health. Alternatively, we could be seeing short term improvements ahead of a relapse, and ultimately the cat’s passing.

Why use this technique?

As you can see, we now have a story line … of sorts. Although the outcome isn’t completely clear, card pairing did provide us with some valuable and useful pieces of information. This is the real strength of the technique – its ability to provide us with useful information in a very short time frame. Like the first technique, this won’t take longer than a minute (depending on the spread and amount of cards) in use.

Why it’s not robust

There are some limitations to it. The first limitation depends on the spread that the Tarot reader is using. If you use a spread that has an odd number of cards in it, you will end up with just one card, whereas, if you use an even number of cards (like the Celtic Cross which numbers 10) you will end up with two cards at the end.

This is significant because, as in our case, when you end up with two cards (which you pair) the outcome is vague. The value of this technique is greatly improved if you use a spread with an odd number of cards. This means that it’s impossible to pair the last card. This “outcome” card then brings a greater level of clarity.

Naturally, you can just deal an additional card to ensure that you transform your spread from even numbers into odd numbers, but, this isn’t always natural or desirable.

I’ve found that his technique is a great way to end a reading, but not to begin one. I like to use this method as a way of validating my earlier interpretations. If this method ends up creating a similar story to the one I’ve been telling then I’m given more confidence as to the accuracy of my earlier interpretations. If, however, it says something completely different, then I know I need to reassess the reading.

Overall then, this is another great technique that does have strength behind it, but it needs to be used within the right context. For me, it’s real strength lies in its ability to diagnose and validate my previous interpretations. It’s also awesome at bringing out other additional information at the end of the reading.

3rd Technique – Divinatory Definitions

This is usually the very first technique we learn as Tarot readers. First, we learn the DMs of the cards and second, how to apply them to a positional based Tarot spread – such as the Celtic Cross.

The idea behind it is very simple. Let’s take an example card, such as the Seven of Wands, and apply it to various imaginary positions.

  • The past: Someone who, rather than trying to sort everything out in one go, dealt with their problems one at a time.
  • The present: Feeling embarrassed, and run down. Perhaps their risk taking went wrong?
  • The future: Although the client’s problems won’t go away, they confront the worst of them, and possible overturn them.

As you can see, we take the basic interpretation of the Seven of Wands and adjust its meaning depending on the meaning of the corresponding position.

Applying the technique

Let’s apply this technique to our example reading.

  1. Five of cups in the now position: My friend is upset.
  2. Four of Disks in the crossed position: There’s a lot of positives that will help my friend’s cat – good medical care, diet plan, financial resources etc.
  3. Ace of Wands in the crown position: A return of vitality and a new lease of life.
  4. Hanged Man in the past position: Looks like this cat has been sick for a while.
  5. Three of Swords in the bottom of the cross position: This indicates the medical care required as well as the level of sickness the cat will experience.
  6. Three of Wands in the immediate future position: An improvement in the cat’s health. This card also indicates a good relationship with all relevant professionals involved in the cat’s health.
  7. Six of Disks in the bottom of the column position. Typically indicates the person’s influence: A good card. Looks like there will be plenty of positive kindnesses and help occurring around the treatment of the cat. For me, this also represents the cat’s constitution and the strength of that constitution.
  8. 10 of Cups in the environment position: I can’t think of a better card to represent the cat’s environment. There are worse places to be … if you’re going to be sick.
  9. Prince of Disks in the hopes/fears position: I see this card as representing the cat and the cat’s health. A Prince, or in other decks, a Knight, can represent Events. In terms of health, this would be a good “event”. I also see this position as a potential outcome card. In this sense, it looks like there will be a period of stability and recovery for the cat.
  10. Death in the outcome position: This could indicate the physical death of the cat, but what doesn’t eventually die?

Overall, we can see an improvement in the cat’s health. The Hanged Man lets us know that the cat’s been sick for a while, or at the very least, has a history of major illnesses. The other cards point to the cat’s overall strength and fighting spirit. We can also see how other people play a positive role with the future of the cat’s health; and I would fully expect the Vet’s that are involved to be accurate in their treatment.

The Death card is troubling, especially when you consider that the Three of Swords, Five of Cups and Hanged Man are all present within the reading. Without trying too hard we know the situation is serious. But how serious? Yes, the cat’s death is a real possibility, however, so is a period of improved health. If we consider how important the Ace of Wands is when using this kind of technique, it alters the meaning of the Death card. Are we looking at the cat making some kind of recovery followed by a relapse?

Why use this technique?

It’s simple, can be used with any spread or Tarot deck, and its easy to use. It gives fairly clear information and provides a nice structure for the Tarot reader.

Why it’s robust

Because there are no real draw backs to this method. It’s robust in almost all circumstances and conditions. Of course, it does have its limitations. It pigeon holes the client’s life, and assumes a structure (the positional meanings that the spread uses) that the client’s life will easily fit into.

I remember a reading a friend of mine did years a go. A woman wanted to know if her husband’s health would improve. The outcome card was the Empress. There were other highly positive cards involved as well – such as the Star and the Sun. My friend predicted full recovery. A couple of weeks later her husband died. My friend and I couldn’t understand it. How could the Empress predict death? We spent years discussing. Finally, we had a moment of insight. The Empress can depict a woman who owns property – in other words, it represented inheritance. The cards didn’t lie, but sometimes it takes a while to figure these things out.

Another problem with this method is also part of its strength. Because it’s so easy to use, it’s also so easy to apply it incorrectly. Like my friend’s reading where the outcome card was the Empress, we don’t always “see” what the cards are showing us. This isn’t so much a failing of the method but rather a human failing … we can’t always see the forest for the trees.

That’s where the other “secondary” techniques come in. The other techniques can provide the essential checks and balance that every Tarot reader needs in order to ensure a robust methodology to predicting, not just health readings, but any type of reading.

Like anything in life. I’ve discovered that no one technique is instantly superior than the other. Yet, they all have their place within the Tarot reader’s tool kit. For me, some are more “secondary” than others.

Conclusion

Each Tarot reader will have their own spread, their preferred deck and their preferred techniques for health readings. I know I do! But this article isn’t about me, and how I do it. It’s about finding the most robust methods a Tarot reader can use for a health question, and for my money, using some simple DMs within a familiar Tarot spread is about as functional as you can get.

When we incorporate other “secondary” methods, we can add even more useful information. For instance, when I paired the cards, the final pairing left it open ended about the cat’s health. This isn’t really the case with the DMs method. Death is a fairly clear message but so is the Ace of Wands (Birth, something new etc). However we choose to conclude this reading (initially, the cat recovers, for now) it’s clear that it’s going to take some time.

Do you agree or disagree with me? What do you think is the most robust method? What methods have I forgotten about? As ever, these posts are only as interesting as your opinions on them. I’d love to hear what you think. I’ll see you in the comments :D

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14 comments… Let's discuss

Paul Hughes-Barlow March 12, 2010 at 11:41 pm

Good insight Doug, although I cannot help but think this says more about the pet owner than the pet.

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Douglas Gibb March 17, 2010 at 11:38 am

Hi Paul,

Thanks for your kind words :)

Interesting perspective, I’d love to hear more about your take on that!

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Catherine March 13, 2010 at 10:41 am

Hi Doug, great post – I really enjoyed it :)

I agree that the Divinatory Definitions are central to any tarot reading, not just a health related question, as they are the backbone of tarot. I’m wondering though, what you may think about rigidity with those DMs. Do you think it necessary, particularly with a health question, to stay very strict and to the book (literally) with DMs? Or do you think it’s acceptable to free-flow, using pure intuition and the cards themselves as your guide? Do you feel that a tarot reader’s intuition is robust in this situation? I ask really as this is what most of us do when we read tarot and wondered if you make a distinction or an exception in a reading such as this. As a sub-question to that, do you consider using the imagery in a very visual deck such as the Rider Waite-Smith and its clones as a (robust?) means to interpret in a heath reading?

I also wondered about the robustness of the custom spread, or, a spread such as a Chakra spread for use in this situation. I know you are a fan of the Opening of the Key and are less a fan of positional based spreads, but do you think a custom spread would be a serious contender for you attention in a health question session with a client? I realise a spread may not be considered a technique as such, but it seems logical to me that in a very specific and sensitive setting, very specific positional questions/statements could be very useful. Or, on the other hand, do you feel it better to be less specific and more open-ended in answering the client’s health question?

Thanks for a great series, thoroughly enjoyed it :)

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Douglas Gibb March 17, 2010 at 11:54 am

Hi Catherine,

Do you think it necessary, particularly with a health question, to stay very strict and to the book (literally) with DMs? Or do you think it’s acceptable to free-flow, using pure intuition and the cards themselves as your guide? Do you feel that a tarot reader’s intuition is robust in this situation?

LOL tough questions :)

I don’t think that a very strict approach to the DMS is required, but I do think it’s important to read the DMS as literally as possible. I also think using DMS is the most robust technique for health questions. However, like I mentioned in the article, human error can often miss what this beautifully simple technique is communicating. That’s why I personally like to have diagnostic tools, such as card pairing, card counting, Elemental Dignities etc, to help me keep things on track. In a sense, a Tarot readers intuition is the most robust tool in the tool box … it’s also the least robust. It’s a double edge sword.

As a sub-question to that, do you consider using the imagery in a very visual deck such as the Rider Waite-Smith and its clones as a (robust?) means to interpret in a heath reading?

Yes! I’m sure amazing flashes of insight could be had with this method.

I also wondered about the robustness of the custom spread, or, a spread such as a Chakra spread for use in this situation … or do you feel it better to be less specific and more open-ended in answering the client’s health question?

I’m more into keeping an open mind and I find that a less defined spread helps me do this. However, getting away from my personal approach to reading Tarot, I think that a custom spread, if well thought out, could be an asset to the reader. I’m sure this approach could add an extra layer of robustness to the reading.

Thanks for the awesome questions and I’m glad you enjoyed the post :)

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Chris March 13, 2010 at 1:35 pm

Great post Doug. I recall the empress example and for me, that’s changed my way of reading altogether. We have to be careful of projecting our expectations onto the Tarot – ie will they or won’t they die.. the Tarot isn’t a magic 8 ball and shouldn’t be used as such. Now, when I read Tarot, when I’m interpreting the cards I put the question to the back of my mind because when the question is foremost in your mind you have too many assumptions about the appropriate interpretation of each card. The Empress is a good example, but the death card in the example reading is another. Once I’ve interpreted what the Tarot’s response is, I feed it back to the client and 9 times out of 10 they’ll be able to make the link to the question in a way that I would never have been able. I usually get a positive response this way too – since it usually brings in detail and background that the client is certain I don’t know.

I agree with you 100% on which methods are robust and which are secondary.

As for the cat, being a bit of a fan of the felines myself – I’d hedge my bets that it’s all to do with an upheaval in the cat’s home, indicated by the prince of disks which usually to me indicates the jobs and tasks of everyday life or your job. That’s in the hopes/fears. Knowing that our feline friends health depends on stability and routine I think the hanged man, the 4 of disks, the 6 of discs, the 5 of cups and the 3 of swords relate to the animal’s reluctance to be taken out of it’s secure territory. This may have happened due to changes in the family’s circumstances indicated by the 10 of cups and the 3 of swords which may have been upsetting – like they’ve been forced to move or something. The 3 of wands is positive in that it does indicate that the cat will acclimatize and establish a new territory and routine, I would probe to see if it was competing for this with 2 other animals (because it’s the 3). The new stability might be more dynamic because there’s more individuals involved (possibly indicated by the 10 of cups also). The death card then is there because it’s a change that has been imposed on the animal, the instability which results may bring up long standing previously under control health issues in the short term (hanged man as you interpreted).

Sorry to impose my view on the example… just can’t help myself lol

Great post though – look forwards to reading more

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Douglas Gibb March 17, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Hi Chris,

I recall the empress example and for me, that’s changed my way of reading altogether.

LOL it took us years before we figured that out. It changed my perspective on the Tarot as well :)

Your interpretation on the cards was really accurate. You captured a lot of the stuff that’s happening within the cat’s environment. I especially liked your take on the Three of Wands!

Thanks for sharing :D

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Biddy March 16, 2010 at 12:55 am

Great post – I really like how you have given a number of different ways to interpret the reading, depending on where your preferences and reading strengths lie.
One thing that does stand out, however, is that there isn’t necessarily a consistent theme or ‘answer’ to the question, across all methods used. Will the cat survive? Some cards/methods say yes, some say no. What’s the journey ahead look like? Some say up, some say down, some say both. I think one take-away from this is that it is important to choose one method and stick with it, to prevent there being too much of a ‘grey area’ in the reading. So, before doing the reading, select a method and then let the cards guide you.
A second take-away is that I can’t help but to still feel uncomfortable with doing a reading based purely on health, particularly given the messages of the cards are not clearly defined or certain. I would struggle with providing someone an ‘answer’ on whether a loved one will survive or not. Then again, what makes it different from providing an answer on, say, whether a relationship will survive or not, etc.? (As you can see, I am still deliberating it in my own mind!!) I know the ethics of a health reading are a completely different (and well debated) topic!
I do appreciate, however, that you have attempted to provide some practical methods for interpretting a health reading, should someone wish to go down that path. So thank-you for sharing this post!

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Douglas Gibb March 17, 2010 at 12:21 pm

Hi Biddy,

Thanks for dropping by :)

One thing that does stand out, however, is that there isn’t necessarily a consistent theme or ‘answer’ to the question, across all methods used.

While I see your point of view, I do feel the cards gave us a two staged outcome. The first stage is recover, the second is a relapse. What I found really interesting about the different techniques was how well they actually complimented each other.

For instance, the last cards to be paired (using technique 2) were really conflicting cards (the Three of Swords paired with the Three of Wands). It provided a two stage outcome, and I concluded that we were looking at a return to health (in the short term) before the illness returned. Then if we cross-examine this with the DMS method, we get a similar outcome. One card hinting at a return to health and another hinting at a relapse. In other words, we have different outcome cards but a very similar story being told throughout these two techniques.

For this reason, I really love using card pairing as a way to diagnose my DMS interpretation. It just helps me keep on track and focused.

A second take-away is that I can’t help but to still feel uncomfortable with doing a reading based purely on health, particularly given the messages of the cards are not clearly defined or certain. I would struggle with providing someone an ‘answer’ on whether a loved one will survive or not.

This links into the amount of responsibility a Tarot reader is placed under. It’s particularly heightened for a health reading. This is certainly something we all need to be clear about before we begin this type of reading. Do we do health readings, or do we not? There’s no easy answer. However, I really liked how you questioned the difference between that and a relationship reading. I think that is an interesting (amazing really) point, and just seeks to enrich the whole debate.

I do appreciate, however, that you have attempted to provide some practical methods for interpreting a health reading, should someone wish to go down that path. So thank-you for sharing this post!

I tried to avoid showing people just how I would read a health question, and instead, focused on some general purpose techniques that are applicable across Tarot spreads and decks. Thank you for your kind words and I’m glad you enjoyed the post :)

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Colin October 3, 2010 at 11:06 am

Douglas,
I consider my self a beginer reader and have been having lots of fun over this last year making lots of friends and learning many different ways to do a reading. As I have strove to learn the different methods of Tarot and the best way that tarot works for me I feel now is definately now coming, when I read some of the older posts that was put here a while ago now make remarkable sence as gainging the knowledge of the DMS and learning card pairing and other methods like the dignities of some times is hard but still learning, as well now I get a massife gutt feeling about reads, again yeah you r chat here about the cat was great loved the way that you described the whole situation and I can follow dead easy now, here is to your great wisdom thanks Colin McQ.

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Douglas Gibb October 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm

Hi Colin,

Thank you for your kind words, I appreciate it.

It’s good to hear just how far you have come with Tarot and I wish you all the success for the future :D

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Mister M February 1, 2011 at 5:53 pm

What happened to the cat in the end?

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Douglas Gibb May 8, 2011 at 6:11 pm

HI Mister M,

The cat recovered from its illness. It still requires medical help every few weeks but still going strong. :)

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susan December 5, 2011 at 11:32 am

sometimes death means a new life .can mean end suffering .depends on illness ,cats get human illnessses .i have 4 cats ,.after treatment it could have had a better life .

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Viktorija December 4, 2013 at 6:31 pm

“…Because it’s so easy to use, it’s also so easy to apply it incorrectly. Like my friend’s reading where the outcome card was the Empress, we don’t always “see” what the cards are showing us. This isn’t so much a failing of the method but rather a human failing … we can’t always see the forest for the trees.”

While I agree with the first statement regarding it being easy to apply incorrectly, I do not agree with the second & third sentences, “we don’t always “see” what the cards are showing us. This isn’t so much a failing of the method but rather a human failing…”

This woman asked if her husband’s health would improve. This is what she asked, but she already knew the answer to her question, which was no, it would not. But what her REAL question was, and did not verbalize (maybe for fear of seeming callous), was that she wanted to know if she would be ok, financially, after he passed. Which this reading unequivocally showed she would. Her real fear was not that he would pass, but that she would not have the means to continue living her lifestyle, and/or that there were debts that she didn’t know about.

Great article, I very much enjoyed it, and will be using these methods in the future.

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