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BTP85: Tarot and Mindfulness with Lisa Freinkel

By August 1, 2017 January 5th, 2021

Tarot Mindfulness

In this podcast, we chat with Dr. Lisa Freinkel, PhD, a professor, dean and vice provost at the University of Oregon who founded the University’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. I first came across Lisa’s work at the Northwest Tarot Symposium where she taught a session on using Tarot to build a mindfulness practice.

I first came across Lisa’s work at the Northwest Tarot Symposium earlier on in this year, 2017. At the event, she taught a session on this topic. I was super, super fascinated by how we could incorporate more of mindfulness in our Tarot practice. And vice versa—how does Tarot help us become more mindful?

In today’s conversation, you’ll hear Lisa talk more about mindfulness and how you can bring the techniques of mindfulness into your Tarot practice. The really neat thing is it’s not complicated. It’s not complex; you don’t have to master all of these different steps or processes. It is, in fact, very simple and really about just bringing your attention back into the now.

Additional Resources


You’re listening to the Biddy Tarot Podcast, and this is Episode 85: Tarot and Mindfulness with Lisa Freinkel.

Welcome to the Biddy Tarot Podcast, where you'll learn how to connect more deeply with your intuition and live an empowered and enlightened life with the Tarot cards as your guide.

Listen as Brigit and her guests share their very best tips and strategies to help you read Tarot with confidence. Now, here is your host, Brigit Esselmont.


BRIGIT: Hello and welcome back to the Biddy Tarot Podcast. As always, it’s a pleasure to be talking with you about Tarot. Now, today, we have a special guest, and her name is Lisa Freinkel, and she is a PhD, a Professor, a Dean and a Vice Provost at the University of Oregon, who also founded the university’s mindfulness-based stress reduction program—pretty impressive!

Now, I first came across Lisa’s work at the Northwest Tarot Symposium earlier on in this year, 2017. At this event, she taught a session on using Tarot to build a mindfulness practice, so I was super, super fascinated by how we could incorporate more of this mindfulness in our Tarot practice. And vice versa—how does Tarot help us become more mindful?

So, in today’s conversation, you’ll hear Lisa talk more about mindfulness and how you can bring the techniques of mindfulness into your Tarot practice. The really neat thing is it’s not complicated. It’s not complex; you don’t have to master all of these different steps or processes. It is, in fact, very simple and really about just bringing your attention back into the now.

So, I’m super excited to share this interview with you, so let me welcome Lisa.


BRIGIT: Wonderful! Welcome to the Biddy Tarot Podcast, Lisa. It is so awesome to have you. How are you going today?

LISA: Oh, I’m doing great, and it’s wonderful to have this chance to talk with you, Brigit. I’ve really been looking forward to it.

BRIGIT: Beautiful! A lot of your work is in this space of mindfulness, and you’ve started to integrate mindfulness into Tarot. Tell me a little bit more about what mindfulness means to you and how this has come into your life.

LISA: Yes. Well, mindfulness is really about a way of orienting our lives that brings us more into presence and attention with what’s happening right now in this moment, in my body, in my heart, in my mind. You know, there are ways to talk about it. It’s sort of a buzzword to talk about mindfulness. I think there are some misconceptions about it. I think for some people mindfulness is about achieving some “bliss state” where everything is perfect in our lives.

And actually, mindfulness is really just about being more self-compassionate and more familiar with the ups and downs of our lives. I’ve come to it through a good 15 or 20 years of being a seeker. I’m a Zen Buddhist, but mindfulness isn’t something that we need to cultivate from any particular religious or spiritual background. Mindfulness is really simply about paying attention in the present moment in an open and nonjudgmental way.

BRIGIT: Yep, wonderful. And I think you’re right—it is sort of becoming a buzzword in a way. I’m curious: Do you think that’s a good thing or a not-as-good thing?

LISA: You know, whenever something becomes a buzzword, it’s an opportunity because a lot of people are talking about it, buzzing around about it. So, it’s an opportunity to kind of plant seeds wherever one can. For me, we live in a world where so many things are competing for our attention, and where there are so many stressors every moment, so if I can help in any way, if I can help people cope with more equanimity with the ups and downs of their lives, and if I can help people turn more self-compassionately toward whatever is arising for them in the present moment, that’s really the most fulfilling work I can imagine. So, the more buzz there is about mindfulness, the more opportunities I have to work with people on it.

BRIGIT: Yeah, absolutely. Yep, wonderful. I think if the world could become more mindful, that would be a very good thing.

LISA: The other side of it is that it can become another really complicated way in which we beat ourselves up. Like, “Oh, I wasn’t very mindful today,” or “I was really angry today,” or whatever. “In this past moment, I don’t feel like I was at my best.” That hype around mindfulness and the idea that this is some new self-improvement kick—“Today, I’ll eat fewer grains, and I’ll exercise more, and I’ll be more mindful”—that kind of decreases the chance for cultivating more compassion toward the self.

BRIGIT: Right. And it makes me think of some of the apps where it’s almost gamified—

LISA: Yes.

BRIGIT: —this process of being more mindful. You get points for the day or how long you’ve been able to meditate!

LISA: Right! And if you’ve got a lot of points, then you must be winning the mindfulness business, yeah.

BRIGIT: I’m an educator. I teach, and I’m a university person, and that’s what I’ve been doing for the bulk of my time as a grown-up. So, I also come to this from the perspective that it’s all about helping ourselves and others transform and grow and develop, but we have a lot of structures around self-transformation that make that path harder than it needs to be because we’re continually comparing and evaluating ourselves to others.

I’ve experienced that in the classroom as a university professor. “How can I be mindful of my students when my job is also to evaluate and judge them on their work?” Being a mindfulness educator, working with mindfulness in my Tarot practice has been one of the ways in which I’ve tried to think, “How do I help transform the world without judgment?” if that makes any sense.

BRIGIT: Yeah, interesting. Tell me a little bit more about how you're integrating mindfulness with your Tarot practice. It’s not just for your own practice; it’s how you're teaching that and sharing it with others.

LISA: Yes! Well, so I think the key is really this distinction that I make between mantic Tarot, like cartomancy. The phrase “mantic” in “mantic Tarot” is the “mant” in “cartomancy.” It just means “prophecy or divination.”

The Tarot that so many of us learned and still practise is a Tarot that's focused on basically “How do we divine the truth about a given situation with an eye toward fixing that situation or transforming that situation?” So, it's very goal-oriented, often obstacle-based. We start with a question, or a querent starts with a question, and that question comes out of concern often, a sense that things aren't right. That tends to lead toward a practice where there’s a division between how things are right now and how I really want them to be. We’re focused on fixing the situation.

I contrast that form of practice, which is a meaningful and important form of practice, where we’re trying to fix things… But I contrast that with mindful Tarot, where instead of focusing on a fix or a solution or the ways in which things are not right, I’m working toward self-compassion or helping the querent work towards self-compassion and toward more acceptance and integration.

So, if mantic Tarot kind of divides the querent from the world because we’re trying to fix it, in mindful Tarot, we’re seeking ways to be more integrated and more at peace and at ease with the world just as it is.

BRIGIT: Yeah, I really like that distinction between the two.

LISA: Yeah.

BRIGIT: And I can see how that might play out in a Tarot reading.

LISA: Yes.

BRIGIT: In fact, it’s got me thinking. I put a lot of weight around asking the right questions.

LISA: Yes.

BRIGIT: And oftentimes, what I observe is that even just the very act of thinking about what the question is and asking it in the right way almost goes halfway in gaining the clarity and the insight that you need. And now, as you're talking about mindfulness, I’m thinking, “Oh, maybe that is the mindfulness element that’s coming into play.”

LISA: Yes.

BRIGIT: So, talk to me a little bit about that. How does mindfulness play out with setting the question?

LISA: So, that’s really… In a way, I may challenge you a little bit to say that with me, for mindful Tarot, part of what I’m hoping is that I actually find the question—not find the solution.


LISA: In some ways, it’s me approaching the cards either for myself or for another… And if I’m working with a client… I don’t do professional readings, but I work with Tarot cards in my mindfulness teaching, so I’m not really… That’s a whole other story, but I can talk a little bit more about that.

But, you know, it’s about a kind of open-ended relationship to the cards, looking in the course of a reading to clarify what I actually am asking.

BRIGIT: Ah, it’s sort of backwards! I like it.

LISA: It’s backwards because, actually, the questions that are arising are sort of the core of how things are for us. It’s like, “I know something isn’t quite right—let me get a sense actually of how things really are right now,” having a conversation with the cards to help bring that sense of how things are into focus and actually be curious and more curious and more gentle about how things are right now.

So, as a mindfulness teacher, one of the qualities I’m trying to help students cultivate is this quality of gentle curiosity about our lives. It’s hard to have gentle curiosity if your starting point is “Something is wrong! What’s wrong? I need to fix it!” But if it’s more this sort of leaning into the present moment, if that makes any sense.


LISA: Like, “What’s going on? I feel something. What is that? What is the quality of this moment?”


LISA: So, mindful Tarot is really, if anything, not focused on the future; it’s really focused on the present. What is here right now? So, it’s not a practice that will help me figure out “Am I going to get that job?” but it’s a practice that will help me figure out “What’s going on for me right now that might be relevant to this kind of vague anxiety I’m feeling in my gut about work and livelihood? What is here right now?” And that may make me make more skillful choices in the week or weeks ahead that will be relevant for that job, but it’s not going to give me answers; it’s going to clarify the questions.

BRIGIT: I like it. Yeah, this is neat. So, when you're teaching mindfulness with Tarot as a guide, what does that look like? What kinds of things are you… Are there techniques? Or how are you integrating the two together?

LISA: Well, for one thing, this is a very grounded practice. So, one of the first things that I’m helping people do is literally get in touch with their gut. You know, we often talk about “intuition” in relationship to a gut feeling, and for some of us who work with chakras, we might talk about the second chakra or the third chakra, and we might have practices around that.

Mindful Tarot—which for me, I’m a Zen practitioner, so we talk about the hara, which might be the second chakra, but it’s a slightly different system. The hara (that's spelt H-A-R-A) is really that place about 2 inches below my navel. For me, I kind of feel it when I'm breathing.

So, the practice that I start with is awareness of breath. It's just a guided meditation where I help people find their breath. For most people, that's easiest first to find in your chest, as your rib cage rises and falls. I'll say to people sometimes, “Put your right hand over your heart and your left hand over your belly,” and then I'll encourage them to feel the movement of their chest and then to start to feel the movement of the diaphragm in the belly.

Once people, as they’re sitting still, start to sense into their breathing and start to have an experience of their attention, ultimately as they settle into that sitting meditation, settle in the gut, in the hara, in that place in the lower belly, then we’ve got a kind of bottle-y place to find that gut feeling. So, we start there.

BRIGIT: Yeah, I’m doing this along with you right now! It’s wonderful. I’m feeling very grounded.

LISA: Yeah! So, it starts with that bottle-y grounding, and then, breathing into that awareness of the belly rising and falling, then becoming aware of the body pressing into the chair maybe (if you’re sitting in a chair), the feet pressing into the floor. So, really feeling that rootedness of the body, allowing the body to be heavy, allowing the weight of the body to settle, just like the breath is settling.

After sitting in that settled space, then opening the eyes, and whatever cards at hand… So, I’m usually working with people who are not Tarotists or cartomancers. I’m usually working with just general people who are interested in mindfulness. Often, I might use Oracle cards, or I might use something like Tarot of Delphi—a fine arts deck, something where there’s a lot of picture—and invite them to pick a card and then just to do some free journaling, pausing every few moments to check in with the breath. “What do you see in the card? What emerges? What thoughts arise?” Just encouraging people to write, without pausing to edit, and returning them, often through a bell, to the breath, taking these pauses throughout.

That becomes a way for intuitive responses to a card to help someone dive into what’s going on right now in this moment and always direct people back to “What are noticing now? What are you seeing right now?”

BRIGIT: Yeah, and I can see that being a very helpful practice on all levels. Say, if you’re reading for yourself, a lot of people say to me, “How do I keep my reading real instead of it being biased and me getting caught up in what I want to see in the cards?” But I can imagine if you're in this heightened state of awareness or mindfulness, then being able to get clarity from the cards would be a lot easier than if you just sort of jump in, pull out the cards, and try to sift through your current thoughts and find the message.

LISA: Yes. In some ways, this is like getting clarity into myself in this present moment, and this is where I think, to some extent, my starting point is this assumption that we’re all deeply interconnected. We’re all part of Gaia. We’re all part of one unfolding moment. You're thousands of miles away from me and through the magic of the internet, Brigit, I’m able to talk to you, but on a deeper level, without the internet, we’re part of one world and one planet, and gravity holds us in place, and I can remind myself of how grounded I am, literally connected to this planet, sharing the same atmosphere with you as I breathe.

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That interconnection means that as I get clearer about what I’m sensing in this present moment, what’s alive for me, the distinction between me and the cards or me and the querent starts to disappear, and then I’m just reading this present moment. So, then the act of reading becomes something that isn’t about me finding a solution. It isn’t so goal-directed, but it is about me feeling more at ease and integrated and helping my querent also feel more at ease and integrated in the world, so it’s healing in that way.

BRIGIT: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s probably even the actual process versus the outcome that will have that ongoing effect.

LISA: Yes.

BRIGIT: So, perhaps if you are practising this on a daily basis, working with the cards but also working with that state of mindfulness, no doubt that has very long-lasting healing effects as well.

LISA: I find too this is very helpful for shadow work because the classic definition of “mindfulness” is that it’s this awareness that arises when we pay attention on purpose—not just because the world has grabbed us by the lapels and said “Pay attention to me!”, but I choose to pay attention to my breath or my bodily sensation right now, in this present moment, without judgment. So, paying attention on purpose in the present moment, without judgment.

When it comes to something like shadow work, where there are whole regions of ourselves that we tend to push away—places of trauma and darkness and things that we reject because of, well, there’s the stuff in the shadow… So, this work with the cards is a way of me easing into places that are scary. I don’t need a special deck to do shadow work. I don’t need images that will trigger darker connotations. In this very gentle way, I’m encouraging whatever is there to come up.

BRIGIT: And that also eliminates that whole fear around “What if I get a bad card in my reading?” It’s like, “Well, there are no bad cards; it just is…” Yep.

LISA: For me, also, this mindful Tarot is a particular practice that might be anchored in bodily mindful meditation, but it’s also a kind of orientation toward the 78 cards that’s really shifted the way I think about the cards themselves. I really just see the cards as being this deeply integrated system, where all of the cards have this shadow and light side to them. They’re all part of this unfolding process of growth and change and transformation. There really is no bad card because they all unfold the same depths of human experience.

BRIGIT: What do you recommend if someone is doing a reading, and they’re starting to explore a little bit more of the shadow of themselves through the cards and so on? What would you recommend? How can you go deeper with that work?

LISA: I talked a little bit about breath of awareness meditation that’s allowing the breath to settle into that lower belly and bringing attention back. Again, there are other mindfulness exercises, and there are visualisation exercises that are all designed to help us become aware moment by moment of how we’re reacting to the world.

Say you’re doing shadow work, and some stuff comes up. Mindfulness practice can help us notice when we’ve pushed too far. One of the things I talk about with my students is the difference between comfort zone, learning zone and panic or danger zone—the green, yellow and red.

I say, “Look, this is just like stretching or yoga. You want to be able to stretch a little bit beyond what you think is your comfort zone, but that means you have to really pay attention to all the ways in which your body, your heart and your mind send out warning signals of ‘This is too much.’ You want to feel a little bit of a stretch.” If I do a little hamstring stretch right now, if I flex my foot and stretch my leg out and stretch through the hamstring a little bit, I can feel that slight discomfort of stretching. I can also get better and better at knowing if I’m overdoing it. I can breathe into the stretch and sort of see if there’s a little bit more extension, and then also I can back off.

Mindfulness practice helps us dip our toe in, notice if the water is a little bit too cold, and bring our toe back out and know that this can be a process that we go back and forth, back and forth, as we get a little bit more comfortable diving into discomfort so that our boundaries, our capacity expands.


LISA: But it's really hard to grow and to push ourselves skilfully without hurting ourselves, and that's why, as I was saying at the beginning, this is a self-compassion practice because we're learning how to nurture ourselves at the same time that we encourage testing the waters, pushing a little bit beyond what feels maybe the most comfortable because we start to ease up the self-judgment that makes it hard to go to the dark places.

BRIGIT: So, for example, when you're doing a reading…

LISA: Yeah.

BRIGIT: I mean, it’s quite easy to slip into that place of self-judgment—whether it’s about your Tarot reading skills or it’s about the context of your actual reading. So, what are some ways to kind of move back from judgment into a place of self-compassion?

LISA: I would say for everyone: Slow down. For one thing, we tend to imagine that we’re not going to do anything well unless we do it quickly. When I’m teaching people to get comfortable with diving into uncomfortable places, I often encourage there to be pauses built into that work.

So, what I might do in the middle of a reading (like what I was describing with the free journaling on a given card) is to actually literally build in pauses where I invite just a deep breath, and for the time of that breath, just allowing the body to completely relax. And then, “What’s arising right now?” We tend to think that we’re not a good reader if we can’t fluently move from one thought to the next. My encouragement is building in pauses, breathing, and seeing what comes next.

Again, it’s like yoga. When you do a stretch, and then the yoga instructor says, “OK, release the breath and see whether there’s a little bit more extension into the stretch that’s possible.” The same kind of use of breath and releasing the breath can help us recalibrate in the middle of a reading and let that judgment go. Just slow it down.

BRIGIT: Yes, I’m seeing how I can integrate this into my work as well. I’m currently doing a lot of writing, and it’s driving me nuts! I need to breathe.

LISA: I mean, breathing is so powerful. It’s shifting our nervous system from the fight-or-flight kind of sympathetic nervous system to that parasympathetic—rest-and-digest, the way we feel after a really good meal, and we’re really relaxed. So, you take a deep breath, and you're literally shifting your nervous system. You're giving yourself this downshift so that things can settle.


LISA: It’s so powerful.

BRIGIT: Yeah. So, with mindfulness, we’ve covered a lot around how you can use it with yourself. How might you be able to translate this to a reading with somebody else? Would it be facilitating the client to pause and breathe and check in? Or is there something else along with this practice?

LISA: So, I think, first and foremost, this begins with the self. For me, this is, first and foremost, about me becoming more mindful so that I’m present first with my own reactions, present to the cards, and present to the client, to the person I’m reading for. So, it really is about me becoming a better listener, and that really starts with me noticing what I’m experiencing in this moment.

It is true for me that when I’m reading for another person, I will pause, and I will invite the other person to take a breath with me. And after that breath, I’ll also often invite looking into that person’s face and inviting some eye contact, being also quite conscious that eye contact might not be everyone’s cup of tea. It may be too intense, but inviting that moment of connection and intimacy and saying, “How are these words that I’ve just shared with you landing?”

The more mindful I am with my own reactions to this person, the ways that we size each other up all the time, then also the better chance I have of really deeply listening to them when I invite them to respond.

So, I’m not a big fan of… It doesn’t work for me to do a reading where it’s like, “Here you do; here’s your reading.” I’m really reliant on the connection that I build with this other person. And for me, the reading and the relationship to the cards is all about deepening that connection.

Brigit, I’m in awe of the work that you do. To me, doing this long distance would be very challenging. Mindful Tarot probably doesn’t translate very well into a distance reading because it is all about the connection.

BRIGIT: Although I could imagine perhaps… I mean, everything needs its little modifications and adjustments, but even just if it’s through an email reading, where you're writing the reading out, even just taking those moments to just pause and breathe and just check in again, I think that could be incredibly valuable for readers who do these distance readings as well.

LISA: You know, I do really feel like… Again, for me, it’s at the level of a really strong embodied faith that we all are interconnected—the sharing of the atmosphere, the sharing of the earth. I feel that the more I am connecting with this present moment—even if you're 10,000 miles away and separated by time, and I’m writing an email, reading out that you're going to read tomorrow morning—nonetheless, if I’m in tune with this present moment, I am connected with you. I learn to listen more and more intently in my own practice with the cards and with my body and my heart and my mind in this present moment. My reading becomes a way that I’m connecting with you.

BRIGIT: Yeah, absolutely. Oh man! I could talk with you for hours on this topic—it’s wonderful!

LISA: Yes.

BRIGIT: My brain is just bouncing with ideas of how I can integrate this into so many different areas of my life. And the neat thing is it’s simple. It’s not over-complicated—“You must do these 24 steps in order.” It’s really just about bringing your mind back into the present moment and being, as you said, fully embodied in the now, and then that can serve you in so many different ways. Is there anything that we haven’t covered today that you’re thinking, “Oh, if only they knew this one thing?”

LISA: Well, I guess I would just say… You know, earlier when we were talking about buzzwords and the danger… So, I think there is this expectation that mindfulness is easy and that you will learn it, and then you can do it.

There’s a mindfulness teacher named Jack Kornfield, and he talks about mindfulness training as being like training a puppy. Our minds are like puppies. We’re running all around the place. This idea of just bringing your mind back to the present…

We have to remember that our minds are designed to be distracted all the time. That's how we're built. We're built to be distractible, so training ourselves to be more attuned to the present is an act of training, and it's also an act of love. Just like you would train a puppy very gently, very lovingly—”Come here, little puppy!”—bringing that same compassion and gentleness to the self and realising that you are going to be mindless more often than not, and that's fine. You just keep bringing your awareness back to the breath, back to present sensations in your body, and you will get distracted, you will fall asleep, you will not be mindful—and that's OK! Practice self-compassion with your own mindlessness.

BRIGIT: Yes, and that feels very different, actually. I’m just processing it in my mind right now, and I’m thinking, “Yeah, actually, it feels different.” Instead, what my mind normally does is go, “Oh, stop being on Facebook!” But no, “These things happen. Breathe.”

LISA: Breathe! Notice that you're distracted; then you are mindful.


LISA: So, more often, you realise, “Oh, I just spent the last 20 minutes absorbed with Facebook. That’s not a loss; that’s a win because now you're back.

BRIGIT: That’s it. Beautiful. I love it. So, Lisa, what’s next for you? What are you working on over the next few months?

LISA: So, I’m actually working on a book called Mindful Tarot, going into all of this in depth. I’m hoping to get that manuscript completed and out there. I’m doing more and more work bringing together my work in mindfulness with working with the cards. I would love to start working more with people who are really familiar with the Tarot because thus far, I’ve been working with people who want to become more mindful but not necessarily people who want to be more mindful in reading Tarot, so I’d love to do more of that work in workshops, and I’ve begun exploring that in Oregon.

BRIGIT: Wonderful. Any ideas of when your book might be out, or is it kind of in process?

LISA: It’s in process, but I would… Yes, no, I can’t even say. I’m working with someone who is going to hopefully represent me on this.


LISA: So, hopefully, it will happen soon. Fingers are crossed. I feel very positive about the process, but yeah.

BRIGIT: I think it would be wonderful. Particularly given our conversation today and where I see Tarot going, I think having that blended, integrated approach with mindfulness is just perfect, so I can’t wait to see it once it comes out. That’s wonderful.

LISA: Thank you so much, Brigit. Thanks!

BRIGIT: Excellent. Whereabouts can people find out more about you? Have you got a website?

LISA: No, I don’t. I don’t have a good website. I have a pretty active YouTube presence (MindfulTarot), and I’m on Instagram. That’s probably the best place to find me. And the minute I have a website, if folks follow me on YouTube, they’ll know about it.

BRIGIT: Fabulous. We’ll make sure that we post the links to YouTube and Instagram on the show notes, so you can go to, and you’ll be able to get the links to Lisa’s different platforms. It seems like you’ve got a few videos that we can watch and find out more about Tarot and mindfulness and all that good stuff, so wonderful!

Well, Lisa, thank you so much for today’s conversation. I know that I feel calmer, and I’m sure that folks listening will have some new things that they can work with not just in Tarot but daily practise. I think it’s wonderful, so thank you so much!

LISA: Thank you, Brigit. Take good care.

BRIGIT: Thanks.

So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation with Lisa all about mindfulness and Tarot. Remember: You can get the show notes over at We’ve got links to Lisa’s pages, plus you can get the transcript for today’s call.

Now, I hope you have an awesome week ahead, and I’m looking forward to connecting again with you next week with our next podcast episode.

Bye for now!


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