The Future Factor
Time, Tarot, and the mind . . .
Divination offers the promise of peering beyond our present illusions, perhaps into a timeless reality that is continually unfolding before us.
But the reasoning mind has many questions . . .
Does “the future” exist? In what sense? Is it already defined, or can we change it? Do we ever really see ahead in time — or is it just a trick of the imagination?
Divination and the Direction of Time
In a general sense, the verb “to divine” means to produce information that would otherwise be hidden. More specifically, it means to learn the will of
the gods. Hence the etymological bond of “divination” and “divinity.”
The information produced can be about anything, and it can be drawn from any point in time — past, present, or future.
A “divining rod,” for example, discovers water or other things presently buried. And divination is frequently used in traditional cultures to discover who did something in the past or what is currently afflicting a sick person. Which is all quite useful.
But the “future factor” is what really fascinates us — and may set divination apart from the many other ways of human knowing.
After all, things that have already happened or are currently happening produce information that’s available in ordinary as well as extraordinary ways. Mysteries of the past and present may be solved by gathering clues and making deductions, because the information exists in some literal way; what happened did happen, what is happening is happening.
These things existed at some point in time.
But as far as can be told, what has yet to happen does not exist and never has. Therefore we can’t find out about it in any of our ordinary ways. Though we might guess or bet or predict or project — we cannot know, because there is nothing to know.
Or is there? It’s true that we believe the future doesn’t “exist”; but why do we believe that?
In the first place, there’s the evidence of our senses. And here again, language leaves clues.
We “remember” the past, we “perceive” the present, but we don’t “________” the future. There’s a blank there because we don’t have a common word for future-knowing — and we don’t have a word for it because we don’t commonly experience it.
The Newtonian world view, which is based on our senses and our reasoning capacity, naturally tells us that “causes” must precede “effects” and closed systems always tend toward disorder (that is, things get older but never younger, things break but never get unbroken, and so on).
These are the principal explanations of why time appears to unfold from past to future. But from a post-Newtonian perspective, information is often wildly opposed to sense data. For example — in the quantum world, cause-and-effect doesn’t necessarily apply, and time isn’t necessarily linear.
Because our systems, processes, and technologies are still based almost entirely on a mechanical, Newtonian interpretation of the world, we haven’t progressed much in our ability to relate to the future. In fact, this is one of the few areas in which we have no new technologies — or even any “promising developments.”
As it works out, we now have (reasonably) reliable, (mostly) mechanical ways of doing all those past and present knowledge-things for which divination was once employed. For example, we have science-based tools for finding water, diagnosing illness, or solving crimes. And therefore we don’t have a practical, everyday need for divining rods and shamanic rituals.
But when it comes to determining future events, we haven’t any better tools than the Maya did, or the Homeric Greeks, or the ancient Chinese — all of whom employed what we now call divination.
Divination and the Nature of Mind
There have been many efforts to validate the possibility of future-knowing (precognition) through experimentation and theoretical constructs, but so far, a scientific approach hasn’t brought us much insight on this subject.
Since there are many things science doesn’t yet understand — or in some cases, has had to dramatically re-understand — the fact that there’s no scientific evidence of precognition is not dispositive. It may just be that our science hasn’t yet achieved a basis for understanding certain phenomena.
From that perspective . . . attempting to develop explanations of future-knowing in terms of known constructs may be an inadequate, even counter-productive activity.
So where should we be looking? One direction has been psychology, especially as viewed from a Jungian perspective.
Lama Chime Radha, Rinpoche, then head of the Tibetan Section of the British Library, offered this observation in an article on divination in traditional Tibet:
From the “scientific” point of view it would of course be possible and even necessary to explain away the belief in divination and other magical operations as mere superstitions having no correspondence with objective reality, and of relevance only to the social anthropologist.
More sympathetic explanations might invoke the concept of synchronicity, the interconnectedness of all objects and events in space and time, whereby in states of heightened awareness it becomes possible “to see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower.”
Or one could hypothesize that the external apparatus of divination, whether it is a crystal ball, the pattern of cracks in a tortoise shell, or a complex system of astrology, is essentially a means of focusing and concentrating the conscious mind so that insights and revelations may arise (or descend) from the profounder and perhaps supra-individual levels of the unconscious. 
All these approaches — the scientific vision of space-time and the related hypothesis of synchronicity, the speculations of parapsychology and transpersonal psychology — are intriguing. But as Lama Radha points out, such attempts at explanation may still fall very far short of correctly connecting mind and reality:
The Tibetans themselves would certainly regard the visions and predictions of seers and diviners as mind-created, but then in accordance with Buddhist philosophy so they would regard everything that is experienced either subjectively or objectively, including entities of such seemingly varied degrees of solidity and independent existence as mountains, trees, other beings, sub-atomic particles and waves.
Such an in fact continuity between mind and world, consciousness and created reality, is still by no means scientifically accepted or even widely entertained — much less authentically experienced by most of us. For the most part, speculation along these lines has been confined to some few scientists with a philosophical bent and/or an acquaintance with mystical experience.
And so the science of space-time and the new model of consciousness that might issue from it remains very abstract. 
But Eastern philosophy, which has been investigating the space-time continuum for more than a millennium, can bring the concept much closer to our own experience and our own embodiment. As Peter Barth explains in Piercing the Autumn Sky: A Guide to Discovering the Natural Freedom of Mind — his delightful guide to Tibetan Buddhist mind training:
Exploring the nature of time and space more directly, as present in our lives, we may begin to discover the vastness of time and space itself, the vastness of our human awareness. We may note the sameness of each moment, or each millionth of a moment, in the sense that each “piece” of time or space contains the complete nature of all of time and space. We are endowed with space and time itself in the fabric of our being. 
In other words, all that is (or was/will be) is in us. We perceive differences between time and space, then and now, thought and matter, “me” and “it” not because such things are in fact separate, but because we are conditioned (physically and mentally) to construct the world in a certain way.
At our present level of evolution, it is very difficult for most people to transcend these limitations of perception for any length of time. Although psychoactive drugs and certain techniques for achieving ecstatic trance can produce temporary suspensions of our habitual perception, an effortful, sustained pursuit of spiritual discipline or mind training is needed to bring about more lasting alterations.
As Barth explains—with careful practice . . .
rather [than seeing time as] a linear road that we are on, we may discover what can be called vast time, a time which is inherent in everything, as eternal, unimpeded dynamism; a source of unlimited energy.
By getting to know this aspect of our minds, by attending to the dynamic nature of our experience directly, we can actually begin to enter the dance of vast time itself, with no space between ‘us’ and ‘time.’
The fabrications of ‘past,’ ‘present,’ and ‘future’ places and selves begin to loosen their grip on us. Experientially, we realize that the past and future are only projections of our thoughts, while the present remains an indeterminate state that cannot be pinned down.
The mind-training disciplines taught by Tibetan Buddhism and a few other traditions can eventually produce this expanded relationship with time. But we don’t all have the leisure or the temperament to pursue these practices intensively (at least in this lifetime).
Work with Tarot, however, can be a surprisingly effective way for almost anyone to bring something of this experience into her or his life.
I’ve found, personally, that the ability to sense something of the future is frequently an aspect of being entirely in the present. A complete, serene, and unselfconscious engagement with the given moment (such as may be experienced during a Tarot reading) actually frees the mind from habitual projections into the future and allows the future to reveal itself.
The more we cultivate a deep, fluent command of the cards, the more likely we are to find awareness growing beyond the present. There are also ways to improve concentration — one of several benefits that Tarot practitioners can derive from meditation.
So I’ll be writing (some day soon!) about four approaches to meditation, how they resonate with the four suits of Tarot, and how to choose a path that will expand your sense of time.
 In Oracles and Divination, edited by Michael Loewe and Carmen Blacker (Shambhala, 1981).
 Philosophy professor John Birch offers a short, accessible overview of contemporary efforts to solve the “mind-body problem.”
 Barth’s description of spacetime sounds very much like the scientific description of a hologram — an image created by patterns of light interference in such a way that the whole is contained in every piece, no matter how small the piece. The interesting thing about holographic images is that they appear three-dimensional when viewed from certain angles, and they can change as the viewing angle changes. These unusual characteristics have made the hologram a widely used paradigm for understanding everything from the structure of the brain to the nature of the universe. This PBS video offers an accessible overview of the topic.