There’s a particular blip of the tarot’s major arcana that’s always fascinated me, the sequence of cards 15 through 17: The Devil, The Tower and The Star (shown here from the CBD Tarot De Marseille).

To me, these three cards illustrate the healing process. When I talk about healing here, I’m talking about spiritual and emotional healing. I’m talking about healing the traumas of our personal pasts, healing our addictions, healing the enslaving tendencies of our egos, healing the gap between our subconsciousness and our consciousness.

What associations do you have with the notion of healing? Maybe you associate healing with the concept of wholeness. Acceptance. Serenity. Peace. Recovery. Rejuvenation. I think these are the associations many of us jump to. And these things are part of the healing process…but the catch is, these things come in the final stage of the healing process, represented above by the Star.

We don’t talk as much about the things that happen earlier in the process, because they aren’t as desirable. But if you’re really devoted to healing, you’ll eventually have to accept that you can’t jump straight to the Star. First, you have to go through the pain represented by the Devil and the Tower.

Keep in mind that the healing process looks wildly different in each of its manifestations, but here are a few broad strokes outlines of the phases you might encounter.

The Healing Process Phase 1: The Devil

The onset of the healing process comes when you acknowledge that you are being weighed down by pain. You finally see that you are being imprisoned, and even if part of you wants to cling to that thing, part of you knows that you need to release.

The key point of this phase is learning to look directly at the problem. Instead of letting things remain vaguely unsettling notions, during the Devil phase of healing you begin to name your captor. You learn to look directly at what it is that is unwell within you.

This acknowledgement alone is a huge step. Before this point, you were a blind prisoner. Now, you have the conscious knowledge that healing is required. This doesn’t mean you’ll willing jump into healing work right away, but it does mean you’ve reclaimed the power to do so.

During this phase of the healing process, you usually feel a LOT of resistance. You’ll backslide on promises you make to yourself, you’ll relapse into your old patterns, you’ll rage with anger, you’ll blame others (and yourself), you might feel cynical or depressed. You might wonder what the POINT is of even attempting to heal. Sometimes we remain stuck in this phase for a long, long time.

But inevitably during this stage, you’ve gained a huge advantage: the willingness to look at your wounds, and the knowledge that simply acknowledging the pain makes you stronger. For the first time, you begin to realize that facing your pain will not kill you.

Phase 2: The Tower

During the Tower phase of healing, you are swept directly into the chaos of letting go. Sometimes this happens because you consciously chose to step into the storm, other times the Universe thrusts you in whether you’re ready or not.

This is an unsettling experience – you know you’ll no longer be the person you were before, but you can’t quite envision where you’ll end up. You may actually feel the physical sensations of being ungrounded, as though you were being flung about like the figures on the card.

Purging is one of the hallmarks of this phase in the healing process. You’ll spend time sorting through heaps of memories, old energy, blocks, and other painful stuff. At times, it will feel like too much to handle. You may do a lot of what Oprah calls “ugly crying.” You may also do a lot of laughing, too – because even though this phase is terrifying, it’s also exhilarating.

Perhaps most notably, this phase puts you in a direct experience of chaos. You will have to call back to the knowledge you first gleaned from the Devil, but may forget as healing continues: this pain will not kill you. Quite the opposite, going through this pain is the ONLY sustainable route to healing.

You’ll gradually gain a new understanding of who you are. Instead of defining yourself as a victim, you’ll find a new identity as a survivor. Instead of identifying yourself as flawed, you find that you are free.

Phase 3: The Star

The Star is the calm after the storm. This is the kind of inner peace that you can only fully appreciate when you’ve earned it. And earned it you have! You’ve learned to look at your demons. You’ve done the messy, treacherous, soul-jarring work of release. Now, you feel composed. You are at home within yourself.

Here, you step into a new way of being: you are healed. You gently learn how to sustain this state, because healing always requires checking in and maintenance, even once the intense inner work is done.

And then, of course, you may eventually be called once again to repeat the healing process. There will be deeper levels to excavate, there will be more corners to explore, there will be new vistas of chaos to embrace.

Yes, healing requires pain. And so you’ve got to ask yourself to choose:

Do you keep bearing the unconscious, soul-numbing pain that comes from refusing inner work? That’s no way to live.

Instead, let’s embrace the conscious, spiritually potent pain that is essential to the healing process.

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